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The history of Thos.B.Royden & Co. began in 1800 when Thomas Royden in partnership with a timber merchant named Bland started to build small sailing ships in Liverpool on the site where the Brunswick Dock stands today. It was a fairly common practice in those days, especially in Canada, for a timber supplier to work in conjunction with a shipbuilder. The timber would be supplied on credit and the timber merchant would recoup his costs plus a percentage of the profit from the sale of the ship. Royden's in this instance provided the yard and between six and twenty four shipwrights to build the ships which were of a basic design and rig to carry a specific tonnage of cargo at a quoted price.
As with most other shipbuilders Royden and Bland often ended up with shares in some of the ships they built and occasionally, when new buildings were not sold quickly, they operated the ships on their own account. It was quite common to build ships 'on spec' in order to keep the yard busy so that key personnel were not lost to other yards and the move into ship owning and operating was a slow but logical step.

By 1854 Thomas Royden was building one wooden ship every other year for their own account and seven were completed on that basis. The Anne Royden (1175grt), completed in 1856, was the largest wooden ship built for their fleet and operated out of Liverpool to India. In 1860 the smallest of the fleet was the Zingara (287grt) built for the South America trade and the difference between these two ships indicates the spread of Royden's sea-going activities at that time.

The yard started to build iron hulls in 1864 and, apart from intermarriage, the Bland family had no involvement whatsoever in the company which was known as Thos. B Royden & Son and headed by Thomas Bland Royben who was later to become Lord Royden. In July of that year the barque Beatrice (591grt) joined the fleet on the Liverpool to Australia run, quickly followed by six other iron hulled vessels, the Clifford (915grt), the Ismyr (610grt), the L'Allegro (612grt), Royden's largest sailing ship the Lucile (1491grt), the Lurlei (835grt) and the Sabina (792grt). The sailing ships operating to India gradually came under the management of the Liverpool firm of McVicar, Marshall & Co. who were well established in that particular trade.


In 1888 Royden's built their first two steamers, the Indra and the Indrani, for their own account. Before the days of limited liability companies ships were owned by one ship companies and the profits and liabilities were limited to the equity of that particular vessel. The two ships were initially placed on the India run, managed by McVicar, Marshall & Co., and advertised as the Indra Line of Steamships.
G. D. Tyser & Co. chartered the Indra in 1891 for their New Zealand service and thus began a developing relationship which eventually culminated in the formation of the Commonwealth & Dominion Line in 1914. However, it was James P. Corry & Co. who organised the sailing schedules and integrated the ship with their 'Star Line' vessels. In the following year Tyser's chartered the Indramayo for their Australian service and fitted her out with a refrigeration plant so that she could carry frozen meat. Payment to Royden's was on a commission basis which increased when trade was good so that Royden's shared some of the risk. Tyser & Co., who were in reality voyage brokers, were protected to some extent against financial risks which could occur in distant Australia. As the pattern of Royden's trade altered McVicar, Marshall & Co. who were managing the India trade, eventually dropped out but continued in their right as Palace Steamship Co. until the end of World War 1.

In 1893 Royden's sold their yard to the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board and withdrew from shipbuilding as it was not big enough to cope with growth in steamship construction and the cost of a new building was considerably higher than that which could be obtained from the Clyde or similar yards.


The Indra Line Ltd was incorporated in 1901 with Thomas Bland Royden as manager and operated ten steamships from New York to the Far East. The remaining ships worked in conjunction with Tyser & Co. but with James P. Corry & Co. Ltd operating them on the Australia run within their own sailing schedules. This policy led to the smaller ships being replaced with a fleet of modern vessels each with a sound trading base. Built at different yards their varying profiles revealed the differences between the ships and with a new modern fleet Thos. B. Royden & Co soon became very prosperous.
On 23rd January 1914 three ships, the Indrapura, the Indrabarah and the Indralema were transferred to the newly incorporated Commonwealth & Dominion Line becoming, in 1916, the Port Adelaide, the Port Elliot and the Port Alma respectively. To provide a feeder service from the West Indies to New York the Santa Clara Steam Ship Co. was incorporated with T.B. Royden & Sons as managers. The steamship Santa Clara was built to operate the service. In 1915 the remaining New York service was sold to Alfred Holt's Blue Funnel Line and Indra Line Ltd was wound up. The Santa Clara S.S. Co. remained as T.B.Royden's only independent shipping interest.

When Cunard's new office was completed at Liverpool's Pier Head in 1917 the Santa Clara S.S. Co. moved in still under the same management. Thomas Royden was also a director of Cunard and later became Chairman as Sir Thomas and then Lord Royden.

The Pinar del Rio was built for the Santa Clara S.S. Co. in 1920 and when the Santa Clara foundered in September 1924 the company continued to maintain a service with one ship. In 1930 the Pinar del Rio was sold to the Bristol City Line and renamed City of Montreal and with that transaction the shipowning saga of the Royden family came to an end after 130 years.

The Fleet

The history of Thomas B. Royden & Co. and its' ships has been extracted from
Merchant Fleets 21: Port Line by Duncan Haws
to whom we extend our grateful thanks.

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