The Shire Line was founded by David James Jenkins in 1860.
Although born in Exeter in April 1824, the third son of John
Jenkins who hailed from Haverfordwest, David Jenkins always
considered himself to be a Welshman, a trait which was always
apparent during his life's work. Educated at Teignmouth grammar
school his ambition was a career at sea and, in attaining
that desire, he undertook an apprenticeship in sail. However,
his time on sailing ships coincided with emergence of the
steamship as a means of sea travel and, since small steam
vessels had been plying the West Country coast and river estuaries
for some ten years, he was able to spend his formative years
in these early paddle steamers. By 1845, his apprenticeship
completed, he was sailing as a deck officer on the steamships
and, before his thirtieth birthday, was sailing out of London
with his own command.
Although the Crimean War was
primarily fought in Black Sea it was a war against Russia
and, as a consequence, there was a certain amount of action
taking place in the Baltic. Therefore, in 1854, David Jenkins
was to be found commanding a supply ship sailing out of Hull
with stores and equipment for the British forces, under the
command of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Napier, who were attempting
to launch an, albeit fruitless, attack on the Russian fortifications
in Hango Roads and Bomarsand.
By 1859, at the age of thirty
five, David Jenkins was committed to shipowning and planned
to leave the sea and set up an office ashore in the city that
he had got to know well - London. He knew where the action
was and established his office, with the name of D.J JENKINS
& COMPANY, at 30, Lime Street, conveniently located within
the expanding shipping community.
In those days there were many
owner/captains looking for work for their ships and David
Jenkins initially concentrated on voyage broking and cargo
agency work. He used his already established connections and
many of the captains who came to rely on him were from Wales.
Although he was servicing the needs of the sailing ship owner/masters
his objective was still steamship ownership.
His first ship however, acquired in 1861, was the
wooden barque Mary Evans. Like many other first ventures
she was named after his mother, and traded to the
West Indies making some good profits. She was commanded
by a Cornishman named Captain Samuel Rickard and David
Jenkins came to rely on Welsh masters from the Milford
Haven area. By doing so he established a sea-going
community in which everybody knew everybody else and
their families to the benefit of all. Unlike many
other business owners at the time he held advanced
liberal views and went as far as sponsoring schooling
for the children and providing scholarships for the
more gifted. David Jenkins looked after his men and
even paid them a small pension when their seafaring
days were over.
A second small ship, the Eastward
Ho, was purchased in 1862 and, as the name would suggest,
she was destined for the Far East trade. Trade was good and
sufficient profits were made to enable David Jenkins to cautiously
approach the London merchant banks with plans for expansion.
In 1863 an order was placed
with the Pembroke firm of Allan & Co. for a larger ship.
It was decided to name her Pembrokeshire but it is doubtful
whether, at this stage, David Jenkins intended to name all
his ships after the Welsh 'shires' as subsequent vessels were
acquired and deployed without changes of name. The Webfoot
was acquired in the following year and traded under that name.
However, when, over the next two years, two sister ships came
out of Gaddarn's Yard at Neyland named Carnarvonshire and
Cardiganshire and a further vessel, the Carmarthenshire, came
out of Pembroke Dock, a tradition of naming after the Welsh
'shires' became established. For the first time sailings were
being advertised under the Shire Line name.
Unfortunately for David Jenkins,
this tradition created a potential problem as there were only
eleven Welsh 'shires' and at one stage there were two ships
of the same name in the fleet, a sailing ship and a steamship.
By 1864 David Jenkins was concentrating his trade on the Indian
and Far East markets and, in particular, the tea trade. His
ships sailed via the Cape to India with a cargo, then sailed
for China in ballast where they loaded with tea bound for
London. None of the ships were considered to be in the 'clipper'
class and were quite happy to return home with full cargoes
at the freight rate of the day. If there was a spate of ships
waiting for cargoes, which depressed the freight rates, David
Jenkins' ships would remain at anchor until a more profitable
cargo became available, possibly remaining there for several
weeks. Other shipowners adopted the same tactics as the voyage
profit could be doubled.
In 1866 the fleet was increased
to 7 sailing ships with the acquisition of the Southern Queen,
who again traded under the Shire banner without a name change.
Intending to broaden the company's
trading area David Jenkins looked towards Japan where, although
not immediately profitable, the prospects were promising.
The service was extended in 1869 when two smaller sailing
ships , the Glamorganshire, completed in March of that year,
and the Denbighshire, delivered a year later, were used on
annual voyages to bring home, not tea, but spices and silks.
It was the Ceylon tea trade that was expanding and to cater
for that market the sailing ship W.W.Smith was purchased.
When the Suez Canal opened
in November 1869, like many other shipowners, David Jenkins
was slow to react. Trading patterns were well established
via the Cape, the China tea trade was in decline and being
superceded by tea exports out of India and Ceylon. Wooden
and composite hulls were being replaced by iron, the new supposedly
economical compound engine was relatively untested, being
only five years old and coal supplies on the steamer routes
was sparse and subject to wild fluctuations in price. Many
shipowners, including David Jenkins were prepared to 'wait
and see', indecision which nearly bankrupted the newly created
Suez Canal Company.