Anchor Line (steamship company)

The Anchor Line was a Scottish steamship company, from 1855 to 1980.


The Anchor Line shipping company grew from small beginnings in tandem with the River Clyde shipbuilding industry as the Glasgow river was transformed. During the era of nineteenth century rapid industrialisation the Clyde changed from a shallow meandering river into one of the industrialised world's greatest ports and a hub of shipbuilding and marine engineering expertise. From the 1880s until the 1940s the company was famous for its sleek ships and for the comfort it offered its travellers at a very affordable cost. While not as large or famous as Cunard or P & O, the Anchor Line built up a reputation for value and became well known for employing some of the finest marine artists of the day to create its beautiful posters. It also played on its Scottish roots and employed Scottish crew and cabin crew, advertising 'Scottish ships and Scottish crew for Scottish passengers'.[1]


The company beginnings can be traced to 1855 when Captain Thomas Henderson from Fife became a partner in the shipping agent firm of N & R Handyside & Co, of Glasgow who operated a few sailing vessels. This resulted in the formation of the company Handysides & Henderson with the aim of establishing a New York service.[2] Although at first they only operated to India under sail, in 1856 the company advertised it was to begin transatlantic sailings and the sailing ship Tempest was sent to Randolf and Elder, to have 150 horsepower compound steam engines installed[2] In October of that year the first Anchor Line service to New York set sail. Unfortunately, the following year the Tempest was lost at sea!.[3] She left New York, under the command of Captain James Morris on February 13, 1857 bound for Glasgow, but was never heard of again. Rumour has it that on board was only one passenger[2]


After some initial struggles however, by 1866 the company was operating weekly sailings from Glasgow and had also initiated services to the Mediterranean, Calcutta and Bombay (once the Suez Canal had opened). In 1873, ownership of the company was completely transferred to the Henderson family, being Thomas, his brother John who had joined the company a few years earlier and their two other brothers, David and William. The brothers lost time in acquiring a shipyard at Meadowside and it operated under the name D & W Henderson 32 ships for the Anchor Line over several decades.[3]

Despite successes, in the first 50 years of operation more than 20 ships were lost. The worst of these was in 1891 when the SS Utopia collided with the battleship HMS Anson in harbour at Gibraltar and sank with the loss of over 500 lives.[4]


Upon the death of the Henderson brothers, towards the end of the 19th century, the company restructured, becoming Anchor Line (Henderson Brothers) Ltd. in 1899, building large new offices on St.Vincent Street, modernising much of its fleet and in 1910 moving its berth to the newly built Yorkhill Quay. Its success drew the attention of the Cunard Line and in 1911 the Anchor Line was effectively taken over and the chairman of Cunard became the chairman of the Anchor Line. With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s however, the Anchor Line struggled and in 1935 Cunard withdrew from the company and it went into liquidation.[5]


Shipping magnate Lord Runciman saved the company, allowing it to retain its identity but following World War II it struggled once again to change with the times. Its core markets gradually disappeared with the expansion of air transport. The company restructured several times to try and stay abreast of events but the last Anchor line ships were finally withdrawn from service in 1980 and the company was no more.[6] At its height however, Anchor Line was well renowned and vitally important to Glasgow. In a company history written in 1932 it was observed that:

"They give employment to hundreds of dockers, loading and discharging. Each ship carries between four and five hundred crew, nearly all belonging to or resident around Clydeside. The money circulated for stores and other trade accounts runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds in the year. The welfare of some thousands of people depends on the ships."[7]

Patrick Dollan, provost of Glasgow summed the feeling up in an article:

"Every Scot thrills with pride and memories of the adventure and enjoyment of travel on hearing of the Anchor Line. When I was a boy it was the ambition of every youngster to sail across the Atlantic on an Anchor Liner..."[8]


  1. Martin Bellamy, Bill Spalding (2011). The Golden Years of the Anchor Line. Catrine, Ayrshire and Glasgow: Stenlake Publishing and Glasgow Museums. p. 7. ISBN 9781840335293.
  2. 1 2 3 Biddulph, B. "The Story of the Anchor Line:part 1". Clydesite Magazine. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  3. 1 2 Bellamy, Spalding (2011). The Golden Years of the Anchor Line. p. 9.
  4. Bellamy, Spalding (2011). The Golden Years of the Anchor Line. pp. 10, 11.
  5. Bellamy, Spalding (2011). The Golden Years of the Anchor Line. pp. 11–13.
  6. Bellamy, Spalding (2011). The Golden Years of the Anchor Line. p. 13.
  7. The Book of the Anchor Line. London and Cheltenham: The Anchor Line. 1932.
  8. Dollan, Patrick (December 1938). "Letter from the provost". All Aboard: the magazine of the 'Transylvania' and the 'Caledonia'. XI (42).
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