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Issue 3: Article 2- The Story of the Anchor Line - Part 1

The first ship built as a steamship for Anchor Line, the UNITED KINGDOM

The story of the Anchor Line of Glasgow is a long, and at times, convoluted one! The following is not a complete record of all of their activities, centering mainly on their Transatlantic and Indian services. Some of the smaller vessels have not been included due to lack of information about them

Part One: 1855 - 1869 - The Early Struggles

The beginnings stretch way back to 1855 when Captain Thomas Henderson, a Fife man, joined as partner the Glasgow firm of N & R Handyside & Co, who operated a small fleet of sailing vessels and formed the company Handysides & Henderson.

The dynamism Henderson, and later his brother John, brought to the firm was to prove astonishing, and with their two other brothers, would also lead to the creation of one of the best known names in Clyde shipbuilding.

But more anon...

The first vessel to feature for the new concern was the TEMPEST built for Handysides in 1855. A sailing vessel of 866 tons and 214 feet long, she was built by Sandeman & McLaurin, Glasgow, launched on 21st December 1854.

Captain Henderson took her on her maiden voyage from Glasgow to Bombay, leaving her home port on April 3rd 1855.

In 1856 the company advertised it was to begin transatlantic sailings and the TEMPEST was sent to Randolf and Elder, there to have 150 horsepower compound steam engines installed. And duly, on the 11th October of that year she began the first of many, many voyages by the company from the Second City of the Empire to New York.

Her life was to be short-lived and in the detail of her going, one has to wonder if the service was much of a success. She left New York, under the command of Captain James Morris on February 13th 1857 bound for Glasgow, but was never heard of again.

On board was one passenger! Talk about being unlucky!

In 1857 the first newbuild steamship for the company appeared, the ss UNITED KINGDOM

Built by Robert Steele & Co she wasn't a particularly large vessel of the day, at 245 feet long and of 1305 grt - (in that year P&O had constructed at Tod & McGregor's yard the NEMESIS of just over 300 feet and 2018 grt) but she was of pleasing lines nonetheless. But it would be two years before she began commercial sailing as her first role was to be a troopship, chartered by the East India Company from August 1857 to April 1859 during the Indian Mutiny.

At this time the full-rigged ship JOHN BELL also had steam engines fitted - but she too was charted by the EIC as a troop transport until 1859.

In 1859 then the two vessels began in earnest for the new company on their Atlantic runs, although ss UNITED KINGDOM inaugurated sailings from Glasgow to Montreal, beginning April 15th. Not until November 30th of that year did she join her fleetmate on the New York runs.

They were joined by a new vessel, the ss UNITED STATES in 1860. This time constructed by Tod & McGregor she was of similar size to the UNITED KINGDOM and was launched at their Glasgow yard on September 18th 1860. December 15th of that year and she departed Glasgow for New York.

Tragedy befell her though in a few months time when she was wrecked on Bird Rock in the St Lawrence on April 25th 1861

By now you would be forgiven for thinking the company's luck was hardly the best, and you'd be right. The UNITED KINGDOM and JOHN BELL continued alone as the struggling venture tried to gain a foothold, and it was back to Tod & McGregor for new tonnage. This time a slightly larger vessel at 1397 tons and 261 feet, the CALEDONIA was launched on February 3rd 1862 and made her maiden New York voyage from Glasgow on February 25th.

The JOHN BELL was disposed of to J&A Allan at this time.

The bad luck came back again, when their new ship stranded 31st December 1862 on Cape Cod as she made her way from Portland to New York and was given up as lost. (However, she was purchased and salvaged by Nickerson & Co of Boston and was renamed CONCORDIA - she sailed on until 1872 when she was totally wrecked)

Two new vessels entered service in 1863 and they had a run of better luck - well, almost!

The first of these, again from Tod & McGregor, was the BRITANNIA, similar to the UNITED KINGDOM, launched on 18th June and departing Glasgow on her maiden voyage to Montreal on July 8th 1863. She was followed by the second CALEDONIA, from the same builder and of the same dimensions, launching into the Clyde on 29th October and beginning her New York run from Glasgow on 11th December 1863

I said their luck had turned - almost. Tragedy befell the BRITANNIA in 1864. Her master Captain Campbell went to the assistance of a lady passenger during a gale and was washed overboard into the Atlantic.

In 1863 the firm's name changed from Handysides & Hendersons to Handyside and Henderson when Nicol Handyside retired.

In 1865 another newbuild entered the Anchor fleet for the transatlantic trade, this time she came from the yard of Alexander Stephen & Sons in Govan. HIBERNIA was launched on April 27th and entered service on the 9th June on the Glasgow-New York service. She was 278 feet long and had a tonnage of 1569 gross.

1865 saw the dominance of the two brothers increase when they opened a new office in New York and simply called it Henderson Brothers, they did this again in 1869 in Liverpool and Dundee.

Yet another vessel joined the expanding fleet in 1866 but this time not a newbuild for the company, instead they purchased the IOWA from the London & New York Steamship Line, making her first run for the company on July 1st from Glasgow to New York.

However, after her that year another newbuild did appear, again from Stephen's yard. This was the first COLUMBIA, entering the waters of the Clyde on September the 10th and making her first voyage on 27th October on the Glasgow to New York run.

By now it is clear the company was showing solid success, an expanding fleet, this was demonstrated yet again in 1867 when yet another vessel, the EUROPA was delivered from Stephen's for the Atlantic trade. Launched on August 1st and leaving Glasgow on her maiden voyage to New York on September 25th.

Throughout the sixties as well, smaller vessels were built for the company to operate on their Mediterranean services

In 1868 yet another (but even greater) tragedy hit the fleet when HIBERNIA foundered 700 miles away from the coast of Ireland. This was as a result of an accident to her shaft and sadly 78 people lost their lives.

ss UNITED KINGDOM was the company's next transatlantic loss - the longest serving yet in the fleet she left New York on April the 19th 1869, and like the TEMPEST, she was never heard of again. On board were 80 people.

In 1869 the biggest single expansion of the fleet with newbuilds yet.


First to start this impressive enlargement was the ANGLIA who began her maiden voyage from Glasgow-Moville-New York on January 29th 1869. She was from Robert Duncan and this 325 feet long ship had been launched by them on October 23rd the previous year.

Then followed the INDIA on February 6th, again on the same run. This ship was 311 feet long and was launched by Wm Simons at the Renfrew yard in July 1868.

Thereafter a further three new identical ships enter the company's services, all from the yard of Robert Duncan & Co, Port Glasgow: the DORIAN and the DACIAN and the TYRIAN. Identical sisters they were much smaller than the others at 1039 grt and 237 feet long,

The DORIAN made her first voyage in March, calling at moville on the Glasgow-New York service, whilst DACIAN left Glasgow on 15th May (but did not call at Moville) The TYRIAN made her first voyage - however, she was not to run on the North Atlantic until 1874, instead she made her inaugural trip to Messina, leaving Glasgow in October.

In between these three came the CAMBRIA, who went from Glasgow to moville and New York on May 8th. She too came from Robert Duncan. Larger than the three sisters she was 2141 grt and 324 feet long. But once again, the short-lived curse would strike the Anchor Line.

As she made her journey home to Glasgow, she wrecked at Inishtrahull Island on the 19th October the following year, 1870. This time the tragedy was even worse than the previous two losses put together, 186 lives were lost.

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