Thomas Milligen was born in Ireland in 1828 but moved to Scotland - living first in Ayr, where his son John McIlwraith Milligen was born in 1855, and later in Troon. He was a harbour pilot and by 1861 was living in a cottage near Troon harbour - possibly it came with the job. The cottage was very close to the shipyard of the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company.
Troon harbour had been developed by the Duke of Portland for the export of coal produced in the pits around Kilmarnock - mainly to Ireland; it was just a short crossing from Troon to Belfast.
John Milligen clearly saw the opportunity of making money from the coal business and by the age of 26 was living in Belfast and a member of the local Freemason's Lodge. Perhaps his fellow masons help with providing capital, but in any case in 1887 he purchased the old collier Black Diamond from Adam and James Wood of Troon. He also placed an order with Workman Clark & Co. of Belfast for his next collier Kathleen (1887) - the first of two vessels he would order bearing this name. Black Diamond was sold on in 1888 and eventually foundered in 1892 carrying coal for her last owner Howden Brothers of Larne.
I can find no record of Milligen ship ownership from 1889 until 1891 when John Milligen took delivery of Eveleen (1891). This may be because there is missing information, but he may have chartered ships for his coal business between 1889 and 1891. It may be significant that in 1897 the ownership of this vessel changed from J. Milligen to J. Milligen & Co Ltd - possibly the start of expansion of the business. Eveleen (1891) served the company well but was lost with all hands towards the end of WW1. There is conjecture that she was sunk by a German submarine but this cannot be confirmed.
Kathleen (1902), the second ship of this name was ordered from the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon by the company rather than John Milligen himself as were the vessels to follow. This ship served the company until 1940 and must have been extremely well-built as she carried on working under later owners until being scrapped in 1956.
John Milligen & Co Ltd. had premises at Abercorn Basin in Belfast near Harland & Wolff where coal deliveries from Scotland arrived, and offices in Belfast. They also owned a large number of railway wagons for coal distribution. Although a small business compared with John Kelly Ltd, the growth of Belfast had provided a huge demand for coal - and there were other companies in the coal business as well.
John Milligen died in 1947 and, as far as I can tell, his only son George Edward Milligen (1910-2004) had no part in the business. John Kelly Ltd. acquired a majority shareholding in John Milligen & Co when John died and in 1963 acquired the remainder of the shares. For a while the Milligen company operated as a subsidiary of John Kelly Ltd with the last Milligen vessel Ballyhaft - delivered in 1955.
The ownership of Ballyhaft changed to John Kelly Ltd in 1965 marking the end of the Milligen name in shipping.
The table below summarises the period of ownership of vessels by John Milligen and his company.
|Ship Name||Operated From||Operated To||Disposal|
|Black Diamond||1887||1888||Sold to Woodside & Workman|
|Kathleen (1887)||1887||1889||Sold to North Eastern Shipping Co|
|Eveleen (1891)||1891||1918||Lost with all hands|
|Kathleen (1902)||1902||1940||Sold to Grand Union Shipping Ltd|
|Brideen||1919||1926||Sold to Brideen SS Co Ltd|
|Eveleen (1920)||1920||1957 (with a gap during war years)||Broken up|
|Monaleen||1920||1926||Sold to A. Chester|
|Ballyhaft||1955||1965||Sold to John Kelly Ltd|