Donaldson Line



Donaldson Brothers was founded in 1855 and got their first sailing ship in 1858. Their first service was between Glasgow and South America, but some subsequent ships also traded to India and the Far East. By 1870 Donaldson’s owned or chartered 16 sailing ships when the decision was taken to introduce cargo steamships on the South America service. From 1874 Donaldson began to send steamers on occasional summer sailings to Canada which became progressively more frequent, and another service to Baltimore was added in 1880. In 1881 the company won a contract to carry coal for the new Canadian Grand Trunk Railway, which it coupled with the carriage of live cattle in an easterly direction.

By 1900 Donaldson Brothers were employing twelve cargo steamers on their two transatlantic routes. In 1905 Donaldson entered into the Canadian passenger trade and of equal importance was awarded a contract to co-operate with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company to carry newsprint to England. Up to 1913, each of the ships were owned through the traditional system of 64 shares, which were largely held by the various members of the Donaldson family. This caused death duty difficulties when any shareholder died. In 1913 the share system was replaced by the formation of Donaldson Line Ltd to take over all of the shares in the individual ships and Donaldson Brothers Ltd to manage the ships.

During WW1 Donaldson lost 9 of its 13 vessels. In 1916 Anchor-Donaldson Ltd was owned equally by Donaldson Brothers Ltd and Anchor Line (Henderson Brothers) Ltd, which at that time was a Cunard subsidiary. Donaldson contributed its 4 passenger ships to the new company (2 became war losses) and Anchor provided working capital.

After WW1 the only transatlantic tonnage requirement was the construction of two replacement passenger ships. In 1919 Donaldson decided to re-develop its South American business with the formation of Donaldson South American Line Ltd with Donaldson holding 50%, John Black & Co’s Glasgow SS Co 30% and Vickers Ltd 20%.

In 1920 Donaldson Line opened a cargo service from Glasgow to Savannah & Galverston, while in 1921 it took over the operation of the Canadian Government's Bristol – Swansea – Canada service. In 1924 it opened a new service carrying general cargo to Panama, bananas to the West Coast of USA and Canada and returning with apples and timber.

In 1929 the prices of shares on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed and the following year the Great Depression began. The adoption of a system of Commonwealth trade preferences in 1931 generally helped Donaldson, except for its South America services and the passenger services where traffic fell drastically. Cunard was obliged to re-organise its transatlantic services, including winding up Anchor Line. Donaldson purchased the remaining Anchor-Donaldson shares and renamed the company Donaldson Atlantic Line. The services out of Bristol were also rationalised in partnership with Bristol City Line.

In 1939 the group was re-organised as Donaldson Brothers & Black Ltd and many of the subsidiary companies slowly wound-up. At the outbreak of WW2 Donaldson had a modern fleet of 21 ships, of which 14 became war losses.

After WW2, the company resumed all of its services, except that the replacement Canadian passenger ships (Lismoria and Laurentia) only had accommodation for 55 passengers.

A gradual decline began. The South American service was suspended for four years from 1952 although a new service to the Great Lakes was launched 1957. Containerisation rang the death knell of the company, and it went into liquidation in 1967.


Page Link Ships on Page
Donaldson Line Ships (1):
Athenia to Gretalia
Athenia, Colina, Concordia, Coracero, Corrientes, Cordillera, Corinaldo, Dorelian, Gracia, Gregalia
Donaldson Line Ships (2):
Kastalia to Santona
Kastalia, Lakonia, Laurentia, Letitia, Lismoria, Modavia, Norwegian, Parthenia, Salacia (1912), Salacia (1937), Santona

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