Booker Line

24 January 2011 by Stephen

detail of a ship model in a display case

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I am interested in how families have helped shape our world through business, politics and other forms of human endeavour.

Sibling rivalry can cause great competitive energy but I’m more concerned about how relatives work together to do great things.

One prominent family that springs to mind are the Holts – several Liverpool brothers who helped transform shipping. The Booker brothers are another shining example.

These three sons of a Lancashire miller ran a sugar plantation in South America and set up their own shipping company which prospered and became Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co.

Josias Booker had emigrated in 1815 to Demerara (now Guyana) as one of the first British settlers. Booker Brothers was formed after he was joined by brothers George and Richard.

Following a dispute with Liverpool shipowners, they founded what later became the Booker Line in 1835 to carry raw sugar from their plantations. Its first ship was a Scottish brig called Elizabeth.

The company bought and sold many vessels including the early vessels Lord Elgin, John Horrocks and Palmyra.

The company ran regular cargo services between Britain, the eastern Caribbean and British Guiana (Guyana) until the 1980s.

John McConnell started working as a clerk for the brothers in Demerara in 1846. He was successful and branched out in 1874 by founding his own shipping line John McConnell & Co.

The two companies merged in 1900 and became known as Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co with offices in The Albany, Liverpool city centre. The company became Booker Line.

In Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Liverpool: world gateway gallery there is a small 1:96 scale exhibition model of the Booker Line’s Amakura of 1949. Amakura is an Arawak name for a river in Guyana.

The passenger and cargo steamer was built by Smith’s Dock Company of Middlesborough, sailing on the Booker Line’s services out of Liverpool. The model has finely-detailed rigging and Amakura Liverpool emblazoned across the stern (pictured).

The company’s last vessels were the Booker Crusade, Challenge, Courage, Voyager and Vulcan.

Smith’s Dock Co, founded in 1810 as William Smith & Co, opened its Middlesborough yard in 1907. The company merged with Swan Hunter in 1966 and the yard closed in 1987.

Josias Booker, who died in 1865, owned land in Allerton, Liverpool, where Booker Avenue is named after him.

The Booker Prize, awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, was named after the Booker-McConnell company which originally sponsored the award in 1968.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents or bookshops.

  1. Jon Gregory says:

    I served as a Deck Cadet with Bookers from 1979 until their demise in June 1982, when I was then seconded to Blue Star Ship Management.
    Being an impressionable and hedonistic 17 year old, I chose Bookers from a number of companies, mainly for their routes to the Caribbean and South America. I served my time with many great people, some of whom remain friends today, and have nothing but good memories of my time with the company.
    My first trip to sea was on The Booker Viking, and was almost my last, when the ship broke down irepareably North of The Azores in hurricane force winds. we spent several tense days at the mercy of 100 mile an hour winds drifting without engines, until we were rescued by a Wijsmuller ocean going tug out of Oporto, and were towed back to Falmouth. It took 3 weeks to repair the engines and to clear the mess in the holds where some cargo had broken loose.
    In my blissful ignorance, I thought it was all great fun, little realising just how close we had come to disaster, with several ships lost in the same weather system with all hands.
    Great days….greatly missed.

  2. brian moore says:

    jon i was the donkeyman when we brokedown i worked in the engine all hours of night we had two tugs englishmsn and dutchman the dutchman was first to get his line on so he got the job i will never forget that trip hope to here from you soon

  3. Jon Gregory says:

    Hi. I’d be a liar if I said that I remember you. I was young, it was my first trip and I can barely remember most of the officers and crew. Was Tommy Kirk in the Engine Room with you, or am I mixing that up with a later trip?? I think Richie Milne was 5/E, Steve Asplet 4/E, and there was an Irish leckie who was killed in a traffic accident in Trinidad….right trip or wrong trip? All seems a VERY long time ago now, and it’s only with the benefit of age and experience that I realise just how fortunate we were to pull through. I still have a copy of the IMR telegram that was sent to the ship from Bookers basically telling us to keep our chins up, decorum in the face of adversity and all that nonsense.

  4. Clive Russell says:

    My first ship happened to be the Booker Venture, joined after a refit in Birkenhead and bound of course for Georgetown, Bookers Guiana. Being the (trainee) radio officer I was employed by IMRC, not Bookers and after a few happy trips including one to Rostock and Fortaleza, I was transferred to Cunard who was also staffed by IMRC R/Os.
    The Venture also broke down in the Caribbean not too far off the track of an approaching hurricane and was hastily repaired by encasing a broken pipe with cement. I never made it back to Liverpool with Bookers as the sugar was offloaded by Tate and Lyle in the Thames.
    Living in North America I regularly hear about the Booker prize and have wondered about a possible link. Now thanks to your website, I know for sure.

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