Black Ball Line (trans-Atlantic packet)

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Map of the Port of New York on the south tip of Manhattan Island in 1851. Heavy broken line marks the waterfront below City Hall park in 1784. Area filled in prior to 1820. The docks of the Black Ball Line are in the upper part of the figure.

The Black Ball Line was a passenger line founded by a group of New York Quaker merchants headed by Jeremiah Thompson, and included Isaac Wright & Son (William), Francis Thompson and Benjamin Marshall. All were Quakers except Marshall. The line initially consisted of four packet ships, the Amity, Courier, Pacific and the James Monroe. All of these were running between Liverpool, England and New York City. This first scheduled trans-Atlantic service was founded in 1817. In operation for some 60 years, it took its name from its flag, a black ball on a red background.[1]

History[edit]

England, a packet ship of the Black Ball Line

The Black Ball Line, which began operation in 1818, established the modern era of liners. The packet ships were contracted by governments to carry mail and also carried passengers and timely items such as newspapers. Up to this point there were no regular passages advertised by sailing ships. They arrived at port when they could, dependent on the wind, and left when they were loaded, frequently visiting other ports to complete their cargo. The Black Ball Line undertook to leave New York on a fixed day of the month irrespective of cargo or passengers. The service took several years to establish itself and it was not until 1822 that the line increased sailings to two per month; it also reduced the cost of passage to 35 guineas.

The sensation this created brought in competitors such as the Red Star Line, which also adopted fixed dates. The average passage of packets from New York to Liverpool was 23 days eastward and 40 days westward. But this was at a period where usual reported passages were 30 and 45 days respectively, while westward passages of 65 to 90 days excited no attention. The best passage from New York to Liverpool in those days was the 15 days 16 hours achieved at the end of 1823 by the ship New York (though often incorrectly reported as Canada).[2] The westward crossing had a remarkable record of 15 days 23 hours set by the Black Ball's Columbia in 1830,[3] during an unusually prolonged spell of easterly weather which saw several other packet ships making the journey in 16 to 17 days. Captain Joseph Delano was reported to be "up with the Banks of Newfoundland in ten days".[4][5]

In 1851 James Baines & Co. of Liverpool entered the packet trade using the same name and flag as the New York company, despite its protests. Thus, for about twenty years, two "Black Ball lines" under separate ownership were operating in direct competition on the transatlantic packet trade. James Baines & Co. also operated ships running between Liverpool and Australia, including famous clipper ships such as Champion of the Seas, James Baines, Lightning, Indian Queen, Marco Polo and Sovereign of the Seas.

The Black Ball Line is mentioned in several sea shanties, such as "Blow the Man Down," "Homeward Bound", "Bullgine Run", "New York Girls", and "Hurrah for the Black Ball Line."

List of Black Ball Line (USA) ships[edit]

Year (?) Name Tonnage Shipyard Status/fate
1815 James Monroe aground in 1850 off the Tasmanian coast
Pacific
1816 Amity 382 (bm) New York stranded on 24 April 1824 in Manasquan
1819 Albion New York wrecked off the coast of Ireland, near Kinsale, April 25, 1822, with a loss of forty-six lives
1822 James Cropper
1843
Montezuma
924 (bm) William H. Webb, New York stranded on 18 May 1854 in New York
1844 Yorkshire 996 (bm) William H. Webb, New York in February 1862 lost on the trip from New York
1845 Fidelia 895 (bm) William H. Webb, New York
Courier
1845 1683 (bm) William H. Webb, New York In 1887 sold to Norway as Sovereign and took fire on 20 March 1891 at the coal loading
1846 Columbia 1050 (bm) William H. Webb, New York
1847 Isaac Wright 1129 (bm) William H. Webb, New York caught fire on 23 December 1858 on the Mersey and sank
Orpheus
1850 Manhattan 1299 BRT William H. Webb, New York broke out on 14 March 1863 Liverpool en route to New York; disappeared
1851 Isaac Webb 1359/1497 BRT William H. Webb, New York went to the dissolution of the Black Ball Line for Charles H. Marshall & Co. and sank on 25 October 1880
1851 Great Western 1443 BRT William H. Webb, New York
Eagle
Orbit
Nestor
William Thompson
Albion
Canada
Britannia
1854 1383 BRT sank 31 December 1875 after a collision, in the Irish Channel
1855 James Foster, Jr. 1410 BRT William H. Webb, New York was in 1881 as a Hudson sold to German owners
1855 Neptune 1406 BRT William H. Webb, New York ran in April 1876 to the Nova Scotia coast and broken
1860 Alexander Marshall 1177 BRT William H. Webb, New York sank 1869 in the North Atlantic

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stephen Fox, Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships, Harper Collins (2003) ISBN 0-06-019595-9, pp. 3–16 (introductory chapter on sailing packets)
  2. ^ Cutler, Carl C. (1984). Greyhounds of the Sea (3rd ed.). United States Naval Institute/Patrick Stephens, Northants. p. 66. 
  3. ^ Cutler 1984, pp. 410
  4. ^ Gibbs, Charles Robert Vernon (1957). Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean: A Record of Atlantic Steam and Motor Passenger Vessels from 1838 to the Present Day. London: Staples Press. OCLC 225962096. 
  5. ^ Cutler 1984, pp. 65–68

External links[edit]