General Steam Navigation Company

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General Steam Navigation Company
Defunct1972 (1972)
FateAcquired by P&O
HeadquartersLondon, England
ProductsCargo services, Thames pleasure cruises

The General Steam Navigation Company (GSNC), incorporated in 1824, was London's foremost short sea shipping line for almost 150 years,[1] and the oldest shipping company in the world to begin business with steamships.[2]


Ships of the General Steam Navigation Company, off Brunswick Wharf, Blackwall. the Clarence, the Leith, and the Columbine

The business was initially founded in 1821 by a syndicate of London businessmen including William J Hall, a shipowner, and brothers Thomas and John Brockelbank,[a] who had timber and shipyard interests in Deptford.[3] Their first steamer, the James Watt inaugurated a London to Leith service in the same year,[b] while Brockelbank's Thames paddle steamer Eagle provided a service between London and Margate.[2][5][6]

In June 1824 the company was formally founded by an enlarged group of business people, now including Edward Banks and William Jolliffe (brother of Hylton Jolliffe MP), and described as a "shrewd, solid and resolute set of men", and eventually incorporated by private Acts of Parliament in 1831.[7] By 1825 it was operating a fleet of 15 Deptford-built steamers, maintained from a yard at the Stowage, Deptford (a former East India Company depot),[2][8] and from the end of the decade, was operating a freight business, principally importing live cattle and sheep from mainland Europe. The GSNC also operated wharves in Coldharbour and near London Bridge, with some piers and buildings designed by company architect and surveyor Robert Palmer Browne.[9]

S.S. Cosmopolitan, of London

The GSNC experimented with services to Lisbon, Portugal and to Gibraltar, and even to Africa and the Americas, but specialised in links with ports in Britain (including Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth) and northwest Europe. It also provided pleasure cruises between London and resorts lower down the Thames. The purchase of the New Medway Steam Packet Co. in 1936 gave it a monopoly of this business.[1][10]

P&O Steam Navigation bought a controlling stake in 1920, but retained the GSNC identity.

At the start of World War II, the GSNC had about 45 ships, of which 10 were pleasure boats. During the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, these vessels, along with some cargo vessels, saved around 10% of all those rescued from the French beaches.[11]

The disappearance of general cargo vessels in the 1960s took away most of the GSNC's business, and the GSNC became wholly owned by P&O in 1972 and disappeared as an independent company.[1][10]


  1. ^ Also sometimes spelled 'Brocklebank'.
  2. ^ This account may be inaccurate. The James Watt, built by Clydeside shipbuilder John Wood and launched on 20 June 1821,[4] was initially operated by London & Edinburgh SP Co - acquired by the GSNC in 1836.


  1. ^ a b c "The General Steam Navigation Company". PortCities. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "General Steam Navigation Co". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  3. ^ Gearing, Albert W. "Greenwich as it used to be". GMT2000. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  4. ^ P.S. James Watt, The Clyde Built Ships. Accessed 19 August 2015.
  5. ^ Burtt, Frank (1949) Steamers of the Thames and Medway, London, pp.82-83.
  6. ^ Dumpleton, Bernard (2002). Story of the Paddle Steamer. Intellect Books. pp. 50–51. ISBN 9781841508016.
  7. ^ Cornford, L. Cope (1924). A Century of Sea Trading 1824-1924: The General Steam Navigation Company Limited. London. pp. 1–4.
  8. ^ "General Steam Navigation Company". P&O Heritage. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  9. ^ "Southern Blackwall: Coldharbour". British History Online. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  10. ^ a b "General Steam Navigation Co". The Ships List. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  11. ^ Mogg, Tom (2006), "Dunkirk and the General Steam Navigation Company Archived 23 December 2012 at", Greenwich Industrial History, Volume 10, issue 1 (April 2006). Retrieved: 25 October 2015.

External links[edit]

Media related to General Steam Navigation Company at Wikimedia Commons