Thomas Henry Ismay

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Thomas Henry Ismay
Thomas Henry Ismay.jpg
Born 7 January 1837
Maryport, Cumbria, England
Died 23 November 1899
Dawpool, Thurstaston, England
Nationality English
Other names Baccy Ismay
Occupation President of White Star Line
Known for Heading and running the White Star Line
  • Thomas Ismay (father)
"White Star". Caricature by Lib published in Vanity Fair in 1894.

Thomas Henry Ismay (7 January 1837 – 23 November 1899) was the founder of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line. His son was Joseph Bruce Ismay, who travelled on (and survived) the maiden voyage of his company's ocean liner, the RMS Titanic, in 1912.

Early years[edit]

Thomas Ismay was born on 7 January 1837, in a small cottage in the town of Maryport, Cumberland. Some time after Thomas's birth, his father Thomas Ismay started a timber business, shipbrokers and shipbuilder. He bought shares in five vessels coming in and out of Maryport. When the young man was six years old, the Ismays moved to a much larger house in Grasslot, Maryport. The entire family moved to the dwelling because of the 3 sisters Thomas's mother had. The home's name was "The Ropery", the name deriving from the ropes being used at the ship yard laid out in front of the home. This house was near his grandfathers ship yard. This was the first place where he was employed. He spent much of his time around the harbor. He learned here about the sea and navigation along with his most notable habit, of chewing tobacco, giving him the nickname "Baccy Ismay". When Thomas was 12 he was sent to High School in Brampton, Cumberland. This school was one of the best in all of Northern England. At the age of 16 Thomas left school and started an apprentice with shipbrokers Imire in Tomlison, Liverpool. Upon completion of the apprenticeship he wanted to gain some experience on the high seas. Once he got back to England he started a business. He partnered with Philip Nelson who was also a man from Maryport and a friend of his fathers. However, the partnership did not last long, Philip was a retired sea captain and believed in old, trustworthy wooden ships while Thomas believed the future was in iron ships. In 1867 Thomas Henry Ismay acquired the flag of the White Star Line.

During his years[edit]

On 7 April 1859 Thomas married Margaret, the daughter of Luck Bruce. In 1867, he acquired the flag and branding of the White Star Line. During these years he undertook several grand projects including, in July 1882, the building of a private residence in Thurstaston on the Wirral Peninsula, designed by the renowned architect Richard Norman Shaw. Built of a local red sandstone, the property was completed in December 1884. It was named Dawpool and, when Ismay's widow died in 1907, both of his sons declined to take up residence. When the Ismays tried selling the home, the agent said the land would be worth more if the home was blown up[citation needed] and it was eventually sold to a Mr. Rutter who loaned to the government as a hospital during World War I. In 1926 it was sold to Sir Henry Roberts who had it demolished a year later.

Ismay had always held an interest in the Asiatic Steam Navigation Company and wanted to see how it was run, so he and Gustav Wolff, founder of Harland & Wolff, decided to take a trip to India on board an ANSC steamer. This was partly to see how their rival was managed and partly a family holiday. On 26 October 1887, they left Dawpool and traveled by train across Europe, seeing the sites of France, Switzerland and Italy along the way. Once they got to Italy they joined the SS Nizam, bound for Alexandria. Once in Egypt the pair visited the pyramids and cruised on the Nile.

Around 1870 Thomas Ismay drafted a new set of rules and regulations for his brand new trend setting steamers, RMS Atlantic and RMS Oceanic (1899).

White Star Line Steam Navigation Company Regulations[edit]


1. Instructions to be attended to. all WSL officers and commanders have to be acquainted with these rules.

2. Responsibility of Commanders. must use their intelligence to steer and navigate their vessel whilst securing their passengers with a comfortable and respectable crossing. Safety and security are a top priority. Steer your ship for navigation and safety, not for a gain in speed or obbsinety.

3. Authority of all Commanders. Officers and engineers do their job by the book. all people under the rank of Commander are under the control of the commander. All absences by crew must be granted by a Commander or Commanding officer. when in a foreign port, (not Liverpool) there must never be an absence of the Chief and second officer. Junior officer is to be always on board.

4. Respect due to officers. all superior officers must give up command to an above commander or officer. all of his order's must be done in a respectful and non-negative way. Respect shall always be given due respect by the superior.

5. Watches must be equally divided, no ship shall ever be left without an officer on deck. no Officer, under most circumstances is to leave the deck while his watch is still in play. first and second officer is to never give up their watch, except under clear weather and open sea, at that time they may be relieved by 3rd and 4th officer for their meals. they may also be relieved by a commanding officer.

6. Watch in dock, Liverpool. An officer is to be on deck at all times.

7. Watch in dock, abroad. Always to be an officer on deck and at the spar deck. Along with two quarter masters. Until the night watch where there is to be one quarter master and one watchman.

8. Anchor watch. while in harbor, your ship's watch must consist of a junior officer, 2 quarter master and four seamen.

9. Junior officers. must exert themselves to aid in navigation of the vessel. must use solar and stellar observation; both for correction of compass and ascertaining the position of the vessel.

10. Junior officers. in vessels carrying 3-4 officers, those officers are not to have a watch but must be relieved of duties by a commander.

11. Log and observation for position of ship. each day location of vessel must be logged using solar or stellar means. take log to chart room were on a large scale map the position will be logged.

12. Compass. compass is to be carefully watched and any difference in local deviation is to be noted.

13. Night order book. Commander is to enter course and steered of vessel in night order book.

14. Nearing land and heaving the lead. a wide berth is to be given to land and islands. when nearing land take frequent cross-bearings or well marked objects to make sure of the vessel's course. should weather be unsuitable then engines should be eased and if necessary stopped. In fog the steam whistle should be blown and the condition of weather logged into the log book.

15. Boats, firehouse, pumps, etc... a crew to be appointed to each boat and all tackling to be kept in good order, and ready for immediate service. Exercises are to be practiced regularly. all fire house and pump stations are to be kept in working order and so should buckets. All crew is to be properly trained in case of fire or accident.

16. Lights. Side and head mast light is to be regularly attended and logged if working. all lights, law pertaining are to set out at Dusk. All lights in ship are to be put out at 10 o'clock in forecastle and steerage, 11 o'clock in salon and 11:15 P.M. in smoking rooms. And 11"30 in sleeping berths and state rooms.

17. Fires. no fire is to be allowed in the galley after 10 o'clock, unless with permission of commander.

18. Inspection of ship by commander. the Commander is expected to make regular inspections of ships. pump gears inspected and compass to be done too. Chief officer is to check inspect log book and check regularly.

This is just a small glimpse of the rules and regulations.

Ships under his command[edit]

From 1863 till 1899 Thomas Henry Ismay was president of White Star Line and had several ships under his authority, Most of these ships up until 1870 were chartered, even after 1870 most of White Star Lines vessels were chartered from more notable/wealthy shipping lines, the reason being so that they were not completely at fault if someone died on board because of medical or the ships being and condition.

Ulcoats, Cecelia, Golden Sunset, Gladiator, Duke of Edinburgh, Duleep Singh, Bucton Castle, Globe, Nereus, Borrowdale, Weathersfield, British Prince, Dallam Towers, Remington, Hecuba , Pride Of The Thames, Houghton Towers, Warwickshire , Victoria Tower, Hawarden Castle, Vancouver, Castlehead, Vandieman, Comandre, Seatoller, Casma, Compadre, Bayard, British Admiral, Montrose, Ismay, Estrella, Pembroke Castle, Hausquina, Rajah, SS British Navy, Cairnsmore, Santon, Kirkwood, Delhi, Merwanjee Framjee, Ravenscrag, Cape Clear, Grace Gibson, Hannibal, Cardigan Castle, Santiago, Jason, RMS Oceanic (1870) (Oceanic was White Star Line's first true vessel because she was actually ordered by Thomas Ismay)


Shortly after the launching of the Oceanic on 14 January 1899, Thomas Henry Ismay began to complain of pains in his chest. Throughout his life he had been very active and was seldom sick, so his doctor took his pains very seriously. His condition slowly deteriorated and construction on Oceanic's sister ships was delayed. In March of that year, Thomas's health began to improve, and he and Margaret went to Windermere where he became sick again. Mrs Margaret summoned a doctor and a dose of morphine was given to Ismay. After 6 days he was feeling better and he returned to Dawpool in Thurstaston, Wirral. Within 6 weeks he had more violent pain. The doctor diagnosed it as a gallstone. By 26 April Ismay felt good enough to work, but in August he collapsed and was confined to bed. On 31 August an operation was performed on Ismay to try to alleviate his condition. The operation was unsuccessful and a second one became necessary on 4 September. The next morning he insisted that his daughters go on a voyage on the Oceanic whilst he talked to his wife. He asked his wife to arrange for the local church to pray for him. On 14 September Thomas suffered a heart attack. His condition continued to worsen and on 23 November Thomas Henry Ismay died. His wife never fully recovered and she died 7 years later.

He and his wife are commemorated with a large grave at St Bartholomew's Church, Thurstaston, Wirral, inscribed: "Great thoughts, great feelings came to him like instincts unawares" and "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."


  1. ^ History Of The White Star Line, Robin Gardiner, 2001