Anchor Line


Mike Perkins

From time to time I have a go at mounting my cards onto sheets and I try to give some background to the illustrations on the cards, their publisher, and the company that issued them. I like to try and tell a story with the cards. I thought some of our other members might like to share in the story of Anchor Line and it’s ships.

The story of Anchor Line can be said to date from 1856 when a steamship service between Glasgow and New York was commenced by the Handyside Brothers and Thomas Henderson, who already ran sailing ships in a number of trades. In the 1860’s, services were introduced into the Mediterranean from both Scotland and North America. The retirement of the last Handyside in 1873 encouraged the Henderson family to take an interest in the Todd and MacGregor shipyard at Partick which, as D. and W. Henderson was to build many Anchor Line ships. In 1875 Anchor Line established it’s other major route with services from Glasgow and Liverpool to Bombay. The services to the Mediterranean were discontinued in the 1890’s as Anchor Lines years of growth came to an end. The name was changed to Anchor Line (Henderson Brothers) Ltd. in 1899 and there was a period of consolidation in which the fleet came to include fewer, but larger more specialised ships for it’s North Atlantic and Indian Routes. This was the first formal use of Anchor Line as part of a ship owning company : previous ships had been owned or managed under the names of various Henderson’s.

1911 saw the end of the company’s independence when it’s shares were bought by the Cunard Steamship Co. Ltd.. There were far-reaching consequences for the Anchor Line, but the only outward change was the addition of a white line between the black hull and the red boot topping, which added considerably to the ship’s smartness. In 1912 Anchor’s Calcutta services were transferred to Brocklebank’s, the service bearing the title Anchor Brocklebank Line. A further joint operation imposed on the line by Cunard was Anchor-Donaldson Ltd., established in 1916. Four Donaldson Line ships were transferred to this company to operate a service between Glasgow and Eastern Canada.

Anchor line ships suffered very badly during the First World War, only the Columbia surviving. The post-war reconstruction program was ambitious, involving five new ships, bigger than any previous Anchor Line vessels. Alas, recession and the drastic reduction in emigration to North America in the 1920s ended the Mediterranean to New York service. Anchor Line now had surplus tonnage and completion of some vessels was postponed. This, along with the generally depressed trading conditions lead the company, along with Cunard, into financial difficulties. In 1935 Anchor Line ( Henderson Brothers ) Ltd. was in liquidation and its assets were transferred to Anchor Line (1935) Ltd. in which Runciman ( London ) Ltd. had a major stake.

Once again war hit the company’s ships hard, only one of the Atlantic liners remained in 1945, and the replacements were cargo liners with very limited passenger accommodation. As a result, the Bombay service assumed a new importance to Anchor Line.

The 1960s saw the end of much of the company’s traditional trade. Passenger sailing’s to India ceased early 1966, and the North Atlantic service closed in 1967. But Anchor Line continued with renewed vigour. Runciman’s operations were transferred to Glasgow, whilst Moor Line ships were registered under Anchor Line ownership and took the remaining sailing’s to India. Walter Runciman plc bought other Scottish companies in the early 1970s, and added to Anchor Line.

Anchor Line was perhaps Glasgow’s best known shipping company, and its name has meant that it has endured to be one of the city’s last.

The ships themselves, sailing across the world’s oceans, also have a story to tell, and here is a brief history of the ships illustrated on the Wembley cards. I should mention that when a ship is sold (or lost), the name is re-used over and over.


Built in 1908 by AG Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft of Keil, Germany. 8142 gross tonnage and 448 feet long. Anchor Line purchased just two ex-German ships after W.W.I, including Assyria which had been built for Hamburg Amerika Line as the Ypiranga. The cargo-passenger ship was intended for the Bombay route, but after entering service in 1921 she spent 4 years running to New York, such was the shortage of North Atlantic Ships. Sold in 1929, she enjoyed a long career serving Portuguese colonies as Colonial, lasting until 1950 when she was wrecked off Scotland, heading to Clydeside breakers as Bisco 9.


Built in 1923 by Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd., of Linthouse. 16792 gross tonnage and 553 feet long, and the third boat to have this name. California was essentially a North Atlantic ship, but each year made several sailing’s to Bombay. She was taken over for conversion to an armed merchant cruiser in 1939 and served in this role until April 1942. By then there was need for troopships, and in this capacity she made 2 voyages to both South Africa and India. Her 3rd trooping voyage was her last, and on-route to Freetown she was bombed and set on fire by aircraft west of Portugal on 11 July 1943, and sank.

Sister ship to the Lancastria (Cunard Line), but with additional promenade deck, and almost identical to the Tuscania.


Built in 1920 by William Beardmore & Co. Ltd. of Dalmuir. 16280 gross tonnage and 575 feet long, and again the second boat to have this name. The Cameronia was the first of Anchor Line’s much needed post-war ships for the North Atlantic. She was launched in record time, but her entry into service was delayed by an industrial dispute over the ending of bonus payments, and she was taken to Cherbourg for completion. Her carer was long and varied, and as a WW2 troopship she was involved in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. This left her apparently worn out, but she was bought out of lay-up in 1947 for further trooping and later carrying emigrants to Australia.

The Ministry of Transport bought her in 1953, renaming her Empire Clyde, but leaving management with Anchor Line. Broken up at Newport late in March 1958 by John Cashmore & Co..


Built in 1906 by Barcley Curle & Co. Ltd. of Whiteinch. 6388 gross tonnage and 441 feet long, and again the second boat to have this name. Although Anchor Line’s association with D & W Henderson’s yard ended in 1899, only slowly did the line turn to other builders such as Barcley Curle. The Castalia survived both wars, and in 1949 was sold to an Italian line, running a service to Central America. After 5 years as the Marengo and Urania II, the old ship was broken up in Japan at the end of 1953.


Built in 1902 by D & W Henderson & Co. Ltd. of Partick. 6717 gross tonnage and 450 feet long, and again the second boat to have this name. She was notable for spending her entire career running to India, even when requisitioned by the Government in W.W.I. Broken up in 1931.


Second boat to have this name built in 1902 by D & W Henderson & Co. Ltd. of Partick. 8292 gross tonnage and 485 feet long. Served on the Northern Patrol as the armed merchant cruiser HMS Columbella being the only one of Anchor Lines major passenger ships to survive. Sold in 1926 to Greek owners as the Moreas. Sailed between Piraeus and New York. Broken up at Venia in 1929.


Built in 1908 by D & W Henderson & Co. Ltd. of Partick. 6368 gross tonnage and 441 feet long, and again the second boat to have this name. During WWI the Elysia had torpedoes fired at her at least 5 times, the last attack in May 1918 causing heavy casualties and severe damage. She showed a similar capacity take punishment during WW2. During an attack by a group of Japanese surface raiders in the Indian Ocean on 5 January 1942, she took several torpedoes and lasted 4 days before sinking.


Built in 1902 with a gross tonnage of 5156, she was a near sister ship to the Olympia. Launched on the 21st of August for the India service, she made her maiden voyage to Bombay. During WWI she was used several times as a hospital ship, sailing between Suez and India. In June 1919 she made her first trans.–Atlantic crossing from Glasgow to Boston. She made occasional Atlantic crossings between 1921 and 1929, but was otherwise an India ship. Sold on the 13th of March 1930 and broken up.


Built in 1902 by D & W Henderson & Co. Ltd. of Partick. 5124 gross tonnage and 400 feet long, again the second boat to have this name. A sister ship to the Massilia, she was essentially a cargo ship for the Indian service with accommodation for just over 50 cabin class passengers. After W.W.I. both ships were occasionally used on the North Atlantic service. After returning to the Bombay route, she was broken up at . in 1926.


Built in 1900 by D & W Henderson & Co. Ltd. of Partick. 5127 gross tonnage and 400 feet long, she was the third boat to carry this name. Scindia was delivered for the India service, but also sailed on the Glasgow to Mediterranean service. She survived WWI, and in 1919 was transferred to the Glasgow to New York service to assist the Columbia – Anchor Lines sole surviving North Atlantic passenger vessel. Sold for demolition on the 25th of April 1927.


Built in 1922 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd., of Govan. 16991 gross tonnage and 552 feet long, and again the second boat to have this name. The splendid Tuscania was intended to trade between Italy and New York, but the imposition of U.S. immigration quotas meant she only made a few such voyages. Tuscania was then used on a number of Anchor and Cunard services, including Anchor Line routes from the UK to New York and to Bombay, Cunard’s London to New York service, plus a certain amount of cruising and trooping. In 1939 she was sold to the General Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. of Greece, and became the Nea Hellas, but with the fall of Greece she returned to British control and Anchor Line management. After W.W.II spent as a troopship, her Greek owners refitted her for their Mediterranean to New York service. After a further refit, she was renamed New York in 1955, and steamed on until 1961 when she was broken up in Japan.

Anchor-Donaldson Line.


Built in 1923 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd., of Glasgow. 13465 gross tonnage and 526 feet long. A Cunard ‘A’ class ship, the twin-screw turbine steamer Athenia had features in common with contemporary Anchor and Cunard Line vessels. She was best known for her tragic end; torpedoed without warning by U30 within 7 hours of the out break of W.W.II on the 3rd of September 1939 whilst on a routine voyage from Liverpool to Montreal. The loss of 93 passengers and 19 crew was a grim foretaste of what unrestricted submarine warfare had in store.


Launched on 27th of June 1906 by Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd. of Grennock. 8135 gross tonnage and 455 feet long. Completed in September 1906 for the Donaldson Line. Transferred to Anchor – Donaldson Ltd. in 1916. Transferred back to Donaldson in 1925, she was converted to a livestock and general cargo carrier and renamed the Carmia. In December 1929 she was sold to A. Bernstein of Germany and renamed Drachenstein. Broken up at Keil by Deutsche Werk AG in 1934.


Built in 1910 by Charles Connel & Co. Ltd., of Glasgow. 8611 gross tonnage and 456 feet long. One of four ships transferred from the Donaldson Line to the newly formed Anchor-Donaldson Line in 1916. This joint venture operated passenger services from Glasgow to Canadian ports. Saturnia survived WWI and was sold for breaking up at Genoa in 1928.

As mentioned earlier, Cunard took over Anchor Line in 1911, and it was fortuitous that both lines used names for their ships ending in "---ia", so that when Cunard borrowed an Anchor Line ship for one of it’s services, the public would still think that the ship was a Cunarder by it’s name.

Cunard appear to have been the major ship owner in the years after the First World War, and this probably explains why so many shipping cards of this period are found with similar backs - perhaps Cunard simply ordered cards for all it’s lines from the one printer. More of Cunard later.

the end.

© Exhibition Study Group 2001