The Bank Line and Bank Line (China) – Hong Kong connection

Tymon Mellor’s article, Andrew Weir Shipping and Trading Co.Ltd (Bank Line) – connection to Sha Lo Wan Mine, Lantau, led to, Andrew Weir & Company. It should be noted that the following article refers to The Bank Line and not The Bank Line (China) Ltd, about which some information ca be found in our article, Thomas Alexander Loughlin, manager of The Bank Line (China) Ltd, HK office, 1914. All these articles are linked below.

It would very useful to learn more about the China subsidiary of the company in Hong Kong.

I asked Stephen Davies about Bank Line and if he could provide any link between the shipping line and Hong Kong.

Stephen Davies: Not sure what you’re looking for with the Bank Line, one shipping historian, Roy Fenton, rightly notes that the line could never quite decide whether it was in the tramping or the liner service business. In the former a ship heads out with a cargo and, at a port of discharge, sees what she can get for where as a replacement, gradually working her way homewards for up to four years and more – roughly. In the latter the ship works to a timetable around pre-published ports of cal where consolidated shipments are waiting for pick-up to another port on the itinerary. In its last years the company worked a round the world liner service.

The company’s operations first seem to get a local mention when Andrew Weir & Co (the parent company) gets into the China and transpacific trade, in cahoots with the US company Frank Waterhouse & Co, in July 1907. Stories following up on that are writing, by June 1910, of an impending ‘rates war’ with Blue Funnel, which of course was Butterfield & Swire’s agency in HK and China. I can’t find any specific mention of The Bank Line until adverts in 1911, when they were operating out of King’s Building, Praya, Central and as far as I can see they stayed in Central operating successfully until the Japanese invasion. They resumed biz after the war – on 4th June 1963 the departure from HK was announced of Mr AHA Penn, who’d arrived to work for The Bank Line (China) Ltd in 1921, having been working for the parent company in London since 1914 (with a break for war service 1915-1918). He became Manager in 1935, spent the occupation in Sham Shui Po and Argyle St (he was in the HKVDC) and retired in 1957.

Andrew Weir and the Bank Line

Andrew Weir entered the shipowning business in 1885 in Glasgow when he purchased the barque WILLOWBANK and eventually controlled one of the largest fleets of sailing ships under the British flag. In 1896 the company purchased their first steamship, but it was 1912 before the last sailing ship was sold. In 1905 the company was registered as Bank Line and the head office was moved to London, although the ships continued to be registered in Glasgow.
In 1917 the United Baltic Corporation was formed with 50% of the shares held by Andrew Weir & Co. and 50% by East Asiatic Co., Copenhagen. However, this was managed as a seperate company and is the subject of another fleet list.
The tanker trade was entered in 1920 with the establishment of the British-Mexican Petroleum Co. and this passed into the control of Andrew Weir & Co. in 1930 and subsequently became part of the Anglo-American Oil Co. Motorships were built from 1923 for the service between Rangoon and South Africa with accommodation for 12-1st, 20-2nd and 400-emigrant class passengers. In 1925 a French subsidiary was formed and named Cie. Venture-Weir S.A, Paris and operated services between Antwerp, Dunkirk, Havre, Bordeaux and West African ports. However, by 1928 this company returned to the oil distribution trade. In 1925 the Lago Shipping Co. was established to ship crude oil from Lake Maracaibo to the refineries at Aruba, but control of this company passed to F. J. Wolfe in 1936.

Bank Line Advert China Mail 12.12.1928

China Mail 12th December 1928

The service between Calcutta, Rangoon, Colombo and South Africa was taken over from Bullard, King & Co. in 1933 and became known as the India Natal Line. Ships on this service had accommodation for 50-1st, 20-2nd and facilities for 500 native passengers. In 1935 MacAndrews & Co. were taken over by United Baltic Corporation, which allowed access to the Spanish trade. Many of the company’s ships were lost in WWII but were rapidly replaced after the war and the company continued to expand. It is one of the widest ranging shipping companies in the world and is still trading successfully.(1)

Routes ( not a complete listing)

  • 1905 American & Indian Line – Calcutta, Chittagong, Rangoon, Colombo to Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
  •  American & Indian Branch Service – Rangoon, Chittagong, Madras, Madras Coast, Colombo, Malabar Coast, Aden, Port Sudan to Boston, New York & Philadelphia.
  • 1914 American & Oriental Line – New York to Straits Settlements, Hong Kong, Philippines, China & Japan.
  • 1904 American & Rio Plata Line – New York to Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Rosario and Bahia Blanca.
  • Bombay American Line – Bombay to New York & Philadelphia.
  • 191? Calcutta to River Plate Ports – Calcutta to Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Rosario and Bahia Blanca.
  • 1911 Indian African Line (Cargo and passengers) – Rangoon, Calcutta, Colombo, Beira, Delagia Bay, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Mossel bay & Cape Town.
  • Indian Chilian Line – Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore to West Coast of South America.
  • 1912 Oriental African Line (Cargo and Passengers) – Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore to Mauritius, Delagoa bay, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay, Cape Town.
  • 191? Persian Gulf – Busreh & Bushire to UK and Continent.
  • 1907 Australasia – Chile & Peru.
  • 1928 Persian Gulf – South African Line
  • 1933 India – Natal Line
  • 1936 Gulf – Australasia Line
  • 1988 East Africa – Eastern Seaboard of U.S.A.(1)


Bank Line, Master, Officers And Crew Of The Olivebank Courtesy Seabreezes

Master, Officers and crew of the Olivebank Courtesy: Alan Rawlinson and (1)

For a  fairly lengthy insight into the history of the Bank Line please refer to the article below which covers its history from 1885 to 1985.

Bank Line The Irisbank Built 1930 Courtesy Sea Breezes

The Irisbank, a twin screw motorship built in 1930 and the lead ship of a four ship order from Workman and Clarke Courtesy: Alan Rawlinson and (1)


  1. The Bank Line, 1885-1985 Seabreezes


  1. The Sea Breezes magazine website is dedicated to ships and the sea, shipping companies, seafarers and Merchant and Royal Navy enthusiasts from sail to steam to nuclear driven vessels. Read of factual incidents soon to become our history by individuals who were present.
  2. Frank Waterhouse & Company

This article was first posted on 26th April 2018.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Andrew Weir Shipping and Trading Co.Ltd (Bank Line) – connection to Sha Lo Wan Mine, Lantau
  2. Andrew Weir & Company
  3. Thomas Alexander Loughlin, manager of The Bank Line (China) Ltd, HK office, 1914


  • Heather Bell

    I have a reference from the Irisbank dated 26th June 1948 for my father Wilson Bell who served on this ship as a junior 4th engineer officer from 20th May 1946 to 26th June 1948. Would you have any old records about Mr Bell such as what ship or company he came from or where he went to after he left the Irisbank ? Any details you have would be much appreciated. Thanks. Heather Bell

    • Hello Heather

      Many thanks for leaving your comment attached to our article The Bank Line…

      I am afraid I don’t know whether there are any preserved records of Bank Line’s ships or of their crews.

      Good luck in your search for further information about your father’s career.

      Best wishes
      Hugh Farmer

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