Andrew Weir was born on 24th April, 1865 and started his working
life in the banking circles in Scotland. However, it soon
became apparent that his future ambitions lay in the shipping
industry and this ambition was soon to be realised. On 5th
May 1885, after a brief spell in a shipowner's office to learn
the ropes, he opened his own office in Glasgow and acquired
his first ship, the Willowbank, a sailing ship of 882 gross
tons. The business prospered and within ten years Andrew Weir
owned one of the largest fleets sailing under the red ensign.
During the thirty year period between 1885
and 1915 the company ordered 21 new vessels and acquired 24
other sailing ships, the last purchase being in 1896 and the
last addition to the fleet being in 1915. Details and a brief
history of each vessel can be found on a later page
By the end of the 19th century the company
began to take an interest in steam propulsion but were wary
of disposing of the sailing ship fleet until steam had proved
itself as a viable alternative. But, as a first step, in 1896
Andrew Weir acquired the steamship Duneric. Once the use of
steam had been proven the Duneric was followed by a long list
of steamships of increasing size all with the suffix "eric"
in the name. In fact, the growth of the steamship fleet was
as rapid as that of the sailing vessels in the company's early
days and it wasn't long before the combined tonnage of the steamship
fleet totaled 312,534 tons deadweight. At about the same time
the structure of the company began to change and instead of
utilising the ships in the tramping business, picking up cargoes
wherever they could, Andrew Weir began deploying them on regular
routes all over the world.
In the early years of the 20th
century rapid expansion necessitated to opening of a branch
office in Middlesbrough and in 1905 the headquarters of the
company was moved to London. In the same year Bank Line Ltd
was formed and since that date all ships have been registered
in that company or one of its subsidiaries. At the same time
the first of many branches were established overseas in New
York, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and Hong Kong. In 1906 the
company inaugurated its India-African Line followed, in 1907,
by the introduction of a Seattle to Australia service.
The India - African Line was
formed to carry immigrants from India, mainly from the Gujarat
region, to South Africa to work the newly established sugar
plantations in Natal as the back-breaking work would not be
performed by the local Zulu population. The company initially
used chartered tonnage and operated a monthly service from Cape
Town to Calcutta and Rangoon. The passenger service, however,
really got underway in 1913 when the Johannesburg, the Fort
Salisbury and the Buluwayo were purchased from the Bucknall
Line and renamed the Surat, the Gujarat and the Kathiawar.
The next milestone in the company's history
was in November 1913 when the first oil tanker joined the fleet.
The Desabla (6,047 GRT) was built and engined by Hawthorn Leslie
& Co. Ltd at Newcastle but it wasn't until after the First
World War that the tanker fleet began to expand.
In 1917, with the First World War in its fourth
year, Andrew Weir was called into public service and appointed
to the office of Surveyor General of Supply at the War Office.
He became a member of the Cabinet in January 1919 as Minister
of Munitions and in 1921 was appointed as the first chairman
of the Liquidation and Disposals Commission. This role took
him all over the country and occasionally to the battle-fields
of France. For his services to the country Andrew Weir was created
the first Baron Inverforth of Southgate.
When Andrew Weir became a Cabinet minister
he resigned from the company and was succeeded by his son the
Hon. A. Morton Weir. In due course, however, Lord Inverforth
return to the company to continue to guide the partnership he
Following his success with steamships Lord
Inverforth was quick to spot the potential of the internal combustion
engine and, once again, embarked on a rapid expansion program
to incorporate the new technology. In 1922 he consulted with
Lord Pirrie the chairman of Harland & Wolff and placed his
first order for 21 motorships, 18 of which were to comprise
the "Inverbank" class. With the advent of the diesel
ship the company reverted to using the suffix "Bank",
which had fallen into disuse at the end of the sailing ship
era, on all vessels.