In 1900 Prince Line
Ltd had 38 steam ships registered in its name and by this
time a regular service from Genoa, Marseilles, Barcelona and
Cadiz to the West Indies, Central America, Mexico and New
Orleans was well established. However, the service from the
Tyne to Central American ports, Mexico and New Orleans was
the most popular with the Geordie crews as it allowed them
to sign on and sign off at their home port. The company's
vessels carried a limited number of passengers with the fare
to Gibraltar costing £6, to Tunis or Malta £9,
to Alexandria £13 and to Beyrouth (Beirut) or Jaffa
£16. At the same time the company was very much instrumental
in developing the Jaffa orange trade by providing suitable
tonnage to carry citrus fruits from the Holy Land and Palestine.
A service from New York to South Africa, India and the Far
East was inaugurated in 1902 and with the opening of the Panama
Canal in 1909 and expansion of the fleet in 1917 this was
extended into a Round the World service to compete with companies
such as Silver Line and Dollar Line.
The late Edwardian and pre-war
era saw the company at its zenith. Larger vessels were built
and added to a fleet which expanded to a size that was never
matched in subsequent years. The prestige of the company was
also at its peak during the years which led up to the First
World War. In the year prior to the war four new ships built
by Shorts joined the fleet and they were the last ships ordered
by Sir James Knott. Also, immediately before the outbreak
of the war the company was carrying one third of the Brazilian
coffee crop from Brazil to New York and New Orleans.
When the First World War broke out the fleet was comprised
of 45 steam ships and during the hostilities 21 were lost
through enemy action or other maritime actions and 86 crew
members lost their lives.
On 15th September, 1915 Sir James' third son Capt. Henry Basil
Knott was killed in action at the Battle of Ypres while serving
with the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was 24 years old. Major
James Leadbitter Knott, Sir James' second son, was killed
at the Battle of the Somme on 1st July, 1916 while serving
with the West Yorkshire Regiment. The two brothers were buried
side by side in Ypres cemetery an event which, in its self
was unique for relatives killed during those dreadful battles.
The third brother, Thomas Garbutt Knott, also served in the
army in Gallipoli, Palestine and South Africa and was captured
and interned in Germany until Armistice Day.
Sir James Knott was devastated
by the deaths of his sons and these tragic events were the
main reason why he decided to sell the entire company to Furness,
Withy & Co. for £3,000,000 at the end of 1916. Furness,
Withy & Co. had been founded in West Hartlepool in September
1891 by Christopher Furness, later Lord Furness of Grantley,
and Henry Withy. In 1884 Christopher Furness purchased the
shipyard of Edward Withy, the brother of Henry Withy, when
Edward decide to make a new life for himself in New Zealand.
The company was incorporated to consolidate the various business
interests of Furness which were spread between West Hartlepool
and London. When Christopher Furness died in 1912 he was succeeded
by his nephew Sir Stephen Furness MP who sadly died two years
later while on holiday. Christopher Furness's only son, the
second Lord Furness, then became chairman of the company.
Under the Furness, Withy umbrella
the livery of the Prince Line ships was altered to reflect
the change of ownership and Sir James remained a director
until the company's operations were moved to 12, Leadenhall
Street, London when the Furness family sold their shipping
interests in 1919.
Over the following years Sir James soon began to direct his
activities to those of a more philanthropic nature. The loss
of his sons had a profound effect on him and in memory of
them he established and endowed the Knott Memorial Fund to
assist the widows of men who fell in battle. His most conspicuous
gift was the funding of the building of the Church of St.
James and St. Basil in Fenham Hall Drive, Newcastle which
incorporated a sunken garden of rest for the weary, old and
infirm. His philanthropic works were recognised when he was
created a baronet in July 1917.
Also in July 1917 the convoy system was introduced which undoubtedly
prevented excessive further losses for the company. From that
date until the end of the war only two further vessels were
lost and one of those as the result of a grounding.
In 1919 the Furness family
sold their interests in Furness, Withy & Company to a
London based syndicate headed by Frederick Lewis who had previously
been a director and manager of the London Office. The first
task of the new management was to rebuild the fleet and they
embarked upon a renewal programme which consisted primarily
of purchased from the War Shipping Controller. Four new 8600,grt
steam ships were ordered, two from Shorts and two from Palmers
yard on the Tyne and William Pickerskill & Sons Ltd of
Sunderland completed the first new building programme when
they handed over the Persian Prince in July 1918 and the Arabian
Prince in January 1919.
During 1917 the management
of Furness, Withy incorporated Rio-Cape Line Ltd as a subsidiary
of Prince Line Ltd. to operate the twelve steamers acquired
when J. Gardiner & Co. of Glasgow was purchased. The ships,
which were all prefixed 'Glen', were given the Prince Line
slate grey hull and funnel livery. Due to war time restrictions
the names of the ships could not be changed and initially
the ex-Gardiner ships were managed by Prince Line, a situation
which continued until the regulations were eased in January
1919 when the ships were renamed.