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PRINCE LINE

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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.

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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.

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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.

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