ELDER DEMPSTER LINES – 150 Years Serving West Africa from the UK

ELDER DEMPSTER LINES – 150 Years Serving West Africa from the UK

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Elder Dempster Lines was one of the UK’s largest shipping companies, and during its 150-year history, it operated more than 500 ships. Based in the historic port of Liverpool it was the major shipping line to serve West Africa. As well as its cargo ships, the Elder Dempster Lines operated three ocean liners on a scheduled service to Ghana and Nigeria.

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The M/V Aureol

It employed many people, from its seagoing staff to that personnel in its UK offices and Elder Dempster Agency branches in West Africa. The company had its own Cadet Department to train the deck, engineer, purser, and catering officers of the future. There was a cadet training ship, and Elder Dempster Lines was the first British shipping company to open a purpose-built cadet school.

  • Great Video: “Liverpool to Lagos Mailboat Life” in the 1950s with an excursion to Las Palmas. Fun & Frolics to pass the time away on the 2 week passage, including the famous Greasy Pole.
  • In March 1949 Elder Dempster ordered the third and final passenger ship to enable a fortnightly service from Liverpool to West Africa to be maintained.
  • The new MV AURIOL (named after a mountain in Sierra Leone) was launched on 28th March 1951 by Mrs. E. Tansley.
  • Just over seven months later she left Liverpool on her maiden voyage, on 8th November, under the command of Captain J.J. Smith.

The new ship was larger than her earlier sisters of 1947 – the ACCRA and the APAPA – and had cost twice as much to build as the previous pair combined. The new AUREOL had accommodation for 253 first-class passengers, with another 100 in cabin class. A crew of 145 was required to man her.

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  • By the mid-1960s, the West African passenger service was becoming less and less profitable. After the sale of the ACCRA and the APAPA in 1968, the AUREOL remained to carry on the service on her own and was converted to a one-class liner with 451 berths.
  • Although the southbound voyages were usually carried a nearly full complement of passengers, berth occupancy northbound had been little more than 60 percent for several years.
  • More significant than the decline in passenger numbers was the increase in operating costs in aboard a ship which necessarily carried a large crew.
  • Speaking of a trade mission to Nigeria in November 1971, Mr. Peter F. Erlam, a director of Elder Dempster, commented: “The AUREOL is now an old ship and is expensive to operate, maintain and repair.”

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On 16th March 1972, the AUREOL made the last West African passenger sailing out of Liverpool. Her departure was held up by thick fog which prevented the liner leaving her berth in Brocklebank Dock for the landing stage. The chief barkeeper on the AUREOL, Malcolm Hanlon, summed up the feelings of regret when he said: “Liverpool is such a great port. To see a ship like this leaving for the last time does hurt.”

The AUREOL returned to Southampton at the end of this voyage as the Mersey Docks & Harbour Company had closed the passenger facilities at Princes Landing Stage. Southampton remained the U.K. terminal for the next two and a half years until 21st October 1974 when the ship was laid up in the southern port after completing 203 round voyages in the West African passenger trade.

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Mr. G.J. Ellerton, the chairman of Elder Dempster Lines, said that the withdrawal of the AUREOL was a matter of deep regret. It would mean the end of a service begun in the 1860s, and for that reason, they had hoped it would be possible to find a replacement ship which would enable a viable passenger service to be maintained.

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…