Introduction (pictured - Castor and other vessels in a choppy sea; Thomas Luny, 1802, National Maritime Museum)
Having spent several years observing shipping in the Mersey from a wonderful vantage point on the fourth floor of the Royal Liver Building, I have, over the years developed a fascination for merchant ships and the mysterious exotic destinations they plied their trade to, especially when the cargo was cotton, tea or coal. So reading recently about the prisoner of war camp at Grizedale Hall in the Lake District and its connection with the Brocklebank Company of Liverpool, I became intrigued to know more. What follows is a brief biography of Daniel Brocklebank (1741-1801), shipbuilder and mariner, his family and some background detail of the shipping line he founded.
The Early Years
Daniel was born in Torpenhow, Cumberland and apprenticed to a Whitehaven shipbuilder at the age of fourteen. At the time Whitehaven was at the centre of an emerging shipbuilding industry on the west coast serving mainly the coal trade. He married Anne Cuppage in 1769 and at the age of 29 they emigrated to America with their daughter Sarah where he set up his own shipyard near Portland, Maine. Two sons were born there, Daniel Jnr in 1773 and Thomas in 1774. Between 1770 and 1775 he built five ships but when the American wars of independence began in 1775, being loyal to the English crown, he returned home to Whitehaven with his family in his most recently completed vessel, Castor.
Daniel became a privateer, using Castor now armed with guns, later adding merchant ships Precedent and Cyrus to his fleet which traded to all parts of the world. Three further children were born after their return to England, Anne 1777, John 1779 and Margaret 1782. In 1785 he restarted shipbuilding in Whitehaven building nearly thirty vessels in total during his lifetime, and by 1795 his own fleet consisted of eleven vessels. Daniel Brocklebank died in 1801 and the company was renamed Thomas and John Brocklebank when his two remaining sons took over the business, older brother Daniel junior having died in 1790 aged 17 in Jamaica in command of the ship Alfred. Despite the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) the company thrived and by 1809 Brocklebank ships were trading to South America, China and India. Thomas Brocklebank (1774-1845) moved to Liverpool in 1819, leaving brother John running the shipyard in Whitehaven and the ropery at Bransty. The firm opened an office in Rumford Street in 1822 and in 1827 Brocklebanks built their first paddle steamer, the Countess of Lonsdale.
Neither of the two brothers having married, Thomas Fisher, the son of sister Anne, became the heir apparent when he joined the Company in 1831, the same year the brothers partnership came to an end when John Brocklebank was tragically killed riding his horse. In 1843 Thomas made his forty year-old cousin Ralph (son of his father's brother John) and nephew Thomas Fisher partners, Thomas changing his name to Brocklebank on the death of his uncle Thomas in 1845.
The Whitehaven shipyard was closed in 1865 and Brocklebank became solely a merchant shipping company, with up to fifty vessels under the flag, now purchasing larger iron and steel sailing ships from Harland & Wolff in Belfast. Several other family members too, from different generations were to become involved in the company over the succeeding years, Ralph becoming Chairman of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board and Thomas becoming the 1st Baronet Brocklebank in 1885. The shipping office was moved to Bixteth Street in 1886, but the firm was slow to convert to steam propulsion, they did not purchase their first steamer until 1889 when they commissioned the Ameer. Thomas Brocklebank (1848-1911), the first baronet's son, became Chairman in 1895 and in 1898 the Brocklebank line became a limited company. On his death in 1911, his brother Harold (1853-1936) succeeded him as Chairman, followed in 1913 by his nephew Sir Aubrey, who had been Managing Director since 1898. In 1911 Brocklebank ceased to be a family business after a substantial shareholding was sold, and in 1912 the Anchor Line, a subsidiary of Cunard, gained a controlling interest, with Sir Aubrey Brocklebank retaining the Chairmanship until his death in 1929. The firm becoming wholly owned by Cunard in 1940.
Company records show that over the years wrecks and losses seemed to be a regular occurrence, no doubt indicative of the dangers facing mariners in the days of sail and early steamers. In times of conflict, like most other merchant shipping lines the attrition rate reached alarming proportions and the Brocklebank fleet was not untypical in losing sixty percent of its twenty six vessels during the second world war.
Brocklebank residences through three centuries have included Stanfield House Whitehaven, Greenlands (Wasdale) and Ireton Halls in Cumberland (at the junction of Wasdale, Miterdale and Eskdale, now a hotel), Grizedale Hall in Westmorland and Childwall Hall and Springwood House in Liverpool. Harold Brocklebank purchased the Grizedale Estate near Hawkshead in 1903 and had the existing hall demolished to make way for the fourth hall on the site, a forty room Gothic mansion which was completed in 1907. After he died in 1936 the Forestry Commission took over the property, although during the second world war it was used as a prisoner of war camp for German officers, residents there including such high ranking officers as Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. Returned to the Forestry Commission after the war it fell into disrepair and because of the high cost of maintenance it was demolished in 1957.
Palfreyman September 2017.