The General Steam Navigation Company (GSNC), incorporated in 1824, was London’s foremost short sea shipping line line for almost 150 years, and the oldest shipping company in the world to begin business with steamships.homas and John Brockelbank, who had timber and shipyard interests in Deptford. Their first steamer, the James Watt inaugurated a London to Leith service in the same year, while Brockelbank’s Thames Paddle Steamer, Eagle provided a service between London and Margate.
In June 1824 the company was formally founded by an enlarged group of business people, now including Edward Banks and William Jolliffe (brother of Hylton Jollife, MP), and described as a “shrewd, solid and resolute set of men”, and eventually incorporated by private Acts of Parliament in 1831. By 1825 it was operating a fleet of 15 Deptford-built steamers, maintained from a yard at the Stowage, Deptford (a former East India Co. depot).
The GSNC experimented with services to Lisbon, Portugal and to Gibraltar, and even to Africa and the Americas, but specialised in links with ports in Britain and northwest Europe. It also provided pleasure cruises between London and resorts lower down the Thames. The purchase of the New Medway Steam Packet Co. in 1936 gave it a monopoly of this business.
P&O bought a controlling stake in 1920, but retained the GSNC identity.
At the start of World War II, the GSNC had about 45 ships, of which 10 were pleasure boats. During the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation,these vessels, along with some cargo vessels, saved around 10% of all those rescued from the French beaches.
The disappearance of general cargo vessels in the 1960s took away most of the GSNC’s business, and the GSNC became wholly owned by P&O in 1972 and disappeared as an independent company.
SEMPER FIDELIS is effectively the sequel to A CENTURY OF SEA TRADING by L. Cope Cornford (which well be available on BRITISH TREASURES – PLEASE CHECK “New and Recent” pages regularly. SEMPER FIDELIS also includes:-List of vessels lost 1939-45 war, full fleet list from company’s founding, full index people and ships. List of company chairmen and secretaries since foundation. List of decorations and awards to personnel during Great War.