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By 1856-7 George Burrell was established as a shipping and forwarding agent at Port Dundas
c.1858 His son joined the firm which then traded under the name of Burrell and Son owning small vessels that could use the Forth and Clyde Canal
1866 took a half-share in an ocean-going steamer
By 1875 owned six more steamers which had been built for them.
1876 William Burrell entered the firm at the age of 15
1877 one of the firm's ships salvaged Cleopatra's Needle, which had been lost in the Bay of Biscay on its passage to England.
1885 On his father's death William and his eldest brother, George, took over the management. They developed the firm into one of international standing in worldwide tramping and in ship management.
George kept abreast of developments in marine engineering while William specialized in the commercial side.
In times of depression they would order a large number of ships at rock-bottom prices, calculating that the vessels would be coming off the stocks when the slump was reaching an end. Burrell and Son would then be in a position to attract cargoes because it had ships available and could undercut its rivals. Then, after several years of highly profitable trading, the brothers would sell the fleet in a boom period. This was repeated twice. William described the process as making money like slate-stones, but none of their competitors had sufficient nerve to take such risks. This process was repeated twice on a large scale.
In 1893-1894 twelve new ships were built for the fleet at a time when the industry was in a very depressed state. A few years later, advantage was taken of the current high prices and every vessel was sold.
1905 After several years of semi-retirement, William and George ordered 20 steamers, to the astonishment of the industry; 8 more were delivered in 1909-1910.
Between 1913 and 1916 they sold almost the entire fleet, including vessels which were still on the stocks.
1915 owned thirty ships all of over 4000 gross tonnage.
By 1917 almost the entire fleet had been sold.
With his share of the proceeds shrewdly invested, William Burrell devoted the remainder of his life to his art collection