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British Industrial History

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John Reeves Ellerman

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Sir John Reeves Ellerman (1862-1933), accountant, financier and shipowner, of the Ellerman Lines

1862 Born in Kingston upon Hull, son of Johann Herman Ellerman, a Lutheran corn merchant and shipbroker, and his wife, Anne Elizabeth Reeves.

c.1876 articled to a Birmingham chartered accountant

c.1878 inherited a legacy from his maternal grandfather

Moved to London, where he worked for Quilter, Ball and Co., one of the most distinguished accountancy firms in Britain.

He was offered a partnership but decided to found his own accountancy business, J. Ellerman & Co., in 1886.

1890 Established his first major financial undertaking, the Brewery and Commercial Investment Trust, which grew enormously in value.

1892 After the death of Frederick Leyland, Christopher Furness and Ellerman formed a syndicate with the backing of Henry Osborne O'Hagan which took over and reorganized Leyland and Co which brought criticism from the financial press. Ellerman came to dominate the firm.

1901 Ellerman sold most of Leyland & Co. to J. P. Morgan. Ellerman retained 20 ships not involved in the USA trade (i.e. to serve the Mediterranean, Portugal, Montreal and Antwerp).

1901 To provide an organisation to operate the remaining ships, Ellerman personally bought the stagnant Greek shipowner Papayanni Co, renaming it the London, Liverpool, and Ocean Shipping Co. Then he acquired most of the City Line, the Hall Line, and the smaller Westcott and Laurence.

1902 These shipping companies were brought together as the Ellerman Lines, with a new, common uniform for its employees and a company pennant in use from October 1904. Ellerman expanded into the closely regulated Atlantic and South African routes, as well as the route to India, and became a considerable troop and war supplies carrier in the latter phases of the South African War.

He was one of the first prominent British businessmen to have been professionally trained as an accountant. At the same time as he was growing his shipping interests, he increasingly became involved in other areas of business, especially brewing, collieries, newspapers, and property.

By 1902 Ellerman held shares in 38 different breweries

1904–5 Acquired two further well-known shipping firms, Bucknalls and the Glen Line

1904 became the largest single shareholder in the Financial Times and later developed other newspaper interests.

1905 A baronetcy was conferred on him

1907 Became president of the British Chamber of Shipping.

By 1914 he was also a director of Shaw, Savill, and Albion.

He had also diversified into coal, in order to guarantee supplies of coal for his shipping empire.

1916 Ellerman made his largest purchase in the shipping field, buying Thomas Wilson Sons and Co. of Hull.

By 1916 Ellerman was said to be the richest man in Britain by far.

By April 1917, Ellerman Lines owned ships totalling 1.5 million tons, one-eighth of British shipping tonnage of over 1000 tons.

1917 Ellerman had an interest in a new shipyard at Pallion near Sunderland based on an old yard of 16 acres (might this have been part of William Doxford and Sons or another yard?)[1]

By 1918 he had interests in more than seventy breweries which he improved - one of these, Hoare and Co. of Tower Bridge, earned its biggest profit in 435 years within a year of Ellerman's gaining control, and then expanded rapidly.

1919 Acquired the famous Red Lion Brewery

1919 Sold the Financial Times to the Berry brothers.

From 1920 began assembling a portfolio of central London properties

By the early 1920s he held shares in at least 22 collieries, although he did not become a director of a publicly traded colliery company.

1922 Sold off his newspaper interests after the death of Lord Northcliffe

1926 Acquired the City of London Brewery.

1933 He died in Dieppe, At his death his estate was the largest estate ever left in the country. He was succeeded by his only son, Sir John Ellerman, second baronet.

* Obituary[2]

BY the death of Sir John Reeves Ellerman, which took place at Dieppe on Sunday, July 16th, following a short illness, our country has lost a great financier and a successful manager of shipping. Sir John, who was seventy-one years of age, was trained as an accountant, and after some years in Birmingham came to London, where he laid the foundations of his large ship-owning business by securing a controlling interest in the Leyland Line. That company was purchased by the Morgan interests in 1901, and Sir John Ellerman then acquired the Leyland Mediterranean fleet and the Greek Papayanni Line, and started the Ellerman Line. The successive purchases later of the City Line between Glasgow and the West Indies, the Hall Line, the Westcott and Laurance Line, and the Bucknall Line, to which, in 1916, the Wilson Line was added, gave Sir John the control during the war years of shipping undertakings exceeding in value £35,000,000. He rendered valuable assistance to the war-time Ministry of Shipping, and to the industry in the years which followed the war, and he will long be remembered as one of the great men behind British shipping. Although he was not himself a technical man, he took the keenest interest in the design of his ships and their propelling machinery, and he neglected no modern development. During recent years Sir John was also connected with London newspapers and illustrated journals, and took a keen interest in the artistic side of their production.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1917
  2. The Engineer 1933/07/21
  • Biography of Sir John Ellerman, ODNB