General Steam Navigation Co
From Graces Guide
of 55 Great Tower Street, London
The General Steam Navigation Company was the oldest shipping company in the world to begin business with steamships.
1821 a group of London businessmen including W J Hall, a shipowner, and Thomas Brockelbank, a timber merchant from Deptford, agreed to form a syndicate to develop steamship services. Their first steamer was the James Watt which inaugurated their London to Leith service in 1821. Also running at that time, between London and Margate, was Brockelbank’s own Eagle, the first in a long line of Thames paddle steamers to bear this name.
By August 1825, possessed a fleet of 15 steamers (built on the banks of Deptford Creek)
1825 The company bought land at the Stowage, Deptford (the old East India Company depot) which was used as a yard for the maintenance and repair of its vessels. The company maintained a small fitting-out yard there until the 1970s.
Joseph Miller designed marine engines which were constructed at Butterley for the Lord Melville and the Royal Sovereign, used by Jolliffe and Banks as the basis for the General Steam Navigation Company.
1826 The George IV and the Duke of York made their first voyages to Lisbon
After a severe struggle, the company succeeded in establishing their pioneering merchant fleet. It was at first confined to the passenger business, most notably the London to Margate service which became immensely popular; for several years the annual number of passengers exceeded a million.
Late 1820s The company moved into the carriage of live cattle and sheep from the Continent, a trade which became the basis for its prosperity in the 19th century.
1836 Acquired the London and Edinburgh Steam Packet Co with 6 steamers and the steamships of a rival Thames company, the Margate Steam Packet Company.
By the end of 1840, the company already owned 40 steamers.
The company specialised in links between London, British ports and north west Europe. It also led the way in providing pleasure cruises between London and resorts lower down the Thames.
c.1851 William Beardmore (1824-1877) was apprenticed to his father, Joseph Beardmore, who was then and for many years afterwards Chief Engineer at the General Steam Navigation Company’s works at Deptford. After completing his apprenticeship, William was appointed Assistant Superintendent of the works, holding the post for about ten years (until 1861).
1882 Started Mediterranean services which increased into a substantial network of cargo/passenger routes.
1894 Voyages made to West Africa but these ceased in 1895.
1894 Voyages were also made to North and South America and Gulf of Mexico ports but these ended in 1901
1902 Reconstruction took place in connection with a reorganisation and consolidation of the capital, registration under the Companies Act being effected 7 October. 
1906 acquired John Crisp and Son which had a shipping service between London and East Anglia and also a river trade using a fleet of Norfolk wherries.
1909 Acquired the freehold of Brewers, Chesters and Galley Quays, near Tower Bridge, developing further its wharfage interests.
WWI 23 vessels were lost
Post War: A large rebuilding programme began.
1920 Acquired by Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co
A new company, Great Yarmouth Shipping Co, was formed jointly to operate services between London and Great Yarmouth via Lowestoft and Hull.
1931 Took over the Rhine-London Line
1933 Took over the London and Dunkirk Shipping Co.
1934 Acquired the Moss Hutchison Line of Liverpool with its Mediterranean trade after the liquidation of the Royal Mail Lines group of which it was a member.
1936 The New Medway Steam Packet Co (who were pioneers of the Thames day-excursion trade along with General Steam Navigation Company) was taken over which gave General Steam Navigation a monopoly of the Thames excursion business.
1937 A subsidiary company Grand Union Shipping Co was formed
1939 an interest was purchased in Turner, Edwards and Co of Bristol, which was later taken over.
Late 1950s: passenger numbers began to drop.
1966 The excursion steamers were withdrawn at the end of the season.
1967 Normandy Ferries and North Sea Ferries were formed as consortia.
1970/1 Great Yarmouth Shipping Co. and Grand Union Shipping Co. ceased trading.
1972 Disappeared as an independent company.
Sources of Information
- The Blackburn Standard, Wednesday, August 10, 1836
- The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
- The Times, Mar 02, 1955