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Early 1870s John Bramall (1812-1887) and Thomas Sorby had engaged in shipping activities, through Messrs Wilkinson, Watt and Co of West Hartlepool, with some success which encouraged them to form a shipping company to trade with Java under a contract with the Dutch government.
Bramall and Sorby formed the company with J. B. Walker who was to be the ship's agent; the Star Bull Line would trade with Java using 4 ships (the minimum necessary to maintain a regular service). The first ship was named John Bramall, followed by Thomas Sorby, and J. B. Walker and Nelly Martin (named after Brammall's daughter).  The initial ship was so successful that they committed to the other 3 which would sail from Holland and Southampton. Many of Mr Bramall and Mr Sorby's acquaintances in Sheffield also invested in the company
1875 The steamer Thomas Sorby was launched; Mr Thomas Sorby died the following day
1875 The steamer Thomas Sorby sank., having foundered off Holland on her return voyage from Batavia; the master was Captain Samuel Jackson who went down with his ship.
1877 Special Resolution for Liquidation by Arrangement of the affairs of John Bramall, of Endcliffe-crescent, Ranmoor, Sheffield, in the county of York, lately carrying on business in copartnership with John Baker Walker, of Cleaveland-street, Middlesborougb, in the county of York, under the firm of J. B. Walker and Co., as Shipbrokers and Agents; and in the Matter of a Special Resolution for Liquidation by Arrangement of. the affairs of John Baker Walker, of Middlesborougb, in the county of York, trading under the style or firm of J. B. Walker and Co., at Middlesborbugh aforesaid, and at Barrow-in-Furness, in the county of Lancaster, as a Ship Owner, Ship and Insurance Broker, and General Commission Agent, and also trading in partnership with John Bramall, of Sheffield, in the said county of York,under the above-named style or firm, at Middlesborough aforesaid, as a Ship Owner and Shipbroker; and in the Matter of the Order of the County Court of Yorkshire, holden at Sheffield, dated the 15th day of November, 1877, for the consolidation of the said matters and proceedings.
1878 the steamer John Bramall ran aground and sank off the coast of the USA whilst carrying arms to Turkey
1880 Litigation continued for several years to discover the true extent of the financial problems and recover some of the creditors' funds