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British shipping companies (U)

Last modified: 2021-05-29 by rob raeside
Keywords: shipping lines |
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Ulster Steamship Co Ltd.

[Ulster Steamship Co., Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

From the website of the National Maritime Museum, the house flag of Ulster Steamship Co Ltd., Belfast. A blue rectangular flag bearing a white shield with the red hand of Ulster dripping blood. The white initials 'USS Co' placed near the hoist. The flag is made of a wool and synthetic fibre bunting. It has a cotton hoist and is machine sewn."
Jarig Bakker, 2 September 2004

[Ulster Steamship Co., Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

Loughran (1979) has four red drops and dots after all letters. Loughran (1979) writes: "The Ulster S.S. Co. Ltd., of Belfast, managed by G. Heyn & Sons Ltd., and known as the Head Line from the names of its ships, chose the Bloody Hand of Ulster as its symbol. The Red Hand is associated with a story from ancient Irish history, In ancient times the King of Ulster was elected from amongst the various chieftains, at special gatherings in the Isle of Arran which was then part of the Kingdom of Ireland. Once, when the chiefs failed to agree on the merits of rival candidates, one a McDonnell, the other an O'Neill, it was decided that whichever should first put his hand on the soil of Ireland, should gain the crown. Both immediately set sail, but when they reached the rocky coast, neither could land because of the heavy seas. Determined not to be baulked at that stage, O'Neill made his crew row as far inland as possible, drew his sword, and severing his hand at the wrist, threw it ashore. Thus, at a terrible price, he won the crown."
Jarig Bakker, 2 September 2004

The Ulster Steamship Company was registered in 1877, the company ran services to the east coast of Canada, the Far East, Europe and Baltic Ports. Voyages to New Orleans started in 1896 and the company began carrying a limited number of passengers at about the same time. In 1917 the Irish Ship-owners Company Ltd, (Thomas Dixon & Sons, Belfast) known as Lord Line, was taken over. They had run sailings between Belfast, Dublin, Cardiff and Baltimore, Rotterdam to Galveston, and Cardiff to Montreal and Quebec. Lord Line continued these services as a subsidiary. Agreement was reached in 1919 between the Ulster Steamship Company, Palgrave, Murphy & Company, Dublin and Hudig & Veder NV Rotterdam, to form a working partnership and to pool vessels. There were limited inter-fleet sales of vessels between the three partners. Following the changes of ownership and the creation of the Republic of Ireland the company was re-registered in Belfast in 1924. On the opening of Great Lakes to foreign deep sea vessels in 1959, the company established a new service. Ulster Steamship Company acquired the shares of Donaldson Line in 1967 and the company traded under the name of Head-Donaldson Line. In 1979 the last ship was sold and the firm was absorbed into Canadian Pacific Operations.
National Maritime Museum

Lloyd's Book of House Flags and Funnels (1912) shows the same house flag for the Ulster Steamship Co., Ltd. (G. Heyn & Sons) (Head Line) (#380, p. 55).
Ivan Sache, 23 April 2021

Union-Castle Line (Union Castle Mail S.S. Co. Ltd., London)

[Union-Castle Line houseflag] image by Jorge Candeias, 01 April 1999

I saw this flag in London at a ceremony for the dead civil sailors of the World Wars, last August (see photo). It is really a nice flag. This one had a ratio of 1:2. The proportions are a little bit different. The owner was a veteran of the line, which seems not to be in existence any more.
J. Patrick Fischer, 8 October 2002

The Union Castle Mail Steamship Co. Ltd. was formed March 1900 and the flag combines those of the founding members being the Union Steamship Co. with a white flag and a blue border bearing a red saltire on the white, and the Castle Line of Donald Currie & Co. which had a blue flag with a white saltire surmounted by an white diamond bearing a red "C". There are discrepancies between sources as to whether the saltire of the former was throughout the white or was coupled, and with the latter as to whether the diamond was defined or merged into the white with the last option appearing the likely. Thus the red saltire of the Union Steamship flag replaced the "C" on the Castle flag. In 1953 the company became part of the British & Commonwealth Shipping Co. with the constituent companies retaining their identities. A group flag did result incorporating the Union Castle design and from the video "The Great Liners Part 2" it appears that whilst the group flag was normally flown both can be distinguished on their own, or on one occasion possibly the group flag is in conjunction with the normal company flag, or then again, the 2nd may have been the commodore's flag as it was the flagship "Transvaal Castle". The company used a swallow-tailed version for its fleet commodore although the actual design is uncertain with two reports from the same source differing as to whether the tail took all of the fly or was inset as a piece out of the blue fly section only leaving the saltire ends undisturbed. The company ceased operations in 1977 although the name was revived briefly in 1999 as an advertising gimmick by P&O.

Neale Rosanoski, 8 January 2003

Various websites recount the history of this line and that of the two companies merged to form Union-Castle, namely Union Steamship Co. and Castle Mail Packet Co. Here is a list of sites dedicated to Union-Castle taking duly note of its ancestors:

Jan Mertens, 15 December 2005

[Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., Ltd. houseflag] image by Ivan Sache, 3 May 2021

The well-known company house flag is also shown (#1621, p. 114) in Lloyd's Book of House Flags and Funnels (1912), shown here in 2:3 proportions.
Ivan Sache, 3 May 2021

[Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., Ltd. houseflag] image by Ivan Sache, 3 May 2021

Also seen with proportions 1:2 (photo by Jean-Patrick Fisher, described above.)
Ivan Sache, 3 May 2021

Union Steam Fishing Co., Ltd.

[Union Steam Fishing Co., Ltd. houseflag] image by Ivan Sache, 4 May 2021

Lloyd's Book of House Flags and Funnels (1912) shows the house flag of Union Steam Fishing Co., Ltd. (#1855, p. 125), a Grimsby-based fishing company, as quartered per saltire red-blue with a Union Jack in canton and a white "U" in the center.
Ivan Sache, 4 May 2021

Union Steamship Co.

[Union Steamship Co. houseflag] by Ivan Sache, 28 December 2005

One of two ancestors of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., Union Steamship – the elder one – had an interesting history:

Its beginnings were modest: founded in 1853, the Southampton Steam Shipping Co. transported coal from South Wales to Southampton which would then serve to fire up the engines of the larger shipping companies. Renamed Union Steam Collier Co. the same year, its ships were requisitioned for the Crimean War 1854-1856. As Southampton had a huge stock of coal after the war, Union – now called Union Steamship Co. – tried its luck elsewhere by establishing routes to South America and Hamburg. This move was not successful but 1857 brought the lucrative contract for mail to and from South Africa. However from 1876 on, the Castle Line shared in the contract but on condition that both firms do not merge. Of course they were competitors – Castle having been brought in to be just that – but the joint service was run smoothly; tickets, for instance, were interchangeable. The ships were rather small; Union provided ten ships to the service and Castle, eleven. When the mail contract ended in 1899 Union and Castle – in the absence of any competition – managed to land the new one (no longer forbidding amalgamation and at first intended for one firm only). Very soon a single company, Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., was formed (1900). Interestingly, in the meantime both firms had had ships requisitioned for the Boer War (1899) and these were not relinquished until 1902, when the original firms no longer existed.

Union’s house flag is shown on the Red Duster pages at a red free-standing saltire was placed on a white, blue-bordered field.
Jan Mertens, 15 December 2005

Union Transport Group plc.

[Union Trading Group plc houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 3 November 2005

Union Transport Group PLC., London - white flag, partially outlined red "UT".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 3 November 2005

Union Transport Group, incorporated 14.8.1946 ( is a Public Limited Company and not a subsidiary of any other group. Formed 1946 as Union Transport (London) Ltd. changing name in 1987 to Union Transport Group plc (Lloyds 3/1998). Went into administration 2.5.2013 ( 4.5.2013). The "left over management" formed Absolute Shipping Ltd. ( 8.2.2014).
Neale Rosanoski, 12 April 2017

United Baltic Corporation Ltd.

[United Baltic Corp., Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

From the website of the National Maritime Museum, the house flag of the United Baltic Corporation Ltd., London. A white rectangular flag with a red foul anchor placed aslant. The red letters 'UBC' placed in the lower left hand corner. The flag is made of a wool and synthetic fibre bunting. It has a cotton hoist and is machine sewn. A rope and two Inglefield clips is attached. The house flag was based on that of the (Danish) East Asiatic Company of which the company was originally a subsidiary."
Jarig Bakker, 2 September 2004

United European Car Carriers

[United European Car Carriers houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 15 January 2006

United European Car Carriers, London - horizontal blue-yellow-blue flag; on yellow 4 blue diamonds, charged with yellow "UECC".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 15 January 2006

British Shipping lines: continued