While the Australians were building, another Colonial connexion commenced with the completion, in February, 1901, of an interesting little steamer, the Port Morant. She and her sister ships (one from Ramage and Ferguson, Leith and a second from Messrs. Stephen and Sons), were ordered by a Captain Lamont and Mr. Cousins, who started a company in Glasgow, with the object of importing bananas from the West Indies. This project had never been attempted before, as the voyage was too long to carry the fruit in a fresh condition; indeed, to do so, even with refrigeration, was considered almost impossible.
The original company, being unable to carry out its contract owing to lack of capital, suspended payment when the first ship was in frame and much material for the second already in the yard. Shortly afterwards, however, Sir Alfred Jones, chairman of Elder Dempster and Company, deciding to take up the venture, approached the builders with a view to purchasing the first ship. His wish was for a larger vessel (she was only 290 ft. long), and he desired her lengthened by 30 ft., in order to fit a large amount of passenger-accommodation and (ample) refrigerating plant. All these requirements were eventually arranged.
As the ship was in frame, she had to be cut in two, after being partially plated, her after end launched down thirty feet, and the gap built in amidships, as described in full elsewhere. She was launched in 1901, and sailed on her first voyage from Avonmouth, under the colours of the Imperial Direct West India Mail Service, for Port Kingston, Jamaica; here she loaded the first cargo of bananas that ever left the West Indies for Europe. Her voyage was naturally watched with great interest by her owners, who were delighted when the cargo arrived in fairly good condition, giving great hopes for the future, which have since been amply fulfilled.
As soon as the Port Morant had proved the practicability of this venture, two other ships were built for the same trade, by Messrs. Raylton, Dixon and Company, and eventually Sir Alfred Jones ordered a larger vessel, the T.S.S. Port Kingston, of 7,585 tons, launched in 1904. The latter, one of the handsomest steamers ever built at Linthouse, enjoyed an honourable career, first on the Atlantic and later on the Pacific Ocean.
The business of the Imperial Direct West India Service was then absorbed by Elders and Fyffes Ltd., a company which has been so progressively developed that in 1930 its fleet included thirty-eight vessels of a total of 202,000 tons, all engaged in the transport of bananas to Europe. The foundation of this immense business was due to the energy, enterprise and foresight of the late Sir Alfred Jones, and the ability and resource of Mr. A. H. Stockley, the late Mr. Ackerley and Captain H. F. Bartlett, the directors who have so ably piloted the organization down to present times.
Great difficulties had to be surmounted and much experience acquired in the early days, before the business became so successful. It was necessary, for example, to ascertain at what stage of ripeness the bananas should be cut, and at what temperature the steamers' holds should be maintained to ensure the fruit being landed in a proper condition for distribution. Again, the railway companies had to be induced to furnish specially insulated vans for the transport of the fruit throughout the country in winter, when a touch of frost might destroy an entire cargo. However, all these problems have now been overcome, both in Great Britain and on the Continent. It is a matter of great regret, however, that Sir Alfred Jones, who was always most enthusiastic regarding the prospects of the business, did not live to see his ambition that bananas should be sold in this country at 1/2d. each, so nearly realized as it has been during recent years.
Sir Alfred, a man of wide views and great enterprise, was undoubtedly a firm friend to Alexander Stephen and Sons, who built for him at the rate of one ship per year for ten years, until his death in 1907. The first vessel constructed at Linthouse for Elders and Fyffes Ltd., in 1905, was the Nicoya, of 3,617 tons, which was followed in due course by the ships listed below:
- Nicoya (I)
- T.S.S. Camito
- Chagres (II)
- T.S.S. Bayano (II)
- Tortuguero (II)
- Tortuguero (I)
- T.S.S. Cavina
- Nicoya (II)
- T.S.S. Chagres (I)
- T.S.S. Bayano (I)
- T.S.S. Ariguani
The majority of these vessels transport bananas only, but the twin-screw ships, running on Elders and Fyffes' passenger service to the West Indies, carry a hundred passengers each, in addition to their fruit cargoes. The small ships, Telde and Orotava, were built for the fruit and vegetable trade between Liverpool and the Canaries.