Devitt and Moore
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Devitt & Moore, the London ship-brokers, became ship-owners in 1863, and entered the passenger and cargo trade to Australia. In that year it was announced that they were having a new ship built at Sunderland by William Pile expressly for the South Australian trade. This was the 791-ton City of Adelaide.
Devitt & Moore were identified consistently as the registered owners of the City of Adelaide, but technically they were the managing company. When Devitt died in 1860, Moore included their sons Thomas L. Devitt and Joseph Moore jnr. as partners in the firm. It was Joseph Moore snr. personally who was the syndicate member holding a quarter share in the ship. The other three equal shares were owned by Port Adelaide shipping agents Joseph & Daniel Harrold, Adelaide businessman Henry Martin and the ship's first master Scotsman Captain David Bruce.
Thomas Henry Devitt
Thomas Henry Devitt (1800-1860) was born at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight in March 1800, the son of Andrew Devitt, an Irishman from County Down who served in the Royal Navy from boyhood. Thomas was a pupil in a private school in Southampton, then became a pupil-teacher at the same school. At 18 he went up to London to try his fortune, and joined the office of Buckle, Baxter & Co, merchants and ship-owners of Mark Lane near Fenchurch Station, as a junior clerk.
Over the next eighteen years he gained valuable experience and a thorough grounding in the business. In 1836 Thomas Devitt and his fellow clerk, Joseph Moore of 9 Bissett Street London E C, were so dissatisfied with their pay (£120 per year) and their prospects of promotion, that they decided to set up in business on their own. They founded a ship-broking firm and established professional freight brokerage in the Australian trade.
Devitt & Moore enjoyed immediate success, being appointed as loading brokers for 11 sailing ships on the Australian run in their first year, and this had increased to 39 ships by 1840. London’s leading ship-owner Duncan Dunbar gave his work to the new firm, and this valuable association continued until his death in 1862.
In February 1838 Thomas Devitt married Margaret Lane of Lansdown Place, Hackney. Their first child Thomas Lane Devitt was born in March 1839, and nine more children were to follow.
South Australia’s agriculture had yet to become established, but the fortunes of the young Colony received a timely boost with the discovery of copper. It was exported to the Welsh smelters, often as ballast with other cargoes. This could be profitable, even with vessels that were not ideal for the purpose. On the other hand, the market for the other staple export, wool, lay in London, and competition on the long voyage required larger and more costly ships. This trade eventually fell mainly into the hands of three firms: A L Elder & Co, the Orient Line, and Devitt & Moore.
In purchasing their first two full-rigged ships from Duncan Dunbar in 1863, Devitt & Moore started their long connection with Australia as shipowners, and over the next 55 years they ran a fleet of 29 square-rigged sailing ships and two steamships. These carried passengers, wool, copper and general cargo between Great Britain and Australia until the end of the First World War, when they finally conceded to the competition from the steamships.
In 1868, when several shipping companies were changing from sail to steam, Devitt & Moore wanted to keep up to date. They drew up plans for six steamships, but the first-built was wrecked on the South African coast when she was returning from Melbourne on her maiden voyage in 1871. All passengers were saved, but five of the crew were drowned and the ship was a total loss. This upset the partners so much that they did not place orders for the other five steamers. Joseph Moore said “We’ll have no more of these steam kettles. We’ll stick to sailing ships.” However they did operate one more steamer from 1875 until 1880.
Each passenger sailing ship carried a ‘farmyard’ on board to keep the passengers supplied with fresh meat, milk and eggs through the voyage of three months. After Joseph Moore retired from active partnership in the firm, he went to live in Cornwall where he took up farming. For outbound passages from London, Plymouth or Falmouth, all the cows, bullocks, sheep, pigs, geese, chickens, ducks and turkeys, plus the hay, straw, swedes, parsnips, corn, grit, pollard and bran to feed them, came from Joseph Moore’s farm.
Sir Thomas Lane Devitt
Sir Thomas Lane Devitt (1839-1923), eldest son of the founding partner, was the outstanding personality in Devitt & Moore. He joined the staff at the age of 16, and learned so quickly that, although he succeeded his late father before he was 21 years old, he was accepted by Joseph Moore and the firm’s business associates. At the same time he had to see to the upbringing and education of five younger brothers and four younger sisters. These were followed by four sons and four daughters of his own.
Soon the ship-broking business of the firm showed a marked increase, and they entered the new era of being ship-owners. T. L. Devitt was a charismatic person who had the common touch, and was loved as much by the men at the docks as by his staff in the City. Like Moore, he would visit the ships in port for a chat every day, and this personal contact created much good-will between employers and employed.
Thomas L. Devitt also became a partner in the quite separate firm of F. Green & Co. in 1879. Green’s were changing from sail to steam, and although Thomas had agreed to Moore’s policy of operating with sailing ships, he believed that steamships eventually would supersede them. In this parallel partnership with Green, Devitt was identified with the development and management of the Orient Line.
He became president or chairman of several ship-owners’ associations, institutes, and institutions, of Lloyd’s Register, and of a number of nautical charities. For his services to shipping he was made a baronet in the Birthday Honours of 1916. He appreciated art and was the patron of several budding artists. Born at Bethnal Green in London’s East End, Devitt chose to live in up-market Hackney after he married, until he built a house at Godden Green, Kent in 1881. Following his death in December 1923, there was a crowded funeral service in St Margaret’s, Westminster, and he was buried alongside his late wife in Kent.
Thomas L Devitt had been a prime mover in the concept of training cadets in ocean-going, square-rigged sailing ships. The Ocean Training Scheme was started in 1890 with two full-rigged ships that were bought from the Orient Line for the purpose, and were owned jointly by Lord Brassey (whose idea it was) and Devitt & Moore (who managed them). Parents were invited to pay for their son to be placed with the officers on board one of the ships as a midshipman (cadet), and be trained in basic seamanship and in navigation over four return voyages to Australia (four years), in preparation for becoming a junior naval officer.
In 1906 Devitt & Moore purchased and adapted the Port Jackson to accommodate 100 boys from the Marine Society’s stationary school ship Arethusa, and give them square-rigged sea training as seamen on cargo-bearing trips between London and Australia. Despite its obvious success – 94 of the boys went to sea again as ordinary seamen - a lack of financial backing prevented the plan being extended beyond two groups. The ship’s accommodation was converted to cater for thirty midshipmen instead.
A new company, “Devitt and Moore’s Ocean Training Ships Ltd”, was formed in 1909. Sir Thomas Lane Devitt and his younger son Philip, the surviving partners in Devitt and Moore, became its managers. They were joined as shareholders by no less than eight well-known shipping companies, and another training ship was purchased a year later. Well over 100 of Devitt and Moore’s former cadets served as commissioned officers in the Royal Navy during World War One.
The Nautical College Pangbourne
The Nautical College Pangbourne, near Reading in Berkshire, was founded by Sir Thomas L. and Philip Devitt in 1917. It was designed to provide the cadets who were training for the Merchant Navy, the Royal Naval Reserve, and direct entry to the Royal Naval College, with a better and more rounded education that would equip them for all circumstances. It would ensure that they received a balanced general education in case any lad decided a life at sea was not for him. After two years at the college, a cadet spent a year at sea on a Devitt & Moore square-rigger, a year on a Royal Navy ship, and time on approved steamships, before sitting for a second-mate’s certificate examination.
When his father died, the son carried on the work alone, making considerable financial sacrifices to keep the college solvent. He became Sir Philip Henry Devitt when he was made a lifetime baronet for services to his country, and after his death, his nephew Sir Thomas Gordon Devitt (who had inherited his grandfather’s baronetcy) succeeded him as the senior partner in the firm.
After the training ships incurred a serious deficit over several consecutive years, Devitt & Moore had to withdraw from the shipping business. In 1931 the company was wound up voluntarily, and “The Devitt & Moore Nautical College Ltd” was registered as a non-profit private company, with a Board of Governors to administer the affairs of the college.
In 1969, the college shed much of the nautical training in favour of a more traditional academic focus, and became Pangbourne College. Though it is now more academically oriented, it still holds true to many of the traditions which makes it a unique school today. It has been fully co-educational since 1996.
- Sea Trading and Sea Training, being a short history of the firm of Devitt & Moore, Clement Jones, E Arnold, London, 1936.
- Painted Ports. The Story of the Ships of Devitt & Moore., Captain A G Course, Hollis & Carter, London, 1961.