Reproduced with kind permission by the ‘BIBBY LINE GROUP’
In April this year it was 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic, at its time the world’s largest liner. She was built by the shipyard Harland & Wolff and called by the press an ‘unsinkable ship’. Sadly, after striking an iceberg, she went down on her maiden voyage with the loss of over 1,500 lives. Today Titanic evokes many romantic stories… but no one seems to know the important connection with the Bibby Line which established the shipyard in the first place.
After the murder of the founder John Bibby in 1840, his youngest son, James, eventually took over the Bibby Line. At that time he was very friendly with a young Nautical Engineer called Edward Harland who advised him on ‘all things technical’ to do with ships. They decided it would be a good idea if Harland had a shipyard in Liverpool so he could build and service the Bibby Line ships. But there was nothing available and so in early 1850 Harland moved to Belfast and joined a small shipyard called Robert Hickson in Queen’s Island which he eventually, with the support of the Bibby family, bought.
It was James Bibby and the Bibby Line who started the success of the shipyard by giving Harland immediately orders for building three ships, their hull numbers 1,2, and 3. The very first ship built by Harland & Wolff was our Venetian. Of the first 21 ships built by the yard, 18 were for the Bibby Line. In 2002 ‘Hartland Point’ and in 2003 ‘Anvil Point’ were built by Harland & Wolff as part of a six vessel contract ordered by a consortium of shipping lines of which Bibby Line was part. They were the last vessels built before the yard went into temporary liquidation.
A few Bibby Line and Ship management staff were invited to the launch of MV Harftland Point and at the evening dinner the MD of the shipyard presented the company with a book published by the Belfast History Society. On the front page it reads… This is the history of the Belfast Shipyard Harland & Wolff and the Liverpool based Bibby Line. Without the Bibby family there might have never been a Harland & Wolff… So – on a more romantic note and with a bit of ‘speculation’ – who knows if, without the Bibby Line, the Titanic would have ever been built!