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A blue funnel steam ship, marine painting, by moonlight

Ocean Steam Ship Company of Liverpool, brief history of this important company…Blue_Flue_IMG_6771_detail_1.jpg

There was a time when to take the “ferry ‘cross the Mersey” meant weaving between Blue Funnel ships.

A detail of this new marine painting is shown here, the complete picture and ships history is below.

The Blue Funnel Line fleet grew from the enthusiasm of a railway engineer.
Alfred Holt, in the 1852 who became part owner of the sailing ship “Dumbarton Youth”, fitted with 2 – 44 HP engines.
Included in the ship where a large number of bibles and a quantity of blue paint.

We don’t know what happened to the bibles.

Alfred Holt’s business was successful, trading initially to the Mediterranean and West Indies.

Joined by his brother Phillip Holt in 1865 they were soon  trading as The Ocean Steam Ship Company.

Considering this was the greatest adventure of their lives and the Odyssey the finest tale ever written they began to give their ships distinctively Homeric names and of course the famous blue flues.


Gordon Frickers started this painting
inspired and encouraged by his good friend and supporter Harry Milsom, former editor of Sea Breezes, some 15 years ago then abandoned it, unfinished.
In 2009 having been invited to exhibit his work at the European Parliament, Brussels, while sorting out paintings at his studio in SW France at Itzac in the Midi Pyrenees, Gordon Frickers discovered several unfinished works.
Re inspired by the fabulous moon rises and night skies often seen over this part of France this painting returned to his easel.

Actual size of this painting, 405 x 605 mm, 24″ x 16″, price £750.00


From 1865, The business of The Ocean Steam Ship Company prospered, to grow eventually to include
Nederlandssche Stoomvaart Maatschappij “Oceaan”,
the China Mutual Steam Navigation Company,
Thomas Royden and sons (New York),
the Knight Line,
Cowie and Company, and in particular
the Glen Line (All ships names pre fixed with “Glen”) which in turn added the Shire Line forming a company of some 90 merchant ships.

Not all these ships had the renowned blue flue.
The Glen Line and Nederlandssche Stoomvaart Maatschappij ~ NSM “Oceaan” ships sported black topped red funnels however their livery was otherwise identical.

The phrase “Blue flue” was though, in such popular usage the some 100 years after the founding of The Ocean Steam Ship Company, Blue Funnel Line Ltd became a registered company name.

This hard working company enjoyed an excellent reputation for reliable sound ships, well officered, no “coffin ships” there…
Together they made a real contribution to the prosperity of the world we have inherited and to Britain in particular.
There was a price to pay, the stout ships and their brave crews endured much hard work, long voyages and storms in safety but proved especially vulnerable during the 2 world wars.

The artist was fortunate to meet some of the former officers and visit the offices of The Ocean Steam Ship Company in Liverpool before the company finally ceased to manage ships.

The ship featured in this painting is the “TALTHYBIUS”.Blue_Flue_IMG_6771_detail_2.jpg

Named for Talthybius, (as is one of the asteroids of the planet Jupiter) who had an important role early in the tale of Homer’s The Iliad, the Greek version of the Trojan War.

If you are not familiar with the Iliad, here is a brief intro to the opening scenes.
You may soon see why the tale has endured 2,500 years…

Talthybius appears as a faithful if reluctant squire and diplomat for King Agamemnon, an ambassador.
The Iliad opens with King Agamemnon in dispute with Apollo over a mistress.

The drama increases when King Agamemnon decides in frustration to steal Achilles captive girl Briseis as a substitute.
A good idea?

Achilles is not amused in fact he is seriously angry with this injustice.
Achilles went to sulk in his tent and thus deprived the Greeks of their foremost champion during the Trojan War.

Solution, a rather unenthusiastic Talthybius with Eurybates were sent to fetch Briseis, their task to bring some order into a disordered world.

Happily for Talthybius and Eurybates, Achilles receives them gracefully and gave up Briseis.
Did anyone ask Briseis what she wanted?

Brisēis was a Trojan widow who was abducted during the Trojan War by Achilles after the death of her three brothers and husband, King Mynes of Lyrnessus.

Talthybius is hardly mentioned again in the Iliad, he does though appear in the notable play, “The Trojan Women” by Euripides.

Talthybius is said to have died at Aegium in Achaia where his descendants became heralds and allegedly still live.


This ship “TalthybiusBlue_Flue_IMG_6771_d.jpg

Built 1912 by Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co, Greenock, 10,224 gross registered tonnage.

An uneventful career until 1941 when at Liverpool she was hit twice by bombs on May 4th and 8th.
1942 ~ Talthybius was again struck by bombs.
This time at Singapore, the perpetrators being the Japanese.
Holed and on fire, her Chinese crew abandoned her.
Her British officers extinguished the fires and moved her to a dry dock where they attempted to plug her holes.
The order to abandon Talthybius was reluctantly obeyed on February 12, 2 days after it was given.
The master and officers escaped the advancing Japanese who seized Talthybius on the 16th and sent her to sea as the Taruyasu Maru.
1945 ~ On the 30th of June Taruyasu Maru ex Talthybius struck an American mine at Toyama bay North of Honshu.
Her crew managed to beach her at Maizuru Harbour where she remained until after the war.
She was raised and repaired, putting back to sea as Empire Evenlode managed by the (British) Ministry of War Transport.
1948 ~ Hong Kong, Dec 1, placed with Alfred Holt & Co who sent a master and officers (by air) and hired a Chinese crew.
She is said to have had her funnel painted “the best shade of blue available”.
At Seletar Naval Base she loaded with scrap iron and steel, war debris for a voyage to England.
With her Suez Certificate lost and no chance of another she headed for Durban and the Cape of Good Hope.
She had to put in to Mombassa for new boiler tubes and stopped again at Cape Town for more of the same.
1949 ~ Talthybius finally made Swansea on May the 8th having spent some of the voyage moving so slowly she displayed 2 black balls (indicating, technically she was not under way).
After the discharge of her cargo of scrap she herself became scrap, and history.


Special thanks and sources:
1.    Sea Breezes editor Harry Milsom
2.    The Legend behind the Name by K S Johnston, N Barber and TJ Bond ~ no ISBN
3.    Blue Funnels In The Mersey in the 1920’s, compiled by C H Milsom, a Sea breezes Publication, ISBN 0-951-3202-0-3
4.    Visit to the offices and archives of The Ocean Steam Ship Company, Liverpool.