Bibby Line Limited is a company with a rich and vibrant history. It has survived the many ups and downs of the 19th and 20th centuries including wars and economic harships. Yet it remains one of Britain's oldest shipping companies.
All the events listed are just a small part of Bibby Line's heritage and some of the reasons why it has outlasted so many competitors. There are many other parts to Bibby Line's history, many tales of wartime heroism and foreign adventures in the lands unknown.
In 1840 John Bibby was found brutally murdered. Robbed for only a pocket watch, knocked unconscious, thrown into a pond and left to drown. He left a substantial shipping business to his four sons.
In 1841, as a tribute to their father, a 540 ton sailing vessel the “John Bibby”, pictured right, was the first vessel launched after his death. Thus the name of the founder remained on Lloyd’s List in a wider sense for many generations.
In 1850 the “Tiber” and the “Arno”, were ordered from a Glasgow Yard. “Arno” later became a trooper for the Crimean war.
Edward Harland (who eventually built the “Titanic”) was a friend and protégé of the Bibbys who placed great faith in the then unrecognised genius in shipbuilding.
The iron Screw ship “Braganza”, built in 1856, was lost in 1869 bound for Lisbon by being in collision with another steamer. She sank immediately with the loss of 22 lives.
Nearly 125 years later, in 1994, her wreck was found and her bell returned to the Company by the divers.
In 1859 Bibby Line’s “Venetian” was the first vessel built by the Belfast shipyard Harland & Wolff. Of the first 21 ships built by the yard 18 were for the Bibby Line.
It states in the official history of this yard … this is the history of the Belfast Shipyard Harland & Wolff and the Liverpool based Bibby Line. Without the Bibby family there would have never been a Harland & Wolff.
In 1880 Arthur Wilson Bibby, the guiding force in the fortunes of the Bibby Line realising the vast potential of the Burma trade ordered two new steamers from Harland & Wolff - “Lancashire” and “Yorkshire”, marking the beginning of the practice of naming Bibby ships after English ‘shire’ counties.
The great potential of trooping was successfully utilised by Arthur Wilson Bibby, who gained substantial trooping contracts for the Bibby Line. “Yorkshire” was the first of the Bibby fleet to be engaged as troopship in the Boer War and became known during this phase as ‘No. 14 Transport’.
In 1891 “Lancashire” recorded the best time for the run to Burma in 23 days and 20 hours and Bibby Line established superiority on the route gaining the reputation for reliability by never having had a voyage disrupted.
In 1893 Bibby Line was placed on the ‘Government Approved’ list. This gave the incentive to develop passenger accommodation on board the vessels.
In 1902 Bibby Line became one of the “Four B’s” and was voted by the Trade Unions as “the ideal type of employer”.
The other three were Birchalls, Blue Funnell and Booth Line – Bibby Line had the distinction of being the longest established of the four.
At the outbreak of WW1 the Bibby Line ships were requisitioned to serve as hospital ships, troop ships and armed merchant cruisers. “Oxfordshire” alone carried 53,000 wounded during the war.
By the end of the war Bibby Line had carried over 200,000 British and 25,000 American troops. “Worcestershire” became a casualty of this war.
At the outbreak of WW2, Bibby Line consisted of eleven ships, all of which were requisitioned for the war. The “Yorkshire”, the ship bought to replace the ill fated WW1 “Worcestershire”, was the first casualty, followed by “Shropshire” (renamed HMS “Salopian”), both were torpedoed whilst on duty.
On D-Day, four of the vessels operating as troopships, the “Cheshire”, “Devonshire”, “Lancashire” and “Worcestershire”, alone carried 10,000 men.
With Sir Derek Bibby at the helm the company more than trebled its overseas earnings and the total tonnage of the Bibby Line in the 1970s exceeded one million tons.
Sir Derek made an exhausting but successful bid to keep the company afloat through the worst years the shipping industry had ever seen.
In 1965 Bibby Line in partnership with Clarksons, Houlder Brothers, Bowstring, Silverline and British Steamship Company established the Sea Bridge Consortium operating bulk carriers and OBO’s.
Bibby Line started a long association with the LPG sector in 1968 with the ordering of the Gas Carrier Wiltshire.
This specialist market performed well and she was joined in 1972 and 1974 by the Hampshire and Devonshire.
In 1972, Bibby Line was awarded the highest honour that can be bestowed on a UK company the Queens Award to Industry and to Export Achievement in 1976 and 1982.
In October 1980 came the tragic loss of the Oil Bulk Ore carrier MV Derbyshire with all hands.
She was overwhelmed by a typhoon in the South China Sea. This remains to this day Britain’s biggest peace time loss.
1990 saw Bibby Line enter the niche chemical market through the purchase of a 50% share in Botany Bay. This allowed the business to develop a successful parcel chemical tanker service operating in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
The success for the service attracted the attention of Stolt Nielson and in 1997 they chartered the vessels for a minimum of 8 years . Bibby only leaving the pool in 2008 with their planned exit from the chemical tanker market.
In 1992 Michael Bibby, the eldest of four boys born to Sir Derek and Lady Bibby, joined Bibby Line Limited as Finance Director of Bibby Line; later to become its Managing Director.
In 2000 Michael became the Managing Director of the parent company Bibby Line Limited.
In 1998 Bibby’s three LPG carriers, Oxfordshire Linconshire and Cheshire, joined the Exmar pool of 44 gas carriers.
The company only leaving in 2005, after 37 years in the sector, due to the exceptionally good value of the market at the time and an offer it could not refuse.
2002 saw another successful partnership, this time with Houlder (later bought out by Hadleys Shipping), Andrew Weir and James Fisher, and the formation of Foreland Shipping.
This involved the successful tendering to supply six 2,500 lane metre roll-on, roll-off ferries for the MoD to provide the UK Strategic Sea lift Service.
Bicentenary Year. As part of Bibby Line Limited’s Bicentenary Celebrations a sponsorship of £1million (running over five years) was given to the national youth charity, Fairbridge, which supports disadvantaged 13-25 year olds across the United Kingdom.
This sponsorship covers the running costs of their tall ship “Spirit of Fairbridge”.
Bibby returns to the bulk carrier market in 2009 with the planned delivery of the 57,000dwt Shropshire.