of Marypoint, [sic; should be "Maryport], Cumberland, was born there on
7 Jan. 1837. At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to a firm of
shipbrokers (Imrie & Tomlinson) in Liverpool, and on the expiration of
his time made a voyage to South America, visiting the several ports on
the west coast. Returning to Liverpool he started in business on his own
account, and engaged especially in the Australian trade. In 1867 he
acquired the White Star line of Australian clippers, and in the
following year, in partnership with an old friend and fellow apprentice,
William Imrie, he formed the Oceanic Steamship Company. In 1870 they
added the American trade to their other ventures, and in 1871 began
running their steamers regularly between Liverpool and New York. In
co-operation with Harland and Wolff of Belfast, the White Star liners
earned a good reputation for safety, comfort, and speed; it is stated
that between 1870 and 1899 they paid to Harland and Wolff no less a sum
than 7,000,000l. In 1878 the White Star line placed their steamers at
the disposal of the government as transports or cruisers---an offer
which led to the modern system of subsidising certain private companies.
At the naval review at Spithead in 1897, the Teutonic, one of the
largest steamers then afloat, was sent by Ismay to take part in the
national display. In 1892 Ismay retired from the firm of Ismay, Imrie, &
Co., but retained the chairmanship of the White Star Company, whose
fleet then consisted of eighteen steamers, of an aggregate of 99,000
tons, which by 1899 was increased to 164,000. Ismay was also chairman of
the Liverpool and London Steamship Protection Association, a director of
the London and North-Western Railway Company, and of many other
industrial enterprises. In 1884 he served on Lord Ravensworth's
admiralty committee on contract versus dockyard systems of building
ships; in 1888 on Lord Hartington's royal commission on army and navy
administration, and on several other important committees. He was a
liberal supporter of the Liverpool Seamen's Orphan Institution; and in
1887 he contributed 20,000l. towards a pension fund for worn-out
Liverpool sailors. He was for some years a J.P. and D.L. of Cheshire,
and high sheriff in 1892. He died at Dawpool, near Birkenhead, on 23
Nov. 1899, and was buried on the 27th in the churchyard of Thurstanton,
after a semi-public memorial service in St. Nicholas's, Liverpool.
Notwithstanding his liberal charities, his estate, as proved, was
considerably over 1,000,000l. Ismay married in 1859 Margaret, daughter
of Luke Bruce, and left issue three sons and four daughters. His
portrait by Millais in 1885 was presented to him by the shareholders of
the White Star Company.
[Times, 24 Nov. 1899; Who's Who, 1899; Whitaker's Almanack, 1901, p.
J. K. L.
Thomas Henry Ismay
Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement Vol. III, edited by Sidney
Lee, New York: The Macmillan Co., and London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1901.
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Added to Encyclopedia Titanica Monday 22nd October 2007, last updated Monday 20th October 2014.