Michaela Barnard of the Maritime Historical Studies Centre, University of Hull will presenting the next GMI Research Seminar of the 2011/12 programme on Wednesday 14th March 2012. Her paper is ‘The ‘secretive billionaire’: Sir John Reeves Ellerman and the Ellerman Wilson Line, c.1916-1926.’.
A so-called secret rich list’ of Britain’s wealthiest private citizens produced in 1929 revealed that Sir John Reeves Ellerman (1862-1933) had accumulated assets well beyond those of his contemporaries. Indeed, with annual earnings totalling £389 million in 1929 and liquid assets of around £9 billion, Ellerman’s fortune, according to Rubenstein, ’was three times greater than the second largest British estate left prior to the 1970s’. It remains, however, that relatively little is known – either personally or professionally – about Ellerman who had an ‘almost morbid passion for secrecy’. Indeed, the extent to which he remained aloof from public life is encapsulated in one obituary describing him as ‘… the Silent Ford, the invisible Rockefeller’.
Ellerman’s business empire embraced a variety of industries including finance, newspapers and brewing. But shipping ranked as one of his earliest and leading concerns. In 1916, with a view to consolidating his position in north-west Europe, Ellerman bought the Hull-based shipping company of Thomas Wilson, Sons & Co., Ltd (TWSC) – reputedly the largest privately owned shipping company in the world at that time – for the sum of £4.1 million. This paper considers a number of sources relating to TWSC, re-styled Ellerman’s Wilson Line (EWL), during the period 1916-1926, including the extensive correspondence between Ellerman and the Managing Director of TWSC/EWL, Oswald Sanderson (1863-1926). This, it is anticipated, will serve to illuminate our understanding of both large-scale British business during this period and, more particularly, Ellerman – the ‘secretive billionaire’.
The seminar will take place in room 075, Queen Anne Court at 6pm. Tea & Coffee will be available from 5.30pm and a glass of wine afterwards. The seminar is free and there is no need to book, everyone is welcome.