Tramping to success
In complete distinction to an operator of liner services,
like Cunard or Blue
Funnel, an operator of tramp ships sends their ships anywhere a
profitable cargo is on offer. A liner company will carry many
different commodities on one voyage. These would usually include a
variety of foodstuffs and manufactured goods, all of which have to
be carefully stowed to prevent damage. A tramp will carry just one
cargo in bulk, such as grain or coal.
It is a moot point whether liner or tramp operation is more
profitable. Certainly Robert Ropner made his fortune with tramps,
founding a major British shipping company. His early story is a
rather romantic one.
A dream of seafaring and a nightmare
Born in Magdeburg, Germany, Robert Ropner fell in love with the
idea of seafaring from reading books, although he had never seen
the sea. Travelling to Hamburg, he stowed away on a British ship
bound for West Hartlepool. A rough passage cured him of all
ideas of going to sea, and he settled in England, found work, and
Working for a firm of coal exporters, the ambitious young man
quickly realised that having their own steamships would earn him
and his partners more money than chartering them from other owners.
In 1868 a local yard built him the Amy, named after
Ropner`s daughter. It did not carry as much coal as expected, and
was soon wrecked. Ropner was undaunted, however, and went on to
order more ships, first with his partner and later for himself.
With his German origins, Ropner was particularly successful in
trading with ports around the Baltic. With a growing population and
rapid industrialisation, British trade was growing fast in the last
half of the 19th century. Ropner and other astute shipowners
benefited from this growth.
Ships were then usually financed by a number of individuals
buying sixty-fourth shares [definition]. As Ropner showed his expertise in
managing ships profitably, investors were keen to put money into
his new ships. Thus, the fleet under his control grew quickly,
although Ropner himself would hold only a minority of the