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Man who brought bananas to Britain

Sir Alfred Jones (1845 – 1909) is credited with introducing the banana to Britain when he transported the fruit on refrigerated vessels run by his Elder Dempster shipping company. We now take for granted refrigeration for transporting perishable goods. Little more than 100 years ago this would have been unthinkable and it was pioneers like Sir Alfred who helped transform the way we eat.

At Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Life at Sea gallery there is a wax plaque of Sir Alfred, who was the dominant figure in the development of the trade with West Africa. He looks the epitome of the Victorian businessman with his formal jacket, starched collar and fancy whiskers.

Born in Carmarthenshire, Sir Alfred started work at the age of 12 with the African Steamship Company in Liverpool. He made several voyages to West Africa and was manager of the business when he was only 26. He then started business on his own account with two or three small sailing ships. In 1891 he was head-hunted by Liverpool-based Elder Dempster which, through purchasing shares, he later controlled.

Sir Alfred had wide territorial and financial interests in West Africa. He played a key part in opening up the West Indies to trade and tourism. In addition, he was instrumental in setting up Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine and left large charitable bequests in his will.

Other Elder Dempster exhibits include a vesta (match) case and penknife marking the 1900 trials of the Lake Champlain – one of Elder Dempster’s ships in the North American trade. There is a visiting card case commemorating the1902 trials of another company ship, Burutu. A poster from the 1960s declares: “Travel in comfort, travel in style, travel Elder. Travel by sea with Elder Dempster Line”. It is illustrated with a colour photo of smartly-dressed people enjoying themselves in a cocktail bar.

Elder Dempster operated mainly between its Liverpool base and West Africa. In later years it ran three still fondly-remembered liners – Aureol, Accra and Apapa – to Ghana and Nigeria. In addition there were many other freight and mail ships.

Elder Dempster expanded in the years after World War II. It took over a number of other shipping companies between 1951 and 1965 when it was in turn taken over by the Blue Funnel line. Eventually the Elder Dempster line name came to an end in 1989 when it was bought by a French company. However, the company continued as shipping agents before being wound up in 2000. Merseyside Maritime Museum is open seven days a week, admission free.


Source: liverpoolecho.co.uk

Publication date: 6/30/2008


 


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