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The Ben Line shipping company was established in Leith in 1825 by two merchant ship broker brothers William Thomson (1806-1889) and Alexander Thomson (1795-1880).

The company originally focused on importing marble from Italy to Scotland. As this business declined in the 1830s they focused on carrying coal from Scotland to Canada and returning with timber. In 1850 the Thomson’s joined forces with the owners of Alloa Coal Company and began sailing more profitable routes to Australia and Far East.

The Ben Line business and fleet continued to grow up until the outbreak of World War I, during which two of their ships were lost. A further 14 Ben Line ships and 4 ships placed under their management by the government were lost in World War II.

In the 1970s Ben Line became one of the leading liner companies. They were pioneers in operating new routes between Europe and the far East and many of them are used by different shipping companies today. The company combined with the East Asiatic Company of Copenhagen in 1991.

Trinity House

Trinity House and its remarkable historic collections give amazing insights into Leith’s celebrated maritime past. The present building was the Port of Leith headquarters of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters for nearly 200 years.

This charity was set up to support the needs of injured and retired seamen and their families. Its origins can be traced back to 1380, when it was granted the right to levy a tax known as prime gilt on goods imported into Leith.

Thomas Brown designed the elegant Georgian building that now stands on the Kirkgate. It was built in 1816 on the site of a former Trinity House and hospital dating from before 1550.

Read more on the history of Trinity House [PDF, 8MB]

Maritime treasure house

The layout and historic furnishings of Trinity House still have many unique features that emphasise its former maritime function.

The War Memorial Window designed by W.J.R. Cook in 1933 honours local merchant sailors who died in the First World War. It was rededicated in 1945 for those killed in the Second World War.

The ground floor has a grand entrance and inner hall, with a unique collection of chairs commissioned by the Incorporation from the Edinburgh cabinetmaker William Trotter. Off the hall is the Master’s Room, a cosy space with a fine collection of paintings showing Leith as a busy commercial port in the 1700s and 1800s.

The highlight of Trinity House is the Convening Room on the upper floor, where the Incorporation held meetings around the long mahogany table. Maritime subjects feature in the ceiling’s ornate plaster friezes, and the table now displays a fascinating variety of objects to do with shipping, navigation and the whaling industry.

On display in the room are:

  • navigational instruments
  • wartime charts
  • whaling harpoons
  • rare objects such as narwhal tusks
  • ship models – ranging from early whaling ships to modern merchant ships

Hung on the walls are portraits of famous mariners and former Masters of the Incorporation – some by the great Edinburgh artist Sir Henry Raeburn. Vasco da Gama Encountering the Spirit of the Storm, a huge oil painting by the Scottish artist David Scott, is also on display.

The vaults below the building, which date from the 1500s, once housed a school for young mariners.

 

Find out more about Trinity House

Details

Date Made
1960s
Dimensions
270 x 130mm
Property Information
Trinity House
Object Number
TRH1685
Access Status
Display

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