Devitt and Moore

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Devitt & Moore, the London ship-brokers, became ship-owners in 1863, and entered the passenger and cargo trade to Australia. In that year it was announced that they were having a new ship built at Sunderland by William Pile expressly for the South Australian trade. This was the 791-ton City of Adelaide.

Devitt & Moore were identified consistently as the registered owners of the City of Adelaide, but technically they were the managing agents in London. It was Joseph Moore snr. who, as an individual, was the syndicate member holding a quarter share in the ship. The other three equal shares were owned by Port Adelaide shipping agents the Harrold Brothers, Adelaide businessman Henry Martin and the ship's first master Scotsman David Bruce.


Thomas Henry Devitt (1800-1860), as an 18 year old trying his luck in London, joined the office of Buckle, Baxter & Co, merchants and ship-owners of Mark Lane near Fenchurch Station, as a junior clerk. Over the next eighteen years he gained valuable experience and a thorough grounding in the business.

In 1836, fellow clerks Thomas Devitt and Joseph Moore of 9 Bissett Street London E C, were so dissatisfied with their pay (£120 per year) and their prospects of promotion, that they decided to set up in business on their own. They founded a ship-broking firm and established professional freight brokerage in the Australian trade.

Devitt & Moore enjoyed immediate success, being appointed as loading brokers for 11 sailing ships on the Australian run in their first year, and this had increased to 39 ships by 1840. London’s leading ship-owner Duncan Dunbar gave his work to the new firm, and this valuable association continued until his death in 1862.


When Devitt died in 1860, Moore included their sons Thomas Lane Devitt (1839-1923) and Joseph Moore jnr. as partners in the firm.

Each passenger sailing ship carried a ‘farmyard’ on board to keep the passengers supplied with fresh meat, milk and eggs through the voyage of three months. After Joseph Moore retired from active partnership in the firm, he went to live in Cornwall where he took up farming. For outbound passages from London, Plymouth or Falmouth, all the cows, bullocks, sheep, pigs, geese, chickens, ducks and turkeys, plus the hay, straw, swedes, parsnips, corn, grit, pollard and bran to feed them, came from Joseph Moore’s farm.

Thomas Lane Devitt was the outstanding personality in Devitt & Moore. He had joined the staff at the age of 16 and had learned so quickly that, although he succeeded his late father before he was 21 years old, he was accepted by Joseph Moore and the firm’s business associates.

Soon the ship-broking business of the firm showed a marked increase, and they entered the new era of being ship-owners. T. L. Devitt was a charismatic person who had the common touch, and was loved as much by the men at the docks as by his staff in the City. Like Moore, he would visit the ships in port for a chat every day, and this personal contact created much good-will between employers and employed.

South Australian Trade

South Australia’s agriculture had yet to become established, but the fortunes of the young Colony received a timely boost with the discovery of copper. It was exported to the Welsh smelters, often as ballast with other cargoes. This could be profitable, even with vessels that were not ideal for the purpose. On the other hand, the market for the other staple export, wool, lay in London, and competition on the long voyage required larger and more costly ships. This trade eventually fell mainly into the hands of three firms:

Devitt and Moore Fleet

In purchasing their first two full-rigged ships from Duncan Dunbar in 1863, Devitt & Moore started their long connection with Australia as shipowners. Over the next 55 years until the end of the First World War, when they finally conceded to the competition from the steamships, at various times the Devitt and Moore fleet comprised of 29 square-rigged sailing ships and two steamships carrying passengers, wool, copper and general cargo between Great Britain and Australia.

In 1868, when several shipping companies were changing from sail to steam, Devitt & Moore wanted to keep up to date. They drew up plans for six steamships, but the first-built was wrecked on the South African coast when she was returning from Melbourne on her maiden voyage in 1871. All passengers were saved, but five of the crew were drowned and the ship was a total loss. This upset the partners so much that they did not place orders for the other five steamers. Joseph Moore said "We’ll have no more of these steam kettles. We’ll stick to sailing ships." However they did operate one more steamer from 1875 until 1880.

The following list of ships owned by Devitt and Moore was adapted from a book by Capt. A.G. Course[1]. In his book, Captain Course indicates that the City of Adelaide was the first ship built for Devitt and Moore. Assuming this statement is correct, all ships prior to the City of Adelaide must have been purchased second-hand or chartered.

Vessel Name Original Rig Material Builders Date Built Period Owned Gross Tonnage Net Tonnage Length Overall (feet) Breadth (feet) Depth(feet)
Vimiera Ship Wood James Laing, Sunderland 1851 1863-1872 967 925 165.7 33 22.9
La Hogue Ship Wood James Laing, Sunderland 1855 1863-1886 1331 - 226 35 22.9
City of Adelaide Ship Composite William Pile, Sunderland 1864 1864-1887 791 696 176.8 33.2 18.8
Saint Dunstan Barque 3-masted Wood -, Sunderland 1858 1864-1868 441 - 128.5 27.5 18
Grasmere Barque 3-masted Wood G. Gardner, Sunderland 1865 1865-1883 465 - 142 28.5 17.5
Pekina Ship Wood Smith, Aberdeen 1865 1865-1880 770 - 177 30.6 18.4
St Vincent Ship Composite William Pile & Co., Sunderland 1865 1865-1887 892 - 190 35 18.9
Parramatta Ship Wood James Laing, Sunderland 1866 1866-1887 1521 - 231 38.2 22.8
Dunbar Castle Ship Wood James Laing, Sunderland 1864 1866-1881 925 - 182.7 33.9 21.5
South Australian Ship Composite William Pile & Co., Sunderland 1868 1868-1887 1078 1049 201 36 20.1
Hawkesbury Ship Composite William Pile & Co., Sunderland 1868 1868-1888 1179 1120 203 36.2 21.5
Chaa-Sze Ship Wood A. Hall & Co., Aberdeen 1860 1868-1874 595 550 170 29.1 18.1
Outalpa Ship Iron William Pile & Co., Sunderland 1869 1871-1881 717 676 187.7 30.6 18
Gateside Barque 3-masted Iron McMillan, Dumbarton 1869 1871-1884 739 698 184.6 29.6 18
John Rennie Ship Iron J. & G. Rennie, London 1863 1872-1890 848 - 177 32.6 20
Collingwood Ship Iron W. Hood & Co., Aberdeen 1872 1872-1893 1064 1015 211.1 34.8 21
Sobraon Ship Composite A. Hall & Co., Aberdeen 1866 1872-1889 2130 - 272 40 27
Rodney Ship Iron W. Pile & Co., Sunderland 1874 1874-1896 1519 1447 235.6 38.4 22
Glenelg Steamer Iron Samuda, Blackwall, London 1873 1875-1880 1316 - 249.7 32.8 22.3
Duke of Athole Ship Iron Denny & Rankin, Dumbarton 1865 1880-1889 963 - 199.2 33.2 20.9
Illawarra Ship Iron Dobie & Co., Glasgow 1881 1881-1907 1963 1887 269.1 40.6 24
Simla Barque 4-masted Iron Tod & McGregor, Glasgow 1854 1882-1883 2288 2172 330.2 39.8 26.7
Derwent Ship Iron McMillan, Dumbarton 1884 1884-1904 1970 1890 275 40.2 23.7
Macquarie Ship Iron R. & H. Green Blackwall, London 1875 1887-1904 1965 1857 269.8 40.1 23.7
Tamar Ship Steel Napier, Shanks & Bell, Dumbarton 1889 1889-1900 2115 2048 286.8 42.5 24
Harbinger Ship Iron R. Steele & Co., Port Glasgow 1876 1890-1898 1585 1506 253.5 37.6 22.4
Hesperus Ship Iron R. Steele & Co., Port Glasgow 1873 1890-1899 1859 1777 262.2 39.7 23.5
Irvine Ship Iron W. Doxford & Son, Pallion Sunderland 1867 1899-1901 673 655 170.6 29.5 19.1
Port Jackson Barque 4-masted Iron A. Hall & Co., Aberdeen 1882 1906-1916 2212 1994 286.2 41.1 25.2
Medway Barque 4-masted Steel A. McMillan & Son, Dumbarton 1902 1910-1918 2516 2298 300 43.2 24.8
St George Barquentine Iron and teak sheathing Ramage & Ferguson, Leith 1890 1919-1921 694 - 191 32.1 17.8
Sunbeam Barquentine Composite Bowdler, Chaffer & Co., Seacombe 1874 1920-1922 did not sail 334 - 170 27.5 13.8

Cadet Training

Thomas Lane Devitt had been a prime mover in the concept of training cadets in ocean-going, square-rigged sailing ships. The Ocean Training Scheme was started in 1890 with two full-rigged ships that were bought from the Orient Line for the purpose, and were owned jointly by Lord Brassey (whose idea it was) and Devitt & Moore (who managed them). Parents were invited to pay for their son to be placed with the officers on board one of the ships as a midshipman (cadet), and be trained in basic seamanship and in navigation over four return voyages to Australia (four years), in preparation for becoming a junior naval officer.

In 1906 Devitt & Moore purchased and adapted the Port Jackson to accommodate 100 boys from the Marine Society’s stationary school ship Arethusa, and give them square-rigged sea training as seamen on cargo-bearing trips between London and Australia. Despite its obvious success – 94 of the boys went to sea again as ordinary seamen - a lack of financial backing prevented the plan being extended beyond two groups. The ship’s accommodation was converted to cater for thirty midshipmen instead.

A new company, “Devitt and Moore’s Ocean Training Ships Ltd”, was formed in 1909. Thomas Lane Devitt and his younger son Philip, the surviving partners in Devitt and Moore, became its managers. They were joined as shareholders by no less than eight well-known shipping companies, and another training ship was purchased a year later. Well over 100 of Devitt and Moore’s former cadets served as commissioned officers in the Royal Navy during World War One.

The Nautical College Pangbourne, near Reading in Berkshire, was founded by Sir Thomas L. and Philip Devitt in 1917. It was designed to provide the cadets who were training for the Merchant Navy, the Royal Naval Reserve, and direct entry to the Royal Naval College, with a better and more rounded education that would equip them for all circumstances. It would ensure that they received a balanced general education in case any lad decided a life at sea was not for him. After two years at the college, a cadet spent a year at sea on a Devitt & Moore square-rigger, a year on a Royal Navy ship, and time on approved steamships, before sitting for a second-mate’s certificate examination.

Final Years

After Thomas Lane Devitt died, Phillip carried on the work alone, making considerable financial sacrifices to keep the college solvent. He became Sir Philip Henry Devitt when he was made a lifetime baronet for services to his country, and after his death, his nephew Sir Thomas Gordon Devitt (who had inherited his grandfather’s baronetcy) succeeded him as the senior partner in the firm.

After the training ships incurred a serious deficit over several consecutive years, Devitt & Moore had to withdraw from the shipping business. In 1931 the company was wound up voluntarily, and “The Devitt & Moore Nautical College Ltd” was registered as a non-profit private company, with a Board of Governors to administer the affairs of the college.


  1. Course, Capt. A.G (1961). Painted Ports: The Story of the Ships of Devitt and Moore. London: Hollis & Carter.