The South African shipping question, 1886-1914

by Vivian Solomon

Institution: Rhodes University
Department: Faculty of Commerce, Economics and Economic History
Degree: PhD
Year: 1979
Keywords: Shipping conferences – History; Shipping – South Africa – History
Record ID: 1544632
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1004667


From Preface: For the best part of a generation the "Shipping Question" was a talking-point in South Africa; yet today it is completely forgotten, and the name of its leading actor is virtually unknown. Scant reference to the controversy will be found in economic- or other histories; in the rare cases where it is alluded to, the treatment is superficial. This study seeks to fill that gap. At the outset it is advisable to define the scope of the work. It is not a history of the South African shipping trade in the pre-1914 era: shiplovers have had that ground amply covered by Marischal Murray, and indeed are unlikely to find in the following pages much to their taste. Neither is it an economic analysis of shipping conferences: there is a growing body of work on that subject, and this study does not seek to add to it. Nor is it a business history: it does not probe the structure, the management or the profitability of shipping enterprise in the period concerned. A full-scale discussion of these latter topics would be a major undertaking in its own right, nor is it at all certain that the necessary materials are accessible or even extant. In short, the study is concerned with the origins, the course and the outcome of the "Shipping Question" of the period 1886-1914. Documentation for a controversy that was essentially mercantile in its origins and its first dimensions might be thought to be patchy and sparse; but it is gratifying to record that a substantial volume of material has been uncovered. The newspapers and periodicals of the time, especially in the period before the Boer War, devoted much more attention to shipping than has since been usual; The British and South African Export Gazette, South Africa, The African Review, and the London edition of The Cape Argus have been of particular value. In that era, again, the Chambers of Commerce occupied a more prominent position in their communities than they seem to do now, and their meetings were reported at length, often to the extent of several columns of newsprint; these reports have been of great assistance. It is fortunate, moreover, that the papers of two of the leading protagonists on the South African side have survived: the Garlick Papers and the Jagger Papers, now housed in the University of Cape Town Libraries; these, while perhaps not as full as might have been hoped, have shed a good deal of light on mercantile thinking and strategy. If the controversy had been confined to the mercantile sector, however, it would scarcely justify detailed investigation. It entered also into the sphere of government and politics and it came to assume an Imperial dimension; and in these aspects it is pleasingly well documented in official primary sources. The papers of prominent public figures, furthermore, have yielded some valuable insights and, in some cases, the documents that rightfully belong in official repositories! The minutes of one of the corporate bodies to the dispute - the South African Merchants' Committee in London - are still extant, and they have been of…