The Ocean group in East and Southeast Asia, c. 1945–73
Nicholas J. White
Liverpool's overseas trade remained skewed towards the developing world in the postwar, decolonisation era. To facilitate deeper investigation into the impact of decolonisation on Merseyside, this chapter focuses on one leading shipping interest, the Ocean (or Blue Funnel or Alfred Holt) group of companies. The Ocean Steam Ship Company (OSSCo.), which ran the Blue Funnel Line, was established in Liverpool during 1865 by Alfred and Philip Holt. After 1945, problems of reconstruction from war damage were swiftly superseded, as far as Ocean executives were concerned, by political unrest and economic indigenisation throughout East and Southeast Asia. Despite political upheaval and economic indigenisation throughout the developing world, Liverpool's trading patterns remained orientated towards non-European markets into the 1970s. Moreover, Ocean remained a formidable force in post-Second World War shipping in Pacific Asia.
Liverpool occupies a prominent position in the contemporary popular imagination. In spite of decades of economic decline, urban decay and a name associated by some with poverty and crime, the city's reputation is by no means a negative one. The book is a collection of essays that focuses on the strength of Liverpool's merchant marine, representing both informal and formal empire over centuries. It discusses the interracial relationships in 1950s and 1960s Liverpool to demonstrate that many African and Afro-Caribbean sailors (and others) married or had relationships with white women. Given existing deficiencies in the historiographies of both Liverpool and the British Empire, the book aims to reassess both Liverpool's role within the British imperial system and the impact on the port city of its colonial connections. Liverpool's success has often been attributed to, and marred by, its being the leader in the slave trade after 1750. Napoleonic Wars were a period of great turbulence and difficulty for the Liverpool commercial community. Liverpool is perceived as a diasporic city, however, its ambiguous nineteenth-century identity reflected the tensions of its complex migrant connections. An analysis of Liverpool's business connections with South America reveals its relative commercial decline and the notion of 'gentlemanly capitalism'. The African ethnology collection of National Museums Liverpool's (NML) ethnology collections are displayed in the 'World Cultures' gallery of the World Museum Liverpool, which opened in 2005. Liverpool is perhaps not exceptional, though its networks are notable and striking.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on the strength of Liverpool's merchant marine, representing both informal and formal empire over centuries. The numbers of non-white colonial immigrants in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Liverpool were relatively small. The book also focuses on interracial relationships in 1950s and 1960s Liverpool to demonstrate that many African and Afro-Caribbean sailors (and others) married or had relationships with white women. It provides a classic example of how Liverpool's long-standing colonial connections had a disturbing influence upon popular attitudes into and beyond the era of decolonisation. The city's international commercial relationships have been characterised as 'global' rather than imperial in nature, downplaying the intertwining of the interests of all its social groups with those of the empire.