If you’ve been in Dundee lately you’ve probably spotted the blue and white flag proudly flying from the top of DC Thomson’s refurbished Meadowside building. One of the oldest flags in the maritime world, it represents an era of history that began in the 19th Century and is still remembered today.
The story begins with William Thomson (the First), the grandfather of DC Thomson. A sea captain from Pittenweem, he traded with ports all over the Baltic and Mediterranean until he was lost at sea when his Dundee-built ship The Christian sank.
His son William II had a drapers shop in Reform Street, then the Savile Row of Dundee, before establishing a wool business in Euclid Crescent.
In 1849 William II bought a half share in a schooner. The business prospered and in a few years he had bought or built 26 ships – in 1874 alone four ships were constructed. When William’s sons David Couper Thomson (to become DC Thomson) and William III joined the business, the William Thomson and Sons shipping line became a force to be reckoned with – they pioneered refrigerated shipping and were responsible for the first importation of Canadian cattle to Scotland.
The fleet flew the Thomson house flag – a blue and white flag known as the Blue Checker or the Betsy Norrie, the name dating back to an earlier shipping concern owned by the Norrie family. At one time or another, the blue and white flag has been flown by Thomson ships at ports all over the globe.
But by the early 1900s, the line’s heyday was dwindling and the shipping business was sold to Mssrs Cairns Noble & Co which was the firm’s shipping agent in Newcastle.
But the final death knell for merchant shipping tolled as the spectre of the First World War loomed. Countless ships were lost in the Great War and in the Second World War – the golden era of merchant shipping was over.