Banks & Mitchell (from 1897)
Original partnership of Alexander Mills Banks and James Mitchell - Shipbrokers, Ships' Chandlers, Ship Agents, Shipowners: Founded in 1859: Banks left in 1874 and James Mitchell continued the business - later joined by two of his sons, John Miller Mitchell and James Mitchell Jnr.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Details and history
Name of company:
21 Dock Street
Dundee (from 1859)
21-22 Dock Street
Dundee (from 1864)
35-36 Dock Street
Dundee  (from 1869)
35 Dock Street
Dundee (from 1876)
43 Candle Lane
Dundee  (1878)
44 Candle Lane
Dundee  (1880)
59 Dock Street
Dundee (from 1882)
39 Dock Street
Dundee (from 1900)
3 Royal Exchange Court
Dundee (from 1930-31)
Number of employees:
Nature of business:
Shipbrokers; Ships' Chandlers; Ship Agents; and Ship Owners
Date ceased trading:
William Bisset (No:12) – Married Mary Banks, older sister of Alexander M. Banks. Ergo, brother-in-law to Alexander M. Banks (No:15)
David Mitchell (No:138) – Older brother of James Mitchell (N0:15)
Moon (No:160) – Susan Moon married James Mitchell (No:15)
Campbell (No:40) – John Miller Mitchell (son of James Mitchell) married Grace Campbell Hunter. Her mother, Grace Hunter’s maiden name was Campbell.
Johnston (No:111) – Norman Mitchell (2nd son of James Mitchell) married Margaret Johnston, daughter of John Johnston, farmer
There are no extant legal documents relating to any stage of this partnership.
- The business was created by Alexander Mills Banks and James Mitchell, probably in 1859.
- Banks was born in 1833/4, the youngest son of George W Banks, a linen manufacturer and ship owner, and his wife Susan Kinnear. We know that in 1858 he was working as a clerk to a John Fyffe, who was described as a shipbroker, ship owner, and as a ship agent and chandler. In 1858 Banks was living in 42 Mid Street with his widowed mother. In 1871 they both moved to 1 Mid Street. Banks married Marjory Hume in 1872 and moved to 8 Albany Terrace where he lived for the rest of his life. He was an active member of The High Church (St David’s). He supported the Committee for the Relief of the Unemployed, joining its Fourth Subscription List with a contribution of 42/- (nominal value at 2018 related to income £1680). He died of pneumonia in 1885 aged 51. His obituary read “…Mr Banks was a comparatively young man, and both as a ship owner and ship broker he was well known about the harbour, and greatly respected.” He had continued to work on his own account until his death, and the records of his executory show that he left a personal estate of just over £1035 (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £828,000).
- Mitchell was born in Dundee in 1831, the son of David Mitchell, a shipmaster, and his wife Elizabeth Miller who in 1834 lived in 15 Union Street. Young James “…was apprenticed to a shipping office in Liverpool. In 1853 he took passage for Australia to search for gold. En route he survived the wrecking of the Earl of Charlemont on Barmoin Head, Victoria; landing ashore with only the clothes he stood in. He worked as a stevedore and other jobs before going to the goldfields, where he had considerable success, before returning to Dundee in 1858“. It is interesting to note that after building the house in the West Ferry, in which he was to live from 1884 until his death, he named it “Charlemont”. He lived at 29 Union Street from 1861 until 1867, when he had married Susan Moon(daughter of Alexander Moon, a farmer, and his wife Mary Rae). From then, Mitchell with his wife had lived at 43 Union Street until 1874, when they moved to Hill Terrace, Broughty Ferry. In 1878 he moved to “Harecraig”, West Ferry, before finally moving to “Charlemont” in 1884. He had three sons (John Miller and James was to follow him into the business, while Norman became a farmer, and three daughters (Margaret Moon, Mary, and Bertha). They also had a daughter (Elizabeth) who had died in infancy, and a stillborn son. James died in 1911, leaving a personal estate of almost £6,578 (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £5,262,400). His obituary read “…one of the best-known business men of Dundee has gone. Mr Mitchell had reached the advanced age of 80 years, this giving him the distinction of being the oldest shipowner in the city. He came from seafaring stock, his father having owned and commanded one of the old Baltic schooners. …in Australia he lived under canvas at the goldfields, where he was successful. He then returned to Dundee. One the way home he sailed by way of Cape Horn, and as he went to Australia round the Cape of Good Hope, he had thus sailed round the world. His first office was on the same site as his present premises. He …became the owner of a number of large steam vessels, and was also largely interested in the whaling industry. A number of years ago his two sons, Mr J.M. Hunter Mitchell and Mr James Mitchell, were received into partnership, and the business is now one of the most prosperous in the city. Than that of Mr Mitchell there was no figure better known on the streets of Dundee, and by all who knew him he was highly esteemed.”
- John Miller Mitchell was born in 1868, the eldest child of James Mitchell and Susan Moon. John worked in the business before being made a partner in 1897. In 1897 he is recorded as the owner of the Balaena (a whaler), and Secretary of the Balaena Fishing Co Ltd, while his father James is listed as a director of the same company. In 1901 he married Grace Campbell Hunter, adopted daughter and only child of William Hunter and his wife Grace (m.s. Campbell). Following his marriage, John Miller Mitchell took the name Hunter into his own, becoming John M. Hunter Mitchell. He died in 1931 aged 62, and the business was wound up by his younger brother James. There were no executory documents available (online).
- James Mitchell was born in 1897, the last child of James Mitchell and Susan Moon. Aged only fourteen when his father died in 1911, he was eighteen when he is first mentioned as working at James Mitchell and Sons in 1915. At that time his home address was given as “Hillcrest” Newport. His address remained the same until 1920, when it was listed as 11 Linden Avenue, Newport. He was still living at this address and active in the business when his brother died in 1931. James then wound up the business, and it ceased to trade.
Banks & Mitchell was a relatively new enterprise at the time of the appeal for the Albert Institute, which probably explains the modest subscription of £5. However, the partners had begun their business at a good time for such a venture.
It must be remembered that Dundee had grown rapidly as the Industrial Revolution developed, as witnessed by its population growth from 26,000 in 1801 to 122,000 in 1871. Factories and the jobs they had provided had encouraged the movement of labour from the rural to the urban. Dundee was admirably situated to reap the benefits from not just the mechanisation in the mills, but also its location on the eastern seaboard, which facilitated trade with Scandinavia, the Baltic, and northern Europe. Together with its maritime tradition, that made the logistics of importing fuel and raw materials, and exporting finished goods much simpler. It is easy therefore to see that shipping was the major support service which gave Dundee a considerable competitive advantage. Accordingly, it is understandable that by 1876 :-
“The Harbour is now admirably adapted for the reception of vessels of every class and size. Besides the tidal and ferry harbours, it consists of four wet docks extending to about 35 acres, and two dry docks, one of them now finishing being 500 feet long, and capable of receiving two vessels of the largest class at a time. Previous to 1815, the harbour was very defective, neither affording sufficient safety nor depth of water, but its improvement was then begun, and has been proceeding ever since. It has cost upwards of three quarters of a million pounds,” (nominal value at 2018: Relative to income – £600,000,000)
Thus it was, that investment in shipping was an acknowledged vehicle which diversified the capital of the professional and merchant classes. All ship ownership was divided into 64 shares, and these shares were the stock in trade of the shipbroker, providing to investors both income from the ship’s operation, as well as the potential of capital appreciation when demand/earnings were high and ownership share was sold on.
During the 1850s the number of vessels registered in Dundee had peaked at 342 with a total tonnage of just over 57,000 tons, but, with the exception of just three vessels, they were all sailing vessels. By 1861 of the 288 vessels registered, 17 were steam powered, and this development continued in the 1870s, as owners sought to exploit the benefits of steam. Larger iron hulls gave greater cargo capacity giving larger revenue potential, steam largely rendered wind direction irrelevant, coal was cheap, and crew sizes were less. Obviously there was naturally resistance to change to the newer technology, particularly by owners who had fleets of sailing vessels, but the general movement towards steam was inexorable during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Mitchell was a steam enthusiast, and, after Banks and he split, Mitchell set about creating a purely steam fleet portfolio.
Thus it was, that in their initial years together demand for capacity was strong, which had helped them to establish the business into a profitable concern. That said, it is clear that the chandlery part of the business was important to them when they set out. However the only information of that part of their trade is a short mention in the local press:-
“THEFT OF POCKET KNIVES. At the Police Court yesterday, a boy of the name John Smith, residing in the Dudhope Wynd, was charged with stealing fifteen pocket knives from the shop in Dock Street, occupied by Messrs Banks & Mitchell, ship brokers and chandlers. He pled guilty, and was sentenced to five days imprisonment, with hard labour.”
Early cargoes were general, but mostly coal to, and timber from, the Baltic.
In the early years Banks & Mitchell invested heavily in building a fleet. buying and selling at an advantage into a buoyant market. However, by the late 1870s the market was showing early signs of over-capacity, and older, smaller, sailing vessels were becoming uneconomic to operate. This period also coincided with a general stagnation in trade, generally put down to “over competition” in Europe and India. By this time those places having begun to develop their own jute processing.
By the mid 1880s commercial activity had begun to recover, and optimism was again prevalent, and annual tonnage received at Dundee amounted to almost 160,000 tons. Yet Dundee was to again experience a cyclical downturn in 1887. Then again, by 1891 trade had again recovered and optimism was prevalent. This continued until after a period of price stability trade again went into a decline only to recover at the end of the century. As ever, there was no simple reason for the vagaries of trade, the period in question had also been affected by the fallout from the Crimean War, the American Civil War, and the First and Second Boer Wars.
Throughout these periods James Mitchell & Sons bought and sold vessels advantageously, scaling their fleet to demand, but also updating its ships, so that when recovery came the firm could capitalise on its own competitive advantage.
The First World War brought many losses to James Mitchell & Sons, but they tended to be special purchases of outdated, worn-out vessels used as blockships, and government compensation was available for other losses.
Why did the partners split?
And finally, I would like to explore the puzzling reason why the original partners split up.
I have found researching Banks & Mitchell most interesting, absorbing, and challenging, -but I have been unable to find any documentary evidence as to why the original partnership was dissolved. Given the the business was profitable and flourishing, how did the acrimonious parting of the ways happen? The split came about just over a fortnight after the loss of the “Celerity”, -so could there be some correlation between her loss and the split ?
“Celerity” was screw driven, schooner rigged ship, traditionally clinker built on an iron frame, by William Pile & Co, -a well-known and respected ship builder in Sunderland. With a gross tonnage of 973 tons, she was fitted with a self-condensing high and low pressure engine of 98 horsepower, and carried a crew of 21. She was the third ship that Pile’s had built for Banks & Mitchell, and was the sister ship to the “Dispatch”. Registered in Dundee, “Celerity” was commanded by William Cable, and only 15 months old when she foundered in the Baltic, en route from Riga to Stettin with a cargo of rye. She had encountered a sudden storm, and was lost with all hands. Although no evidence was ever offered it was posited at the time that during the course of the storm she had collided with the “Surbiton” (another steamer bound for Stettin) which was also lost with all hands.
News of her loss quickly spread as far as Philadelphia, with it being reported on 1st Jan 1874 that:-
“The Celerity, of Dundee, a screw steamer, is supposed lost with all hands. She left Riga for Stettin on December 3rd, and has not been heard of since. The voyage is usually accomplished in two or three days, and it is believed the Celerity had been caught in the gale which prevailed in the Baltic on the 4th and 5th, and had foundered. The crew consisted of twenty-one hands, most of whom lived in Dundee, several of them being married and having large families. Only last year the Celerity was launched. She was worth between $20,000 and $80,000, but is fully insured. She was laden with rye.”
A relief fund was set up, and Banks & Mitchell headed the subscription list with the sum of £500, – the loss of her crew had created “…the large and lamentable catalogue of 13 widows and 40 orphans, with one very aged and dependent mother, Widow O’Brien”.
During that period unfortunately such shipping losses were not uncommon, -but rarely led to the breakup of the owners ! At first, I thought that there might have been an insurance issue, -but then through my research I found the vessel and cargo had been insured for £30,000, and that the insurance company had paid out the claim. So what else could it have been ?
Further accounts from Riga indicated that Celerity had been “carefully loaded”, -that the cargo “…was properly bulkheaded, shifting boards used, and every precaution taken, as if the vessel was to perform a long instead of a two and a half days passage.” She was a new, state of the art, ship, -so was she overloaded ?
The first mention of her loading, was one that suggested that her engine may have broken down, and that she had drifted “…and, as she would have been pretty deep loaded, her progress through the water would be very slow.” It must be remembered that at this date there was no “Plimsoll Line”, -indicating minimum freeboard. At a public meeting called by Provost James Cox to determine how the relief fund should be administered, the Rev Dr Watson admitted :-
“…That he was ignorant of the method of lading ships, but those gentlemen present who were engaged in the trade of the town would no doubt inquire whether something could not be done to diminish the risks and dangers of seafaring men.”
At the same meeting, Thomas Couper was also reported as saying :-
“…As to the loading of ships, without reference to the present case, he had no hesitation in saying that something should be done both by the underwriters and the Government in connection with the matter.”
By that time, Samuel Plimsoll was already striving for change, but, due to pressure from shipowners, change did not take place until the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876, which brought in the compulsory minimum freeboard lines on all merchant shipping, and enforcement of it by the Board of Trade.
So had Banks and Mitchell quarrelled about encouragement to their masters to load their ships as fully as possible? Or was it about the acceptance of an unstable and unsuitable cargo at an uncertain time of the year? I fear we will never know.
The split when it came was not particularly friendly, with James Mitchell putting a Public Notice in the Courier on the 14th January 1874 announcing that he would “…uplift the debts due to the Firm, and discharge the debts due by it.”, together with a notice saying that he would carry on the business in his own name. Then on the 19th January, Alexander M. Banks placed a Public Notice saying that he would be “…continuing business on his own account” at a temporary office.
There are no extant legal documents regarding the dissolution, or indeed, any articles in the press.
We know that Alexander Banks was a staunch and devout elder of his church, St David’s High Kirk. And that, long after his death, his family commemorated his life with a large stained glass window. The window portrays Job surrounded by his sons and and daughters, and around the outer margin are written the opening words of the Book of Job:-
“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright and one that feared God.”
And we all know what a capricious God did to him! Accordingly, my reasoning of the subject and writing, leads me to believe that, at least in the eyes of his family, he was being portrayed in the mould of Job, a good and just man who had been wronged.
- Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser - 25th Oct 1859.
- Dundee Directory 1876 p.205.
- Dundee Directory 1897 p.328.
- Dundee Directory 1861 p.21; p.243.
- Dundee Directory 1864 p.333.
- Dundee Directory 1869 p.256; p.360.
- Dundee Directory 1878 p.220.
- Dundee Directory 1880 p.235.
- Dundee Directory 1882 p.245.
- Dundee Directory 1900 p.340; p.341.
- Dundee Directory 1864 p.333; p.94.
- Earliest mention encountered in Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser - 25th October 1859.
- (1774-1836) Old Parish Registers Deaths 282/270 43 Dundee.
- Old Parish Registers Marriages 282/140 221 Dundee.
- (1793-1877) Old Parish Registers Births 282/70 582; and Statutory registers Deaths 282/3 148.
- Dundee Directory 1858 p.103.
- Dundee Directory 1856 p.210; p.214; p.215.
- Dundee Directory 1856 p.95.
- Dundee Directory 1858 p.103.
- Mrs George W Banks, Dundee Directory 1858 p.103.
- Dundee Directory 1871 p.70.
- Statutory registers Marriages 282/1 47.
- Evening Telegraph - Saturday 18th March 1939.
- Statutory registers Deaths 282/2 570.
- Dundee Advertiser - Nov 13th 1885; Dundee Courier - Nov 13th 1885.
- 23 Dock Street from 1874-1880; Dundee Directory 1874 p.100; Dundee Directory 1876 p.95; Dundee Directory 1878 p.101. Calcutta Building, Commercial Street 1880-84; Dundee Directory 1880 p.100; Dundee Directory 1882 p.104. 30 Dock Street from 1884-85;Dundee Directory 1884 p.109.
- Wills and testaments SC45/31/36 Dundee Sheriff Court.
- Dundee Directory 1824 p.52 lists one David Mitchell as master of the "Pomona" (an 83 ton sloop, built 1819, crew of 5, engaged in foreign going trade). p.131 lists him as residing at Fishmarket. Dundee Directory 1842 p.137 lists one David Mitchell as owner and master of "John Black" (a 158 ton brig, built 1830). and p.58, living at 15 Union Street.
- Old Parish Registers Births 282/170 57.
- Dundee Directory 1834 p.35.
- Ingram Notebooks - People.
- Dundee Directory 1861 p.182.
- Statutory registers Marriages 282/2 101.
- Dundee Directory 1867 p.169.
- Dundee Directory 1874 p.455.
- Dundee Directory 1878 p.220.
- Dundee Directory 1884 p.256.
- Statutory registers Births 282/2 695.
- Statutory registers Births 282/2 465.
- Statutory registers Deaths 282/2 402.
- Wills and testaments SC45/31/69 Dundee Sheriff Court (p.26).
- Dundee Courier - Wednesday 26th April 1911.
- Not strictly true. Both first and last offices were in Dock Street, but the first was at No: 21, then No: 33 (to the left of the Navigation School) , while the last was in the newly redeveloped (1900) No: 39, on the corner of Commercial Street, -to the right of the Navigation School !
- Statutory registers Births 282/2 695.
- 1891 Census 282/4 48/9.
- Dundee Directory 1897 p.117.
- Dundee Directory 1897 p.115.
- Statutory registers Marriages 282/4 151.
- The archetypal Victorian self-made man: Born the son of a farm labourer, he married the daughter of a boatman, and together they built a wholesale drapery business which launched him into a life of public service and philanthropy. Twice Lord Provost of Dundee and Lord Lieutenant of Forfarshire, at death he left a personal estate of £164,495 (current value £131,596,000).
- Mrs Grace Hunter directed her philanthropy towards children, education, women, and the poor.
- Dundee Directory 1906 p.365.
- Statutory registers Deaths 379/ 6.
- Statutory registers Births 282/4 391.
- Dundee Directory 1915 p.404.
- Dundee Directory 1920 p.400.
- Dundee Directory 1874 p.1.
- Dundee Directory 1876 p.3.
- Ingram Notebooks - Dundee Registry.
- Dundee Directory 1850 Shipping Lists pp213-220.
- "London" 686 tons, "Dundee" 579 tons, and the tug "Hercules", all owned by Dundee, Perth, & London Shipping Co.
- Dundee Directory 1861 Shipping Lists pp91-96.
- Dundee Directories 1876-82; 1876 1002 tons "Glentruim" (1002 tons, built 1875); 1878 2100 tons, having added "Glenisla" (1098 tons, built 1878); 1882 3377 tons, having added "Garry" (628 tons, built 1880) and "Spey" (649 tons, built 1880).
- Dundee Courier also Dundee Advertiser - Wednesday 24th July 1861.
- Examples: Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser - 25th October 1859, 1st Nov 1859; Dundee Courier 25th July 1861, 17th Oct 1865, 18th Oct 1865, 22nd May 1866.
- Dundee Directory 1882 p.4.
- Dundee Directory 1882 p.1.
- Dundee Directory 1884 p.2.
- Crimean War 1853-56.
- American Civil War 1861-65.
- First and Second Boer War 1880-81, 1899-1902.
- "Diemham" 2928 tons, built 1891, bought in 1916, mined 1916; "Dolcoath" 1706 tons, built 1883, bought in 1913, mined off Thames 10th May 1916; "Eric Calvert" 1862 tons, built 1889, bought in 1918, torpedoed off Falmouth 22nd April 1918; "Fernlands" 2042 tons, built 1886, bought in 1913, sunk as blockship 1914; "Glenisla" 1423 tons, built 1878, owned from new, sunk after collision in Bressay Sound 24th Nov 1917; "Iser" 2026 tons, built 1888, bought in 1915, torpedoed Biscay 23 Feb 1917.
- Lloyds Registry Dundee - CE70-11-12 Ref: 68,262 No:18 in 1872.
- Herself lost off Alum-el-room, 160 miles west of Alexandria on 17th Nov 1874. The inquiry at Alexandria found that the master, one David Mitchell (brother of the owner !), had "...stood in too close to the African shore, while the night was dark and the coast low". Both the master and the mate, John Cass, had their certification suspended for six months.
- Lloyds Registry - No: of Competency Certificate 4,333; he was aged 50, and had good knowledge of the North Sea and Baltic, -having been master of the "Britannia" out of Montrose for a considerable period, before taking command of the new ship "Celerity".
- The Scotsman - 23rd Dec 1873.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer - 1st Jan 1874 p.4.
- Dundee Advertiser - 1st Jan 1874.
- Dundee Advertiser - 2nd Jan 1874.
- Celerity Relief Fund - 2nd Jan 1874.
- Dundee Courier - 17th Dec 1873.
-  Rev Dr Archibald Watson DD - Minister of St Mary's (East Church), Nethergate.
- Manager of Dundee, Perth & London Shipping Co; and also a subscriber to the Albert Institute (£30 Subscriber No: 56).
- 1824-98 - English politician and philanthropist who campaigned for maximum load lines on merchant vessels.
- Dundee Courier - 19th Jan 1874.
- Dundee Evening Telegraph - 18th Mar 1939.
The information above about has been collated from a range of digital and hard copy sources. To the best of our knowledge it is correct but if you are relying on any information from our website for the purpose of your own research we would advise you to follow up the sources to your own satisfaction. If you are aware of an inaccuracy in our text please do not hesitate to notify us through our Contact page.