The family of Robert Constantine had lived for many centuries in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the village of Haworth of Bronte sisters fame. Robert Constantine, father of the founder, took up an appointment as the manager of the British Railway Company in Flensburg in 1850 for the railway network that spanned the waterways of Schleswig-Holstein between Denmark and Germany. Joseph Constantine, his son, was born six years later in the town, then part of Denmark. However, following German attacks on Denmark, Flensburg became part of Germany and the family moved back to Yorkshire, settling in Middlesbrough. Robert and his brother William had delayed the German forces by sabotaging part of the railway stock under their control. After schooling, Joseph was apprenticed to the Middlesbrough firm of compass manufacturers and ship chandlers, Warley Pickering & Company.

His first investment in shipping was a number of 64ths in the brig Governor, followed by a greater number of shares in the three masted barques Homewood and P.G. Carvill renamed Norwood in 1885/87. These were registered under the Norwegian flag and skippered by their nominal owner, Capt. Klaveness, but were managed from Middlesbrough. This system was used by several other British tramp owners, including Macbeth & Gray of Glasgow, for the various advantages which then applied to the Norwegian registry. The barques were employed on tramping and chartered for South American voyages. Robert Constantine died in September 1900 and although he did not take an active part in his son’s shipping ventures he helped finance them. Joseph Constantine had purchased his first steam tramp in 1891, renaming her Toftwood, with a similar nomenclature for his dozen tramps owned before the tum of the century.

Riftswood, purchased in 1897, was the first tramp registered under the Red Duster, but her career came to an untimely end ten years later. She had been chartered by the Admiralty to take coal to Barbados for the battle-cruiser Indefatigable, but spontaneous combustion of the cargo forced her to be abandoned off the North Cap of St. Lucia in March 1907. The North Cap Estates of the island are almost inaccessible even today, and the crew were lucky to be rescued by French estate owners. Laurelwood of 1896 had a deadweight capacity of 3,500 tons on a draft of 18 feet 6 inches, with a part awning deck and web frames to give clear holds and with the officers ‘midships and some of the crew in the fo’c’stle. She was wrecked in January 1904 at Chausse de Sein, France whilst on a voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Middlesbrough with manganese ore.

William Constantine, brother of Joseph, acted as Superintendent, overseeing the building of new tramps. The business was managed from the same office in Dock Street, Middlesbrough as a ship’s chandlery, both as Constantine & Pickering. In 1901 the name was changed to the Constantine & Pickering Steamship Company but the tramps continued to be owned on the 64ths system. Already the tramps voyaged world-wide, and there was also a healthy Baltic trade homeward with pitprops, coal being the outward cargo in all cases. A few ships had been taken up by the British Government during the Boer War, but as yet there was no chartering out to liner companies. Walter Runciman’s first new tramp, Blakemoor, built in 1889 at South Shields, was purchased in 1900 and renamed Rosewood. Parkwood of 1906 was specially designed for the Pomeron ore trade with dimensions to allow her to enter that port. A coastal trade was begun in 1907, which ran alongside the deep-sea tramping business. In 1908, Puritan was purchased from T. & J. Harrison, and Lindenhall from the West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Co. Ltd., and unusually they were not renamed. Warley Pickering was completed in 1912 in Middlesbrough by Raylton, Dixon & Co. Ltd. and was their first new tramp to have a deadweight capacity of over 6,000 tonnes.

Marine casualties included Copsewood built as Craighill in 1882 and purchased ten years later but wrecked on 16th October 1895 on Cross Islands while on a voyage from Archangel to London with timber. Laurelwood was built in 1896 but was wrecked on 11th January 1904 at Chausse de Sein in France while on a voyage from Rio de Janeiro to the Tees with manganese ore. Riftswood built in 1890 as Sam Handford and purchased in 1897 was abandoned on fire off the North Cap of St. Lucia while on a voyage with coal to rendezvous and refuel the battleship H.M.S. Indefatigable. As a side interest, Joseph Constantine took a big interest in, and became a director of the Harrowing Steamship Co. Ltd. of Whitby. In 1910, the ship’s stores and chandlery business was sold to Furness, Withy & Co. Ltd., and continued to trade as Maritime Stores Ltd. There were regular trades at this time as well as tramping, including to the Mediterranean, West Indies, West Africa, and the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf ports of the U.S.A.

The smaller Constantine vessels participated in the coal trade out to the Baltic returning with timber, while those engaged in the coal trade from North East coast ports to the Thames and Shoreham were owned by the separate concern of R. A. Constantine and T. H. Donking, with the registered partners being Robert Constantine, son of Joseph Constantine, and Thomas Donking, a cousin of J. Warley Pickering. Joseph Constantine also held a portfolio of shares in foreign companies, ranging from Australian gold mines, Mexican silver mines and power companies, Costa Rican railway companies, and Brazilian coffee plantations.

World War I

On the outbreak of war in August 1914 some 22 ocean-going tramps and six coasters were owned. Immediately, Hazelwood was taken up by the British Government as a military stores ship for a short time, while Larchwood, Eskwood, Birchwood, Levenwood, Mordenwood, Goodwood and Kirnwood were taken up as colliers. Teeswood of 1882 and Rosewood of 1889 (ex Blakemoor) were purchased by the Admiralty and scuttled as blockships at Scapa Flow. Wearwood was requisitioned and released no less than fourteen times during her war career. Kirnwood carried coal, sugar, timber, ammunition, sandbags, ore and wheat to and from many distant British bases. Maplewood was chartered to the Russian Government but was returned prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The following tramps were lost to enemy action, together with 32 crew members, during the Great War:-

  • 2.4.1915 Lochwood – Torpedoed and sunk 25m SW of Start Point while on a voyage from Barry with coal.
  • 8.10.1915 Thorpwood – Sunk by gunfire 122m S of Cape Martello, Crete while on a voyage from Tyne to Malta with coal.
  • 10.1.1917 Brookwood – Sunk by gunfire 210m NW of Cape Finisterre while on a voyage from Penarth to Port Said with coal.
  • 13.1.1917 Toflwood – Torpedoed and sunk 24 miles from Sept Iles while on a voyage from New York to Le Havre with general cargo.
  • 5.2.1917 Warley Pickering – Torpedoed and sunk 46 miles NW of Fastnet while on a voyage from Sagunto to Tees with ore.
  • 16.2.1917 Queenswood – Sunk by gunfire 6m SW of Hartland Point while on a voyage from Rouen to Port Talbot in ballast.
  • 12.3.1917 Bilswood – Mined and sunk 8m NW of Alexandria while on a voyage from Malta.
  • 7.4.1917 Maplewood -Torpedoed and sunk 47m SW of Cape Sperone, Sardinia while on a voyage from La Goulette to Hartlepool with ore. Capt. W. Mudd taken prisoner.
  • 19.5.1917 Mordenwood – Torpedoed and sunk 90m SSE of Cape Matapan.
  • 21.8.1917 Goodwood – Torpedoed and sunk 28m NNW of Cape Bon while on a voyage from Naples to Tunis in ballast.
  • 3.1.1918 Birchwood – Torpedoed and sunk 25m E of Blackwater L.V. while on a voyage from Clyde to Devonport with coal.

In addition, Parkwood became a marine loss when she grounded homeward bound from Archangel, where she had delivered a cargo of munitions in July 1915. Her Master was only partly to blame as Russian navigational aids in the White Sea were very poorly maintained during the war. Two coasters were also lost, including Larchwood of 689 grt in a collision with the British steamer Argus 1,238/83 while on a voyage from Penarth with a cargo of coal, and Cedarwood of 654 grt when mined and sunk off the Suffolk coast while on a voyage from Middlesbrough to Fecamp with a cargo of pig iron. However, on the positive side, three new tramps and coasters were completed during the war.

Inter-War Years

In 1919, the ‘A’ type war standard tramp War Mallow was purchased and renamed Briarwood, but was sold two years later with the fleet then reduced to only three tramps, Kirnwood of 1905, Harlseywood of 1907 and Wearwood of 1912. J. Warley Pickering had retired by 1920, when the Joseph Constantine Steamship Line Ltd. was incorporated with a paid up capital of £999,900, held almost completely by members of the family. The boom and slump conditions in 1920/21 reduced freight rates to an all-time low, and the fleet was further reduced to only two tramps in 1922 in Wearwood of 1912 and Maplewood ex Ronalee and two small coasters, However, two second hand tramps had been purchased by the following year and renamed Kingswood and Briarwood. A newbuilding programme of ten tramps was then begun between 1925 and 1930, with the first completed in 1925 as Queenswood by a Dutch yard near Rotterdam:-


10 NEW TRAMPS OF BETWEEN 6,000 – 7,500 DWT

Northumberland SB, Howdon (4)
HAZELWOOD, KIRNWOOD, GOODWOOD – Swan Hunter, Wallsend (1)
TOFTWOOD  – W. Gray, Hartlepool (1)
BROOKWOOD – New Waterway SB (1)
QUEENSWOOD – Rotterdam


New blood was at the helm of the company by this time, as the founder Joseph Constantine had died at his home of Harlsey Hall in Northallerton in 1922 of cancer aged 65 years. He left a widow, two sons and two daughters, with Robert Alfred Constantine of Tanton Grange in Stokesley, and William Whitesmith Constantine, inheriting the shares of the shipping company along with Elsie Constantine and Margarita Constantine. A generous donation of £80,000 had been made in the will of the founder to establish a college for technical education, including shipbuilding and engineering, in the town, completed and opened on 2nd July 1930 by the Prince of Wales as the Constantine Technical College, and now part of Teesside University.

The fleet was kept busy with regular tramping services into the St. Lawrence, and the export of large quantities of timber from the Baltic to South Africa as well as worldwide tramping. The voyage position of the Constantine tramps in June 1927 was:-

Briarwood On passage Gulfport to U.K. with grain and cotton
Kingswood On passage Montreal to Antwerp with grain
Maplewood On passage Buenos Aires to U.K. via St. Vincent (bunkers) with grain
Queenswood On passage Swansea to Montreal with coal


An agreement was made in 1933 with the National Gypsum Company to build a pier and loading chutes for the export of gypsum from Cheticamp in Cape Breton (Nova Scotia) to the U.K. and Europe. The entry to this small port was narrow and hazardous but dredging was provided by the Canadian Government. A similar facility at Dingwall, Cape Breton was not brought into service until 1940.

Kirnwood and Hazelwood were fitted with Maierform bows in 1936, and in October of that year the voyage position of the Constantine tramping fleet was:-

Hazelwood On passage Cheticamp to London with gypsum
Kirnwood On passage Antwerp to New York with general
Brookwood On passage Cardiff to Swansea
Kingswood On passage Archangel to the Tyne (bunkers) to Port Natal with timber
Wearwood On passage Uuras (Finland) to Port Natal with timber
Maplewood On passage Wabana to Port Talbot with iron ore
Briarwood On passage Swansea to Montreal with coal


A trio of new tramps were similarly fitted with Maierform bows during construction at the Hawthorn, Leslie yard in Hebburn in 1936/37. Windsorwood, Yorkwood and Balmoralwood were built with financial aid from the Scrap & Loan Scheme, and were the largest ships owned by the company at almost 9,200 dwt. Nine old tramps had to be purchased and scrapped to qualify for the loan of £324,000 for the trio. They were registered under a new company, the Constantine Shipping Co. Ltd. formed in June 1935, and were built for a regular run between Swansea and Port Talbot to Quebec and Montreal. Homeward cargoes were timber, grain, gypsum or iron ore during the ice-free season of the St. Lawrence, and off season the trio were chartered for South American and South African ore, Mauritius sugar, Australian grain and River Plate grain. They also carried a dozen passengers, housed in eight single cabins and two double cabins, with tickets issued by the company for this part liner operation. They were fitted with triple expansion engines and a Gotaverken turbo-compressor, had large ‘tween decks, with the holds fitted with grain shifting boards, and good cargo handling gear.

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