Portmadoc Mutual Ship Insurance Society

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

The leading light in founding the Portmadoc Mutual Ship Insurance Society was Samuel Holland Jnr.[1] He was approached by a deputation of local shipowners. They argued that the premiums they were paying were a burden. Holland gathered a purpose-like committee of experienced mariners and the undertaking was soon under way. On 21st May 1841 it opened for business - the first of its kind in North Wales.

The rules and regulations ran to over 100 clauses. Their first concern was to get rid of the bad practice of making a profit from the loss of old neglected ships which were insured beyond their value - the so called "coffin ships". It was a requirement that every ship insured by the Society was surveyed beforehand by it and then every twelve months. The requirement of the Society to get ships into a good state made the repairing beaches of Porthmadog busy places with carpenters, joiners, sailmakers and riggers all sharing in the work.

Other ports saw the advantage Porthmadog was achieving and Barmouth and Pwllheli chose to have their ships insured by P.M.S.I.S. There were strict rues about who could command ships insured by the Society and provision was made for appointing replacement masters when in distant ports. Any master convicted of smuggling was never to command a Society insured ship again.

The normal limits of navigation with insured ships were the waters of the British Isles and Northern Europe. They could go further afield but additional premium would be required. For the first twenty years of P.M.S.I.S. the rate was not above 2% yearly of the value of the ship whereas 5 to 7% was charged by London and other offices. In April 1865, 153 ships were insured by the Society. Their surveyor was Captain Peter Jones and there were twelve additional surveyors at Porthmadog (of whom five were master mariners), two at Barmouth, one at Pwllheli and one at Port Dinorwic.[2] Porthmadog ships often traded in packs - to Newfoundland, Labrador, The Baltic & Mediterranean, Brazil and the Spanish Main and the West Indies. It meant there were economies of administration. The P.M.S.I.S. surveyor and adviser in the form of another Porthmadog captain would be asked to proceed,act and report to the Society.

Unlike many other mutual ship insurance societies the P.M.S.I.S. would not insure ships which had no connection with Porthmadog. The mutual ship insurance societies founded in Bangor in 1853, 1870, 1874 and 1881, Nefyn in 1857, 1866, 1868, 1872 and 1880 all accepted membership from far away such as Aberdeen and London. In 1866 a second society was formed in Porthmadog calledthe North Wales Mutual Ship Collision Insurance Society and membership was extended to vessels from any North Wales port. Then in 1875 a third society the Gomerian Freight and Outfit Mutual Ship Insurance Society. By 1884 it insured 120 vessels.[3]


  1. ^ Hughes Henry (1969) Immortal Sails, T Stepenson & Sons Ltd, Prescot, Lancs. pp 53 - 57.
  2. ^ Hughes E and Eames A (1975) Porthmadog Ships, Gwynedd Archive Services, County Offices, Caernarfon p 36.
  3. ^ Hughes E and Eames A (1975) Porthmadog Ships, Gwynedd Archive Services, County Offices, Caernarfon p 38.