Skip to main content

Archives of Messrs. Christian Salvesen Ltd.

Identifier: Coll-36

Scope and Contents

The Archives of Christian Salvesen Ltd. span well over one hundred years from the 1850s to the 1960s. The deposit contains ledgers, private journals, cash books, invoice books, letter books, day books, official files, station records, stock books and accounts, correspondence and documents, order books, records of telegrams of Turnbull, Salvesen & Co., Christian Salvesen & Co., and South Georgia Co., and various subsidiary companies. There is material relating to Salvesen ships generally, in the form of ship books with shares, dividends, proceeds and etc., ship ledgers, outward and inward manifest books, valuations of Salvesen ships, tanker voyages, and correspondence and documents; and, material relating to individual ships in the form of voyage books, ledgers, day books, and order books. There are particulars of ports arranged alphabetically. The collection includes material on whaling including sales and purchases of whale products; catch records from 1914-1946; notes regarding whaling activities; cargo and sales; position books showing position of ships; scientific results of marine biological research; and, correspondence and documents. There is material relating to Government Ministries such as the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of War Transport in the form correspondence and documents; material on the Salvesen partners and others, including financial papers, investment registers, personal papers, diaries, notebooks, letter books, letters, and estate matters; and, staff material such as income tax returns, ledgers, salaries books, and correspondence and documents relating to sea-going staff and whaling officers. Other miscellaneous material in the deposit includes newspaper cuttings and photographs; some volumes of Lloyd's register; history records; personal and private biographical material on the Salvesen family; insurance correspondence; donations, subscriptions, patronage related to Salvesen charitable interests; desk diaries; and, other miscellaneous records. Also includes a report entitled 'Journey to the Atlantic on Board the Floating Factory T. S. S "Southern Venturer", 1945-1946', donated in June 2018 (SC-Acc-2019-0008).


  • Creation: 1852-1969

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Access to the deposited Archives of Messrs. Christian Salvesen Ltd., will be by prior appointment only. Contact the repository for details. Note too that access to certain parts of the collection is restricted and that prior written permission is required from the company.

Biographical / Historical

The firm of Christian Salvesen Ltd. was first founded as a private unlimited company in 1872. The firm began in premises in Bernard Street, Leith, bought by Salve Christian Fredrik Salvesen, a Norwegian from Mandal, for business as a shipbroker and shipowner. Christian Salvesen had first arrived in Scotland in 1851 to manage a Grangemouth shipbroking business owned by his brother, Johann Theodor Salvesen, in partnership with the Edinburgh merchant George Vair Turnbull. The firm imported grain for domestic use and for distillation, and timber for pit-props, housebuilding, and for railway sleepers. Exports were mainly coal and iron. In addition to these commodities, the firm also dealt in cargoes of salt and Norwegian herring, and high profits were obtained from the flood of Australia-bound migrants and gold prospectors. In 1853, Salve Christian Fredrik took Johann Theodor's place as a partner and carried on in the firm until 1872 when he went into business on his own. This coincided with the advent of the steamship and the expansion of maritime commerce with German and Baltic ports following the Franco-Prussian war. Later on, in the 1880s, three of his sons would join him and carry on the business after his death in 1911. By then the firm's vessels were trading with ports on the Baltic, and in Norway and Sweden, and were servicing whaling stations in the Arctic, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Cargo lines were also opened up between Leith, Malta, and Alexandria, and then into the Black Sea. During the first decade of the 20th century, the shipping industry was in a depressed state and, globally, shipping companies made heavy losses. The Salvesen fleet fared no better, although the company's whaling interests which had expanded as far as the Falkland Islands and South Georgia did help it at times to show profit. In the early decades of that century, whaling dominated Salvesen's business and indeed the firm led the whaling industry at a time when food oils and other products from the Antarctic were considered a boundless resource. A third generation of Salvesens had entered the business in the troubled economic period of the inter-war years. The firm managed to ride these out, and in whaling it expanded and modernised. As stocks began to diminish however, the firm of Salvesen - whalers for nearly 70 years - was prominent in urging conservation. By the 1960s and 1970s a fourth generation was still playing an important role in the firm, although by then Salvesen was no longer a family firm. Diversification had been an important key to the survival of the firm over these decades, from importing and exporting of timber and coal, to whaling and a tanker fleet, shipping steel and coke to Norway for the Norwegian shipbuilding and steel industries, factory fishing trawlers, and then to shore-based cold storage, canning, property development and also to house-building. Into the 21st century it was as frozen food merchants and for the distribution of quick frozen vegetables that the name Christian Salvesen PLC had become better known.

In 2005 the business was restructured into two main business segments - 'Food and Consumer' and 'Transport'. These provided outsourced supply chain operations for the food and consumer sectors including temperature controlled storage and distribution, and offered transport and warehousing for a wide range of industrial sector customers. Countries of operation comprised Belgium, France, Netherlands, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom. In 2006, the company employed 14,000 staff at 200 sites, in eight countries, and had revenues of £899-million. The firm had transport deals with Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Ford and BP.

Then, in October 2007, the French based transport and logistics provider Norbert Dentressangle announced that it had reached an agreement to acquire Christian Salvesen. As a UK-based third party logistics provider with operations throughout Europe, Christian Salvesen enabled Norbert Dentressangle to significantly reinforce its own position in Europe. Indeed, the merger between Dentressangle and Salvesen created Europe's 7th largest transport and logistics company with a fleet of more than 8,000 trucks operating from almost 400 bases in 13 countries - Norbert Dentressangle had previously been more dominant in France, Germany and eastern Europe.


110 boxes (approx), 338 volumes and ledgers (circa 65 linear metres).

Physical Location

Gen. 1925; E2008.53

Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H36

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The archives of Messrs. Christian Salvesen Limited were surveyed by the National Register of Archives (Scotland) in 1968, and then in 1969 and in subsequent years they were transferred from the various office premises of the firm to be placed on deposit in Edinburgh University Library. Additional tranches transferred too.

Related Materials

Also within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, are the Diaries of Dr. I. M. MacIntosh - Antarctica, 1956-1957, 1961-1962 (Coll-1285) and the Papers of Sir Gerald Elliot FRSE (Coll-1357).

Archives of Messrs. Christian Salvesen Limited
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379