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White Cross Line (Shipping company, Belgium)

Last modified: 2006-11-19 by ivan sache
Keywords: white cross line | cross: greek (white) | switzerland |
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[House flag of White Cross Line]

House flag of White Cross Line - Image by António Martins, 21 January 2002

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Presentation of White Cross Line

This company - not related to the White Cross Line of Bullard & King, linking London to Natal - had a remarkable background. It was a Belgian shipping company founded in Antwerp by a Swiss, Daniel Steinmann from St Gallen, and flew a rectangular version of the Swiss flag.

In 1854, two years after his arrival in Antwerp, Steinmann founded a firm involved in the transportation of cargo and emigrants to New York and South America: Steinmann & Cie.
In 1860 the White Cross Line was founded (from 1879 on in cooperation with the Engels Line - Devos & Vanfraechem give 1860 as the founding year but most other sources, 1879; his would mean that Engels did not join later but was involved from the beginning.): it offered transportation to North as well as to South America. At first ships were chartered (more than 20 in all), then - in 1863 - the first ship was bought. 1871 saw a name change to Steinmann & Ludwig, the Prussian Hermann Ludwig being the other business partner. Steam was introduced in 1872, the total being eight steamships during the firm's history.
A series of dramatic disasters in 1883 and 1884 led to loss of life and ships, in fact one ship was believed to have sunk after a collision with an iceberg. Competition from rising firms such as the Red Star Line did not help matters. Passenger transport stopped in 1884; then in 1888 Ludwig left the firm which made Steinmann & Co. reappear for a short period. The last steamship was sold in 1894 and shipping came to an end.
Daniel Steinmann remained active as a shipping agent, important enough to become the first chairman of the Fédération Maritime d'Anvers (Antwerp Shipping Federation) in 1901, in which capacity he had to deal with a fierce labour (dockers) conflict six years later.
Until recently at least Steinmann & Co. still existed, based in Bruges.


According to Baetens & De Vos (Antwerpens maritiem verleden, 1990), the name "White Cross Line" was given to a shipping line (1857) and was only later borne by a shipping company (1865).

Jan Mertens, 28 May 2006

House flag of White Cross Line

The house flag of White Cross Line, as shown on a painting of the Daniel Steinmann kept in the National Maritime Museum in Antwerp, is a white Greek cross on a red field, in other words a rectangular version of the Swiss national flag.
On a company letterhead reproduced in Devos & Vanfraechem the cross is shifted slightly to the left but I assume this was artistic licence as the flag was drawn whereas the one in the painting is quite regular.

Jan Mertens, 5 September 2005

This flag is therefore a precursor of the Swiss nautical flag (for commercial use) which has been introduced in 1941.

Martin Karner, 6 January 2006