The bulk carrier 'Argonaut' ready for launch

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When: 16 January 1968

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View of the bulk carrier 'Argonaut' ready for launch at the North Sands shipyard, Sunderland, 16 January 1968 (TWAM ref. DT.TUR/6/52115A).

This set celebrates the achievements of the famous Sunderland shipbuilding firm Joseph L. Thompson & Sons. The company’s origins date back to 1846 when the firm was known as Robert Thompson & Sons. Robert Thompson senior died in 1860, leaving his second son Joseph Lowes Thompson in control. In 1870 the shipyard completed its last wooden vessel and was then adapted for iron shipbuilding.

By 1880 the firm had expanded its operations over much of North Sands and in 1884 completed the construction of Manor Quay, which served as fitting out and repair facilities. For many years in the late nineteenth century the yard was the most productive in Sunderland and in 1894 had the fourth largest output of any shipyard in the world.

The Depression affected the firm severely in the early 1930s and no vessels were launched from 1931 to 1934. However, during those years the company developed a hull design giving greater efficiency and economy in service. During the Second World War the prototype developed by Joseph L. Thompson & Sons proved so popular that it was used by the US Government as the basis of over 2,700 Liberty ships built at American shipyards between 1942 and 1945.

After the War the North Sands shipyard went on to build many fine cargo ships, oil tankers and bulk carriers. Sadly the shipyard closed in 1979, although it briefly reopened in 1986 to construct the crane barge ITM Challenger.

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Owner: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
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