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The good ship Percy Douglas

Percy Douglas - ship
'Percy Douglas of Liverpool' by Philip John Ouless (1817-1885)
Note: This may or may not be the painting referred to.
A large painting of a clipper ship on the high seas graces the office of the present chairman of Hayleys Ltd. And therein hangs a tale. For the story of Hayleys began with this ship, the Percy Douglas.

The Percy Douglas, so named after Major General Sir Robert Percy Douglas, the Lieutenant General of Jersey, in the Channel Islands belonged to Thomas Hayley. Registered in 1861, the 781-tonne clipper ship operated out of Liverpool and it was recorded by Lloyds that she was destined for the China tea trade. The details are sketchy as to whether she did actually sail between Liverpool and China, or merely to any Far Eastern port.

In 1869, Thomas Hayley made an important voyage on the Percy Douglas accompanied by his son Charles Pickering Hayley. The journey was part of Charles's coming of age celebrations and his half-sisters Julia and Adelaide sailed with them, making the lengthy trip past the Cape of Good Hope before reaching the scenic port of Galle. They disembarked at Galle and family history has it that Charles so liked what he saw of the sleepy seaport that he may have well decided to return and make his fortune there.

Back in Liverpool, Charles went through his business training before boarding the Percy Douglas once again in 1871. He reached Galle safely in late August or early September, but the clipper ship was fated never to return. She was wrecked off the coast of Rangoon. Charles Hayley worked first with a firm of shipping agents and when they folded up he rented a house in the centre of Galle Fort in Pedlar Street which was both office and godown and launched his business, exporting cinnamon and citronella oil and importing luxury goods such as claret from Britain. But he knew the coir yarn business was the way forward and he was fortunate enough to acquire more properties in Pedlar Street. Soon he had a large godown, with an expensive baling press. Chas. P. Hayley and Co. was now a force to be reckoned with.

The business prospered though staff was always kept to a minimum and soon branched into plantations, offering management services which included a good deal of financing to other plantation companies in the south. They survived the coffee crash, though not unscathed and helped estates switch to tea.

In 1909, Charles Hayley made a strategic move, by going into partnership with W.W. Kenny, a plumbago exporter. With Colombo offering better port facilities, the coir export business boomed.

He also panned for gold in the Gin Ganga and though they found small quantities, that scheme was abandoned. But a timber mill where tea chests turned out from logs floated down from Udugama estates prospered until cheap Momi chests from Japan knocked them out of business.

The agency for Thorneycroft lorries saw them begin a partnership with Whittall and Corp and Boustead Bros. launching the Southern Province Transport Co. in Matara after the turn of the century, serving tea and rubber plantation companies.

Other very profitable ventures were an ice manufacturing plant at Hikkaduwa, where Charles Hayley employed Tom Walker, who later set up his own business the New Colombo Ice Company, better known today as Ceylon Cold Stores. After Walker left, the factory manufactured soap but was done in by the 1930s slump.

The death of his wife saw Charles Hayley returning to England leaving the running of the firm to his sons Alec and Steuart, and son-in-law O.J. Steiger.

Hayley and Kenny and Chas P. Hayley were made Private Limited Companies in 1935 and 1943, respectively.

When the fallout from World War 11 demanded new avenues, the firm of Chas. P. Hayley was a wholly owned subsidiary of Hayley and Kenny, all shares of which were exclusively owned by a retired partner Steuart Hayley and the heirs of other partners living abroad. George G. Hayley, a grandson of the founder and son of Dr. F.A. Hayley QC was appointed a director of Chas. P. Hayley in 1948 along with Tony Humphryes. The names of Giorgio Bobbiese, Arthur Woosnam, E.C. Stewart, Ken Irvine, Brent Moore-Boyle and Dennis Fuller figure prominently in this period along with J. Neilson-Crawford and T.B. Johnson who ran Hayleys Engineering.

In the early 1950s, several young Ceylonese were recruited as executives and a training school for them set up at the Galle office.

Headquartered still in the godown where Chas P. Hayley launched his firm in 1878, the company is still a major player in the manufacture of coir mats and matting for export, producing also curled coir fibre which is used by many in its natural state or after being sprayed with rubber latex and vulcanised.

(Extracted from A Short History of the Hayley Companies in Ceylon by George G. Hayley).


The Percy Douglas was as 781-ton ship. She was originally laid down by Edward Allen of St Aubin at his yard which was situated just behind where the current Parish Hall stands. This was to be his sixth vessel. Allen was declared bankrupt and the court awarded the half completed hull to his chief creditor, a Liverpudlian entrepreneur, Thomas Hayley, described as ‘a gentleman’, who lived at Hillside, Beaumont.

Hayley had the vessel moved along the beach closer to his house at Beaumont and engaged a shipwright who then oversaw the completion of the ship. She was launched on 8 August 1861 and was named after the Lieutenant Governor of the day - Major General Sir Robert Percy Douglas. She was 172ft 3ins long, 32ft 3ins in the beam and had a depth 19ft 9ins.

She was registered in Liverpool the same day as she was launched and for the first four years her master was JP Hamon of St Brelade who is commemorated by a stained glass window in St Aubin's Church. She worked the Australia, Far Eastern and China routes until she was wrecked on the Kishma Shoal two days out of Rangoon on 30th December 1871. The entire crew was drowned including her master, Captain F Le Riche.

See also:

  • Ships named Douglas




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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024