Morel brothers in Cardiff
Sir Thomas Morel, Lord Mayor of Cardiff from 1899 to 99. He was born in St Mary in 1847, the son of Edward Thomas (1804- ) and Rachel (1811- ). He moved to Cardiff with two of his brothers and married Susan Elliott Angel Gibbs (1841-1910) in 1873. His obituary in the Weekly Mail described him as 'One of the Merchant Princes of Cardiff'. He settled in the Welsh capital at about the age of 15 and became a shareholder in a sailing vessel managed by his brother John. In about 1870 he and his other brother Philip bought John's business, carrying out a large trade with French sailing vessels. They bought their first steamship, Colstrup and then commissioned the Portugalete. They went on to become the largest shipowners in the Channel, owning 21 steamers and managing five others at the time of Sir Thomas' death. The vessels were nearly all constructed for the Bilbao iron ore trade, which the brothers dominated. Sir Thomas served on Cardiff Council from 1885 to 1898, when he was elected an Alderman and chosen as mayor
Morel Ltd was founded by Philip and Thomas Morel, brothers from Jersey who moved to Cardiff in the mid 19th century after trading with Cardiff in the Channel Islands potato trade.
Once settled in Cardiff their company was mainly involved in the shipment of iron ore from Bilbao to South Wales and of coal from South Wales to Northern France. To begin with they used sailing ships, but in 1876 acquired their first steamship, the Colstrup.
In subsequent years they built up a substantial fleet of tramp steamers and in 1882 they acquired the Bute Shipbuilding, Engineering and Dry Dock Company in Cardiff, where three of their ships were built between 1886 and 1890. The shipbuilding venture was not a success, however, and thereafter the company continued only in the ship repair business.
Thomas Morel died in 1903 , followed in 1908 by Philip. The shipping company, however, continued to operate under their descendants mainly in the export of coal and the import of grain to and from South America until after the First World War, when the fleet was sold as a result of a dispute between members of the family.
In 1921 Thomas Morel jnr and his brother Ralph, sons of Thomas snr, commenced rebuilding the fleet and from 1936 were in the forefront of the move to motor vessels, adding a number to their fleet. During the Second World War they lost four ships due to enemy action, and after the war, with the decline in the South Wales Coal trade, the company moved to London. The poor outlook for tramp steamers caused the eventual closure of the company in 1960.
In 1876 Philip and Thomas Morel formed a partnership with their brother-in-law John Angel Gibbs and set up Morel Brothers and Co, at Cardiff. In 1876 they acquired their first steamship. In 1877 a new steamer the Portugalette joined the fleet. By the end of 1883 the Morel Brothers owned 26 smaller tramp ships. Most of the ships were placed in single ship companies like Beignon SS Co, Longueil SS Co and after the death of John Angel Gibbs aged 35 in 1884, the Forest SS Co and Treherbert SS Co
The Morels owned also a small Cardiff Shipyard the Bute Shipbuilding, Engineering and Drydock. Sir Thomas Morel died in 1903 aged 56 and his elder brother Philip died in 1908. The fleet was heavily run down between 1904 and 1914 due to a lack of unity in the Morel Family and the fleet was down to two tramps during World War I, both of these were a World War I casualty.
In 1921 Morel Ltd acquired ships once more. Morel Ltd lost four ships during World War II only the Catrine of 1940 survived. New ships were ordered after the war but already in 1956 when prices of second hand tramps were high due to the Suez crisis, all the ships were sold and the company was wound up at the end of 1956.