Although the Port of Sunderland’s grain trade has experienced a minor resurgence in recent years, crops arriving from overseas were once widely handled at South Docks.
As steam superseded sail, fewer sailing ships transported grain, but it was not until the 1930s that the Wear saw the last of the windjammers at its South Dock granaries.
During and after World War One, enterprising Finnish ship-owner Gustav Erikson bought a string of sailing ships at knockdown prices as other companies switched to steam.
Although past their best and no longer greyhounds of the seas, they were sturdy workhorses and regularly found employment in the “grain race”, shipping wheat from South Australia to Europe and the UK.
As the 1930s dawned, the arrival of any trading sailing ship at Sunderland aroused great interest, but the appearances of the Finnish barques Killoran and Olivebank in 1932 and 1934, respectively, would prove the finale for Australian grain imports to the Wear under sail.
Built by Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon in 1900, the 1,757 gross-ton three-masted Killoran presented an evocative sight as she approached harbour under full sail on June 13, 1932.
Carrying a consignment of bagged wheat for EC Robson and Sons’ flour mill, Bishopwearmouth, the 261.5-foot-long vessel was towed alongside Hudson Dock North grain warehouses by tugs Cleadon and President.
In command of Captain Karlsonn, the steel-hulled barque had left Port Augusta, South Australia, on January 21. Her arrival brought back tragic reminders of an earlier visit in 1921, when the chief mate – a Russian – had accidentally shot himself dead with an automatic pistol.
Killoran had then remained laid-up at Sunderland until purchased by Erikson in 1924.
She left the Wear in ballast for Mariehamn, Finland, on June 26, 1932, never to return. On August 10, 1940, while sailing from Buenos Aires to Las Palmas with sugar and corn, she was sunk in the Atlantic by the German auxiliary cruiser Widder.
The larger four-masted steel barque Olivebank departed Port Lincoln, South Australia, on March 1, 1934 under Captain Linvall and entered Sunderland Harbour on July 3 following an uneventful voyage, apart from the discovery of an English stowaway.
Built by Mackie and Thompson of Glasgow in 1892, the 326-foot-long vessel had also been acquired by Erikson in 1924.
Not renowned for speed, she took 157 days to reach Australia in 1929 but missed the harvest and had to remain at anchor for six months for the next one.
Before sailing for Mariehamn on July 20, the 2,824 gross-ton Olivebank had discharged 83,300 cwt of wheat at North Warehouse Quay on behalf of brokers, JF Marshall and Son.
She was mined on September 9, 1939 during a voyage between Barry and Mariehamn.