Brothers Ralph and Robert Clarke, the sons of a vicar from Longbenton, North Tyneside, bought an interest in a 300-ton sailing vessel. Their activities developed from then on.
They took up seafaring careers, becoming master mariners and began buying shares in ships. They later moved to London where they carried on the ship owning business.
The firm grew over the next two centuries and went on to operate a fleet of single-deck bulk carriers and several small vessels, transporting cargo such as aggregates, grain, coal, fertilisers and steel to areas including northern Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, the Atlantic Islands, Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea.
In its heyday the firm hired between 400 and 500 workers and operated a fleet of around 35 ships during the mid 1990s.
However, it saw its operating profit plummet from £180,000 to a loss of £1.4m in 2010/2011.
Sales for the 12 months ending March 2011 for the Newcastle shipbuilder totalled £15.2m, down from £23.6m in the previous year, while pre-tax profits managed to climb steadily from a loss of £1m to a £470,000 loss.
The company’s borrowing rocketed from £760,000 in 2009 to £6.8m the following year.
The decline is in stark contrast to massive financial gains during the 1990s, which reportedly saw the company return profits of more than £1m a month.
The company’s demise was mourned by the wider business community. Jonathan Walker, head of member relations at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is incredibly sad to see a company that has been based on Tyneside for 280 years cease operating due to the impact of the economic downturn.”