Born in Carmarthen on 24 February 1845, Alfred Jones began his career in shipping at an early age. He was apprenticed at twelve to the African Steamship Company in Liverpool and spent numerous years rising through the business, reaching the role of manager by the time he was 26. However, he had greater ambitions and left to begin his own business, borrowing money to buy a couple of small sailing vessels. While successful in his endeavours, Sir Alfred realised that the future lay in steamships and sold his own ships, accepting a managerial position at Messrs Elder, Dempster & Co, which had by then taken over the African Steamship Company.
Alfred negotiated an employment package that included shares in the company and he continued to increase his influence in the shipping world, particularly in acquiring land and businesses in West Africa. He was the first merchant to import bananas to England in 1884 and the ships of the Elder, Dempster & Co line eventually became known as the ‘banana boats’.
As senior partner, he took a leading role in opening up trade routes with the West Indies, as well as developing tourism and the banana industry in the Canary Islands. With his increasing wealth, he became a great philanthropist and founded the world’s first School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool in 1898 – it was here later that it was first discovered that malaria is transmitted by mosquito bite.
Amongst other high profile roles in Liverpool, Alfred was President of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. He was also knighted in November 1901 in recognition of his services to the West African Colonies and to Jamaica.
He died without marrying on 13 December 1909, leaving large charitable bequests. During his final illness, he was impressed with the quality of care he received from local nurses and one of his dying wishes was to erect a new local hospital. Although he didn’t have time to change his will, his sister arranged for a donation of £10,000 to be made towards the building of the Sir Alfred Jones Memorial Hospital in Garston. The hospital opened in 1915 on Woolton Road, and although it was closed in 2009, a new treatment centre on the site incorporates elements of the original architecture.
There is also a Grade II memorial to Sir Alfred Lewis Jones at the south end of the Pier Head in Liverpool, facing west towards the River Mersey. Designed by Sir George Frampton and unveiled in 1913, this commemorates his lifelong support for Liverpool as a major port for trade and commerce. A main street in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Canary Islands, is also named after him.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.