Fred. Olsen History... the story so far

3 ships in Funchal

The Olsen family business boasts over 170 years of seafaring heritage, having originated in 1848 when the first Fred. Olsen acquired two small ships operating from Hvisten, Norway. Since then, through five generations of the Olsen family and two World Wars, the company has gone from strength to strength, sailing cargo vessels and cruise ships around the world. These are the key chapters of our story so far…


A dramatic period, the start of the second Industrial Revolution, repeal of the Navigation Act and the Crimean War. The first Olsen family ship-owner, Fredrik Christian Olsen, starts operating two small Brigatine sailing ships in Hvitsten, a small village on the Oslofjord in Norway. These very quickly grow to a fleet of three-masted Barks (a type of sailing vessel), transporting timber and ice mainly to Britain.


Fredrik Christian’s brothers, both also Captains, become ship-owners – Petter in 1852, then Andreas in 1860 – adding more vessels to their combined fleet. 


After Fredrik Christian dies in 1875, Petter continues the operation of his vessels. Petter’s son, Thomas Fredrik Olsen (Fred.), takes command of one of his father’s vessels at the age of 23, becoming a ship-owner in 1884.


In 1892, Fred. Olsen purchases his largest sailing ship, the four masted full rigger, Morning Light (later lending its name to the Morning Light Pub on board each of the current four ocean-going ships in our fleet). Bayard was ordered on behalf of newly-established company, A/S Bonheur, in 1896. The purchase of Bayard, the first steamship in the fleet, starts a family custom that most Olsen ships should bear names beginning with the letter 'B', and signalled the start of the third industrial revolution. 


Fred. Olsen acquires the Færder Steamship Company, a first decisive venture into the passenger business. Our first passenger links with Grangemouth, Scotland and Newcastle are also established.


23 vessels from Olsen's fleet of 44 ships are lost during the events of World War I, which had a major impact on the Norwegian shipping industry. By 1926, with the introduction of the diesel-engine-powered Brabant, a new generation of passenger vessels commences operation. Fred. Olsen & co were among the very first to use diesel engines, starting in 1914.


In 1933, Fred. Olsen passes away and his sons, Rudolf and Thomas Fredrik (Thomas), take over the running of the business, the latter from the USA during World War II. Figureheads were introduced to modern ships from 1933 and in 1938, the Olsens added Black Prince and Black Watch – named in honour of England and Wales respectively – to the fleet. 


Once again, the Olsen fleet suffers great losses during the events of war. 28 ships in total, including the newly-introduced Black Prince and Black Watch, are lost in the turmoil of German attacks in World War II. 


1948 signalled the start of the greatest and last Industrial Revolution; advances were made in every field of human endeavour. With business thriving in the early 1950s, the Olsens added two of the most eye-catching liners of the period to the fleet - Blenheim and Braemar. In 1955, the third Thomas Fredrik – and current Fred. – takes the company reigns aged 26, after his father, Thomas, falls ill. 


A new Black Watch sails to the Canary Islands on her maiden voyage from the Fred. Olsen terminal, Canary Wharf, West Indian Docks, London. Her sister ship, Black Prince, embarks on the same route the following month. 


A 'reborn' Black Prince begins her career as a 'sunshine cruiser', sailing to Cádiz, Casablanca, the Canary Islands, Madeira and Gibraltar from Southampton – destinations still visited by Fred. Olsen's ocean-going ships today. 


Beginning of the first brain revolution: marking the end of manufacturing as we have known it, with software replacing machinery as the driver of innovation. Black Watch added to the fleet in 1996, following an extensive refurbishment. 


In 2001, Braemar is sent to the Blohm+Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany to undergo a major refurbishment, ready for her new role as the second member of the fleet. Then, in 2005,  another new, elegant ship is purchased and, following a complete refurbishment, renamed Boudicca after the great British warrior queen. Boudicca entered service in 2006, visiting the Canary Islands on her maiden voyage. 


A yet-to-be-renamed ship arrives at Hamburg's Elbe 17 Dry-Dock to undergo an ambitious refit and redesign programme, ready for introduction to the Fred. Olsen fleet. The programme involves the fitting of a new 30-metre extension, to give the 'stretched' ship extra rooms and improvements to guest areas. In 2008, the 'stretched' ship is renamed Balmoral on entering service. 


On 28th July 2015, all four Fred. Olsen ships converge for the first time ever, docking together in Bergen, Norway to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fredrik Christian Olsen. On 10th September 2018, the fleet of ocean-going ships united once again for the 'Captains in Cádiz' event in Cádiz, Spain, celebrating 170 years since Fredrik Christian began shipping operations. 


On 9th October 2019, Braemar became the largest ship to transit the Corinth Canal. Then, in early 2020, Covid-19 meant a pause in operations, where all four ships were moved to Rosyth. During this time, Black Watch and Boudicca were sold and in August of 2020, Bolette and Borealis were introduced to the fleet. Both ships carry under 1,400 guests and have new and larger public spaces, but still retain the smaller ship experience.


In July of 2021, Borealis became the first ship back in the water after our pause in operations. Her maiden voyage departed from Liverpool - a momentous day to have a cruise ship sailing again. Then in, August of 2021, Bolette set sail on her maiden voyage - a scenic cruise around parts of the UK.
On to 2022, when Balmoral started sailing again in May, and our new programme of hand-crafted sailings for 2023 and 2024 are on sale now.


In 2023, Balmoral set sail on an Exploration of South America and the Antarctic, where guests saw incredible sights and enjoyed some unique experiences; and then in February, Borealis departed for her Around the World in 80 days cruise, taking in some of the world's most fascinating ports of call.
In April, our programme of cruise itineraries for 2024 and 2025 went on sale, designed to inspire guests to explore the world with us. 


And so to 2024, where Borealis set sail on an epic journey around the world, Bolette enjoyed time in Africa and the Indian Ocean, where guests were able to go in search of the Big Five, andBalmoral's guests were lucky to see the Aurora Borealis on her Northern Lights cruise. In early March, our fantastic new progarmme of cruises for 2025 and 2026 launched; with visits to the beautiful Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre and Greek Islands planned, along with South America and Antarctica, the Caribbean and visits to our homeland with inspiring Norwegian Fjords cruises. We can't wait to welcome you on board!