Thomas Harrison (1815-1888) was an apprentice to the firm of Samuel Brown and Son and Company who operated as Shipbrokers in 1830. James Harrison (1821-1891) joined Samuel Brown in 1838, and in 1839 Thomas became a partner in the firm, which changed its name to George Brown and Harrison, George being Samuel's son. In 1849 James became a full partner and by this time the firm's main activity was the importation of brandy and wine from the town of Cognac, and the valley of the River Charente, France.

Upon George Brown's death in 1853, the Harrisons took over the business under the name of Thomas and James Harrison and 1857 they bought their first iron hulled sailing ship, 'The Philosopher'.
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