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of seeing their country's mails for the first time
entrusted to one of their steamers. By the terms
of their contract they had to call at Vigo, Oporto,
Lisbon and Cadiz on their way to Gibraltar ; and
here they transferred the Indian mails to a Govern-

Early Days of P. and O. Company 175

ment steam packet travelling between Gibraltar,
Malta and Alexandria. These steam packets were
slow and inferior vessels, so that letters took nearly
a month to reach Alexandria, whence they were
transferred by land to Suez, to be reshipped at
that port into steamers belonging to the East India
Company plying to Bombay.

It was a cumbrous method and became more
complicated when, in the year 1840, the lighter
portions of the mail were sent, for the first time,
through France to Marseilles, being carried from
France to Malta by an Admiralty steam packet.
From Malta these mails were then, together with
the heavier mails that had arrived from Gibraltar,
also in Admiralty steam packets, transported to
Alexandria in yet another Government ship. So
unsatisfactory and unpractical had these arrange-
ments soon manifestly become, that it was at last
decided, after a considerable amount of argument
and opposition, that the Peninsular Company
should establish additional fast sailings direct from
England to Alexandria, the steamers employed
calling only at Gibraltar and Malta, and being of
sufficient size and speed to perform the journey in
not more than three days longer than the time
occupied in the conveyance of the lighter mails by
the overland route via Marseilles, and at a cost
not greater than that estimated for the equipment
and maintenance of the Admiralty steam packets
previously used.

The general scheme proposed by the managers

176 The Sea Traders

of the Peninsular Company being accepted, the
Government insisted on public advertisements
appearing asking for tenders for the carriage of
mails under the prescribed conditions, but the
lowest of these tenders being that received from
the Peninsular Company, it was accepted by the
Government. Messrs. Willcox and Anderson now
therefore provided for this new purpose two vessels,
the Oriefital and the Great Liverpool, each of about
1,600 tons and 450 horse-power, and the company
thereby became at last the Peninsular and Oriental
Steam Navigation Company.

This solved the European end of the problem,
but the Indian one still remained in many ways
unsatisfactory. The East India steam packets
plying between Suez and Bombay were really
unsuitable for the increased services, and greater
efficiency in this respect now was urgently needed,
while it was also felt by the Government that the
establishment of an additional line from Calcutta
to Suez had become imperative. For this develop-
ment the Peninsular and Oriental Company's
directors again made an offer, but the East India
Company w^as exceedingly jealous of its preroga-
tives ; and it was only after a great fight that,
on September 24, 1842, the Peninsular and
Oriental Company's latest vessel, the Hindostan,
left Southampton to begin regular sailings between
Calcutta, Madras, Ceylon and Suez.

The little company of which Messrs. Willcox
and Anderson hqd first been appointed agents was

Early Days of P. and O. Company 177

now a joint-stock concern, with a Charter of
Incorporation from the Crown, and the Hindostan
,was so easily the finest and fastest vessel in Indian
waters that, although the East India Company
still clung tenaciously to its rights of mail-carrying
between Bombay and Suez in the vessels of its
Indian Navy, the Peninsular and Oriental Com-
pany was soon establishing a further service
between Ceylon and China. The efficiency and
economy of this, as well as of its Calcutta-Suez
service, so aroused public opinion in India and
the East generally that by the year 1854 the Court
of Directors of the East India Company had given
way, and the carriage of mails between Bombay
and Suez also passed into the hands of the Penin-
sular and Oriental Company.

The contract into which, on January 1, 1853,
the Peninsular and Oriental Company entered with
the Government, provided that they should carry
the mails fortnightly in each direction between
England and Alexandria, and also fortnightly in
each direction between Suez, Calcutta and Hong
Kong, together with a subsidiary service between
Marseilles and Malta. It was also provided that
the Peninsular and Oriental Company should
undertake to carry mails to Singapore and Sydney,
in Australia, six times a year, constructional
arrangements being made whereby the vessels em-
ployed could, if necessary, be armed for purposes
of war. Unfortunately the outbreak of the
Crimean War necessitated the discontinuance of


178 The Sea Traders

the Australian service, while the services between
India and China had to be substantially reduced.

Brodie Willcox was by this time over seventy
years of age, and his first partner, Arthur Ander-
son, sixty-two. Both of them had lived to see their
original Uttle enterprise become one of the greatest
shipping companies in the world, and far ahead of
all rivals, both in Mediterranean and Indian waters.
They had also seen launched in the iron-built,
screw-propelled Himalaya the noblest vessel of
their fleet and one of the finest then in exist-
ence. They both lived to see, four years later,
the final establishment also of their Government
mail service to Australia.

It was a great life-work that they could both
look back upon, and in addition they had each
undertaken many other responsibilities. Thus
Brodie Willcox was for several years a Member of
Parliament for Southampton, while from the year
1846 to the year 1852 Arthur Anderson had also
represented his native borough in the House of
Commons. Brodie Willcox was the first of the
two lifelong friends and partners to pass away,
dying in 1862 at the ripe age of seventy-nine,
being survived for six years by Arthur Anderson,
who died at the age of seventy-seven.

That was in the year 1868, one year before the
accomplishment of perhaps the greatest engineer-
ing feat of all time, and one which was destined to
influence very profoundly the future of the Penin-
sular and Oriental line, namely, the construction

Early Days of P. and O. Company 179

of the great Suez Canal. This project, which
had been born in the fertile brain of a young
Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps, some thirty
years earlier, and had been brought to fruition
almost entirely as a result of his personal genius,
intuition and undaunted perseverance, meant of
course an almost entire revolution in the problems
to be faced by all engaged in sea commerce with
India and the Far East. Needless to say, however,
the Peninsular and Oriental directors had long
considered, and were well prepared to take full
advantage of, this engineering miracle ; and some
idea of the extent to which the original enter-
prise of the early eighteen-hundred-and-thirties had
grown in a single generation can be gained from a
brief review of the company's position some five
years after the opening of the Suez Canal.

It then had a nominal capital of well over
£4,000,000, with the names of some two thousand
shareholders upon its rolls, and was the owner of
large docks and warehouses in England, Calcutta,
Bombay, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

Originally beginning as a small and com-
paratively insignificant line of steamers running
between England and Gibraltar, it had by then
established regular services to Venice, Brindisi and
Egypt ; to Suez through the new Canal, and thence
to Bombay, Madras and Calcutta ; across the
Indian Ocean to King George's Sound to Mel-
bourne and Sydney ; across the Bay of Bengal,
through the Straits of Malacca to Hong Kong,

i8o The Sea Traders

Svvatow, Amoy and Shanghai ; and from Shanghai
to Yokohama, where it linked up with the
American Pacific steamship lines.

British mercantile history can show few more
conspicuous examples of the enormous and
tangible results flowing from the vision, capacity
and individual judgment of two comparatively
uninfluential and obscure young men. They
have been fortunate in their successors.

In later years much of the progress of the hne
was due to Sir Thomas Sutherland, who served
the company for a period of no less than sixty
years, filling the office of managing director for
forty-two and that of chairman for thirty-four
years. When he took charge of the P. & O.
Company's affairs it owned a fleet of 100,000
tons, valued in accounting at £35 a ton. When
he retired the company possessed a modern fleet
five times as large, which stood in its books,
counting cash reserves, at only £3 3s. a ton. Sir
Thomas Sutherland's last service was to secure
the amalgamation of the company with which he
had been so long associated with the British India
Steam Navigation Company. Lord Inchcape,
already a prominent figure in the commercial
world, and known as a far-seeing and sagacious
administrator, entered upon the duties of manag-
ing director in the autumn of 1914, and afterwards
became chairman of the joint board of the two
companies and the responsible director of the
poHcy of both. During the War the P, & O,

Early Days of P. and O. Company i8i

rendered conspicuous service to the nation, and
lost a large proportion of its tonnage. A bold
constructional policy was afterwards adopted, and
in no long time, by purchase and building, the
P. & O. services were again re-established in full
efficiency. In 1920 Lord Inchcape was responsible
for a remarkable new departure, the establishment
of the P. & O. Banking Corporation, which
promises to justify the hopes entertained when
it was launched on its career.



Opening up the South African Route — Donald Currie's
Early Days — Association with Gunard Company — His
First Steamers and their Voyages to the Cape — The
Foundations of the Castle Line and its Rivalry with the
Union Line — Scheme of Amalgamation — Donald Currie
and South African Development — The Boer Wars — Donald
Currie and the Relationship between the Navy and the
Mercantile Marine.

V1S7"E have now traced, in our brief studies of
^ the individual men chiefly responsible, the
development of the principal lines of steamship
traffic between Great Britain and North America
and between Great Britain, India, and the Far
East; and we have seen the sea route to the last
named shortened by thousands of miles by the
cutting of the Suez Canal. In the present chapter
it is proposed to consider the origins and develop-
ment of steam connexion with South Africa, and
there can be little doubt that the outstanding
personality in this sphere is that of yet another
son of Scotland, Donald Currie.

It was not until the year 1862, however — the
year of Brodie Willcox's death — that Donald
Currie, then thirty-seven years of age, became an
independent shipowner ; and it was not until ten
years later that he dispatched his first steamer


The South African Trade 183

in the South African trade. But a long time
before this a beginning of steamship traffic with
the Cape had been made by the promoters of what
was at first called the Union Steam Collier Com-
pany. This was formed in the year 1853, and with
one of its directors we have already dealt in the
person of Arthur Anderson, the junior partner of
Brodie Willcox, of the Peninsular and Oriental

With a capital of only £60,000 and five small
steamers, it was the original intention of the
directors of this company to confine themselves to
coal carrying. Just then, however, came the
Crimean War, with the consequent dislocation
of sea traffic that affected, as we have seen, not
only the P. & O., but also such lines as the Allan
Line and the Cunard Line ; and the five steamers
of the Union Steam Collier Company found
more profitable employment in trading between
Southampton, Constantinople and Smyrna, where
they acted as substitutes for P. & O. steamers
that had already been diverted to war services.
Later on they themselves were employed by the
Government as transports, while a sixth and larger
steamer was added to the fleet and similarly

It was now decided to register the company
under the Limited Liability Act, and it became
known as the Union Steam Ship Company. When
the ships were released from their war duties the
directors at first decided to use them in trading

184 The Sea Traders

between Southampton and Brazil. This, however,
was not found to be a profitable venture ; and
when, within a few months, the directors obtained
a contract from the Government for a monthly
mail service to the Cape of Good Hope the
Brazilian trade was dropped.

It was on September 15, 1857, that the Cape
mail service began, when the little Dane, one of
the original five steamers, of 530 tons, left
Southampton. Two larger steamers were then
added to the fleet, and the company undertook to
call, in addition, at St. Helena and Ascension.
But it was not until the year 1860 that the first
steamer of over 1,000 tons was dispatched with
the Cape mails by the Union Company.

This was the CaTuhrian, and the company were
soon building successors to her of gradually
increasing size and speed, while the Dane and
Norman, both among the original vessels, were
diverted to establish a service between the Cape
of Good Hope and Natal. This service also had
soon to be enlarged, and in the year 1864 the
company extended its operations to embrace the
island of Mauritius. Four years later the service
from England to the Cape was increased to once
a fortnight, and in 1872 fortnightly sailings were
begun between the Cape and Natal.

This was the year in which Donald Currie's
line first entered into competition with the Union
Steam Ship Company, and let us return, there-
fore, for a moment to consider his personal career

The South African Trade 185

up to that time. Born at Greenock in 1825, he
spent most of his school days at Belfast, but at
the age of fourteen returned to his native town
to be employed, in a subordinate capacity, in a
shipping office. It ,was not very long, however,
before he attracted the attention of one of the
high officials of the Cunard Company, and, while
still very young, he went to Liverpool to take up
an appointment in the offices of this great maritime

Liverpool, as we have seen in reviewing the
life of John Gladstone, was then seething with
prosperous activity. Its great merchants, such as
Ewart and William Brown, were at the helm of
a score of expanding industries, and to these
Samuel Cunard and the Mclvers had lent the
further stimulus of their genius. To such a youth
as Currie the very atmosphere of the town ,was
as tonic and infectious with adventure as that of
Bristol had been in the days of the Tudors to
the eager apprentices there indentured.

Blessed ^vith a sound constitution and with
perhaps more than his share of his native country's
proverbial industry and caution, young Currie had
also within him an inexhaustible fund of enter-
prise. So quickly did these qualities become
manifest to the directors of the Cunard Com-
pany that, when he was only twenty-five, they
appointed him their agent and representative at
Havre. Their reason for sending him there was
that, owing to the recent repeal of the British and

i86 The Sea Traders

American navigation laws, it was now possible for
French and Continental goods to be received into
the United States from British vessels. In this
the Cunard Company saw an opportunity for
successful competition with both French and
American lines, and it w^as therefore decided to
establish a service of steamers between Havre
and Liverpool, thus challenging the monopoly
previously enjoyed by America of the steam-
ship traffic between France and the United

It was in many ways a somewhat daring and
difficult task, but in Donald Currie the Cunard
Company believed that they had laid their hands
upon the right man. Nor were they wrong, for
during the few years of his service at Havre Currie
succeeded in establishing the foundations of a
very fruitful and profitable business. He was so
successful at Havre, in fact, that they afterwards
decided to employ him in a similar capacity both
at Antwerp and Bremen, before finally recalling
him to Liverpool in order to take up even more
responsible duties at headquarters.

By this time, however, the idea of setting up
for himself — or being an employer rather than an
employee — had taken a firm hold of young Currie's
mind, and in the year 1862 he accordingly resigned
his position and severed in a perfectly friendly
way his personal connexion mth the Cunard

With so many friends and business acquaint-

The South African Trade 187

ances both in Europe and America, there now
seemed to be an opening before him to enter the
lists as a successful rival to his former employers.
But his sense of gratitude forbade this, and he
decided instead to operate a line of sailing vessels,
sailing ,with the regularity of steamships — a wel-
come innovation — between Liverpool and Calcutta.
We have already traced the origin of the Union
Line. This was the beginning of the Castle Line,
and the East India sailing ships, Stirling Castle ,
Tantallon Castle, Carnarvon Castle and KeniU
worth Castle, were the first children of Currie's
new enterprise.

For ten years Currie conducted this trade with
Calcutta, via the Cape of Good Hope, with great
success, although, as he had long realized, the
future of sea-borne commerce lay rather with
steam than sails, and although, after about two
years, he had decided that it would be more profit-
able to make London, rather than Liverpool, his
English headquarters. Nevertheless it was inevit-
able that ultimately he should venture into the
steamer trade ; and it was perhaps characteristic
of him that he should, as it were, first feel his
way in this respect by becoming a partner in
the Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet
Company, whereby he might, with not too much
risk, gain practical acquaintance vnth steamship
problems. Meanwhile he decided gradually to
substitute steamships for his own sailing vessels,
and gave orders for the construction of the

i88 The Sea Traders

Edinburgh Castle, the Windsor Castle, the
Walmer Castle and the Dover Castle.

Yet another possibiUty, however, had been
slowly impressing itself upon his mind during these
years; and this was the future of South Africa
as a place of British settlement. So strongly, in
the end, did this influence him that before his
new steamers were completed he had decided to
transfer them to this new sphere. Moreover,
even while the steamers were being built, he
chartered two other steamers, the Iceland and
Gothland, with which he began this enterprise ;
and accordingly the Iceland, the first of Currie's
steamers, sailed from Southampton to the Cape
in January, 1872.

Now, as we have seen, the Union Line had
a monopoly of the British mail service, and this
contract was not due to expire until the year 1876.
Before that, however, the Cape Government had
become deeply impressed with the ability of
Currie's management, and he had received a con-
tract from this Government to carry the homeward
mails from South Africa. Thus encouraged, he
made a bold bid to challenge the Union Steam
Ship Company's supremacy in respect of the
British mails, and when, in the year 1876, the
Cape mail contract again came under con-
sideration, Donald Currie's claims on behalf of
his own steamers were found too strong to be
resisted. The contract was, therefore, equally
divided between the Union and the Castle lines,

The South African Trade 189

an arrangement that continued until 1898, by
which time the Castle Line had enlarged its fleet
to one of seventeen ocean-going steamers, with a
total tonnage of 63,000, two of its vessels, the
Dunottar Castle and the Tantallon Castle, being
well over 5,000 tons each.

Meanwhile Donald Currie's interests, both in
South Africa and at home, had greatly increased,
and amongst the Boers, as well as amongst the
British settlers, he had obtained many friends.
As a personal friend, for instance, of President
Brand, of the Orange Free State, he successfully
negotiated with him, on behalf of the British
Government, a dispute as to the diamond fields
and the Free State boundaries, and for this he
was awarded the Companionship of the Order of
St. Michael and St. George. When the Trans-
vaal was annexed in the year 1877, and a Boer
deputation came over to England to protest, it
was Donald Currie who introduced the members
to the Colonial Office and obtained for them a
full hearing.

This deputation was unsuccessful, and a
second came in 1878, Kruger and Joubert being
present on both occasions. A man of keen in-
sight, of far-seeing and strongly liberal views,
Donald Currie wrote a remarkable letter to Sir
Michael Hicks-Beach, then Colonial Secretary.
In this he suggested possible Hnes of settlement,
that were, in fact, ultimately adopted by the
Government, but not until after the first Boer

190 The Sea Traders

war, with the disaster of Majuba, had taken

Again, in 1878 and 1879, during the Zulu
War, Currie lent invaluable aid ; and for these
further services he received the honour of
knighthood, having been elected to Parliament
as member for Perthshire in the previous year.
It was in this year also that he delivered a
memorable lecture at the Royal United Services
Institution in which he impressed upon his
hearers the desirability of so constructing mer-
cantile steamers that they could, in the event
of war, be converted into auxiliary cruisers, and
he put before his listeners the advantages of a
closer union between the personnel of the mercan-
tile marine and that of the Navy. Many of the
suggestions that he then put forward were after-
wards acted upon, and in the Great War they bore
abundant fruit, as both ourselves and our Allies
have grateful cause to remember.

The young clerk, who had left Greenock for
Liverpool more than thirty years before, was now
a man of wealth, and at last able to purchase an
estate for himself in his beloved Perthshire. This
was at Garth, near Aberfeldy, to which he after-
wards added the property of Glenlyon, thus
extending his acres from the River Lyon to the
foot of Schiehallion. His love for his new home
was typified in the name Garth Castle with which
he christened one of his new liners, while another
of his lifelong friendships, namely, that with

The South African Trade 191

William Gladstone, was to be recognized in the
Hawarden Castle ^ launched in 1883.

It was in this year, although not in this par-
ticular vessel, that Sir Donald made a memorable
trip, carrying among his guests to Copenhagen
Mr. Gladstone and Lord Tennyson. Anchoring
off Copenhagen, the Pevihroke Castle then
became the scene of a little banquet which was
no less a tribute to the personality of the founder
of the Castle Line than to the vessel itself and
to the British mercantile marine of which it was
so worthy a representative. Among the fifty
guests, in whose honour the surrounding naval
vessels played various national anthems, were the
King and Queen of Denmark, the Tsar and
Tsarina of Russia, the Princess of Wales (now
Queen Alexandra), and the King and Queen of
Greece. It must have been a proud moment even
for so level-headed and democratic a self-made
man as Donald Currie. In 1895 Mr. Gladstone,
together with a number of distinguished guests,
made another trip with Sir Donald in the Tantal-
lon Castle in connexion with the opening of the
Kiel Canal.

Meanwhile the Castle Line continued to
prosper, and in 1893 the arrangement as to the
carriage of mails was renewed for another seven
years. That brings its history to the year 1900,
when it was decided, after negotiation, to amal-
gamate the two great South African hues, the
management to be in the hands of Donald Currie

192 The Sea Traders

& Co., while Sir Francis Evans, the chairman of
the Union Line, joined the board of the united
concern. Throughout the Boer War the services
of the combined fleet were invaluable to the
country as transports. In 1909, full of years and
honour. Sir Donald Currie passed away, Sir
Francis Evans having died two years earlier. In
1912 the Union-Castle Line was acquired by the
Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, a company
that in its early days had had rather a chequered

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