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Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company

P&O

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Collection Archive
Gallery locationNot on display

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Biographical details The Peninsular Steam Navigation Company was founded in 1835 and gained the mail contract in 1837. By 1840 the company carried mail from Falmouth and passengers from London to the Peninsular ports as far as Gibraltar. Owned by the London shipbroking partnership of Brodie McGhie Willcox (1786-1862) and Arthur Anderson (1792-1868), the company in the same year successfully tendered for the mail contract from England to Egypt on the understanding that within two years the new undertaking would establish a line of steamers capable of taking the mail from Egypt to India. In the same year the company received the Royal Charter of incorporation constituting it as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. By 1842 the first steamer had sailed; two years later a regular mail service had been established from England to Alexandria and from Suez to Ceylon, Madras and Calcutta, with an extension, by 1845, to Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. By 1852 steam communication with Australia was established and in 1854 the Bombay mail service was taken over from the East India Company. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 initially posed difficulties since the company had sunk much capital into dealing efficiently with the overland route between Alexandria and Suez. The fortunes of P&O during this difficult time were guided by Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Sutherland (1834-1922), who became Managing Director in 1872. By economizing and modernization, which included moving the home port terminal from Southampton to London, he brought the company through to a position of strength. By 1913, with a paid-up capital of £5 1/2 million and over sixty ships in service, several more under construction and numerous harbour craft and tugs to service the fleet, the company owned half a million tons of shipping. In addition to the main mail route, and the recently inaugurated P&O Branch Line via the Cape to Australia, the company ran feeder services backwards and forwards across both the Atlantic and the Pacific, and the whole complex exercise was serviced by over two hundred agencies stationed at ports throughout the world. The early twentieth century was marked by a series of takeovers and mergers. The Blue Anchor Line was absorbed in 1910 and in 1914 there was a merger with the British India Steam Navigation Company (q.v.), a concern which was equal in size to P&O. The two companies continued to be run as separate concerns but with identical interests and under one control. James MacKay (later Lord Inchcape, 1852-1932) continued as chairman of British India, but, after his election to the board of P&O, he succeeded to the chairmanship of the combination on Sutherland's retirement. This was followed in 1916 by an amalgamation with the New Zealand Shipping Company (q.v.) and its associate, the Federal Steam Navigational Company; in 1917 by the acquisition of a representative holding in the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand; and shortly afterwards by the purchase of the Hain Line, Mercantile Steamship Company and James Nourse Limited (q.v.). In 1918 the group was strengthened by a substantial holding in the Orient Steam Navigation Co. (q.v.), and in 1920 the oldest established seagoing steamship undertaking, the General Steam Navigation Company (q.v.), was taken over. These alliances thus produced a single system which touched every major port of the Empire, and provided access to almost all parts of the world. Among several secondary works are Boyd Cable, 'A hundred year history of P&O' (London, 1937) and David Divine, 'These splendid ships' (London, 1960).
Description The records were deposited on loan by the company in several instalments between 1971 and 1979. They were deposited on the understanding that the company has first sight of any work which makes extensive use of them. There are certain restrictions on the use of the staff records which are more stringent than the normal thirty-year rule for business records. The Secretary has retained the principal statutory records, such as the minutes of the main board, although these may be consulted by arrangement with the Company Librarian. The Museum, however, holds copies of the Royal Charter of Incorporation and Trust Deeds with supplementary charters, 1840 to 1940, while other early records include the 'Register of Original Proprietors', 1840 to 1847; the 'Proprietors' Ledger', 1840 to 1899; the numerical register of new and paid-up shareholders, 1849 to 1914; transfer journals (detailing the transfer of shares), 1841 to 1850, 1875 to 1880 and 1890 to 1951: writs of dividend, 1841 to 1956, and quotations of P&O shareholding stock, 1898 to 1959 Records relating to the Board include: the minutes of a committee of the Board of the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, 1840; reports and proceedings of the Nautical Committee of the Board, 1849 to 1875; the minutes of the Managing Directors' Committee, 1871 to 1874; of the Management Committee, 1872 to 1887; and the minutes of a sub-committee of the Board charged with the search 'for all possible economies', 1875. There are a large number of loose papers relating to business between the main board and various committees, 1868 to 1883; the Secretary's agenda (with commentaries) for Board meetings, 1921 to 1941; the minutes of the 'economy committee', 1928 to 1935; an independent financial consultant's report of 1932 on the company, commissioned by the Directors; and papers of the Finance Committee, 1932 to 1936. The printed, twice-yearly, 'Reports from the Directors to the Proprietors' or shareholders are complete, 1840 to date. The accounting records include: the schedules to the annual accounts, which contain the basic information for the trading position of the company, 1856 to 1878 and 1905 to 1961. There is a full run of cash ledgers, 1840 to 1851, but the accountants' department retained only a ten-year sample of their records, 1860 to 1861, 1870 to 1871 and so on until 1930 to 1931. Journals (a daily record of transactions) have been kept in a similar sample; they are complete from 1842 to 1851, and then exist only from 1859 to 1861, 1869 to 1870, etc until 1930 to 1932. There is a complete series of ships' voyage ledgers, 1939 to 1971; ships' cost and repair ledgers, 1855 to 1859, 1864 to 1941; summaries of ships' voyage expenses, 1881 to 1890; ships' voyage results and analysis, 1919 to 1965. Import and export freight ledgers survive for the years 1940 to 1957. The internal economy and working of the company are presented in detail in the Annual Departmental and Agents' Reports, 1893 to 1970. The Agents' Reports commence in 1905. There are also some incomplete series of correspondence, including two letterbooks of the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, 1838 to 1842; Egypt letters, 1843 to 1868; Australia letters, 1851 to 1858; Peninsular and Levant letters, 1854 to 1857; Government letters, 1866 to 1893; Oriental letters, 1867 to 1868; foreign letters, 1893 to 1895; and passenger letters, 1885 to 1913. There is a consider-able amount of correspondence relating to the mail contracts, 1849 to 1929. The schedules of the ships themselves are contained in time tables and proposed monthly sailing lists for the mail packets and for certain subsidiary services, outwards and homewards, 1873 to 1928; lists of Australian mail service sailings, 1880 to 1888. Sailing lists, rates of passage, notices to passengers, etc are contained in the 'Handbooks of Information', 1907 to 1939; there are printed tables showing rates of passenger carriage, 1861 and 1894 to 1934, and programmes o
Date made

Finding Reference P&O
Catalogue section Records of semi-governmental and non-governmental organisations
Creator Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company
Credit On loan from the P&O Heritage Collection
Hierarchy
Extent Department of Ships: 75 boxes
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