The Peninsular Steam Navigation Company
The Company’s history goes back to 1835 when young Brodie McGhie Willcox with little influence and limited pecuniary means decided to start a business. He opened an office in London’s Lime Street to become a ship-broker and agent, and took Arthur Anderson as a clerk in his venture. Soon they became partners and managed to earn the patronage of Captain Richard Bourne, a Dublin ship-owner, who since 1820s was successfully running paddle steamers. Finally the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company begun their journey with their first Prospectus issued in August 1834. The ambition of the men behind the company was hinted in the Prospectus: ‘The very imperfect state of the communication between Great Britain, Spain and Portugal, for Passengers, Mails and Goods, has led many persons…to contemplate a more efficient and regular establishment of Packets than has yet existed.’
Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company
Three years later, on 22 August 1837, Richard Bourne secured a Government contract for mails to be managed by the Peninsular Steam. This had ever since become regarded as the foundation day of the Company. Another Government Contract for carrying mails to Egypt opened the company’s doors to the Orient beyond the Mediterranean. And when the Peninsular Steam went for a merger with the Transatlantic Steam Navigation Company, the move further consolidated their base and, as a result, the ‘Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’, later largely known as P&O, was formally incorporated by Royal Charter in 1840.
The P&O Comes to India
The P&O’s first service to India left Southampton on 24 September 1842, and it took 91 days to reach Calcutta. This long route needed larger ships to contain more coal and bigger engines to withstand the monsoon season in the Indian Ocean. These ships reportedly had cabins with marble-covered basin stands, mirrors, drawers and writing desks together with a gorgeous gilded saloon and a well-stocked library. The advent of such well-equipped ships in the service which gradually became able to cover the 4787 miles distance between Calcutta and Suez in less than a month had its obvious impact on countries and commerce falling en route. This even had once encouraged Queen Victoria and Prince Edward to visit a ship of the Company in July 1849.
In and since around 1844 the Company took up regular mail services from England to Alexandria, and from Suez to Ceylon, Madras and Calcutta — which, by 1845, was extended to Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. By 1852 steam service to Australia was established, and the Company managed to take over the Bombay mail service from the East India Company. When the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, the P&O had to withstand a huge loss for their previous investment for enjoying an overland route between Alexandria and Suez when the Canal was not there. But somehow with plans and prudence the Company eventually reversed their loss, and became able to acquire 11 shipping companies worldwide.
The SS Peninsular had been built by the Caird & Co, Yard Greenock Country, UK, and remained in service from 1888 to 1909. With a Cargo capacity of 155,437 cubic feet, she could accommodate 170 passengers in her first class and 96 in the second class. The ship was launched on 6 October 1888 by Miss Taylor, daughter of Mr H. O. Taylor, P&O superintendent at Greenock. Before her trial run on 21 November 1888, the ship was registered as Peninsular for the P&O on 17 November 1888. Finally, on 7 December 1888 she left London on her maiden voyage to Bombay and Shanghai.
In 1898, when sailing between Colombo and Australia, the Peninsular had sustained hurricane damage. On the following year a case of plague was detected on board. But the biggest misfortune had come upon her on 27 March 1902, when ‘off Beckton Gasworks outward bound from the Royal Albert Dock, London, she maneuvered to go astern of the sailing barge Onward which was crossing on the port tack. The barge unexpectedly came up into the wind and Peninsular’s port anchor caught and carried away Onward’s sails without touching the barge herself.’ For around three years the ship had to remain in dock for refitting and modernization. In 1905, together with her sister Ship Oriental, Peninsular was put on shuttle between Aden and Bombay. In 1906 Peninsular had smashed her propeller and was diverted to service between Brindisi in Italy and Port Said. This, however, was the beginning of her end. On 11 August 1909 the vessel was sold to Fratelli Bruzzo of Italy for 9,312 pounds sterling. Merely within a fortnight, on 26 August 1909, the once admired Peninsular was taken to Genoa for scrapping.
Vivekananda was aboard the Peninsular from Bombay to Kobe in Japan. Traveling the in between distance on road, he boarded the RMS Empress of India from Yokohama on 14 July 1893 and journeyed to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada.
The SS Peninsular
Brodie McGhie Willcox
Captain Richard Bourne
The P&O Poster
The P&O House Flag
A long back P&O memento