Guthrie Corporation Archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises letterbooks and financial records of the Guthrie Corporation, relating chiefly to plantation interests in Malaya and Singapore.

Administrative / Biographical History

Singapore was founded and declared a free port in 1819. Following the end of the East India Company's monopoly of Asian commerce, independent merchant houses were quick to seize the opportunity to establish trading posts on the island. Amongst these pioneers was Alexander Guthrie, merchant with Messrs. Harrington & Company. Guthrie made a success of their enterprise and by 1824, the partnership with Harrington had been formally dissolved. Guthrie took on James Scott Clark as a new partner, to form Messrs. Guthrie & Clark.

During its early history various partnerships controlled the business, from its base in Singapore. Following Clark's departure in 1833, Alexander took on his nephew James Guthrie and renamed the firm Messrs. Guthrie & Co. James became a partner in 1837, and headed the Singapore office from 1847, when Alexander returned to London. In 1849 John James Greenshields became a partner. In 1856, James Guthrie returned to London. In 1857 Thomas Scott (responsible for the formation of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company in 1864) became a partner, and later Senior Partner in 1867. On his return to London in 1873, Scott established a registered office for the firm in London, known as Scott & Company. In 1876, Louis John Robertson Glass was the senior partner in Singapore. On 28 February 1903 Guthrie & Co merged with Scott & Company to become Guthrie & Co. Ltd, with its own London office. Sir John Anderson became the Governing Director of the whole concern, with Robert McNair Scott as the London Director. Anderson went on to launch many of the company's planting and mining interests and shaped its policy for a quarter of a century. By the time Sir John Hay assumed the position of General Manager in 1925, the total range of Guthrie business interests was known as the 'Guthrie Group'. Hay went on to become Managing Director and Chairman, distinguished for his work for the British rubber plantation industry.

By the mid 19th Century, Guthrie & Co was a successful merchant house trading British goods (e.g. cotton, wool, manufactured articles) for produce from the Straits (spices, tin, coffee, beeswax, ebony, ivory); India (Punjab wheat, Indian cotton, opium from Calcutta); Java (coffee); Borneo (sago); Malay Peninsula (rattan, pepper), and Siam and Cambodia (sugar, coconut oil, salt, rice, teak). Trading was conducted largely through Chinese merchants, who collected goods from native producers and sold it on to the British merchants for export. In addition the firm managed estates, and acted as agents for numerous banks and insurance companies including the London banking firm of Coutts (from 1830), London Fire Insurance Co (from 1853), and the London & Provincial Marine Insurance Co (from 1861). By 1896 the firm had begun to establish itself in the Malay Peninsula, accepting the agency of 5 coffee estates owned by Thomas Heslop Hill. By 1900 Guthrie agencies included 6 banks, 5 insurance companies, 2 shipping companies and 23 new 'general' agencies. These concerned tin mines, gold mines, tobacco estates, sugar, flour cement, tea and coffee machinery, whiskies, beers, wines and spirits, Jeyes' Fluid and Lipton's Tea.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Guthrie & Co. had taken on the agency of a number of new rubber plantation companies with estates in Malaya, Borneo and Sumatra. Amongst these agencies were the Selangor Rubber Co., Linggi Plantations Ltd. (1904), United Sua Betong Rubber Estates Ltd. (1909), United Temiang Rubber Estates Ltd. (1910), and Malacca Rubber Plantations Ltd. (1920). Guthrie & Co. also played a key role in research in this field, with the development of 'Stimulex' in the 1930's (which significantly increased the output of natural latex), and a new form of natural rubber, 'Dynat', in 1961 (with greater standardisation of physical and chemical composition). Modern day distributors of rubber products for the Group include Guthrie Latex Inc. and its sister company in the UK, Guthrie Symington Ltd.

By the 1920's, the flotation of companies concerned with the oil palm industry had become an important sideline to Guthrie & Co.'s extensive rubber planting interests in Malaya. In 1924 they floated Elaeis Plantations Ltd., and subsequently three of the rubber companies in the 'Guthrie Group' (Linggi Plantations Ltd, United Sua Betong Rubber Estates Ltd, and Malacca Rubber Plantations Ltd) acquired adjoining tracts of land and commenced planting oil palms. In 1930, these three companies merged their interests in oil palms by creating Oil Palms of Malaya Ltd. By 1942 the oil palm interests of Guthrie & Co in Malaya amounted to nearly 20,000 acres.

With the outbreak of War in Asia on 8 December 1941, and the surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942, business ceased. Bombing destroyed the Guthrie Head Office, and many employees were sent to Japanese internment camps. Following the War, together with other member organisations of the Rubber Estate Owners Company who had suffered losses in the East, Guthrie were able to reclaim their estates and offices in Singapore, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Ipon and Penang, and resume trading with the eastern public. From 1947, the commercial side of the firm flourished. There was an extension of activity into Africa with the purchase of Cochrane & Milton (agricultural equipment and builders hardware), the opening of an office in Melbourne in 1953, and the purchase of F. W. Green & Co. in 1959 (general traders in Australia). The London Office also branched out to incorporate the food-importing business of B.N. Sexton, Canadian Foods and John Dorell. The company's Head Office was also transferred to London. Guthrie & Co. became a world-wide network of interests including Guthries' of Singapore and Malaysia (later merged with an off-shoot of the House of Jardine Matheson into Guthrie Waugh), Guthries' of Rhodesia, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria and innumerable subsidiaries.

On 1 January 1961, the 'Guthrie Group' formed a co-operative - Guthrie Estates Agency Ltd. with a subsidiary, Guthrie Agency (Malaya) Ltd. - to manage the affairs of its constituent companies. In 1964, Sir John Hay died, and Sir Eric Griffith Jones took his place, welding together the rubber and palm interests of the group into the Guthrie Corporation, the largest owner of such plantations in the world. Keith Anderson became Chairman of Guthrie & Co. (UK) Ltd. In 1988, the Guthrie Corporation plc was acquired by BBA Group plc.

Further reading: S. Cunyngham-Brown, The Traders: A Story of Britain's South-East Asian Commercial Adventure , (London, 1971)

Arrangement

Guthrie & Company Ltd and related papers, including minutes, correspondence, and miscellaneous papers have been arranged in broad chronological order. The records of subsidiary and related companies have been arranged alphabetically by company. The following companies are represented in the collection: Beaufort Borneo Rubber Company; Cheviot Rubber; Elaeis Plantations; Guthrie Estates Agency; Guthrie Industries; Guthrie Processing; Kombok (FMS) Rubber; KMS (Malay States) Rubber Plantations; Karmen Rubber; Kamuring (Perak) Rubber and Tin Company; Ledang Bahru; Labu FMS Rubber (Labu Cheviot Rubber from 1953); Loendoet Plantations; Linggi Plantations; Lambak Rubber; Malacca Rubber Plantations; Oil Palms of Malaya; Port Dickson Lukut (FMS) Rubber Estates; P.O. Agency; Pahang Oil Palms; Renong Dredging; Rembau Jelei Rubber; Renong Mines; Rangoon Para Rubber Estates; Renong Tin Dredging; Sendayan (FMS) Rubber; Sablas North Borneo Rubber; Simpang Sumatra Rubber; United Sua Betong Rubber Estates; United Temiang (FMS) Rubber Estates.

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Acquisition Information

Deposited in 1988.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist