The Oury Archive

Scope and Content

The Oury Archive holds material related to the life and business activities of Libert Oury (1869-1939), specifically during his time as the London office director of the Mozambique Company, and his involvement in the development of the Port of Beira, the Trans-Zambezi Railway (TZR), and the lower Zambezi bridge. Additional material relates to the directorships and business interests inherited by his only son Vivian (1912-1988).
It contains company reports, visiting directors’ and management reports, contracts, agreements, minutes, and official and general correspondence dealing with the TZR between 1911 and 1975. It also contains similar materials in respect of most of the companies with which Libert and Vivian Oury were directly involved, namely the Mozambique Company, the two Beira Railway Companies and Port of Beira Company together with Beira Town Sites, the Shire Highlands Railway Company, the Central Africa Railway Company, Nyasaland Railways, Zambesi Mining Development, Nyasa Sisal Estates Limited, and the Company Nacional Algoderia, together with reports and correspondence dealing with the British South Africa Company, the Boror Company, Sena Sugar Estates Limited, and the Rudder Trust. The collection is particularly rich for the period 1910 to 1935, when Libert Oury was most active. Additionally, the archive holds books, magazines, news-cuttings, and scrapbooks related to his business and philanthropic activities in English, French, and Portuguese. It also contains research material related to a doctoral thesis written by a student from Syracuse University which is based on research undertaken on the Oury Archive.

Administrative / Biographical History

Libert Eugene Joseph Alexandre Oury (1868-1939) was a Belgian-born British Director of the Mozambique Company, financier, and railway magnate involved in the development of the Port of Beira, construction on the lower Zambezi Bridge, and the laying down of much of the Trans-Zambezi Railway in British and Portuguese imperial Africa.
Born in Jodoigne, Belgium in July 1868, Oury was educated in St Tron, and left school at eighteen to pursue business training in Germany. His first major role was as a director of the British holding company the Pekin Syndicate, where he managed the iron and coal concession in Hunan, Northern China. In 1909, Oury became a naturalised British citizen. Soon after, Oury and a group of business associates purchased £350,000 worth of shares in the Mozambique Company, and acquired about 40 percent of the outstanding voting trust certificates for the Beira Railway Company, and 80 per cent of the Beira Junction Railway. These two railways served the Port of Beira and, despite being a small limited company, the Beira Junction Railway held concessions for all port developments in the city. In 1910 at the age of 42, Oury was made a director of the Mozambique Company, and manager of its London Committee.
One of Oury’s first actions as director of the Mozambique Company was to strengthen relations with the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and, by extension, the British government. In 1911, Oury and his London agent and fellow Mozambique Company director, James Gilmour, appealed to the British government to purchase shares in the company in order to reduce the French majority of shareholders. The British government agreed on the condition that Oury would ensure that the Mozambique Company would cooperate with Britain’s imperial interests in the area. In first instance, Oury supported the renewal of the BSAC’s control of the Beira Junction Railway, and he would in turn be awarded directorship of both it and the Beira Railway Company.
One of the Mozambique Company’s first major projects under Oury was to push for a railway line from Port Herald to the Port of Beira. The plan was that the line would strengthen British influence in Portuguese east Africa, as well as direct more commercial traffic into territories administered by the Mozambique Company. In addition to lobbying for the Beira-Zambezi line, Oury played a central role in preventing lines from being built on alternate routes. Some officials within the British Colonial Office argued that the Beira-Zambezi line was a certain loss maker, and that a line to the other port city of Quelimane made more financial sense. The Shire Highlands Railway, a private company in the ownership of Baron Faringdon, formerly Sir Alex Henderson, was planning a rail link with Quelimane. At the time, the British Central Africa Company owed substantial debts to Faringdon, and Oury offered to pay these off on the condition that the planned line to Quelimane was halted. While Fardingdon agreed, Oury and Gilmour did not succeed in preventing the Portuguese imperial government from starting construction on a line to Quelimane in 1913.
The outbreak of WWI would prevent construction on both the Beria and Quelimane lines for some years. In September-November 1915, Oury managed to make his only trip to Africa to inspect his and the Mozambique Company’s holdings and investments. He was accompanied by general manager and former district governor Major Nuno de Freitas Queriol, and the trip was treated as something of a state occasion cementing Anglo-Portuguese imperial interests against Germany’s colonial ambitions.
Following the war, the growing economic and military influence of America concerned the British government who deemed it a threat to its empire. As means of reigniting Britain’s involvement in the Beira-Zambezi line, Oury appealed to Colonial Office Secretary Lord Alfred Milner that the railway could be a link in the long-anticipated Cape-to-Cairo route, which would pass through British territory or, in the case of the Mozambique Company, British dominated territory. Oury’s strategy convinced Milner, who viewed the Beira-Zambezi line as a potential instrument in commercial imperialism. Milner put the case to Chancellor of the Exchequer Austen Chamberlain who agreed that financial guarantees should be made to Beira-Zambezi line in order to fend off American commercial penetration in the area. These guarantees led to the formation of the Trans-Zambezi Railway Company, of which Oury served as chairman. Because it was in Britain's diplomatic interests to allay Portuguese fears of possible British designs on her colony, the imperial authorities decided that it would be wisest not to guarantee the debentures of the new Trans-Zambezi Railway (TZR) with an imperial guarantee. Instead, they found a puppet in the government of the Nyasaland Protectorate and despite the fact that the TZR would lie outside the protectorate, it would be burdened with its debts. This financial arrangement would have significant economic implications on Nyasaland (now Malawi) for decades to come.
Following the completion of the TZR in 1922, Oury turned his attention to extending the rail route over the Zambezi, which was then served by a ferry. Increasing traffic coming from Katanga was causing congestion at the Port of Beira. Moreover, Oury and a group of Belgian investors had acquired the Companhia de Zambesia’s mining rights, and were interested in exploiting the coal mines at Moatize, on the north bank of the Zambezi across from Tete. Oury wanted to bring coal to Beira for bunkering, and this could only be achieved on an industrial scale if there was a bridge on the Zambezi. In addition to the construction of the bridge, Oury wanted to use his position as controller of the Beira Junction Railway to develop and expand the capacity of the Port of Beira.
In the mid 1920s, the Mozambique Company, and by extension Oury, came under criticism from imperialist factions in Portugal’s political and media establishment over the extent of British involvement in the Port of Beira. In spite of this, Oury managed to negotiate further concessions for his British registered Port of Beira Development Corporation to expand the port, develop railway links, and undertake construction in the surrounding environs. Overseeing the project were Oury, Dougal Malcolm, representing the BSAC, and Friere d’Andrade, the watchdog for the Portuguese colonial probity.
While Oury’s unique position as negotiator between the British and Portuguese imperial governments had convinced the BSAC to invest in the Port of Beira scheme, he struggled to secure capital for the Zambezi bridge. Once again, Oury turned to the British government with the pitch that further investment in the TZR was needed to ensure it turned a profit and brought Nyasaland out of debt. Initially reluctant, a downturn in the home economy in 1929 meant that the British government was seeking initiatives to ease high levels of unemployment. One solution was to gear parts of the industrial sector toward producing railway material for Britain’s African colonies and Colonial Secretary, Leo Amery, pushed forward the Zambezi bridge scheme under the Colonial Development Act of 1929. The terms of act, drawn up to reduce unemployment in Great Britain, would further burden Nyasaland with public debt related to the operation of the TZR.
The Zambezi Bridge opened in 1935 at a cost of £1.74 million, but would never generate sufficient traffic to pay the interest, much less repay the loans raised to build it. The bridge was Oury’s last major foray in East Africa, and his method of financing colonial expansion as well as chartered companies like the Mozambique Company had become unpopular and outmoded.
Beyond his business pursuits, Oury undertook philanthropic work, mainly focused on his native Belgium. During the German occupation of the country in the First World War, both he and wife Marie Caroline (née Liane) were leading members of the Ligue des Patriots, an organisation which helped Belgian orphans and invalid soldiers. The couple also helped maintain the politically liberal Belgian paper, Le Belge Independent. During his lifetime Oury was awarded numerous national orders, including the Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Couronne and Médaille du Roi Albert (Belgium), Commander of the Order of Christ (Portugal), and Order of the British Empire.
Oury died on May 8th 1939, leaving behind his wife, daughter Raymonde, and son Vivian, who inherited his father’s remaining directorships and investments in east Africa.

Vivian Oury (1912-1988) was the son of Libert Oury and inherited his father’s remaining directorships and business interests in east Africa. This included directorship of the Mozambique Company, until the Portuguese Government ended the company’s charter in 1942, and chairman of the Trans-Zambesia Railway Company Limited, until it was wound down following Mozambique independence in 1975. Additional positions included being on board of directors of the Beira Railway Company Limited, Beira Works Limited, Nyasaland Railway Company Limited, and Central Africa Railway Company.

Arrangement

The archive is currently retains the order it was received upon initial receipt and processing in 1988-89. The material is arranged according to Libert Oury's primary business endeavours; the Port of Beira, directorship of the Mozambique Company, the operation of Nyasaland railways including the Trans-Zambezi Railway, and the Zambezi Bridge.

Access Information

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Acquisition Information

The donated archive came to the Borthwick Institute, via the University's former Centre for Southern African Studies, in 1988, following the death of Vivian Oury and the liquidation of the Trans-Zambesi Railway Company.

Note

Libert Eugene Joseph Alexandre Oury (1868-1939) was a Belgian-born British Director of the Mozambique Company, financier, and railway magnate involved in the development of the Port of Beira, construction on the lower Zambezi Bridge, and the laying down of much of the Trans-Zambezi Railway in British and Portuguese imperial Africa.
Born in Jodoigne, Belgium in July 1868, Oury was educated in St Tron, and left school at eighteen to pursue business training in Germany. His first major role was as a director of the British holding company the Pekin Syndicate, where he managed the iron and coal concession in Hunan, Northern China. In 1909, Oury became a naturalised British citizen. Soon after, Oury and a group of business associates purchased £350,000 worth of shares in the Mozambique Company, and acquired about 40 percent of the outstanding voting trust certificates for the Beira Railway Company, and 80 per cent of the Beira Junction Railway. These two railways served the Port of Beira and, despite being a small limited company, the Beira Junction Railway held concessions for all port developments in the city. In 1910 at the age of 42, Oury was made a director of the Mozambique Company, and manager of its London Committee.
One of Oury’s first actions as director of the Mozambique Company was to strengthen relations with the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and, by extension, the British government. In 1911, Oury and his London agent and fellow Mozambique Company director, James Gilmour, appealed to the British government to purchase shares in the company in order to reduce the French majority of shareholders. The British government agreed on the condition that Oury would ensure that the Mozambique Company would cooperate with Britain’s imperial interests in the area. In first instance, Oury supported the renewal of the BSAC’s control of the Beira Junction Railway, and he would in turn be awarded directorship of both it and the Beira Railway Company.
One of the Mozambique Company’s first major projects under Oury was to push for a railway line from Port Herald to the Port of Beira. The plan was that the line would strengthen British influence in Portuguese east Africa, as well as direct more commercial traffic into territories administered by the Mozambique Company. In addition to lobbying for the Beira-Zambezi line, Oury played a central role in preventing lines from being built on alternate routes. Some officials within the British Colonial Office argued that the Beira-Zambezi line was a certain loss maker, and that a line to the other port city of Quelimane made more financial sense. The Shire Highlands Railway, a private company in the ownership of Baron Faringdon, formerly Sir Alex Henderson, was planning a rail link with Quelimane. At the time, the British Central Africa Company owed substantial debts to Faringdon, and Oury offered to pay these off on the condition that the planned line to Quelimane was halted. While Fardingdon agreed, Oury and Gilmour did not succeed in preventing the Portuguese imperial government from starting construction on a line to Quelimane in 1913.
The outbreak of WWI would prevent construction on both the Beria and Quelimane lines for some years. In September-November 1915, Oury managed to make his only trip to Africa to inspect his and the Mozambique Company’s holdings and investments. He was accompanied by general manager and former district governor Major Nuno de Freitas Queriol, and the trip was treated as something of a state occasion cementing Anglo-Portuguese imperial interests against Germany’s colonial ambitions.
Following the war, the growing economic and military influence of America concerned the British government who deemed it a threat to its empire. As means of reigniting Britain’s involvement in the Beira-Zambezi line, Oury appealed to Colonial Office Secretary Lord Alfred Milner that the railway could be a link in the long-anticipated Cape-to-Cairo route, which would pass through British territory or, in the case of the Mozambique Company, British dominated territory. Oury’s strategy convinced Milner, who viewed the Beira-Zambezi line as a potential instrument in commercial imperialism. Milner put the case to Chancellor of the Exchequer Austen Chamberlain who agreed that financial guarantees should be made to Beira-Zambezi line in order to fend off American commercial penetration in the area. These guarantees led to the formation of the Trans-Zambezi Railway Company, of which Oury served as chairman. Because it was in Britain's diplomatic interests to allay Portuguese fears of possible British designs on her colony, the imperial authorities decided that it would be wisest not to guarantee the debentures of the new Trans-Zambezi Railway (TZR) with an imperial guarantee. Instead, they found a puppet in the government of the Nyasaland Protectorate and despite the fact that the TZR would lie outside the protectorate, it would be burdened with its debts. This financial arrangement would have significant economic implications on Nyasaland (now Malawi) for decades to come.
Following the completion of the TZR in 1922, Oury turned his attention to extending the rail route over the Zambezi, which was then served by a ferry. Increasing traffic coming from Katanga was causing congestion at the Port of Beira. Moreover, Oury and a group of Belgian investors had acquired the Companhia de Zambesia’s mining rights, and were interested in exploiting the coal mines at Moatize, on the north bank of the Zambezi across from Tete. Oury wanted to bring coal to Beira for bunkering, and this could only be achieved on an industrial scale if there was a bridge on the Zambezi. In addition to the construction of the bridge, Oury wanted to use his position as controller of the Beira Junction Railway to develop and expand the capacity of the Port of Beira.
In the mid 1920s, the Mozambique Company, and by extension Oury, came under criticism from imperialist factions in Portugal’s political and media establishment over the extent of British involvement in the Port of Beira. In spite of this, Oury managed to negotiate further concessions for his British registered Port of Beira Development Corporation to expand the port, develop railway links, and undertake construction in the surrounding environs. Overseeing the project were Oury, Dougal Malcolm, representing the BSAC, and Friere d’Andrade, the watchdog for the Portuguese colonial probity.
While Oury’s unique position as negotiator between the British and Portuguese imperial governments had convinced the BSAC to invest in the Port of Beira scheme, he struggled to secure capital for the Zambezi bridge. Once again, Oury turned to the British government with the pitch that further investment in the TZR was needed to ensure it turned a profit and brought Nyasaland out of debt. Initially reluctant, a downturn in the home economy in 1929 meant that the British government was seeking initiatives to ease high levels of unemployment. One solution was to gear parts of the industrial sector toward producing railway material for Britain’s African colonies and Colonial Secretary, Leo Amery, pushed forward the Zambezi bridge scheme under the Colonial Development Act of 1929. The terms of act, drawn up to reduce unemployment in Great Britain, would further burden Nyasaland with public debt related to the operation of the TZR.
The Zambezi Bridge opened in 1935 at a cost of £1.74 million, but would never generate sufficient traffic to pay the interest, much less repay the loans raised to build it. The bridge was Oury’s last major foray in East Africa, and his method of financing colonial expansion as well as chartered companies like the Mozambique Company had become unpopular and outmoded.
Beyond his business pursuits, Oury undertook philanthropic work, mainly focused on his native Belgium. During the German occupation of the country in the First World War, both he and wife Marie Caroline (née Liane) were leading members of the Ligue des Patriots, an organisation which helped Belgian orphans and invalid soldiers. The couple also helped maintain the politically liberal Belgian paper, Le Belge Independent. During his lifetime Oury was awarded numerous national orders, including the Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Couronne and Médaille du Roi Albert (Belgium), Commander of the Order of Christ (Portugal), and Order of the British Empire.
Oury died on May 8th 1939, leaving behind his wife, daughter Raymonde, and son Vivian, who inherited his father’s remaining directorships and investments in east Africa.

Vivian Oury (1912-1988) was the son of Libert Oury and inherited his father’s remaining directorships and business interests in east Africa. This included directorship of the Mozambique Company, until the Portuguese Government ended the company’s charter in 1942, and chairman of the Trans-Zambesia Railway Company Limited, until it was wound down following Mozambique independence in 1975. Additional positions included being on board of directors of the Beira Railway Company Limited, Beira Works Limited, Nyasaland Railway Company Limited, and Central Africa Railway Company.

The creation of this finding aid was supported by a grant from the Stichting Archives Portal Europe Foundation.

Other Finding Aids

* Authority record for the Mozambique Company (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/mozambique-company-2)
* Authority record for the Trans-Zambesia Railway Company Limited (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/trans-zambezi-railway-company-limited)
* Authority record for the Port of Beira Development Ltd (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/port-of-beira-development-ltd)
* Authority record for the Beira Railway Junction Company (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/beira-railway-junction-company)
* Authority record for the Beira Works Limited (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/beira-works-limited)
* Authority record for the Beira Railway Company Limited (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/beira-railway-company-limited)
* Authority record for the Shire Highlands Railway Company (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/shire-highlands-railway-company)
* Authority record for the Central Africa Railway Company Limited (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/central-africa-railway-company-limited)
* Authority record for Nyasaland Railways Limited (https://borthcat.york.ac.uk/index.php/nyasaland-railways-limited)

Archivist's Note

Created by J. Neill 2021

Conditions Governing Use

A reprographics service is available to researchers. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Custodial History

The archive came from the London offices of the Trans-Zambesi Railway company and related companies. The Centre for Southern African Studies at York approached Vivian Oury in 1975 as part of its Documentation Project. When in 1986 the company records in the custody of Vivian Oury needed to be relocated as a consequence of the redevelopment of the London property they were located in, Oury arranged for the archive to be deposited with the Centre for Southern African Studies at the University of York.

Accruals

Further accruals are not expected.

Related Material

* (Libert) Oury's letter books. Four volumes of correspondence concerning the Central African Railway, Malawi Railways and the Central South African Railway, 1912-1918 are held by the British Overseas Railways Historical Trust.
* Mozambique Company archive, 1888-1980. Further records are held at the Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (the National Archives of Portugal), reference PT/TT/CMZ. For material on Beira, see PT/TT/CMZ-AFHEG/1/4.
* Fundo da Companhia de Mocambique. Mozambique Company records are also held at the Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique (Mozambique's National Archives, Maputo).

Bibliography

* White, Landeg 'Bridging the Zambesi: A Colonial Folly' (Palgrave Macmillan, 1993)

* Vail, Leroy 'The making of an imperial slum: Nyasaland and its railways, 1895–1935', in The Journal of African History, 16(1) (1975), 89-112

* Vail, Leroy 'Mozambique's Chartered Companies: The Rule of the Feeble' in The Journal of African History, 17(3), (1976) 389-416

* Nkana, Robert 'Malawi Railways an Historical Review' in The Society of Malawi Journal, vol. 52, no. 1, Society of Malawi - Historical and Scientific (1999) pp. 39–45

* Leishman, A.D.H., 'The Steam Era in Malawi' in The Society of Malawi Journal, vol. 27, no.1 (January, 1971), pp.45-53

* Frampton, Trevethan Claude, 'The Development and Construction of the Port of Beira' in the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, vol. 239, issue 1935 (1935), pp.578-596

* Crosby, Cynthia A., 'A History of the Nyasaland Railway 1895-1935: a Study in Colonial Economic Development', unpub. Ph.D. thesis (Syracuse University, Utica, N.Y., 1974) [copy held in The Oury Archive]

Additional Information

Published

GB 193