Records of The African Lakes Corporation plc, importers and exporters of goods including automobiles, tobacco and tea, 1878-2007, Glasgow, Scotland and Blantyre, Malawi

Scope and Content

  • The African Lakes Corporation plc, 1878-1993;
  • Central Africa Mining Company, 1901-1911;
  • Scottish Exploration Company Ltd, 1889-1890.

Administrative / Biographical History

The African Lakes Corporation plc was established in  Glasgow, Scotland in  1878  as  The Livingstonia Central Africa Company. It was established by a number of philanthropic gentlemen who had been impressed by  Dr. David Livingstone's plea for the establishment of regular trade routes and the introduction of lawful commerce whereby the slave trade might be exterminated and security obtained for the life and property of the inhabitants of  Central Africa. The first directors of the company were  James Stevenson, chemical manufacturer;  John Stephen, shipbuilder;  James White;  James "Paraffin" Young, and  James S Napier, merchant. Other distinguished men later on directed the destinies of the company and among these were  Sir John N Cuthbertson,  Professor Henry Drummond,  Mr. Alexander Mitchell,  Mr A Low Bruce,  Mr. William Ewing,  Mr. Robert S Allan and  Mr. John G Stephen. The brothers  John Moir and  Fred Moir, who had contemplated starting a similar company, were appointed joint managers and sent out to Africa in  1878  to start the work in  Nyasaland (Malawi) by founding stations, initiating steamboat and other transport facilities, and also trading arrangements. The company faced strong opposition from Swahili slavers, who resented their interference, and also from the Portuguese, who regarded the operations of the new company with territorial jealousy. The result was a war with the Swahili traders, the expense of which made a serious inroad upon the finances of the company, and the two Moirs were wounded in the fighting. Ultimately, however, it led to the suppression of the slave trade and the pacification of the country.

For a period the company acted as administrators of the country and in  1891  the country, forming the principal arena of the activities of the company, was brought under the British Government. A notable feature of the company was that it was probably the only trading or transport business ever formed not for the express purpose of making money, but rather to fulfil the humanitarian objectives of its initiators– namely, the abolition of the slave trade and the bestowal of freedom and safety on the people of  Nyasaland. Although the subscribed capital with which the company started in  1878  was the modest one of £120 000, nevertheless the company had been successful in earning dividends for its shareholders and its share capital remained intact. By  1938 , the company had a chain of branches throughout  Nyasaland and  Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), with a salaried staff of well over 100 and a record of achievement of which the company felt justly proud. In  1881  the company changed its name to  The African Lakes Company Ltd , then became  The African Lakes Trading Corporation Ltd in  1893 , and changing again to  The African Lakes Corporation Ltd in  1894 . The company's shares were acquired by the  British South Africa Company in the  1930s , which later absorbed its businesses.

The company's main offices were in  Glasgow but in  1966  they moved to  Edinburgh. A  London office was also maintained. In the late  1970s , the  Edinburgh office closed and  London became the main office although all annual general meetings were still held in  Edinburgh. Many of the company's staff derived from the central belt and the bulk of the company's suppliers were  Glasgow or Scottish based. Notable suppliers included  Glasgow shipyards and engineering firms. Initially, the company trade centred on  Nyasaland (modern day Malawi). The company undertook various trades and activities including: • Commissioning Glasgow built flat pack, flat-bottomed ships that were then rebuilt in  Nyasaland for use on the Zambezi to transport people and commodities • Operated rubber, tea, coffee, cotton and tobacco plantations and also agricultural land • Exported automobiles from the  UK, acting as agents for Ford, Nissan, Austin Morris (until the  1970s ) • Operated local hotels, building companies, insurance agents and as electronics suppliers in  Africa .

In the  1970s , the company looked to expand into  Ethiopia through automobile sales and this later expanded into agricultural trading and production. The company had a social element, trying to give infrastructure to communities and build amenities including schools, clinics and housing. They were involved in setting up a co-operative for their workers' wives to produce clay tapping cups. The company then bought the cups for use on their rubber plantations. As much as possible, the company took long-term investment views, developing land for agriculture and plantation, planting forests and improving its work force. In later years, the company sold off its various interests, including its agricultural investments and rubber plantation (the only one in  Southern Africa). The company diversified into electronics, communications and the internet but this ultimately led to the company's demise. The company ceased trading in  c2004  and went into liquidation in  2007 .


Arranged chronologically within record series.

Access Information

Open subject to restriction to protect personal confidentiality.

Acquisition Information

Gift: Donald MacKenzie : August 2008 : ACCN3224

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. UGC 193/1/14/14 must be referred to University of Edinburgh.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures.

Custodial History

The collection remained with The African Lakes Company plc from its foundation in 1878 until it's liquidation in 2007. The company records were bought at an auction by the former Chief Executive, Mr Donald MacKenzie and subsequently donated to Glasgow University Archive Services.


None expected.

Related Material

  • Letter books and photographs have been gifted by The African Lakes Corporation to the museum in Blantyre, Malawi.
  • GB 162 Micr. Afr.477: Letters from the London office of the British South Africa Company (microfilm);
  • GB 162 MSS. Afr.s.1181: Notes on mining and the British South Africa Company (photocopies);
  • GB 162 MSS. Afr.s.70-84: Papers of the British South Africa Company (the Cawston Papers).

Location of Originals

This material is original apart from UGC 193/1/14/1


Moir, Fred L MAfter Livingstone: An African Trade Romance. : 1915 .

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Fonds level description compiled by Paul Lihoma, Information Management and Preservation placement student, October 2008. Lower level descriptions compiled by Paul Lihoma, Information Management and Preservation placement student, October 2008, with some additions by Laura Stevens, Archives Assistant, July 2009, Elva McLean, Archives Volunteer, and members of Glasgow University Archive Service staff. Lower levels converted to EAD by Laura Stevens, Archive Assistant, July 2009, and Glasgow University Archive Services staff, July 2010. Fuller descriptions for photographs and negatives added by Mabvuto Kamulayike, Information Management and Preservation placement student, 2011. Catalogue edited by Michelle Kaye, Archives Assistant, 24 September 2012.