British India Steam Navigation Company

Administrative / Biographical History

The Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company was formally registered on 29 September 1856. The East India Company had opened the door to Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co in 1855, when they invited tenders for a regular mail steamship route between Calcutta and Rangoon. The partners were successful in their bid, and Mackinnon acquired a small fleet of steamers for his Royal Mail service, two of which maintained the initial fortnightly run between Calcutta, Akyeb, Rangoon and Moulmein. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857 the infant Calcutta and Burmah carried troops, beginning a long tradition between the company and Her Majesty's forces. In 1858 the monopoly of the East India Company also came to an end, and direct rule from Whitehall brought far reaching developments for trade in the area. The Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company played an important part in the resulting period of expansion in Indian commerce and overseas trade.In 1862 the company was awarded two new mail contracts, which included a fortnightly service between Bombay and Karachi, and a service that ran eight times a year between Karachi and the Persian Gulf ports. In December of that year, the company was reorganised and renamed the British India Steam Navigation Company (BISN Co.). The size of the fleet was gradually increased and new routes opened up. Important new services included the Suez Canal and Calcutta-Mauritius (opened 1869); Aden-Zanzibar (1873); London-Basra (1874); Bombay-Laurenco Marques, and London-Queensland (1881); Calcutta-Australia (1885); Calcutta-New Zealand, and Bombay-East Africa (1896). The fleet was composed of modern screw steamers, and important relationships were formed with the shipbuilders William Denny & Bros. of Dumbarton, and A. & J. Inglis of Glasgow.Mackinnon died in 1893, and James Mackay joined the Board in 1894 (a partner of Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co since 1881). He went on to become Chairman of the Board in 1913. Significant dates in the history of the company following the death of its founder included the opening of new services to Amoy and Swatow (1904), and Calcutta-Japan (1907). On 1 October 1914 the company amalgamated with the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O), although it continued to operate as BISN Co. In 1957 the P&O and BISN Co. Boards separated, with Sir William Currie remaining Chairman of both. In 1970 Mr Ford Geddes became chairman of P&O, and BISN Co. was absorbed in the P&O Group reorganisation.

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