James Finlay & Company Limited entered Ceylon via the shipping business, by taking over the agency for the "Clan Line" of steamers. In 1894, the Company began Insurance activities by obtaining the agency for The South British Insurance Company. In the same year, Sir John Muir arrived from the Calcutta office to discuss Indo-Ceylon cooperation in promoting tea sales and exporting to America. During this period, planting of tea in large blocks of forest lands in Ceylon had commenced. In 1896, the Company was appointed agent for the Ceylon properties of the newly founded companies, namely The Consolidated Tea and Lands Co Ltd. The Amalgamated Tea Estates Company Ltd, and The Mahawale Rubber and Tea Company Ltd. In 1898 the Company was appointed Agent for the Ceylon properties of The Anglo-American Direct Tea Trading Co Ltd. In 1899, an Import department was started for piece goods coming mainly from Manchester.
In 1900, a group of warehouses in Colombo called Ambawatte Mills was purchased. This was used as a depot for imported tea garden stores and for the tea sent down by railway and boat along inland waterways to Colombo for shipments abroad. In 1905, the Finlay Colombo office was appointed as the Agents in Ceylon for Pelmadulla Tea and Rubber Co Ltd, registered in London. In the same year an associated company named George Payne commenced business in Ceylon. This Company was incorporated as George Payne & Company (Ceylon) Ltd in 1939.
The Company"s foray into airline related business commenced in 1946 with the securing of the Agency for British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The Airline Agency department also obtained representation for Qantas - Australian Airways and Japan Airlines.
In 1949, the Empire Aluminum Company was set up as a subsidiary to manufacture tea chest linings, with its factory located at Finlay"s Ambawatte Mills. This evolved into Acme Aluminum Co Ltd, a public quoted company dealing in a wide range of flexible packaging. This Company was divested later on 1950 marked the 200th year of James Finlay & Co Ltd, in Glasgow, an event celebrated in all branch offices as well. Unlike many new companies which disappeared or changed beyond recognition, James Finlay survived the difficult years mainly due to the retention and expansion of its tea export business. The early sixties was a difficult time for the Company with the Insurance industry in Sri Lanka being nationalized in 1962, and the agencies for BOAC, Qantas, etc, which were handled successfully for 18 years, being taken over in 1964 by the national carrier Air Ceylon. In 1971, the Finlays office premises at Queen Street was acquired by the state.
In 1974, the Colombo Branch Office was locally incorporated as James Finlay & Co (Colombo) Ltd. One year later, once again brought bad news with estates belonging to the Opata Tea & Rubber and Wellandura Tea & Rubber companies" being acquired by the state under the land reform law. In 1976, the state acquired a part of the lakeside Ambawatte Mills complex resulting in the Company losing 40,000 square feet of storage space and a built-in pier for barges. In the same year the Shipping Department was sold off.
The company which began bulk and packeted tea exports earned over GBP 6,500,000 in 1977. Two companies, Texlan (Lanka) Ltd. manufacturing hosiery for export, and Finlays Travels Ltd. for handling airline ticketing as well as inbound and outbound travel, were set up in 1979 and 1980 respectively. These two companies were recently divested.
In 1989, Finlay Chemicals & Dyes (Private) Ltd., was formed to handle the agency for BASF products. BASF-Finlay (Pvt) Limited the successor to that company, was divested recently. In 1991, the Company became General Sales Agent for Cathay Pacific Airlines.
In 1992, following a public issue of shares, James Finlay became a public company listed on the Colombo Stock exchange. Thereafter, Finlay Plantation Management (Private) Ltd., was founded to manage Hapugastenne Plantations Ltd., - one of the 22 government owned companies set up for private sector management. Finlay Teas (Private) Ltd. was also formed for manufacturing Green Tea for export. In the same year, Finlay Rentokil (Ceylon) Ltd. commissioned its timber preservation plant under license from Celcure UK, a subsidiary of Rentokil Group PLC.
In 1993 Finlays Properties (Private) Ltd. was founded for developing 12 acres of land at Welisara for a modern warehousing complex. In the same year, for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka's tea industry, the Japanese type of green teas were manufactured and exported by Finlay Teas (Pvt) Ltd.
In 1995, Sanitact services, a unique gender based service under franchise from Rentokil Group PLC, UK, which deals with the hygienic and discreet disposal of sanitary dressings from ladies washrooms was launched. In 1997, the new Tea processing cum warehousing complex at Welisara was commissioned. In the same period, many small businesses of the Company were disposed of. James Finlay & Company (Colombo) Ltd in 1998 purchased the entire shareholding of Plantation Investment & Management Company Ltd., in an acquisition valued at LKR 1.6 billion which was the largest plantation transaction in the country.
In 2000, the Company's major shareholder James Finlay PLC was acquired by John Swire & Sons Ltd. of the UK, and the Company effectively became a subsidiary of the Swire Group. In 2003, James Finlay & Company (Colombo) Limited was restructured with plantation interests disposed of. In 2005, phase 1 of the modern Cold Storage facility was commissioned with phase 2 being commissioned in 2006. In 2007, the name of the Company was changed to Finlays Colombo PLC.