JOHN SWIRE AND SONS LIMITED

Administrative / Biographical History

Every section of the records listed in the guide contains material relating to the parent company in London but the series listed below are those either referring to or arising from the work of John Swire & Sons [JS&S] itself, or which are concerned with all or several of Swire's interests in the East.It does not seem to have been office practice in the Nineteenth Century to divide the various interests of JS&S into different record series and all Private Office correspondence out was bound into one series regardless of correspondent, although letters in from Butterfield & Swire [B&S] in the East were kept in separate files (JSSI 2).

The whole London organisation in fact revolved round John Swire for he kept a close personal eye on all the firm's concerns. He was assisted by F R Gamwell the other London partner who dealt with correspondence in The Senior's absence. It also became practice for any of the Eastern partners on leave in London to assist in the Head Office, usually dealing with staff and leave matters. John Swire paid several visits to China, Japan and Australia (see JSSI 3) and with three partners based in the East, one of whom would probably be on leave at any given time, there was felt to be no need for regular tours by the senior partner. After the retirement of Lang and the return to Britain of Scott and Mackintosh it became more essential to arrange a system for the London staff to keep themselves informed on local affairs. After the First World War one London director would make an extended tour of the East each year to visit all ports where there was a B&S or China Navigation Company [CNCo] office (see JSSI 3). It was also practice to train Directors by a period of about five years in the East during which they were to experience all aspects of the Eastern operation before returning to London. Later it was usual to appoint one of the Directors from the Eastern staff selecting someone with experience as Manager in Hong Kong or Shanghai.

All decisions on major matters of policy, finance and the employment of expatriate staff in the East were made by the London Directors, although they would take into account the recommendations of the Eastern Managers. Whereas John Swire had retained control of all concerns himself later Directors divided the responsibilities between them, each specialising in certain aspects such as shipping, insurance, raw sugar purchases, staff, Dockyard. These were varied from time to time and weekly meetings were held to discuss major decisions.

The Directors also dealt with Government Departments such as the Foreign Office and Board of Trade over political and commercial affairs.Other Departments in the London Office covered the Accounts which were centralised in London under the Chief Accountant; a Buying Department handled the purchase and shipping of stores to the East; a `Tonnage' man handled contracts for the building in Britain of new vessels for CNCo and all Floating Staff - officers and engineers - for CNCo were chosen in London.

After the First World War it was practice to file each concern's correspondence with JS&S under its own heading and so these series have been listed separately leaving little Twentieth Century material under this section. Two series, however, have been included here; one contains personal correspondence of the Directors of JS&S and is mainly concerned with their personal careers (JSSI 9). The second is a modern series which concerns the Organisation and Management investigations which were made into all JS&S concerns in the East during the 1960's (JSSI 10) and this section will be closed until the Twenty-First Century.

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