Inchcape Shipping Services (ISS) traces its origins back to 1847, when two Scottish
merchants from Campbeltown, William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie, met in Calcutta
and formed a general merchanting partnership, Mackinnon Mackenzie & Company (MMC).
Today, the company is one of the largest maritime services providers, with some
300 offices in 68 countries and a team of 3,900 professional and committed staff.
1847: The Inchcape Group traces its origins back to this year,
when two Scottish merchants from Campbeltown, William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie,
formed a general merchanting partnership, Mackinnon Mackenzie & Company (MMC) in
1856: Mackinnon establishes Calcutta & Burmah Steam Navigation
Company (C&B) and secures a contract from the East India Company to carry mail between
Calcutta and Rangoon.
Mackinnon also incorporates the company in London with a capital of £35,000, of
which MMC invested £7,000, becoming agents for the new shipping line.
1862: C&B raise £400,000 to float the company under the new name
of the British India Steam Navigation Company (BI).
A contract was also won to carry mail eight times a year up and down the Persian
Gulf, forming the merchant partnership Gray Mackenzie & Company.
1868: Sir William Mackinnon forms the Netherlands India Steam Navigation
Company. Owing to the need to supply ship agency services to the BI, Mackinnon group
enterprises were also established in East Africa, the Persian Gulf, Australia and
London. The BI also operated a steamship service in East Africa.
1872: Archibald Smith, a member of the staff of William Mackinnon
& Company in Glasgow, together with a Mackenzie man from Calcutta, established an
agency to operate as BI agents and general traders.
With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, BI ships entered the Mediterranean and
established a trunk line between London and India via the Canal in 1876.
MMC became one of the greatest Eastern agency houses and the BI posed a mighty challenge
to all other shipping lines operating between the United Kingdom and the East, including
the giant Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O).
1874: James Lyle Mackay, later to become the first Earl of Inchcape
in 1911, joins MMC's Calcutta office in 1874. Through great diligence and flair,
he became the heir to the Mackinnon businesses after the death of Mackinnon in 1893.
1887: Sir William Mackinnon won the right to administer a coastal
strip of land from the Sultan of Zanzibar, in return for customs revenue, which
led to the founding of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA).
Smith Mackenzie & Company took a stake in IBEA and acted as its agents, until the
charter was surrendered in 1897. Smith Mackenzie & Company and the agency for Shell
in East Africa became joint coaling agents to the admiralty during World War I and
in the 1930s gained the agencies for British American Tobacco, Imperial Chemical
Industries, and British Overseas Airways Corporation.
The Mackinnon complex also branched into Australia, investing in the formation of
a major Australian shipping conglomerate, the Australasian United Steam Navigation
Company (AUSN). 1894: Mackay was appointed to the board of the AUSN and returns
to the UK as a director of the BI
1913: Mackay becomes Chairman of the BI
1915: Mackay creates a new merchant partnership, Macdonald Hamilton
& Company, formed by two trusted Mackinnon appointees, B.W. Macdonald and David
1920: AUSN declines in the face of increasing competition from
railways and Macdonald Hamilton diversified its activities into mining, pastoral
management, and operating the P&O agencies in Australia.
1915 - 1932: Lord Inchcape becomes chairman of the BI and the P&O,
after effecting a merger between the two lines in 1914.
To separate the trading businesses from the shipping line, the Macneill & Barry
partnership was also developed to take over the extensive tea and merchanting operations
that Lord Inchcape had acquired in 1915. Amalgamated in 1949, Macneill & Barry Ltd.
comprised three merchant partnerships formed in the second half of the 19th century:
Barry & Company, Macneill & Company, and Kilburn & Company.
1950: The Inchcape family hold a controlling interest in MMC
1951 - 56: Macneill & Barry took over Kilburn & Company and the
three groups set up Pakistan-based companies.
1958: The diverse Mackinnon group interests were consolidated and
reorganised, coming together as Inchcape & Company Ltd, on the initiative of the
third Earl of Inchcape (James Lyle Mackay’s grandson),
Inchcape & Company became a public company through a public offering of 25% of its
equity, and started embarking on a programme of growth and diversification, principally
1959 - 60: P&O acquired Macdonald Hamilton's P&O-related activities.
1965: The two river steamer businesses were sold to the government
1960 - 1980: The Company expanded to over 150 times its previous
capitalisation, due principally to a series of successful acquisitions, in particular
the Borneo Company in 1967, Gilman & Company in 1969 and Dodwell & Company in 1972.
1985: Gellatly's largely North European agency network was acquired.
1990 - 1993: Inchcape expanded its shipping businesses through
a variety of acquisitions in China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Canada, Turkey and
With the acquisition of Southern Steamship in 1990, Inchcape extended into the North
American shipping market. The Group subsequently consolidated its position on the
West and East coasts with the acquisitions of Williams Dimond in 1991 and Lavino
1993: Inchcape Shipping Services (ISS) was established to manage
the Group's global shipping operations. The primary task was to transform what was
then a loose federation of ship agents into an integrated international network
with defined and common service standards worldwide.
1999: In a move to focus on its burgeoning motor trade, the Inchcape
Group divested ISS, which was purchased by Electra investment Trust Plc, a British
investment group. Electra fostered the strategic goals of ISS providing finance
for acquisitions and technology advances, which enabled ISS to further develop its
role as the world’s leading ship agency.
2006: Electra sold ISS to Istithmar PJSC, a major investment house
based in the United Arab Emirates, focusing on private equity, real estate and other
With Istithmar’s support, ISS continues to pursue its strategic aims with the same
confidence and commitment that has characterised the Group’s activities throughout
its long and proud history.
Further Reading: ‘Two Centuries of Overseas Trading: The Origins
and Growth of the Inchcape Group’, Palgrave Macmillan, 1986.