From 1847, through to today, we've been at the forefront of shipping services, maintaining a vanguard spirit to the changes the industry has witnessed


Inchcape Shipping Services can trace its origins back to 1847, when two Scottish merchants from Campbeltown, formed a partnership, Mackinnon Mackenzie & Company (MMC).
Today, the company is one of the largest maritime services providers, with some 240 offices in 60 countries and a team of over 3,100 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 Calcutta.

  • 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 Hamilton.

  • 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

  • 1951-1956

    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 through acquisitions.

  • 1959-1960

    P&O acquired Macdonald Hamilton’s P&O-related activities.

  • 1965

    The two river steamer businesses were sold to the government of India.

  • 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 Ecuador. 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 in 1992.

  • 1993

    Inchcape Shipping Services 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 Inchcape Shipping Services, which was purchased by Electra investment Trust Plc, a British investment group. Electra fostered the strategic goals of Inchcape Shipping Services providing finance for acquisitions and technology advances, which enabled Inchcape to further develop its role as the world’s leading ship agency.

  • 2006

    Electra sold Inchcape Shipping Services to Istithmar PJSC, a major investment house based in the United Arab Emirates, focusing on private equity, real estate and other alternative investments. With Istithmar’s support, Inchcape 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.

  • 2022

    Istithmar PJSC sold Inchcape Shipping Services to Epiris LLP, a UK-based private equity investment firm. The sale which coincides with its 175th anniversary, greatly enhances its core port agency business as well as expands digitalisation of its services for customers. ISS is a global leader in a resilient market experiencing long-term growth, driven by ship owners’ and operators’ focus on cost effectiveness, sustainability and compliance.