The Official Site Of The Red Duster, Merchant Navy Research Site
MN Veterans Badge

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

The UNION-CASTLE MAIL STEAMSHIP COMPANY came about through the amalgamation of the Union Steamship Co. and the Castle Packets Co. in March 1900.

Inspired by Arthur Anderson, a founder of P&O, the Union Steamship Co. was the older company founded in 1853 as the Union Steam Collier to carry coal from South Wales to meet the growing demand in Southampton. Orders were placed for 5 ships- "Union", "Briton," "Saxon, "Norman" and the "Dane". The first steamship, the 336-ton "Union" loaded coal in Cardiff in June 1854 but the outbreak of the Crimean War frustrated the carefully made plans. After the war the company briefly tried to break into the Brazilian trade but then ,as the reconstituted Union Steamship Co., began chartering out its ships.

In the summer of 1857 the Admiralty invited tenders for a new mail run to South Africa and, as luck would have it, the Union Steamship Co. was accepted and the future suddenly looked very bright. The mail contract was for 5 years with an annual subsidy of £33,000 for which the company was to provide a monthly service from Southampton with a call at Plymouth carrying the mails in both directions.

The Cape Town mail service was inaugurated on 15th September 1857 with the 530 ton steam ship "Dane" carrying the mails and 6 passengers, under the command of Captain Strutt. There had been little time to advertise and the revenue from the first voyage was £102.

But the venture proved to be a success and the "Dane" was soon joined by the 613-ton "Phoebe" and the 739-ton "Athens" who, between them, managed to work the route well within the contractual 42 days. The first class fare was 45 guineas and the company's fortunate shareholders were able to benefit from a 10% dividend. By 1859 the Cape Legislative Assembly was that satisfied with the company's performance that it decided to pay a bonus of £250 for every day that the voyage was completed in less than 35 days.

The success of the venture soon enabled the company to build its first ship for the South African trade and in October 1860 the 1055-ton "Cambrian" left Southampton on its maiden voyage. The "Cambrian" was powered by both steam and sail and under steam only was capable of 10 knots. She had accommodation for 60 first-class and 40 second-class passengers and her other amenities included a bathroom, a luxury for passengers at sea. Bound for the Cape in September 1871 the "Cambrian" ran out of coal but, under sail, still safely completed the voyage from Southampton in under 42 days.

By 1863 Donald Currie, a Greenock born Scotsman and a former employee of Cunard, had built up a fleet of four 1200-ton sailing ships with "Castle" names which traded round the Cape on the Liverpool - Calcutta run. This company was known as the Castle Packet Co. and the venture was successful until the Suez Canal opened in 1869. This virtually killed off the Calcutta trade round the Cape. However, Currie, by this time, had acquired an interest in the Leith, Hull and Hamburg Packet Co where his brother was manager. The LH&H Packet Co. chartered two vessels, the "Iceland" and the" Gothland", to the Cape & Natal Steam Navigation Co. However, Cape & Natal Steam Navigation Co. company failed and this , purely by chance, enabled Donald Currie to deploy the three new Castle steamships intended for the Calcutta run on the Cape route. The vessels operated a twice monthly sailing from London with a call at Dartmouth for the mails.

In 1872 he was asked by the Cape merchants and the Government of Cape Colony to provide competition for the Union Line and was offered generous terms to carry the northbound mails in Castle ships. This he did but when the various contracts expired in 1876 a new mail contract was signed sharing the traffic equally between the two lines, each company providing alternate sailings for a weekly service.

Rivalry between the two companies still existed as any form of amalgamation was forbidden by the Cape authorities under the terms of the mail contracts.

The "Pheobe" & Sir Donald Currie

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20


Navigation Bar
Navigation for the Official Merchant Navy Research Site
To Contact The Webmaster with comments about this site please e-mail:

Merchant Navy Association is a registered charity in England & Wales - Registered No. 1135661
Website Created by Clarke Design & Media Ltd

the home of the Red Duster visit the Bridge a host of information awaits you visit the radio room pass us your groups details to add to our notice board use the chartrooms extensive link listings the merchant navy association official website the merchant navy association guestbook did you know about the merchant navy ships and shipping early days of the merchant navy sailing ships Click Here for more information about the new Veterans Badge