British & Commonwealth Group


A number of transfers then took place between the component companies. They formed the Springbok Shipping Company in 1959 to take over the operations of their South African services, and several of the Clan Lines' ships were transferred to it.

In 1961 the Springbok Shipping Company became part of Safmarine.

British & Commonwealth were the ultimate owners of British United Airways (BUA), Britain's largest wholly private, independent airline of the 1960s, as well as its subsidiaries and sister companies, including British United Air Ferries and British United Island Airways (BUIA). They were also a shareholder of Bristow Helicopters, at the time the UK's biggest helicopter company as well as one of the largest in the world, acquiring full control in 1985.

In 1969 British and Commonwealth Shipping, Furness Withy, P&O and The Ocean Steamship Company established Overseas Containers Limited to exploit containerisation.

In late 1970 British & Commonwealth sold BUA along with three new BAC One-Eleven 500 aircraft it had leased to the airline to Caledonian Airways for £12m. It continued to own BUIA, which had changed its name to British Island Airways (BIA) in July 1970.

Decline

In the 1970s, British and Commonwealth began to diversify into financial services as passenger shipping declined and cargo shipping evolved into container shipping.

The Clan Line, now a subsidiary of British & Commonwealth, ceased trading in 1981 with the final voyage made by Clan MacGregor.

By 1986 British & Commonwealth had disposed of their last ship.

By the mid-1980s, the business had evolved into one of the country’s largest financial services companies.

In the 1980s, new management under John Gunn oversaw rapid expansion in financial services. This wasn't a totally new area for the company: it had established fund managers Gartmore in 1969. Multiple acquisitions included Exco International, a UK money brokering business in 1986, and Oppenheimer, a large American fund management company.

At its height, the company was said to be "the largest financial services company in the UK, if the 4 high-street banks are excluded". Favourable profiles in the business press culminated in John Gunn being awarded the accolade "Guardian Young Businessman Of The Year".

With the move from the third to the fourth generation of the Cayzer family, the family shareholders were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the reduction in control over British and Commonwealth, caused by its expansion using shares as currency.

In 1987 they decided to sell their stake in British and Commonwealth and to concentrate their collective investment in Caledonia Investments, whose function until that time had primarily been as a holding company.  The company still exists today and has two members of the Cayzer family on the board. This was a timely decision: the sale took place just prior to the Black Monday stock market crash and two years later, British & Commonwealth went into receivership.

In 1988 British & Commonwealth acquired Atlantic Computers plc, a computer services business for £434m, having first built up a stake in that company by way of a series of market purchases. The acquisition proved ruinous – "accounting irregularities" were discovered in Atlantic's books: the company had been giving away free computer time to clients, but writing up said time as if paid for at the market rate.

Both acquirer and acquired subsequently went into administration (the former in 1990, the latter during the late 1990s)

Until its collapse, British & Commonwealth had also been the majority shareholder of Air UK, at the time the UK's largest regional airline and BIA's successor, and also Servisair the airline and cargo ground handling company based, at the time, in Bramhall.


B & C Staff A - D

Significant People in Group’s History

Life In and After B & C

B & C on Facebook

At the time of the merger the Cayzer Irvine Group comprised:

Clan Line, Houston Line, Scottish Shire Line and Scottish Tankers.

Their fleet was as follows:

At the time of the merger the Union-Castle Group comprised:

Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company, Bullard King, and King Line

Their fleet was as follows:

Clan Line

Power

Description

Built

GRT

Clan Allan

Steam

Dry Cargo

1943

7025

Clan Alpine

Steam

Dry Cargo

1943

7103

Clan Angus

Steam

Dry Cargo

1943

7015

Clan Brodie

Steam

Dry Cargo

1947

7473

Clan Buchanan

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7467

Clan Cameron

Steam

Dry Cargo

1943

7239

Clan Campbell

Steam

Dry Cargo

1943

7804

Clan Chattan

Steam

Dry Cargo

1943

7803

Clan Chisholm

Steam

Dry Cargo

1944

7864

Clan Cumming

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7812

Clan Davidson

Steam

Dry Cargo

1948

8067

Clan Forbes

Steam

Dry Cargo

1938

7703

Clan Keith

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7129

Clan Kennedy

Steam

Dry Cargo

1947

7134

Clan Kenneth

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7132

Clan Lamont

Steam

Dry Cargo

1939

7673

Clan MacBean

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7129

Clan MacBeth

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7130

Clan MacBrayne

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7129

Clan MacBride

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7128

Clan MacFadyen

Steam

Dry Cargo

1944

7289

Clan MacFarlane

Steam

Dry Cargo

1943

7258

Clan MacInnes

Motor

Dry Cargo

1952

6588

Clan MacIntosh

Motor

Dry Cargo

1951

6558

Clan MacIntyre

Motor

Dry Cargo

1952

6560

Clan MacKay

Steam

Dry Cargo

1945

7389

Clan MacKellar

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7051

Clan MacKendrick

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7054

Clan MacKenzie

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7025

Clan MacKinlay

Steam

Dry Cargo

1945

7382

Clan MacKinnon

Steam

Dry Cargo

1945

7372

Clan MacLachlan

Steam

Dry Cargo

1947

6365

Clan MacLaren

Motor

Dry Cargo

1946

6021

Clan MacLay

Motor

Dry Cargo

1949

6075

Clan MacLean

Motor

Dry Cargo

1947

6017

Clan MacLennan

Steam

Dry Cargo

1947

6366

Clan MacLeod

Motor

Dry Cargo

1948

6073

Clan MacTaggart

Steam

Dry Cargo

1949

8035

Clan MacTavish

Steam

Dry Cargo

1949

8035

Clan Robertson

Steam

Dry Cargo

1954

7878

Clan Ross

Steam

Dry Cargo

1956

7698

Clan Shaw

Steam

Dry Cargo

1950

8101

Clan Sinclair

Steam

Dry Cargo

1950

8386

Clan Stewart

Steam

Dry Cargo

1954

8163

Clan Sutherland

Steam

Dry Cargo

1951

8436

Clan MacAulay

Steam

Refrig Cargo

1936

10492

Clan MacDonald

Steam

Refrig Cargo

1939

8141

Clan MacDougall

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1944

9710

Clan MacRae

Steam

Refrig Cargo

1946

9184

Clan Urquhart

Steam

Refrig Cargo

1944

9726

Union-Castle Line

Power

Description

Built

GRT

Pretoria Castle

Steam

Mail

1948

28705

Edinburgh Castle

Steam

Mail

1948

28705

Capetown Castle

Motor

Mail

1938

27002

Athlone Castle

Motor

Mail

1936

25567

Stirling Castle

Motor

Mail

1936

25554

Carnarvon Castle

Motor

Mail

1926

20148

Winchester Castle

Motor

Mail

1930

20001

Arundel Castle

Steam

Mail

1921

19206

Bloemfontein Castle

Motor

Intermediate

1950

18400

Warwick Castle

Motor

Intermediate

1939

17387

Durban Castle

Motor

Intermediate

1938

17382

Rhodesia Castle

Steam

Intermediate

1951

17041

Kenya Castle

Steam

Intermediate

1952

17041

Braemar Castle

Steam

Intermediate

1952

17029

Dunnottar Castle

Motor

Intermediate

1936

15054

Kenilworth Castle

Motor

Dry Cargo

1946

9906

Drakensburg Castle

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

9905

Good Hope Castle

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

9881

Tantallon Castle

Motor

Dry Cargo

1954

7448

Tintagel Castle

Motor

Dry Cargo

1954

7447

Riebeeck Castle

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1946

8355

Rustenburg Castle

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1946

8355

Roxburgh Castle

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1943

7996

Richmond Castle

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1944

7960

Rowallan Castle

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1943

7943

Rochester Castle

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1937

7818

Roslin Castle

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1935

7017

In the year of the merger the following were either built,

under construction or projected.

The two tankers Scottish Stag and Scottish Teal never materialised.

B & C Staff

B & C Staff E - O

B & C Staff P - Z

British & Commonwealth Shipping Company

In 1956 the Clan Line and it’s subsidiaries merged with the

Union-Castle Line and their subsidiaries to form

The British & Commonwealth Shipping Limited.

Significant Events

Frequent Ports of Call

Described as a “dramatic battle for control” and a “bitter and protracted struggle”.

So complicated were the various manoeuvrings by both sides before the result was achieved that a complete book could be written on this struggle for power by two great shipping lines, but the author would have to possess an expert and detailed knowledge of the higher realms of finance.

Viewed by a mere layman, it was a fight extended over ten rounds.

Round 1:  October 4th 1955 - Proposed merger announced.

Clan’s Round

Round 2:   October 5th 1955 - Important Union-Castle shareholders headed by financier Harold Drayton and shipowner Jack Billmeir announced their opposition to the merger scheme.

Union-Castle’s Round

Round 3:  October 14th 1955 - Union-Castle ordinary shareholders set up a committee “to watch their interests”.

Union-Castle’s Round

Round 4:   November 14th 1955 - The Times announced that “full details (seven pages long) of the proposed scheme for the merger of Clan and Union-Castle together with the formal offer of the new holding company, The British and Commonwealth Shipping Company, to acquire the share capitals on an exchange basis” had been forwarded to existing shareholders.

Clan’s Round

“Today” said Frederick Ellis (Daily Express) “I sympathise with the shareholders of Union-Castle and Clan Lines - for they received documents running into thousands of words - the marriage lines for the proposed wedding of the two companies”.

Round 5:   November 30th 1955 - Certain Union-Castle shareholders sought an injunction to restrain the directors from carrying on with the scheme of amalgamation with Clan Line, alleging that the principle that the company should remain in British control was not sufficiently safe-guarded.

Union-Castle’s Round

Round 6:   December 9th 1955 - After a five-day hearing the motion was dismissed.

Clan’s Round

Round 7:   Early December 1955 - An Extraordinary General Meeting called for January 5th 1956, in a bid to remove the Union-Castle’s Board.

Union-Castle’s Round

Round 8:   January 3rd 1956 - The Cayzer family offered better terms with a £1,000,000 “gift” from their holdings.

Clan’s Round

Frederick Ellis wrote the next day: “In a City office in dingy St Mary Axe, heart of the shipping industry, one of the biggest merger struggles ended peacefully last night over cups of tea…..”

Round 9:   January 5th 1956 - The Extraordinary General Meeting was duly held. Some 200 Union-Castle shareholders learned formally that opposition to the proposed merger had been withdrawn following the increased offer to ordinary shareholders.

Clan’s Round

Round 10:   February 2nd 1956 - Financial Times reported that the Directors of British & Commonwealth Shipping Company has announced that by close of business on January 31st acceptances of the November offer has been received from the holders of over 90 per cent of the issued capital of Union-Castle Line.

Clan Win By A Knockout

It was said that the Cayzers had waited nearly thirty years for this moment. Sir Vernon Thomson would, of course, have shown them the door had they suggest such a thing to him.

Ironically it was another Thomson who played a major part in gaining control of Union-Castle - James A Thomson CA - the Clan Line’s financial director. He was almost certainly the principal author of the complex merger scheme. “But such things are Thomson’s pride and joy,” the London Evening Standard City Page commented at the time. The report went on:

“Four years ago this modest, diffident Scot produced the toughest share plan the City has ever seen.”

“It brought the Cayzer shipping family £5,000,000 of marketable shares, yet still left them in control of the Clan Line shipping business.”

“That plan took Thomson 18 months to think out and it needed 14 close-printed pages to explain, but very few in the City really grasped its intricacies.”

“In fact, it was said that Thomson was the only man who understood them. And that, it seemed, included the Cayzers too, for soon afterwards they put him on the Clan Line board.”

On May 3rd 1956, to, surely, the surprise of nobody, Sir George Christopher resigned as chairman of Union-Castle Line. In just over three years he had gained and lost a veritable empire.

Lord Rotherwick immediately took over as Union-Castle chairman and his nephew, Sir Nicholas Cayzer, became deputy chairman of both British & Commonwealth and Union-Castle.

Just over three weeks later exciting plans for the future of the Union-Castle passenger service were announced.

Firstly it was revealed that negotiations were already in progress with shipbuilders Harland and Wolff of Belfast to “alter, improve and enlarge” the Pendennis Castle, the new mailship reluctantly ordered by Sir George Christopher in March 1955.

Secondly, two new mailships were to be built, the order being worth over £15million.

In mid-August 1956, further details were revealed not only of the improvements being made in Pendennis Castle but also the first of the new mailships - “a new super liner”.

Houston Line

Power

Description

Built

GRT

Hellenes

Steam

Dry Cargo

1952

7162

Herminius

Steam

Dry Cargo

1950

7131

Hesione

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7030

Hesperia

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7375

Hesperides

Steam

Dry Cargo

1946

7300

Scottish Shire Line

Power

Description

Built

GRT

Lanarkshire

Steam

Refrig Cargo

1940

8167

Perthshire

Steam

Refrig Cargo

1936

10496

Stirlingshire

Motor

Refrig Cargo

1946

7006

Scottish Tankers

Power

Description

Built

GRT

Scottish Eagle

Motor

Tanker

1952

11202

Scottish Lion

Motor

Tanker

1952

11169

Scottish Hawk

Motor

Tanker

1953

11148

Total Tonnage




469,598

Bullard King

Power

Description

Built

GRT

Umtali

Steam

Dry Cargo

1938

8295

Umgeni

Steam

Dry Cargo

1938

8315

Umtata

Steam

Dry Cargo

1944

7288

Umzinto

Steam

Dry Cargo

1942

6751

King Line

Power

Description

Built

GRT

King Alexander

Motor

Dry Cargo

1952

5883

King Alfred

Motor

Dry Cargo

1941

6919

King Arthur

Motor

Dry Cargo

1953

5883

King David

Motor

Dry Cargo

1941

7251

King Malcolm

Motor

Dry Cargo

1952

5883

King Neptune

Motor

Dry Cargo

1924

5235

King Robert

Motor

Dry Cargo

1943

6981

King Stephen

Motor

Dry Cargo

1928

5279

King William

Motor

Dry Cargo

1928

5297

King Edgar

Motor

Dry Cargo

1945

7084

King James

Motor

Dry Cargo

1943

7065

Total Tonnage




520,643

Clan Line

Description

Yard

Keel Laying

Comp

Clan Malcolm

Dry Cargo Motor

Greenock

1956

1957

Clan Matheson

Dry Cargo Motor

Greenock

1956

1957

Clan Menzies

Dry Cargo Motor

Greenock

1956

1958

Clan MacIver

Dry Cargo Motor

Greenock

1957

1958

Clan MacIlwraith

Dry Cargo Motor

Greenock

1959

1960

Clan MacIndoe

Dry Cargo Motor

Greenock

1960

1961

Scottish Shire Line

Description

Yard

Keel Laying

Comp

Ayrshire

Refrig Cargo Steam

Greenock

1955

1957

Argyllshire

Refrig Cargo Steam

Greenock

1955

1957

Scottish Tankers

Description

Yard

Keel Laying

Comp

Scottish Ptarmigan

Tanker Motor

John Brown

1956

1957

Scottish Stag

Tanker Motor

John Brown

1958

1959

Scottish Teal

Tanker Motor

John Brown

1960

1961

Union-Castle Line

Description

Yard

Keel Laying

Comp

Pendennis Castle

Pass Mail Steam

H & W

1955

1958

Rotherwick Castle

Refrig Cargo Motor

Greenock

1958

1959

Windsor Castle

Pass Mail Steam

Cam. Laird

1957

1960

Rothesay Castle

Refrig Cargo Motor

Greenock

1959

1960

King Line

Description

Yard

Keel Laying

Comp

King Charles

Dry Cargo Motor

H & W

1955

1957

King George

Dry Cargo Motor

H & W

1956

1957

King Henry

Dry Cargo Motor

H & W

1957

1958

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