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National Maritime Museum

Eastern & Australian Steamship Co Ltd


Reference code(s): GB 0064 EAS

Held at: National Maritime Museum

Title: Eastern & Australian Steamship Co Ltd

Date(s): [1873-1969]

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 4ft: 122cm

Name of creator(s): Eastern & Australian Steamship Co Ltd


Administrative/Biographical history:

In 1873 the Government of Queensland contracted with four British and Australian merchants to carry mail between Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, Queensland and Sydney (later extending at both ends, to Hong Kong and Melbourne respectively). This was the genesis of the Eastern and Australian Mail Steamship Company Ltd. In 1880 the mail contract was not renewed: the original company was wound up and a new company formed, the word 'Mail' being omitted from the title. This company concentrated on the Australia to Hong Kong trade, eventually extending its operations to Shanghai and Japan. A second reconstruction of the company took place in 1894. In 1919 it was taken over by the Australasian United Steam Navigation Ltd, although it continued to operate as a more or less independent entity until the end of the Second World War. Although Lord Inchcape, chairman of P and O, held extensive shareholdings in the Australasian Steam Navigation Company at the time of its takeover of Eastern and Australian, it was only in 1946 that it became directly connected with P and 0. In that year a new company was formed in which P and O, as opposed to Inchcape, held the majority shareholding. Thereafter the fleet, never a large one, numbering six at most, was maintained by the transfer of ships from other P and O group companies, until 1954, when a fast new geared steam turbine vessel, the Arafura, was acquired. Manned at first by British and later by Australian officers and engineers, the Eastern and Australian ships played a significant part in the development of the Australian Merchant Marine. Starting as mail and passenger carriers, they became successively passenger and cargo vessels and finally cargo only, constituting a fast cargo link between Australia and the Far East. With the advent of containerization, Eastern and Australian, with China Navigation, constituted the Overseas Containers' share in the Australia/Japan Container Line. Their last two ships were sold in 1975. See William Olson, Lion of the China Sea (Sydney, 1976); and W.A. Laxon, 'The Eastern Mails: the story of the Eastern and Australian Steamship Co Ltd', Sea Breezes, October 1963.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Eastern and Australian Steamship Co Ltd, containing a copy of the 1873 mail contract with the Government of Queensland: the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the third company (1894) and some early account books, 1894 to 1898. Later accounting records include company returns, 1920 to 1969, and there are minutes of Board meetings, 1906 to 1969. Included in the tonnage data, 1948 to 1969, are the contract and hull specification for the ARAFURA, 1952 to 1953.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue online at the: National Maritime Museum website .


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The records were acquired on permanent loan from the P&O Company in 1979.



Archivist's note: Edited by Sarah Drewery, Jun 2011.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: 2010-08-26

Merchant companies | Companies | Enterprises
Merchant shipping | Maritime transport | Transport
Merchants | Mercantile personnel | Personnel | People by occupation | People
Ships | Vehicles | Transport
Water transport

Personal names

Corporate names
Eastern & Australian Steamship Co Ltd

Australia | Oceania