AIM25 : Click here to go back to the AIM25 homepage
Archives in London and the M25 area


Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 CLC/B/123-47
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at ›
Date(s): 1873-1979
Level of description: Collection
View parent record
Extent: 312 production units.
Name of creator(s): Rivers Steam Navigation Co Ltd


Administrative/Biographical history:

The company was founded in 1862 as New Rivers Company by Captain J H Williamson, a tea merchant, to transport passengers and goods on the River Ganges, expanding shortly afterwards into Assam, where the tea industry was in need of improved communications. The name changed to River Steamer Company when Williamson left in 1865.

In 1872 the management of the Company was assumed by MacNeill and Company, and in 1873 it was incorporated in London as Rivers Steam Navigation Company Limited. The MacNeill and MacKinnon families were prominent shareholders in the new company.

From the 1870s onwards, the company faced much competition from India General Steam Navigation Company (which became, in 1899, India General Navigation and Railway Company Limited, whose records are also held as part of the Inchcape Group archives, see CLC/B/123-33). As a result, various working agreements between the two companies were reached in the 1880s. As a result of one such agreement, made in 1889, the two companies came generally to be known as the Joint steamer companies, operating many joint services but maintaining separate management.

During both world wars, vessels of the Joint steamer companies were impressed for military use in India, and also in Iraq during the First World War.

After the Second World War the partition of India caused difficulties in the transport of commodities from Assam to Calcutta for export, as they had to pass through Pakistan as well as India. As a result, the fleets of the Joint companies were divided and separate repair workshops set up to service the Pakistan fleet (in addition to those set up by RSN in Garden Reach, Calcutta).

In 1959 Pakistan River Steamers Limited. was formed to manage the Pakistani fleets of the Joint companies, as the government of Pakistan would only Company-operate with a company incorporated in Pakistan. The company was not effective, however, until 1961, when the Pakistani fleets of the Joint companies were actually transferred to it.

While Pakistan River Steamers was being set up, the financial position of the Joint companies in India was deteriorating, despite a substantial loan from the Indian government. In 1962 a prolonged strike by crews in Pakistan nearly caused the collapse of India General, but R.S.N. bought out its Indian assets and liabilities, I.G. retaining its Pakistani interests.

Pakistan River Steamers, however, had in the meantime established itself fairly stably, and it therefore seemed desirable to hive off RSN's Pakistani interests. Rivers Steam Navigation Company (Holdings) Limited was formed for this purpose in 1962.

By 1965, the position in India had become so much worse that the whole of the Indian assets of the company were sold to the Indian government for 1. The business of Pakistan River Steamers was also deteriorating by this time, partly because of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, and in 1966 PRS curtailed its passenger services. Some difficulties could have been overcome with government help, but political considerations prevented this.

In 1972 Pakistan River Steamers (by this time renamed Bangladesh River Steamers Limited) was nationalised by the government of Bangladesh

Rivers Steam Navigation's Indian and Pakistani business was managed by MacNeill and Barry Limited, whose records are also held as part of the Inchcape Group archives (see CLC/B/123-42). London business was managed by Duncan MacNeill and Company Limited (CLC/B/123-23), and many of their records relating strictly to the management of R.S.N. have been catalogued as part of RSN's records. The records listed as R.S.N.'s also include much material of or relating to the Joint steamer companies.

RSN had offices successively in Lothbury, Old Broad Street, Leadenhall Street and Mincing Lane.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Rivers Steam Navigation Company Limited, including:

1) Corporate records, Mss 27910-20;
2) Internal accounting and financial records, Mss 27921-39;
3) General correspondence, Mss 27940-5;
4) Papers concerning the operation of transport services and the development of transport generally, and the transport of particular commodities:
i) general-river, rail and road, Mss 27946-53;
ii) river transport, Mss 27954-66;
iii) rail transport, Mss 27967-72;
iv) road transport, Mss 27973-8;
v) passenger services, Mss 27979-82;
vi) tea, Mss 27983-90;
vii) coal, Mss 27991-5;
viii) jute, Mss 27996-9;
ix) miscellaneous (oil, sugar, mail), Mss. 28000-2;
5) Papers concerning post war operations and the reconstruction of the company, Mss 28003-13;
6) Fleet records, i.e. fleet lists, and records of shipbuilding, repair, losses and casualties. (NB see records of subsidiaries for Garden Reach Workshops, R.S.N.'s shipbuilding subsidiary), Mss 28014-37;
7) Records concerning co-operation and competition with Assam Railway and Trading Co, Mss 28038-43;
8) Competition with other companies, Mss 28044-54;
9) Records of terms and conditions of work, pension funds and trade unions, Mss 28055-67;
10) Investment in other companies, Mss 28068-72;
11) Maps, photographs, historical notes, Mss 28073-8;
12) Subsidiary companies:
i) Pakistan River Steamers Ltd, Mss 28079-91;
ii) Rivers Steam Navigation Co (Holdings) Ltd, Mss 28092-5;
iii) Garden Reach Workshops Ltd, Mss 28096-9;
iv) India Rivers Steam Navigation Co Ltd, Ms 28100;
v) Pakistan Rivers Steam Navigation Co Ltd, Ms 28101.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Records arranged by MS number, assigned during cataloguing at the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.

Conditions governing access:

Access by appointment only. Please contact staff.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to this collection rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The records were deposited in the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library in 1987-88 by Inchcape Plc. They were catalogued in 1988-9. The Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section merged with the London Metropolitan Archives in 2009.

Allied Materials

Related material:

This collection is a sub-fond within the Inchcape Group fonds. See CLC/B/123 for a list of all the companies represented in this collection and a history of the Inchcape Group.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

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:
January to May 2011.

Related Subject Search

* To search for other records with similar subjects, tick any subjects above then click "Run New Search"

Related Corporate Name Search

* To search for other records with similar names, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"

Related Placename Search

* To search for other records with similar placenames, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"