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FAQs - P&O History

These FAQS relate to the History section of our website.  If you can't find the answer to your question here, try our All FAQS page.

  • What does P&O stand for?

    P&O is an abbreviation of the full company name: The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. P&O began life as 'The Peninsular Steam Navigation Company'. In 1840 'Oriental' was added to reflect the company's expanding services eastwards beyond the Iberian Peninsular to Egypt and the Orient.

  • When was P&O founded?

    P&O was founded in 1837 when the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company was awarded a Government contract for carrying mails by sea, for a weekly service between Falmouth, Vigo, Oporto, Lisbon, Cadiz and Gibraltar. 

    The founding fathers of P&O were Brodie McGhie Willcox, a London shipbroker, Arthur Anderson, a Shetland-born former Royal Navy clerk and the Dublin shipowner Captain Richard Bourne. Together the three men won a sucession of mail contracts from the Admiralty and laid the foundations for a global shipping empire.

  • When was P&O first incorporated by Royal Charter?

    On 31 December 1840 The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company was incorporated by Royal Charter with a capital of £1 million.

    Since that date 12 supplemental charters have been granted to the company, the most recent in 1966.

  • What do the colours of the P&O Flag mean?

    The P&O House Flag dates back to the Company's origins and bears the colours of the royal families of Portugal (blue and white) and Spain (red and gold). This royal seal of approval was granted to P&O's founders, Brodie McGhie Willcox and Arthur Anderson, following their support for the legitimist causes in the Civil Wars in Portugal and Spain in the early 1830's. 

    A handy rhyme has reminded P&O crew how to fly the flag ever since: "Blue to the mast, Red to the fly, Yellow to the deck and White to the Sky!"

  • What is the name of the first P&O ship?

    The 206-ton, paddle steamer William Fawcett is traditionally regarded as P&O's first ship. The ship, owned by one of P&O's founders, Captain Richard Bourne, was first employed on the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company's service, from London to Spain and Portugal, in 1835.

  • Were P&O ships used in both World Wars?

    P&O has a long history of war service from the Crimea to the Falklands. In both World Wars, P&O and its subsidiary companies' ships served as troopships, hospital ships and armed merchant cruisers. Several were sunk, but most losses suffered by the P&O Group - 85 ships in the First World War, 177 in the Second - were cargo ships employed in the vital service of keeping Britain supplied with munitions, raw materials and foodstuffs.

  • What was the ‘Overland Route’?

    Before the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, only an arduous ‘Overland Route’ across Egypt connected the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. The complicated journey, endured by passengers, mail and cargo alike, involved canal boats from Alexandria to the Nile, a small river steamer up to Cairo and horse-drawn coaches for the 84 miles across the desert to Suez. 

    P&O sought to improve the journey for its passengers with company owned 'Rest Houses' and excursions to Egypt's ancient treasures.

  • What is the P&O Heritage Collection?

    The P&O Heritage Collection is a unique company collection of over 25,000 objects and archives related to the history of P&O. The collection is maintained and supported by the continuing generosity of DP World. P&O was acquired by DP World in 2006.

  • Can I visit the P&O Heritage Collection?

    Unfortunately not. The P&O Heritage Collection is housed in our offices and it is not possible to provide public access. However you can see many items here on this website and we will be continually adding to our online collections. Selected items in our collections are also available to buy as prints. 

    In addition the following collection links will direct to several museums where you can see loan items from our collections on public display.   

  • Where can I find out more about P&O?

    On this heritage website you will find a brief history of P&O in Our History section. Several books have been written about P&O and we have included a select bibliography for your further research.

    P&O was acquired by DP World in 2006. For information about current P&O companies click on the relevant web links below.

    DP World

    P&O Ferries

    P&O Ferrymasters

    P&O Maritime Services

    P&O Estates

    P&O Cruises (owned by Carnival Plc)

Letter from the P&O Archive

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Captain Dunkley helping a P&O passenger

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