For over 30 years P&O had supplemented its subsidies and passage returns with freight. Limited by want of space for the mails, the Company carried low volume, high value cargos like silk, indigo, gold, silver, ivory, tea and of course opium. Carrying cargo was a lucrative addition to the bottom line, but all that was set to change.
The effect of the Canal on the Company’s freight was devastating and by the end of decade revenue had fallen by £700,000. P&O had no choice but to remain competitive and sought to do so by cutting costs, rationalising and overhauling the fleet and where possible making more room for freight. Even in the dire years of the 1870s, the Company’s receipts for cargo accounted for almost half of P&O’s income.