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A New Type of Ship

In the 1890s cargo and competition went hand in hand. Overcapacity or 'superabundant tonnage', as P&O described it, had the effect of driving freight rates down by 50%. Cargo could still pay dividends, but only if you carried enough of it.

Having already invested in increased capacity for cargo, in the years following the opening of the Suez Canal, P&O took the next step and commissioned its first ‘purely cargo carrying type vessel’ in 1895. Launched a year later, the 6,482 ton Candia had the extra distinction of being the Company’s first steamer with twin screws. Although designed for the Australia run (via the Cape) Candia operated first to China and Japan.

Unfettered by mail contracts, the Company’s cargo vessels were free to follow trade wherever it could be found. And in the late 1890s the Far East trade was faring better than India (then in the grip of famine) and Australia in the midst of a prolonged drought.

Candia was joined by Socotra in 1897 and P&O’s cargo fleet was established.