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Men of Steam

Brodie McGhie Willcox (1785-1862) Co-founder, Managing Director and Later Chairman

Born in Belgium in 1785, to an English father and Scottish mother, Willcox grew up in the North of England where he described his roots as working class. Early in the 1800s Willcox moved South following in the footsteps of his Scottish uncle, Brodie Augustus McGhie, a shipowner and shipbuilder in London.

Within a few years Willcox entered into partnership with Nathaniel Carreno in a small shipbroking and insurance concern in Lime Street in the City. In 1815 Willcox & Carreno hired a young clerk, Arthur Anderson, who later replaced Carreno as partner in 1823.

Willcox was the elder statesman of the partnership, describing himself many years later as the ‘father of the Peninsular Company which became the foundation stone of the Peninsular and Oriental Company'. When P&O was formally incorporated in 1840, Willcox served as one of three managing directors (together with Anderson and Francis Carleton) a position which he held until 1854. He was a Director of the Company and succeeded to the post of Chairman in 1858.

A staunch liberal and proponent of free trade, Willcox was twice elected Member of Parliament for Southampton and was a Director of Southampton Docks. His sudden death in 1862 (as the result of an accident on his estate in Roydon, Essex) was keenly felt both in his constituency and the Company which he had helped to found.

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Arthur Anderson (1792-1868) Co-founder, Managing Director and Later Chairman

Born to a poor family in the Shetland Islands in 1792, Arthur Anderson lived by the ambition to ‘do weel and persevere’ instilled in him as a young boy working in the fishing industry. Like many islanders he left Scotland to join the Navy working as a midshipsman and later Captain’s clerk before being discharged in 1815.

From Plymouth, Anderson travelled to London where he gained employment as a clerk in Willcox & Carreno’s shipping and insurance concern. He quickly proved his worth and when Nathaniel Carreno retired in 1823 the partnership changed to Willcox & Anderson.

When P&O was formally incorporated in 1840 he joined Willcox and Francis Carleton as Managing Directors. The Managing Directors had particular powers and responsibilities but they were ultimately accountable to the Board of Directors and the shareholders. Anderson was often singled out for ‘overstepping the mark’, carried away by an entrepreneurial energy and desire to ‘do weel’ and an often inflated sense of the company’s and his own importance. But by that means both Anderson and P&O ‘persevered’ and profited in tandem.

On the death of Willcox in 1862, Anderson succeeded as Company Chairman a position he held until his own death at his home in Norwood, Surrey in 1868.

A passionate Shetlander, Anderson did much to improve conditions for his fellow islanders. He founded the Shetland Journal and in 1838 he brought mail to the islands by steamer. As Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland (1847 to 1852) he petitioned for construction of lighthouses and helped boost the islands fishing (and knitting) industries. As a philanthropist, Anderson built a home for widows and a secondary school in Lerwick, by which his name is still remembered today.

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Captain Richard Bourne R.N., (1770-1851) Co-founder and Director

Born in Ireland in 1770 to a wealthy family, Bourne saw active service in the Navy before and after the Napoleonic wars - first as a Lieutenant and later in command of the twelve-gun schooner Felix. Wounded in action off the Spanish coast, Bourne left the Navy in 1806 returning to Ireland and the family business of road transport and mail contracts.

By the mid 1820’s the Bournes had moved into steam shipping as a strategic extension of their dominance on the roads. After a choppy start, Bourne secured a future for the Dublin & London Steam Packet Company and became a steamship owner acquiring, amongst others, the paddle steamer William Fawcett from a rival concern.

In 1834 Bourne had established a connection with the London shipbrokers Willcox & Anderson. It was the beginning of a mutual association that would lead to the formation of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. As the established and respected figurehead of the venture, Bourne had the ships, the investment contacts and the experience of mail contracts that would win the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company its first mail contract in 1837. It was Bourne who chaired the meetings of the merger between Peninsular Steam and Charles Wye William’s Transatlantic Steam Navigation Company in 1840.

Bourne took an active interest in the P&O company and remained on the board for a decade, retiring at the age of 80 in 1850. He died in the following year at his home in Blackheath. An obituary in the Illustrated London News acknowledged the crucial part Bourne had played in the story of P&O and his reputation as ‘the largest owner of steamship tonnage in the world’.