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Royal Charter

The Royal Charter, signed on 31st December 1840, incorporated P&O as a limited company with a capital of £1 million, in 20,000 shares of £50.

The Royal Charter was preceded by a merger with the Transatlantic Steam Ship Company - a concern of the Dublin ship owner Charles Wye Williams and Francis Carleton. In 1840 the company had two large steamships the 1,050 ton Liverpool and United States, then still on the stocks. The Liverpool had made several voyages to and from New York in the preceding years, but the granting of the North Atlantic mail contract to Samuel Cunard in 1839 tempered Williams and Carleton’s enthusiasm for the competitive waters of the Atlantic. With Bourne brokering the deal, the Peninsular and Transatlantic Steam Companies joined forces to create a new entity, ‘The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’ managed by representatives of both concerns. Carleton, Willcox and Anderson were appointed Managing Directors and entrusted with ‘the general agency and management under the control of the Board’. The latter consisted of Richard Bourne, James Hartley, Charles Wye Williams, Joseph Christopher Ewart and Pedro Juan de Zulueta.

The combined ships, often part owned by several investors, were valued and shares issued in the new company. The transatlantic steamers were renamed - Liverpool becoming ‘Great Liverpool’ (to distinguish it from the smaller steamer of the same name in the Peninsular fleet) and the United States which was completed as Oriental. As the name suggested the new company was turning its attention to the Orient and the possibilities of mail contracts to Egypt, India and Ceylon.

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By the time the Royal Charter had been granted on 31st December 1840, P&O was already operating the mail service from Southampton to Alexandria. But in the detail of the contract itself there was a further commitment to establish a steam connection to India within two years.

The First Annual General meeting of shareholders took place on 30th November 1841 at the Company's offices in London, 51 St. Mary Axe (formerly those of Willcox & Anderson) with Sir George Larpent, M.P. in the chair. In the ensuing years the Royal Charter has been amended 13 times to reflect changes in routes or commercial activities of the Company. Among the most recent changes was the removal (in 1992) of a protectionist clause, inserted by the Government in 1903, which prevented the Company from being owned by a foreign entity.

Today the original vellum charter, bearing the great seal of Victoria, is proudly preserved in our heritage collection.