Unit History: Union Steam Ship Co (UK)
Its beginnings were modest: founded in 1853, the Southampton Steam Shipping Co. transported coal from South Wales to Southampton which would then serve to fire up the engines of the larger shipping companies. Renamed Union Steam Collier Co. the same year, its ships were requisitioned for the Crimean War 1854-1856. As Southampton had a huge stock of coal after the war, Union – now called Union Steamship Co. – tried its luck elsewhere by establishing routes to South America and Hamburg. This move was not successful but 1857 brought the lucrative contract for mail to and from South Africa. However from 1876 on, the Castle Line shared in the contract but on condition that both firms do not merge. Of course they were competitors – Castle having been brought in to be just that – but the joint service was run smoothly; tickets, for instance, were interchangeable. The ships were rather small; Union provided ten ships to the service and Castle, eleven. When the mail contract ended in 1899 Union and Castle – in the absence of any competition – managed to land the new one (no longer forbidding amalgamation and at first intended for one firm only). Very soon a single company, Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., was formed (1900). Interestingly, in the meantime both firms had had ships requisitioned for the Boer War (1899) and these were not relinquished until 1902, when the original firms no longer existed.
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