Monday, 10 September 2012
Butterfield & Swire
Lowry refers to one of Blue Funnel Line's agents in the Far East in his novel Ultramarine as the postal address for Dana's girlfriend Janet's letter; "E.D. Hilliot, S.S. Oedipus Tyrannus, c/o Butterfield and Swire, Singapore." (Pg. 168).
The Swire Group, started by John Swire (1793–1847), had its beginnings as a modest Liverpool import-export company started in the early years of the 19th century. In 1861, John Swire & Sons Limited began to trade with China through agents Augustine Heard & Co. In 1866, in partnership with R.S. Butterfield, Butterfield & Swire was established in Shanghai. Four years later, a Hong Kong branch of Butterfield & Swire was also opened. Read more on Wikipedia
However, Lowry's reference to Butterfield and Swire being Blue Funnel's agents in Singapore is a mistake. Lowry's ship the Pyrrhus did call at both Shanghai and Hong Kong hence his recollection of the agents. The Blue Funnel Line's agents in Singapore were actually Mansfield and Company originally founded by Walter Mansfield and his son, George John in 1868.
Mansfield’s duty as Blue Funnel Agents was to act on behalf of the Owners in the Far Eastern Trades. They were owned 100% by Alfred Holt & Co. in other words they were not merely agents but acted as an extension of the Owners with much greater responsibilities than Agents in other ports.
Apart from being responsible for handling all ship requirements e.g. bunkering, victualling, engineering needs, crew movements etc., their main duties were to arrange for the orderly delivery to consignees of cargoes from Europe, (and the handling of claims for any damaged or missing items), and, most importantly, the securing of homeward cargoes to fill all vessels leaving the Far East for Europe and Australia.
The company had its headquarters at the curve of Collyer Quay, where it meets Cecil Street, and for a while was housed in a beautiful five storey example of colonial architecture, not the original, but the second Ocean Building (the first was built on the site in 1864). The building, construction of which was started in 1919 and completed in 1923, was designed by a British architect, Somers H. Ellis. It featured overhanging balconies on the second and fifth levels and verandahs on the third and fourth levels. The building was topped with a tower that rose some 49 metres above ground, making it the tallest building in Singapore back when it was built. The Long and Winding Road