British India Line (BI) was founded in 1856 as the Calcutta and Burma Navigation Company to carry the mails for the East India Company. The company name was changed to the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. in 1862 and services to and around India were then much extended. A BI mail service between Aden and Zanzibar was begun in 1872, as the first link to the African continent. The imperial and Scottish connections of William Mackinnon, Robert Mackenzie and the Mackay family were such that they had taken over much of the trade to Bombay, Calcutta and other Indian ports by the turn of the century.
An amalgamation between BI and P. & O. took place in May 1914 to give a combined fleet of 197 ships of 1.16 million grt. All BI directors became directors of P. & O., and vice versa, in an arrangement that lasted until 1957. Heavy losses of 38 ships in the Great War and 80 ships in World War II could not be replaced to the same extent in 1947, as the new Indian independence greatly affected the fortunes of BI, P. & O., Anchor Line, Bibby Line, Brocklebank Line, Clan Line, Ellerman Line, T. & J. Harrison and Paddy Henderson. Thus, BI looked to their East African services as their salvation in post-war years.
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