Get Cruising!

The Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (Est. 1840)


The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) has a celebrated history dating back to the 1830s. It was incorporated by a Royal Charter in 1840, and its name therefore includes neither "PLC" nor "Limited". The initials "P&O" are among the most familiar anywhere, and its house flag, older even than the Company itself, is one of the best known. The history of its first century is encapsulated in the heraldry of its Coat of Arms, granted in 1937, while throughout well over 160 years it has been a premier British shipping company, and in its time the largest and most varied in the world.

The P&O house flag is the Company's oldest symbol, incorporating the Royal colours of Portugal and Spain, the countries of the Iberian Peninsula to which its earliest services ran in the 1830s. The flag is now familiar all over the world, flown on ships, offices and depots on six continents.

The P&O house flag has also become a corporate device, painted on ships and vehicles, incorporated into signs and badges, and used in every type of printing, stationery and display. The P&O logo has similarly become a bold and distinctive design element. Today it is that which lives on as the P&O brand while the Company is no more having merged into DP World and its parent company Dubai World (a holding company of the Dubai Government).

The P&O Coat of Arms, granted in 1937 but based on a badge used for several decades previously, combines the Royal colours of Spain and Portugal, and thereby its "Peninsular" origins, with an "Oriental" rising sun as a crest, and with devices - a lion, elephant, dragon and kangaroo - which signify Britain, India, China and Australia, the countries linked by its Imperial mail services until the Second World War.

Peninsular Beginnings (1815 – 1840):

The story of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) started with a handful of paddle-steamers and a contract to carry mails, applying the technology ushered in by the Industrial Revolution to bring frequency and regularity to international communication. Carrying mails remained P&O's preoccupation for its first hundred years, and thereby the Company made a major contribution to a revolution in world politics and commerce. At first it was a shipping agency business run by two young men, Brodie Willcox and Arthur Anderson, shortly after the Napoleonic which ended with Wellington's victory at Waterloo in 1815.

Little is known about Brodie McGhie Willcox apart from the fact that he was a dour shipbroker. Arthur Anderson's life story, on the other hand, was a classic example achievement through self-help. Like many Victorians he was energetic and full of entrepreneurial enterprise, recognising business potential and exploiting it. Born in poverty on the Shetland Isles he used his talents to create what was to become one of the world's largest and best known companies and to be elected as a respected member of the House of Commons.

Anderson served as a Royal Navy clerk during the Napoleonic Wars and came ashore in 1815, penniless, but was fortunate to meet up with Willcox who had just started his own business. By 1922 the two men had become partners and later, in 1926, the pair became the London agents for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Co., one of the first successful coastal steamship companies, and started a steamship service to Portugal.

Because of the nature of their trade to Portugal and Spain it was inevitable that they would soon become embroiled in the tangled, and often violent, politics of the Iberian peninsular. In the first instance the Portuguese Queen was faced with insurrection and Anderson, the driving force of the partnership, sided with her against the rebels. On one occasion he refitted a half wrecked schooner and went gun-running on behalf of the Queen and, on another, posed as a Mr Smith and smuggled two of the Queen's agents into England. Anderson then used his influence in the City of London to raise funds to mount an expeditionary force which the Queen deployed to defeat the rebellion. The partners efforts did not go unrewarded and they were suitably endowed with numerous royal and official favours.

However, no sooner had Portugal regained some semblance of stability, civil war broke out in Spain. The partners sided with the legitimate Queen against the pretender Don Carlos, and once again, were proved to be right. When, in 1835, the Spanish Minister in London took steps introduce the benefits of steam communication to Spain he chartered steamships from the Dublin & London Steam Packet Company and placed the management of the venture in the capable hands of Anderson and Willcox, trusted servants of the Spanish Crown. The arrangement with the Dublin & London Steam Packet Company enabled Captain Richard Bourne to join Anderson & Willcox and together they inaugurated a regular service between London, Spain andPortugal under the name 'Peninsular Steam Navigation Company'.

From the beginning the company was concerned with the comfort and welfare of the passengers. Models of the ship's accommodation could be inspected at the company's head office 'by which a Passenger may see at once the size and situation of any cabin or bed-place as well as if he were on board the ship'. On every ship a complaints book was prominently displayed and passengers requested, in four languages, to note 'any want of civility or attention on the part of the cabin attendants, or any want of cleanliness in the cabins or bed or table linen or scarcity in the provision department'

By 1836 weekly sailings to Madeira were being advertised 'for the accommodation of Invalids', a venture which was, in reality, a gamble. The company was providing more shipping than the existing volume of traffic could fill in the belief that once the service was established the passengers would follow. The policy was vindicated then any many times on subsequent occasions. However, on the first occasion it was an Admiralty mail contract worth £29,600 per year which kept the company solvent.

The British government's contract to carry the mail to the Iberian peninsular was signed on 22nd August,1837. Signed by Richard Bourne on behalf of the company, this was the first mail contract awarded to a commercial shipping company, the first of many contracts which promulgated the foundation of many of Britain's well known shipping companies in the mid to late 19th century. The inaugural service operated between Falmouth, which had become the established 'packet' port, Vigo, Oporto, Lisbon, Cadiz and Gibraltar. The mail contracts would provide P&O with a degree of financial security and a major source of revenue until the outbreak of the Second World War.

However, the first mail run was almost the last. The pride of the company's fleet and one of two steamers advertised as 'the largest and most powerful yet put afloat', the 933 tons Don Juan sailed on 1st September to inaugurate the mail service. After leaving Gibraltar on the homeward run on 15th September the ship ran aground off Tarifa, some twenty miles out. Apart from the mails and $21,000 of bullion, Arthur Anderson was onboard and his presence prevented a disaster. Bargaining with the local fishermen in Spanish he got them to carry the mail safely ashore and with the help of a squad of Royal Marines he managed to get the bullion unloaded.. Unfortunately, the Don Juan was lost at a cost to the company of £40,000 as it was only partly insured.

The company's dedication to fulfilling its obligations was rewarded when, in 1840, it was awarded the contract for the carriage of mails to Britain's empire in the East. 'Oriental' was added to the name and on the 31st December 1840 the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., was incorporated by a Royal Charter and, today, remains one of the few British companies not governed by the Companies Acts. The company's house flag, however, reflects its humble, and somewhat precarious, origins. The blue and white quarters represent the royal house of Portugal and the red and yellow quarters the royal house of Spain.

Oriental Extension (1840 – 1870):

The service to Egypt was quickly inaugurated in the same year by the 1,674 ton paddle steamer Oriental and by 1842 regular services to India were available which involved a difficult overland journey to Suez where a second ship was boarded for the voyage to Calcutta. By 1845 services had been extended to cover Italy,Greece, the Black Sea, Ceylon, Madras and China.

The company's success was not without its trials and tribulations. There were numerous lengthy and difficult negotiations to raise money for building newer and faster ships in order to see off the competitions. A network of port agencies and depots had to be established along the routes so that the ships could be administered and replenished. The first P&O liner to reach the east was the Hindostan, a purpose built ship with special engines. But, in those days, it wasn't just a question of fuelling and storing in England, setting sail and eventually arriving in India after stopping en route to refuel and replenish, there were no established places to undertake these tasks. Sailing ships carrying coal had to be dispatched in advance to various locations on the route to await the steamer where it would then refuel. The sailing ships would also carry agents to these locations where they would arrange to purchase fresh water and provisions for the steamer. Such was the complexities of organising the first steamship routes.

However, these problems were minor compared with the management of the celebrated Overland Route acrossEgypt which seemed to give the company the biggest headaches. Now that the passage from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea is accomplished by means of a comfortable transit through the Suez Canal it is difficult to image what it would have been like in those early days. The transit involved a voyage in a stuffy canal boat from Alexandria to the river Nile, a second voyage in a bug infested steamer to Cairo then an 84 mile journey in a cramped horse-drawn coach to Suez. To make the overland journey as comfortable as possible for the passengers P&O had special river steamers built, deployed horse drawn carriages and established well-appointed rest-houses. Remember also, it was not only the passengers that had to be transported overland but their baggage and, of course, the mail. The mail, however, had priority because of penalty clauses in the contract and was transported more quickly by camel. There were obviously complaints from the passengers fearing that they would be delayed and miss their connection at Suez but, all in all, the operation was a success, so much so that, within a few years, Egypt saw a considerable influx of tourists from Europe. Fortunately, a rail link constructed during the 1850's eventually improved passenger comfort.

The success of the overland venture opened the P&O management's eyes to the potential of travel for pleasure and quickly established links with the early Victorian leisure industry. In the year that Thomas Cook ran his first railway excursion, 1844, P&O invited a rising young novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray, to embark on an all expenses paid tour of the Mediterranean. This he did and visited Malta, Athens, Constantinople (Istanbul),Jerusalem and the Pyramids in Cairo. He was favourably impressed and published accounts of his travels, firstly in a popular magazine, and then in a travel book 'The Spanish Sketchbook: and from Cornhill to Cairo'. Thackeray made it very clear in the preface of his book that “The Peninsular and Oriental Company had arranged an excursion in the Mediterranean by which, in the space of a couple of months, as many men and cities were to be seen as Ulysses surveyed and noted in ten years” and he urged “all persons who have time and the means to make a similar journey”. This was a wise investment by the management of P&O and one which sowed the seeds of a future 'cruising' industry.

The 1850's P&O progressed rapidly but not without a certain degree of difficulty. A malevolent and searching Parliamentary enquiry was overcome with dignity but at the expense of time and effort. In 1852, a mail service between Suez and Bombay was established and also the Australian mail contract was acquired and, as it was already active in Singapore and Chinese ports, the company had become a powerful force in the Far East. Furthermore, taking advantage of the advance of shipbuilding technology, iron hulls and screw propellers, the fleet was more or less rebuilt or refitted.

The timing of the modernisation was fortuitous as it coincided with the outbreak of the Crimean War which raised the price of lumbering coal and, with it, freight rates and also the repeal of the Navigation Acts which reserved certain routes, mainly those to the colonies, for British shipowners. The repeal of the Act opened up trading routes to American clippers and the British monopoly of major sea routes was no more. However, by the turn of the decade the company was in calmer water but about to face probably the greatest crisis in its history.

By the 1860's the company had invested heavily in the Egyptian operation. It had established and extensive and costly network of offices, hotels and warehouses to provide for the comfort of the passengers making the overland transit. In 1869 this was all made obsolete when the French engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, completed the Suez Canal, an achievement which many men said was impossible. P&O faced a major problem. Not only did the company have to compete with enthusiastic newcomers who could operate through the canal without the constraints of the mail contract but it had two large fleets, one for the northern European waters and one for the tropical waters of India and the Far East.

But P&O faced the challenge and survived. Under the skilful direction of Sir Thomas Sutherland the company recovered by making economies. Overheads were trimmed including the abolishment of the, hitherto, customary free drinks at meal times. Sutherland, who was formerly the manager in Hong Kong and went on to become Managing Director in 1872 and Chairman in 1881, built larger and faster ships which were more suitable for the through voyage. The United Kingdom terminus moved from Southampton to London.

P&O soon began operating through voyages to India, the Far East and Australia but there was still a minor problem with regard to the carriage of the mails. The contract stipulated that the mail had to be shipped toAlexandria, off loaded and carried overland to Suez where it was to be loaded onto a second ship for carriage to India. When the canal was opened this practice still continued. The mail was off loaded at Port Said, carried overland while the ship proceeded through the canal and then reloaded when the ship arrived in Suez. Typical Victorian bureaucracy which continued until the mid 1880's.

As the Suez Canal was effectively controlled by the Egyptians and the French who built it, the management of P&O were very concerned that their dominance of the shipping routes to India and the Far East could be undermined so they negotiated to purchase a share of the Suez Canal Company.

The Exiles Line (1870 – 1914):

The liners at that time were not fast like their counterparts on the North Atlantic but were broader in the beam and comfortable. The livery adopted by P&O was a black hull, buff deck housing and black masts and funnels. Travelling on board a P&O steamship was an extension of living in the British 'Raj' for the sahibs and memsahibs. The crews were generally made up of Indians in the engine-room, Lascars on deck and stewards from the Portuguese colony of Goa.. It is widely believed that the term 'posh' originated in the days when influential passengers had their tickets stamped P.O.S.H indicating that their cabins ware to be located port outwards, starboard home, thus benefiting from being on the cooler side of the ship at all times. Remember, air conditioning was a long way in the future and relief from the hot temperatures was by means of fans which merely circulated warm air.

The passenger lists at the time would be made up of civil servants bound for India, diplomats, soldiers, bankers, industrialists, missionaries and young ladies who were affectionately referred to as the 'fishing fleet'; young ladies looking for husbands who, if they failed to get a catch were then known as the 'returned empties'. The captains for the vessels were only responsible to God and the Board of Directors, and complaints were not welcomed.

P&O was Britain's premier shipping company and an Imperial institution. Aside from its normal trading activities the company chartered vessels to the government to be used as hospital ships and troop transports and in 1911allowed the newly built Medina to be used as the Royal Yacht at the Delhi Durbar.

Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887 and to pay tribute to her and their own success P&O built four 6000 ton "Jubilee" ships the Victoria, the Britannia, the Oceania and the Arcadia. The company was able to make this patriotic, and ultimately profitable, gesture because of its success in meeting the challenge that the opening of the Suez Canal had presented. By this time the nature of P&O's trade had altered radically. In the early days revenue had been derived from the mail contracts, and the carriage of passengers and a small quantity of luxury cargoes. By 1887 ships were being constructed with steel, equipped with the compound engine and, above all, getting larger and faster. The average tonnage of the ships was around 4000 tons, twice the size of those afloat 20 years earlier. Consequently, cargo spaces were larger and cargo-carrying became the main source of revenue. The size of the fleet had, by 1887, increased from 80,000 tons to 200,000 tons and the run to Bombay had been reduced by more than a week.

Over the years that followed P&O continued to grow in size due, in many respects, to corporate acquisition. The Blue Anchor Line, which, for years, had carried immigrants to Australia via the Cape of Good Hope, was acquired in 1910. The nature of the trade was continued but the name of the company was changed to the P&O Branch Line.

From Company to Group (1914 – 1946):

Another major company operating on the eastern routes was the British India Line and in 1914 the two companies merged. At an extraordinary general meeting convened to approve the merger the Chairman of P&O said the following . 'It means that we (the merged group) command the employment of capital of 15 millions sterling. It means that we command the employment of a tonnage of a million and a quarter tons, and this tonnage and this capital will be worked with a common aim and purpose for the prosperity of a great national enterprise.'

The expansion continued and by the end of the First World War the P&O Group had acquired the New Zealand Shipping Company in 1916, the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, the Hain Steamship Company and the Nourse Line in 1917. The company controlled over 1,500,000 tons of shipping in spite of having lost half a million tons to German U-boats and surface raiders. When the war broke out P&O and BI had some 200 ships at sea but by the end of 1914 more than half had been requisitioned by the British government and converted into armed merchant cruisers, troopships and transports for munitions and supplies. A total of 34 ships, including some of the finest liners, were lost as a result of enemy action and many more were involved in, now forgotten, actions. The remaining ships continued to cope as best as they could with the increased volume of wartime mail. The P&O Group as a whole lost 85 ships during the hostilities.

The acquisition policy continued after the war and in 1919 the company acquired interests in the Orient Line and the Khedivial Mail Company. In 1920 the General Steam Navigation Company, the oldest steamship company to run regular deep sea services, joined the group. It is significant to note that the small steamers of the GSNC were were chartered by Anderson and Willcox in the early days. By the mid 1920's and under the Chairmanship of Lord Inchcape who headed the company from 1915 until 1932, the combined fleets reached a peak of nearly 500 ships in a variety of trades.

Along with most other companies, P&O was affected by the downturn of the British economy and the world depression which followed the Wall Street crash in 1929. Labour disputes delayed the expansion of the fleet and the conversion from coal to oil. The annual report for 1931 made bad reading and listed a catalogue of disasters to give any board of directors sleepless nights. Major flooding of the River Yangtse prevented access to Hankow. Depression in Malaya and Ceylon caused a serious fall in rubber prices. There was unrest and an anti-foreign boycott in India with a marked decrease in imports and exports. The grim situation was summarised in one sentence. 'In almost all the company's trades there has been a decrease in shipments'.

To meet the crisis a 10 percent pay cut was imposed on all employees and there was no payment of dividends on preferred shares from 1932 to 1935. But in 1935 the Chairman saw 'a glimmer of light ahead' and in the next year salaries were restored to their former levels and dividends were paid. As the economy revived so did the fortunes of P&O and the company had the courage to expand the fleet with the addition of five new passenger liners the names of which began with the prefix 'Strath'. The arrival of the new liners also heralded a change of livery to the now familiar white hulls with yellow funnels and masts. Other changes saw the company's main operating routes shift from India to Australia, 'Second Class' being referred to as 'Tourist Class' and Australian passengers encouraging the introduction of deck games. In 1937 P&O celebrated its centenary with enthusiasm and optimism.

At the outbreak of the Second World War the group operated over two million tons of shipping but over half of this, 182 ships in all, was lost during the hostilities. 1940 saw the company being re-incorporated as P&O-Orient Line but with both companies maintaining a degree of autonomy until 1960. In fact most of the companies which comprised the P&O Group continued to maintain separate identities, identities which kept them in touch with their origins. P&O operated passenger and cargo-liner services to India, the Far East andAustralia. The Orient Line operated passenger services to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific coast ofNorth America. The New Zealand Shipping Company and the Federal Steam Navigation Company operated refrigerated cargo services. The Nourse line operated between the Indies and India while the BI Line traded between ports which bordered the Indian Ocean. The Hain Shipping Company concentrated on worldwide dry-cargo tramping whilst, closer to home, the General Steam Navigation Company operated smaller cargo ships on routes to the Baltic and Mediterranean

The Sea is for Cruising (1905 – 1985):


It is said that P&O "invented" cruising. Certainly, Arthur Anderson included dummy advertisements for cruises to Shetland, the Faroes and Iceland in the first edition of his "Shetland Journal" newspaper in 1835, while the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray made what he called a "Mediterranean cruise" aboard a series of P&O ships - Lady Mary Wood, Tagus and Iberia - in 1844, and published enthusiastic memoirs in "Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo".

The Orient Steam Navigation Company, acquired by P&O at the end of 1918, had begun cruises to the Mediterranean and to Norway in 1889, and to the West Indies in 1893, using ships no longer needed for full time service on the UK / Australia mail route.

In the 1880's the North of Scotland shipping company of Aberdeen and the Orient Line of London, both later to be taken over by P&O, pioneered modern-style cruises returning to their ports of departure, and in 1904 the Company itself offered its first cruise programme: First Class only with shore excursions arranged by Thomas Cook, using the 23-year-old liner Rome, renamed Vectis in her new role as a "cruising yacht". Between the Wars cruising became more popular, often using the newest ships in the fleet rather than the oldest. Ranchi, built in 1925, cruised extensively from the beginning of her career, as did Viceroy of India delivered in 1929. Tourist class cruises from the UK, and Pacific cruises from Australia, began in the 1930s.

P&O cruises began in 1904 with Vectis (5,545 tons), built in 1881 as Rome and converted into a First Class-only "cruising yacht" when her line voyage career was over. As cruises became more popular she was joined and ultimately replaced by some of the newest ships in the P&O fleet.

The Viceroy of India (19,648 tons, built 1929) was a one-off ship built for P&O's UK/Bombay mail service. She also proved very popular on cruises, in the late 1930s venturing as far afield as South America and the South Atlantic. She was sunk off Oran when serving as a troopship in the North African campaign in 1942.

With no rigid mail contracts after 1945, cruising became still more important. P&O's last ship built for scheduled line voyages, Canberra, was delivered in 1961, and helped to enlarge the Group's passenger services in the Pacific, but even she and her one-year-older consort Orient Line's Oriana spent a growing amount of time cruising. At the same time the British India Company, with surplus troopships on its hands after the ending of their Government contracts, renewed the idea of educational cruising for parties of school children.

During 36 years in service, from 1961 to 1987, the 45,000-ton Canberra or "Great White Whale" sailed more than 3 million miles and carried nearly 1 million cruise passengers, not to mention emigrants, other line voyage travellers, and troops and prisoners-of-war during the Falklands campaign in the course of which she acquired her nickname.

The Oriana (41,915 tons, built 1960) was the last passenger liner ordered for the Orient Line, and entered service in its distinctive "corn" hull colours, introduced in 1935. In the interests of uniformity they gave way to P&O white in the mid 1960s when the two passenger operations were combined, though a similar colour was revived for P&O cargo ships a decade later.

In little more than a decade jet airliners took over P&O's traditional passenger trades while the container ship picked up cargoes including those formerly carried by passenger liners. These developments had an enormous effect on the Group and were a key reason for its subsequent diversification as well as its concentration on the leisure side of sea travel. P&O abolished separate passenger classes in the early 1970s, acquired Los-Angeles-based Princess Cruises in 1974, bought and later built purpose-designed cruise ships and became one of the largest cruise operators in the world.

The 44,348-ton Royal Princess was named by HRH The Princess of Wales at Southampton in November 1984. The ship's advanced "all outside cabin” layout was designed for the lucrative North American market including the burgeoning Alaskan trade where Princess Cruises was a major operator.

Cargo Shipping and Ferries (1946 – 1985):

For thirty years after the Second World War the greatest proportion of P&O's investment was in cargo ships - conventional and refrigerated cargo liners, tramps, bulk carriers, tankers, liquefied gas carriers and especially container ships. While traditional cargo ships remained in service with the Group until the early 1980s, it was as a co-founder and later owner of Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL), that P&O pioneered the biggest change in cargo shipping in its entire existence, not merely converting all its dry cargo liner routes to container operations over a period of about 15 years, resulting in a substantial reduction in the number of ships and the sale or scrapping of its entire conventional fleet, but also establishing the necessary on-shore infrastructure of container ports, inland depots, and road, rail and inland waterway transport links.

Having entered the tanker trades in 1959, with ships at first owned and operated by individual Group companies, P&O set up Trident Tankers in 1962 to manage the fleet, but by the mid-1970s had withdrawn from the crude oil business although it kept its interest in the Panocean parcel tanker concern, set up in 1969, until the early 1980s. It’s expensive and ultimately unprofitable involvement in liquefied gas carriers similarly lasted only a decade and a half, from 1972 to 1986, and its most enduring venture into bulk shipping involved dry bulk carriers, first as partners in Associated Bulk Carriers in 1965, for which the Hain and Nourse companies were merged (as Hain-Nourse, what else!) to operate P&O Group-owned ships, and from the early 1980s until 1998 as sole owner of one of the leading operators of "capesize" tonnage under the P&O Bulk Carriers name.

In the mid 1960's the Group began to invest in roll-on/roll-off ferries, initially in the North Sea Ferries and Normandy Ferries partnerships (both later wholly-owned), but also on its own account as its conventional short-sea cargo vessels were phased out in favour of ro-ro tonnage in the 1970s. By then the Group had at one time or another owned practically every kind of merchant ship except icebreakers, an omission rectified when an Antarctic supply and research vessel, Aurora Australis, was delivered in 1990.

Reorganisation, Diversification and Retrenchment (1971 – 2000):

In 1971 the P&O Group was reorganised into five "operating divisions": Bulk Shipping, General Cargo, Passenger, European & Air Transport, and General Holdings. During the following twenty years, the General Cargo and General Holdings divisions both disappeared, Passenger Division was renamed P&O Cruises, and "E&AT" was split between Ferries and European Transport, the latter primarily concerned with door-to-door road haulage under the Ferrymasters and Pandoro names.

Significant investments were also made in completely different fields, including a short-lived Energy Division involved in North Sea oil exploration and US oil production, but more profitably in construction and housebuilding, property and industrial services. These interests, no longer needed to support the Group's core businesses, had largely been sold by the end of 1999.

The Bovis group of companies, acquired in 1974, included construction management, housebuilding and property, primarily in the UK. It acquired three leading American construction companies between 1987 and 1992, and by 1997 ranked as the world's largest general construction contractor. Bovis Homes was given a Stock Exchange flotation in 1997, and Bovis Construction Group was sold to Australian owners in 1999.

Bovis Construction, part of P&O from 1974 until 1999, was awarded the management contract for construction of the new Lloyd's Building in Leadenhall Street, London, in 1980. Immediately across the street from P&O's former Head Office at no. 122, it was completed in 1986.

In 1983 Jeffrey (later Sir Jeffrey, now Lord) Sterling became Chairman of P&O, and in 1985 merged his company Sterling Guarantee Trust with P&O. SGT included the management and development arms of Town & City Properties, with substantial investments in the USA, and Earls Court & Olympia's exhibition and conference centres, as well as warehousing, which was absorbed into P&O's European Transport Services division, and UK-based contract caterers and tool distributors, both sold in 1993. P&O's property interests were further expanded in the late 1980s, although substantial disposals were made later, Earls Court Olympia being sold in 1999 and the bulk of the UK investment portfolio early in 2000.

Shipping to the Core (1985 – 2000):

In the years following the merger with SGT, P&O developed in all its major areas of activity, by both organic growth and strategic acquisitions, while also divesting itself of a number of non-core operations.

In shipping, it bought out its partners in Overseas Containers in 1986, purchased ferry, property and harbour group European Ferries in 1987, and doubled the size of Princess Cruises with the acquisition of the cruise line Sitmar in 1988. It acquired first a half-interest and then total ownership of short-sea tanker operator Rowbotham Tankships, though this was later sold, and bought most of the Cunard Ellerman container shipping interests from Trafalgar House in 1991.

A series of international joint ventures was established. P&O Containers merged with the Dutch company Nedlloyd Lines at the end of 1996 to form P&O Nedlloyd, one of the three largest container shipping companies in the world, further enlarged by the acquisition of Blue Star Line in 1998. P&O Australia revived the old name International Offshore Services for an offshore supply vessel company set up with the Norwegian concern Farstad in December 1997. In March 1998 P&O and the Swedish company Stena merged their ferry services across the Straits of Dover due to growing competition from the Channel Tunnel; and in bulk shipping another old identity, Associated Bulk Carriers, was revived in July 1998 for a joint venture with the Chinese steel group Shougang to produce the world's largest fleet of "capesize" vessels, though in April 2000 P&O bought out its Asian partners.

A fleet renewal and expansion programme for P&O Cruises reached a new peak in May 1998 when the world's then largest-ever cruise ship, the 109,000 ton Grand Princess, was delivered to Princess Cruises. By the time of the demerger of the cruise businesses in October 2000, a further nine cruise vessels were on order, including two for Aida Cruises, a German concern in which P&O had taken a controlling interest in 1999.

The on-going P&O Group was also renewing its fleet. By the end of 2000, two 60,000-ton ferries, the largest in the world, had been delivered for the North Sea, and two smaller ferries for Irish Sea ferry routes, with a further one on order. New offshore support vessels were under construction, while P&O Nedlloyd also had a substantial building programme for its own account, not including several more ships being built for other owners for charter to the company.

Ports and Logistics (1975 – 2000):

P&O's presence in Australia dates back to 1852. In 1968 P&O Australia was established to consolidate the Group's business interests in that country and to spread into emerging markets around the Pacific Rim. It developed or acquired catering, cleaning and facilities management companies, but these were sold in 1999, and most notable of the continuing operations were P&O Ports and P&O Cold Logistics.

P&O has a long involvement in conventional port operation in Australia, and gained substantial experience in the development of specialised terminals when the Australia/Europe cargo liner trades were containerised at the end of the 1960s. It was, by 2000, the major service provider in most ports throughout Australia. In the mid 1980s developing countries in the region, anxious to develop the best infrastructure possible, began looking to the private sector for partners, and P&O's first overseas contract - to develop and manage Kelang Container Terminal in Malaysia - was gained in 1986. P&O Ports underwent steady international growth through acquisition and investment as well as the absorption of other P&O Group port businesses, and by the end of 2000 it operated some 25 container ports in 16 countries with other cargo handling interests in a further 30 ports.

P&O Cold Logistics originated from the provision of cold storage for export meat handled by P&O's stevedoring interests in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s. As P&O Australia's experience and expertise in cold storage grew, the business expanded into general cold storage services in key cities. In 1981 these businesses were renamed P&O Cold Storage Ltd, and from 1982 it developed long term storage contacts for established retailers and manufacturers. In 1989 the business was expanded into New Zealand and in 1994 P&O entered the US market with the acquisition of operations in Southern California and Nevada. Other investments followed in Texas and New England, to make the USA the largest sector of the cold storage business. Investment also followed in Argentina in 1996, and the company was renamed P&O Cold Logistics in February 2000 to better reflect the development of the business and its expansion into inventory control, replenishment and delivery services.

In Europe, P&O European Transport Services acquired the German haulage, barge and storage group Rhenania in 1989, as part of the major expansion of its European transport division which was spreading into many former Eastern Bloc countries. After selling its Continental road tanker and tank container interests, and renaming itself P&O Trans European (sold to Wincanton PLC) in 1997, this operation concentrated on contract logistics, supply-chain management and door-to-door unit load haulage.

From Company to Brand Name (2000 – 2006):

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company has been a global transport operator for over 160 years, adapting as required to the trading world around it. In February 2000 it announced that its cruising companies were to become an independent concern, P&O Princess Cruises plc, listed on both the London and New York Stock Exchanges, and this was achieved in October 2000. In April 2003 P&O Princess Cruises was taken over by Carnival Corporation to form Carnival Corporation & PLC, but the new organisation continues to use the P&O Cruises brand in both the UK and Australia, under licence from P&O.

P&O itself has continued to change. A new joint venture involving its bulk carrier interests was announced at the end of 2000, while 2001 saw the delivery of two of the largest ferries in the world for the North Sea and the winning of the port concession at Chennai in India.

During 2002 P&O further expanded its ports business in Asia and Europe and its cold logistics interests in theUSA. It bought out its partner in the P&O Stena ferry business and reorganised the Dover Straits, Western Channel and North Sea operations under one "P&O Ferries" banner. P&O Scottish Ferries was closed after the routes it operated for the Scottish Executive were transferred to another company. At the end of the year the contract logistics business P&O Trans European was sold to Wincanton PLC.

In 2003 there were further port acquisitions in Vancouver, Mundra, Le Havre, Fos and Marseille, as well as the growth of existing facilities at Shekou and Chennai. P&O's shares in its offshore supply vessel and bulk carrier joint ventures, International Offshore Services (sold to Farstad Shipping) and Associated Bulk Carriers (sold to Eurotower Holdings S.A.), were both sold.

Substantial property disposals continued in 2004, as well as the sale of P&O's resort interests in Australia and La Manga Club in Spain. Some Irish Sea ferry routes and ships were also sold. A concession was acquired for a major new port development at Antwerp, and the P&O Nedlloyd container shipping joint venture was converted first into a free standing company, Royal P&O Nedlloyd, with a P&O interest of 25% and then, in 2005, bought entirely by AP Moller-Maersk. It was merged into Maersk Sealand to form Maersk Line. In 2005 P&O Cold Logistics was sold to Versacold Holdings Corp. of Canada.

In March 2006 P&O and all its assets were bought by DP World one of the world's fastest growing marine terminal operators and a subsidiary of Dubai World (a holding company of the Government of Dubai). The new combined marine terminals organisation is the third largest of its kind worldwide with 52 terminals in 30 countries. However the North American ports were soon separated off into a separate company called P&O Ports North America Inc. due to controversy with the US Government. This company was sold to AIG Global Investments Group on the 11th December 2006 and became Ports America. On the 17th October 2006 the P&O Company disappeared into history as it merged with DP World. The P&O Ports subsidiary was rebranded as DP World and P&O Maritime Services retained as a subsidiary company of DP World. DP World is in turn a subsidiary of Dubai World (a holding company of the Government of Dubai). However the remaining P&O subsidiaries not related to marine terminals were removed from DP World and instead became subsidiaries of the Dubai World parent company. P&O Estates as a subsidiary of Dubai World is now affiliated with another Dubai World company, Nakheel. Nakheel is Dubai's pre-eminent development company. P&O Estates manages Nakheel's European investment and development activities. So the P&O brand still remains today with DP World's subsidiary P&O Maritime Services and Dubai World's subsidiaries P&O Ferries, P&O Irish Sea, P&O Ferrymasters and P&O Estates.

Sadly today in the 21st century P&O Princess Cruises PLC and the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company are no more having been taken over by Carnival Corporation & PLC and DP World / Dubai World respectively. But despite this the P&O house flag remains an internationally recognised symbol of excellence and the brand P&O lives on in the surviving remnants of the once mighty P&O empire: P&O Cruises, P&O Cruises Australia, P&O Ferries, P&O Irish Sea, P&O Ferrymasters, P&O Maritime Services and P&O Estates. Brodie McGhie Wilcox and Arthur Anderson surely will be proud of the achievements of their company over the years. They will no doubt be pleased that the company name and house flag continue proudly into the 21st century.