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British India Steam Navigation Company was formed in 1856 as the Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company. The company had been formed out of Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co, a trading partnership of the Scotsmarker William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie, to carry mail between Calcuttamarker and Rangoonmarker. It became British India SN Co in 1862. Under the hand of Lord Inchcape (James Mackay) who had become chairman in 1913, the company became part of the P&O group of companies in 1914 through a complex amalgamation, but continued with its own identity and organisation for another nearly 60 years until 1972, when it was entirely absorbed into P&O.

As one of the largest shipowners of all time, the company owned more than 500 ships and managed 150 more for other owners. At its height in 1922, BI had more than 160 ships in the fleet, many built on Clydeside, Scotlandmarker. The main shipping routes of the line were: Britainmarker to Indiamarker, Australia, Kenyamarker, Tanganyika. The company ran services from India to Pakistanmarker, Ceylonmarker, Bay of Bengalmarker, Singaporemarker, Malaya, Javamarker, Thailandmarker, Japanmarker, Persian Gulfmarker, East Africa and South Africa. BI had a long history of service to the British and Indian governments through trooping and other military contracts. In the last decade of its operational existence BI carried thousands of school children on educational cruises.

Some of the famous passenger ships included SS Leicestershire, SS Sirdhana, SS Scindia, and SS Dwarka.

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