BOOK REVIEW | Scottish House: A History of McIlwraith, McEacharn – Shipowners, Merchants and Miners, 1875-1993

When my financial advisor and accountant, Tim Ryan, insisted that I buy a copy of this book I have to admit that I had my doubts. My first thought was, “Not another dreary corporate history”. I also have to admit, though, that I should never doubt Tim’s judgement. The book is magnificent and worth far more than I paid for it.

I often think that Tim is more interested in maritime history than accounts and that makes him an excellent judge of books on shipping. In this case he declared an interest as he was involved with its compilation.

Scottish House is a globally interesting book that combines aspects of shipping, naval architecture, shipbuilding, mining, investment, and business practices. It details the remarkable 118-year history of one of Australia’s leading ship owning companies. In doing so, it presents a brilliant coverage of almost the entire Australian maritime industry for that period. It describes the industry’s competitors, financiers and suppliers and the politicians who affected them. It is, quite simply, a brilliant all-encompassing maritime and business history.

McIlwraith, McEacharn commenced operations in London in 1875 as a partnership of two young Ayrshiremen with experience of the shipping industry. Commencing with a brokerage, they soon acquired a fleet of Scottish-built sailing ships. Their drive, energy and initiative was exceptional. Expansion was rapid and heavily focused on Australia. Their business grew with Australia and, particularly, its mining, migrant and meat sectors.

Despite experiencing several recessions/depressions, the company flourished for almost 120 years when the machinations of several market manipulating “financial geniuses” conspired, largely unintentionally, with Australia’s suicidal maritime unions to effectively destroy the country’s shipping industry and, with it, a wonderful company.

This inspiring but ultimately tragic tale is told in incredible detail by a brilliant team of a very knowledgeable insider and a professional historian supported by several maritime history obsessives, like Tim Ryan. This is maritime and business history at its best.

Authors: T.S. Stevens and H.W. Dick

Available from the Nautical Association of Australia, Melbourne, Australia.


Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.