Indo-China Steam Navigation Company 1873-1974

HF: The Indo-China Steam Navigation Company Ltd (ICSNC), was established in 1873 as a subsidiary of Hong Kong based Jardine, Matheson & Co.

Indo-China Steam Navigation Co Ltd 1923 advert wikipedia

1923 Advert

With the advent of steam, Jardines became concerned that it might lose its former advantage in operating fast clippers. As a result, the company became seriously involved in steamships in the mid-1850s servicing the Bengal – China trade. Regular services up and down the coast, with occasional diversions to Japan, were implemented around the same time.

 Jardines established the China Coast Steam Navigation Co. (CCSNC) in 1873, which operated between Chinese ports and Japan. ICSNC was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1881 with a capital of £449,800The new company amalgamated the group’s river, coastal and cargo interests, taking over CCSNC’s coastal fleet and sending ships to Singapore, Calcutta and Vladivostock.  In 1885, a new service from Hong Kong to Manila began operating.

In the early 20th century, more than half of all the ships on the Yangtze River were owned by ICSNC and their arch rivals Butterfield and Swire. British investment in the Yangtze Valley, including Shanghai had reached over £200,000,000 by the 1920s. This was almost equal to the amount invested in the whole of British India at that time, and significantly more than British investments in Africa.

Indo China Steam Navigation Co Ltd Advert 12.12.1928

China Mail 12.12.1928

Indo-China Steam Navigation Co Ltd company pennant

Company pennant

Trade flourished until the end of the Second World War when the 1943 British–Chinese Treaty for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China shut down the Yangtze River trade and routes between the Chinese coastal ports. In response, ICSNC diversified into the China — Australia trade.

Post-WW2 passenger voyages between the Far East, Straits and Bay of Bengal was abandoned at the end of 1955 and in the same year, Auckland became a port of call on the Australia route.

Between November 1960-April 1961 Eastern Argosy and Eastern Star were plying the Hong Kong, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland route returning via Melbourne and Sydney to Hong Kong. The Eastern Glory and Eastern Trader operated between Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Later on, increased competition from Indian and Japanese companies reduced profitability and ICSNC, London was liquidated in 1974. ICSNC, Hong Kong moved into the bulk shipping business and also became involved in the Gearbulk container pool, as well as branching out into other industries. (1)

Indo-China Steam Navigation Co Ltd 1923 undated Masthead


This article was first posted on 7th April 2016.


  1. Jardines’ company website 
  2. Gearbulk company website


  1. Wikipedia – Indo-China Steam Navigation Company Ltd

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Indo-China Steam Navigation Company – 19th century supplementary information
  2. Indo-China Steam Navigation Company – employees
  3. SS Tungshing, Indo-China Steam Navigation Company – Captain Thomas Selby
  4. The Indo-China Steam Navigation Company’s Hinsang, built 1941 by HK & Whampoa Dock
  5. Thomas Selby – Cutty Sark, Indo-China Steam Navigation Company and Bullivants


  • Hein

    Intesting information
    any photo of indo china ships
    thank you

  • As a young man I sailed on many of these ships = ss Hinsang, Eastern Saga/Moon/Queen/Argosy. Best for me was Eastern Queen with 50 passengers on regular Australia-Japan service, ss Hinsang was a novel experience for 5 months in 1964 on HK – Borneo logging run.

    • Hello Mr Ballantyne

      Thanks very much for your second comment about the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company. I am very interested in the fact that you worked for the company and will contact you directly if you don’t mind.

      Best wishes
      Hugh Farmer

    • Mr Ballantyne, my father John Hanbidge sailed with ICSNCo on the Choy Sang and I believe the Hang Sang, in the 1950s.
      He met my mother (a British Army nurse posted to Malaya) when she and some other nurses toured his ship in Singapore.
      He told many stories and I have numerous photos of his travels through the China Sea during this period.
      Philip Hanbidge

  • Dear Sir,
    My father travelled from India (from Calcutta I think) to Singapore in 1941 on the Wing Sang, and arrived in Singapore the same day the Japanese bombed the harbour!
    I have been looking for more information on the ship, but not much luck upto now. Would deeply appreciate any info you might be able to share.
    Thank you and best regards,
    Asoka Indrasoma
    Sri Lanka

  • Peter Cundall

    Wing Sang 永生 was built in August 1938 by Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Co as yard No.780. The ship was 3560 gross tons and was steam driven, capable of 14 knots. The ship escaped Singapore before the Japanese occupation and survived the war. Post war she returned to the China coast services trading between Hong Kong and Taiwan. In 1954 she was transferred to the West Indies and was renamed West Indian operating in a joint venture with the British Colonial Govt there but still under Indo China ownership. In 1958 the ship was sold to Shun Cheong Steam Navigation Co and renamed Taipooloy. The ship was transferred to Tai Ping SS Navigation Co in 1963 but continued to be managed by Shun Cheong. In May 1968 the ship was sold to Fuji Marden & Co and scrapped in Hong Kong.

  • Dear Peter,
    Thanks a lot for your kind reply and the information provided. Would you also have any details on the routes and schedules of this ship in those times? Also, any details of the ship itself, such as number of passengers or cabins, crew, general arrangement etc.?
    Thanks again and best regards,

  • David

    I’m looking for details/images of the “SS Pechili” built in 1874. She was formerly the “Rio grande do Sul”. She foundered in 1905 off the Shengsi Islands.

  • Peter Cundall

    Pechili (no characters available) was built by William Hamilton & Co Port Glasgow as yard No.128 and was launched 11/1874 at 1160 gross tons.. The ship’s dimensions were 239.2 x 33.1 feet and the ship’s Lloyds Register number was 70694. The ship was single screw and fitted with a compound steam engine. She was built for Rio Grande Do Sul SS Co as Rio Grande do Sul but was sold in 1876 to John K Welch of London. The following year (1877) she was sold to C. Deubner and Co in Riga (then Russian) renamed Neva and registered in their Riga Dampfschiffahrtes Ges. company. In 1880 the ship was sold to unknown UK owners (probably a shipbroker) and reverted to Rio Grande do Sul. Later that same year the ship was bought by F B Johnson of London and renamed Pechili. The ship became part of China Coast Steam Navigation Co (1873) that was the forerunner company to Indo China. The ship was based out of Shanghai. In 1884 Indo China SN took over the ship from the dissolved China Coast Co without name change. In 1904 the ship was sold to unknown owners (probably Russian Govt which was buying ships for use in the Russo Japanese war), was apparently seized by the Japanese unknown location, and lost shortly after on 2/9/1905 a voyage from Japan to Shanghai with coal cargo when the ship foundered off the Saddle Islands.. One crewman died but the rest of the crew were rescued by Albenga (built 1898 4249 tons)..

  • David

    Peter Cundall . The above detail on “Pechili” is very useful information, many thanks.

  • John Arthur

    Interesting to see Peter Ballantyne’s comments as I was sailing with ICSN Co during the same period. I served on the Eastern Queen, Argosy, Star, Glory. Hang Sang and Ho Sang between 1959 and 1966. I agree that the Queen was the best. As well as carrying 14 first class passengers she carried about 40 second class passengers, if I remember correctly, and carried many Harbin White Russians to Australia. In about 1962 she was converted to carry about 400 Vietnamese expatriates per trip from Noumea back to North Vietnam, under charter to the French Government. It had been their choice, whether to return to Vietnam or take French citizenship and stay. Later the Queen became a part of the Dominion Far East line, also part of Jardines.

  • Kate Couvee

    Hi John Arthur
    You may not remember me but I was married to Tom O’Donnell when he was on the SS Eastern Glory and I remember you well. Tom and I stayed with our baby daughter at your parents home in Mayfield for a few days in January 1964.
    A lot has passed under the bridge since then but I have happy memories of that time. Therese our daughter will be 60 years of age in September and she has five children.
    I know this comment has nothing to do with this article but when I saw “Eastern Glory” and your name it took me back 60+ years
    Cheers Katie (Couvee) formerly O’Donnell

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