Indo-China Steam Navigation Company – 19th century supplementary information

Indo-China Steam Navigation Co Ltd company pennant

ICSNC company pennant

Stephen Davies says the basic story of ICSN is best located in the book, Beancaker to boxboat. Jardine operated ships using the Jardine Matheson house flag from pretty early on – the earliest I think I have dated seems to be from the late 1820s.

From that date ships came and went, but nothing that really feels like a JM shipping line seems to be identifiable until the 1850s when they begin to get seriously into steam.

The first effort at a shipping line was the 1873 subsidiary of JM, the China Coast Steam Navigation Co., which was formed to operate between Chinese ports and Japan and the Yangtze Steam Navigation Co working the river trade.

The Indo-China S.N. Co. was floated in 1881 and took over the five ships of the China Coast S.N. Co. and three of the Yangtze SN Co., plus buying in 3 ships planned by McGregor (of what later became MacGregor Gow), and two ships of their own working the Hong Kong-Kolkata route – so the first ICSN fleet comprised 13 ships.

Hip Sang SS Indo China SNC torpedoed 16.7.1904

SS Hip Sang

Over the next decades what had started as Vladivostok to China, Newchwang to Swatow, Yangtze River, coastal trade to HK and the China to India services gradually expanded to cover most of Asian waters and runs between Asia and the UK by the early 20th century. The main focus, however, was intra-Asia trade, especially China to SE Asia and India.

It appears that trade was mainly tramping ie one in which the ships do not have a fixed schedule or published ports of call, rather than liners, especially initially, though by the 20th century there was more liner trade on established routes.

nb The SS Hip Sang, an ICSNC cargo steamer of 1,659 tons, was lost on 16th July 1904 when she was torpedoed by the Russian destroyer Rastoropny west of the Kwantung Peninsula, (today known as the Liaodong Peninsula, China), at 39.10°N 121.15°E after refusing to stop en route from Newchwang for Chefoo carrying provisions.

See: Beancaker to boxboat: Steamship companies in Chinese waters, HW Dick + SA Kentwell, Nautical Association of Australia, Canberra, 1988

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Indo-China Steam Navigation Company 1873-1974
  2. Thomas Selby – Cutty Sark, Indo-China Steam Navigation Company and Bullivants


  • Richard Birs

    Hello wondered if you could help? Looking for a picture of Chak Sang.
    With thanks Richard.

    • Hello Richard

      I think you are referring to the SS Chak Sang which was sunk by a Japanese submarine during WW2. I don’t have an image of this ship but am pretty sure you’ll find one online.

      Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

      Best wishes
      Hugh Farmer

      • Richard Birs

        Hugh it’s just occurred to me,where the Hip sang and the Chak Sang the same type of ships? Ie design.
        Thanks Richard.

  • Kenneth Richardson

    Sailed on MV Eastern Rover’s maiden voyage November 1961 as Third Eng. Douglas Thompson, the Engineering Superintendent sailed as Chief. Consequently we all moved down a rank till we reached HK. It was a great ship to sail on with great people. Stan Little, Ch,Eng, sailed as Second Eng. and was instrumental in my joining the “company “in the UK. It was a wonderful Company to work for.
    Regards, K Richardson.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *