Borneo Co. Ltd.



The Borneo Co. Ltd. (BCL) was formed in 1856 to exploit business opportunities in Borneo (Sarawak).1 It was also active in other parts of Asia. Drawing on its knowledge of the Southeast Asian markets, the company entered the automobile industry in the 1920s, importing and selling cars in Singapore and Malaysia.2

Background
In 1841, James Brooke (also known as the White Rajah) was granted authority over Sarawak by the sultan of Brunei for his help in protecting Sarawak’s local ruler against raiding tribes.3 Brooke was appointed consul general to the island of Borneo in 1847.4

To facilitate trade between Sarawak and Britain, Brooke enlisted the services of Ludwig Helms, a Danish merchant who was operating out of Singapore. Helms’s business in Singapore linked Brooke to the Glasgow-based merchant house, MacEwen & Co., which had branches in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and Batavia (Jakarta). MacEwen’s office in Singapore became Brooke’s agent, while Helms managed Brooke’s business in Sarawak.5

MacEwen was a family-based operation that evolved from trading firm W. R. Paterson and Co., founded in 1842.6 With Paterson’s retirement, the company became known as MacEwen & Co. in 1849, and its operations in Singapore were run by John Harvey.7

Founding
BCL was founded on 8 May 1856 in London as a joint-stock, limited-liability company to exploit the business opportunities in Sarawak.8 Harvey became one of the company’s board members and its managing director in London.9

With the establishment of BCL in London, MacEwen’s properties in Singapore, including the wharves at Telok Blangah, were transferred to BCL in 1857.10

The Borneo Co. was established in Singapore on 31 July 1857, and it became a member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce in 1860. BCL also established branches in Sarawak, Shanghai, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Thailand and Java, with Singapore as its administrative headquarters for the region.11

Nature of business
Up to World War I, BCL in Singapore was involved in the import and export business, including the formation of a shipping cartel. It also ventured into other businesses such as brick making.12 In Thailand, the company became a major teak producer, capitalising on the Treaty of Chiangmai (1883), which permitted Western companies to cut their own trees.13 In Sarawak, its businesses covered import and export, banking, production of agricultural commodities, as well as mineral exploitation and development.14


After World War I, there was growing interest in motorcars, which had made its first appearance in Singapore in 1896. BCL identified the trend as a business opportunity.15 It then started selling imported cars in Singapore and Malaya in the early 1920s.16 The industry grew rapidly. Before long, it became clear that the sale and servicing of motor vehicles could no longer be just a side business.17 Borneo Motors Ltd. was thus incorporated in 1925 in Singapore as a subsidiary of BCL to import and sell cars.18 Car sales through Borneo Motors became an important source of income for Borneo Co.19 In 1967, BCL merged with Britain’s Inchcape Group.20



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Borneo Motors (Singapore) Pte Ltd. (2009). About us: Borneo Motors history. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from Borneo Motors website: https://www.borneomotors.com.sg/en/about/history.html; Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 5. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf; Longhurst, H. (1956). The Borneo story: The history of the first 100 years of trading in the Far East by the Borneo Company Limited. London: Newman Neame, p. 17. (Call no.: RCLOS 959 LON-[RFL])
2. Jones, G., & Wale, J. (1998). Merchants as business groups: British trading companies in Asia before 1945. The Business History Review, 72(3), 367–408, p. 379. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
3. Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 5. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf; Longhurst, H. (1956). The Borneo story: The history of the first 100 years of trading in the Far East by the Borneo Company Limited. London: Newman Neame, pp. 11–16. (Call no.: RCLOS 959 LON-[RFL])
4. Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, pp. 5–6. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf
5. Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf
6. Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 185. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
7. Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 9. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf; Longhurst, H. (1956). The Borneo story: The history of the first 100 years of trading in the Far East by the Borneo Company Limited. London: Newman Neame, p. 17. (Call no.: RCLOS 959 LON-[RFL])
8. Borneo Motors (Singapore) Pte Ltd. (2009). About us: Borneo Motors history. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from Borneo Motors website: https://www.borneomotors.com.sg/en/about/history.html; Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 5. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf; Longhurst, H. (1956). The Borneo story: The history of the first 100 years of trading in the Far East by the Borneo Company Limited. London: Newman Neame, p. 17. (Call no.: RCLOS 959 LON-[RFL])
9. Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 12. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf
10. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN); Cox, H., & Metcalfe, S. (n.d.). The role of networks in the early development of the Borneo Company Limited. Research Papers in International Business, p. 18. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from London South Bank University website: http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/sites/bus.lsbu.ac.uk.bus.cibs/files/7-97.pdf
11. Koh, T., et al. (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Longhurst, H. (1956). The Borneo story: The history of the first 100 years of trading in the Far East by the Borneo Company Limited. London: Newman Neame, p. 31. (Call no.: RCLOS 959 LON-[RFL]); Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
12. Jones, G., & Wale, J. (1998). Merchants as business groups: British trading companies in Asia before 1945. The Business History Review, 72(3), 367–408, p. 377. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Koh, T., et al. (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
13. Jones, G., & Wale, J. (1998). Merchants as business groups: British trading companies in Asia before 1945. The Business History Review, 72(3), 367–408, p. 379. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Jones, G. (2000). Merchants to multinationals: British trading companies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 70. (Call no. RBUS 338.88941009034 JON); Koh, T., et al. (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
14. Jones, G., & Wale, J. (1998). Merchants as business groups: British trading companies in Asia before 1945. The Business History Review, 72(3), 367–408, p. 377. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Kaur, A. (1995). The babbling brookes: Economic change in Sarawak 1841–1941. Modern Asian Studies, 29(1), 65–109, pp. 75–80, 83–93. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
15. Sharp, I. (1993). Wheels of change: The Borneo Motors story. Singapore: Borneo Motors, pp. 19, 22. (Call no.: LRSING 338.76292095957 SHA)
16. Jones, G., & Wale, J. (1998). Merchants as business groups: British trading companies in Asia before 1945. The Business History Review, 72(3), 367–408, p. 379. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
17. Sharp, I. (1993). Wheels of change: The Borneo Motors story. Singapore: Borneo Motors, p. 32. (Call no.: LRSING 338.76292095957 SHA)
18. Jones, G. (2000). Merchants to multinationals: British trading companies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 109. (Call no. RBUS 388.88941009034 JON); Koh, T., et al. (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Jones, G., & Wale, J. (1998). Merchants as business groups: British trading companies in Asia before 1945. The Business History Review, 72(3), 367–408, p. 380. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
19. Jones, G., & Wale, J. (1998). Merchants as business groups: British trading companies in Asia before 1945. The Business History Review, 72(3), 367–408, p. 384. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

20. Borneo Motors (Singapore) Pte Ltd. (2009). About us: Borneo Motors history. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from Borneo Motors website: https://www.borneomotors.com.sg/en/about/history.html; International directory of company histories (Vol. 50). (2003). Chicago, IL: St. James Press, pp. 266, 268. (Call no.: RBUS 338.7409 INT)



The information in this article is valid as at 2007 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Organisations>>Companies
Business enterprises--Borneo
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
Business enterprises
Corporations--Singapore