McAlister & Co. Ltd



McAlister & Co. was founded in 1857 by two Scots: Alexander McAlister and James Parker Niven, who saw the opportunity to set up a trading partnership in Singapore. During its initial years, the partnership was involved in general trade and Australian pearling.1 It was incorporated as a limited liability company in 1903. Shortly after, Mcllwraith, McEacharn and Co., Pty., Ltd. became its major shareholder, and the company’s shipping, engineering and export departments were expanded and developed. The company was acquired by United Engineers Ltd. in 1971.

Early history
After its establishment in 1857, the firm held regular auctions of pearls and pearl shells when Western Australian steamers came to port.2 The partnership flourished. In the 1880s, C. C. N. Glass and J. S. Neave joined as partners, while Ebenezer McAlister had become an assistant in the firm a few years earlier.3 Over time, the management of the firm came under the purview of John Muir, Frank Warrack, Alexander Cumming and A. H. Stephens.4


Incorporation of McAlister & Co.
McAlister & Co. was incorporated as a limited liability company in 1903. Shortly after, Mcllwraith, McEacharn and Co., Pty., Ltd. of London became its major shareholder, while London agent A. D. Allan – who previously took charge of Mcllwraith, McEacharn & Co.’s various branches – was appointed McAlister’s managing director in Singapore. Allan was succeeded by A. Reid in 1916.5


Early developments
McAlister’s business saw changes with the entry of McIIwraith, McEacharn and Co. Specifically, its shipping, engineering and export departments were expanded and developed.6 With the booming rubber trade, McAlister also became known for its supply of rubber planting tools and other specialised equipment related to rubber cultivation. In addition, the company developed a substantial business in heavy mining machinery and the supply of produce. It also traded in carriages, motorcars, firearms, machinery, ships’ requirements and engineers’ furnishings; and acted as the agent for shipping, insurance, cycle, machinery, coal, rubber, tin mining, motor, gas-engine, cement, oil, fodder, wine and spirit companies.7

The company established branches in Penang (1898), Ipoh (1904), Kuala Lumpur (1906) and Tonghka. It also had representatives in Australia, Antwerp and other parts of the world.8

Later developments
During the 1970s, McAlister dealt in products such as road sweepers, fire engines, pharmaceuticals and heavy-duty kitchen equipment. It also acted as the agent for life insurance and travel corporations.9

In 1971, McAlister was acquired by United Engineers Ltd. It continues to be part of United Engineers today.10

McAlister’s core businesses in the 2000s comprised the manufacture and trade of special-purpose vehicles, marine and military cranes, generators, tank containers, steel structures, water-treatment equipment, servicing of defence equipment and provision of anti-corrosion systems.11

Premises
McAlister’s office was located in Gresham House at the corner of Battery Road and Flint Street (where the Straits Trading Building now stands).12 During its heyday, Gresham House was considered one of the grandest commercial buildings in Singapore.13 On 31 December 1864, a fire broke out in the company’s ship chandlery store and spread to the neighbouring buildings. This was reportedly the first fire to occur in the European business quarters in Singapore, and the incident attracted much attention.14

McAlister subsequently relocated its office to the junction of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road.15



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 85. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN); Pearl auctions in Singapore. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1935), p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2.
Pearl auctions in Singapore. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1935), p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3.
Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 85. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN); Pearl auctions in Singapore. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1935), p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4.
Pearl auctions in Singapore. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1935), p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5.
Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., p. 684. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE); Pearl auctions in Singapore. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1935), p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6.
Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 85. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
7.
Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., p. 684. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE); United Engineers Group. (2007). Company history. Retrieved 2017, July 14 from United Engineers Limited website: https://uel.sg/corp_profile/co_history.htm
8.
Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., p. 684. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE); Pearl auctions in Singapore. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1935), p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9.
United Engineers Group. (2007). Company history. Retrieved 2017, July 14 from United Engineers Limited website: https://uel.sg/corp_profile/co_history.htm
10.
United Engineers Group. (2007). Company history. Retrieved 2017, July 14 from United Engineers Limited website: https://uel.sg/corp_profile/co_history.htm
11.
Kompass Singapore 2006 (Vol. 1). (2006). Singapore: Kompass Singapore, p. 450. (Call no.: RSING 382.05 K-[DIR])
12.
Singapore retrospect through postcards, 1900–1930. Singapore: Sin Chew Jit Poh and Archives and Oral History Dept., pp. 26, 31. (Call no.: RSING 769.4995957 SIN)
13.
Wright, A., & Cartwright, H. A. (Eds.). (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., p. 684. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
14.
Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 712–713. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
15.
Know your company. (1985, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Latest telegram. (1865, January 5). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Pinsler, R. (1982). MacAlister and Co. Building at the junction of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road, 1982 [Photograph no. 19990007095-055]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2004). Toponymics: A study of Singapore street names. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 253.

(Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). (1965, October 22). Demolition of old McAlister Building at Battery Road [Photograph no. PCD0123-017]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

The fire in Flint Sheet. (1864, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Young, G. (1991). In search of Conrad. London: Hutchinson, p. 82.
(Call no.: RSEA 915.9008 YOU-[TRA])



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
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Multinational companies
McAlister (Firm)
Organisations>>Companies
Business enterprises
Business enterprises--Singapore