Boustead and Company
Boustead and Co., which was set up by Edward Boustead, one of Singapore’s earliest merchants, is almost as old as modern Singapore itself. Established as a small trading house less than 10 years after the founding of Singapore by Stamford Raffles, the company expanded into the agency business. Now known as Boustead Singapore Limited, the company is focused on infrastructure-related engineering services and geo-spatial technology.1
On 13 March 1828, a young Englishman by the name of Edward Boustead arrived in Singapore from China as manager of the firm of Robert Wise and Co. He saw the business opportunities offered by the vibrant trade settlement and founded Boustead and Co.
In 1834, Gustav Christian Schwabe was admitted as a partner and the company was renamed Boustead, Schwabe and Co. It opened branches in China and the Philippines in 1843. By 1846, there were four partners in the company: Boustead took charge of the China branch; Schwabe in Liverpool, England; Benjamin Butler in Manila, the Philippines; and Adam Skyes in Singapore.
Schwabe left the company in 1848 and when the China branch closed down, Boustead became the sole partner in 1849. The name reverted to Boustead and Co. Boustead left for England in 1850 and never returned to Singapore. The London office was opened in 1851.2
In 1852, Joseph Wise and William Wardrop Shaw, who had been clerks in the company, joined as partners. Wise left the company in 1853 and Robert Bain, a long-time partner of A. L. Johnston & Co., became a partner. Bain left in 1855. In 1856, the partners consisted of Boustead, Shaw and Archibald Buchanan Brown. During this period, the clerks were George Lipscombe, Henry Frolich and James Young. Lipscombe and Jasper Young became partners in 1867 when Brown retired. In the decades that followed, there were various changes in the partnership of the company.
Several members of the firm also participated actively in the public affairs of the Colony. Some were members of the Legislative Council, and one was a prominent member of the Singapore Municipal Council.3
Boustead and Co. was a member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce during its foundation in 1837 but withdrew its membership in 1850. It rejoined the Chamber in 1854, but from 1856–1870 it was again not a member. Since 1871, Boustead has retained its membership of the Chamber.4
Edward Boustead died in London on 29 February 1888.5 In the late 1880s, Boustead and Co. became a leading rubber plantation manager and owner in Malaya, managing 49 plantations over an area of 141,629 acres (about 573 sq km). By 1899, when Singapore had become the world’s main exporter of tin, the company invested in the tin smelter on Pulau Brani, which was built by the Straits Trading Company.6
After World War I (1914–1918), Boustead and Co. enjoyed a booming business in cargo, freight handling, insurance and ship services. The company represented over 20 major shipping lines and insurance agencies, including Lloyd’s of London. It also became the agent for some of the world’s most famous brands in Singapore and the region. Some of these brands include Cadbury, Nestle, Del Monte, Gillette, Proctor & Gamble, Johnny Walker, Hennessy, Nissan, Suzuki and Thomas Cook.7
When Malaysia achieved independence in August 1957, Boustead and Co. was split into two entities: Boustead PLC in London and Boustead Bhd. After Singapore gained independence in August 1965, business restructuring resulted in the creation of three separate entities in Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. Boustead Singapore was listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange as Bousteadco Singapore Limited on 17 October 1975.8
Jack Chia-MPH acquired Bousteadco Singapore in 1993. It sold its shares to Janburgh Holdings, a locally incorporated holding company, in1996. Bousteadco Singapore was renamed Boustead Singapore in 1997.9
Nature of business
In Boustead's initial years, it was involved in the trade of tropical commodities such as spices, seeds, nuts, saps, resins, medicinal herbs and oils. It soon became a key player in the commodity trade between Europe and the Far East. Boustead also invested in companies such as the Straits Trading Company and the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company (now PSA Corporation).
In the late 1880s, the company invested in rubber plantations and became a leading rubber plantation manager and owner in Malaya with its 49 plantations. In 1892, Boustead handled its first shipment of bulk oil to Penang. From 1899 onwards, the “Straits Tin” produced by the Straits Trading Company became one of the company’s core businesses.10
From the original business of importing and exporting, Boustead's businesses then expanded to cover finance, shipping, mining and agriculture.11
With industrialisation and changes in the economic landscape in Singapore and elsewhere in the region from the 1970s, the company's structure and business also changed. The nature of its business evolved to concentrate on manufacturing and technical services.12
In the mid-1980s, BousteadCo Singapore dealt in commodities such as gold and coffee; consumer goods such as electrical appliances, wine, sports goods, machinery and cars; as well as insurance, shipping, travel and air cargo. It also marketed and distributed well-known consumer products such as Pampers disposable diapers, Cadbury chocolate and confectionary products.13
In 1996, under a new era of leadership, the company began to focus its operations on two core areas: infrastructure-related engineering services (energy, water and industrial parks) and geo-spatial technology.14 Boustead Singapore celebrated its 180th anniversary on 18 July 2008.15
Some of the company’s achievements are:
2008; 2009: Forbes Asia 200 Best Under a Billion list identifies Boustead as one of Asia Pacific’s 200 best public-listed corporations under US$1 billion in revenue.
2015: Receives the Singapore Golden Jubilee Business Award in recognition of the best 50 Singapore corporations who have achieved and contributed to Singapore’s progress and success over the past 50 years since independence.
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Chan Fook Weng
1. Chan Bong Soo, “Edward Boustead's Baby Is Now 150 Years Old,” Business Times, 21 February 1978, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days (Singapore: International Chamber of Commerce, 1979), 44–45 (Call no. RSING 380.10655957SIN); “Our History,” Boustead Singapore Limited, accessed 16 March 2020.
2. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 189 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1902), 207–08 (From BookSG); “The Man Who Started The Free Press,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 208; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 190–91; “Man Who Started The Free Press.”
4. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 44–45.
5. “Man Who Started The Free Press”; Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 208.
6. Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History: Late 1800s.”
7. Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History: Early 1900s.”
8. “Know Your Company,” Straits Times, 25 February 1984, 19 (From NewspaperSG); Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History: Late 1900s.”
9. R. Sivanithy, “Boustead to Raise $ 10.5M in Rights, Warrants Issue,” Business Times, 31 March 1999, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History: Late 1800s.”
11. G.C. Allen and Audrey G. Donnithorne, Western Enterprise in Indonesia and Malaya: A Study in Economic Development (London: Routledge, 2003), 55. (Call no. RSEA 338.9ALL)
12. Chan, “Edward Boustead's Baby”; Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History: Late 1900s”; Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History.”
13. “Know Your Company.”
14. Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History.”
15. Jamie Lee, “Boustead Celebrates 180th Birthday,” Business Times, 19 July 2008, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Boustead Singapore Limited, “Company History.”
Melanie Chew, Boustead 1828 (Singapore: Boustead Singapore Ltd., 2008). (Call no. RSING 338.76095957 CHE)
The information in this article is valid as at March 2020 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.