In 1828, less than 10 years after the founding of Singapore by a certain Sir Stamford Raffles a young Englishman named Edward Boustead set foot on our tropical shores. Despite being en route to China, Boustead was impressed by the vibrant trade on the strategically positioned island and decided to settle here – setting up his new trading house and naming it Boustead & Co.
Boustead & Co
Boustead’s company quickly established itself as a key player in the commodity trade between the Far East and Europe, trading in spices, flavours, seeds, nuts, saps, resins, medicinal herbs and oils.
By 1834, Boustead had partnered with Gustav Christina Schwabe who owned Sykes Schwabe & Co in Liverpool, England to create Boustead, Schwabe & Co. While the Liverpool partner exported textiles, biscuits, brandies and steel to the East, Boustead would send the boats back laden with Eastern spices, coconut, tapioca and coffee. Demand from the East had to match the demand from the West in a so-called Balance of Trade.
When Schwabe left in 1867, the company’s name reverted back to Boustead & Co.
Tan Kim Seng
Boustead also partnered his good friend Tan Kim Seng, a prominent Singaporean businessman (and after whom Singapore’s Kim Seng Road and Kim Seng Bridge are named). Tan Kim Seng would amass small shipments of produce for Boustead that he would send to the West.
Boustead was the first agent for the Hong Kong & Shanghai (HSBC) Bank in Singapore offering banking facilities to businesses and by 1850, Boustead & Co. had offices in London, Hong Kong, Manila, Shanghai as well as Singapore.
Boustead & Co invested in the Straits Trading Company (Singapore’s first tin foundry) and the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company (now the Port of Singapore Authority).
In 1877, rubber trees were successfully grown in Singapore’s Botanic Garden using seeds germinated at London’s Botanical Gardens at Kew. Following this success numerous companies, including Boustead & Co. were distributed rubber seeds that they used to create rubber plantations in Malaysia.
The climate proved perfect for the South American native trees and astoundingly, Malaysia soon became the world’s number one producer of natural rubber. Boustead & Co. established itself as a leading Malaysian rubber plantation manager, with 49 plantations covering nearly 142,000 acres.
By 1899, Singapore was the world’s main exporter of tin – with Boustead & Co. investing heavily in the tin smelting facility on neighbouring island Pulau Brani.
Following World War I, Boustead built up a booming business in cargo, freight handling, insurance and ship services. The company’s shipping division was the largest in Singapore and the company represented over 20 major shipping lines as well as numerous insurance agencies including Lloyds.
The company went on to represent some of the biggest brands in the world, including Cadbury’s, Nestle, Del Monte, Gillette, Johnnie Walker, Moet et Chandon, Proctor & Gamble and Suzuki.
Things were to change following World War II. In 1957, Malaysia declared independence from the British, followed by Singapore in 1963, causing Boustead to split into two entities – Boustead plc. in London and Boustead Bhd. in Singapore and Malaysia.
Then, in 1965 Singapore declared independence from Malaysia. The company was restructured resulting in the creation of three separate Boustead companies in the UK, Malaysia and Singapore.
Bousteadco Singapore Ltd was listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 1975. Unfortunately, the new company had lost control of most of its assets and properties to its Malaysian sister due to their location in the country.
Fortunately, Bousteadco Singapore’s trading arm held many contracts for the marketing and distribution of consumer goods – and its engineering division found new markets for its design and project management services.
With industrialisation in the 1970s came change for the company, which had to evolve to cover areas such as manufacturing and technical services.
In 1997 the company was renamed Boustead Singapore Limited.
But did you know…
- Boustead is the second-oldest company of European origin in Singapore.
- Edward Boustead was co-founder of the Singapore Free Press (the forerunner of The Straits Times) a founding member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and started the Horticultural Society, which was responsible for pioneering the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
- Today, the Old Supreme Court Building occupies the site where Edward Boustead’s home once stood.
- In 1892, Boustead & Co. handled the first shipment of bulk oil to Penang. One of Boustead’s partners, Isaac Henderson, became a founding director of the Shell Trading and Transport Company – which is today known as Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB).
- Edward Boustead’s great grandson was the Academy Award winning actor David Niven, famous for his roles along with Peter Sellers in “The Pink Panther” films and “Casino Royale”.
Today, Boustead Singapore is an investment holding company whose engineering divisions specialise in energy-related engineering, water and wastewater engineering, industrial real estate solutions and geo-spatial technology.
The company also undertakes project management design and construction work operating primarily in Asia Pacific, Australia, North and South America, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
In 2008 and 2009 Boustead Singapore was recognised by Forbes Asia Magazine as one of Asia Pacific’s 200 best public-listed corporations under $1bn in revenue in the Asia Pacific.
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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Alison Hunt doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.