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Union Steam Ship Company flag


The Union Steam Ship Company (USSCo) was formed in Dunedin in 1875 to take over the fleet of the Harbour Steam Company. A fusion of Otago and Scottish capital, the USSCo was ably led by James Mills and dominated the New Zealand coastal and trans-Tasman trades by the end of the 1870s. In 1890 the company took over the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Co. It also operated mail liners to Vancouver and San Francisco, Pacific Island steamers, and a small service to the United Kingdom.

By 1914 the tonnage of the USSCo's fleet exceeded that of the five largest Australian shipping lines combined. The company's market dominance earned it the nickname the ‘Southern Octopus’. The USSCo was sold to the British shipping giant P&O in 1917. It came under joint Australian and New Zealand ownership in 1972 but struggled in the 1990s under the control of corporate invester Ron Brierley. In 2000 a tug and barge made the last voyage before the 125-year-old Union Steam Ship Company was liquidated.



Gavin McLean collection

How to cite this page

Union Steam Ship Company flag, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated