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The Peninsula and Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Company’s history dates back to the 1830s. The house flag, which can be seen flying from the mast to the left of this painting, incorporates the royal colours of Spain and Portugal, the countries to which P&O’s oldest services ran in the 1830s. By 1845 the company had reached Singapore and Hong Kong where, in addition to running a passenger service, it fulfilled its charter of delivering mail.
Built in 1865 in Kirkcaldy, Fife, this steamship was initially launched by her builders as the ‘Kinghorn’. It was purchased by the P&O Steam Navigation Company in the same year and registered as the ‘Niphon’, her new name reflecting the antique spelling of ‘Nippon’, a Japanese name for Japan. After numerous voyages around the English coast, the ‘Niphon’ was sent to Bombay and then on to Hong Kong to transport passengers and cargo around the coast of China. However in 1868, disaster struck when the ship hit a reef off House Hill, 25 miles south of Amoy, and broke in two. The collision led to the loss of 13 lives (two European and six Chinese passengers, and five Chinese crew members) along with the cargo, including virtually all of the mail.
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