McAlister & Co. Ltd



Singapore Infopedia

Background

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.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 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

Fire at McAlister’s godown
McAlister’s office was located in Gresham House at the corner of Battery Road and Flint Street (where the Straits Trading Building now stands).9 During its heyday, Gresham House was considered one of the grandest commercial buildings in Singapore.10 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.11 Another fire happened at the company’s premises in 1893. It reportedly destroyed a large volume of valuable goods.12  

Later developments
During the 1970s, McAlister dealt in engineering products such as Carron cast iron work, Cochran boilers and Foamite fire extinguishers. It also acted as a shipping agent and an agent for local and overseas insurance companies. McAlister was also acting for the Malayan Coaling agency and as tin purchasing agents for the United States Steel Corporation.13


In 1971, McAlister was acquired by United Engineers Ltd.14

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.15



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days (Singapore: International Chamber of Commerce, 1979), 85. (Call no. RSING 380.10655957 SIN); “Pearl Auctions in Singapore,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1935), 8 October 1935, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Pearl Auctions in Singapore.”
3. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 85; “Pearl Auctions in Singapore.”
4. “Pearl Auctions in Singapore.”
5. Arnold Wright and H. A. Cartwright, eds., Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources (London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., 1908), 684 (Call no. RCLOS 959.51033 TWE); “Pearl Auctions in Singapore.”
6. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 85.
7. Arnold Wright and H. A. Cartwright, eds., Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources (London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub., 1908), 684. (Call no. RCLOS 959.51033 TWE)
8. Wright and Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya, 684; “Pearl Auctions in Singapore.”
9. Singapore Retrospect Through Postcards, 1900–1930 (Singapore: Sin Chew Jit Poh and Archives and Oral History Dept., 1982), 26, 31. (Call no. RSING 769.4995957 SIN)
10. Wright and Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya, 684.
11. Wright and Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya, 684.
12. “Great Fire in Battery Road,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 4 July 1983, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “McAlister Holds Interest in Various Fields,” New Nation, 29 May 1971, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Produce,” Straits Times, 4 August 1971, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Kompass Singapore 2006, vol. 1 (Singapore: Kompass Singapore, 2006), 450. (Call no. RSING 382.05 K-[DIR])



Further resources
Gavin Young, In Search of Conrad (London: Hutchinson, 1991), 82. (Call no. RSEA 915.9008 YOU-[TRA])

Latest Telegram,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 5 January 1865, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

Ronni Pinsler, R. (1982). MacAlister and Co. Building at the junction of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road, 1982, 1982, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media image no. 19990007095 – 055)

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), Demolition of Old McAlister Building at Battery Road, 22 October 1965, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. PCD0123 – 017)

The Fire in Flint Sheet,” Straits Times, 31 December 1864, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Victor R Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Toponymics: A Study of Singapore Street Names (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2004), 253. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])



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.


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