Paterson, Simons & Co.

Singapore Infopedia

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia, Chan, Fook Weng


Paterson, Simons & Co. was an early trading company in Singapore whose origin can be traced back to 1821. Although no longer based in Singapore, it played an important part in the early commercial development of the colonial state.1

Paterson, Simons & Co. originated from Holdsworth, Smithson & Co., a business established in Singapore in 1821 as a branch of the London and Liverpool merchant firm, Rawson, Holdsworth & Co.2

In 1828, William Wemyss Ker came to Singapore and joined Holdsworth, Smithson & Co. He was admitted as a partner in 1830.3 Following the retirement of Holdsworth and Smithson, the firm was renamed Ker, Rawson & Co. in 1835.4

William Paterson and Henry Minchin Simons, who had been assistants in the company in the mid-1840s, were admitted to the firm as partners in 1853.Ker had established a close relationship with the Temenggong of Johore and by 1853, he had been appointed to manage the Malay regent’s finances. This may have helped him, Paterson and Simons accrue business privileges.6

On 30 April 1859 however, the partnership of Ker, Rawson & Co. was dissolved. Subsequently, Paterson, Simons & Co. was formed on 1 May with Ker, Paterson and Simons as its founders.7

In 1867, Thomas Shelford and William Giuseppi Gulland became partners of the firm. Upon Ker’s death in 1874, Paterson, Simmons, Shelford and Gulland continued as Paterson, Simons and Co.8

In 1899, the company re-established its port monopoly in Johore, following a merger with the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. In 1905, the port operation was expropriated by the British government but the company retained its interests in shipping and in maritime and property insurance. It also continued to act as agents for the East India Coal Company and for a number of shipping lines.9

In 1907, the firm was converted into a limited liability company. It acquired William McKerrow and Co. and McKerrow became a director of the company.10 The company continued to operate uneventfully until the 1960s, when it was acquired by Wood Hall Trust. Then in 1982, Wood Hall Trust was taken over by Australian conglomerate, Elders IXL.11

The company is no longer based in Singapore. It is headquartered in the United Kingdom as Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Ltd, with operations throughout West Africa.12

Nature of business
One of the oldest firms in Singapore while it was operating there, Paterson, Simons & Co. traded in a wide range of commodities, including camphor, vanilla, cinnamon, sea slugs, shark fin, tin, coffee and pearls.13 It exported tropical produce of all kinds – such as rubber, copra and pineapples from Malaya, Borneo and the East Indies – to Europe and other countries in the world, and imported merchandise including cotton goods and other manufactured products from Europe.14

The company subsequently expanded its business activities beyond the import and export trade. It also acted as an agent or representative for a wide range of business and non-business entities including shipping lines, insurance companies, industrial enterprises and state governments.15 In 1888, the company’s agencies included the Johor government, New Harbour Dock, Ben Line, Gibb Line, Union Line, four insurance companies and the Pahang Corporation. By 1895, its agencies had expanded to include Mogul Line, Nippon Yusen Kaisha, Tata Line and Pahang Kabang. By the beginning of World War I, the firm had become the agent and secretary for 16 planting and rubber companies, and it had branches in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Klang and Port Swettenham.16

In the mid-1930s, Paterson, Simons & Co. was involved in a wide range of business activities. It was an importer of general merchandise, an exporter of tropical produce, an engineering and bunker coal contractor, an agent and secretary for rubber companies, as well as an agent for shipping, insurance and manufacturing companies.17 The company currently specialises in selling, renting and servicing heavy lifting equipment in West Africa.18

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Chan Fook Weng

1. Tommy Koh, et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, 2006), 406 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); “One of Oldest Firms in the Colony,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 212 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); “History,” Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Limited, accessed 26 February 2020; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days (Singapore: International Chamber of Commerce, 1979), 49. (Call no. RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
3. “One of Oldest Firms in the Colony”; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 49.
4. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 212; “One of Oldest Firms in the Colony”; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 49.
5. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 233 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 212.
6. International Directory of Company Histories, vol. 1 (Chicago: St. James Press, 1988), 592. (Call no. RBUS 338.7409 IDCH)
7. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 233; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 212; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 49.
8. “One of Oldest Firms in the Colony.”
9. Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Limited, “History”; International Directory of Company Histories, 592.
10. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 212; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 49.
11. International Directory of Company Histories, 592; “One of Oldest Firms in the Colony.”
12. Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Limited, “History.”
13. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 213; “One of Oldest Firms in the Colony”; International Directory of Company Histories, 592.
14. Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Limited, “History.”
15. Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Limited, “History.”
16. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 213; Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Limited, “History”; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, From Early Days, 49; David Sunderland, ed., British Economic Development in Southeast Asia, 1880–1939, vol. 1 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014), xx. (Call no. RSING 338.959009041 BRI)
17. “Page 15 Advertisements Column 1: Paterson, Simons & Co., Ltd,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Paterson Simons & Co. (Africa) Limited, “History.”

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.


Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Lim Peng Siang


Lim Peng Siang (b. 1872, Fujian, China–d. 1944, Singapore) was a Chinese merchant who made significant contributions to Singapore’s economic and social developments in the early 1900s. He was a prominent leader of the Chinese community and held key positions in a number of public and private companies. He founded...

Borneo Co. Ltd.


The Borneo Co. Ltd. (BCL) was formed in 1856 to exploit business opportunities in Borneo (Sarawak). It was also active in other parts of Asia. Drawing on its knowledge of the Southeast Asian markets, the company entered the automobile industry in the 1920s, importing and selling cars in Singapore and...

Lat Pau (Le Bao)


Lat Pau (Le Bao), the longest running Chinese daily in pre-war Singapore, was incepted in December 1881 by See Ewe Lay. The Lat Pau continued for 52 years before folding in March 1932. ...

Chinese coolies


Chinese coolies, who were engaged mostly in unskilled, hard labour, formed the early backbone of Singapore’s labour force. They were mainly impoverished Chinese immigrants who came to Singapore in the latter half of the 19th century to seek fortune, but instead served as indentured labourers. Coolies were employed in almost...

Henry Nicholas Ridley


Henry Nicholas Ridley C.M.G., M.A. (Oxon), F.R.S. (b. 10 December 1855, West Harling, Norfolk, England – d. 24 October 1956, Kew, Surrey, England) is the first director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 to 1911. Ridley is also known as the “father of the rubber industry" , and inventor...

Song Ong Siang


Song Ong Siang (b. 14 June 1871, Singapore–d. 29 September 1941, Singapore) was a prominent member of the Straits Chinese community in Singapore and the first Chinese in Malaya to be knighted by the British. He distinguished himself as a community leader, lawyer, legislator, church elder, scholar and even a...

Raffles Institution


Raffles Institution is one of the oldest schools in Singapore, with a history that stretches back to 1819 when Stamford Raffles proposed the establishment of a premier learning institution. The foundation stone of the building was laid on 5 June 1823, marking the official founding of the institution. The school...

Walter John Napier


Walter John Napier (b. 10 July 1857, Alderly Lodge, Cheshire, England-d.?) was joint founder of the law firm Drew and Napier, and Attorney-General of the Straits Settlements from 1907 to 1909, during which he was responsible for introducing a new Civil Procedure Code. As a lawyer-academic, Napier played a key...

Chinese Post Office Riots


The Chinese Post Office Riots of 15 December 1876 were a series of violent protests by the local Chinese community to demolish a new post office established by the colonial government to handle letters and remittances sent to China. The perpetrators of the riots were said to be local Chinese...

The Singapore Free Press


Published for the first time on 8 October 1835, The Singapore Free Press was Singapore’s second English-language newspaper, after the Singapore Chronicle. It was launched by William Napier with co-founders George D. Coleman, Edward Boustead and Walter Scott Lorrain, and remained in circulation until 1869. The newspaper was revived in...