In the 1800s before the turn of the century two British shipping companies served the important routes to South Africa. The Union Steam Ship Co. Ltd. and The Castle Mail Packets Co. Ltd. competed for the Cape Government’s contract to ship mail between the UK and South Africa and sometimes they held a joint contract and this cumbersome arrangement lasted until finally they amalgamated into one shipping line on the 13th February 1900. The new company was called the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd.

Over the next 30 years or so the company ran passengers, mails and general cargoes to and from the Cape and also visited other ports around Africa. Most of the passenger ships were fitted with refrigerated cargo space to carry fruit back to the UK and Europe and in the early 1930s it was noticed that the production of fruit in the Cape especially citrus, apples, pears and grapes was on the increase and in 1934 a decision was made to build two refrigerated fast cargo ships which would take general cargoes out to the Cape and return with fruit.

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