30 May 2007

"The Southern Octopus - The Rise of a Shipping Empire" by Gavin McLean

I recently finished reading this very good history of the Union Steam Ship Company covering the period from the company's founding in Dunedin by James Mills in 1875 until it was purchased by P&O in 1917. The book was, I think, adapted from Gavin McLean's PhD thesis.

What struck me were the parallels between some of the issues facing international shipping in the late nineteenth century and international aviation in the late twentieth century. New technology, alliance arrangements, competition regulation and management performance all loomed large albeit with the shipping fleet moving at about one thirtieth of the speed of modern jet aircraft.

The book is also a good reminder that Dunedin was once the commercial capital of New Zealand.

I studied history at the University of Otago a year behind Gavin and very much respected his thesis supervisor, Associate Professor Gordon Parsonson. Gavin has gone on to be a prolific author of New Zealand history.

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