The family business historically was shipping, since the future founder of the family business, Charles Cayzer, spent his entire working life from the age of 14 in freight shipping. After twenty years working for other people, he oversaw the launch of the SS Clan Alpine, the first of a new fleet of six “Clan” ships, in October 1878.
This launch of both the ship and the new venture was in fact the beginning of a significant new chapter in his career and his family’s life, as not only was the Clan Line a successful and profitable venture for all concerned, but Charles himself was now the manager of the new fleet, via his own company Cayzer, Irvine.
For those of his sons who joined the family business, their legacy after their father’s death in 1916, was a large and successful family business which it was now their responsibility to maintain and increase. Cayzer, Irvine acquired or managed other smaller fleets to the greater benefit of the company as a whole, but the most significant addition to the Cayzer, Irvine portfolio came with the merger of Clan Line and the Union-Castle Line in 1956.
The new company, British & Commonwealth Shipping, was run by the Cayzer, Irvine -dominated board, based out of the Clan Line head office in St Mary Axe. Over the next few years, Clan Line freight remained profitable, while the passenger-oriented Union-Castle Line, even allowing for the freight it carried, and its valuable Royal Mail contract to provide a regular service between the UK and South Africa, barely broke even.
The new partnership kept both lines afloat for another twenty years, but times were changing. Containerisation saw a radical overhaul of freight shipping, and B&C Shipping did evolve in this respect. But air transport was getting cheaper, and Union-Castle’s mail contract was not renewed past 1977 in favour of a faster airmail service. The loss of this contract was also the end of the line for the Union-Castle passenger ships.
The final sailings took place in September of that year, and the passenger ships were sold. Freight shipping continued for a few more years, but no new ships had been built since 1966, and as ships aged, they were gradually sold off. Clan Macgregor was the final Clan ship, sold in November 1981. With her sale, the Cayzer family had left the shipping business after just over 100 years.