Britannia badge from ships' stationery 1960s
from a BI envelope of 1939
Device from a Calcutta letterhead used until the mid-1950s
The colours of British India Steam Navigation (BI) were known throughout
the East and all around the India Ocean, Red Sea and Australasia.
The distinctive black funnel with two white bands was the trademark
of one of the most numerous fleets of the world, carrying cargoes
and passengers between ports in the UK and Continent, Mediterranean
wayports, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, east and South Africa, the Indian
subcontinent, southeast Asia, the Far East and Australasia.
funnel was the universal symbol that topped the equally distinctive
ships' livery of black hull, with narrow white band, red boot topping
and stone coloured king posts and topmasts, as seen in this picture
of Chilka. From
1955, passengerships were given white hull with a black line (see
home page picture), a move which was disliked
by many and arguably gave away some of the unique character of BI
ships. The troopships had buff funnels and white hulls with a dark
The BI houseflag was a a white burgee with red St Andrew's cross (above
right). Although no record remains as to the origin or meaning of
the flag, the book Shipping Wonders of the World did recount a yarn
which, though unauthenticated, perhaps contains some of the truth:
It is to the effect that the founders, Mackinnon and Mackenzie, being
good Scots, instructed a flagmaker to make sets of flags for their
first ships, taking the St Andrews's cross as their design and cutting
a triangle from the fly to distinguish it from the national flag.
One of the partners drew an outline to indicate the flag's shape and
position of the cross, but the ignorant Sassenach flagmaker based
the saltire on a red-on-white St Patrick's cross instead of the intended
white-on-blue. Rather than waste the completed flags, the story goes,
the frugal Scots adopted the design.
1927, ships commanded by the BI commodore were distinguished
by the commodore's flag - a
modified house flag (left). BI's badge consisted of a standing
Britannia in front of a lion, facing left. The lion holds one paw
on a globe. Controversy erupted several years ago over whether
the lion should have tail extended or not. Britannia
appeared on cap badges and uniform buttons and it
was BI's practice in later years to have the Britannia badge
painted on ships' stems (see detail picture, right, of Chinkoa).
for officers were prescribed by BI as early as 1863, it being one
of the first companies to adopt a standard style of dress. BI, in
common with many of the larger British shipping companies, had its
own distinction lace for officers. BI's style was plain cuff rings
for all officers, with purple insertions for engineers, green for
electricians, white for pursers, red for the medical department and
light blue for matrons and children's hostesses.
and petty officers in BI wore company uniform while on board ship
with the BI-pattern lace, worn either on the cuff on blue cloth uniform
or on epaulettes on white (tropical) uniform. Click on the image below
for a larger version of the colour chart.
officers wore the company's brass buttons and capbadge, with Britannia
motif. The peeks of commanders' caps bore the distinctive "scrambled
egg" oakleaf embroidery.
many companies with conservative traditions, the badge, flag and funnel
served as BI's identity for many years but with the fashion for new
corporate identities in the 1950s and 60s and the spread of the graphic
arts, BI acquired its own logo design (right) which survived until
within a year or two of the company's demise, when a rather ugly,
albeit contemporary, deep-shadowline logo was chosen to mimic the
new P&O style. On
reorganisation from 1972, as ships were transferred from BI to the
newly established P&O group shipping divisions, BI ships' funnel
markings were painted over, except in isolated cases, with the pale
blue with white P&O logo which had been adopted as the livery
for the new non-passenger divisions of the enlarged group. Thus the
modern fashion for painting company logos on ships had finally caught
up with British India.
also the history page on this site for funnel
markings and house flags of companies in the the BI group)
BI's Britannia from an advertisement of 1902
capbadge from the company's Regulations and Instructions 1949
Crest of the BI Club, Bombay from a letterhead of 1948