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Currie, Sir Donald

CURRIE, SIR DONALD (1825-1909), British shipowner, was born at Greenock on the i?th of September 1825. At a very early age he was employed in the office of a shipowner in that port, but at the age of eighteen left Scotland for Liverpool, where shipping business offered more scope. By a fortunate chance he attracted the notice of the chief partner in the newly started Cunard steamship line, who found him a post in that company. In 1849 the Cunard Company started a service between Havre and Liverpool to connect with their transatlantic service. Currie was appointed Cunard agent at Havre and Paris, and secured for his firm a large share of the freight traffic between France and the United States. About 1856 he returned to Liverpool, where till 1862 he held an important position at the Cunard Company's headquarters. In 1862 he determined to strike out for himself, and leaving the Cunard established the " Castle " line of sailing-ships between Liverpool and Calcutta. Business prospered, but in 1864 Currie found it profitable to substitute London for Liverpool as the home port of his vessels, and himself settled in London. In 1872 he came to the conclusion, after a careful study of all the circumstances, that the development of Cape Colony justified the starting of a new line of steamers between England and South Africa. The result of this decision was the founding of the successful Castle line of steamers (see under STEAMSHIP LINES), which after 1876 divided the South African mail contract with the older Union line, and was finally amalgamated with the latter under the title Union Castle line in 1900. Currie's intimate knowledge of South African conditions and persons was on several occasions of material service to the British government. His acquaintance with Sir John Brand, the president of what was then the Orange Free State, caused him to be entrusted by the home government with the negotiations in the dispute concerning the ownership of the Kimberley diamond-fields, which were brought to a successful conclusion. He introduced the two Transvaal deputations which came to England in 1877 and 1878 to protest against annexation, and though his suggestions for a settlement were disregarded by the government of the day, the terms on which the Transvaal was subsequently restored to the Boers agreed, in essentials, with those he had advised. The first news of the disaster of Isandhlwana in the Zulu War was given to the home government through his agency. At that time there was no cable between England and South Africa, and the news was sent by a Castle liner to St Vincent, and telegraphed thence to Currie. At the same time by diverting his outward mail-boat then at sea from its ordinary course to St Vincent, he enabled the government to telegraph immediate instructions to that island for conveyance thence by the mail, thus saving serious delay, and preventing the annihilation of the British garrison at Eshowe. The present arrangement under which the British admiralty is enabled to utilize certain fast steamers of the mercantile marine as armed cruisers in war-time was suggested and strongly urged by Currie in 1880. In the same year he was returned to parliament as Liberal member for Perthshire, but, though a strong personal friend of W.E. Gladstone, he was unable to follow that statesman on the Home Rule question, and from 1885 to 1900 he represented West Perthshire as a Unionist. In 1881 his services in connexion with the Zulu War were rewarded with knighthood, and in 1897 he was created G.C.M.G. He died at Sidmouth on the 13th of April 1909.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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