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The Caledonian Steam Packet Company provided a scheduled shipping service, carrying freight and passengers, on the west coast of Scotland.
The rival railway companies, Caledonian Railway, North British Railway and the Glasgow and South Western Railway, at first used the services of various private operators of Clyde steamers. The Caledonian Railway failed to attract private ship owners to their new extension from Greenock to the fishing village of Gourock. They had purchased the harbour at Gourock, which had advantages of a faster line from Glasgow, bypassing the Glasgow and South Western Railway Prince's Pier at Greenock, and being closer to the Clyde resorts. Caledonian began operating steamers on its own account in 1889.
The Caledonian Steam Packet Company was formed as a packet company in May 1889, with Captain James Williamson as secretary and manager. Nominally an independent company, they bought the ships needed to operate steamer services to and from Gourock.
1890 On withdrawal of the Wemyss Bay Steamboat Company, Caledonian Steam Packet Co took over services to Rothesay, Largs and Millport. In June 1890, they established a service yo Arran from the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway's railhead at Ardrossan. In the years that followed, there was significant investment in piers and ships.
1923 On the amalgamation of the railway companies, the Caledonian Railway and the Glasgow and South Western Railway were merged into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway; the fleets of the 2 companies were amalgamated into the Caledonian Steam Packet Company, their funnels being painted yellow with a black top. At the same time the North British Railway fleet became part of the LNER.
1935 Williamson-Buchanan Steamers was taken over by the Caledonian Steam Packet Company.
1945, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company took responsibility for the Kyleakin to Kyle of Lochalsh ferry.
With nationalisation in 1948, the LMS and LNER fleets were amalgamated as Clyde Shipping Services, under the control of the British Transport Commission.
1957, a reorganisation restored the Caledonian Steam Packet Company name
1965 a red lion was added to each side of the black-topped yellow funnels. The headquarters remained at Gourock pierhead.
1968 At the end of December management of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company passed to the Scottish Transport Group from the British Railways Board (BRB); a half interest in David MacBrayne was similarly transferred from the Transport Holding Co.
1969 STG gained control of David MacBrayne's in June. The MacBrayne service from Gourock to Ardrishaig ended on 30 September 1969, leaving the Clyde services entirely to the Caledonian Steam Packet Company.
On 1 January 1973 STG reorganised its shipping services into two subsidiary companies, CalMac and David MacBrayne. CalMac was to be responsible for profitable services including those which were thought capable of being made profitable and David MacBrayne for the rest. The Secretary of State undertook to subsidise David MacBrayne's loss-making services.
However, in the economic circumstances of the mid-1970s with rising fuel prices and labour costs, it became apparent that the west coast ferry services could not remain or become profitable. In 1975 the Secretary of State undertook to subsidise CalMac as well as David MacBrayne. David MacBrayne ceased trading on 31 December 1978 and transferred its activities to CalMac on the following day.