David MacBrayne

David MacBrayne Ltd
Industry Shipping
Fate Taken over
Successor Caledonian MacBrayne
Founded 1851
Defunct 1973
Area served
Hebrides of Scotland

David MacBrayne Ltd is a company owned by the Scottish Government. Formed in 1851 as a private shipping company, it became the main carrier for freight and passengers in the Hebrides. In 1973, it was merged with Caledonian Steam Packet Company as state-owned David MacBrayne. Since 2006 it has been the holding company for ferry operators CalMac Ferries Ltd (operating as Caledonian MacBrayne) and Argyll Ferries Ltd.


In 1851, Burns Brothers, G. and J. Burns of Glasgow passed their fleet of Hebridean vessels to their chief clerk, David Hutchinson. The new company, David Hutcheson & Co. had three partners, David Hutcheson, Alexander Hutcheson and David MacBrayne. In 1878, the company passed to David MacBrayne, partner and nephew of Messrs. Burns.[1]

The Company rapidly became the main carrier on the West Highland routes, providing passenger and freight services to most islands. They initially operated from Glasgow down the Firth of Clyde through the Crinan Canal to Oban and Fort William, and on through the Caledonian Canal to Inverness.[2] They added the mail run to Islay, Harris and North Uist from Skye and then the Outer Isles run from Oban to Barra and South Uist. As each opened, they added the railheads at Oban, Mallaig, Kyle of Lochalsh and Strome Ferry.

MacBraynes remained in the hands of the family until 1928, when it was unable to support a bid for the renewal of the mail contract[3] and effectively became bankrupt. No other operator was found for the contract and the company was reformed, with ownership divided between Coast Lines and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.[2]


Ardrishaig 1970 when Macbrayne buses operated in many parts of the west coast and islands
3 April 1968 in snow south of Portree

The new owners rebuilt the ageing fleet with motor vessels such as MV Lochfyne, MV Lochnevis and MV Lochiel. After the Second World War, MV Loch Seaforth and MV Claymore were added.

Bus services, which had begun on the mainland in 1906, were expanded to Islay in 1941 and into the Outer Hebrides after the war, mainly by acquisition.[4]

In 1948 the shares in the company owned by the LMS passed to the British Transport Commission thus partially nationalising it.

In 1964, the rising number of motor vehicles led to the ordering of three purpose-built vessels, MV Hebrides, MV Clansman and MV Columba for the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy, Mallaig-Armadale and Oban-Craignure-Lochaline routes.[5]

Clansman and Loch Seaforth pass at Mallaig in 1971.


In July 1969, the remaining 50% passed into state ownership, after which the mainland bus services passed to Highland Omnibuses, those on the islands being divested within a few years.[6] On 1 January 1973, the other state-owned shipping company, Clyde based Caledonian Steam Packet Company acquired most of the ships and routes of MacBraynes and commenced joint Clyde and West Highland operations, under the new name of Caledonian MacBrayne, with a combined headquarters at Gourock.


After lying dormant for a number of years, the company was reactivated in 2006 by Scottish Ministers to act as the holding company for state-owned ferry operators.[1] Scottish Ministers are the sole shareholder of the group, and all subsidiaries are private companies.[1] The group consisted of ferry operators CalMac Ferries Ltd, which (as Caledonian MacBrayne) operates the Clyde and Hebrides services and NorthLink Ferries Ltd, the former operator of the Aberdeen - Kirkwall - Lerwick and Scrabster - Stromness services. In 2011, newly created operator Argyll Ferries Ltd, which operates the Dunoon - Gourock passenger service was added to the group.[7] In May 2012, NorthLink Ferries Ltd lost the Northern Isles ferry service contract to Serco[8]

The vessels and piers used by the ferry operators are owned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which is also owned by the Scottish Government. CMAL leases the vessels and piers to the operating companies for the duration of the contracts. The ships are chartered to the relevant ferry operators, and the piers and harbours operated under fairly standard berthing charges.

Ships of David MacBrayne

MacBrayne ships featured red funnels with a black top. One of the best known was RMS Columba, MacBrayne's flagship from 1879 to 1935.[9] She was an early steel-hulled 301 foot vessel, built by J & G Thomson in 1878. Columba was the largest and most luxurious Clyde steamer of the day and operated the Glasgow to Ardrishaig service as part of MacBrayne's "Royal Route" to Oban.[10]

List of ships operated by the company

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.



  1. 1 2 3 "History". David MacBrayne. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  2. 1 2 "Company History". CalMac. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  3. "A brief history". MacBrayne Circle. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  4. McCallum, F. & Bloomfield, S.W. (1965), British Bus Fleets No.22: Scottish Bus Group, pp. 66-67. Ian Allan, London.
  5. "History of Caledonian MacBrayne". West Highland Steamer Club. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  6. Milne, S.J. (2008), Highland, p. 33. Venture Publications, Glossop. ISBN 9781905304189.
  7. "Argyll Ferries Wins Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Tender". For Argyll. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  8. "Serco confirmed as Northern Isles ferry operator". BBC News. 29 May 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  9. "RMS Columba". David MacBrayne Ltd postcard. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  10. "PS Columba". Paddle Steamer Resources by Tramscape. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  11. "The Fleet - Lochearn". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  12. "The Fleet - Garry". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  13. http://www.shipsofcalmac.co.uk/h_loch_arkaig.asp
  14. "The Fleet - Lochnell". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  15. "The Fleet - Loch Broom". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  16. "The Fleet - Lochdunvegan". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  17. http://www.shipsofcalmac.co.uk/ships.asp?vessel=loch_eynort
  18. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24718842@N04/3019054755/
  19. "The Fleet - Loch Carron". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  20. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24718842@N04/4946397390/
  21. Steamers of the Clyde and Western Isles: MacArthur, McCrorie & McHaffie 1965 edition page 26
  22. http://www.shipsofcalmac.co.uk/ships.asp?vessel=lochailort
  23. http://www.clydesite.co.uk/clydebuilt/viewship.asp?id=365
  24. http://www.shipsofcalmac.co.uk/ships.asp?vessel=loch_toscaig
  25. http://www.shipsofcalmac.co.uk/ff_kyles_ferries.asp
  26. http://www.shipsofcalmac.co.uk/h_dhuirnish.asp
  27. "1901 MacBrayne's Steamers and Services". Kintyre On Record. Retrieved 30 January 2011.

External links

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