The company was founded in 1851 by two young men from Fife, Scotland, Alexander Balfour and Stephen Williamson. They were joined for a time by a third partner, David Duncan. The company traded with South America, and had offices in Valparaiso, Chile and San Francisco.
Williamson and Duncan were responsible for the company's operations in Chile, which thrived. A subsidiary was set up in Chile, the Williamson-Balfour Company, which was involved in many activities, most notably in sheep farming on Easter Island between 1897 and 1953.
The company's first ship was the Gardner, soon replaced by the Santiago, a 455-ton barque. The Santiago was sold in 1888, and later the hulk was used as a coal store in Adelaide, Australia, where it still lies.
- Competition Commission report (1981): The Observer and George Outram and Company para 4.15
- Methil Heritage website
- Fischer, S.R. (2005) Island at the Edge of the World ISBN 1-86189-282-9 p.157
- Methil heritage website