The Burmah Oil Company was a leading Scottish oil business which was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.
The company was founded as the Rangoon Oil Company in Glasgow in 1886 by David Sime Cargill to develop oil fields in the Indian subcontinent. In the late 1890s, it passed into the ownership of Sir Campbell Kirkman Finlay, whose family already possessed vast colonial interests through their trading vehicle James Finlay and Co.
In the first decade of the 20th century, Burmah Oil became an early and major shareholder in Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) - later Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, then British Petroleum and eventually BP. It restricted its downstream interests to the Indian subcontinent, where BP had no business interests. In 1923, the company gave £5,000 (£236,000 in 2011 money) to future Prime Minister Winston Churchill to lobby the British government to allow them sole control over oil resources in Persia.
It played a major role in the oil industry in the Indian subcontinent for about a century through its subsidiaries, and in the discovery of oil in the Middle East through its significant influence over British Petroleum. It marketed itself under the BOC brand in Burma, Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and Assam (in India) and through a joint venture Burmah-Shell with Shell in the rest of India.
Until 1901, when the Standard Oil Company started operations in Burma, Burmah Oil enjoyed a monopoly in the region. The company operated in Burma until 1963, when Ne Win nationalised all industries in the country. Based on nationalized assets of Burmah Oil, the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise was created.
In 1966, Castrol was acquired by Burmah, which was renamed Burmah-Castrol. The Bank of England came to the rescue of Burmah Oil after the company made large losses on its tanker fleets in 1974. The core of the rescue operation was the provision of a year's grace so that the company could become smaller and more viable.
Burmah in Australia
Until the 2000 acquisition of Burmah-Castrol, the company operated a number of service station sites in Australia. Many of the service station sites were acquired by independent retailer United Petroleum and convenience store giant 7-Eleven.
Burmah also operated sites under the branding Astron and Major. A majority share in Astron was acquired by Burmah-Castrol from Avi Silver and Eddie Hirsch (founders of United Petroleum) in 1990.
Burmah sponsored Swindon Town Football Club from 1991 to 1995, during which time they were promoted to the Premier League but then suffered two successive relegations. Burmah had a head office based within the town.
For a short period they also sponsored the Airedale and Wharfedale Senior Cricket League's Trophy, awarded for the highest combined points total achieved by a member club's first and second XI teams.
- A two-volume history of the company was written by T.A.B. Corley: A History of the Burmah Oil Company, 1886–1924 (published 1983) and A History of the Burmah Oil Company. Vol 2, 1924–66 (published 1988).