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Free insights: timeless lessons for
aspiring billionaires, from
one of history's greatest entrepreneurs.

Duncan Dunbar was one of the most successful British
entrepreneurs in the era of the world’s greatest economic
growth - the Industrial Revolution.

Discover 5 timeless principles he applied to build his
business empire…essential but often ignored - principles
that made Dunbar one of the richest men in the world -
the equivalent of a billionaire today.

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Duncan Dunbar II (1803-1862) was the Richard Branson of his time: a rock-star entrepreneur.

From Dunbar wharf in Limehouse, London, he built a global shipping empire acquiring immense teak forests and establishing a shipbuilding yard at Moulmein in Burma where he built many ships, some of which he took into his fleet.  He also patronised James Laing’s Sunderland shipyard extensively. 

His was the largest fleet under sail—bigger than the Royal Navy at its peak and rivalling P&O and Cunard. 

Dunbar was an early adopter of technology such as the revolutionary enclosed West India Docks that eliminated the effects of the Thames River’s huge tidal range and enabled 24 hour operations.

His established routes traversed the world to and from Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. He pioneered ‘Tramp’ shipping.

His fleet participated in the Burmese Wars, the Crimean war, the second Opium War and the Indian Rebellion. Between 1837 and 1862 fully a third of all new arrivals to Australia and New Zealand came in Dunbar vessels.. 

Like Branson, Dunbar also diversified his commercial interests: he was a trader, a marketer (notably of alcoholic beverages, many imported). He founded two insurance companies and two banks and all continue today in modern form.

When Dunbar died in 1862, at just 58, his estate of £1.6 million was the third largest ever recorded in England. Lion Rampant: Duncan Dunbar and The Age of Sail charts the spectacular rise of Duncan Dunbar II. 


It captures the hard-nosed pragmatism, tactical nous and unwavering ambition with which Dunbar bestrode the robust commercial circles of a dominant British Empire.

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Michael Rhodes combines a writer’s passion for Dunbar with an analytical and investigative legal mind to render a story of rare scope. A sailor himself, Michael also brings a sensibility for the sea to this tale, together with a well-researched approach.  

In 2017, Jardine Matheson granted Michael access to their business records, now held by the 
University Library, Cambridge.  Recognising the merit of this project, the University granted Michael access to the restricted Special Collections section of their library, to study the documents attesting to the rise of Dunbar.

Michael travelled widely in the UK for this project, tracing records and meeting descendants of 
Duncan Dunbar and his associates. His application for a visa to visit the sites of the Second Opium War in China was granted with no restrictions.  That visit allowed direct observation of the Bocca Tigris area and forts near Humen in Guangdong Province, the nearby Opium Burning Ponds and the adjacent museums. 

Those travels and subsequent visits to the UK secured photos and copies of original records in 
Duncan Dunbar’s own handwriting.  These records completed the essential sources of information for this first-ever biography of the man who dominated the English shipping trade in Asia, and the migrant trade to Australia and New Zealand.


The author, a New Zealander by birth, was educated in Apia, Samoa and Wellington College, 
New Zealand.  He migrated to Australia in 1966, graduating in Law at Sydney University in 1972. His career combined law with a diversity of interests in the commercial, industrial, agricultural and entertainment sectors.  A love of travel and history led to extended research of maritime matters, with a focus on the life of Duncan Dunbar II. 

Michael Rhodes and wife Patti live part of the year in Sydney and part in Queensland. 
‘Lion Rampant: Duncan Dunbar and the Age of Sail', Michael's first book, has been embraced 

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Michael’s second book has a working title of ‘A Life on Three Parts’ It is a biography written as Fiction due to a paucity of records. The subject was born in Sydney, Australia, educated in Germany, France, and England. Then migrating to South Africa, worked for the Boer Transvaal Republic before undertaking an Intelligence assignment for (Sir) Roger Casement, the British Consul in Mozambique.

After the First World War he was one of a party of 15 men transferred to Poland , his papers marked ‘On Special Service for the Foreign Office in Upper Silesia’.

Only two survived.

In March 1920, Winston Churchill sent a memo to his Cabinet colleagues protesting the post war budget cuts in MI5 and Special Branch. Churchill was desperate to save post war intelligence capability, but an internal struggle raged. Churchill, aware of the likely outcome, persuaded the Foreign Office to take 15 particular men out of Special Branch for his Polish ‘adventure.’

Sir Basil Thomson, head of Special Branch lost the internal struggle. As he recounted, ‘I was accused of sending a 15-man troupe to Poland merely to photograph some streets and a few villages with peasants.’

Prime Minister, Lloyd George, summoned Thomson to No 10. ‘I was kicked out by the PM,’ he later said. In May 1920 negotiations began with the Soviet Trade delegation for a Pact between Bolshevik Russia and the United Kingdom despite protests from Lord Curzon, then Foreign Secretary, and other Cabinet Ministers such as Churchill.

The graves of some very brave British servicemen killed in action in the Upper Silesia foray lie in the old cemetery in Opole. Despite protests to this day, they are not tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, nor by the Foreign Office or any branch of the British Government.

The notes of one of the two survivors have been pieced together for a fascinating story. Out later this year.

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Purchase your softcover copy of Michael Rhodes' magnificent new biography Lion Rampant: Duncan Dunbar and the Age of Sail today for AUD $32.99 plus P&H.

Lion Rampant: Duncan Dunbar and the Age of Sail


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Just finished your book which I did enjoy.  Particularly loved the synthesis of the Victorian mercantile era from what must have been an immense amount of material that you had amassed...... Enjoyed the traversing of the Captains’/Commanders’ lives, as the contrast at sea and in

the East with the commerce in London is well balanced but worthy of perhaps another foray in the future.....

I will be passing on the other copy, into the shipping world, in a couple of weeks when I see my friend.  
I am sure he will love the antecedents as he knows shipping history quite well, particularly in the Far East.

Kim McGrath