This portrait was painted the year after Sutherland became Chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Shipping Company (P & O). He had been born in modest circumstances in Aberdeen but had worked his way up from the bottom of the Company with postings in India, China, Hong Kong and Egypt. Sir Thomas remained Chairman of P & O for thirty-three years. At his death he was senior Vice-president of the Suez Canal Company. He did much to maintain the supremacy of British shipping.