Friday, 2 August 2019

Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy’s philanthropy - a well-known trader in colonial India

 Some successful Indian businessmen during the colonial amassed a lot of wealth as they were in the good books of the English. In the later years, though they were known for their philanthropy, they left behind a legacy ridden with controversy and debate. That they made heaps of money in the unethical business with the blessings of the British is an eyesore,  not a palatable one. Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, a Parsi-Indian merchant  was involved in opium trade. He was known more for his charities than for his business. A humane, worthy soul.  
Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, 1st Baronet commons.wikimedia.org
Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, 1st Baronet Jejeebhoy of Bombay, CMG (15 July 1783 – 14 April 1859, a native of Bombay  is quite well known to have made his vast fortune in  cotton and opium trade to China. The latter was highly profitableand ofcourse, unethical. That was thereason in the later years he distanced away from it. Son of Merwanjee Mackjee Jejeebhoy and Jeevibai Cowasjee Jejeebhoy, he came up in a hard way.His father was a small-time  textile merchant  and Parsi priest from Olpad, Gujarat. Both his parents died when he was just 16 and his uncle took care of him. A man of guts and firm determination to succeed in his life on his own, armed with just formal education at that age he made a trip to China to trade in cotton and opium   

His second and fourth voyages were unsuccessful because of political situation and the rivalry between the French and the British. On the 4th voyage Jejeebhoy was  a prisoner in the Cape of Good Hope  under the French. The place was  a neutral Dutch possession. Somehow he managed to get back to Calcutta in a Danish ship after spending four months.  The four voyages to China were not as fruitful as he expected, but this successive down tern in the early stages did not dampen his spirits. He did learn a lot and got wide experience. He developed a lasting friendship with  the Brunswick’s young doctor, William Jardine, according to historian  Jesse S. Palsetia who wrote a book on   Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy of Bombay. This changed the course of events in his life.

Jardine  as a doctor with the East India Company  had a plan to  set up a trading house in Canton (now known as Guangzhou) after leaving the job. That trading house  is a  conglomerate now with a market capitalisation of more than $40 billion. Jardine’s firm during that time  focused on opium because the British had already got  millions of Chinese hopelessly hooked to opium.  They daily needed a grain of  opium to get high. British needed  money to pay for the tea imported from China but had no  liquid cash. To make it up, they increased the export of opium and one third of it  was sent  to Jardine and company.  Opium was grown in Malwa and shipped from Bombay to China. The man who made this trade possible for Jardine and Co from India became one of the wealthy men in India.  At 40 in the 1820s  Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy had allegedly made more than ₹2 crore - a huge sum in those days.; mind you he started off from the scratch.
Apr. 1959. Postal stamp. Jejeebhoyen.wikipedia.org
Yes, he made yet another voyage to China, this time with more vigor than ever before. This one happened to be more successful than any of his previous journeys. Subsequently he had a well established enterprise and  soon married his maternal uncle's daughter in 1803. With additional profits from cotton business (Napoleonic war helped him), he decided to get into shipping business and owned a fleet of ships, His company under his direction ran the shipping business well and the remarks made by the Gov. of Bombay confirmed it.  Lord Elphinstone, then Governor of Bombay,  said of of Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, ''By strict integrity, by industry and punctuality in all his commercial transactions, he contributed to raise the character of the Bombay merchant in the most distant markets.'' 

Being a man with good business acumen and  of affable nature, never had failed to cultivate a fine relationship with the  English company.  In 1814, it helped him get  sufficient profits to purchase his first ship, the ''Good Success'', and he gradually added another six ships to his fleet.  His ships mainly carried  opium and a little cotton to China shipped by the EIC.. 

By 1836, Jejeebhoy's firm grew by leaps and bounds and became large. His three sons shared his business responsibility. The man, who at the age of sixteen with formal education was just a young merchant,  had amassed  so vast a wealth in the later years he was regarded as the most successful business man in Bombay.  

Jejeebhoy was quite well-known for his philanthropy which began in 1822  because he came up in his life by successfully passing through the rungs one by one and knew the impact of poverty and the miseries suffered by the poor. Obviously he was quite sympathetic toward his  poor country men and in the later years his preoccupation was to alleviate human distress in all its forms and give them good health care. The noble character about him was he treated people of all faiths on equal terms. He created an endowment to run hospitals, schools, homes of charity and pension funds throughout India. Besides, and he financed the construction of many public works such as wells, reservoirs, bridges, and causeways.  His list of charities is a pretty long one. He died in 1859 during his life time  and donated over £230,000 to charity - a whoopimg sum. 

Sir J. J. Hospital, Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy School of Art, the Sir J. J. College of Architecture,  the Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Art and the Seth R.J.J. High School are worthy of mention.  His donation included 126 charities. Sir J. J. Dharamshala at Bellasis Road, Mumbai is   catering to the poor and destitute.  He financed the construction of many public works such as wells, reservoirs, bridges, and causeways and mention may be made of  marine causeway connecting the island Mahim and Bhandara and  two-thirds of the entire cost of the Poona (now Pune) waterworks, with the remainder coming from the governmentThe Bombay Times was launched in 1838 by a syndicate of persons, which included Sir Jamsetjee.


Recognizing his services and charities,  the British Crown  bestowed on Jejeebhoy  knighthood in 1945  and a baronetcy in  1858. It was considered the  first distinctions of their kind conferred by Queen Victoria upon a British subject in India. The special postage stamp was issued in April 1959 to commemorate Jejeebhoy’s death anniversary.