Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy: China, William Jardine, the Celestial, and other HK connections

HF: Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, 1st Baronet (15 July 1783 – 14 April 1859), also spelt Jejeebhoy or Jeejebhoy, was a Parsi India merchant and philanthropist. He had close connections over a lengthy period with Hong Kong, through his business association with William Jardine,  his merchant fleet using its harbour and for having had the first Hong Kong built ocean-going ship constructed here.

This extract it taken from Turbans & Traders: Hong Kong’s Indian Communities  by Barbara-Sue White

Jejeebhoy

Jejeebhoy and his Chinese secretary Portrait by George Chinnery

In 1819 William Jardine became the agent for a Parsi Bombay merchant, Framjee Cowasjee, before forming a business alliance with Jamsetjee Jeejee a wealthy Parsi merchant. Jeejeebhoy, born in 1783, sailed for China and its limitless opportunities as a sixteen-year-old orphan. Jeejeebhoy’s straightforward dealings and Parsi integrity initiated good credit and helped him to develop far-flung trade connections from China to Sumatra and on to Great Britain.

William Jardine Portrait by George Chinnery 1820s

William Jardine
Portrait by George Chinnery 1820s

In 1803 Jeejeebhoy was shipwrecked off Cape Town with the surgeon of the Brunswick, William Jardine, thus starting  a lifelong friendship founded on mutual business canniness and largess. After incessant travel, Jeejeebhoy established a base in Bombay in 1807 from which he expanded his cotton and opium business. He bought his first ship the Good Success, in 1814, then soon formed a large, rapid fleet which often harboured in Hong Kong. The first ocean-going ship ever constructed in Hong Kong was the Celestial, a schooner, built for Jeejeebhoy.

The connection with Jeejeebhoy was instrumental as Jardine and Matheson built up their great firm, continuing the profitable and amiable association with the Parsi entreprenur. Jeejeebhoy long continued as one of the close associates who served as underwriters to Jardine, Matheson and Company. A tribute to their connection exists even today in a portrait of Jeejeebhoy which hangs in Jardine’s Hong Kong office.

The following is a brief account of his various voyages to China, and elsewhere.

Jejeebhoy was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1783, of poor parents who died shortly afterwards, leaving him an orphan. At the age of sixteen, having had little formal education, he made his first visit to Calcutta (now Kolkata) and then began his first voyage (1800-1801) to China to trade in cotton and opium.

His second voyage (1801-1802) to China was made in a ship of the East India Company’s fleet.

His third voyage (1803-1804) was “successful and uneventful, and a consolidation of his network of contacts, adding Siam, Singapore and Sumatra.”

On Jejeebhoy’s fourth voyage (1805)  to China, the Indiaman,  in which he sailed was forced to surrender to the French, by whom he was carried as a prisoner to the Cape of Good Hope, then a neutral Dutch possession.  After much delay and great difficulty, Jejeebhoy made his way to Calcutta in a Danish ship.

Undaunted, within months he set sail again, for a fifth and final voyage (1806-1807). This was his most successful and he extended his commercial contacts in the East and added Egypt and England in the west. undertook another voyage to China which was more successful than any of his previous journeys.

By this time Jejeebhoy had established his reputation as an enterprising merchant possessed of considerable wealth. He settled in Mumbai, where he directed his commercial operations on an extended scale. By 1836, Jejeebhoy’s firm was large enough to employ his three sons and other relatives, and he had amassed what at that period of Indian mercantile history was regarded as fabulous wealth.

Jejeebhoy was known by the nickname “Mr. Bottlewalla”. “Walla” meant “trader”, and Jejeebhoy’s business interests included the manufacture and sale of bottles. Jejeebhoy and his family would often sign letters and checks using the name “Bottlewaller”, and were known by that name in business and society, but he did not choose this assumed surname when it came to the baronetcy.

There is some confusion about exactly what happened on his fourth voyage, Accounts differ as to whether he was put ashore in Cape Town as a prisoner or was shipwrecked nearby whilst passing. Another has him nearly dying of starvation whilst in South Africa.

Sketch of Jejeebhoy 1857

Sketch of Jejeebhoy
1857

This article was first posted on 14th May 2014.

See:

  1. White B-S, Turbans & Traders: Hong Kong’s Indian Communities, Oxford University Press, 1994
  2. Karanjia BK, Give me a Bombay merchant anytime!: the life of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Bt., 1783-1859, University of Bombay, 1998
  3. Zoroastrians.net – further information: Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy – Bombay’s most worthy son
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamsetji_Jeejeebhoy – some of the above and further information about the man

Related Indhhk articles: Celestial – first ship launched in Hong Kong 1843

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