Dadabhoy Rustomjee Banaji and Maneckjee Rustomjee Banaji, the brothers behind the Canton and Hong Kong trading firm, D. & M. Rustomjee

HF: The following article about Dadabhoy Rustomjee Banaji and Maneckjee Rustomjee Banaji was written by Sooni Shroff-Gander and first published in the Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, edited by May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn. The publisher, HK University Press, has kindly granted permission for it to be posted here, but retains copyright over this material from 2012.

I have been unable to find an image of either of the Banaji brothers. If someone does find one I would be very pleased to be sent it.

Thanks to SCT for proof reading the retyped article.

Banaji, Dadabhoy Rustomjee b. 10 September 1810, India; d. 24 June 1881, Bombay India. Merchant.

Banaji, Maneckjee Rustomjee b. 1815, India; d. 22 December 1891, Calcutta, India. Merchant.

Dadabhoy Rustomjee and Maneckjee Rustomjee Banaji were brothers who operated a hugely profitable trading firm called D. & M. Rustomjee, based first in Canton and later in Hong Kong. They were responsible for the founding meeting – held in their Canton offices – of the Canton Zoroastrian Anjuman, an association of Parsee members. The elected trustees of the Anjuman handled the affairs of the community. Both brothers were active in the keeping of Anjuman records as well as overseeing the raising of funds for charitable causes.

Dadabhoy Rustomjee was by far the more intrepid of the two. He first sailed to China at the age of 16, and endured the harsh conditions as well as the dangers with which such journeys were fraught: he was swept off course by typhoons, attacked and raided by pirates, and once had his ship forcibly boarded by irate Chinese officials when driven to make an unexpected but necessary stop for rations after running adrift. Undeterred, Dadabhoy Rustomjee went on to become one of the most notable and enterprising of the Parsee Indian traders of his time.

Lin Zexu Supervising The Destruction Of Opium 1839 Source Unknown

Commissioner Lin Zexu supervises the destruction of opium in 1839, artist unknown

The Rustomjee brothers traded in thousands of chests of opium as well as, ostensibly, silks, spices and tea. Of the 20,000 chests of opium confiscated and destroyed by Commissioner Lin Zexu in 1839, Dadabhoy and Maneckjee Rustomjee had owned 1,000. Prominent on the committee of the first British Chamber of Commerce in China, Dadabhoy Rustomjee was one of four Parsees held hostage for a time by Lin. One of his favourite ships was allegedly the opium clipper, the Cowasjee Family, built in 1836 by the renowned Parsee Cowasjees, shipbuilders of Calcutta. The Cowasjee Family was surrounded and often attacked by pirate ships when plying between Canton and Calcutta, but somehow managed to escape being sunk thanks to the extra armaments carried on board. Perhaps Dadabhoy Rustomjee believed it to be a lucky talisman for him. He sailed on the Cowasjee Family in December 1841 from Canton back to Calcutta.

Having made money from the opium trade, these two early Parsee traders became prosperous enough to buy land during the very first Hong Kong land auctions in June 1841. Dadabhoy Rustomjee successfully bid for Marine Lots 5 and 20, and his land investments included numerous waterfront properties and godowns.

Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, ed M Holdsworth & C Munn, HKU Press, 2012. This wonderful book collects in one volume more than 500 specially commissioned entries on men and women from Hong Kong history.gwulo

This article was first posted on 24th June 2020.

A selection of biographies published in the Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography which have been posted on our website:

  1. Ann Tse-kai Hong Kong industrialist, established Winsor Industrial Ltd textile manufacturing
  2. Sir John Douglas Clague – connected to a wide array of Hong Kong businesses and lobbyist for the first Cross Harbour tunnel
  3. John Bell-Irving, Jardines’ Hong Kong taipan 1886 and business partner of Sir Paul Chater
  4. Douglas Lapraik – watchmaker, shipowner and co-founder of the Hongkong & Whampoa Dock Company
  5. Augustine Heard & Company, major American 19th century China trading house with its headquarters in Hong Kong from 1856
  6. Sir Shouson Chow – director of many Hong Kong firms and corporations
  7. Noel Croucher – philanthropist and director of Green Island Cement and Hong Kong and China Gas
  8. Sir Robert Hormus Kotewall, founder of R.H.Kotewall & Co. and connected to many other Hong Kong companies

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