Jardine, Matheson & Co., Ltd, a brief history

Paul Mark Onslow kindly sent me a manuscript of The Hongkong Land Company’s 90th Anniversary 1889-1979 which I intend to post on the website shortly. The manuscript contains a section entitled Jardine, Matheson & Co., Ltd, Part of Asia’s History featured in this article.

HF: I have retyped the article to increase legibility and aid searches on the site.

Please note the images shown here do not come from the original article.

Thanks to SCT for proofreading the retyped copy of the original article.

Jardine, Matheson & Co., Ltd – Part of Asia’s History

In July 1832, during the Ching Dynasty, a small public notice in the Canton Register announced the formation of Jardine, Matheson & Co.

William Jardine And James Matheson Courtesy Wikiwand

Company founders, William Jardine and James Matheson Courtesy: Wikiwand

In England, William 1V was on the throne; in the United States, Andrew Jackson was in his first term as President; and in China these were the pre-Treaty days, ten years before the founding of Hong Kong.

But since that time, in almost a century and a half of trading, the Company name has remained unchanged, except for the addition of “Limited” in 1906 when the old firm became a limited company.

Two years after Jardine, Matheson & Company had put up their sign in Canton, Parliament abolished the East India Company’s monopoly of the China Trade. That same year Jardines made the first private shipment of tea to the United Kingdom and the pattern had been established, a pattern which was to see Jardines emerge as the greatest of all the Far East traders.

The scope of the Company’s activities, and the areas in which it operates have progressed far beyond those early trading days. But Jardines have never lost the drive and initiative of their founders. Indeed, the history of Jardines is a history of firsts – from the first steamship to ply the Pearl River to the first Eurodollar debenture issue by a Hong Kong company.

From the top of the 52-storey Connaught Centre, Jardines’ Head Office now looks out over a Hong Kong which is almost unrecognizable from the “barren rock” where the original partners bought the first “lot” of land sold in 1841. That same year, Jardines moved their headquarters from Canton to Hong Kong, playing a major role in the founding of Hong Kong and, subsequently, in the City’s emergence as one of the great trading centres of the world.

Jardine, Matheson East Point Offices Of Jardine's, Newly Built In 1844

The East Point offices and godowns of Jardine’s, newly built in 1844 Courtesy: Wikiwand

In 1848, Jardines bought the first land lot offered for sale to foreigners in Shanghai, and soon opened an office there. Branches in Foochow, Tientsin, and other major trading centres followed. In 1859, the first lot of land sold to foreigners in Yokohama, Japan, was purchased by Jardines and an office was established – followed by branches in Kobe and Nagasaki.

In the century which followed, much of the Group’s enterprise centred on China, and later Hong Kong. Jardines’ listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1961 marked the beginning of public records of the Group’s financial position – records which show steady and continuous growth.

In 1973, the Group doubled its net worth with two major acquisitions – Theo. H Davies & Co., Ltd, an old established Hawaiian and Philippine trading company, and Reunion Properties Co. Ltd in the United Kingdom.

1975 was another year of continued growth with the acquisition of Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd; the purchase of 75 per cent of Zung Fu Company Ltd and 53 per cent of Rennies Consolidated Holdings Ltd. 1975 also marked Jardines’ fifteenth year as a listed public company. The period since 1961 has seen the Group’s net assets grow 21 times from HK$108 million to HK$2,249 million, net profit increase 3,315 per cent and adjusted earnings per stock unit multiply 25 times.

Since 1976 Jardines have acquired 40 per cent of the issued capital of Transporting and Trading Company Inc., a Liberian company with widespread interests, mainly in Saudi Arabia. Today Jardines are a major international organisation, with 42,000 stockholders and 4,000 loan stockholders, employing over 50,000 people in more than 20 countries, and the Group’s divisions, subsidiaries and associates provide almost every type of commercial service throughout Asia, the Pacific and Southern Africa.

This article was first posted on 15th August 2022.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. William Jardine, Co-founder of Jardine, Matheson & Company
  2. John Bell-Irving, Jardines’ Hong Kong taipan 1886 and business partner of Sir Paul Chater
  3. Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy: China, William Jardine, the Celestial, and other HK connections
  4. Sir James Nicholas Sutherland Matheson, co-founder of Jardine, Matheson & Company


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