|Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Bt|
Jejeebhoy and his Chinese secretary (portrait by George Chinnery)
15 July 1783|
|Died||14 April 1859
|Occupation||Merchant, philanthropist, business magnate|
Early life and business career
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 and then began his first voyage to China to trade in cotton and opium.
Jejeebhoy's second voyage to China was made in a ship of the East India Company's fleet. Under the command of Sir Nathaniel Dance, this ship drove off a French squadron under Rear-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois in the Battle of Pulo Aura.
On Jejeebhoy's fourth voyage 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, Jejeebhoy undertook another voyage to China which was more successful than any of his previous journeys.
By this time Jejeebhoy had fairly 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.
An essentially self-made man, having experienced the miseries of poverty in early life, Jejeebhoy developed great sympathy for his poorer countrymen. In his later life he was occupied with alleviating human distress in all its forms. Parsi and Christian, Hindu and Muslim, were alike the objects of his beneficence. Hospitals, schools, homes of charity and pension funds throughout India (particularly in Mumbai, Navsari, Surat, and Poona) were created or endowed by Jejeebhoy, and he financed the construction of many public works such as wells, reservoirs, bridges, and causeways. By the time of his death in 1859, he was estimated to have donated over £230,000 to charity. Some of Jejeebhoy's notable charitable works include:
- Mahim Causeway: The British Government had refused to build a causeway to connect the island of Salsette to Mumbai. Jejeebhoy's wife Avabai Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy spent ₨.1,55,800 to finance its construction, after whom it was named. The work began in 1841 and is believed to have been completed four years later.
- Sir J. J. Hospital
- Jejeebhoy donated to at least 126 notable public charities, including the 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. He also endowed charities dedicated to helping his fellow Parsis and created the "Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy Parsi Benevolent Fund".
- The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, formerly The Victoria and Albert Museum, which was designed by famous London architect was built with the patronage of many wealthy Indian businessmen and philanthropists like Jejeebhoy, David Sassoon and Jaganath Shunkerseth.
- Construction of Charni Road and relief to cattle
Between 1822 and 1838, cattle from the congested fort area used to graze freely at the Camp Maidan (now called Azad Maidan), an open ground opposite the Victoria Terminus. In 1838, the British rulers introduced a 'grazing fee' which several cattle-owners could not afford. Therefore, Sir Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy spent Rs. 20,000 from his own purse for purchasing some grasslands near the seafront at Thakurdwar and saw that the starving cattle grazed without a fee in that area. In time the area became to be known as "Charni" meaning grazing. When a railway station on the BB&CI railway was constructed there it was called Charni Road.
Jejeebhoy's services were first recognized by the British Empire in 1842 by the bestowal of a knighthood and in 1858 by the award of a baronetcy. These were the very first distinctions of their kind conferred by Queen Victoria upon a British subject in India.
On Jejeebhoy's death in 1859, his Baronetcy was inherited by his eldest son Cursetjee Jejeebhoy, who, by a special Act of the Viceroy's Council in pursuance of a provision in the letters-patent, took the name of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy as second baronet.
Jejeebhoy and the Parsi community
From 1838 onward, the Bombay Parsi Panchayat came to be increasingly disregarded as the instrument for regulating the affairs of members of the community that resided in the Bombay Presidency. Amidst calls for dissolution of the (then) 110-year old institution for nepotism and fiscal mismanagement (it would eventually be reestablished as administrator of community property), the community gradually came to depend on prominent individuals not connected to the panchayat and its improprieties. This was especially true for Jejeebhoy, thanks to his wealth and charitable works and the recognition afforded him by the British authorities due to his baronetcy.
- B. K. Karanjia (1998). Give me a Bombay merchant anytime!: the life of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Bt., 1783-1859. University of Mumbai.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Brief profile of Sir J.J.
- Brief biography of Sir J.J.
- Homi Dhalla, "Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Lesser Known Facts about his Multidimensional Personality", homidhalla.com
- Sir J.J. on David Philpson's site
- Parsee settlers in Bombay
|Baronetage of the United Kingdom|