Who were William Jardine
and James Matheson?
They both had successful careers as merchants before they
decided to join forces and establish the partnership, Jardine,
Matheson & Co in 1832. They had great mutual respect for each
other’s abilities, but their styles and personalities were different.
William Jardine was born in 1784 in the Scottish lowlands and
graduated from Edinburgh University with a degree in medicine.
In 1803, at the age of 19, he became a surgeon on the ships of the
East India Company working the trading routes between London,
China and India; a position he held for the next 14 years. As a
senior ship’s officer he was allocated an amount of cargo space
enabling him to trade privately in a small way, and in so doing
developed a keen sense of what commodities sold well.
He was a diligent, rather austere, hard working man with an eye
for detail and a huge intellect. A man of few words, he hated
humbug and idleness and often worked long hours, expecting
those working with him to do the same. William Jardine set up
in Canton as a free merchant in 1822 and later, in 1828, joined
Magniac & Co, which was the forerunner to Jardines.
James Matheson was born in 1796 in the Scottish highlands and
also attended Edinburgh University. In 1815 he began work as a
free merchant in Calcutta at his uncle’s Agency House, trading
goods and services between different markets and communities.
Three years later, and still only 22, Matheson set sail for China
determined to take advantage of the opportunities he saw in
the rapidly expanding Indian export market. He quickly became
known as one of the most inventive foreign traders in Canton as
a partner within the firm Yrissari & Co, one of the five principal
Agency Houses in China at the time, branching out into trade with
many different countries. He, like Jardine, was hard working and
single-minded about success, but he was recognized more as a
creative, freethinker with strong communication skills.
It was only after both men found themselves without business
partners that they sought each other out. Matheson’s enthusiasm
and imaginative flair complemented the patient determination
and application of the older Jardine.
Jardine, Matheson & Co opened for trading in Canton on 1st July 1832.
Both founders brought important relationships and business
contacts to the new enterprise, all of which were valued as they
were considered essential for the success of the Firm.
One striking example of a special relationship that Jardine and
Matheson formed was with Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, an independent
Parsee merchant from Bombay. William Jardine had first met
him in 1805 when they had both been taken prisoner by the
French after a British ship, on which they were sailing, had been
captured during hostilities between the two countries. In the
decade between 1830 and 1840 the trading relationship with
Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy proved beneficial to both parties.
William Jardine and James Matheson created an enterprise that
was to withstand the test of time. They built strong relationships
in business that set the standards which subsequent generations
were to follow. They instilled a strong work ethic, an independent
spirit, financial prudence, business foresight and a determination
to succeed.
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