from the Scotsman
The Opium Traders
Jardine Matheson & Co
ONE of the most influential trading companies in the Far East was
co-founded by William Jardine and James Matheson.
William Jardine was hired in 1802 by the legendary East India Company as
an 18-year-old straight out of Edinburgh Medical School to be a surgeon
on an eight-month voyage from London to Canton. The crews were allowed
cargo for their own private trading and Jardine did so well that he set
up on his own in 1817.
Jardine Matheson was founded 15 years later after a meeting with another
Scots trader, James Matheson from Sutherland.
In 1834 the pair sent the first private shipments of China tea to
England. Another big export to the UK was silk. In return they traded
opium, widely used in China and at that time legal in Britain .
Jardine Matheson~ez_rsquo~s early profits were based on the enforced
importation of Indian opium into China. When the Chinese emperor tried
to ban the trade, the company called on Britain to compel China to
accept the drug, leading in 1840 to two Opium Wars.
Jardine Matheson became the first foreign trading house in Japan,
expanding its trade to coal, metals and machinery.
Taking advantage of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 which made Hong Kong a
British colony, Jardine Matheson expanded into Shanghai, Canton, Amoy
and Fuzhou, and invested in land in the rising commercial centre of Hong
Sir Alexander Matheson, James Matheson~ez_rsquo~s nephew, also made his fortune
in China. Some of the profits were to build the baronial west Highland
Duncraig Castle in Plockton, later bequeathed to the public.
Today Jardine Matheson is a vast commercial empire encompassing
financial services, supermarkets, engineering, consumer marketing,
construction, motor trading, property and hotels, with offices across
Asia and the UK, Australia and America.
Thursday, 13th September 2001
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