Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born in a farm near Lochmaben , Dumfriesshire, Scotland, he graduated from the Edinburgh Medical School and joined the service of the British East India Company in 1802, at the age of 18, as a ship surgeon in the East India Merchantman "Brunwick" until 1816. Service with the East India Company, allowed employees to trade in goods for their own profit. Each employee was allowed cargo space equivalent to two chests. Jardine engaged in this trade with exceptional dexterity, even cleverly leasing the apportioned cargo space of other crew members who didn't have interest in using the space, and was able to save quite an amount of money. On leaving the company, he served as commercial agent and junior partner for several different merchant houses, firstly with the trading concern of Cowasjee of Bombay then lastly, as a junior partner to the firm of Charles Magniac and Co in Canton.
In the early 1820s, Daniel Magniac , who succeeded Charles Magniac after the latter's death in Paris, was forced to resign from the firm after marrying his Indian mistress, leaving the firm to brother Hollingworth Magniac . Hollingworth handed the management of the firm to junior partner Jardine, preferring to be a silent partner. The firm then renamed the company as Magniac, Jardine and Co. Hollingworth wrote about William Jardine:
- 'An honourable, constientious and kindhearted man. Jardine's long experience and exceptional management in the opium trade makes him an excellent man for handling the firm's China trade'.
In the mid-1820s, Jardine invited James Matheson (1796-1874), son of a Scottish baronet, to form an enterprise for the China trade. Matheson, who had just been ordered home by his uncle after failing to deliver an important dispatch to a ship captain, proved a perfect partner for Jardine. James Matheson and his nephew, Alexander Matheson, joined the firm Magniac, Jardine and Co. as junior partners in 1827. Jardine was known as the planner, the tough negotiator and strategist of the firm as Matheson was known as the organization man, who handled the firm's correspondence, books of accounts and finances. Both men were a study in contrast, Jardine being tall, lean and trim while Matheson was short and slightly portly. And according to Richard Hughes, "...both men scrupulous in their personal and financial dealings." But it was their reputation for business probity that sustained their partnership's success in a period where businesses operated in a highly volatile and uncertain environment where the line between success and bankruptcy was very thin.
Jardine was known for his legendary imperiousness and sturdy pride. He was nicknamed by the locals "The Iron-headed Old Rat" after being hit on the head by a club during a petition by the China traders to the Mandarins in Canton. Jardine, after being hit, just shrugged off the insult with dour Scottish resilience. He had only one chair in his office in the Jardine clipper flagship "The Hercules", and that was his own. Visitors were never allowed to sit, to impress upon them that Jardine was a very busy man. Jardine was also known as a brilliant crisis manager. In 1822, during his visit to the firm's Canton office, he found the local office in management crisis, with employees in near mutiny against the firm's Canton officers. Jardine then proceeded to take temporary control and succeeded in putting the office in perfect order in just a matter of days. Also a shrewd judge of character, Jardine was even able to persuade the Rev. Charles Gutzlaff, a fanatic Prussian missionary to interpret for their ship captains during coastal smuggling of opium, using the idea that the reverend would best gather more converts during these smuggling operations. Matheson was known to own the only piano in Asia and was also an accomplished player.
In July 1, 1832, Jardine, Matheson and Company, Ltd., a limited partnership, between William Jardine, James Matheson as major partners, and Hollingworth Magniac, Alexander Matheson, Thomas Beale, a clock and automaton inventor, and others, as minor partners, was formed in Canton, taking the Chinese name 'Ewo' (怡和) or pronounced as "Yee-Wo", meaning 'Happy Harmony', (though according to some that the name 'Yee-wo' was actually the Hong name of Jardines' compradore during the 1830s, Wu How-Qua), trading opium, tea and other goods. In 1833, Parliament removed the license of the British East India Company to trade with China. Jardine, Matheson and Company then took this opportunity to fill the vacuum left by the East India Company. With its first voyage carrying tea, the Jardine clipper ship 'Sarah' left for England. Jardines was then transformed from a major commercial agent of the East India Company to become the largest trading hong (洋行) or firm in Asia. William Jardine was now being referred to by the other traders as "Tai-pan" (大班), a Chinese colloquial title meaning 'Great Manager'.
In 1841 Jardines had 19 inter-continental clipper ships, compared to close rival Dent and Company with 13. Jardines also had hundreds of small ships, lorchas and small smuggling crafts for coastal and upriver smuggling. Other trading concerns of Jardine's includes smuggling opium into China from India, trading spices and sugar from the Philippines, importing Chinese tea and silk into England, handling cargo papers and cargo insurance, renting of dockyard facilites and warehouse space, trade financing and other numerous lines of business and trade. During the mid-1830s, trade with China was becoming more difficult due to the increasing Chinese government's restrictions to control the worsening outflow of silver. This trade imbalance stems from the fact that Chinese traders import more opium than they were exporting teas and silk.
Nevertheless, Dr. William Jardine wanted the opium trade to expand in China, and ordered James Matheson to leave for England to persuade the Government to take up strong action to further open up trade in China. Matheson, unsuccessful in his forays in England, was brushed aside by the legendary "Iron Duke" (Duke of Wellington), the then British Foreign Secretary, and reported bitterly to Jardine of being insulted by an arrogant and stupid man. Matheson was then ordered by Jardine to return to Asia in 1838, prompting Jardine to leave for England to try to continue Matheson's work.
The Chinese government was ecstatic upon hearing of 'The Iron-headed Old Rat's', departure, then proceeded to stop the opium trade. Lin Tze-hsu , the leading Chinese official in Canton stated, "The Iron-headed Old Rat, the sly and cunning ring-leader of the opium smugglers have left for The Land of Mist, of fear from the Middle Kingdom's wrath". He then ordered the surrender of the opium traders and the destruction of more than 20,000 cases of opium in Canton. He even ordered the capture of Lancelot Dent, an elderly taipan of Dent and Company, and wrote to Queen Victoria to kowtow or bow to His Imperial Highness the Emperor of China.
In 1840, armed with a petition signed by hundreds of traders and businessmen both in Asia and in England, Jardine successfully persuaded parliament to wage war on China, giving a full detailed plan for war, detailed strategic maps, battle strategies, the indemnifications and political demands from China and even the number of troops and warships needed. This plan was known as the 'Jardine Paper'. Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary who succeeded the Iron Duke, decided mainly on the 'suggestions' of Jardine to wage war on China. In 1840, the first of the Opium Wars with China was waged, British warships destroyed numerous shore batteries and enemy warships, laid waste to several coastal forts, bombarding town after town with heavy cannon fire, even pushing up north to threaten the Imperial Palace in Peking itself. The Imperial Government, forced to surrender, gave in to the demands of the British. Richard Hughes, in 'Hongkong: A Borrowed Place, A Borrowed Time', stated "William Jardine would have made his mark as admirably as a soldier as he did as a Tai-pan."
In 1843, The Treaty of Nanking was signed by official representatives of both Britain and China. It allowed the opening of trading posts in five major Chinese cities, granted extraterritoriality to foreigners' activities in China, expanded the importation of opium into China and completed the formal acquisition of the island of Hong Kong, which had been taken over as a trading and military base since January 1841. Jardine had been very much interested in the island since visiting it in the mid-1820s. Trade with China grew, and so did the firm of Jardine, Matheson and Co, which was already known as the 'Princely Hong' (太子行) for being the largest trading firm in Asia. In 1843, William Jardine, 58, died in England, a Member of Parliament representing Ashburton. Lord Palmerston wrote, "Without [his] wise counsel, our success in China would have never prevailed."
Jardine died a bachelor, but his nephews David and Andrew Jardine continued to assist James Matheson in running the Princely Hong. Matheson retired as taipan during the early 1843 and handed over to David Jardine, another nephew of Jardine, who in turn would hand over to Robert Jardine, who became the ancestor of the Buchanan-Jardine branch of the family. Another great-nephew of Jardine who would be taipan in 1874, William Keswick, was the ancestor of the Keswick branch of the family. Matheson returned to England to fill up the Parliament seat left vacant by Jardine and to head up the firm Matheson & Co. in London, Jardines' agent in England. In 1912, Jardine, Matheson & Co. and the Keswicks would eventually buy out the shares of the Matheson family in the firm although the name is still retained. The Princely Hong was managed by several nephews and nieces of William Jardine and their descendants throughout the decades, including the Keswicks, Buchanan-Jardines, Landales, Bell-Irvings, Newbiggings, Nightingales and Weatheralls.
Notable taipans or Managing Directors included Robert Jardine, William Keswick, James Johnstone Keswick, Sir John Buchanan-Jardine, W.J. "Tony" Keswick, Sir Hugh Barton, Sir Michael Herries, Sir John Keswick, Henry Keswick, Simon Keswick and Alasdair Morrison.
Today, the Jardine Matheson Group is still very much active in Hong Kong, being one of the largest conglomerates in Hong Kong and its largest employer, after the government. Several landmarks in present day Hong Kong are named after the firm and the founders Jardine and Matheson like Jardine's Bazaar, Jardine Crescent, Jardine's Lookout, Yee Wo Street, Matheson Street, Jardine House and the Noon Day Gun. Jardines is also active in China, North America, Europe and other areas. It went through several major internal changes throughout the 19th and 20th century, and has its head office redomiciled to Bermuda. Jardine, Matheson and Co. offered its shares to the public in 1961 under the tenure of taipan Sir Hugh Barton and was oversubscribed 56 times. The organizational structure has changed almost totally, but the family of Dr. William Jardine still controls the firm.
External links and references
- William Jardine and other Jardine tai-pans are fictionally portrayed in author James Clavell's hugely popular fiction novels Tai-Pan (1966), Gai-Jin(1993), Noble House (1981) and Whirlwind (1987).
- The portraits of William Jardine and James Matheson above was painted by the famous Irish artist from Macao, George Chinnery (1774-1852), circa 1832, proceed to this webpage http://www.britishempire.co.uk/maproom/hongkongindividuals.htm
- For further information, you may visit the official website of Jardine Matheson at http://www.jardines.com
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