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Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy

Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy


Bart. (1783-1859), Indian merchant and philanthropist, was born in Bombay in 1783, of poor but respectable parents, and was left an orphan in early life. At the age of sixteen, with a smattering of mercantile education and a bare pittance, he commenced a series of business travels destined to lead him to fortune and fame. After a preliminary visit to Calcutta, he undertook a voyage to China, then fraught with so much difficulty and risk that it was regarded as a venture betokening considerable enterprise and courage; and he subsequently initiated a systematic trade with that country, being himself the carrier of his merchant wares on his passages to and fro between Bombay and Canton and Shanghai. His second return voyage from China was made in one of the East India Company's fleet, which, under the command of Sir Nathaniel Dance, defeated the French squadron under Admiral Linois (Feb. 15, 1804). On his fourth return voyage from 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; and it was only after much delay, and with great difficulty, that he made his way to Calcutta in a Danish ship. Nothing daunted, he undertook yet another voyage to China, which was more successful than any of the previous ones. By this time he had fairly established his reputation as a merchant possessed of the highest spirit of enterprise and considerable wealth, and thenceforward he settled down in Bombay, where he directed his commercial operations on a widely extended scale. By 1836 his firm was large enough to engross the energies of his three sons and other relatives; and he had amassed what at that period of Indian mercantile history was regarded as fabulous wealth. An essentially self-made man, having experienced in early life the miseries of poverty and want, in his days of affluence Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy developed an active instinct of sympathy with his poorer countrymen, and commenced that career of private and public philanthropy which is his chief title to the admiration of mankind. His liberality was unbounded, and the absorbing occupation of his later life was the alleviation of human distress. To his own community he gave lavishly, but his benevolence was mainly cosmopolitan. Hospitals, schools, homes of charity, pension funds, were founded or endowed by him, while numerous public works in the shape of wells, reservoirs, bridges, causeways, and the like, not only in Bombay, but in other parts of India, were the creation of his bounty. The total of his known benefactions amounted at the time of his death, which took place in 1859, to over 230,000. It was not, however, the amount of his charities so much as the period and circumstances in which they were performed that made his benevolent career worthy of the fame he won. In the first half of the 19th century the various communities of India were much more isolated in their habits and their sympathies than they are now. Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy's unsectarian philanthropy awakened a common understanding and created a bond between them which has proved not only of domestic value but has had a national and political significance. His services were recognized first in 1842 by the bestowal of a knighthood upon him, and in 1858 by that of a baronetcy. These were the very first distinctions of their kind conferred by Queen Victoria upon a British subject in India.

His title devolved in 1859 on his eldest son Cursetjee, 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 Jeejeebhoy as second baronet. At his death in 1877 his eldest son, Menekjee, became Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, the third baronet. Both had the advantage of a good English education, and continued the career of benevolent activity and devoted loyalty to British rule which had signalized the life-work of the founder of the family. They both visited England to do homage to their sovereign; and their public services were recognized by their nomination to the order of the Star of India, as well as by appointment to the Legislative Councils of Calcutta and Bombay.

On the death of the third baronet, the title devolved upon his brother, Cowsajee (1853-1908), who became Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, fourth baronet, and the recognized leader of the Parsee community all over the world. He was succeeded by his son Rustomjee (b. 1878), who became Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, fifth baronet.

Since their emigration from Persia, the Parsee community had never had a titular chief or head, its communal funds and affairs being managed by a public body, more or less democratic in its constitution, termed the Parsee panchayat. The first Sir Jamsetjee, by the hold that he established on the community, by his charities and public spirit, gradually came to be regarded in the light of its chief; and the recognition which he was the first in India to receive at the hands of the British sovereign finally fixed him and his successors in the baronetcy in the position and title of the official Parsee leader. (M. M. BH.)