Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, a philanthropist, whose
generosity was universal, was born in Bombay
on 15 July 1783. His parents (Jeejeebhoy and
Jeeveebai) belonged to Navsari and earned their
living by engaging themselves in the production
of hand-spun and hand-woven cloth. Their means
were limited and they could not provide Jamsejee
with any formal education. But they were honest
and deeply religion and brought him up in an
atmosphere of moral excellence.
At the age of 12, in 1795, Jamsetjee started
his life as an apprentice in his maternal uncles
business of selling old empty bottles. In 1803,
he married Avanbai, who was the daughter of
this maternal uncle. And thereafter began a
career which through vicissitudes of fortune
ultimately proved so prosperous, thanks to his
business acumen and enlightened enterprise.
When he joined his father-in-law, he was just
familiar with the Indian mode of keeping accounts
and had some knowledge of English. Though feebly
equipped, Jamsetjee gave a good accounts of
himself not only in business but also in his
personal and social life. in 1799, a turn of
fortune took place and within a period of five
months he lost both his parents.
Just before his fathers death, it is
recorded that his father enjoined Jamsetjee
to maintain and support the family, now dependent
upon him, by achieving success in business and
enterprise. He was also enjoined to take
pride and pleasure in ameliorating the suffering
of the poor and the misfortunes of the helpless
and the needy. The son more than fulfilled
his fathers wish when ultimately he attained
eminence, both in business as also in philanthropy.
The business was developed on an extensive scale
by Jamsetjee. New lines were taken up and before
he was thirty, he had made five voyages to China.
Even in his young days, Jamsetjee showed uncommon
fortitude as is proved by the fact that soon
after the death of his parents, he undertook
his first voyage to China. By this voyage and
others that followed, he extended his knowledge
of the world and gained experience of business
methods, which sharpened his observation, intelligence
and commercial insight.
These served him richly in laying the foundations
of his future career that brought him such immense
wealth. A voyage then was a hazardous venture
and Jamsetjee had his own quota of fortune and
misfortune, moulding his intrepid spirit and
broadening his human sympathy.
His early voyages were not successful and
to cap his misfortune, in 1803, a fire destroyed
a part of his merchandise. But Jamsetjee with
steadfastness of purpose persevered. He undertook
his fourth voyage in 1805 which proved to be
the most disastrous of all his voyages . The
ship by which he travelled was captured by the
French and deprived of all his provisions he
was left at the Cape of Good Hope to face the
ordeal. Some benefactors brought him to Calcutta,
and soon he rejoined his family in Bombay.
Disclaiming all that he had suffered so far,
he undertook another voyage, in 1807, to China
and this proved very successful and brought
him substantial wealth. In 1814, he purchased
his own ship and gradually increased his fleet.
He never looked back thereafter and amassed
But besides business acumen, Jamsetjee had a
heart to feel for others and naturally he was
ever ready to relieve the wants of the needy
and to alleviate their sufferings. From his
early age he was known for his private charity.
The stream of his public charities began to
flow from 1822 and grew into a flood in years
to come (over Rs. 30,00,000). His benefactions
were all embracing covering a variety of objects,
different peoples and different countries.
He aided famine relief; financed public works
like wells and bounds, roads, causeways and
bridges; founded dispensaries and hospitals;
established educational institutions and scholarship
funds; built rest-houses and protective homes
for animals; and started centres for destitute
and the disabled. It is a long list and varied,
too, but among the outstanding benefactions
may be named the J. J. Hospital, J. J. School
of a Art, J. J. Benevolent Institution and Poona
Bund and Waterworks.
His benevolence received due recognition. In
1842 he received the Knigthood and a Gold
Medal studded with Diamonds from Her Majesty
Queen Victoria for his munificences- the first
Indian to receive this insignia. In 1855 he
was presented with the Freedom of the City of
London for his high moral principles and his
cosmopolitan philanthropy. This was a prized
honour bestowed for the first time on an Indian.
In 1856 the public of Bombay decided to erect
a statue as an expression of their gratitude
for distributing with unparalleled benevolence,
the wealth he had acquired by honourable industry.
In 1857 he was created a Baronet by the Queen
Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy deserves to be remembered
for his pioneering contributing in other spheres
too. He was the first to urge for reforms in
the Parsee community. He opposed the domination
of the priestly class and advocated democratic
ways in running the Parsee Panchayet. He also
strove hard for the emancipation of women and
for the spread of education among them. He set
an example in his own family which shocked the
Although in his time there was no conception
of nationalism in the modern sense and no idea
of demanding independence from British rule,
Jamsetjee was one of the few public-spirited
men who urged for administrative reforms, for
giving Indians due share in the public offices
and removal of unjust taxes. In 1829 a petition
was sent to the British House of Commons by
some prominent citizens of Bombay demanding
the right of Indians to serve on the Jury. Jamsetjee,
one of the signatories, was later appointed
one of the first Indian Jurors. The next move
was a petition demanding the right of Indians
to serve on the Grand Jury and to be appointed
as Justices of Peace.
In 1834, Jamsetjee was appointed a J. P. In
1842, when the Government increased the Salt
Tax, Jamsetjee, along with other leading businessmen,
opposed it as being unjust taxes on luxury goods.
In August 1852 when the Bombay Association,
the first political association in Western India,
was established to ventilate the grievances
of Indians under British rule, Jamsetjee was
chosen as the Honorary President of the Association.
Jamsetjees contribution in the filed of
education was recognised by his appointment
on the Managing Committee of the Native Education
Society in 1827, on the Board of Education in
1842 and on the Senate of the Bombay University
when it was first established in February 1857.
Jamsetjee also helped many newspapers and magazines.
He was one of the proprietors of the Bombay
Courier and also gave financial assistance to
the Bombay Samachar, the Bombay Times (later
renamed as the Times of India), and the monthly
magazine,. The Vidhia Sagar.
He also patronised the Jame-Jamshed Press
and thereby helped the publication of many valuable
books.Though born a Parsi and an Indian, he
was a true world citizen whose universal benefactions
have placed him among the immortals. Truly it
may be said of him:
The Paupers friend, the rich mans
peer, Beloved by all, both far and near.