Patriots > Early Nationalist and Moderates >Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy
Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy ( Sir ) (1873-1859)

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 uncle’s 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 father’s 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 father’s 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 a fortune.

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 orthodox.

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.

Jamsetjee’s 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 Pauper’s friend, the rich man’s peer, Beloved by all, both far and near.”

Author : D. N. Marshall