| Sir Pherozeshah Mehta
was born in the Bombay city on 4 August 1845,
where he spent the greater part of his life and
contributed to Indian political life. His father,
Merwanji Mehta, belonged to a family of merchants
and was a partner in Messers Cama and Co. He had
his early education at Ayrtons School. He
passed the Matriculation examination in 1861 and
joined the Elphinstone College.
A good student of history and English literature,
he impressed the Principal of the Collage, Sir
Alexander Grant, who appointed him as a Dakshina
Fellow of the College after his graduation in
1864. Sir Alexander recommended Pherozeshah strongly
for the award of a scholarship instituted by R.
D. Jeejeebhoy; this would finance his education
in England. Sir Alexander was instrumental in
persuading Pherozeshahs father to send his
son to England for further studies.
Pherozeshah left for England in December 1864,
entered the Lincolns Inn and spent three
years qualifying himself. Called to the Bar in
1868, he left for home in September 1868. He married
twice, the second time in 1907 when his first
wife passed away.
While in England, he used to frequent the house
of Dadabhai Naoraji, and these visits and his
meetings with Dadabhai were to remain important
influences in moulding his liberal outlook. Several
of his close friends were liberals; besides Telang
and Badruddin Tyabjee (who along with Pherozeshah
were described as the three bright boys
of Bombay), Ranade, Gokhale, Wacha, W. C.
Bonnerjee and Bal Mohan Wagle were close to Pherozeshah.
This made him belong to the Liberal School of
Indian politics and his foreign friends, Sir Alexander
Grant of the Elphinstone Collage, Allan Octavian
Hume and Sir William Wedderburn too were of the
Liberal hue. His broadmindedness, his antipathy
to violent methods in politics which alienated
him from Tilak and Pal, his innate trust in constitutionals,
his dislike of regional and communal developments
which made him criticise Sir Syed Ahmed Khan were
characteristics that distinguished the Liberal
School in Indian politics. His admiration for
the parliamentary and party system was tempered
by his understanding of the slow growth of parliamentary
A good student of English and French literature,
he used to read the French literature of the Revolutionary
period with great interest. Besides these, Tennyson,
Thackeray and Dickens were his favourites and
constant companions even while on travel. Another
book that was read through and carried everywhere
was the Bible.
Education, both primary and higher, absorbed his
interests throughout his life and he remained
a warm advocate for educational reform. The very
first paper that he read in the East India Association
in London was on the system of education in Bombay.
He saw in education the means by which India could
modernize itself rapidly; he laid great emphasis
on the value of English. He was critical of the
grant-in-aid systems to schools on the charge
that it slowed the pace of education (1869), and
of the meagre sums allotted for education by the
Government of India (1% of the revenue as against
40% for defence).
Sir Richard Temple was criticised by him for running
the Bombay University as he would a Government
Department. He was also a warm advocate of the
careful husbanding of the nations wealth
and for developing the countrys economy
to the point of self-sufficiency. This made him
have an important hand in the establishment of
a Swadeshi bank, the Central Bank of India. When
the Bank was in a financial crisis, he offered
valuable support in maintaining it and helping
Along with Telang, he took part in an abortive
attempt to finance a soap-manufacturing company.
Whether it be on the question of free trade (as
it was in 1879 when Lord Lytton bartered away
Pounds 200,000 to England) or whether it be on
India being made to pay 4 million sterling for
charges that did not concern her, or on the Cotton
Duties Bill (1894), Pherozeshah was always present
critically examining the issue, educating public
opinion and attempting to influence public policy.
He also was eager for the agricultural interests
being fostered by the State; and this made him
critical of the Deccan Agriculturists Relief
Act, 1895, and the passing of the Bombay Land
| Amendment Bill, 1901.
In the latter bill concern for the right to property
too made him criticise the Bill.
In Western India, Pherozeshah is remembered mainly
as the maker of the modern Bombay Municipal Corporation
which he fostered and served in a distinguished
manner for nearly half a century. It was his speech
of 1872 that was influential in the introduction
of the principle of election in the municipality.
The Municipal Act of 1888, too, owed much to Pherozeshahs
and Telangs endeavours.
Along with the creation of the modern municipal
corporation, he was also mainly responsible for
the founding of an English newspaper, the Bombay
Chronicle (April 1913), which became an important
agency for expressing Indian public opinion. Earlier,
he and his friends had failed in reviving the
Advocate of India.
In the nationalist movement, in the forming and
running of political associations and in serving
Governmental official institutions, Pherozeshah
had a notable record. In the proceedings of the
Indian National Congress (in whose founding he
had a distinctive hand) he had an important and
commanding position. His main endeavor was to
keep the Extremists from dominating the Congress,
and in this he was largely successful.
He presided over the Congress session held in
Calcutta (1890) and was twice President of the
Reception Committee when Congress sessions met
in Bombay (1889 and 1904). In the different Congress
sessions which he attended he either moved or
supported resolutions for reforming the administration
of the country. Along with Telang, he founded
the Bombay Presidency Association (1885) and served
as Secretary of the Association.
The Association did a lot in highlighting Indian
problems in Britain and was one of the most important
of the organizations in Western India for moulding
Indian public opinion. Besides these, it also
sent memorials to the Local and Imperial Governments.
He was also active in the Bombay branch of the
East Indian Association.
Simultaneously while participating in these, he
occupied important positions in local bodies and
had great influence in the legislative councils
of India as a moulder of Indian public opinion.
In 1884, 1885 and 1905 he was elected as Chairman
of the Bombay Municipal Corporation, and 1886
saw him a member of the Bombay Legislative Council.
He represented Bombay in the 1894 to 1897. In
all these bodies he distinguished himself. In
the Bombay Legislative Council, his budget speeches
amply illustrate his commitment to education,
especially primary education.
In these bodies he was to demonstrate time and
again his oratory, his skill in debates and
his able presentation of his point of view.
Even earlier, when he was in the Bombay Municipality,
he was responsible for exposing waste of public
money by the then Municipal Commissioner. In
that body again, he brought in strict standards
of financial probity whenever there was a tendency
towards thoughtless expenditure-an instance
of this is provided by his masterly management
of the Plague Committee appointed by the Government
In 1895, in the Imperial Legislative Council,
he created a sensation by his criticism of the
official authorities over the amendment of the
police Act of 1861. Besides these, he also gave
evidence as and when required by the Government,
as for instance before the Commission on Indian
Education appointed by Lord Curzon.
Sir Pherozeshah was an aristocrat in his temperament
and habits. He always had a crowd of admirers
surrounding him and among these were quite a
few leaders of the later nationalist movement.
Though unapproachable by students, yet he kept
himself in touch with contemporary problems
of youth and education. He tried his pen at
writing dramatic criticism, though this was
One does not know about his religious or philosophical
beliefs, though he certainly was a theist. Honours
came to him thick and fast. He was made a C.I.E.
in 1894 and 1904 saw him Knighted. In 1915 the
University of Bombay decided of confer upon
him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. He
was admired by the people and had close and
devoted following of some of the best men of