Dr. William Jardine (b. February 24, 1784-d. February 27, 1843) was a ship surgeon who went into the opium trading business in China, where he became a powerful merchant and was instrumental in starting the First Opium War.
The young William’s first voyage was rather uneventful other than his first encounter with the economics of an Indiaman’s journey to Asia. Jardine also met two men on his first voyage that would come to play a role in his future as a merchant. The first was Thomas Weeding, a fellow doctor, and surgeon of the Glatton, one of the other ships in the convoy. The second was a 26-year-old Charles Magniac who had just arrived in Guangzhou at the beginning of 1801.
On leaving the company in 1817, Jardine became an independent trader and entered into partnership with Thomas Weeding and Framjee Cowasjee. The firm did very well in the domain of private traders and established Jardine's reputation as an able, steady and experienced private trader. It is interesting to note that one of Jardine's agents in Bombay, who would become his lifelong friend, was Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy. Both men were on the Brunswick when a French ship forcibly boarded her. Jejeebhoy was the first Parsee Merchant to be created a baronet by Queen Victoria and he would become fabulously wealthy in the years to come.
In 1824, a very important opportunity arose, 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, after an extensive search for a managing partner, settled with Jardine, whose business reputation was already well known throughout Asia. Magniac returned to England in late 1820s with the firm in good hands. Contrary to the practice at the time of retiring partners removing their capital from the firm, Hollingworth left his capital with the firm in trust to Jardine and Matheson. The firm then renamed the company as Magniac and Co. Hollingworth wrote about William Jardine:
And according to Richard Hughes, "...both men scrupulous in their personal and financial dealings." Both men were well respected within the Foreign and local community both in India and in South China, having quietly helped so many people in financial distress. Though their charity was never belabored, it was well accepted that they were done with sincerity. Jardine's tough exterior and candid letters to agents masked his compassionate nature, never exacting punishment when due. An elderly and longtime Portuguese employee who worked as a bookkeeper and clerk for the firm, in his latter years with the firm, had frequently been committing serious errors in the firm's books and whose mental capacity was deteriorating. Rather than dismissing the elderly employee, Jardine had allowed the man to retire in honor and in his usual generous character, set up a considerable retirement fund for the man and his family. Both men were also known to have continuously sent money home to less fortunate family members in Scotland and have helped nephews by providing them work within the firm. Upon his older brother, David's death, Jardine set up a fund for his brother's widow and arranged schooling for his four sons. In a letter to Hollingworth Magniac, Jardine wrote,
All four of David's sons moved on to work with Jardine, Matheson & Co. in Hong Kong and South China, starting as clerks and eventually becoming partners or managing partners or taipan in the firm.
But it was their reputation for business probity, innovative management and strict fiscal policies 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 extremely thin. Jardine was known for his legendary imperiousness and pride. He was nicknamed by the locals "The Iron-headed Old Rat" after being hit on the head by a club in Guangzhou. Jardine, after being hit, just shrugged off the injury with dour Scottish resilience. He had only one chair in his office in the "Creek Hong" in Canton, 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 crisis manager. In 1822, during his visit to the firm's Guangzhou office, he found the local office in management crisis, with employees in near mutiny against the firm's officers. Jardine then proceeded to take temporary control and succeeded in putting the office in order in just a matter of days. Also a shrewd judge of character, Jardine was even able to persuade the Rev. Charles Gutzlaff, a 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 claimed to own the only piano in Asia and was also an accomplished player. He was also responsible for forcing to remove one of the firm's ship captains for refusing to offload opium chests on the Sabbath, Matheson observed, "We have every respect for persons entertaining strict religious principles, but we fear that very godly people are not suited for the drug trade."
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 China, 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), trading opium, tea and other goods. In 1833, Parliament ended the monopoly of the British East India Company on trade between Britain and 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 British 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'.
Nevertheless, Dr. William Jardine wanted the opium trade to expand in China, and ordered James Matheson to leave for Britain 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 "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 Britain to try to continue Matheson's work. The respect shown by other foreign opium traders to Jardine before his departure can be best illustrated in the following passage from a book by William C. Hunter.
The Qing government was pleased to hear of Jardine's departure, then proceeded to stop the opium trade. Lin Zexu, appointed specifically to suppress the drug trade in Guangzhou, stated, "The Iron-headed Old Rat, the sly and cunning ring-leader of the opium smugglers has left for The Land of Mist, of fear from the Middle Kingdom's wrath." He then ordered the surrender of all opium and the destruction of more than 20,000 cases of opium in Guangzhou. He also ordered the arrest of opium trader Lancelot Dent, the head of Dent and Company (a rival company to Jardine Matheson) and wrote to Queen Victoria, to submit in obeisance in the presence of the Chinese Emperor.
In 1840, armed with a petition signed by hundreds of British 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. In the 'Jardine Paper', Jardine emphasized several points to Palmerston in their meetings and they are as follows: There was to be complete compensation for the 20,000 chests opium that Lin had confiscated, the conclusion of a viable commercial treaty that would prevent any further hostilities, and the opening of further ports of trade such as Fuzhou, Ningbo, Shanghai, and Keeson-chow. It was also suggested by Jardine that should the need arise to occupy an island or harbor in the vicinity of Guangzhou, Hong Kong would be perfect because it provided an extensive and protected anchorage. Jardine clearly stated what he thought would be a sufficient naval and military force to complete the objectives he had outlined. He also provided maps and charts of the area. In a well calculated recommendation letter to Parliament, creating a precedent now infamously known as 'Gunboat Diplomacy', Jardine states:
"No formal Purchase, -- no tedious negotiations,...A firman insistently issued to Sir F. Maitland authorizing him to take & retain possession is all that is necessary, & the Squadron under his Command is quite competent to do both,...until an adequate naval and military force...could be sent out from the mother Country. When All this is accomplished, -- but not till then, a negotiation may be commenced in some such Terms as the following - You take my opium - I take your Islands in return - we are therefore Quits, --& thenceforth if you please let us live in friendly Communion and good fellowship. You cannot protect your Seaboard against Pirates & Buccaneers. I can - So let us understand Each other, & study to promote our mutual Interests."
This letter is in itself a reflection of the very nature of Jardine as a businessman and itself an explanation why the man was considered as the most powerful trader in the South China coast.
Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary who succeeded Wellington, decided mainly on the "suggestions" of Jardine to wage war on China. In mid-1840, a large fleet of war ships appeared on the China coast and with the first cannon fire aimed at a British ship, the Royal Saxon, the British started the first of the Opium Wars. British warships destroyed numerous shore batteries and enemy warships, laid waste to several coastal forts, indiscriminately bombarding town after town with heavy cannon fire, even pushing up north to threaten the Imperial Palace in Beijing 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." Lord Palmerston wrote,
In 1843, the Treaty of Nanjing was signed by official representatives of both Britain and China. It allowed the opening of major five major Chinese ports, granted extraterritoriality to foreigners and their activities in China, indemnification for the opium destroyed and completed the formal acquisition of the island of Hong Kong, which had been taken over as a trading and military base since January 26, 1841. Trade with China, especially in the still illegal opium, 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 British trading firm in East Asia.
In 1841, Jardine stood for parliament as a Liberal MP representing Ashburton in Devon. He was also a partner along with longtime friend and business partner Hollingworth Magniac in the merchant banking firm of Magniac, Smith & Co., later renamed Magniac, Jardine & Co., the forerunner of the firm Matheson and Co. Despite his nominal retirement, Jardine was still very much active in business and politics and built a house in 6 Upper Belgrave Street, then an upscale residential district in London. He had also built a country castle, Lanrick estate, in Perthshire, Scotland. He had enjoyed the fruits of his long years of labor in China as a wealthy gentleman and MP in England and in Scotland.
The taipan, Dr. William Jardine died on February 27, 1843, just three days after his 59th birthday, one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain and a respected Member of Parliament. Jardine's funeral was attended by a very large gathering of family, friends, government and business personalities, many of whom Jardine had helped in his lifetime.
Jardine, a bachelor, willed his estate to his siblings and their children. His nephews David, Joseph, Robert and Andrew Jardine, all sons of Jardine's older brother David, continued to assist James Matheson in running Jardines. Matheson retired as taipan in 1843 and handed over control of the firm to his nephew Sir Alexander Matheson. David Jardine, another nephew of Jardine, became taipan after Alexander Matheson. David in turn would hand over to his brother Sir Robert control of the firm. Joseph succeeded Robert as taipan. Succeeding Joseph was Alexander Percival, a relative of Sir James Matheson's wife. Succeeding Alexander Percival is James Whittall who is related neither to the Jardine or Matheson families. No other member of the Matheson family became active in the firm after Percival, though another nephew, Donald Matheson, served as director. Sir Robert Jardine is the ancestor of the Buchanan-Jardine branch of the family. A descendant of Sir Robert, Sir John Buchanan-Jardine, sold his family's 51% holding in Jardine, Matheson and Co. for $84 million at the then prevailing exchange rate in 1959. A great-nephew of Jardine who would be taipan from 1874 to 1886, William Keswick (1834-1912), is the ancestor of the Keswick branch (pronounced Ke-zick)) of the family. Keswick is a grandson of Jardine's older sister, Margaret Johnston. Keswick was responsible for opening the Japan office of the firm in 1859 and also expanding the Shanghai office. James Matheson returned to England to fill up the Parliament seat left vacant by Jardine and to head up the firm Matheson & Co., previously known as Magniac, Jardine & Co., in London, a merchant bank and 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 company was managed by several family members of William Jardine and their descendants throughout the decades, including the Keswicks, Buchanan-Jardines, Landales, Bell-Irvings, Patersons, Newbiggings and Weatheralls.
Notable Managing Directors or Tai-pans included Sir Alexander Matheson, David Jardine, Robert Jardine, William Keswick, James Johnstone Keswick, Ben Beith, David Landale, Sir John Buchanan-Jardine, Sir William Johnstone "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, second only to 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's Crescent, Jardine's Bridge, Jardine's Lookout, Yee Wo Street, Matheson Street, Jardine House and the Noon Day Gun. Jardines is also active in China, North America, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. It went through several major internal changes throughout the 19th and 20th century, in 1947, a secret Trust was formed by members of the family to retain effective control over the company. Jardine, Matheson and Co. offered its shares to the public in 1961 under the tenure of Sir Hugh Barton and was oversubscribed 56 times. The Keswick family, in consortium with several London-based banks and financial institutions, bought out the controlling shares of the Buchanan-Jardine family in 1959, but subsequently sold most of the shares during the 1961 public offering, retaining only about 10% of the company. The company had its head office redomiciled to Bermuda in 1984 under the tenure of Simon Keswick to maintain control after nearly being taken over by Chinese tycoon Li Ka-shing of Cheung Kong after a hostile raid in 1980. Li, who bought nearly 20% of the company at that time the largest shareholding in the company, agreed to sell his shares to Hongkong Land, a sister company of Jardines, at a premium. Another reason for the move was fear of the Chinese take-over of Hong Kong and the threat of Chinese retaliation for Jardines drug smuggling past. Subsequent events led to the cross-shareholding structure between Jardine, Matheson & Co. and Hongkong Land which was first instigated in 1980 by then taipan David Newbigging. In 1988, instigated by Brian Powers, the first American taipan of Jardines, the entire corporate structure of Jardine, Matheson & Co., including all its allied companies, were restructured so that a holding company based in London and controlled by the Keswick family would have overall policy and strategic control of all Jardine Matheson Group companies. The firm delisted from the Hong Kong Stock exchange (Hang Seng Index) in 1994 under the tenure of Alasdair Morrison and placed its primary listing in London and its secondary listing in Singapore. The present Chairman of Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. is Henry Keswick who was the company's tai-pan from 1970 (aged 31) to 1975 and was the 6th Keswick to be tai-pan of the company. His brother, Simon, was the company's taipan from 1983 to 1988 and is the 7th Keswick to be tai-pan. Both brothers are the 4th generation of Keswicks in the company. The organizational structure of Jardines has changed almost totally, but the members of the family of Dr. William Jardine still controls the firm through a complex cross-shareholding structure, several allied shareholders and a secretive 1947 Trust.