Essential Architecture- The Bund, Shanghai

Jardine Matheson Building

formerly Shanghai Foreign Trade Commission, formerly housed the then-powerful Jardine Matheson company.




No. 27, The Bund, Shanghai, China






steel frame, stone cladding


Office Building
  Above image ©Paul Pak-hing Lee - 1997
  In the early 1920s, before the 2 extra floors were added.
Early history
In 1802, Dr. William Jardine was practising medicine on British East India Company vessels sailing between Calcutta and Canton. Under a charter granted in the seventeenth century by Charles I of England, the directors in London's Leadenhall Street held a monopoly on British trade between India and China. It was customary, however, for the Company's servants to conduct a certain amount of private business of their own. In order to regularise this, the East India Company allowed each officer and member of the crew a space about equal to two chests; what the men did with this space was their own business. Using this space, the doctor soon discovered that trading illegal narcotics was far more lucrative than doctoring. It was during these early days that William Jardine found himself onboard a ship captured by the French with all cargo seized. However, what was to become a highly lucrative partnership was formed with a fellow passenger, a Parsee Indian called Jamshet Jejeebhouy. They became good friends, becoming prominent in their respective business fields and forming a trading relationship that was to endure for many years to come.

In Canton, Dr. Jardine met a naturalised Briton of Huguenot extraction named Hollingworth Magniac and learned that there were ways by which, to a small extent, the monopoly of the East India Company could be circumvented. In 1817, Jardine left his first employers and began the struggle towards establishing his own private firm.

In the meantime, James Matheson was in his uncle's business in Calcutta. His uncle one day entrusted him with a letter to be delivered to the captain of a British vessel which was on the point of departure. James forgot to deliver the letter, and the vessel sailed. His uncle was incensed at this negligence, and it was suggested that young James had better go home. He took his uncle at his word and went to engage a passage to England. "Why not try Canton instead?" an old skipper advised him.

James Matheson did try Canton. And it was there, in 1818, that he met Jardine. The two men formed a partnership which included also Hollingworth Magniac and Beale, an English inventor of clocks and automata. At first they dealt only with Bombay and Calcutta, the so-called "country trade," but later they extended their business to London.

The activities of these four men made an important contribution towards bringing to an end, in 1834, the monopoly of the East India Company in China.

Establishment of the private firm of Jardine, Matheson & Co.
For a long time the British East India Company had been growing increasingly unpopular in Britain. Men such as Sheridan, Elliot, Charles James Fox, William Windham, and Edmund Burke were its bitter enemies. Many British people believed that freedom of the seas and freedom of trade were synonymous. They had fought for years to establish this freedom, only to see it threatened by a King's charter to a group of London merchants. Further, certain high-handed methods used by the East India Company in dealing with competitors aroused the moral indignation of the British at home.

Nevertheless, open competition with the East India Company was risky business. The Company was empowered to punish transgressors vigorously--even to the extent of hanging. Occasionally, free traders did manage to secure a license from the Company to engage in the "country trade," usually with India, but never with Britain. In rare instances, other free traders, called "interlopers," competed with the Company. The interlopers usually were friends of the Government in England from which they had been able to obtain some form of charter of their own. Sooner or later, however, the East India Company always managed to have these other charters revoked.

There was one method, however, by which a Briton could establish a business on the East India Company's preserves. He could accept the consulship of a foreign country and register under its laws. This method was employed by Jardine to establish himself in Canton. Magniac had obtained an appointment from the King of Prussia, and later James Matheson represented Denmark and Hawaii. On this basis the partners had nothing to fear from the Company; in fact, relations between these two and the East India Company seemed in time to have become amicable. It is recorded that when ships of the East India Company were detained outside the harbour by the authorities, Jardine offered his services "without fee or reward." These services saved the East India Company a considerable sum of money and earned for Jardine the Company's gratitude.

By 1830, the enemies of the East India Company had begun to triumph, and its hold on trade with the East had weakened noticeably. Furthermore, at this time, both Magniac and Beale were getting ready to retire. In 1832, two years before the East India Company finally was dissolved, William Jardine and James Matheson entered into formal partnership as a private firm, Jardine, Matheson & Co.

Establishment of the firm in Hong Kong
In 1834, the first free ship, Jardines' Sarah, left Whampoa with a cargo of tea for London. This was the signal that showed the East India Company was no longer a power in the East, and was immediately followed by a rush to participate in the fast developing China trade, which was centered on tea. From the middle of the seventeenth century this drink had been growing in popularity in Britain and the British colonies, but the trade in teas was far from simple. Due to the rapacious British tax collector, the tax on tea was often as much as two hundred percent of the value.[citation needed] This exorbitant taxation gave rise to widespread smuggling which became an additional hazard to legitimate business. To profit in the China trade one had to be ahead of all competition, both legitimate and otherwise. Each year, fast ships from Britain, Europe, and America lay ready at the Chinese ports to load the first of the new season's teas. The ships raced home with their precious cargoes, each attempting to be the first to reach the consumer markets, thereby obtaining the premium prices offered for the early deliveries.

Jardines became so well established they commanded an enviable portion of the China trade. Raw and manufactured goods were imported from India and the United Kingdom. Teas and silks were exported.

In 1842, the firm built the first substantial house and established their head office on the recently acquired island of Hong Kong. This began an era of increased prosperity and expansion. New offices soon were opened in the trading centres of Shanghai, Fuzhou, and Tianjin. Since then Jardines have never ceased to expand.

William Keswick, the young nephew of Dr. Jardine, was sent to Japan in 1858 to open up trading for the firm. He established an office in Yokohama. In Japan, Jardines also expanded rapidly and additional offices were opened -- in Kobe, Nagasaki, and other ports. From the beginning, a large and profitable business was conducted in imports, exports, shipping, and insurance.

By the end of the nineteenth century, business in the Far East no longer was confined to simple trading. Industrial expansion had begun. In its wake, the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company had been formed. To aid further in this development, Jardines had created insurance companies. They built cotton mills. Great wharves and warehouses were set up. Cold storage and press packing plants for China's widening export trade were erected. A more recent example of enterprise was the building of Ewo Brewery in 1935. The directors of Jardines have built a great modern business structure on the foundation so solidly laid by the pioneers of the firm.

War and reconstruction
In 1932, after the first Japanese attack on China, the firm closed its offices in Manchuria; when the Japanese went in, Jardines walked out. When the war came in 1941, the Japanese took over all Jardines' interests in Hong Kong and occupied China--but not before offices of the firm had been established in Chongqing and Kunming. (Offices in Bombay, India were also established around this time.) Contact with the war-time world of Chinese official and commercial life thus was maintained. The house flag was kept flying.

Immediately on cessation of hostilities, the staff from these offices and from internment camps in China were first in the field recovering the firm's properties from the Japanese forces.

In the summer of 1947, as soon as the authorities permitted, Jardines re-entered Japan. From that date, the task of re-establishing their former wide interests in that country has been under way.

In Taiwan Jardines have maintained offices since early in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Today the Taipei office not only is the leading tea exporter to Europe, Asia, and America, but also is engaged in shipping and in general export and import business.

Scottish leadership
Jardines is controlled by the Keswick (pronounced "Kezzick") family who are direct descendants of William Jardine's sister.

While the leadership of Jardines is Scottish, the firm is international in its dealings. The staff of Jardines (239,000 employees as of January 2007) is predominantly Asian, with the senior levels being a mixture of British, Chinese, Indonesian, European, Australian and American.

The Keswicks have maintained a relationship with another prominent Scottish family, the Flemings. From 1970 until 1998, Jardine Matheson operated a pan-Asian investment banking joint venture, Jardine Fleming, with Robert Fleming & Co., a London merchant bank controlled by the Fleming family. In 2000, Jardine Fleming and Robert Fleming & Co. were sold to JP Morgan Chase.

The shipping interests
From the earliest days of the firm, shipping can justly claim to have been the most prominent among the many and varied enterprises of Jardines.

It was the practice of Jardines to possess the fastest and best-handled ships that money could buy. The firm did this in order that its leading position could not be assailed. In the early days, it was often possible to make a fortune with the exclusive possession of market or budget news for a period even so brief as a few hours. Conversely, a fortune could be lost if the despatches from home were late. The keen competition for faster and more efficient shipping helped immeasurably in the rapid development of trade with the Far East. It was due largely, to the excellence of the fleet that Jardines outlived all rivals. In the days of the sailing ships, many of the most famous clippers were those of the Company's fleet. Among these were illustrious names such as "Red Rover", "Falcon", and "Sylph". The last-named clipper made a sailing record that was never beaten. It sailed from Calcutta to Lintin in the Pearl River estuary in seventeen days, seventeen hours.

The first merchant steamer in China, the Jardine, was built to order for the firm in 1835. She was a small vessel intended for use as a mail and passenger carrier between Lintin Island, Macao, and Whampoa. However, after several trips, the Chinese authorities, for reasons best known to themselves, prohibited her entrance into the river. She perforce had to be sent to Singapore.

The first steam ships owned by Jardines ran chiefly between Calcutta and the Chinese ports. They were fast enough so that they could make the 1,400-mile trip in two days less than the P. & O. vessels.

As time passed, more and more ships were procured for Jardines' fleet. The ports of call extended as conditions allowed. The firm was among the first to send ships to Japan, and at an early date established a regular service between Yokohama, Kobe, and China's ports.

Until 1881, the India and China coastal and river services were operated by several companies. In that year, however, these were merged into the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company, Ltd., a public company under the management of Jardines. The activities of this company extended from India to Japan, including the Straits Settlements, Borneo, and, of course, the China coast. In the latter sphere, the "Indo-China" developed rapidly. The company pushed inland up the Yangtsze River on which a specially designed fleet was built to meet all requirements of the river trade. For many years, this fleet gave unequalled service.

Jardines established an enviable reputation for the efficient handling of shipping. As a result, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company invited the firm to attend to the Agency of their Shire Line which operated in the Far East. This occurred shortly before the first World War and necessitated a further expansion of the firm's shipping organisation. Today, no less than fifteen internationally known British, Canadian, and United States shipping companies entrust their agencies to this organisation.

In China, the bulk of freight emanates from domestic sources. On account of this an efficient and well-connected Chinese staff is maintained at all Jardines' branches. These branches are continuously in touch with the special features and tendencies of the Chinese markets.

With the disappearance of Japanese competition as a result of the war, and with the resurrection of China's merchant navy, shipping conditions in the Far East have changed vastly. The business demands an extreme degree of flexibility in the operation of foreign shipping. Jardines possess a rich fund of experience which was gained in the pioneering years of the last century and which extends through two world wars to the uncertainties of the present day. Jardines' shipping organisation offers unequalled service to shipowners, not only in the great ports of Hong Kong and Shanghai, but at every major coast port in China and also in Japan. In addition, since World War II, the firm has been operating the Australia-China Line, an enterprise owned jointly with Commons Bros., Ltd., of Newcastle. This line runs from Australia to Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Jardines are leaders also in Sino-foreign shipping co-operation.

Interests in wharves and warehouses

Hong Kong
On the initiative of Jardines and the late Sir Paul Chater, the Hongkong & Kowloon Wharf & Godown Company was formed in 1886. Since that date, the chairmanship of the board has been held by the managing director of Jardines.

At the property known as Kowloon Point, ten ocean-going vessels of up to thirty-two feet draught can be berthed regardless of the state of the tide. At the West Point property on Hongkong Island itself, one coastal vessel can be accommodated.

Kowloon Point provides storage space for about 750,000 tons of cargo. The transit sheds have been designed specially to provide maximum light and sorting space. The godowns are six-storeyed, of reinforced concrete, and are fully equipped with cargo lifts and cranes. A treasury, or strong room, capable of storing up to 500 measurement tons of bullion or other valuable cargo, is a part of the facilities offered.

The company also operates a launch and lighter fleet for the discharge of vessels at buoys and for general transshipment work.

Following an amalgamation of several local wharves in 1875, Jardine, Matheson & Co. were appointed general managers of the Shanghai & Hongkew Wharf Co., Ltd. In 1883, the Old Ningpo Wharf was added, and in 1890 the Pootung Wharf was purchased to complete the Company's already extensive properties. For three quarters of a century, therefore, Jardines have served the great port of Shanghai.

The Company owns some 3,000 feet of the most valuable wharf frontage on the Shanghai side of the river. On the opposite, or Pudong (Pootung), side their frontage extends to 2,550. The wharves are capable of accommodating ten large ocean-going vessels at a time.

Before the Pacific War, the Company possessed godown, or warehouse, space of 2,505,000 square feet. Unfortunately there was considerable destruction by the Japanese. Rehabilitation progressed rapidly, however, and the standard of efficient working for which the company is well known has been re-established.