Jardines originated in the late 18th century, in the days of the East India Company, which, by virtue of a Royal Charter, held the monopoly of trade between Great Britain, India and the Far East.
From China the company imported tea and silk to meet the demand of increasing consumption in Europe, and, as the Chinese needed nothing comparable in return the balance of payments problem arose.
This was solved by the export from India of raw cotton and opium to China, where the latter was contraband. The trade was conducted in private by merchants licensed by the chartered company and associated Western Agency Houses in Canton, such as Jardines. Jardines exchanged silver proceeds for Bills on the chartered company in London and India, thus completing a triangular transaction. It eliminated the necessity to ship large quantities of coins from Europe to China.
William Jardine, previously a ship's surgeon in the maritime service of the East India Company, and James Matheson were both enterprising Scotsmen who were licensed as private traders, and in 1832 they joined forces as co-partners in Magniac & Co, one of the principal agency houses in Canton. When Jardine Matheson came into being on July 1, 1832, it was an amalgam of three successful interests, with an extensive clientele ranging from Europe to Australia and Latin America.
Jardines acquired the first parcel of land, Lot. No. 1 at East Point, in Hong Kong. There had been difficulties over the involvement of the private traders in the opium trade for years. Matters came to a head in 1839 when British subjects were expelled from Canton and Macau. They were obliged to live and conduct their business on board their ships in the Hong Kong harbour. The Superintendent of Trade summoned naval assistance and, after brief hostilities, negotiations took place at the Convention of Chuenpee. The British were to be allowed to use Hong Kong, but not yet the title to it. However, land sales commenced and Jardines began building their offices and warehouses.
Jardines began to finance shipments, open credit and offer general merchant banking facilities. This was due to increased freedom, which followed the conclusion of the war and the formal cession of Hong Kong to the British.
In 1844 the firm completed the move of its headquarters to East Point, with a staff of 20. In the same year the firm's Chinese name, E-Wo (the state of happy harmony) was adopted. David Jardine, nephew of the founder and now taipan in Hong Kong, was one of the first two private citizens (the unofficial members) to be appointed to the Executive and Legislative Councils in Hong Kong, starting a history of contributions to policy making and legislation in Hong Kong that has continued to this day.
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