Short Note on Opium Trade in Mumbai

The cotton trade in Mumbai began to face slump since 1813 and continued for a considerable period. In 1829, the journal, Canton Register, which represented British mercantile interests at Canton, Lamented that the long continued deplorable state of our cotton market produced a very sensible effects on the maritime commerce of Bombay. Despite the dismal voices in Mumbai cotton exporting circles, raw cotton continued to be exported to China and England. This trade led to some Mumbai traders to loose heavily due to the slump in it, whereas other traders recouped and greatly augmented their fortunes in the trade of Bengal Opium, which was exported to China since the mid eighteenth century. After the import of opium into China was banned by the Emperor in 1796, the company stopped carrying opium in its own ships but continued it in the ships of other merchants, which earned her benefit on large scale then earlier. Naturally, the repeated imperial edits of China prohibiting the import of opium were conveniently ignored by the East India Company routinely.

Opium was grown at various places as Malwa, Bengal and Patna in British India. But the quality of Bengal opium was better, it commanded higher demand and created monopoly in the export trade of opium in Chinese market. The East India Company tried to encourage the cultivators in western India to cultivate opium as large scale to entrance the export from Mumbai but the company could not succeed because the cultivators and brokers in Western India resisted it strongly. The Company charged its policy, began to increase the production of Bengal opium and attempted them to bug, the Malwa opium in huge cantity. the company charged the punitive duties on the entire opium at Mumbai while exporting it to China. Although, this policy strengthened the position of Malwa opium in the Chinese market it also boosted Daman and Goa the Portuguese part to enter the opium trade to China, which the Mumbai Government to sustain a considerable loss in its revenue collection.

In 1831, the Mumbai Government changed it policy of charging punitive duty to the payment of a flat transit duty of Rs. 175 per chest. This began ninety percent Malwa opium export through Mumbai once again and increased shipment of opium from Mumbai from 9,333 chests in 1831-32 to 47,007 chests in 1832-33. The opium export further jumped to 20,000 chests and remained average between 20,000 to 40,000 chests for several decades. There was a ten-fold increase in the export of opium through Mumbai from 1830 to 1860, which increased its share of the total exports from twenty five percent to forty two percent.

The growth of opium trade in Mumbai was greatly responsible for the rise of Mumbai to the status higher than Calcutta and the eminent business centre of British India. the export of opium also made Mumbai one of the best ports in India, which was a second rate port to Calcutta earlier. Mumbai became a network connecting the multitude of cultivators, opium brokers, speculators, shippers and the commission agents or the agency houses in and around Mumbai and Calcutta. There were many powerful opium shippers in Mumbai, among them Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Huttesing Kesserisng and Reminpton & Crawford were very prominent. Jamsetjee had already established his command over trader between Mumbai and China – through the export of raw cotton. He consigned the bulk of his opium shipments to the British firm of Jardine, Matherson & Company and became their main Indian collaboration. Huttesing Kessrising of the Mumbai firm of Kessirsing Khooshalchand was opium shipper and dealer next to Jamsetjee, who shipped over two thousand chests every year from Mumbai to China. The third agency house was the Remington & Crawford, who was one of the big names in the opium trade of Mumbai between 1830 and 1840. The situation in Calcutta was totally opposite, where lesser number of big European and Indian agency houses dominated the opium trade.

Although, there was a high risk in opium trade, maximum agency houses in Mumbai involved in it because there was greater rate of return on the investment in its trade, it was almost double to three times more than the areas like loans or real estate in Mumbai. Asiya Siddiqi says that the confirmation of the large number of big agency houses involved in opium export from Mumbai is seen in the memorial of October, 1842 to the Governor – General of India, who had sought reparations for the opium, they surrendered at Canton before the outbreak of the first opium War in 1839.

These individuals and firms had signed the memorial who were around 163, out of them one-third were Parsis, while others were Jains and Marwadis. They received the compensation from the Hong Kong Government by the notification of 1864. The involvement of large number of parties in the export of malwa opium was ascribed to its all stages like production processing, packing, transport and to its inferior quality than Patna opium. It is said that many a times the Malwa opium shipment contained mud, rice and other adulterants instead of opium. Hence, the Chinese buyers had rejected them frequently for not being upto the mark. This led to sustain huge losses to the Malwa opium exporters who had involved in the fraudulent shipment of opium. After the accusation and counter accusation between the Mumbai opium exporters and the Chinese buyers, Mumbai firms like. Heard & Co. appointed Chinese Opium examiner, who was called the opium to be shipped to China and avoid any losses to the Mumbai traders in the opium export. The Samsing Chinaman was paid considerable fees, provided with lodging, boarding and annual allowance of $ 100. Some of the American firms involved in opium export in Mumbai could not get opium consignments from opium cultivators. In order to attract more consignments, the American firms began to sell their opium along the Chinese coast where they secured higher prices earned much profit the trade. The opium trade became risky in the later half of the nineteenth century, the traders involved in it needed to evade both pirates and Chinese Patrol boats and required smaller, lighter and faster boats with greater manoeuvrability than cumbersome old country ships. This gave a birth to variety of Clipper swifter boats which sailed and reached centon with in 51 days from Mumbai, the usual travel of 108 days. This was the miracle done by Bombay shipyard. Christine Dobbin says that the Bombay Dockyards assisted the transition of the mercantile mentality to industrial by way of technological innovation. Amalendu Guha says that the significance of the Bombay Shipyards lay not in the number of ships it produced, but in the forward looking mindset generated among Indian entrepreneurs. Thus, this led to the growth of Mumbai as a port city of India.

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