EXCELLENCE SINCE 1767
THE HISTORY OF FORBES & COMPANY LIMITED

Continued...

Commerce was not John Forbes’ only preoccupation. Some of the most prestigious institutions in the city of Mumbai owe their existence to his association and involvement; the Rajabai Clock Tower, the Town Hall; one of the oldest buildings in the city, the Royal Asiatic Society Library; one of the finest book collections in Asia, the Turf Club; easily the most prestigious in Mumbai, India’s first dry dock, the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, railway lines to boost commercial traffic within the city and suburbs and the most noteworthy venture for all posterity, the Bombay Reclamation Project; a project started by Forbes nearly two hundred years ago and since, sustained by the government, changing the geography of the city of Mumbai, year after year.

It was way back, in 1764, sometime in the month of May that Western enterprise in the Orient was commencing its ascent steadily to its climax. The port of Mumbai had already gained renown as the doorway to India. It was in this background that a young Scot walked the deck of the trader ship, the ‘Asia’, carrying with him fifty bolts of canvas as merchandise.

Despite the adversities, the cotton trading activity of Forbes grew apace and there was a time when the entire cotton crop of Gujarat was being bought by the Company. As the business dealings with Britain became extensive, the trading boom called for cargo vessels. So shipping became a new business area for the company. Thus, Forbes also gained the status of an agent running a stable brokerage business.

Shipping developed into ship building and because of its sound financial health, the Company was appointed as Bankers to the Government of Bombay and from there arose what today is the State Bank of India. Alliances with Ritchie Steuart & Co. and the house of Campbell lead to the formation of Forbes, Steuart and Campbell and a further widening of Company interests.

An association with the Swedish Match Company resulted in the creation of a market for matches and subsequently to the creation of the Western India Match Company (WIMCO); the largest and the most reputed member of a highly competitive industry. Some faltering textile mills and financial organisations were also taken into the Forbes’ fold and restored to positions of importance; an importance enjoyed by them till date even though they may no longer be associated with the Company.

Coming back to the history of Forbes, well, Mumbai of 1760’s was definitely less favourably placed than Kolkata or Chennai due to the lucrative trade with China, however, it enjoyed a geographical advantage in respect of the European countries but had to share the advantage with Surat and Baroach. The town of Mumbai within the Fort was where most of the citizens lived, mainly the Europeans. Its public buildings consisted of the Government House, the Customs House, the Marine Barracks, Mint, Treasury, Theatre, Church and the prison.

Our founder, John Forbes, was born on September 6, 1743, at Bellabag, West Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Perhaps, it was difficult domestic circumstances that forced John Forbes to leave home and seek a fortune abroad. It was on April 22, 1764 that John set sail on board the ship ‘Asia’ as a ‘Purser’ and set foot on India soil on December 6, with a load of fifty bolts of canvas. Since his ship had to leave hurriedly on the East India Company’s service, he sold off his load at a profit of 45% which, otherwise, would have fetched him a gain of 100%. After over three years with Asia. Forbes was one of the fortunate ones to be authorised by the Court of East India Company to proceed to India as a ‘Free Mariner’ and later was a part of the select category of ‘Free Merchants’, at Mumbai.

To Be Continued >>

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