Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy
One of the nicest things to have happened in the city recently, has been the restoration of the portrait of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, First Baronet, a great son of India.
For this, we have to thank Kekoo Gandhy (of Gallery Chemould and Chemould Frames) for his efforts in initiating the restoration work at the J. J. School of Art, and Hungarian painter Laslo Seres, who did the job with enthusiasm and skill, not charging a cent for it.
This is called a true labour of love, and perhaps no single individual in the history of Bombay city deserves it more than the philanthropic Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, whose entire life was a personification of charity.
Philatelist Vispi S. Dastoor, an illustrious and industrious research scholar of the Parsi community, provides us with the following interesting facts on the life and times of the noble Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, who was born to a poor Parsi family and became an orphan at a very early age. Yet, he left behind a legacy of tremendous compassion and charity for the citizens of Mumbai.
Jamsetjee, the youngest son of cloth weaver Jeejeebhoy and his wife, Jeevibai, was born in the `Yatha Ahu Vairyo Mohalla’ near the Crawford Market in Bombay on July 15, 1783.
He lost his parents early in life, and did not have the blessings of a formal education, something he greatly missed and which prompted to open several boys and girls schools and colleges in the city when he became an affluent man in later years.
But life was hard for the young Jamsetjee. He began as an unschooled apprentice to his uncle, Framji Batlivala (notice the appropriateness of the surname!), who sold empty glass bottles out of a shop at Fort. During the three years that he worked with his uncle, he obtained his first hand experience of trade and commerce, and also studied Gujarati, English and elementary accountancy by the dint of his own efforts.
Tales of the achievements and exploits of Hirji Readymoney (notice the `bawaji’ surname again!), the first Parsi trader to visit China in 1756, inspired Jamsetjee to undertake a voyage to China himself. It was the subsequent voyages that brought him immense wealth. Those were the days when widespread smuggling of silk and opium by unscrupulous traders was taking place, but from the beginning, Jamsetjee displayed his integrity. Although he was then only 17 years old, Bombay businessmen extended finance and credit to the extent of Rs. 40,000 (a grand sum in those days), in recognition of the young Parsi’s genius for commerce.
Through hazardous voyages to and fro, he amassed great fortunes, but tragedy struck him on February 18, 1803, when the great fire of Bombay, that burnt half of the Fort area, reduced Jamsetjee’s home and wealth to ashes. During those trying days when hundreds of people were rendered homeless, two Parsi businessmen came to their rescue. Naoroji Sett opened the doors of his bungalow to house the homeless, and Pestonji Bomanji Wadia gave food to hundreds at his palace at Parel.
Jamsetjee was not one to cower under misfortune. He undertook his voyages to China again, and made good his losses. By the age of 40, he had made over two crore rupees, a staggering sum in those days. Further riches came to him from cotton trade during the Napoleonic Wars. He bought his own fleet of ships. Said Lord Elphinstone, then Governor of Bombay, of Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, ‘By strict integrity, by industry and punctuality in all his commercial transactions, he contributed to raise the character of the Bombay merchant in the most distant markets.’
All along, Jamsetjee’s partner was his uncle with whom he began his humble career as a bottle-seller, Framjee Batlivala, whose daughter, Avabai, became Jamsetjee’s wife when he was 20, and she ten. They enjoyed wedded bliss for 56 years, had seven sons and three daughters, of which four sons and two daughters died in infancy.
After the death of his uncle (and father-in-law) Jamsetjee took Motichand Amichand and Mohomedali Rogay as his partners in the firm Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Co., and their efforts were enormously successful.
Side by side with his business activities, Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy undertook several charitable projects, all of a cosmopolitan nature. He spent Rs. 1,45,403 to set up the Sir J. J. Dharamshala at Bellasis Road, and till today innumerable old and destitute people receive free food, clothing, shelter and medicines. All their needs for the past 150 years, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, have been looked after by the Dharamshala, the first free home for the elderly in Asia.
Jamsetjee later founded the J. J. Hospital and the Grant Medical College (named after his friend Sir Robert Grant, then Governor of Bombay). He also instituted, for a sum of Rs. 18,000, the Sir J.J. Books, Prizes and Medals Fund in order to encourage medical students, and in 1851, for the benefit of poor women, he opened the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy Obstretics Institution.
Before 1845, there was no land communication between Bandra and Mahim and people had to be ferried over the Mahim Creek. It was dangerous, and during the monsoons, countless people would lose their lives on dubious and unreliable ferry services. Jamsetjee spent Rs. 1,55,800 in order to build the Mahim Causeway, that was justly named after his wife, Lady Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy. Not only did it save countless lives, but even today, it is a boon to all of us who live in the suburbs.
Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy had to his credit 126 notable public charities, including the Sir J. J. School of Arts, the Sir J. J. School of Architecture, the Sir J. J. School of Commercial Art. As his fame spread, the residents of Poona approached him to build a bund in order to contain the raging waters of the Mulla and Mutha rivers, and the kind man obliged.
He built wells and tanks all over Bombay, hospitals and schools in Surat and Navsari, Agiaries in Bombay and Poona. His charity was not just confined to human beings. He contributed Rs. 80,000 to a Panrapole for animals, distributed money for the feeding of stray dogs, built water places for cattle and horses.
For all his good work, he became the first Indian upon whom Knighthood was conferred. Queen Victoria conferred baronetcy on the first Indian knight, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy who was 74-years-old at that time. He died two years later, and never before and never after Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy has Bombay had a son with such a large heart. His charities alone are estimated at over Rs.100 crore, God bless his soul.
The reason we are telling his story in such detail is that, perhaps, it just might inspire some other young man or young woman who could emulate the example of this poor orphan who made a fortune and disbursed it amongst his fellow citizens.
Yes, Bombay, in the next millennium, needs another Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy.
Courtesy : Cyrus Aga