• No record of illustrious Parsis would be complete without the name of Rustomji Dorabji, whose unsurpassable contribution to India was to rescue Bombay. In 1692, the city was stricken by a plague so severe that the Sidis of Janjira, taking advantage of this circumstance, organised bands of pirates along the Malabar Coast and wrested the city from the British. On his own initiative, this bold Parsi mustered a militia from the local fishermen and drove out the invaders. For this singular feat, Rustomji Dorabji was granted the hereditary title of Patel (Lord or Chief) of Bombay.
• The first printing press was started in India in the year 1778 by Mr. Rustomji Cursetji. In 1780, he printed the first book in English under the title “Bombay Calendar.”
• The oldest existing newspaper in India, The Bombay Samachar was started by a Parsi on 1st July, 1822. It changed hands a number of times but has throughout been Parsi owned, and is currently been managed by the Camas.
• The first type-founder in a vernacular tongue, the first compositor in English, the first Indian to become manager of an English newspapers and one of the proprietors of The Times of India (founded in 1838) were all Parsis.
• Mr. Sorabji Cawasji Kharas (1821 – 1875) was the first Indian to go as a businessman to Aden in 1839.
• The first two Indian Members elected to the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society were both Parsees. Mr. Manekji in 1840 and Mr. Cursetji Dadabhoy Wadia in 1844.
• A Parsi – Jijibhai Dadabhai – introduced steam navigation for commercial and passenger traffic along India’s west coast, in 1840. The Bombay Steam Navigation Company was established in 1845 with other promoters / directors being Dadabhai Rustomji Banaji, Framji Cowasji Banaji and Dadabhai Pestonji Wadia.
• The first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1841) was a Parsi and a Wadia – Ardeseer Cursetjee Wadia. Son of a Wadia Master Builder and Nowrosjee’s grand-father. A gifted engineer, he designed and built in his youth a 1 HP steam engine that actually worked. He also gas lighting to Bombay. In 1834, his bungalow and gardens at Mazagon were so brilliantly lit for a visit by the Earl of Clare, Governor of Bombay, that the Earl’s carriage was delayed for hours by the crowds of the curious that blocked its route. Among the sights illuminated for the guest was a garden fountain, whose graceful spray was produced by a steam pump built by the host.
• The first Indian to be knighted was a Parsi – Sir Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy, upon whom the title was bestowed by Empress Victoria in 1842. This same distinguished gentleman, who “Shed the greatest lustre on the Parsi race in India,” was also raised to a Baronetcy shortly before his death in 1859 – also being the first Indian to receive this honour.
• The first Indians to be entrusted with a State Mint were the Parsis – the Merjis, possibly the only family, Indian or European ever to engrave its initials on a national coin. One such silver coin, struck in 1840s (probably at the Aurangabad Mint), bore the initials of Pestanji Merji and became widely known as the Pestan shai.
• A Parsi – Jamshedji Dorabji – ranks among the charter promoters of the Indian railway system and by the mid-19th century employed a force of
• The first Cotton Mill in India – The Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company – was started in Bombay by Mr. Kavasji Nanabhoy Davar in 1854.
• The first Indian to open a paper mill was a Parsi – Sorabji Framji – who erected his factory in 1854.
• The oldest surviving commercial printing press in Bombay was the
Union Press, founded by Nanabhai Rustomji Ranina in partnership with Nowrowji Framji in 1857. Mr. Nanabhai Rustomji Ranina was also the first to print an English to Gujarati and Gujarati to English Dictionary. The Union Press, which was started in Kalbadevi, later moved to its present location in the Horniman Circle (formerly Elphinstone Circle), named after BG Horniman, a Gandhian and editor of the Bombay Chronicle. The Union Press still survives to this day and his currently run by the Chinoy family.
• Mr. Cursetjee Maneckshah Cursetjee (1847 – 1935) was the first Indian to be admitted as an under-graduate at Oxford in 1864.
• Mr. Burjor Sorabji Kharas (1831 – 1875) was the first Indian Consul for the USA in Aden during 1869 – 1875.
• Khan Saheb Kekobad Navroji Mody was the first Indian to become Superintendent of Railway Police of the BB&CI Railways in 1870.
• Mr. Cawasji Dhunjibhoy Mahaluxmiwalla (1863 – 1950) was the first Indian to be made Superintendent of a public garden – Maharajbagh, at Nagpur in 1885 and the Victoria Gardens in Bombay in 1892.
• The first Indian Cricket Team to visit England in 1886 was composed entirely of Parsees, and was captained by Dr. Dhunjishaw Hirjibhai Patel, who can very well be called the First Indian Cricket Captain.
• Dr. Muncherji Jamasjee Mistry LM&S was the first Indian to become a Civil Surgeon in 1887 at Godhra in the present Gujarat State.
• Col. Dhunjishah Naoroji Parakh was the first Indian to be appointed Professor of Midwifery in the Grant Medical College, Bombay in 1888. He was also the second Indian to pass the IMS Examination, the first being his uncle, Surgeon Major Rustomji Behramji who took his commission in 1875 direct from the hands of Queen Victoria.
• The first Indian appointed to India’s High Court – then the country’s supreme authority – was Khurshedji Rustomji Wadia, a man of great independence of spirit. At a time when capital punishment was commonly meted out by the High Court, Khurshedji whose humanity rejected this sentence, so consistently refused to pronounce it that the British Government all but commanded him to do so. Instead of compromising his principles by obeying, he resigned his office.
• Mr. Charag Jehangir Mistry, FRHS was the first Indian to be Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of all Scottish Freemasonry in India.
• The first three Indians to have sat in the British House of Commons were Dr. Dadabhoy Naoroji (1892 – 1895), Sir Mancherjee Bhownagree (1895-1906) and Sir Shapurji Saklatvala (1922 – 1929).
• Mr. Jamshedji Sorabji Sethna was the first and only Indian Vice Consul for France in 1905.
• Madam Bhikaji Cama (l86l – 1936) was the first Indian to have conceived the idea of a National Flag for India, which she designed and unfurled at the Socialist Congress in Germany in 1907.
• The first Iron and Steel Works in India, the Tata Iron and Steel Company was started by Mr. Jamshedji N. Tata in Jamshedpur in 1907.
• Mr. Ardeshir Edulji Cama ACA (1879 – 1948) was the first Indian Member of the Institute of Chartered Accounts in England and Wales in 1908 -the first Indian Chartered Accountant.
• Mr. Pherozshah Nasarvanji Daroowalla was the first Indian to have passed the examination of Doctors of Law from the London University in 1913.
• The first two Indians to be awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) were Parsis in World War I (1914 – 1918). Capt. (later Maj. Gen.) Cursetjee and Capt. (later Col.) Bharucha, both of the IMS.
• Mr. Behramji Sorabji Lalkaka (1880 – 1957) was the first to start a heavy chemical industry in India. He started the Pioneer Magnesia Works Ltd, in 1915 for the manufacture of Magnesium Chloride, the import of which from Germany was stopped due to World War I. Magnesium Chloride is used for sizing in the Textile Industry.
• Mr. Naoroji Dadabhai Katrak was the first Indian to be appointed Chief Engineer of the Bombay Improvement Trust in 1925.
• The first three men to circumvent the earth on bicycles were all Parsees – Adi Hakim, Rustom Bhumgara and Jal Bapasola – 1928.
• Dr. Shiavux Sorabji Banker was the first Indian to be the head of the Medical Department on a company managed Railway – the BB&CI Railway in 1938.
• Mr. Khujesteh Kaikobad Batliwalla was the first Indian to be appointed Chief Inspector of Boilers and Factories in UP in 1939.
• Miss. Shirin Jal Virjee was the first Indian lady to receive the Diploma in Sculpture in 1941 from the Royal College of Arts, London.
• Capt. Miss. Pheroza S. Davar, MBBS, IMS, was the first Indian Army Lady Doctor commissioned in 1942.
• Dr. Manek Bejanji Pithawalla was the first Indian to obtain a Doctorate in Geography in India. The Department of Geology, University of Karachi is one of the oldest institutions for teaching of Geology in Pakistan. It started functioning in 1954, under Prof. Dr. Manek B. Pithawalla, a noted geographer of pre-partition days and the author of “Geology and Geography of Karachi.”
• Dr. Homi Bhabha – an eminent Nuclear Scientist – was appointed as the first Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission in 1948.
• Miss. Amy BHJ Rustomji, M.A. (Cantab.) was the first and only Asiatic lady to hold the office of Vice President of the International Federation for University for Women for the term 1956 – 1959.
• The only instance of all three brothers winning the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) – the Engineer brothers – in World War II were Parsees. Aspy (1912 – 2002) retired as free India’s second Air Chief. Minoo (1921 – 1997), with a PVSM, and MVC and a Padma Bhushan, retired as an Air Marshall – probably the highest decorated officer then in the Indian Armed Forces. Group Captain Ronnie Engineer left the IAF to settle in Canada. And yet a fourth brother – Jangoo Engineer (1916 – 1965) after serving in the RAF (through World War II) and the IAF, made the difficult decision to return to Civil Aviation, where the uncharted skies called for his kind of dedication and expertise. He rose to be Director of Operations, Planning and Training of Indian Airlines (a combined post created especially for him, and split in three after he left the Airline).
• The Parsees are the only community to have produced Chiefs of all three Armed Forces – Air Marshall Aspi Engineer, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw and Admiral Jal Cursetjee.
• Khushru F. Rustomji, the doyen of Indian Policemen, raised and commanded the BSF (Border Security Force) during the 1971 operations. He was its first Director General and is referred to as founding father of the BSF.
• The first Indian to be made a Field Marshall was General Sam HFJ Manekshaw in 1972.
• India’s first ever, and singularly successful, time urgent response, international intervention operation involving all the three Services was led by Brigadier Bulsara in the Republic of Maldives, November 1988.
Courtesy : Cyrus Bulsara
Thanks for the article on the “first parsi Indians”