Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-q9r9l Total loading time: 0.229 Render date: 2022-07-05T13:44:07.366Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Partners, Servants, or Entrepreneurs? Banians in the Nineteenth-Century Bengal Economy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 February 2021

Abstract

Banians acted as intermediaries for European merchants in Bengal. They were highly influential in the eighteenth century but their importance waned thereafter. This article reexamines their role in the nineteenth century and argues that their importance persisted but evolved in response to changes in the Bengal economy and issues of contracting and governance. It shows that the banians remained a nexus between the local and global economies, facilitating a bidirectional transfer of knowledge. They enabled the development of innovative Indian business forms and contributed to the emergence of a diverse ecology of organizational forms and ownership in Bengal at the end of the nineteenth century.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College 2021

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Footnotes

I would like to thank the anonymous referees and editor Walter Friedman for comments that significantly improved the paper. Similarly, I am grateful to comments from Tirthankar Roy, John Turner, Chris Colvin, members of the Queen's University Centre for Economic History, and participants at the Business History Conference, Annual Meeting 2017, all of which positively shaped the paper.

References

1 It is important to distinguish between the baniya caste and banian as a profession. Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya notes that the caste occupied a range of mercantile functions around India, but being a member of the caste was not a prerequisite to enter the banian profession. Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects: An Exposition of the Origin of the Hindu Caste System and the Bearing of the Sect Towards Each Other and Towards Other Religious Systems (Calcutta, 1896), 158.

2 Cox, Howard, Biao, Huang, and Metcalfe, Stuart, “Compradors, Firm Architecture and the ‘Reinvention’ of British Trading Companies: John Swire & Sons’ Operations in Early Twentieth Century China,” Business History 45, no. 2 (2003): 1534CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Bolts, William, Considerations on India Affairs, vol.1, (London, 1772), 84Google Scholar.

4 Kling, Blair, Partner in Empire: Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India (Los Angeles, 1992), 244–45Google Scholar; Marshall, Peter, East Indian Fortunes: British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1976), 45Google Scholar; Marshall, “Masters and Banians in Eighteenth-Century Calcutta,” in The Age of Partnership, ed. Blair Kling and Michael Pearson (Honolulu, 1979), 207; Webster, Anthony, The Richest East India Merchant: The Life and Business of John Palmer of Calcutta, 1767–1836 (Woodbridge, U.K., 2007), chap. 3Google Scholar.

5 Goswami, Omkar, “Sahibs, Babus, and Banias: Changes in Industrial Control in Eastern India, 1918–50,” Journal of Asian Studies 48, no. 2 (1989): 290CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Misra, Maria, Business, Race, and Politics in British India, c. 1850–1960 (New York, 1999), 5355CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Ray, Rajat, “Asian Capital in the Age of European Domination: The Rise of the Bazaar, 1800–1914,” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 3 (1995): 551CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Nilmani Mukherjee described the banians’ role in the mid-nineteenth century as that of “a guarantee broker. … [C]overing the bazar risk was his main function.” Mukherjee, “Foreign and Inland Trade,” in The History of Bengal, 1757–1905, ed. Narendra Krishna Sinha (Calcutta, 1967), 362.

9 Misra, Business, Race, and Politics, 53–55; Kling, Blair, “The Origin of the Managing Agency System in India,” Journal of Asian Studies 26, no. 1 (1966): 3747CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Roy, Tirthankar, “Trading Firms in Colonial India,” Business History Review 88, no. 1 (2014): 11CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Mukherjee, “Foreign and Inland Trade,” 359; Markovits, Claude, “Structure and Agency in the World of Asian Commerce during the Era of European Colonial Domination (c. 1750–1950),” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50, no. 2–3 (2007): 106–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Goswami, “Sahibs, Babus, and Banias,” 302.

12 Bengal Annual Register and Directory series, OIR 954.14 ST 1216 CH, British Library, London, (hereafter BL). First published in 1807, The Original Calcutta Annual Directory and Calendar was a series of registers detailing civil and military life in Calcutta. They included data on different types of firms operating in the region. Over time, the publisher and scope of the registers changed; from 1824 it was the Bengal Directory and Annual Register, compiled and printed by Samuel Smith and Co. In the 1860s, Thacker, Spink and Co. of London started to publish registers that extended geographic coverage, with lists delineated by region. This article focuses on the Bengal region lists. In the late 1880s it became Thackers Indian Directory, which ran until the 1960s. There is an obvious question of accuracy. It is probable that details of the European firms are reasonably accurate, as this was a close-knit commercial community, yet it is likely that the construction of the lists was determined by proximity to European interests. Indian businesses outside the European purview may not have been included, limiting understanding of the full scale of Indian commercial interests yet unlikely to affect details relating to the banians.

13 Palamadai Samu Lokanathan, Industrial Organization in India (London, 1935).

14 Neild-Basu, Susan, “The Dubashes of Madras,” Modern Asian Studies 18, no. 1 (1984): 131CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Subramanian, Lakshmi, “Banias and the British: The Role of Indigenous Credit in the Process of Imperial Expansion in Western India in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century,” Modern Asian Studies 21, no. 3 (1987): 473510CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Amalendu Guha also demonstrates the purposeful integration of Bombay Parsis into European firms to transfer knowledge of business practices. Guha, “The Comprador Role of Parsi Seths, 1750–1850,” Economic and Political Weekly 5, no. 48 (1970): 1933–36.

16 Wheeler, James Talboys, A History of the English Settlements in India (London, 1878), 3132Google Scholar.

17 Bolts, Considerations, 84.

18 Marshall, “Masters and Banians,” 192; Marshall, East Indian Fortunes, 45.

19 Philip Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (New York, 1984), 175–76.

20 Marshall, “Masters and Banians,” 193, 203.

21 Misra, Business, Race, and Politics, 53.

22 Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade, 175.

23 Webster, Richest East India Merchant.

24 Bengal Annual Registers 1813, 1818, 1824, 1834, BL.

25 Chowdhury, Benoy, Growth of Commercial Agriculture in Bengal, vol. 1 (Calcutta, 1964)Google Scholar.

26 Ray, Indrajit, Bengal Industries and the British Industrial Revolution (New York, 2011), 223CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 Kling, Partner in Empire, 228; Prakash Kumar, “Facing Competition: The History of Indigo Experiments in Colonial India, 1897–1920” (PhD diss., Georgia Institute of Technology, 2004), 26.

28 Tripathi, Amales, Trade and Finance in the Bengal Presidency, 1793–1833 (Calcutta, 1980)Google Scholar.

29 Report from the Parliamentary Select Committee on Manufactures, Commerce, and Shipping, P.P 1833, (690), 129.

30 Marshall, “Masters and Banians,” 207; Misra, Business, Race, and Politics, 54.

31 Webster, Richest East India Merchant, 56.

32 Singh, S. B., European Agency Houses in Bengal, 1783–1833 (Calcutta, 1966)Google Scholar.

33 Webster, Anthony, “An Early Global Business in a Colonial Context: The Strategies, Management and Failure of John Palmer and Co of Calcutta,” Enterprise & Society 6, no. 1 (2005): 122Google Scholar.

34 Calcutta Magazine and Monthly Register, vol. 29–32, 4 Apr. 1832, 200–1.

35 Chakrabarti, Ranjan, “The Brown Ships in the Indian Ocean: The American Merchants and the Bengali Banians, 1790–1880,” in Business History of India, ed. Palit, Chittabrata and Bhattachorya, Preanjal Kumar (Delhi, 2006)Google Scholar.

36 Tripathi, Trade and Finance; Amiya Bagchi, The Evolution of the State Bank of India, Part 1, 1806–1860 (Delhi, 1987).

37 Michael Aldous, “Avoiding ‘Negligence and Profusion’: Anglo-Indian Trading Firms, 1813–1870” (PhD diss., London School of Economics, 2015), chap. 3.

38 Report from the Parliamentary Select Committee, 130.

39 Bengal Annual Registers, 1831, 1858, BL.

40 On growth in the cotton industry, see Tripathi, Dwijendra, The Oxford History of Indian Business (Delhi, 2004), 100–6Google Scholar; on the tea boom of the 1860s, see Griffiths, Percival, The History of the Indian Tea Industry (London, 1967)Google Scholar.

41 Bengal Annual Registers, 1831, 1855, 1863, BL. Radhe Shyam Rungta identified this trend and linked it to the passage of a Companies Act in 1850 and the Joint-Stock Companies Act in 1857, which lowered costs of incorporation and enshrined the principal of limited liability. Rungta, The Rise of the Business Corporation in India, 1851–1900 (Cambridge, U.K., 1970).

42 Chapman, Stanley, Merchant Enterprise in Britain: From the Industrial Revolution to World War I (Cambridge, U.K., 2004), chap. 4Google Scholar; Jones, Geoffrey, Merchants to Multinationals: British Trading Companies in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York, 2000), chap. 2Google Scholar.

43 Misra calculated that by 1915 managing agents controlled 75 percent of industrial capital in India. Misra, Business, Race, and Politics, 5.

44 Dey, Kumud Lal, The Law Family of Calcutta (Calcutta, 1932)Google Scholar.

45 Chakrabarty, Dipesh and Dasgupta, Ranajit, “Functions of the Nineteenth-Century Banian: A Document,” Economic and Political Weekly 9, no. 35 (1974): 7375Google Scholar.

46 Memorandum of agreement between Gillanders, Arbuthnot and Co and Gobind Chund Doss, Kallydoss Seal, and Doyalchund Doss, 1866, 2695, Glynne-Gladstone Archive, Gladstone's Library (hereafter GG).

47 “Merchants, Banians and Brokers in Calcutta,” Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce, 18 June 1859.

48 Owens, Raymond and Nandy, Ashis, The New Vaisyas: Entrepreneurial Opportunity and Response in an Indian City (Durham, 1978), 16Google Scholar.

49 Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, 141–48, 158–61, 126–36, 26–35.

50 Owens and Nandy, New Vaisyas, 81.

51 Bengal Annual Register, 1873, BL.

52 Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects, 143.

53 Gillanders, Arbuthnot and Co., was among the larger of the agency houses that became managing agents in the second half of the nineteenth century. There was, however, a degree of commonality in the structure and organization of these firms, indicating a reasonable degree of representativeness in these sources.

54 The History of Gillanders, 1910, 95, 2749; A typescript for a booklet of the history of the firm, 1930, 2750 both in GG.

55 The diary of Mohendro Nath Mookerjee, 1900, 2744, GG.

56 Mohendro Nath Mookerjee diary. Mookerjee is a brahmin name, again indicating shared caste origins with the banian profession. It is quite possible the diary was written to flatter the European partners, possibly in the hope of an improved pension, but it does give some insight into the nature of the writers’ work and their relationship with the European partners at the firm.

57 Mohendro Nath Mookerjee diary, 4, GG.

58 Mohendro Nath Mookerjee diary, 46, GG.

59 Kadernauth Chaudry to Mackinlay, Dec. 1854, 2708, GG. The writer asked for a loan to cover extensive losses he had incurred on a tobacco trade, promising repayment from his salary.

60 Owens and Nandy, New Vaisyas, 81.

61 Mukherjee, “Foreign and Inland Trade,” 359.

62 Misra, Business, Race, and Politics, 54.

63 Mukherjee, “Foreign and Inland Trade,” 361; Bengal Annual Register, 1893, BL. Anglo-Indian commodity networks were also notable; for example, Cartwright H. D. and Co., a British-owned jute agent, acted for J. Dass and Co., R. D. Banerjee and Co., and R. C. Mookerjee and Co., Indian-owned up-country jute dealers.

64 Kling, Partner in Empire, 244–45; Owens and Nandy, New Vaisyas, 60.

65 Misra, Business, Race, and Politics; Jones, Stephanie, Merchants of the Raj: British Managing Agency Houses in Calcutta Yesterday and Today (London, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Bengal Annual Register, 1893, BL. All names are either brahmin, banik, or kayastha, again emphasizing the shared caste origins.

67 Bengal Annual Register, 1893, BL.

68 Dey, Law Family.

69 Mukherjee, “Foreign and Inland Trade,” 361.

70 Bengal Annual Register, 1893, BL.

71 Bengal Annual Register, 1893, BL.

72 Goswami, “Sahibs, Babus, and Banias,” 302–3.

73 Bengal Annual Register, 1893, BL, lists a Gubbay DA and Co. and Juggernath Dass and Co. as bill, stock share, and bullion brokers.

74 Dey notes that the bank was founded by a number of prominent Indian businessmen, but the majority of shareholders were European. Dey, Law Family, 11–12.

75 Bengal Annual Register, 1893, BL, also continued to list 116 Indian bankers. Despite the growth in joint-stock and multinational banking, local credit systems remained an important component of the Bengal economy.

76 Mukherjee, “Foreign and Inland Trade,” 361. Bengal Annual Register, 1883, BL, shows that Ausootosh Dey and Nephews and Prankissen, Law and Co., both old, established banian firms, as well as S. C. Chander and Co., were members of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce.

77 Rungta, Rise of the Business Corporation, 250.

78 Mukherjee, “Foreign and Inland Trade,” 362.

79 Aldous, Michael, “Avoiding Negligence and Profusion: The Failure of the Joint-Stock Form in the Anglo-Indian Tea Trade, 1840–1870.Enterprise & Society 16, no. 3 (2015): 671CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tirthankar Roy and Anand Swamy, Law and the Economy in Colonial India (Chicago, 2016), 134–36.

80 “Merchants, Banians and Brokers.”

81 Roy and Swamy, Law and the Economy, 141.

82 Roy, Tirthankar, Company of Kinsmen: Enterprise and Community in South Asian History, 1700–1940 (New Delhi, 2010), 89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

83 Gijsbert Oonk also notes the prevalence of traders and intermediaries among Indians investing and managing industrial ventures in Bengal. Oonk, “The Emergence of Indigenous Industrialists in Calcutta, Bombay, and Ahmedabad, 1850–1947,” Business History Review 88, no. 1 (2014): 43–71.

84 Ray, “Asian Capital,” 553.

85 Tirthankar Roy identifies a similar pattern of adaptation, as opposed to decay and obsolescence. Roy, Artisans and Industrialization: Indian Weaving in the Twentieth Century (New Delhi, 1993).

86 Ray, “Asian Capital,” 553.

87 Goswami, “Sahibs, Babus, and Banias,” 290; Oonk, “Emergence of Indigenous Industrialists”; Goswami, Omkar, “Then Came the Marwaris: Some Aspects of the Changes in the Pattern of Industrial Growth in Eastern India,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 22, no. 3 (1985): 225–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

88 Lokanathan, Industrial Organization; Gupta, Bishnupriya, “Discrimination or Social Networks? Industrial Investment in Colonial India,” Journal of Economic History 74, no. 1 (2014): 141–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bagchi, Amiya Kumar, Private Investment in India, 1900–1939 (Cambridge, U.K., 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Deepak Nayyar, ed., Industrial Growth and Stagnation: The Debate in India (Bombay, 1994).

89 Misra, Business, Race, and Politics, 53–55.

90 Roy, Tirthankar, “Transfer of Economic Power in Corporate Calcutta, 1950–1970,” Business History Review 91, no. 1 (2017): 329CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

91 Jones, Charles, International Business in the Nineteenth Century: The Rise and Fall of a Cosmopolitan Bourgeoisie (Brighton, 1987), 94Google Scholar.

92 Goswami, “Then Came the Marwaris”; Timberg, Thomas, The Marwaris: From Traders to Industrialists (Delhi, 1977)Google Scholar; Roy, “Transfer of Power.”

93 Ray, “Asian Capital,” 553.

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Partners, Servants, or Entrepreneurs? Banians in the Nineteenth-Century Bengal Economy
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Partners, Servants, or Entrepreneurs? Banians in the Nineteenth-Century Bengal Economy
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Partners, Servants, or Entrepreneurs? Banians in the Nineteenth-Century Bengal Economy
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *