Sunday, 20 July 2014

Finlay Muir & Co., Royal Exchange Place

Although some of the heritage buildings of Calcutta’s Dalhousie Square area are government buildings, the majority of them are, or were, offices of mercantile houses of the colonial era. The vast majority of these mercantile houses were Scottish, and among them was the headquarters of Finlay Muir & Co..

Finlay Muir building today
The company began with the Finlay family of Glasgow, who were in the cotton trade. James Finlay had, by the time of his death in 1790, established the firm in his name, as a manufacturer and merchant, trading in cotton, muslin, and other textiles. James’ second son, Kirkman Finlay, expanded the business further. He used his influence as MP for Glasgow, to break the East India Company’s monopoly in trade in Asia, and the first Finlay ship arrived in India in 1813. Demand for Finlay’s cotton fabric was so astronomically high in India that the company found this one market to be getting them more profits than all their other outlets in Europe and America. The first Finlay agency to be set up in India was in Bombay, in 1816.


7 years after Kirkman Finlay’s death, in 1842, John Muir joined the firm, and by 1861 became a junior partner. He gradually bought out all the other partners, leaving him sole proprietor by 1883. In the meantime, he and his cousin, Hugh Brown Muir, were forced to India as a source of cotton, since the American civil war put an end to supply from that part of the world. The Calcutta office of the now Finlay Muir & Co. was established in 1870. John Muir himself arrived in India in 1871, and began diversifying into jute and tea. It was this tea, that the company would be most identified with, their involvement in Indian tea estates continuing well after Indian independence, until 1983, when they were bought out by the Tatas. Finlay Muir & Co., known today simply as Finlay’s, continues to exist, with interests in tea, rubber, flowers and fresh produce.

The Calcutta office was originally at 15, Clive Row (now Dr. Rajendra Prasad Sarani), from where they moved to 21, Canning Street (now Biplabi Rashbehari Basu Road), and from there, ultimately to the present building, on Royal Exchange Place (now India Exchange Place) in 1912. Where the building stands today, there once existed the old “Thieves’ Bazaar”. The building currently serves as the offices of Allahabad Bank, and is well maintained.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh

SOURCES


  • Recollections of Calcutta for over half a century - Montague Massey
  • http://www.finlays.net/
  • DBHKer's notes - https://www.flickr.com/photos/23268776@N03/6959052305/
  • A History of Calcutta's Streets - P. Thankappan Nair
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