Saturday, 12 July 2014

Wallace House, 4 Bankshall Street

Although it is the English that most Indians think of when they think of the British Raj, there was a very large Scottish presence in Calcutta, and it was the Scots who ran the majority of businesses in Calcutta, and most of India. One such firm was Shaw Wallace, a name that most Indians are familiar with even today. Their building, called Wallace House, on 4 Bankshall Street, remains in good condition today.

The company was established in 1886 in Calcutta by Robert Gordon Shaw and Charles William Wallace. While not much information is available about Shaw, Wallace, it is known, was born in Calcutta in 1855, and was the brother of Major General Sir Alexander Wallace. Returning to India after completing his education, in 1875, he was invited by Shaw to join him as a consultant. The company at that point, managed tea estates in India and among them The Budla Beta Tea Company Limited. Under Wallace, they diversified into timber and textiles. Offices were established in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, in 1909, in the name of R. G. Shaw & Company, with Rufus Wilson in charge. On 1st January 1912, it became a branch of Shaw Wallace & Company (India). The address was No. 28, Chatham Street in the Fort. Wallace eventually became the Vice Chairman of the Anglo Persian Oil Company, which later became British Petroleum.

When he died, in London in 1916, Wallace was a rich man, but chose to donate large amounts of his amassed wealth. He was an alumnus of Framlingham College, and established there a scholarship. Once his immediate successors had all died, his residuary estate was used to set up a number of trusts, the largest among them being The Charles Wallace India Trust which supports Indians studying arts, humanities and heritage conservation, enabling them to travel to and study in the UK.

Shaw Wallace in India continued to operate under Indian management, shedding its diversified businesses after 1999, and continuing as a liquor manufacturer. It became the centre of one of India’s most famous corporate rivalries; that between Manohar Rajaram ‘Manu’ Chhabria and Vijay Mallya. After Chhabria’s death, it was finally bought by Mallya’s United Breweries Group, and merged with the company. The building on 4, Bankshall Street, still houses the company’s offices. Shaw Wallace Sri Lanka continues to exist, with interests in automotive products, packaged food, industrial solutions and manufacturing. As for the building on Bankshall Street, although I can find no details about it, I did manage to find the foundation stone, which was laid on 21st September, 1909, by a certain "Miss Wallace".

- by Deepanjan Ghosh



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