Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ralli Brothers, Hare Street

Mention Ralli’s to anyone in Calcutta today and they will think of the sherbet and syrup making company. But Ralli Singh Arora who started that Ralli’s in 1898 in Calcutta, has no connection whatsoever with the Ralli’s building that stands today on Hare Street. The story of the company begins in 1815, in the Aegean sea, in the port of Chios, then part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ralli Brothers, a family of Greek merchants began importing corn, timber and hemp from the Black Sea to Leghorn on the Ligurian Sea, and from there to England, under the protection of the British fleet, stationed in Naples. By 1823, they had set up shop in England, expanding to Tabriz, Iran, by 1837. But important changes had happened in another part of the world by then. The East India Company’s monopoly in the Indian trade had been abolished, and Pandias Stephen Ralli, realizing that that’s where the future lay, decided to expand to India in 1851.

Ralli Brothers, Hare Street

In India, the Rallis got into the jute trade, buying and exporting fully processed jute bales from Calcutta. The huge profits from this, allowed the company to buy a large property in Cossipore. The American Civil War seriously affected the fortunes of the company, and the economic health of it’s Bombay offices, which were now under Pandias’s nephew, Stephen Avgousti Ralli. The company further expanded to Karachi and Cawnpore. By 1882, the Ralli Brothers had got themselves into the opium trade in Bengal, alongside trading in Shellac, teelseed, turmeric, ginger, rice, saltpeter and borax. The company expanded further to Pondicherry, Madras, Kathiawar and Gujarat. Their fate was however, sealed by the the Wall Street crash, and in late 1931, Ralli Brothers closed down and the business passed to Argenti and Co., acting as agents selling on commission for all of Ralli Brothers Limited. Through the 1960’s and 70’s Ralli’s passed through turbulent times, but under the Tatas, continued to evolve and expand, acquiring many new businesses through mergers. The company exited the cotton trade, choosing instead to concentrate on engineering and agriculture. Many will probably remember Ralli's fans from the 60's. Under the Tatas, Ralli’s India today is the leading agri-solutions business in India, and has been expanding worldwide.

As for the building on Hare Street, opposite the magnificent Metcalfe Hall, it is difficult to say exactly when it came up. We know that it was built on the grounds of the “Old Sailors’ Home”. The fa├žade is stone, which would explain why it has stood the test of time so well. The Ralli Borthers moved here from their old offices on 9, Clive Row, and this building, probably came up some time between 1900 and 1920. It is in a decent state of repair today, and houses insurance and other offices.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


Calcutta 1940 – John Barry
Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century – Montague Massey

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