Jardine, Matheson & Company: Records and Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

1. Accounts

Ledgers, 1798-1886; journals, 1811-1890 and 1900; cash books, 1819-1911; accounts current, 1812-1879; accounts sales, 1810-1869; invoices, 1810-1852; miscellaneous accounts; ledgers, journals and account books of subsidiary companies, including insurance companies; accounts of opium, tea and silk, freight books, lists of cargoes, manifests and diaries; a large collection of loose papers and unbound material.

2. Correspondence in

Unbound private and business letters, covering local, non-local, Formosa, Japan, Korea and unplaced correspondence, 1813-1904; bound volumes of correspondence from America and the Far East, 1884-1912.

3. Correspondence out

Entry books and press copies, covering letters from Jardine, Matheson & Co. in Hong Kong and Shanghai to constituents, and volumes of letters to and from individual members of the firm and its agents, and from the firm as the manager of various shipping and business concerns, 1800-1916.

4. Duplicate letters

139 boxes of roughly sorted material, for which many of the original letters are missing from the collection, 1838-1882.

5. Telegram books

Volumes containing telegrams received and sent from Hong Kong and Shanghai, mostly to and from Matheson & Co., London, and Jardine Skinner, Calcutta, 1870-1896; loose telegrams, 1871-1902; Reuters telegrams, 1877-1885.

6. Documents

13 boxes of unsorted material.

7. Miscellaneous

Material in Chinese, printed material, manuscript material and telegrams.

8. Prices current and market reports

Commercial circulars and periodicals, the majority of them sent to Jardine, Matheson & Co., 1824-1903.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jardine, Matheson & Company was formed by William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1798-1878) in July 1832, following the restructuring of the China firm Magniac & Co. After the East India Company lost its monopoly on trade with China, the new company sent the first private shipments of tea to England in 1834. In January 1839 William Jardine retired, leaving James Matheson in charge of the company, with his nephew Alexander and Henry Wright as partners. Matheson retired from the Far East in 1842.

During the First Chinese War the company promoted the founding of Hong Kong, buying land in 1841, and moving the main office there in 1844. Over the course of the next decade the firm opened offices in Shanghai, Canton, Macao and Amoy, and began to handle a wide range of imports into China, such as coal, metals and machinery. The 1850s saw new offices opened in Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki and other ports, while the company inaugurated the steam cargo line from Calcutta to China in 1855.

During its early years the firm was involved heavily in the opium trade. By the 1860s, however, the company's share of this trade was decreasing, and by 1872 its involvement had virtually ceased. Instead this period saw the firm begin to concentrate on agency and service operations in place of imports and exports, expanding its banking and insurance interests. The company continued to grow; by 1865 it had 20 shore offices and agencies in the Far East, Great Britain and the United States. In 1878 the firm pioneered sugar refining in Hong Kong with the formation of the China Sugar Refinery Company. By the 1880s its interests in China extended to wharves, warehouses, cotton mills, mining and engineering.

The company's expansion soon extended to involvement in China's railways. In 1876 the firm established the first railroad from Shanghai to Wuhan, and in 1898 it formed the British and Chinese Corporation to further rail development. In 1899 the firm was given the first of many rail contracts, to complete the line from Tientsin to Mukden and Newchwang. Another important development for the company during this period was the formation of the Jardine Spinning and Weaving Company, which was established in 1897.

Jardine, Matheson & Co. became a limited company during 1906. In 1921 it purchased mills in Shanghai, and formed the EWO Cotton Mills. This was followed, in 1923, by the formation of the Jardine Engineering Company, which introduced flurorescent strip lighting into Hong Kong in 1940. Jardine, Matheson & Co. established its main office in London during 1941. By 1949 the firm employed 20,000 people. In that year it installed the first major industrial air-conditioning plant at Tylers Cotton Mill in Tokwawan, Hong Kong. The first formal Reports and Accounts were issued in 1955, and the company was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1961. By 1980 the firm was operating in southern Africa, Australia, China, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States, and employed 37,000 people.

Conditions Governing Access

Access is subject to special conditions and is at the discretion of the company's London agents, Matheson & Co. A statement of these conditions and an application form is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Printed copies of the form are also available by post (please contact the University Library), and an electronic version is available at www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Handbook/applicationJM.html.

Acquisition Information

Presented 1935.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The history of the company was compiled with reference to Maggie Keswick, ed., The thistle and the jade: a celebration of 150 years of Jardine, Matheson and Co. (London, 1982).

Other Finding Aids

There is a database catalogue covering the entire collection, but with varying levels of description from series to series. There is also a typescript list of most of the accounting papers. An item level calendar and index exists for around 180,000 unbound in-letters.

Alternative Form Available

There is an extensive series of microfilms for the collection, covering the main correspondence series.

Conditions Governing Use

Photographic copying is not permitted without the permission of the firm.

Geographical Names