The Richest East India Merchant

The Richest East India Merchant

The Life and Business of John Palmer of Calcutta, 1767-1836

Anthony Webster


Boydell Press



Biography and business history of wealthy British merchant in India reveals much about the nineteenth-century Empire.
John Palmer was the most influential and wealthiest British merchant in British India for the first three decades of the nineteenth century. He ran an `agency house', a global commercial firm involved in banking, the opium trade, shipping, plantation agriculture and trade with Britain, Europe, China, south east Asia and the USA. When his firm went bankrupt in 1830, thousands of people, European and Indian, were ruined, triggering the worst commercial crisis in British India up to that time.
This book, the first major study of a British agency house in India, presents an account of both of Palmer's business and personal life, showing how his personal relations and circumstances shaped his commercial strategies, with ultimately disastrous consequences for Anglo-Indian relations as well as his clients.
ANTHONY WEBSTER is Head of Humanities at the University of Central Lancashire.

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June 2007
5 black and white illustrations
214 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
The Worlds of the East India Company
ISBN: 9781843833031
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
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Table of Contents

The World of John Palmer
The Prince of Merchants
The Management of Palmer and Co.: Strategies, Structures and Problems
Parenthood and Patronage: Race, Kinship, Society and Anglo-Indian Business Culture
John Palmer and the Politics of the East India Company
Ruin and Failure 1820-1830
John Palmer's Life and Legacy


[A] fascinating hybrid history-part personal biography, part business analysis. [...] It is in its rich evocation of the business context of early colonial Calcutta that Webster's study excels. [...] This is an illuminating, readable, and valuable study. ECONOMIC HISTORY REVIEW

An important addition to the sparse literature on British commercial activities in India during the first third of the 19th century. ASIAN AFFAIRS, July 2008

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