Jardine Matheson Archive

Reference: GB 0012 MS.JM
Title: Jardine Matheson Archive
Dates of creation: c. 1798-1945
Held at: Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives
Extent: circa 22 cubic metres
Name of Creator: Jardine, Matheson & Co.
Level of Description: fonds
Language of Material: eng chi

Administrative/Biographical History

Jardine, Matheson and Co. 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 Co. By the 1880s its interests in China extended to wharves, warehouses, cotton mills, mining, and engineering.

In 1876 the Company established the first railroad from Shanghai to Wuhan. During 1898 the firm formed the British and Chinese Corporation (BCC) to continue the development of China's railways. In 1899 it was given the first of many rail contracts, to complete the line from Tientsin to Mukden and Newchwang. The Company continued to expand its activities. In 1897 the Jardine Spinning & Weaving Co. was formed. Jardine, Matheson and Co. became a limited company during 1906. In 1921 the purchase of Shanghai mills led to the formation of the EWO Cotton Mills. The Jardine Engineering Company was formed in 1923, and in 1940 introduced flurorescent strip lighting into Hong Kong. London became the main office for the Company in 1941, and 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.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of the following classes of records:

Accounts: Ledgers (1798-1886); Journals (1811-1890, 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; and a large collection of loose papers and unbound material.

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).

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).

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

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); and Reuters telegrams (1877-1885).

Documents: 13 boxes of unsorted material.

Miscellaneous: material in Chinese, printed material, manuscript material, and telegrams.

Prices Current and Market Reports: commercial circulars and periodicals, the majority of them sent to Jardine, Matheson & Co. (1824-1903).

Administrative Information

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented to the Library in 1935.

Access Conditions

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.


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

Existence of Copies

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

Further Information

Finding Aids

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

Publication Note

Maggie Keswick (ed.), The Thistle and the Jade: a celebration of 150 years of Jardine, Matheson & Co., London, 1982.

Archivist's Note

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.