Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVII No. 11, September 16-30, 2017

From India’s Digital Archives – 3

Karthik Bhatt

Thomas Parry, Free Merchant

Thomas Parry 1 copy

Thomas Parry

Thomas Parry was one of the most prominent merchants in the annals of the business history of the Madras Presidency. Arriving in Madras in 1788, he made the city and, by extension, the Presidency his home for the next three and a half decades before passing away in harness in Porto-Novo in 1824. The subject of this column is a book written in 1938, commemorating the 150th year of his arrival in Madras.

Born in 1768 in Leighton Hall, Welshpool, Thomas Parry arrived in Madras aged twenty and registered himself as a Free Merchant. His first business enterprise was in 1789, in partnership with Thomas Chase, a civil servant, who, besides his official duties, carried on a general banking and agency business. The partnership lasted for three years, before Parry quit in 1792 to strike out on his own. By 1795, he had become a known name in commercial circles, thanks to the success of his shipping business that he had begun in a small way during his partnership with Chase. His reputation led him to being appointed the Secretary of the Carnatic Insurance Co. and Examiner to the Mayor’s Court, positions that he described as “situations of respectability and emolument”. These, however, were short-lived ventures, as he entered the service of the Nawab of Carnatic as Captain in 1796. His job was in the Treasury, where he was in charge of collecting the duties. His private ventures, however, remained unaffected and moved from strength and strength, under several partnerships. His relationship with the East India Company was one that blew hot and cold, and he found himself perilously close to being deported to England in 1800.

Over the course of the next two decades, Parry’s businesses spread across South India. In 1805, he founded the first tannery in Madras, in San Thomé and, four years later, took over sugar and indigo manufacturing units in Chidambaram. He also established a shipbuilding business in Cochin, which by 1820 was building King’s Ships for the Royal Navy.

His commercial success meant that he owned substantial property in Madras. By 1819, he owned seven houses in Madras, one at San Thomé (Leith Castle), two in Nungambakkam (Wallace Gardens and Mackay’s Gardens) and four in Purasawalkam. The business was headquartered at the south corner of First Line Beach, a location which came to be known as Parry’s Corner. His most significant partnership was with John William Dare in 1819, one which would expand the empire substantially long after his death in 1824.

The book, written by G.H. Hodgson, a director in Parry and Co., is compiled from private letters written by Thomas Parry between 1806 and 1809 and ledgers and other records in the possession of the Company.

The first part of the book deals with Thomas Parry’s life, while extracts from the letters form the second part. These letters are of considerable interest, recording Thomas Parry’s views of various events and his business correspondence. Richly illustrated with drawings and photographs from the collection of the Company (including a perspective drawing of the new buildings that would come up in 1940), this book is a delightful account of the eventful and colourful life of Thomas Parry, Free Merchant.

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