Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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James Matheson

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Sir (Nicholas) James Sutherland Matheson, first baronet (1796–1878)

As a partner in the firm of Yrissari & Co., which he helped to form at Macau in 1821, Matheson served as agent for merchants in Singapore and India; and, dealing in export and import commerce, he speculated in the opium trade which, although illegal in China, offered the greatest profits.

After the death of Xavier Yrissari in 1826, Matheson continued the firm briefly, but wound up its affairs in 1828. In that year, a fellow Scot, William Jardine, brought Matheson into the firm of Magniac & Co., reconstituted in 1832 as Jardine, Matheson and Co.

Of the two, Jardine was the dour, disciplined business planner, while Matheson was the more mercurial and intellectually curious entrepreneur. Their combined experience built the most influential agency house in Canton.

Elected FRS in 1846

He bought the Island of Lewis in 1844, and built Lews Castle at great expense. This has recently been restored to a high standard and adapted for a variety of uses[1].

Matheson improved the island's infrastructure, and in the early 1850s he assisted nearly 2000 people to emigrate, offering his destitute tenants a paid passage to Canada. This was to his advantage, as he would otherwise have had to support them under the Poor Law Act.[2]

For many years he served as chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Lews Castle website
  2. [2] Hebridean Connections website - Sir James Matheson, Bart.
  • Biography of James Matheson, ODNB