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Jardine, Matheson & Co. was formed by William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1798-1878) on 1 July 1832, following the restructuring of the China firm Magniac & Co. It was based initially at Canton, but transferred its main office to Hong Kong in 1844. Over the course of the next decade, the firm opened new offices, and began to handle a wide range of imports into China, such as coal, metals and machinery. In its early years, the firm was heavily involved in the opium trade. By the 1860s, however, the company's share of the trade was decreasing, and by 1872 its involvement had virtually ceased. This period saw the firm begin to engage in service operations alongside imports and exports. It pioneered sugar-refining in Hong Kong with the formation of the China Sugar Refinery Company, and entered the railway industry with the building of the first railway from Shanghai to Wuhan in 1876. By the 1880s, its interests in China extended to wharves, warehouses, cotton mills, mining and engineering. This period saw the founding of the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company (1882) and Hongkong Land (1889). Jardine, Matheson & Co. became a limited company in 1906, by which time the heart of the firm's business was in Shanghai; the head office was based officially in the city from 1912. The outbreak of war with Japan in 1941 forced the firm to relocate its main office to London, but it was one of the first companies to resume business in China and Hong Kong once the conflict ended, and it returned to Japan in 1947. Printed works on the company include Maggie Keswick, ed., The thistle and the jade: a celebration of 150 years of Jardine, Matheson and Co. (London, 1982), and Robert Blake, Jardine Matheson: traders of the Far East (London, 1999). A selection of letters from the archive for the period 1827-1843 are reproduced in Alain Le Pichon, ed., China trade and empire: Jardine, Matheson & Co. and the origins of British rule in Hong Kong, 1827-1843 (Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2006).

The archive was presented to Cambridge University Library by Jardine, Matheson & Co. Ltd in 1935, with further donations being made in subsequent years. The collection contains a comprehensive set of papers covering the activities of Jardine, Matheson & Co. Ltd, its predecessors, its subsidiaries and associated firms up to 1941. The company's business history is covered in large series of accounts (A) and correspondence (B-E, J-K). The rest of the collection is comprised of legal documents (F), printed commercial circulars and periodicals (G), documents in Chinese (H), papers of other companies (I), and miscellaneous papers (L). The collection is predominantly in English, with a large set of Chinese documents, a significant number of French and Spanish papers, and a few items in other languages. A detailed online catalogue is available via Janus. Records described in the online catalogue as being in a bad condition are in a fragile state that precludes them being made available to readers. The collection includes microfilms of the main in-correspondence series (B1-11) and some other papers in the archive.

Access to the collection is subject to special conditions and is at the discretion of the company's London agents, Matheson & Co. Intending readers should submit an application form to the firm.

Contact: John Wells (01223 333055; jdw1000@cam.ac.uk).