Continued from The Trade in England – Part 2
In 1833 England’s tea business changed forever when the Charter of the East India Company came up for renewal in Parliament. The hated monopoly had enjoyed the exclusive right to trade with China for almost two and a half centuries and now the nation’s tea drinkers, the thousands of Company-licensed dealers in tea, and the tough- minded businessman who longed to compete with them all wanted free trade. In India, as one speaker remarked in the House of Commons, John Company “was exercising sovereignty over more people, with larger revenue, and a larger army than that under the direct control of the Government of the United Kingdom.” In its wisdom, Parliament decided that the company’s twenty-four elderly merchant-directors needed to abandon the importing business and concentrate on ruling India, consoling its 530 stockholders with three million pounds in extra dividends. John Company’s China monopoly ceased on 24 April 1834.
With it ended the Company’s quarterly tea auctions and licensing of tea dealers. The auctions of tea imports – still green teas, for the most part – moved from the Company’s India House to sale rooms in Mincing Lane, thenceforth the Wall Street of the tea business, and were declared open to all who wished to deal in this most profitable retail commodity. Among the entrepreneurs entering the trade were Ridgway, Andrew Melrose of Edinburgh, and the brothers Tetley, a couple of Yorkshiremen who started as teenage tea peddlers, only opening their first shop in 1837. These and others were to make fortunes like that of the fictional hero of John Galworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, still in his twenties when free trade began:
“The famous palate which men swore by in the fifties and speaking of him and speaking of him said ‘Forsyte – the best palate in London!’ The palate that in a sense had made his fortune – the fortune of the famous tea men, Forsyte and Treffry, whose tea, like no other man’s tea, had a romantic aroma, the charm of quite singular genuineness. About the house of Forsyte and Treffry had hung an air of enterprise and mystery, of special dealings in special ships with special Orientals . . . .”
Jolyon Forsyte did so well in Mincing Lane that he maintained a large house in Park Lane and left 145,000 pounds at his death circa 1900. No independent (and real life) tea man in England has amassed such a fortune since. It was a far different trade in those old days.
Read next: The Era of the Clipper Ship – Part 1