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Tharia Topan

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Sir Tharia Topan
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Honorary Titles MUKHI
All Nicknames King of Ivory
Place of birth Lakhpat, Kutchh
Country of birth India
Date of Birth 1823/09/21
Date of Death 1891/02/09
Place of Death Bombay

Place of longest stay Zanzibar
Profession or occupation carried out for the longest period in life: Merchant Trader
Where Zanzibar
Family tree click here
Full name Topan Tajiani
Full name Lady Janbai
Full name Musa Tharia Topan
Full name Ghafar Tharia Topan
Full name Muhammad Husayn Tharia Topan

Tharia Topan was an unlettered son, worked on his father's "rekri" cart - just like some Khojas do to this day. When he was 12 years old, (1835) he ran away as a stowaway and landed in Zanzibar, where he worked as a gardener in the house of Ladha Damji, the owner of the prominent Indian firm of Jairam Shivji of Mundra, Kutchh.

Tharia was industrious-he borrowed a small loan from the government and with a donkey-cart went in the villages and purchased cloves and coconuts and sold in Zanzibar. He continued his work with the firm and at 13 years, he learnt how to sign his name. Soon he was a scribe with elegant handwriting and rising rapidly, because of his honesty, at age 22, he was put in charge of the credit department. In 1848, on a visit to his native Kutchh, he married his second wife and brought many Khojas at his own expenses and employed them in Zanzibar.

Soon, he was appointed the Assistant Customs Master, which provided him opportunities to come into contact with Sultan Sayed Majid and the European consular officials. With the death of Sultan Sayed Majid in 1870, Sayed Bargash, his brother, returned from his exile in Bombay and, together with Tharia, whom he appointed as honorary prime minister, was largely responsible for Zanzibar’s urban and architectural development. Tharia became the Chief of Customs in 1876, and held the post for about three years. Henceforth, he came into daily contact with the European officials, who also sought his interview on business and consular matters. The place where he used to sit and attend these guests has been preserved, known as the Baraza Tharia. Stanley described him in “Through the Dark Continent” (London, 1878, p. 63) as “one of the richest merchants in town.” He also opened his office in Bombay, operating his business and also appointed his agents almost in all the European ports. He also secured privileges for the Khoja settlers from the Sultan of Zanzibar.

He had a distinction of entertaining the famous Dr. David Livingstone (1821-1873) as a personal guest at his home, which is named Livingstone House. On July 20, 1871, Livingstone was on his way to Ujiji when he was attacked and when he reached Ujiji on October 23, 1871, he was a living skeleton. Tharia brought him to his residence and nursed him.

In another desperate moment, H.M. Stanley who had been sent to find out Dr. Livingstone also met with difficulties, was captured by a native tribe, and it was Tharia who sent help to him through his Arab partner, Tippu Tip. Stanley also stayed at Tharia's home and writes of Tharia in his book, "How I found Livingstone" (London, 1872, p. 8) that, "One of the most honest man among all individuals , white or black, red or yellow, is a Mahometan Hindi called Tarya Topan. Among the Europeans at Zanzibar he had become a proverb for honesty and strict business integrity. He is enormously wealthy, owns several ships and dhows, and is a prominent man in the councils of Seyyid Burgash."

In 1873, the Sultan ordered the end of the slave trade in Zanzibar and Tharia took the effective measures necessary to wipe it out in Zanzibar. It was indeed by Tharia efforts that Sultan Bargash was able to sign an accord to protect his Sultanate, in 1873, with Sir John Kirk, the British consular representative at Zanzibar. His services were highly recognized by the Queen of England and when he visited England in 1875 with Sultan Sayed Bargash, she conferred a Knighthood on him and then again another knighthood, in 1890 in India, and Taria became the first Indian to have been knighted both in Africa and India.

H.B.E. Frere writes in "The Khojas: The Disciples of the Old Man of the Mountain" (MacMillian Magazine, vol. 34, 1876, p. 342) that, "A leading member of the community of Khojas accompanied Seyyid Burgash of Zanzibar in his late visit to England, and attracted much notice wherever the Seyyid went. He was a tall, stout, good-humored, elderly man, whose fair complexion, red-dyed beard, and light-blue dress handsomely embroidered, were in strange contrast to the spare, wiry figures, bronzed features, grave expression, and plain somber garments of the rest of the Sultan's Arab suite. He spoke Hindustani fluently, and a little English, and made friends wherever he went. Nor was the interest he incited lessened when it became known that he was Tara Topun, the Khoja merchant of Zanzibar."

He generated close relationship with Sir John Kirk and in his will, he wrote that, “If there arises any dispute among my heirs after my death, the advices of my best friend Sir John Kirk must be sought, and his decision should be considered final.”

Tharia was a generous donor for numerous causes. In 1881, Sir John Kirk established an English school in Zanzibar, in which Sir Tharia Topan donated Rs. 200,000/-. In 1887, he built the Sir Tharia Topan Jubilee Hospital at a cost of 30,000 British pounds. The foundation stone of the Jubilee Hospital was laid on July 8, 1887 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria reign.

In 1885, at the age of 62 years and already ailing, he traveled to Bombay and could not return to Zanzibar.

The Tharia Street in Zanzibar is named after him.

Adapted from 1. "101 Ismaili Heroes Volume 1 [Late 19th Century To Present Age] By Mumtaz Ali Tajddin Sadik Ali 2. Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar: The Roots of British Domination By M. Reda Bhacker

Sir John Kirk

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