- Khoja Kabrastan, Dongri
- Merchant Prince
- Ebrahim Pabaney 1855
Born in 1840 Bombay
Among those who contributed to India's present position as a formidable industrial power were the business titans of the nineteenth century, who despite the constraints of British colonial rule, managed to create huge commercial and industrial conglomerates that outdid those of their masters.
These days, we are familiar with the Tatas and Birlas but it was the early textile magnets with their 136 mills between 1856 and 1900, who gave India its export economy. There were at least seven Khoja mill owners among them, of whom the most successful entrepreneur and renowned philanthropist was Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim, who went on to be made the first and only Khoja Baron (Lord) from India, (the only other being Lord Amir Bhatia of Hampton) with a grant of lands recognized by the British Crown and a hereditary title that has remained in his family since.
The Currimbhoy business empire started in the early 1820's in the ancient Indian dhow port of Mandvi, a town familiar to many Khojas from their oral family stories as their home-port. It was from here that Ebrahim Pabaney, a wealthy and enterprising trader, who owned his own ships, traded with Arabia, Zanzibar and Bombay. Later, he moved his business to the bustling English port city of Bombay from where he expanded into sending cotton-yarn to Canton (Guangdong), China
(To put the period of this story into context, it should be noted that 1st Agakhan, Mowlana Hassanali Shah Mehallati arrived in Bombay in 1846.)
When Ebrahim died in 1856, his youngest son, Sir Currimbhoy was only 16 but that did not slow this Khoja entrepreneur. In 1857, the family firm, E. Pabaney & Co. opened a branch in Hongkong followed by similar branches at Shanghai (China) and Kobe (Japan). Upon the strength of these trading agencies and by other carefully judged gambles, Sir Currimbhoy grew the firm into one of the largest trading companies in India, (second only in size to that of the Sassoons, a family of Iraqi Jews, who were also great philanthropists of Bombay) exporting opium, cotton, yarn and importing silk.
'In the early 19th century, India used to export cotton to Britain, and then re-imported the textile it produced. At that time, Bombay was known to be the Manchester of the East. The Indian businessmen during this period saw a huge opportunity in this business and thus established the first Indian cotton mill, ‘The Bombay Spinning Mill’, in 1854. The growth of the business led to the expansion of this industry at such a fast pace that by end of 1870, 13 more mills in Bombay were set up. Girangaon, in Bombay began being referred to as the “Village of Mills”. The industry reaped great economies by integrating processes such as weaving and spinning, and rose to become one of the world’s largest industries of the 19th century.'
The Story of Bombay Mills – Then and Now.
The American Civil War loosened the hold of the European monopolies on global cotton trade and the Bombay’s merchants saw their opportunity to value-add the yarns exports by turning them into cotton textiles. (the Gujarati producers had access to the textile markets in Africa for centuries but this opportunity opened the doors to Japan, China and Europe.)
For Sir Currimbhoy, the profits of the far eastern trade as well his existing connections to the demand for yarn from China encouraged him to invest into the Bombay cotton textiles industry. He started by buying over the managing agency of an old British mill and from the experience gained in running this plant, he never looked back.
In 1888, he purchased a group of defunct mills which he dubbed the Currimbhoy Mills (36,000 spindles - as per Daily Consular Report - No 2204 of March 1905- US Dept of Commerce & Labor); ten years later, he acquired the Mahomedbhoy Mills (31,000 spindles)); in 1900 he purchased the Crescent Mills (44,688 spindles), by which time the business controlled additional four mills in Bombay. In 1905, he set up the Currimbhoy Bleaching and Dyeing Works, and finally in 1915, he acquired the Pearl Mills (49,358 spindles). An idea of the extent of this branch of Sir Currimbhoy’s business may be gained from the fact that some 220,000 spindles and 3,500 looms were daily at work in his mills providing constant employment to over 8,000 workers.
Under Currimbhoy’s skilful management, the empire grew to thirteen very profitable mills sometimes giving public dividends of up to fifty percent. He became a leading business personality of Bombay and sat on the Board of Directors of the Bank of India, one of the best-run banks at the time.
By 1910, Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim was the wealthiest Indian in the world.
Notwithstanding the many calls upon his life, Sir Currimbhoy found time to take part in the civic life of Bombay. In 1883, he was made a Justice of the Peace. Later his administrative abilities and sound knowledge of the details of maritime trade led to his nomination as one of the Trustees of the Port of Bombay and as President of the Indian Merchants' Chamber in 1914.
Sir Currimbhoy was a most generous donor to many civic and community causes. To the Bombay Museum fund, he gave a donation of Rs.300,000 rupees (US $4.1 million in today's value) and to the New Science Institute in Bombay of Rs. 1,100,000 and Rs. 250,000 for the University of Bombay.
His exalted status in the Muslim circles was attested by the fact that he had honour of being Vice-President of the Muslim social society, Anjuman-i-Islam and of the Mohammadan Educational Conference of Bombay.
He established a Girl’s School and a Madressa at Mandvi, the Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Orphanage in Bombay, as well as Musabhai Building and Sakinabai Maternity Home in Bombay. Sir Currimbhoy also built dharamsalas resthouses for widows and travellers at both at Mandvi and Bhuj.
Sir Currimbhoy had some very progressive views on education at a time when the Khojas had regressed from an earlier progressive start. (See Khojas in Early Bombay)
“He holds that it is just as necessary to give girls a sound education as it is boys. He also favors primary rather than higher education, believing that the chief need of the young In India is to possess a sound rudimentary knowledge which will serve as a good foundation.” The Pope of the Kojas - Hopkinsville Kentuckian (May 10th,1906)
“He also takes a deep interest in female education and has opened a girls’ school in his native town (Mandvi), which is open to girls of all castes and creeds, and an average number of 150 pupils is receiving tuition. This school was the first of its kind in a district which, from an educational standpoint, was very backward. In the same town, Sir Currimbhoy has established a madrassa, where some sixty' children are taught.” Bombay Baronets, (pg 63.)
In 1910, he became the only Muslim Baronet in the world having earlier received a knighthood at the hands of the then Prince of Wales. "The Ebrahim Baronetcy of Pabaney Villa" was created in the Baronetage of Great Britain and Ireland on the 20th of July 1910. King George V issued Letters Patent conferring the "dignity, state and degree" of a Baronet on Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim of Bombay and to "the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten and to be begotten".
'His own palatial residence, Pabaney House, named after his father, was at Breach Candy, a fashionable suburb of Bombay. "Here he is always very glad to entertain his numerous friends, who not confined to one section of the varied community of Bombay. He is a prominent member of the Social Union which aims especially at promoting social intercourse among the citizens of the western capital of India.'
The Pope of the Kojas - Hopkinsville Kentuckian (May 10th,1906
Unfortunately, that building has now fallen into disrepair as it was nationalized in 1947 when some of his descendants moved out of India.
In Bombay, though, he is remembered as the founder of an orphanage at Malabar Hills in 1894 bearing his name for the Khoja community. Seventy orphans were trained there and Sir Currimbhoy gave his personal care to give them a start in life according to their capabilities and tastes. The descendants of Sir Currimbhoy still maintain over 100 children in various educational institutions.
This property too was recently in the news as the new home of one of Bombay's newest billionaires, the Ambanis.
So in an irony of fate, the land which was meant by the richest Indian in 1910 for use of poor orphans is now being used a private mansion by the richest Indian of 2020.
This reinforces our plea to all Khojas to record and celebrate their family stories, otherwise we will be written out of history, as it happened in East Africa.
By I.I.Dewji, Editor, khojawiki.org (2020)
BOMBAY BARONETS (pg 63)
SIR CURRIMBHOY EBRAHIM
Bart.; Justice of the Peace; Member of the Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay; Vice-President of Anjuman-i-Islam and the Mohammadan Educational Conference, Bombay, etc. a prominent Khoja merchant and philanthropist was born on October 21st, 1840, the son of Ebrahim Pabaney, a shipowner whose vessels traded between Kathiawar and the Arabian Coast, based in Kutch Mandvi.
Sir Currimbhoy was the youngest of four brothers, and when, in 1857, his father died, he was left, at the age of sixteen, to fight life’s battles. He was endowed with a shrewd business mind, and, younger as he was, launched into commercial life on his own account.
He soon discerned the possibilities of expanding trade with China and Japan, and opened a branch of his firm at Hong Kong; this was the forerunner of branches at Kobe, Shanghai, Singapore and Calcutta, and agencies in many other Eastern cities. These branches and agencies have enabled Sir Currimbhoy to build up a vast and lucrative trade in cotton, silk, tea, opium, yarn, etc., and the firm is to-day recognized as one of the largest and most influential in the East.
In due course Sir Currimbhoy turned his attention to mill industry, and the Currimbhoy, Ebrahim Pabaney, Crescent and Fazilbhoy Mills are the outcome of his energies in this direction—some idea of the extent of this branch of Sir Currimbhoy’s business may be gained from the fact that some 220,000 spindles and 3,500 looms are daily at work in his mills, and constant employment is given to 8,000 work-people. In connection with the mills are the ginning factories established at Yeotmal, Katol, Bears, Indore and elsewhere; these supply the cotton needed, placing Sir Currimbhoy mills in a very advantageous position especially when, as in recent years, there exists a shortage of cotton in the markets of the world.
Sir Currimbhoy has found time to take part in the civic life of Bombay, notwithstanding the many calls upon his scanty leisure. In 1883 he was made a Justice of the Peace. More recently his administrative abilities and sound knowledge of the details of maritime trade have led to his nomination as one of the Trustees of the Port of Bombay. He has been identified, for the last twenty-five years, with every public movement in Bombay, and has taken the keenest interest in all undertakings intended to further the welfare of its citizens. His exceptional status in the Mohammedan community is sufficiently attested by the fact that he has the conspicuous honour of being Vice-President of the Anjuman-i-Islam and of the Mohammadan Educational Conference of Bombay. Education has, in fact, for many years claimed his attention as a primary need of his co-religionists, and he has spared no efforts to further the educational cause among them. His labours have lain chiefly in the direction of encouraging the spread of primary education. He also takes a deep interest in female education and has opened a girls’ school in his native town (Mandvi), which is open to girls of all castes and creeds, and an average number of 150 pupils is receiving tuition. This school was the first of its kind in a district which, from an educational standpoint, was very backward. In the same town, Sir Currimbhoy has established a madrassa, where some sixty' children are taught.
In Bombay, the name of Sir Currimbhoy is associated with the Khoja Orphanage, a commendable institution which is both educational and philanthropic in its scope. This was inaugurated at an initial cost of over xxxxx« and considered the most successful charity.
Sir Currimbhoy makes the future career of each orphan his special care—those who display an aptitude for higher education are sent to suitable institutions; while those whose bent is towards a business or trade are provided with posts in one of the several concerns under the control of the founder. The orphanage is managed by a committee of the Khoja community under a trust deed, though the Baronet remains permanently associated with the institution. Few organizations of the kind are better managed.
Sir Currimbhoy has also established a dharamsala at Mandvi, and another at Bhuj. It was at his instance that his brother, Mr. Datoobhoy, built a fine hospital at Mandvi, which is now managed by the Cutch government. Sir Currimbhoy is chairman and supporter of several Khoja benevolent funds, and his private charities have for many years been very extensive—they are not confined to his own people or the professors of his own creed. The list of his ascertained donations shows the magnificent total of ten lakhs of rupees. For many years he has been connected with the fund for providing medical relief to the women of India, and is now a trustee of that fund. He was one of the first Mohammadans to join the Masonic Craft. Of his recent public benefactors, his magnificent contributions to the Bombay Museum and the new institute of science may be mentioned.
Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim was Knighted in 1905, and was created a Baronet, the highest honour which the Government bestows upon Indians, on 21st October, 1910. Sir Currimbhoy was first married in 1854, and, after the decease of his first wife, married again in 1876. He has seven sons and ten daughters, his heir is Mohammadbhoy Currimbhoy, who was born in 1867 and married in 1882. Address: Bombay.
POPE OF THE KOJA - RECOGNIZED HEAD OF THE COMMUNITY IN BOMBAY.
HOPKINSVILLE KENTUCKIAN - MAY 10TH,1906
A Great Trader- Efforts on Behalf of Education and Philanthropy - A Mohammedan That Believes in Female Education.
The Khoja community of Bombay is part of that curious Mohammedan sect so widely spread over Asia and Africa which recognizes the spiritual chief ship of the Aga Khan. The propagandism of the Khojas is now one of commerce, and our portrait represents their leading merchant and the recognized head of their community in Bombay.
Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim has many claims to recognition among India's public men besides the fact of his having taken a prominent part in developing the trade of Bombay and the Industries which have made that presidency so prosperous. His family were long settled In Cutch, and traded from that place with Arabia and Zanzibar over 50 years ago. Sir Currimbhoy, who was born In 1840, established himself in business on his own account at Bombay when he was only 16. A year later he had opened a branch at Hong¬Kong, and before many years he had agencies or branches in the principal parts of China, Japan and the Straits Settlements.
But his enterprises have not been confined to over-sea trade; indeed, they are now mainly connected with the development of the cotton industry in India. He first turned his attention to the subject 20 years ago, and it is said that his mills now employ 5,000 workpeople. He has also established pressing and ginning factories of his own in the mofussil and even in some of the native states, for he believes in the importance of making India independent of outside sources of supply. Sir Currimbhoy has always enjoyed a large measure of consideration at the hands of the British government in India, which appreciated his efforts on behalf of education and in the cause of philanthropy.
Few have done as much as he has to spread education among Mohammedans. In one important particular his views on education differ materially from most Mohammedans.
He holds that it is just as necessary to give girls a sound education as it is boys.
He also favors primary rather than higher education, believing that the chief need of the young In India is to possess a sound rudimentary knowledge which will serve as a good foundation. In Cutch, so long the home of his ancestors, he has done a great deal for female education, and one of his schools there with 150 scholars is open to all, irrespective of creed. In Bombay he founded an orphanage bearing his name for the Khoja community. Seventy orphans are trained there, and Sir Currimbhoy makes it his personal care to give them a start in life according to their capabilities and tastes.
To the Bombay Museum fund he gave a donation of three lakhs, which is equal to £20,000. Sir Currimbhoy was one of the first Mohammedans to become a Free Mason, and among the most valued tributes he has received for his services was the address from members of the Masonic craft on the occasion of his receiving the honor of knighthood at the hands of the prince of Wales.
His residence, Pabaney house, named after his father, is at Breach Candy, a fashionable suburb of Bombay. Here he is always very glad to entertain his numerous friends, who not confined to one section of the varied community of Bombay. He is a prominent member of the Social Union which aims especially at promoting social intercourse among the citizens of the western capital of India. In his numerous business occupations he is greatly assisted by his two eldest sons, who are both members of the Bombay Corporation and Justices of Peace.
Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim, 1st Baronet was a Bombay businessman credited with founding E. Pabaney & Co, whose prominent shipowning family held trading interests as far as the Arabian peninsula and the African coast.
Gujarati Muslims based in Bombay, who had been active in Canton (the capital city of the Guangdong Province in southern China) before the Opium War and long monopolized India's overseas merchandising, continued to maintain a considerable stake in the opium trade through E. Pabaney & Co, with branch offices springing up in Hong Kong and Shanghai during the latter half of the 19th century.
He was the founder of the Ebrahim fortune.
He inherited a business resting upon the trade between Bombay and Zanzibar on the east coast of Africa. He first extended the family business to the export of opium and silks to the Far East (he went to Hong Kong in 1856 and set up E. Pabaney & Co. in 1857 at age seventeen, and then turned to the manufacture of textiles.
In 1888 he purchased a group of defunct mills which he dubbed the Currimbhoy Mills; ten years later he acquired the Mahomedbhoy Mills; in 1900 he purchased the Crescent Mills, by which time the business controlled four mills in Bombay.
After becoming an industrialist with mercantile business in Bombay and Calcutta (India), Hongkong and Shanghai (China) and at Kobe (Japan),
Currimbhoy Ebrahim was knighted after a donation of 300,000 rupees for a museum commemorating a visit by the Prince of Wales and a contribution towards a statue of the Prince in Bombay(as a Muslim capitalist, he maintained close links with the colonial authorities).
In 1905 he set up the Currimbhoy Bleaching and Dyeing Works, and finally, in 1915 he acquired the Pearl Mills. Under Currimbhoy’s skilful management these mills yielded very high dividends, and conferred upon him the reputation of being one of the leading industrialists of Bombay.
Currimbhoy Mills, Bombay
Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim has created a baronet in 1910 and further granted lands to support that dignity by the Currimbhoy Ebrahim Baronetcy Act 1913.
The Ebrahim Baronetcy of Pabaney Villa was created in the Baronetage of Great Britain and Ireland on the 20th of July 1910, ante-dated to July the 1st, 1910 for Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim. King George V issued Letters Patent conferring the "dignity, state and degree" of a Baronet on Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim of Bombay and to "the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten and to be begotten".
The Ebrahim Baronetcy of Pabaney Villa was created in the Baronetage of Great Britain and Ireland on the 20th of July 1910, ante-dated to July the 1st, 1910 for Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim. King George V issued Letters Patent conferring the "dignity, state and degree" of a Baronet on Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim of Bombay and to "the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten and to be begotten"
Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim was a freemason of a Bombay Lodge and president of the Indian Merchants' Chamber in 1914. He was also a director of a Bombay bank.
He had three sons (his heir Mahomedbhoy, Ismail and Fazalbhoy) who shared his reputation as an industrialist and were shared owners of the Currimbhoy enterprises.
His descendants continue to own large pieces of land in/around Mumbai through the Currimbhoy trust, including the Currimbhoy Manor (Bhulabhai Desai road, Mumbai) and the Poona bungalow.
The Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Orphanage (Baug-e-Karim, 2, Altamont Road, Mumbai, Maharashtra - 400026, India) was set up in 1894 for the welfare of orphans in the Shia Muslim Khoja community.
Support for suffering South Africans of ethnic Indian descent (1909). Sir Currimbhoy Ibrahim, president of the gathering, spoke from the chair: “In South Africa itself all our countrymen have felt and acted and suffered together as Indians without distinction.”.
The opening ceremony of Musabhai Building and Sakinabai Maternity Home was performed on May 15, 1918, by the first baronet.
The complex of the Cowasji Jehangir Hall and the Institute of Science was built by the British architect Wittet at a cost of 19 lakhs (1,900,000 Rupees), with 11 lakhs being contributed by Sir Currimbhoy Ibrahim and Sir Jacob Sassoon. The only other public hall being Town Hall, the new hall filled a vacuum in the city’s social life. At the inauguration of the complex, Lord Sydenham said: “Bombay is fortunate in the possession of so many good citizens who, recognizing that great wealth carries obligations, have come forward to assist in meeting the various growing needs of the city”.
The board of directors for Alexandra Girls' Institution, Mumbai, 1922 (Sir Mahomedbhoy Currimbhoy Ibrahim) and 1928 (Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim).
The Rahimtoola Currimbhoy School was constructed out of the donation of Rs.1,00,000 received through the late Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim,
Second Baronet from the estate of the late Mr Rahimtoola Currimbhoy dated 1st April 1932.
The University of Mumbai offers the Sir Currimbhoy Education Scholarship for doctoral research, awarded on the basis of open competition.
SIR CURRIMBHOY EBRAH1M, FIRST BARONET, YOUNGEST SON OF THE LATE EBRAHIMBHOY PABANEY, SHIP-OWNER, was born on 25th October, 1889. He is a leading member of the Khoja community; a Justice of the Peace; President of the Anjuman-i-Islam, Bombay and Vice-President of the All-India Moslem League; he is opium, yarn, cloth, cotton, silk, tea and sugar merchant of Bombay, Hongkong, Kobe, Shanghai and Calcutta; he owns the Currimbhoy Mills, the Mahomed bhoy Mills, the Ebrahimbhoy Pabaney Mills, the Fazulbhoy Mills, the Crescent Mills, the Indore Malwa United Mills, and many other factories (Ginning and Pressingj and the Indian Bleaching, Dyeing and Printing Works; he has established a Girl’s School, and a Madressa at Mandir, the Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Orphanage in Bombay, Dharamsalas at Mandir and Bhuj; he has given large donations to the New Museum at Bombay (3 lakhs), and the New Science Institute in Bombay (Rs. 4,50,000); he is interested in many charitable institutions; he was Knighted in 1905; he was married on the 5th February, 1854; he has seven sons and ten daughters living."
The Voice of Malabar
PHILANTHROPISTS AND THEIR INSTITUTIONS:THE CURRIMBHOY EBRAHIM KHOJA ORPHANAGE (BAUG-E-KARIM)
Sir (Fazalbhoy) Currimbhoy Ebrahim set up this institution in 1894 on Altamount Road for the welfare of poor orphans from the Khoja Muslim community.
Sir Fazalbhoy Currimbhoy Ebrahim (1839-1924) inherited trading interests as far as the Arabian Peninsula, the African coast and Canton. Gujarati Muslims based in Bombay had long monopolizedBold text India's overseas merchandising in opium trade before the Opium War.
He multiplied his inheritance several-fold by setting up E. Pabaney & Co. in Hong Kong, and trading in silks. He then turned to manufacture textiles by purchasing a group of defunct mills, and naming them ‘Currimbhoy Mills'. This made him the second-largest mill-owner in the country, and the distinction of being one of the leading industrialists of Bombay. Living in 'Pabaney Villa' on Warden Road, he was a Freemason of the Bombay Lodge and was elected President of the Indian Merchants' Chamber in 1914.
Sir Currimbhoy has created a baronet of Great Britain and Ireland in 1910 and granted lands to support that dignity by the 'Currimbhoy Ebrahim Baronetcy Act 1913'. This Act was later repealed and properties distributed by a State Act in 1959.
Fortunately, the creation of wealth was not his only aim. He contributed large sums of money for building the Museum (Rs 3 lakh), and the complex of the Cowasji Jehangir Hall and the Institute of Science along with Sir Jacob Sassoon (Rs11 lakh out of total cost of Rs19 lakh).
Noting the plight of Khoja orphans in the city, he desired to build a home for them. A home where they would receive shelter and food for their bodies and minds. Being an Ismaili Khoja he had innumerable friends following various religions. One of these was Maharaja Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior, one of the most generous princes. Scindia donated a large parcel of land extending from Altamount Road down to Pedder Road to establish this orphanage.
Unfortunately, the Currimbhoy Orphanage has been wiped off the map of Mumbai and its place take by monstrosities of cement and glass.
History has forgotten these founders of great institutions, but their dreams live on.