Sir James Matheson

1796 - 1878

Trader and entrepreneur. Born at Shinness (Lairg), Matheson was educated at the High School and the University in Edinburgh. He became a trader in India before moving to China where he joined William Jardine (1784 - 1843) in the partnership of Jardine Matheson & Co. The company, founded in the 1820s, prospered through the opium trade with China. The Opium Wars followed as Britain defending its interests in this disreputable trade and led to the occupation of Hong Kong. Matheson returned to Scotland in 1842 and purchased the Isle of Lewis, where he made his home. He invested heavily and implemented various schemes to mitigate poverty in the islands, which were in the grip of the potato famine at the time. He was created the 1st Baronet of Lewis for his efforts in 1851. He also served as Member of Parliament for Ross and Cromarty (1852-68).

Matheson died in the South of France.

The Chinese mainland interests of the Jardine-Matheson company were nationalised following the communist take-over of the country in 1949, but the company prospered in Hong Kong. Although now formally registered in Bermuda, since the return of Hong Kong to China, Jardine Matheson is now the largest Asia-based conglomerate, with an annual turnover exceeding $30 billion (2007). It has diversified into distribution, hotels, financial, property, retailing and other operations.

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