This thesis examines the role of the British merchant firm Jardine, Matheson & Co. (Jardine Matheson) in promoting and facilitating Chinese migration into and around the British Empire between 1833 and 1853. It argues that existing historiography on Chinese migration has focused too heavily on the late-nineteenth century and has paid insufficient attention to earlier experiments with Chinese labour. The case study of Jardine Matheson also emphasises the varied roles played by commercial organisations in the British Empire. Existing work has focused on the role of the firm’s partners either as opium traders or elite businessmen in colonial Hong Kong, with little analysis of their interest and involvement in Chinese migration. By examining Jardine Matheson’s archive of letters and accounts, official colonial correspondence, parliamentary papers, newspapers, books, journals and periodicals, the thesis will shed light on both the changing perceptions and uses of Chinese migrant labour in various imperial contexts from the 1830s to the 1850s. Chinese migration to different colonial destinations, including Singapore, Assam, New South Wales and Ceylon, will be examined comparatively. The colonial case studies examined in the thesis demonstrate how imperial experiments with Chinese labour in the mid nineteenth century were dependent on the resources and networks of Jardine Matheson on the China coast. The firm’s publishing network simultaneously circulated ideas about Chinese migrants that were reproduced across the British Empire. Additionally, Anglo-Chinese contact zones that developed over the 1830s and 1840s were crucial to the formation of stereotypes about a specifically Chinese ethnic character and systems of onward migration to global destinations. This thesis demonstrates the importance of Jardine Matheson – as well as connected Western commercial organisations and individuals – in facilitating Chinese migration and creating demand for Chinese labour during a period of rapid change in the British Empire.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - Oct 2015|