Royal Reels: Gambling


One never knows initially where a postal item will lead and this one produces a trail of religion, trade, wealth and opium. The 1½d N.S.W. postcard is postmarked with the duplex SYDNEY/ SP 26/ 4 PM/ 92 with the N.S.W obliterator and there is a reception postmark of BOMBAY/ F/ OC 17/ (92). It is addressed to I. M. Moses Esq., Care of Messrs David Sassoon & Co., Bombay (Figure 1).

The reverse is dated “Sydney, September 26th 1892, My dear Mr. Moses, Being absent from Sydney for 8 weeks I did not get your letter until a week ago. I shall write you by next mail. I hope you (are) quite well again and remain in meantime Yours Sincerely, Arthur (Moller?)”. Unfortunately, this presumed employee of the Bombay firm was not found in an extensive search (Figure 2).

David Sassoon (1792-1864) was a prominent Bombay business man and philathropist. He was born in Baghdad into a family of Nasis (traditional leaders of the Jewish community). His father Salch Sassoon, was a wealthy banker and chief treasurer to the governors of Baghdad, from 1781 to 1817. When the Jews came under pressure from the Muslim Turkish rulers of Baghdad, David’s family fled to Bombay, arriving in 1833. He started business with a counting house and a small carpet godown, and his business acumen soon made him one of the richest men in Bombay. By the end of the 1850s, it was said of him that “silver and gold, gums and spices, opium and cotton, wool and wheat – whatever moves over sea or land feels the hand or bears the mark of Sassoon and Company”.

In Bombay, David Sassoon established the house of David Sassoon & Co. with branches in Calcutta, Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. His business, which included a monopoly of the opium trade in China extended as far as Yokohama, Nagasaki and other cities in Japan. Although David did not speak English, he became a naturalized British citizen in 1853. He kept the dress and manners of Baghdadi Jews, but allowed his sons to adopt English manners. His son Abdullah changed his name to Albert, moved to England and became a baronet and married into the Rothschild family. David Sassoon was conscious of his role as a leader of the Jewish community in Bombay: He built two synagogues, a school, a Mechanics’ Institute, a library and a convalescent home in Pune, India. David Sassoon died at his country house in Pune in 1864.

The head office is now in London, and all the directors of the firm are resident in England. There are branches in Manchester, Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi and Baghdad, as well as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Hankow. The present Chairman of the company is Sir Phillip Sassoon MP, the third baronet.

A drawing of David Sassoon is seen in Figure 3.

Categories: Business, Postcards