David Sassoon - the “Rothschilds of the East''-

Statue of David Sassoon,Mumbai, India.asianjewishlife.org
David Sassoon library & reading room, Mumbai.India.www.ixigo.com

That a person  can achieve success no matter where he lives by dint of hard work, with considerable business acumen and foresight, is true in the case of David Sassoon (October 1792 – November , 1864), an Iraqi  Jew who moved over to India  in early 1830s.  His father, Saleh Sassoon (1750-1830), was a wealthy businessman, chief treasurer to the pashas (the governors of Baghdad). 

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) & Sassoon David. en,wikipedia.org
Following  persecution of people of other faith by  Dawud Pasha, David Sassoon's family landed in Bombay,  India in 1832 looking for opportunities to settle down in business. Before his journey to India, he had  undergone traditional education in the Hebrew language. He married  one Hannah in 1818 and after her death he remarried and had children by her.

Based in Bombay, a busy city in British India, in  early 1930s David Sassoon  started out as  a middleman (Broker) between British textile firms operating in India and Gulf commodity merchants. When the Treaty of Nanking ( Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Commerce between Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and the Emperor of China, was signed on the 29 August 1842 to mark the end of the First Opium War - 1839–42)  opened up China to British traders, Sassoon developed his textile operations into a profitable trade. He sold Indian yarn and opium in China, where he bought goods that were sold in Britain. Because of American civil war (from 1861 to 1865 between the Union and the Confederate States - seven slave states )
imports of Cotton from the southern states drastically declined and the English factories  frantically turned their attention to India where cotton was produced on a large scale. So, this opportunity was a blessing in disguise for enterprising David Sassoon who made the best  out of this wonderful opportunity.  He became a major supplier of Indian cotton to  Lancashire factories which gave up on American cotton imports and depended on Indian cotton. 

Sassoon, in collaboration with Parsi merchants of Bombay, expanded his trade in opium and textiles in China and opened a branch in Shanghai. He made enormous profits with which he started an oil mill in Bombay. He  later became a leading industrialist, owning a large number of mills in the Bombay area. His foray into textiles and fabrics saw his profits moving  further upward. Slowly and steadily he reached the dizzying heights of success in business. Through his efforts  Sassoon Docks at Colaba in the city of Bombay were built.

Sassoon  was also a member of the Legislative Assembly of that time. Being an orthodox Jew, he observed his religious customs with meticulous care, one of them being observance of Jewish Sabbath throughout his busy life.  Though he became a naturalized British citizen in 1853, he never gave up the Baghdadi Jewish tradition of dress and manners.  Being religious and a man of charitable disposition he built  the Magan David synagogue at Byculla and the Ohel David Synagogue of Pune. 

In Bombay, at that time, there were two Jewish communities  - the Bene Israel and  the Baghdadi Jews and the relationship between them was not good. The Bene Israel Jews moved to Bombay city from the Kongan area. They felt unsafe during the reign of Tipu Sultan in the nearby Mysore region. Further, the Bene Israel Jews, who had been cut off from mainstream Judaism for a long time, had a poor knowledge of Jewish Halacha (law), though they followed the Jewish festival customs with great zeal. Consequently  the Baghdadi did not treat native Jews on par. Despite the differences, David Sassoon took care of their needs - civic, occupational and employment and gave them financial help.

His son, changed his name to Albert, became a Baronet  in England and married into the Rothschild family. All the Sassoons living in  Europe are said to be descendants of David Sassoon. David Sassoon was very active  as a leader of the Jewish community in Mumbai and had close connection with the Jewish community in Kerala - the Bene Israel and Cochin Jews.  He built  several institution in his name.

David Sassoon died in his country house in Pune in 1864 leaving his business interests to his heirs -  Sir Albert Sassoon; Elias David had established a rival firm.

The following are the institutions, etc donated by David Sassoon and his family and from the  long list you can understand their  extend of  philanthropy:

 Jacob Sassoon High School, Byculla, Mumbai, E.E.E. Sassoon High School, Byculla, Mumbai, David Sassoon Hospital, JJ Hospital Premises, Byculla, Mumbai,

 Masina Hospital, Byculla, Mumbai, Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue, Colaba, Mumbai, David Sassoon Library & reading room, Fort Mumbai,

Magen David Synagogue, Byculla, Mumbai, Sassoon Dock, Colaba, Mumbai, Elphiston Technological School, Parel, Mumbai, Gateway of India,

The Bank of India, Fort (head office), Mumbai, The David Sassoon Reformary and Deaf school, Matunga, Mumbai, The Victoria Garden and Albert Museum

Ohel David Synagogue, Pune, Sassoon Hospital, Pune, Lady Rachel Sassoon Dispensary, Pune, David Sassoon Vridha Ashram, Pune.

A man, who had humble beginning in India - a strange land with different customs and traditions following altogether different religious faith, finally made it to the top through sheer hard work and rare ability to move in the right directions despite hurdles. This is a simple success story of an ordinary human being in Colonial India, who relied on his entrepreneurial skill and hard work. This wealthy trader of British India, who founded a dynasty  was known as the “Rothschilds  of the East” and also  the Prince of the Exilarch.