Elphistone Land and Press Company

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The Company was formed in the year 1859 by Glaswegian brothers-John and James Nicol for the reclamation of the foreshore, the construction of godowns for merchandize and the erection of a cotton press to produce cotton bales. The Company in the year 1862 entered into an agreement with Government to provide one hundred acres of land for the terminus of Great Indian Peninsula Railway, receiving in return the right to reclaim from the sea an area of 250 acres for their own use. By the year 1871 they were successful in creating a dock estate, a permanent wharf-walling and a dock. The Company thus secured a monopoly of the harbour frontage close to the native town. It was under the management of Messrs. Nicol and Company and engaged Mr Ormiston as their engineer who was previously employed by the Clyde Navigation Trust and was responsible for the design of Glasgow’s big steam cranes. Shortly after the break-out of the American Civil War, the local cotton industry ushered and led to unexampled era of prosperity to the City in general. The Company imported Gangs of Chinese labourers for the construction work and a regular service of train was established to bring earth for for purposes of reclamation from Kurla. Parts of Kurla Hill were excavated for the hard stone which gave name to Kurla Stone and the plains such formed gave way to the Swadeshi Mills. The then Share mania also led to windfall of gains to the Company as at one time its shares were selling at the price of Rs, 1,80,000.

In 1867 the Company started collecting transit duties from the goods passing through the Masjid Bunder thus ending the system of free transit and the local merchants loosing their customary right over the way. Capital for the land reclamation project was raised by issuing shares worth a thousand rupees each to members of the local merchant community, both European and Indian. The wharves and warehouses were built on the 275 acres of land which the Elphinstone Company reclaimed from the sea during the decade 1860-70. The Reclamation came to be known as the ‘Elphinstone Estate’ and comprised the Nicol, Masjid, and Carnac bunders (wharves) as well as newly developed plots of land. During the cotton boom of the early 1860s, the company was able to report a steadily growing income from wharfage fees and warehouse rent. The collapse of cotton prices in 1865, however, produced an economic crisis in the city: the depression in trade led to adown turn in the company’s fortunes and also brought about a sharp fall in the market value of land. The falling off of exports in general and cotton in particular, curtailed the demand for wharfage and warehouse accommodation and by 1866 the company’s revenues began to decline. Subsequently, upon the end of the American War, there was general depreciation of profits which affected the Company also. Not being able to call the full capital that was subscribed to, the Company applied to Government for assistance which resulted in a loan of Rs. 10,00,000 to them.

Later on, in the year 1869, June the Secretary of the State sanctioned an order of the acquisition of of the Company's property along with the foreshore of Bombay harbour. On 30th April, 1870 the Company's property was taken over by Government on the price of Rs. 186 lakhs. This in a way formed the basis of the formation of the Bombay Port Trust in the year 1873.

Further Reading:

D E Wacha, Financial Chapter in the History of Bombay City, 1910.

Sandip Hazareesingh ‘Chasing commodities over the whole surface of the globe’: Shipping, port development, and the making of networks between Glasgow and Bombay, c.1850-1880