George Unwin’s guide to copper exports to India, 1811

NPG D39272; George Unwin by Nathan Cooper Branwhite, after and published by  Samuel Medley

George Unwin by Nathan Cooper Branwhite, published by Samuel Medley, 1805 (Credit: National Portrait Gallery NPG D39272)

George Unwin was an industrial lobbyist who is best known for reviving the tin trade between Britain and India in the 1780s, much to the benefit of the British East India Company and to Cornish mining interests which he vigorously defended.

He made further cases for the Indian markets for tin and copper in 1811. I came across one of his pamphlets at the British Library last year. The pamphlet was published in Truro, Cornwall, at the Cornwall Gazette’s office.

…it is a subject of very superior consideration to the county of Cornwall, from the very great consumption of that article in every part of India, and the large quantity annually sent out to that market;

I transcribed some of the contents which I reproduce here. I have not included the information on tin.

The meticulous case Unwin puts forward is suggestive of the importance of Indian and Chinese markets for copper produced in Britain. Indeed India remained the longest standing foreign market for British copper well into the twentieth century. From the point of view of my study into reconstructing historic supply chains, an understanding of the demand and the markets which absorbed so much copper is essential. Prof. Huw Bowen has conducted the most thorough work on the Indian copper markets but little has been done on the actual products that drove the demand. It no doubt partly served the decorative brass ware industries, pejoratively known as Benares Brass, but copper and brass were also used in architectural fittings and for the machines which drove India’s nascent industrialisation.

Vin Callcut,, Vivian and Sons Yellow Metal stamp on reverse of decorative Indian brass trayWe have direct material evidence linking Welsh copper and brass companies with Indian products, as demonstrated by this manufacturer’s stamp of Vivian and Sons on the reverse of a decorative brass tray. I will post on this and other similar objects separately.

In this pamphlet Unwin uses comparative statistics to demonstrate the strength of the Asian markets. In the year 1810-11, over 1500 tons of copper were exported to Europe, Africa and America, compared with almost 1330 tons just to Asia in the same year.

Unwin argues against open market speculation in India owing to the high costs and uncertain rewards and instead suggests that it would be mutually beneficial for both the Government and mining interests in Cornwall if the East India Company were granted exclusivity by the Cornish mining companies. He goes on to emphasise that without dealing directly with ‘the Company’ Cornish copper would not penetrate the Indian markets effectively and may even bring in a loss.

Unwin’s ability to get to the heart of the matter is clear in the following. Cornish copper needed to more effectively penetrate foreign markets to be profitable. The East India Company needed a firm hold on a major product to continue what was to become its last days as the monopolist of sub-continental markets (the monopoly was eventually broken by an Act of Parliament in 1813). It was exactly in this year that Cornish industrialists Vivian and Sons ventured to Swansea to start their smelter at Hafod. There was a consciousness to streamline copper production and integrate vertically (in all key aspects of the supply chain) to ensure the big investments yielded bigger profits.

Prof. Bowen suggests that Unwin really requires a full length study as his influence and thought on trade with India in particular are deserving of more in-depth research.

Observations upon the Export Trade of Tin and Copper to India,

with reference to the expected Renewal of the Honorable East India Company’s Charter; and also upon the present State of the Tin Trade with Europe and its Colonies, Africa and America;

Respectfully submitted To the consideration of the Noblemen and Gentlemen concerned in the Mining Interest of Cornwall. By Geo. Unwin.

Printed at the Cornwall Gazette Office in Truro, by T. Flindell. 1811.

Unwin on the copper trade with India

pp. 11-12.

With respect to the Copper Trade, I regret that my knowledge of it is imperfect. I am, however, sensible that it is a subject of very superior consideration to the county of Cornwall, from the very great consumption of that article in every part of India, and the large quantity annually sent out to that market; and likewise from the county having enjoyed the trade to India for near a century past. From 1732 to 1750, the quantity is not ascertained, but from 1751 to the renewal of the East India Company’s Charter in 1793, that quantity appears to have amounted to near 47,000 tons, and from that period to the present time, I conclude it cannot be estimated at less than 30,000. When the East India Company’s Charter was renewed in 1793, and the terms settled between the Company and the County respecting the annual supply of 1500 tons for the India Market, the former rarely refused to take the full quantity tendered to them at a fair market price; til of late years, availing themselves of a clause in the act of the charter agreed on between both parties, they have shortened the export of that article, and the deficiency in the following annual export, for the last seven years, has found its way to India, through other channels, to keep the Copper Trade alive.

p. 12.

An Account of the Quantity of Copper and Brass, exported from England to Asia, from the 5th of January 1804-5 to 5th January 1810-11.

1804-5 1186 17 2 6
1805-6 1169 0 0 16
1806-7 394 11 3 16
1807-8 1807 2 1 5
1808-9 1641 17 1 10
1809-10 1812 1 3 16
1810-11 1329 10 0 15
Total 9341 1 1 0
Average 1334 8 3 0


It may appear a little extraordinary from the above exports, that the quantity in 1806-7 was so small compared with the other seasons. It must be observed that the Custom-house account is only made up from the 5th January of the one year, to the same date of the following, while the Company’s season for shipping, extends sometimes to March. Between those five {few} months, part of the quantity of the year 1807-8 may have been shipped. In any case, it was considerably the smallest export in the seven years. And although the average quantity for the above period appears to be 1334 tons, take the last three years it is near 1600 tons, which, in my humble opinion, should be the annual quantity of Copper exported to India, to keep the trade alive, and render effectual service to the county of Cornwall, consider that the Indian market is equal to consume it.

p. 13.

An Account of the Quantity of Copper exported from England to Europe, Africa and America, in the year 1810.

Heligoland 1 3 1 0
Tonningen 0 3 0 0
Sweden 0 1 0 0
Prussia 0 1 0 0
Portugal and Madeira 35 17 0 8
Spain and Canaries 9 10 1 8
Gibraltar 3 2 0 0
Malta 14 5 3 0
Ireland and Isle of Man 104 0 1 23
Guernsey and Jersey 20 18 1 22
States of America 764 16 1 4
British Continental Colonies 63 18 0 9
British West Indies 223 10 1 9
Conquered Islands 66 18 2 25
Foreign West Indies 0 14 0 0
Brazils 135 6 3 7
Spanish America 2 0 0 0
Africa 14 13 2 0
Total 1511 0 0 3

In this uncertain state of the County’s trade, what can be the future expectations of Cornwall, who may want to export to India 15 or 1600 tons annually during the period of another Charter granted for the same time? Is it to continue to be left to the Company to take what quantity they please, at their own option, part to be disposed of to captains, officers and other individuals, privileged by the India Company, and the remainder to find a sale in India by speculation? If that is to be the case, I confess it appears to me a very uncertain way of trading, with {annually} 200,000l. capital from the county. I know all the expences [sic] attending India speculations; such as freight, insurance, convoy duty, shipping charges in England, landing charges in India performed by manual labour {underlined by hand}, warehouse-room, Company’s duty of 5 per cent. Adding 60 per cent to the prime cost, commission at home and in India upon the gross sales, with other petty charges summed up together, cannot be estimated at less than 42l. per ton, allowing the first charge of copper to be 120l. From what I can learn by all the India price-currents I have seen, and the information from the officers lately returned from India, respecting the sale of Copper, I do not believe it will net 120l. and I fear a few months will satisfy the concerned in Copper, that this mode of disposing of the produce, cannot be depended upon. The East India Company having an exclusive right granted to them of the Trade to India, have superior means to any set of private merchants, in…

[annotation at bottom of page {hameledge?}]

p. 14.

…disposing of this article of trade, and are at considerably less expence in their charges, and can therefore afford to give the County a better price than can be got by speculation. The granting of a free trade for different descriptions of articles, under certain restrictions, for which 3000 tons of shipping are annually provided, may suit some branches of commerce; but may not the County, whose sole dependence, in my humble opinion, should rest entirely upon the Company for the reasons before stated, and who may be encouraged to carry their trade to the fullest extent in India, by granting them a reasonable length of credit to make their returns, the proprietors of the Copper receiving bills for the same, bearing a proper interest, the East India Company’s paper being every day marketable; soon after its being shipped, they may be in full possession of its value. Here is no speculation; no fear of the fluctuation of the price in India, nor the failure of the India or British merchant; no hope to be disappointed, nor any complaint of the proprietors of the want of a regular payment for their produce; every season settles itself, and general satisfaction must be the consequence.

The concerned in Copper, from the last 20 years experience, when the price has considerably increased, compared with former years, must now be competent judges of a medium price that they would be contend with. Under all the circumstances considered, that this mode is not a practicable one, and that the County of Cornwall, with respect to her Copper trade, must govern herself by the present principles for supplying the India market, and pay an enormous duty from 8 to 10l. per ton upon all Copper exported to India upon private account, when the East India Company refuse to take it upon their own—is a subject of very serious consideration.

I shall be happy if, from all the observations I have made on the export of Copper and Tin to India and China, I shall be the least instrumental in promoting its interest.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect,

My Lords and Gentlemen,

Your very faithful and obedient servant,


Supervisor of the Exports of Tin, beyond the Cape of Good Hope, to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. To the Noblemen and Gentlemen, concerned in the Mining Interests of Cornwall.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *