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.
We 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.