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.

Continue reading

An industrial soap opera: The last Minute Book of Pascoe Grenfell and Sons

Director's Minute Book, Grenfell Collection LAC/45/A20 (Credit: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University)

Director’s Minute Book, Grenfell Collection LAC/45/A20 (Credit: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University)

This Director’s Minute Book is an industrial soap opera full of the trauma and tribulations of a once mighty force in world copper trading.

One of the things good bookshops do is invite staff to post short reviews of books they have enjoyed reading.

Often scrawled in their own hand, the invitation to share in someone else’s book joy is made even more compelling. And so inspired by this the archivists at Swansea University’s Richard Burton Archives invited researchers, staff and students to declare for public display their ‘favourite document’.

The display aimed to highlight the treasures held at the archives (of which there are literally thousands). Recently bereaved of regular access to my beloved copper archives, I think Head Archivist Elisabeth Bennett took pity on me and asked me if I would choose and write about my favourite document. [Yes, get excited.] Continue reading

Pioneers and profits: Copper’s past for copper’s present

White Rock’s enormous smelting hall, known as the Great Workhouse, is a reminder of how technological knowhow combined with business acumen for efficient and unrivalled capacity for smelting and refining. (From Pioneers and profits).

One of the most gratifying articles I have written on copper was published in Materials World, the journal of the IOM3–The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. It is entitled Pioneers and profits and is a short introduction to the history of the copper industry from a Welsh perspective and particularly focusing on the global domination of smelting in Swansea. An important aspect of my work on the ESRC-funded Welsh Copper project was to promote this history to modern-day industrialists and scientists who may feel inspired about the history of copper in Britain but have little idea of the impact it had on business, industrial processes and the landscape. Continue reading

Who cares about copper?

Tap manufacture (Triflow Concepts)

Tap manufacture (credit: Triflow Concepts, courtesy of CDA UK)

Since I started my research on copper I have come across several organisations who say they take a lead or interest in how the world’s copper industry is run. Some are national agencies such as the Copper Development Association UK. Others embrace more than one country such as CDA Inc. and the European Copper Institute. Others take a strategic role such as the International Copper Study Group and the Copper Committee on the London Metal Exchange. Continue reading