Supplying ‘Juteopolis’: Dundee and Bengal Jute, c.1850-1914. Commodities of Empire Working Paper No. 31

Tomlinson, J. (2020) Supplying ‘Juteopolis’: Dundee and Bengal Jute, c.1850-1914. Commodities of Empire Working Paper No. 31. Working Paper. Commodities of Empire Project.

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Raw jute became a major item in international commodity trade in the decades after 1850, a significant part of the general internationalisation of the Indian economy. Expansion was driven by the extraordinarily rapid growth of general global trade in commodities, many of which were carried in jute sacks and bagging. In this period the great bulk of the world’s jute was grown in East Bengal, from where it was used by the age-old domestic handicraft industry scattered mainly across Bengal or by the rapidly growing Calcutta factory industry; or exported to other manufacturing centres abroad. Raw jute (alongside jute manufactures) formed a key part of the internationalisation of the Indian economy in this period. While jute manufacturing in this period grew fast in the USA and in some European countries, the biggest centre for the production of jute goods outside India before the Great War was the port city of Dundee – which combined experience in, and machinery for, manufacturing another coarse fibre (flax into linen), and ready access to whale oil from the city’s whaling industry for softening the fibre. This paper analyses the supply of raw jute to this port – how it was organised and with what significance for our understanding of the impact of global commodity trading in this period of imperial globalisation. The paper focusses on the trade in raw jute from Bengal to Dundee, seeking to draw together disparate material to give a distinctive sense of how it affected this port city, and with what ramifications. The first section situates the discussion in the broader historiography of jute. The second looks at the growth of the trade into Dundee, while the following part analyses how Dundee responded to the challenges of this trade. A key theme that arises is the asymmetry involved between the vital role of raw jute in the prosperity of Dundee, and the city’s inability to much affect the terms on which the product was traded. A further asymmetry was between the market power of the Calcutta merchants and the very limited bargaining power of the jute growing peasantry.

Item Type:Research Reports or Papers (Working Paper)
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Tomlinson, Professor Jim
Authors: Tomlinson, J.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Publisher:Commodities of Empire Project

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