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Sir Josiah Child, Merchant Economist
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According to the Oxford DNB, Child (1631-1699) initially made his fortune in the 1650s as a brewer and victualler to the Navy. He demonstrated his administrative gifts in 1655 by insisting that sailors' wages not be paid until their ship put to sea again, therefore assuring that those who had disembarked would return for the next voyage. He was suspect among the royal crowd for having done so well under the Commonwealth.
Child contributed to the literature of economics; especially Brief Observations concerning Trade and the Interest of Money (1668), and A New Discourse of Trade (1668 and 1690). He was a moderate in those days of the mercantile system, and has sometimes been regarded as a sort of pioneer in the development of the free-trade doctrines of the 18th century:
Brief Observations Concerning Trade and Interest of Money
by J.C. , London, Printed for Elizabeth Calvert at the Black-spread Eagle in Barbican, and Henry Mortlock at the Sign of the White-Heart in Westminster Hall. 1668. Josiah Child
Oh, so much more than just "a merchant"!
Highlights extrapolated from his Parliamentary bio:
The former Mayor of Portsmouth, Josiah Child (1630-1699), was removed from office by the commissioners for corporations in 1662, but otherwise the Restoration had little effect on his meteoric rise from humble origins.
The market for naval stores may have contracted somewhat, although Child, as a good Portsmouth mercantilist, pointed out that he drew his supplies entirely from the New England colonies,
By Child’s second marriage on 14 June, 1663 to Mary Atwood Stone, a daughter of a merchant from Hackney, Mdx. and the widow of Thomas Stone, a merchant of London, he returned to London and built a new brewery in Southwark. ‘Much of the beer was small and stinking, and the rest ill-tasted and unfit for the sea’ but it was good enough for the navy and the royal household.
By 1665 Josiah Child was canvassing for support amongst his Parliamentary friends for his theory of a low rate of interest as the prime requisite for an expanding economy.
Josiah Child’s signature is prominent on the Southwark by-election return in 1666, and he was recommended by Charles II for membership of the Brewers’ Company.
The publication in 1668 of his "Brief Observations concerning Trade and Interest of Money" was timed to coincide with a parliamentary debate. The book, advocating toleration, cheap money, the education of women, and legal reforms caused a stir, although its originality has been overrated.
In response George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham proposed Josiah Child for a seat on the Navy Board.
Meanwhile Child had formed a syndicate with Sir Thomas Littleton MP and Thomas Papillon MP to bid for the victualling contract for the navy, but their tender was rejected in favor of Sir Denis Gauden, from whom the all-powerful surveyor-general of victualling, Samuel Pepys, had received so much.
Pepys was not forgiven. To begin with Child confined himself to proposing the establishment of a victualling commission, and in 1671 the rival syndicates merged (as the Duke of York had wished six years before), under the chairmanship of Sir Denny Ashburnham.
Meanwhile, Josiah Child and another business associate, William Love (described by Roger North as the leading fanatics in the City), had been appointed to the council of trade. Unfortunately, material interests soon disrupted their spiritual unity, and with it the council itself, allegedly a sinister machination of the republicans to infiltrate the government machine; ...
In 1673, Josiah Child was far from exclusively occupied with the Eastern trade. He bought for £11,500 from the trustees of Robert Brooke MP the estate at Wanstead where he had been living, ‘a cursed and barren spot, as commonly these over-grown and suddenly moneyed men for the most part seat themselves’, and adorned it at prodigious cost with walnut trees and fish ponds.
Josiah Child was a founder-member of the Royal Africa Company, and part-owner of 1,330 acres in Jamaica.
Although Child never visited Dartmouth, Devon, he acquired an interest there by entering into a partnership with a local ship-owner, ... and after spending a fortune, won a by-election there on 1 Feb. 1673.
Josiah Child MP's ... 18 committees in the Cavalier Parliament were almost wholly concerned with trade.
The Dutch agent du Moulin, who approached Josiah Child MP about this time, was dismayed at his hostility.
[Pierre du Moulin was the person responsible for both the writing and the distribution of Dutch propaganda in England, and also for the organization of a Dutch spy network in England from 1672-1674.]
The collapse of the Cabal and the rise to power of the Anglican Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby, Josiah Child MP’s support for the Government rapidly disappeared. He withdrew from the victualling contract with Papillon; his accounts had still not been passed at his death in 1699.
In the 1674 session Child took a prominent part in two opposition maneuvers, the attack on the press-gang and the whispering campaign against Samuel Pepys.
In the debate on impressment, Josiah Child MP declared sarcastically that he was glad to hear from Pepys that ‘so few have been oppressed. He has conversed all his time with seafaring men; knows of hundreds of masters of ships etc. that have been pressed.’
He was less effective when named as the authority for Pepys’ Popish practices, when he shuffled and prevaricated.
In April 1675 Josiah Child MP, Papillon, Littleton and Henry Powle were active in collecting evidence for the impeachment of the Earl of Danby.
He served on the committee for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy, and in a debate on the growth of London he made a remarkable assertion that ‘sixty years’ experience has made it evident that rents have increased the more for building houses’.
It was probably the conspiracy against Danby rather than the breakdown of the victualling contract that led Sir Joseph Williamson to inform Herne, the outgoing governor of the East India Company, that Charles II would be highly offended if either Josiah Child or Papillon were chosen as his successor, ‘both men having behaved very ill towards him’.
‘I am loath to speak plain English’, Sir Richard Wiseman wrote of Josiah Child MP in 1676, ‘but if he were well observed he might be proved to be a capital offender’ ...
Sobered perhaps by his temporary exclusion from the East India board, Child made no more speeches in the Cavalier Parliament.
Somehow he becomes the governor of the HEIC and make lots of money doing things a fanatique probably should not have done. James II even put the genius/scoundrel in charge of his investment funds.
Contemporary notices of Sir Josiah Child are mostly unfavorable. The most balanced estimate comes from Bishop Gilbert Burnet:
"A man of great notions as to merchandise, which was his education, and in which he succeeded beyond any man of his time; he applied himself chiefly to the East India trade, which by his management was raised so high, that it drew much envy and jealousy both upon himself and upon the company; he had a compass of knowledge and apprehension beyond any merchant I ever knew; he was vain and covetous and thought too cunning, though to me he seemed always sincere."
This biography is based on W. Letwin, Sir Josiah Child, Merchant Economist.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.