Saturday, May 13, 2017


The origin of this liquor major goes back to 1825, when a Dr.Mcdowell started a wine business in Madras. The business later expanded thanks to the acquisition of many valuable agencies of major companies such as George Younger and Sons, well known Scotch brewers, M/s Lipton and Van Houtens Limited. The firm had several large godowns for the storage of wines and spirits imported from Europe.

In 1880, the firm ventured into cigar manufacturing. The manufacturing operations were first setup in Trichy, after which facilities were opened at their headquarters, Mcdowell House, Second Line Beach, Madras. It soon became a pioneer in the blending of the finest imported leaf with the indigenous tobacco was renowned for its brands such as “The Light of Asia” and the “Pearl of Kashmere”.

It was reconstituted as a company in 1898, with an initial capital of Rs.8 Lakhs. In 1951, it was acquired by Vittal Mallya, the founder of the UB Group, which continues to use the name for its flagship product.


The Eden restaurant at Harrisons is one of the city’s most famous restaurants. Harrisons itself is an old Madras name, tracing its origins to 1885. Founded by G.Varadarajulu Chetty, it started off as a restaurant, catering and confectionary service. Its two storey building in Broadway (where today the Bank of Maharashtra stands) consisted of the confectionary store in the ground floor and the restaurant in the first floor. The establishment was known for its Officer’s Lunches and had a string band in attendance.

Their business as confectioners too was renowned and they were appointed Confectioners and Caterers to His Excellency, the Governor of Madras and the Rajah’s of Travancore and Cochin. In 1939, the restaurant was bought over by Nammalwar Naidu, whose family in the early 2000s demolished the old garden house of the Maharani of Vizianagaram and opened the new Harrisons.


The business house of Surajmals, trading primarily in diamonds and other precious stones was founded by Surajmal Lallubhai Mehta in Bombay in 1895. The Madras branch, which was opened in 1916, was managed by Surajmal’s nephew, Jaisinghlal.

Surajmal’s connections with Madras however went beyond the diamond trade. In the 1930s, it was involved in the gramophone records business, with the setting up of a company in called Musical Products Limited with a capital of Rs.50000. The Broadcast label was taken on licence from Vocalion of England. To establish the connection with the diamond trade, the Broadcast logo featured a diamond. Prominent artistes who recorded with them included M.S.Subbalakshmi and her mother, Mysore T.Chowdiah and Rajamanickam Pillai. However, this venture did not last long due to dull sales and this company was wound up in 1937. Surajmals continued in the diamond trade for long after. Their showroom building survives almost intact, operating today as the NSC Bose Road branch of Saravana Bhavan.


Much like the Tawkers, T.B.Mehta and Sons too were big names in the diamond trade. The family’s presence in South India went back to the mid 1600s, when two brothers Kameshwar Mehta and Kunwar Mehta migrated to Tanjore from Gujarat. Balakrishna Mehta, the founder of this firm was a descendant of Kameshwar Mehta. Born in 1834, he shifted to Madras in 1871 to expand his diamond trade. The business was a flourishing one and boasted of customers that included the likes of the Maharaja of Mysore, the Rajah of Venkatagiri and the Raja of Kalahasti.

Two of Balakrishna Mehta’s sons, Subbaroya Mehta and Neelakanta Mehta continued the diamond business after his demise in 1899. The showroom was located at No.453, Mint Street. Neelakanta Mehta passed away in the year 1910. Subbaroya Mehta made a munificent donation of Rs 30000 to the Pachaiyappa’s College in memory of his brother. The Central Block of the hostel is named the Neelakanta Mehta Ward. Yet another commemoration is the eponymous street in T.Nagar. Sivasankara Mehta, the grandson of Neelakanta Mehta served for a brief while as the Mayor of Madras in the 1960s.


An advertisement that can be seen regularly in magazines of the early 1900s is that of “Rajvaidya” Narayanji Keshavji, renowned Ayurvedic physician. Hailing form a family of royal physicians to the Jamsahibs of Jamnagar, Narayanji Keshavji established the Ayurvedodaya Pharmacy in 1896 in Kathiawar. He also published a pamphlet titled “Vaidya Vidya”, a work on secret of good health in Gujarati (his native tongue) which was so popular that it had to be translated and published in no less than ten languages, including Sinhalese and Burmese!

Establishments were opened in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras to ensure quick supply of medicines to patients who wrote in to him detailing their sicknesses. The Calcutta establishment seems to have been in existence even upto the 1940s. However, the fate of the Bombay or Madras branches are unknown today.


This well-known snuff manufacturing business of Old Madras was setup in 1904 by Nagoor Velayudham Shanmugam. Specialising in white snuff, a finer variety than the black powder, Shanmugam attracted a dedicated set of clientele with his door to door marketing. After Shanmugam’s demise, his sons Palani Vale Nadar and Muruga Vale Nadar continued the business. It was a flourishing one, with sales constantly on the rise. The business had a huge network of agents and distributors to whom they distributed specialised calendars printed in Germany as gifts every year.

The expansion of the city and changing times had an impact on the business. The increasing regulations brought about on the tobacco industry impacted the snuff sector as well. The factory was moved to Poonamallee in the 1990s, from where it functions even today.


Founded in 1889 on Mount Road as a departmental store selling everything except liquor and food, it expanded its scope of activities to include other divisions such as tailoring. Its best known division was however furniture. At the Coronation Durbar in Delhi in 1911, this establishment was given the task of furnishing the camps of the various dignitaries such as the Governor of Madras and the Lt.Governor of Burma. It also ran a service station for cars in the 1930s. The business had branches in Ooty and Bangalore.

The business changed hands in 1938 and was bought for around 200 pounds by the family that currently runs it. A search in the ROC records reveals that it was incorporated as a company in April 1938. Its premises too shifted to General Patters Road, from where it functions even today as an auction house.