Ralli, Pantia Stephen [Pandias Stephen]
, was born on the Turkish island of Chios, the third son of Stephen Ralli (17551827), a wealthy merchant of Chios, and his wife, Loula, daughter of Avgoustis and Virginia Sechiari. Pantia's eldest brother, Zannis (17851859), opened a branch house in London, trading as Ralli and Petrochino, and the second brother, Avgoustis (17921878), and Pantia followed soon after, to form Ralli Brothers. The firm was not the first Greek merchant house to trade in London, but it soon became the most successful.
Ralli Brothers' business records were destroyed during the Second World War, so details of their trade are scarce. It appears that their earliest trade was in silk, which no doubt included exports of raw silk from Asia Minor to England. The brothers then took an early lead in the export of Russian grain from the Black Sea ports to England. Here their success was due to the development of a system known as the cargo trade in which the merchant responsible for loading the grain in the Black Sea port dispatched the bill of lading and sample to his partner in London or Liverpool who sold the shipment in advance of its arrival. When the ship reached the first British port (Falmouth or Cork) the captain was informed where he was to discharge the cargo. Return cargoes to the Black Sea and the Middle East were increasingly British cottons, and to facilitate this trade the youngest of the five sons eventually in the firm, Eustratios (18001884), opened a branch in Manchester in 1827. Pantia married, on 25 September 1831 in London, Marietta (18101860), daughter of Petros Scaramanga, a Chian merchant, and his wife, Nina. Marietta had moved to London to live with her elder brothers and this connection cemented the Ralli and Scaramanga partnerships in Russia. They had two sons (one dying in infancy) and a daughter.
As Ralli Brothers' trade grew the firm spawned new partnerships and trading bases round the Mediterranean, Russia, and the Middle East, notably in Marseilles, Odessa, Constantinople, St Petersburg, Taganrog, and Tabriz (Persia). From these bases the firm's agents reached far into the interior, even as far as Turkestan, conducting a cash and barter trade, typically exchanging grain, wool, or raw silk for Manchester cottons. In 1851 Pantia Ralli attained his ultimate ambition as a merchant by opening a branch house in Calcutta, from which, as in Russia, his company reached out into the vast undeveloped interior of India. In the 1850s Ralli Brothers was employing some 4000 clerks and 15,000 workers for transporting and warehousing stock in their network of branches.
Pantia Ralli established an autocratic control and discipline which enabled Ralli Brothers to stamp its authority on the Levant trade and the Greek trading community. The system that he established included the rule that no partner or employee was allowed to lead a life unduly luxurious or extravagant or to take part in any other combination or enterprise whatsoever except Ralli Brothers. A second rule was established in the iron discipline which regulates the relations of superiors and inferiors, and which, indeed, pervades the entire organisation. These rules, together with absolute probity in all transactions, were religiously maintained irrefragable for close upon an entire century, a Greek hagiographer wrote in 1902 (Gennadius). The London families from Chios, who constituted a large trading group in Victorian Britain, nicknamed Pantia Ralli Zeus, admitting the moral influence he exercised over them.
So anxious was Pantia to safeguard the reputation and credit of his firm that it never issued paper (bills of exchange) but conducted a cash business to the extent of its available means. The system was reported to Baring Brothers in 1863:
When they [Ralli Brothers] buy goods in New York and New Orleans, they pay cash and draw against them [Barings] on London; when they sell goods in America (this being an important branch of their business) they remit the net proceeds to the London firm. (Baring Bros. MSS HC16.193)
This conservative policy protected the firm from the vulnerability of so many small trading houses in the recurrent trade crises. A partnership capital of £130,000 in 1827 had climbed to £500,000 in 1846, which meant that Ralli Brothers commanded more resources than any other merchant house in London at the period, so far as the record goes.
In 1835 Pantia Ralli was appointed Greek consul, which confirmed him as the leading Greek merchant in London. He proposed the building of a Greek church in London in 1843 when the Finsbury Square house used for worship became too small. Thirty Greek trading families that had settled in London subscribed £10,000 for an imposing Byzantine edifice, which was opened at the end of 1849. Ralli's leadership of the Greek trading community never restrained him from moving freely in English society; his surviving son was sent to Eton and his daughter married the son of the bishop of Gloucester, Charles Monk MP, another Etonian. He became friendly with W. E. Gladstone. In 1851 Ralli left the Finsbury Square Greek quarter for a mansion overlooking Marble Arch.
When Ralli died at his home, 5 Connaught Place West, London, on 9 July 1865 the Ralli partnerships were formally dissolved. However , a nephew who had been trained in the London house (both of Pantia's sons having died in early life), constituted a new Ralli Brothers, based on India and the Anglo-American trade, leaving the Russian business to the Scaramangas. Stephen Ralli maintained Pantia Ralli's authority in the firm and leadership of the Greek community until the end of the century.
S. D. Chapman
T. Catsiyannis, Pandias Stephen Rallis, 17931865: the founder of the Greek community in London (privately printed, London, 1986) · J. Gennadius, Stephen A. Ralli: a biographical memoir (1902) · S. D. Chapman, Merchant enterprise in Britain: from the industrial revolution to World War I (1992), 15461 · P. P. Argenti, Libro d'oro de la noblesse de Chio, 1 (1955), 1014; 2 (1955), 143, 147 · Gladstone, Diaries · ING Barings, London, Barings archives, MS HC 16.193 · d. cert.
GL, Ralli Brothers, business records | Bank of England archive, London, discount office records
ING Barings, London, Barings archives, MS HC16.193
TNA: PRO, corresp. with Kitchener, 30/57 WO/59
Wealth at death
under £400,000: probate, 1 Aug 1865, CGPLA Eng. & Wales