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Yule family (per. 1863–1928), merchants and industrialists, came to prominence with Andrew Yule (1834–1902), born on 30 August 1834 at Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, the fourth son of Robert Yule, a linen and wool draper, and Elizabeth Law. Andrew and his elder brother George Yule (bap. 1829, d. 1892) moved to Manchester about 1858 to work for the warehousemen Andrew Collie & Co. In 1863 Andrew went to Calcutta to set up in business as an agent and merchant. His firm, Andrew Yule & Co., joined the Bengal chamber of commerce in 1866. The company acted as agents for several British firms, and also became involved on its own account in the trade in Indian jute, cotton, tea, and other commodities. Andrew Yule married Emma Porter and they had a son, Robert Andrew Alexander, and a daughter, .

George Yule had set up as a warehouseman in London and Manchester by 1868. In 1870 the brothers founded George Yule & Co., East India merchants in London, to act as agents for Andrew Yule & Co. Although each firm subsequently recruited other partners, the capital remained in the hands of the two brothers. Andrew Yule & Co. expanded its activities during the 1870s, to become managing agents on a commission basis for Budge Budge Jute Mills Ltd, Bengal Mills Ltd, Jheerie Ghout Tea Ltd, and other companies in India. However, Andrew Yule was also involved in commercial enterprise on his own account. In 1873, for example, he joined with Samuel Bird and Octavius Steel to form New Beerbhoom Coal Ltd.

In 1875 George Yule and his nephew Sir David Yule, baronet (1858–1928), of Hooghly River, went to Calcutta to manage the Bengal Cotton Mills for the firm. David Yule was born in Edinburgh on 4 August 1858, one of the three sons and three daughters of David Yule (b. 1826), chief assistant keeper of the general register of the sasines, and his wife, Margaret Young. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and spent three years in Oldham learning the cotton trade. Andrew Yule returned to England shortly after the arrival of his nephew, to become resident partner of George Yule & Co., while George stayed in India as resident partner of Andrew Yule & Co. George was active in public life: he became sheriff of Calcutta in 1886, was president of the Bengal chamber of commerce, and in 1888 was elected the fourth president of the Indian National Congress. He retired to live in England in 1891 and died on 26 March 1892 at his home, Springfield, Kingswood Road, in Dulwich Wood Park, London. He was survived by his wife, Frances Caroline, and their only child, Harriet. Andrew Yule died at Braeside, Fountain Road, Norwood, Surrey, on 18 July 1902. He was also survived by his wife. By that time Andrew Yule & Co. managed four jute mills, fifteen tea plantations, four coal companies, a railway company, an inland navigation company, two flour mills, a cotton mill, and a zemindary company in India.

Meanwhile David Yule, a partner in Andrew Yule & Co. since 1887, had acquired George's share in the firm and replaced him as resident partner in India. He acquired a reputation as a shy and reclusive man, who preferred to live in the mill compound than to move to the fashionable areas of Calcutta favoured by other Europeans. He did not move to the city until 1900, when he married his cousin Annie Henrietta, daughter of Andrew Yule. They had one daughter, Gladys, and mother and daughter were to spend most of their lives in England. It is said that David never took a holiday, and he did not pay a visit to Britain for eighteen years after his arrival in India. At Morgan Grenfell, Yule's merchant bank in the City of London, it was reported that his ‘sole idea was Calcutta and he entirely ignored the London office’ (Chapman, 225). Typically, his Calcutta home after 1907 was at 8 Clive Row, above the offices of Andrew Yule & Co.

The range of the company's business interests increased dramatically under David Yule's direction. David was largely responsible for increasing the firm's involvement in the jute industry. In 1895 he had formed the Bengal Assam Steamship Company, to re-enter the inland navigation trade in which the firm had been involved, briefly, when Andrew Yule was building the company. The success of this venture encouraged him in 1906 to form Port Shipping Ltd, Calcutta's largest lighterage company. Andrew Yule had acquired substantial interests in the Indian coal industry, and in 1908 David consolidated the firm's interest in this field when Andrew Yule & Co. became managing agents of Bengal Coal Ltd. David was also enthusiastic about the prospects for estate management in India, and in 1902 formed Midnapore Zemindary Ltd (MZC) to acquire and develop land in Bengal. The MZC estates comprised 2400 square miles, on which the company promoted agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and other rural industries. David Yule became arguably the most important businessman in India. He was later described as ‘an outstanding personality in India and especially in Bengal’ (Catto, 68); and his personal friendship with Vivian Hugh Smith, a partner in Morgan Grenfell, was undoubtedly commercially advantageous. Yet his significance, as well as his retiring disposition, were shown to good effect during the visit of George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911. The king expressed a desire to meet the leading businessman of Calcutta, whom he was told was David Yule. This was brought about by the lieutenant-governor of Bengal, who had never met Yule. The meeting with the sovereign, and George V's visit to one of Yule's jute mills, went well; but at one point Yule asked who the gentleman was accompanying the king. ‘Don't you know him?’, replied George V, ‘he is the Viceroy of India’ (Catto, 73). Yule subsequently received a knighthood in the Durbar honours list of 1912 and in 1922 he was created a baronet. He was also made a knight of St John of Jerusalem, in 1915.

By 1917 Andrew Yule & Co. managed more than sixty companies and was one of the leading businesses in Calcutta. Nevertheless, Sir David decided to dispose of the firm. His brothers Andrew (1863–1916) and William Mann Yule (1866–1899), had both worked for the firm as assistants, and Andrew had become a partner: both were now dead, and Sir David had no son to inherit the business. In 1919 he sold the goodwill and business of the firms for £600,000 to a newly created company Andrew Yule & Co. Ltd, in which the major shareholders were J. P. Morgan & Co. and some of the leading partners in Morgan Grenfell & Co., including Vivian Smith. However, Yule agreed to stay on as chairman of the company, with Thomas Sivewright Catto as vice-chairman and in charge of the business in India (and a partner in the London agency, George Yule & Co., which in 1920 became Yule, Catto & Co. Ltd). Catto had a very clear idea how the firm should develop, seeing the London house as potentially ‘the merchant department of J. P. M[organ] & Co. and M[organ] G[renfell] & Co. … with a splendid opportunity to develop A[ndrew] Y[ule] & Co. into a great merchant firm not only in India but in other parts of the world’ (Burk, 82).

Sir David retired from active participation in the affairs of Andrew Yule & Co. Ltd in 1922 and returned to England to settle at Hanstead House, Bricket Wood, near St Albans, Hertfordshire. However, he did not withdraw from the world of business. He was a director of the Midland Bank, the Mercantile Bank of India, Royal Exchange Assurance, Electric Holdings Ltd, International Sleeping Car Share Trust, Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company, Malaya General Company, Vickers Ltd, and other companies. In 1926, with his friend Sir Thomas Catto and with the former viceroy of India, Lord Reading, he purchased United Newspapers (1918) Ltd from David Lloyd George, after giving undertakings that the Daily Chronicle and other titles published by the company would continue to support the policies of progressive Liberalism and that Reading would act as chairman of the company. The following year Sir David acquired two Calcutta newspapers, The Statesman and The Englishman.

Sir David had revealed the extent of his attachment to India when in 1921 he had instructed that his will was to be construed as if he was still domiciled in India; his executors were named as the Mercantile Bank of India, his wife, and business associates Sir Onkar Mull Jatia and N. Radhakrishna Tyer. On 3 July 1928 Sir David Yule died of heart failure at Hanstead House, near St Albans. He was survived by his wife. In his obituary in The Times he was described as ‘one of the wealthiest men, if not the wealthiest man, in the country’ (14 July 1928). He was buried at St Albans Cathedral on 16 July 1928.

The achievements of the Yule family and of Andrew Yule & Co. have been largely neglected by economic historians in Britain. Yet Andrew Yule laid the foundations of a firm, Andrew Yule & Co., which became one of the greatest trading and industrial empires in India. His brother George played a significant role in the political life of Bengal, and his nephew Sir David became one of the richest and most powerful men on the subcontinent. Both Yule, Catto & Co. plc and Andrew Yule & Co. Ltd (a public limited company largely owned by the government of India) continued to thrive in the 1990s.

Iain F. Russell

Sources  

Andrew Yule & Co., Ltd, 1863–1963 (privately printed, Edinburgh, 1963) · The Times (24 July 1902), 10 · The Times (4 July 1928), 21 · Boase, Mod. Eng. biog. · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1892) [George Yule] · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1902) [Andrew Yule] · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1928) [David Yule] · T. S. Catto, A personal memoir and a biographical note (1962) · K. Burk, Morgan Grenfell, 1838–1988: the biography of a merchant bank (1989) · S. D. Chapman, Merchant enterprise in Britain: from the industrial revolution to World War I (1992) · R. P. T. Davenport-Hines and G. Jones, eds., British business in Asia since 1860 (1989) · A. K. Bagchi, Private investment in India, 1900–1939 (1972) · IGI

Likenesses  

photographs, repro. in Andrew Yule and Co Ltd, 1863–1963

Wealth at death  

£156,442 3s. 0d.—Andrew Yule: probate, 5 Sept 1902, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £71,907 5s.—George Yule: probate, 4 June 1892, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £348,038 18s. 7d.—effects in England, David Yule: probate, 29 Oct 1928, CGPLA Eng. & Wales