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Tata, Sir Dorabji Jamshedlocked

(1859–1932)

Sir Dorabji Jamshed Tata (1859–1932)

by Manchershaw Pithawalla

© Tata Central Archives

Tata, Sir Dorabji Jamshed (1859–1932), industrial magnate and philanthropist, was born at Bombay on 27 August 1859, the elder son of Jamshed Nasarwanji Tata (1839–1904), pioneer of Indian industries, and his wife, Berabai (1847/8–1904), daughter of Kharsetji Daboo. The politician Shapurji Saklatvala was his first cousin. In 1875, after attending the Bombay proprietary school, he was sent to England to a private tutor in Kent, and in 1877 he entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he obtained his colours for cricket and football. He returned to Bombay in 1879, studied further at St Xavier's College, and obtained the BA degree of Bombay University in 1882. His father then placed him as an apprentice in the office of the Bombay Gazette in order that he might gain experience of men and affairs. Two years later he was sent first to Pondicherry and then to the Empress cotton mills, Nagpur, for training, and in 1887, together with his cousin R. D. Tata, was taken into partnership in the newly formed company of Tata & Sons. Under his father's wise guidance he gained greatly in knowledge and understanding of Indian industry and finance, and on J. N. Tata's death in 1904 was well fitted to become the head of the firm. During the next twenty-five years the firm (reconstituted in 1907 as Tata Sons & Co., and again in 1917 as Tata Sons Ltd) expanded and became the largest industrial concern in India, with aggregate funds estimated in 1945 at £54,000,000 and giving employment to 120,000 men and women.

Tata's great contributions to Indian progress were the successful completion of the three bold and far-sighted projects planned and initiated by his father, in which he was assisted by his brother, Sir Ratan Tata (d. 1918), and other members of his family, and his munificent public benefactions. Through his keen personal interest in the early work and his energy and drive in finding the capital, construction of the first project, the Tata iron and steel works, commenced in 1908 and the first iron was produced in 1911. As the number of employees grew, the town of Jamshedpur came into being. He brought the same energy and resource to his father's bold plan for harnessing the heavy monsoon rainfall of the western ghats, and by 1919 three companies were in being. The endowment and establishment in 1911 of the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore at an initial cost of £200,000 was a work of filial devotion for the two sons of J. N. Tata. Their father died before he could make the bequest, and his sons after protracted negotiations entered into a tripartite agreement with the government of India and the government of Mysore whereby, as he had intended, young Indians could receive scientific training at a high level in India, and by the practical applications of science advance the industrial development of their country.

In recognition of his services Tata was knighted in 1910. He was president of the Indian Industrial Conference in 1915 and a member of the Indian Industrial Commission from 1916 to 1918. From early manhood he took a keen interest in Indian cricket and athletics and did much to bring about India's participation in the Olympic Games. He was a patron of learning as well as of sport. He endowed a chair of Sanskrit at the Bhandarkar Institute, and helped many deserving scholars in their researches. About 1920 he gave £25,000 to the University of Cambridge for the equipment of the laboratories in the school of engineering, and in 1922 he was elected an honorary fellow of his old college. His private charities were said to have totalled £150,000.

In 1898 Tata married Meherbai, daughter of a distinguished educationist, Hormasji Jehangir Bhabha, inspector-general of education in Mysore. There were no children of the marriage. After his wife's death in 1931 he set apart a sum of nearly £200,000 for the Lady Tata Memorial Trust, the object being to provide prizes and scholarships for research in any part of the world on diseases of the blood, and for work in India on subjects related to the alleviation of human suffering. In the last year of his life he created the trust which bears his name and endowed it with the whole of his private fortune. In accordance with his wishes it has rendered help without distinction of caste or creed. The endowment, estimated at £2,000,000 in 1945, had by then expended £800,000 in a wide range of charities including the endowment and maintenance of the Tata Memorial Hospital for Cancer, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (the last-named being jointly established by the government of Bombay and the trust).

After executing the trust deed Tata left India in April 1932. He was taken seriously ill in Europe and died at 1 Ringstrasse, Bad Kissingen, Bavaria, on 3 June 1932. His remains were taken to England and laid beside those of his wife in the Parsi cemetery at Brookwood, Woking.

Sources

  • The Times (4 June 1932)
  • Times of India (4 June 1932)
  • F. R. Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata: a chronicle of his life (1925)
  • Records of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust
  • private information (1949)

Likenesses

  • M. Pithawalla, portrait, Tata Central Archives, Bombay [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£13,298 12s. 7d. effects in England: administration with will, 26 Jan 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]