Early days of Jamsetji N. Tata

For a visionary who would go on to establish one of India’s largest business groups and develop a philanthropic roadmap that was way ahead of its time, Jamsetji N. Tata's childhood was by no means extraordinary.

Born on March 3, 1839, in the sleepy town of Navsari in Gujarat, Jamsetji was the first child and only son of Nusserwanji Tata, who hailed from a family of Parsee priests. Many generations of the Tatas had dedicated their lives to the upkeep of the Zoroastrian faith, but the enterprising Nusserwanji broke with the tradition to become the first Tata to try his hand at business.

When Jamsetji turned 14, he joined his father in Bombay. Jamsetji enrolled at Elphinstone College, from where he passed in 1858 as a 'green scholar', the equivalent of today's graduate.

The liberal education he received would fuel in Jamsetji a lifelong admiration for academics and a love for reading. Those passions though, would soon take a backseat to what Jamsetji quickly realised was the true calling of his life: business.

Jamsetji was 20 when joined his father’s small trading and banking business in 1859. It was a far-from-opportune time for Indians to venture into business. Jamsetji's entrepreneurial career began, in the words of JRD Tata, "when the passive despair engendered by colonial rule was at its peak". The First War of Independence, or the Indian Mutiny of 1857, had been subdued and the country was still coming to terms with being a part of the British Empire.

In 1868, aged 29, Jamsetji started a trading company with a capital of Rs21,000. His first expedition to England soon followed. These were the early beginnings of what later became the Tata Group.

Read more about: Jamsetji N. Tata’s vision for India | The relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and the House of the Tatas | Sir Dorabji Tata | Sir Ratan Tata | Lady Navajbai | Tata Trusts' History