Sir Josiah Child, 1st Baronet (1630 – June 22, 1699), English merchant, economist and governor of the East India Company, was born in London, the second son of Richard Child, a London merchant of old family.
After serving his apprenticeship in the business, to which he succeeded, he started on his own account at Portsmouth, as victualler to the navy under the Commonwealth, when about twenty-five. He amassed a comfortable fortune, and became a considerable stock-holder in the East India Company, his interest in India being accentuated by the fact that his brother John Child was making his career there. (Please see the note at the bottom, about this relationship.)
He was returned to Parliament in 1659 for Petersfield; and in later years sat for Dartmouth (1673-1678) and for Ludlow (1685-1687). He was made a baronet in 1678. His advocacy, both by speech and by pen, under the pseudonym Philopatris, of the East India Company's claims to political power, as well as to the right of restricting competition with its trade, brought him to the notice of the shareholders, and he became a director in 1677, and, subsequently, deputy-governor and governor.
In this latter capacity he was for a considerable time virtually the sole ruler of the company, and directed its policy as if it were his own private business. He and his brother have been credited with the change from unarmed to armed traffic; but the actual renunciation of the Roe doctrine of unarmed traffic by the company was resolved upon in January 1686, under Governor Sir Joseph Ash, when Child was temporarily out of office.
Child made several important contributions to the literature of economics; especially Brief Observations concerning Trade and the Interest of Money (1668), and A New Discourse of Trade (1668 and 1690). He was a moderate in those days of the mercantile system, and has sometimes been regarded as a sort of pioneer in the development of the free-trade doctrines of the 18th century. He made various proposals for improving British trade by following Dutch example, and advocated a low rate of interest as the causa causans of all the other causes of the riches of the Dutch people. This low rate of interest he thought should be created and maintained by public authority.
Child, whilst adhering to the doctrine of the balance of trade, observed that a people cannot always sell to foreigners without ever buying from them, and denied that the export of the precious metals was necessarily detrimental. He had the mercantilist partiality for a numerous population, and became prominent with a new scheme for the relief and employment of the poor; it is noteworthy also that he advocated the reservation by the mother country of the sole right of trade with her colonies. Sir Josiah Child's eldest son, Richard, was created Viscount Castlemain in 1718 and Earl of Tylney in 1731.
NOTE: Sir Josiah Child and Sir John Child were assumed by most historical commentators to have been brothers. That they were definitely not, is clear from a reading of their wills. Sir John left a bequest to his “Aged ffather Theophilus Child”. Sir Josiah's will doesn't name his father, who was long dead; but he was Richard Child, as mentioned above; whose own will, and that of his widow, confirm the relationship. Sir Josiah did have an elder brother John, also named in the wills, and this fact no doubt contributed to the confusion. Sir Josiah, his father and brother are recalled in an article, "History of Portsmouth" by W G Gates, from a Hampshire Telegraph centenary edition, published in 1900: "The celebrated Merchant Prince of the 17th c. lived in Portsmouth for some years. He was the son of Richard Child, a London merchant of good family. Josiah was born in 1630 beginning as a merchant's apprentice, making his way in business appearing in Portsmouth in 1654. He was involved in furnishing navy stores and is described in documents as "victualler", "Deputy Treasurer of the Fleet" & "Agent to the Navy Treasurer". He married on 26 Dec 1654 to Hannah Boate, dau of Edward Boate (Master Shipwright of Portsmouth) at St Thomas Church. Josiah Child was admitted a Burgess in 1655 and Mayor in 1658. His older brother John was a Portsmouth MP but both Brothers were ejected from the Corporation for suspected disloyalty in 1662." Sir John was sent to India as a child to live with an uncle employed there by the East India Company - his mother's brother, John Goodier – and spent the rest of his life there. Thus he could not have been active in Portsmouth. In his will Sir John Child names Sir Josiah Child, Bt, as one of its overseers but does not specify any family relationship. Sir Josiah's will was witnessed by, among others, Caesar Child, no doubt Sir John's son. Caesar had been sent to England for his education, under the guardianship of Sir Josiah. The will of Richard Child, Sir Josiah's father, does not mention a brother Theophilus, thus diminishing the possibility that Sir John and Sir Josiah were even first cousins.
See also Macaulay, History of England, vol. iv.; R Grant, Sketch of the History of the East India Company (1813); D Macpherson, Annals of Commerce (1805); B Willson, Ledger and Sword (1903).
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopędia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. The article is available here
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