A Scots Émigré, Imperial Systems and Global Commodities: Gillian Maclaine and his Mercantile Network, 1816–1840

Author: Roger Knight

Working Paper Number: 22

PDF file: PDF icon WP22.pdf

This paper focuses on the life of Gillian Maclaine (1798-1840) and the history of the firm of Maclaine Watson that he co-founded in Batavia (present day Jakarta), seven years after his arrival there in 1820.  It explains something of the global setting for this, while elaborating the specific imperial context of Maclaine’s career, drawing attention in particular to the world of the East India Company in which he found himself in both London and Asia, and its juxtaposition with the Dutch colonial enterprise in the Indies.  The paper then discusses aspects of the nexus between imperial history and the evolution of global commodity chains.  Firstly, it deals with three such chains – cotton goods, coffee and opium – that together constituted the basis for Maclaine’s activities as both merchant and planter.  Secondly, it considers the importance of the case history of the foundation of Maclaine Watson for our understanding of World Systems Analysis, and then proceeds to the related issue of the firm’s place in a global re-organisation of trade that took place during the early and middle decades of the nineteenth century.   Thirdly, it throws a spotlight on the extent to which the network of firms – held together by ties of Highland consanguinity – that constituted ‘Maclaine Watson’ came to be located in inter-Asian commerce rather than in its bi-lateral colonial-metropolitan counterpart. This, in turn, is a theme that is reiterated and expanded in the paper’s conclusion.