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Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit, first Baronet, 1823-1901
The Caring Philanthropist[1]

Prominent Zarathushtis





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[1] This article written by Marzban Giara, in observation of the death centenary of Sir Dinshaw Petit appeared in FED Newsletter (Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India) in June 2001.  Mr. Giara subsequently augmented the document for publication on Vohuman.Org.  His cooperation is very much appreciated.

Sir Dinshaw Petit,
the first Baronet [3]

A patriot, pioneer and benefactor, Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit, first Baronet was born on 30th June 1823 in his maternal grandfather Jejeebhoy Dadabhoy’s house at Bora Bazar Street, Fort, Mumbai. As the eldest son of Manockjee Nusserwanji Petit, he was only 14 years old when he married Sakarbai (nee Panday) in 1837. Sakarbai, his long life wife and companion was only 11 years old at the time the  marriage was consumed. Fourteen children were born to them – six sons and eight daughters. He was considered an orthodox and religious Parsi.

Origin of Petit surname:
Mr. Nasserwanjee Cowasjee Bomanjee, one of the members of the family and founder of the present branch migrated to Bombay from Surat. He carried on business as agent to French vessels arriving at the port as well as to the East India Company’s vessels. It was while thus employed that he acquired the patronym Petit by which his family is known. Nasserwanji was a man of small physical built and his French constituents accordingly would refer to him as “Petit”. The nick-name stuck to him and his immortalized successive generations.

He started life as an apprentice on a salary of Rs[1].15/- per month. His keen business acumen is something he must have inherited from his father who was a practical businessman. Starting as a broker he gradually turned to manufacturing. In 1854 he was appointed an officer of the Grand Jury.  He was the first to introduce looms for a weaving mill in the whole of India in 1855. He was also the pioneer of dyes industry. In 1859 he donated Rs.25,000/- to charity when his father passed away.  In 1860 he became the doyen of the textile industry. In the same year he started Manockjee Petit Spinning and Weaving Company.  He bought the Bombay Hydraulic Electric Press Company for Rs.6,65,000/-. In December 1865 he purchased a steamer called "Romania" for Rs.75,000/-. In 1865 at the end of the American Civil War many persons were bankrupt in the share mania. He not only wrote off debts worth Rs.30 lacs[2] but also provided funds and employment to people in distress. Between 1870 and 1875 he and his brother Nusserwanji owned 17 mills. In 1875 he founded the Bombay Mill-owners Association and was its chairman from 1879 to1894. Between 1884 and 1898 the number of mills nearly doubled from 43 to 82, and the number of textile workers jumped from 36,000 to 71,000.

Dinshaw was appointed a Justice of Peace (JP) in 1860 and also became a Trustee of the Bombay Parsee Punchayet and Sir J.J. Parsee Benevolent Institution at the young age of 37. He served as a trustee for 41 years, the longest serving trustee.

As a great captain of industry, Dinshaw also became a director of the Bank of Bombay, the Bombay Fire Insurance Company, the Hyderabad Spinning and Weaving Company. He was the founder and trustee of the Persian Zoroastrian Amelioration Fund, its chairman from 1876 and its treasurer from 1885.  Due to his perseverance from 1861 to 1882 the Jizya tax was abolished bringing relief to destitute Irani Zoroastrians. He was the committee member of the Bombay Association from 1862 and its chairman from 1878, the Society for the relief of Destitute Irani Zoroastrians in Bombay, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a member of the Royal Asiatic Society and The Sassoon Institute.

A great philanthropist, his public and private benefactions amounted to nearly Rs.34 lacs, and all directed towards religious, educational, commerce, medical and other philanthropic purposes. In 1862 he donated Rs.8,500/- to a fund for relief of poor weavers of Lancashire.  In 1863 he along with two other Parsi gentlemen worked to collect funds for Bhimji Jivanji Randelia, an osteopath and collected Rs.60,000/- which was presented as a purse to the famous doctor. In 1865 he was one of the 16 Parsi delegates nominated by the Government to the Parsi Chief Matrimonial Court, a post he held till 1872. He was responsible for the Parsi Law Commission and the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1865. In 1868 when the Bombay Bank was again reestablished, he was its Director from the start till 1892.  He was also a Director of Colaba Company, Bombay Burmah Trading Company, East India Shipping Company, Frere Land Company.

In 1861 he spent Rs.30,000/- and built 4 water reservoirs to supply water to poor people in Pune.  In 1871 he gave the Government a sum of Rs.15000/- for improving water supply in Ahmednagar.  In 1873 he donated Rs.15,500/- to the Government to build a hospital for lepers at Ratnagiri.  The hospital was commissioned on 1st May 1875.  He built a Sagdi at Malabar Hill in memory of his late father at a cost of Rs.15,000/- and had it consecrated on 7th October 1873.  He also gave Rs.5000/- to the Punchayet for its maintenance.

In 1867 the P & O Company took 26 days for a weekly mail service to Europe. The time taken was reduced to 17.5 days by 1880 because of his efforts. In 1875 he purchased two mills Mazgaon Spinning & Manufacturing Company and Victoria Spinning & Manufacturing Company.  In 1877, he was present at the Royal Durbar held at Delhi by Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India.  He took the opportunity to visit several parts of India. In 1878 he bought another mill at Parel and named it Dinshaw Manockjee Petit Mills.  In 1879 he started a dyes factory at Mahim under the name Bombay Dyeing Company.  In 1881 he took over two new factories and named them Framji Petit Spinning & Manufacturing Company and Bomanjee Petit Mills (formerly Gordon Mills). He provided cheap housing for textile workers. In 1881 he was elected a member of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce. In 1884 he was one of the founders of the Ripon Club and its Vice-Chairman. In 1885 he became the Vice-President of the Bombay Presidency Association.   In 1889 he was adviser to delegates who came from Japan to learn about management and conditions of the textile industry.

In November 1882 he and Lady Sakarbai donated Rs.10,000/- to the Bombay Parsi Punchayet to feed destitute Irani Zoroastrians in their dharamshalas. They also donated for sending kathi regularly to the Atash Behrams in Yazd and Kerman in Iran. He built the Atash Behram and dokhma at Yazd, Iran. He built dokhmas at Chikhli (1874), Billimora and Igatpuri (1880), Bardoli (1885), Navsari (1889). In 1891 he had a daremeher built at Udvada next to the Iranshah Atash Behram. He also had sagdis built at Udvada, Allahabad, Hubli, Surat and Sholapur.

In 1883 he donated his maternal grandfather Seth Jeejeebhai Dadabhai's large estate of about 40,500 sq. yards at Parel costing Rs.45,000/- to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  The land was donated for starting a hospital for treatment of suffering animals.  Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy of India, inaugurated the hospital named Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals on 10th December 1884.  In 1883 the Government nominated him as a member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. During the floods at Surat, Rander, Godavara villages he rendered valuable help. In 1885 he was appointed the President of the Bombay Presidency Association.  In 1886 he donated Rs.3000/- to the library of the newly established French Club "Circle Literaire".  The library was named "Bibliotheque Dinshaw Petit". He donated Rs.300,000 for land and buildings for the founding of the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute (VJTI) in 1889.

He was appointed a Sheriff in 1886. On the occasion of his being conferred the knighthood in February 1887 he presented clothes to 8000 employees in the mills under him. On 14th April 1887 the Illustrated London News published his portrait with a brief biography. In June of the same year, he donated £ 1000 each to the proposed Imperial Institute and Northbrook Indian Club Library at London. He was also appointed President of the Gaurakshak Mandali established in Bombay.  In December of the same year he was appointed an official of the Viceroy's Legislative Council, the first Parsi to receive this honour. In January 1888 he was appointed a Fellow of the Bombay University in the faculties of Arts and Engineering. In March of the same year at the Uthamna of his nephew and son-in-law Seth Jamsetjee Nusserwanji Petit, his family donated Rs.42,750/- to charity.  In August of the same year he donated Rs.1.25 lacs to the Government for building a separate hospital for women and children behind Sir J.J. Hospital. In January 1889 he gave Rs.7000/- to establish a library for the Medical Union.  The library was named after him.  In March 1889 he was present at the Viceroy's Council at Calcutta.  While returning from there he donated Rs.20,000/- to the District Charitable Society for constructing a hospital for Lepers, Rs.25000/- to the SPCA for constructing a hospital for animals and Rs.7000/- for the Parsis to establish a library. At the end of 1889 he donated 6 acres of land at Poona for constructing a bacteriological laboratory for the Science College at Pune.  In January 1890 he donated Rs.11000/- for building a Gymnasium. In 1890 he donated for setting up the Framjee Dinshaw Petit Library of the Grant Medical College. He also donated for the Framjee Dinshaw petit Banqueting Hall in the Freemasons Hall at Fort, Mumbai.

His wife Lady Sakarbai passed away on 5th March 1890 after a long and happy married life of 53 years. Her devotion as wife and mother was exemplary and contributed to his success in public affairs.  Lady Sakerbai, the wife of Sir Dinshaw was descended from the Panday family. She was the daughter of Framji Bhikhaji Panday and Gulestan Banu, a Persian lady, daughter of Kaikhusru Yazdiar who emigrated to India in 1805. At her Uthamna the family donated Rs.1,12,000/- to charity. A few days later Queen Victoria made him a Baronet.  He entrusted to the Government Municipal Bonds worth Rs.25 lacs to perpetuate the Baronetcy. The Legislative Council of India passed the 6th Act of the Baronetcy Act of 1893 on March 9, 1893. Naser-ul-Din Shah of Persia presented him with a Royal Diploma and conferred on him the title of “Shero Khurshid” in 1892.

In 1890 he gave Rs. 1 lac to the Government to set up a Lepers Home at Trombay.  In August 1890 he gave Rs.1500/- to the Municipality to build an aviary for birds at Victoria Gardens. On 23rd April 1891 "Graphic" of London carried a beautiful portrait of his with an account of his useful activities. In 1892 he gave Rs.15,000/- for water works at Panvel. In 1893 he gave Rs.10,000/- for a veterinary hospital at Nasik.  In 1894 he gave Rs.8000/- for the Parsi Gymkhana building at Pune.  In 1898 he had a school built in memory of his daughter Bai Ruttonbai Framji Panday.

At the Uthamna of his son Seth Framji, his family donated Rs. 4,28,000/- to charity in August 1895. In 1896 he donated Rs.51,982/- from which a building in the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute was erected and named Sir Dinshaw Petit Baronet School for Sheet Metal Working and Enameling.  In the same year he built a Dharamshala in memory of his son Framji at Kudiana. He gave Rs.10,000/- to build Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit School of Industrial Arts at Ahmednagar. He had donated Rs.31,000/- for constructing 'Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit Brokers Hall' for the share brokers of Bombay which was inaugurated on 18th January 1899.

In March 1899 he published and distributed a book free "Vaidak Tuchka Sangrah" - a compendium of various medicines for relief of various diseases. It was his hobby from a young age to find out various herbs and their effects on fever, diarrhoea, cholera, etc. During the great famine of 1899-1900 in India he sent monetary relief worth Rs.47,500/- as also clothes and bags of cereals. He established charitable dispensaries at Bhiwandi, Chichan (Tarapore) Chikhli, Panvel, Pune Cantonment, Umergaon, Valsad, Vasai.

The Bai A. F. Petit School at Bandra, The J. N. Petit Institute, The J. N. Petit School at Pune, Bai R. F. D. Panday School, The B. D. Petit Parsee General Hospital, Framjee Dinshaw Petit Sanatorium at Cumballa Hill are some of the institutions erected by the munificence of the Petit family.

Sir Dinshaw Petit, the first Baronet [4]

Coat of Arms of Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit, First Baronet
The large shield with blue colour represents integrity and purity. Three censers with fire in them signify faith in Zoroastrian religion and carrying out duties in the name of Lord Ahura Mazda with good thoughts, good words and good deeds. The fire also signifies the symbol of Ahura Mazda, the eternal light.

A white square (used by masons) on blue background teaches us to regulate our actions, to harmonise our conduct with the principles of morality and virtue. Three bees represent industry and perseverance. The crest (a ship) on top represents trade and commerce.  The Petit family was well known for carrying on trade and commerce with China, Europe, etc. The wordings at the bottom of the Coat of Arms “Consequitur Quod Cunque Petit” mean "He obtains whatever he seeks". 

Sir Dinshaw Petit's Charities

  1. For constructing houses, wells, ponds, water reservoirs  - Rs. 79,757/-

  2. Schools, Gymnasium - Rs.4,17,448/-

  3. Dharamshalas, dwellings for the poor, maternity homes  - Rs. 94,425/-

  4. Hospitals, dispensaries, leper homes, hospitals for animals - Rs.3,55,537/-

  5. Contributions to schools, colleges, madressa, orphanages  - Rs.  57,681/-

  6. Contributions to construction and maintenance of hospital, dispensaries, asylums, leper homes  - Rs.  29,121/-

  7. Contributions to construction and maintenance of Atash Behram - Rs.  51,783/-

  8. Contributions to orphanages, pension, foundling homes, sailors home, widows home  - Rs.   23,926/-

  9. Contributions to sinking of wells, ponds, water reservoirs, - Rs. 9,291/-

  10. Contributions to Memorial Funds - Rs.  82,202/-

  11. Contributions to Prize Funds  - Rs. 20,961/-

  12. Contributions to construction and maintenance of dharamshalas, dwellings of the poor, maternity homes - Rs.11,785/-

  13. Contributions for libraries and book club - Rs.67,627/-

  14. Funds for dokhmas, sagdis, nasakhanas  - Rs. 77,779/-

  15. Contributions to relief from famines, floods, fire, riots, plague  Rs.1,49,653/-

  16. Contributions to societies - Rs. 15,965/-

  17. Contributions to associations - Rs. 9,533/-

  18. Contributions to Panjarapole and animal relief fund - Rs.30,750/-

  19. Contributions to feeding chapatis and khichdi to dogs - Rs. 2,203/-

  20. Contributions to various trusts - Rs.3,992/-

  21. Contributions to miscellaneous trust funds - Rs.30,501/-

  22. Contributions to exhibition, museums, repairing of roads, building temples, bridges, obtaining justice from courts - Rs.1,04,084/-

  23. Contributions to charities in Iran - Persian Zoroastrian Ammelioration Fund and Bombay's Destitute Irani Zarthushti Fund - Rs. 34,649/-

  24. In memory of Lady Sakarbai and Late children, relatives and friends         Rs.1,70,469/-

  25. Contributions to funds of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet - Rs.2,99,292/-

  26. Funds to charities for education - Rs.54,978/-

  27. Funds to charities for poverty relief - Rs.6,31,576/-

  28. Establishment of Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit Fund - Rs.4,25,000/-

  29. Funds for daremeher at Udwada including maintenance fund - Rs. 69,224/-

  30. Construction of Sagdi at Udwada - Rs.  5,844/-

Total     Rs.34,17,036/-

He passed away on 5th May 1901 at the age of 78. Besides Mumbai his uthamna was performed at Thana, Lonavala,Poona, Mahableshwar, Satara, Ahmednagar, Sholapur, Jalna, Hubli, Indore, Ratlam, Jabalpur, Badnera, Nagpur, Calcutta, Aden, Hong Kong, Nargol, Tarapore, Daman, Udvada, Pardi, Valsad, Khergam, Chikhli, Gandevi,Navsari, Bardoli, mandvi, Surat, Vesu, Bhimpor, Suvali, Elav, Kudiana, hansot, Ankleshwar, Bharuch, Ahmedabad, Disa and Khambhat.

A magnificent life-size statue of his, in marble stands at Tairsee Bhatia Baug (opposite the head office of the Central Railway, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, V.T.)

(Please scan the picture of this statue from the book Parsi Statues )

(Courtesy: Parsi Statues by Marzban Giara)


Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit 1st Baronet
Erected by the Public of Bombay

In appreciation of the distinguished and valued

Services rendered by him as a great
Philanthropist and captain of industry
Born:30th June 1823       Died:5th May 1901

On 5th May 2001 being his first death centenary, the Bombay Parsi Association had organised a function to garland his statue and place floral wreaths at 9 a.m.  Mr.Vispi S. Dastur, President, Bombay Parsi Association, Mr. Homa D. Petit, a scion of the Petit family spoke about the life and achievements of Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit. On Wednesday 9th May Mr. Marzban J. Giara gave a talk on his life and contribution under the auspices of the Rahnumae Mazdayasnan Sabha at the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute Library Hall. The above article is based on this talk. Parsi Prakash Vol.III devotes as many as ten pages for his obituary. S. M. Edwardes, an ICS officer has written his biography “Memoir of Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit First Baronet” published at England in 1923.

[1] Rs denote the unit of Indian currency Rupee.  During the 19th century, a Rs would have been the equivalent of one half of US$.  In mid 20th century at the time of India’s independence the exchange rate of US$1 to Rs. 5 applied.  At the turn of the 21st century the official applicable rate was of the order of US$1=Rs.48.

[2] Rs. 1 lac = Rs 100,000

[3] Photo courtesy of Mr. Adial Bharucha, Mumbai, India, CEO of Petit Charities, and Miss Havoovi Mistry.  Mr. Larry Grant's efforts in obtaining a copy of this picture is hereby acknowledged.

[4] Photo courtesy of author, Mr. Giara,Marzban.