George Steuart & Co., Sri Lanka’s oldest mercantile establishment, has commenced an exciting project to restore a repository of artifacts that trace back to its founding in 1835 and its early operations. The recently uncovered artifacts include diaries and journals belonging to the founders, ledgers, profit and loss accounts, company seals, employment records and many more documents from the early 1800s. The restoration is being conducted under the careful guidance and expertise of the National Library and Documentation Services Board Sri Lanka in order to preserve and archive the rare collection.
Of particular interest is a collection of documents that belonged to the three founding brothers of George Steuart & Co., Captain James Steuart, Joseph Steuart and George Steuart, who first sailed to Ceylon in 1806. The records pertaining to the company itself offer a rare glimpse into the day-to-day workings of mercantile Ceylon during the Empire. There is evidence of George Steuart’s pre-eminence within the economy of the time, including its enrolment as the first member of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
Included in the restoration are a trove of items of historic interest such as monetary notes and coins the company had used in the 17th century, correspondence with officials in Britain, furniture, books and journals with handwritten notes that offer a first-hand glimpse into the establishment of the early commercial ventures, a handful of which continue in some form to this date. The collection also comprises newspapers from the 1800s as well as first editions of poetry books and lithographs that depict reflections of early Ceylon by travellers and merchants. National Library and Documentation Services Board Chairman Sonala Gunawardana under whose guidance the project has been initiated, said, “It is a delight and an honour to be involved in the restoration of the George Steuart collection of artefacts. A collection such as this adds rich detail to our knowledge of how early Ceylon functioned. There is a great necessity to find, restore and archive artifacts of this nature in order to have a more thorough understanding of the building blocks of our socioeconomic history. It is admirable that over the centuries, George Steuart & Co. has maintained this collection through the many changes that have taken place in the nation as well as in the company. We hope more companies with similar heritage will partner with us to preserve their archives.”
George Steuart & Co. was established in 1835 as one of the earliest merchant bankers and coffee brokerages in Ceylon. 185 years later, George Steuart & Co. remains dynamic and competitive, and is one of the fastest growing diversified holding companies in Sri Lanka enjoying industry leadership in tea exports, healthcare, travel, leisure, insurance broking, financial services, industrial solutions and fast-moving consumer goods. The Group continues to seek positions in industries that mirror the nation’s ambitions in the belief that business has the transformative power to shape the future of Sri Lanka.