The British Agency House in Malaysia and Nigeria: evolving strategy in commodity trade

Purdie, Gavin Ernest (2018) The British Agency House in Malaysia and Nigeria: evolving strategy in commodity trade. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The thesis compares the business activities of a particular type of British overseas trading company, the Agency House, in two former British colonies, Malaysia and Nigeria. The thesis charts the commercial and political circumstances that heralded the arrival of the Agency House in each colony and the companies’ rapid business growth thereafter while trading under the relative security offered by the British Empire. The thesis then examines the firms’ development in the aftermath of empire as the selected companies struggled to survive in independent nations. Here, each of the London-domiciled boards faced a very different set of commercial conditions overseas, which were largely shaped by politics both home and abroad. Each firm was forced into tough decisions on trade strategy to safeguard interests overseas and thereafter placate an increasingly hostile host regime. After independence, the Agency House, as obvious and symbolic reminders of imperialism, became targets for punitive legislation aimed at redressing imbalances in the private sector and achieving the repatriation of corporate wealth in each of the selected nations.

The commodity trade was the basis for the development of the Agency House in each former colony. In Malaysia, a British-financed estate industry spread rapidly in response to escalating demand for rubber at the start of the 20th century. By the 1950s, for a number of reasons, the estate industry moved from rubber to oil palm cultivation, which quickly became a catalyst for a huge expansion in the plantation industry, the evidence of which is etched across the nation’s topography today. In Nigeria, the production of (although not trade in) commodities always remained the remit of indigenes only which was enshrined in law, both colonial and nationalist, despite the lobbying by resident British traders. This was one of a number of factors examined in the thesis to understand why trade there could not keep pace with the British estate development taking place in Malaysia and despite Nigeria’s long history in the export of commodities like palm oil. Examining the commodity trade of each nation helps to explain the growth of the British Agency House to become commercial powerhouses in each nation. The thesis therefore looks at the strategy of each firm, the trade they were engaged in and thereafter how each attempted to survive when confronted by increasingly hostile nationalist legislation. It will also explain why only one of the Agency Houses examined here continues to trade today.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Agency House, commodity trade, British business history, post-colonial, palm oil, Malaysia, Nigeria, overseas companies.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Stokes, Professor Raymond and Sumita, Dr. Mukherjee
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Dr Gavin Ernest Purdie
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-9021
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 May 2018 11:36
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2018 07:09

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