Sassoon, Albert Abdullah David (DNB00)

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SASSOON, Sir ALBERT ABDULLAH DAVID (1818–1896), philanthropist and merchant, born at Bagdad on 25 July 1818, was the eldest son of David Sassoon by his first wife, Hannah, daughter of Abdullah Joseph of Bagdad. The family claims to have been settled between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries in Toledo, where it bore the name of Ibn Shoshan. For a long period members of it held the position of chief of the Jewish community of Toledo, and gained reputation as men of wealth and learning. In the fifteenth century persecution in Spain drove the family of Ibn Shoshan towards the East, and the chief branch settled in Bagdad, then under Turkish rule, early in the sixteenth century. Sir Albert's grandfather became known as chief of the Jews of Mesopotamia, and on him was conferred the ancient title of nasi, or prince of the captivity, which gave him large powers, recognised by the Turkish government, over the Jewish communities of Turkey in Asia. He was also appointed state-treasurer to the governor of the pashalic. Sir Albert's father, David Sassoon, born at Bagdad in 1792, acquired a leading position as a merchant there. But the Turkish government proved itself unable or unwilling to check outbreaks of persecution, and David Sassoon deemed it prudent to remove to Bushire in Persia, where an English agency had been established. In 1832 he left Persia to settle in Bombay, where he founded a banking and mercantile firm, and became one of the wealthiest of Indian merchant princes. His firm notably developed the trade between Mesopotamia and Persia and western India. Its operations gradually extended to China and Japan. With a view to increasing the business in England, he sent thither in 1858 his third son Sassoon David Sassoon (1832–1867). London soon became the centre of the firm's operations, and branches were established at Liverpool and Manchester. David Sassoon was a munificent supporter of public institutions, and bestowed large gifts on the Jewish communities of India. In Bombay he founded the David Sassoon Benevolent Institution (a school for Jewish children) and an industrial school and reformatory, and at Poonah he built a large general hospital. He died of fever at Poonah on 5 Nov. 1864. A statue of him by Thomas Woolner, R.A. [q. v.], was erected in the Mechanics' Institute, Bombay, in 1870. After the death of his first wife in 1826, he married, in 1828, Farhah (d. 1886), the daughter of Furraj Hyeem of Bagdad, and by her he had five sons and two daughters (Gent. Mag. 1865, i. 115, 252, 1867, ii. 250; Illustrated London News, 17 July 1869; Burke's Landed Gentry, 8th ed.).

The eldest son, Albert, was educated in India, and in early life spent some time in developing the trading connection of his father's firm with China. He inherited his father's commercial ability and reputation for personal integrity, as well as his philanthropic temper, and he joined his father in contributing a sum of money exceeding twelve thousand pounds to the Mechanics' Institute. On the death of his father he became head of the firm at Bombay. Factories for the manufacture of silk and cotton goods were opened there, and gave employment to large numbers of natives. Sassoon maintained and extended his firm's relations with Persia, and, in recognition of his services to Persian trade, the shah of Persia made him a member of the order of the Lion and Sun in 1871. At Bagdad he erected a building for the school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. In Bombay he gave conspicuous proof of his loyalty to the English government and public spirit, conferring on the city a vast series of benefactions. In 1872 he gave a lakh of rupees (10,000l.) towards the rebuilding of the Elphinstone High School. He afterwards added an additional half lakh as a thank-offering for the recovery of the Prince of Wales. The building, which finally cost 60,000l., was completed in 1881. Sassoon also gave an organ to the town-hall in commemoration of the Duke of Edinburgh's visit, and he commemorated the visit (in 1876) of the Prince of Wales, who was entertained by his wife, by erecting at Bombay an equestrian statue of him by J. E. Boehm, R.A., while he placed a statue of the prince consort in the Victoria and Albert Museum. But his main benefaction to Bombay was the construction of the Sassoon dock at Colaba, the first wet dock on the western coast of India. This great work, which covered an area of 195,000 square feet, was commenced in 1872 and completed in 1875.

The English government early recognised Sassoon's public services. In 1867 he was appointed companion of the Star of India, and a year later he became a member of the Bombay legislative council. On retiring from this position in 1872 he was made a knight of the Bath. Next year he paid a visit to England, and in November 1873 he received the freedom of the city of London on account of his ‘munificent and philanthropic exertions in the cause of charity and education, especially in our Indian empire.’

Soon afterwards he settled definitely in England. He acquired a mansion in London at Albert Gate, Knightsbridge, and another residence at Brighton, and filled a leading position in fashionable society. The Prince of Wales was his frequent guest, and he entertained the shah of Persia on his visit to England in 1889. At the same time he identified himself with the Jewish community in Great Britain, was liberal in his donations to Jewish charities, and acted as a vice-president of the Anglo-Jewish Association. He was created a baronet on 22 March 1890; and died at his house, 1 Eastern Terrace, Brighton, on 24 Oct. 1896. He was buried in a private mausoleum, elaborately designed, which he had set up on land adjoining his Brighton residence. A caricature portrait in ‘Vanity Fair’ (16 Aug. 1879) entitled him ‘The Indian Rothschild.’

By his wife Hannah (d. 1895), daughter of Meyer Moses of Bombay, whom he married in 1838, he had one surviving son, Edward Albert, born in 1856, who succeeded to the baronetcy.

[Times, 26 Oct. 1896; Times of India, 31 Oct. 1896; Men and Women of the Time, 14th ed. p. 753; Temple's Men and Events of my Time in India, 1882, pp. 260, 274; Jewish Chronicle, 30 Oct. 1896; Burke's Peerage and Baronetage.]

E. I. C.