Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Child, Josiah

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CHILD, Sir JOSIAH (1630–1699), writer on trade, the second son of Richard Child, merchant, was born in London in 1630. Beginning as a merchant's apprentice, he rapidly made his way in business, and about 1655 was engaged at Portsmouth in furnishing stores for the navy. In various documents of the time he is described as ‘victualler,’ ‘deputy treasurer of the fleet,’ and ‘agent to the navy treasurer.’ At Portsmouth he remained for many years, and became mayor of the town. His later life in London is well known from Macaulay's account of him (Hist. iv. 134 et seq.) He received a baronetcy in 1678: he had made a fortune which Evelyn in 1683 says was estimated at 200,000l.; he was a director and afterwards chairman of the East India Company, and for a time he ruled over the company as absolutely as if it had been his private business. The course of its future greatness, indeed, was in great part marked out by his ambition. Imitating ‘the wise Dutch,’ as he called them, he strove incessantly to extend its political power, and he was supported by his brother, Sir John Child [q. v.], the military governor of the British Indian settlements, in carrying out a rigorous and not very scrupulous policy. When Sir John’s successor talkied of governing according to law, Sir Josiah is said to have declared that the laws of England were ‘a heap of nonsense, compiled by a few ignorant country gentlemen, who hardly knew how to make laws for the good government of their own families, much less for the regulating of companies and foreign commerce’ (Hamilton, Account of the East Indies, ch. xix.) His despotic rule made him many enemies, who wrote very freely about him, accusing him, evidently with reason, of using his position in the company to forward unduly the interests of himself and his relatives, and of removing opposition to his policy by means of bribery. ‘By his great annual presents he could command both at court and in Westminster Hall what he pleased’ (Some Remarks upon the present State of the East India Company's Affairs, 1690). In 1673 he bought Wanstead Abbey, and went to prodigious cost in planting walnut-trees about his seate, and making fish-ponds, man miles in circuit’ (Evelyn, Diary, 16 March 1683). He died 22 June 1699. He was married three times, and had many children. His son, Sir Richard Child, was made Viscount Castlemain in 1718, and Earl of Tylney in 1731 (Ogborne, Essex, p. 68).

In the year of the plague, 1665, Child wrote a short essay on trade, which he afterwards expanded, and which attracted a great deal of attention (editions in his lifetime: 1668, 1670, 1690, 1693; see Walford, Insurance Cyclopædia. French translation in 1754;' ‘a new edition’ in 1775. To the later editions is appended ‘A small Treatise against Usury,’ written by Sir Thomas Culpepper). Its full title (ed. 1775) will indicate its character: ‘A New Discourse of Trade: wherein are recommended several weighty points relating to companies of merchants, the act of navigation, naturalisation of strangers, and our woollen manufactures; the balance of trade, and the nature of plantations, with their consequences in relation to the kingdom, are seriously discussed; methods for the employment and maintenance of the poor are proposed; the reduction of interest of money to 4l. per cent. is recommended; and some proposals for erecting a court of merchants for determining controversies relating to maritime affairs, and for a law for transference of bills of debts, are humbly offered.’ Child’s main purpose was to advocate the reduction of the legal rate of interest from six per cent. to four per cent. He contended that a high rate of interest hindered the growth of trade, encouraged idleness and luxury, and discouraged navigation, industry, arts, and invention. The Dutch were taking away our trade; and why? Because their rate of interest was at least three per cent. lower than ours. ‘The Dutch low interest, through our own supineness, hath robbed us totally of all trade, not inseparably annexed to this kingdom by the benevolence of divine Providence, and our act of navigation.’ Child’s theory was criticised in a pamphlet called ‘The Treatise of Money mistaken,’ wherein it was justly argued that he had mistaken an effect for a cause. He maintained his view, however, with much ingenuity, though admitting that from different aspects the same thing might be regarded as cause and effect. His other proposals for improving English trade (see especially chapters viii. ix. and x.) throw much light on the restrictive policy of the time, coming as they do from one who had stronger leanings towards free trade than most of his contemporaries. The answer which he makes to the argument that it is dearness of wages that spoils the English trade deserves to be noticed. ‘Wherever wages are high,’ he says, ‘universally throughout the whole world, it is an infallible evidence of the riches of that country; and wherever wages for labour run low, it is a proof of the poverty of that place’ (see Fielding, Causes of the late Increase of Robbers, sect. iv., for a curious criticism of this passage). Child’s proposals concerning the relief and employment of the poor (chap. ii.; reprinted in ‘Somers Tracts,’ xi. 606) are also deserving of attention, some of them having been carried into effect. (A summary of the ‘Discourse on Trade’ will be found in Anderson and Macpherson's ‘Hist. of Commerce,’ ii. 543-54. In a ‘Discourse concerning the East India Trade, in ‘Somers Tracts,’ x. 634, Child’s arguments are turned against the monopoly of the East India Company.) Child is said to have written ‘A Treatise wherein it is demonstrated that the East India Trade is the most national of all Foreign Trades,’ &.c., by Φιλόπατρις, 1681 (see Macpherson, ii. 567, and M'Culloch, Lit. of Pol. Econ. p. 99); and many of the papers written in defence of the company after the revolution were no doubt composed by him (see Grant, Hist. of the East India Company, p. 100).

[Ogborne’s Essex; Grant’s Sketch of the History of the East India Company; Pepys and Evelyn; M'Leod’s Dict. of Political Economy; State Papers, Dom., 1655-1667; Macau1ay’s History, vol. iv.]

G. P. M.