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Related family papers: Sassoon family

The Sassoon family business

The Sassoon family, known as ‘Rothschilds of the East’ due to the great wealth they accumulated, is of Baghdadi Jewish descent. The family were based in Baghdad, Iraq, before moving to Bombay, India and then to China, England, and other countries. It is said that the family descended from the Shoshans, one of the families of Iberian Peninsula. From the 18th century, the Sassoons were one of the wealthiest families in the world, with a merchant empire spanning the continent of Asia.

David Sassoon & Co., Ltd. (in the early years called David Sassoon & Sons) was a trading company established in 1832 in Bombay by David Sassoon (1792–1864). The business initially focussed on banking activities and property investments, but soon began to deal successfully in commodities such as precious metals, silks, gums, spices, wool and wheat, and later specialised in trading Indian cotton yarn and opium from Bombay to China. The latter was promoted by the First Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 between the United Kingdom and the Chinese Qing dynasty. For the fast transport of opium, David Sassoon & Co. ran its own ‘opium clippers’. As the company expanded it set up branches in India (Calcutta, Karatchi), in China (Hongkong (est. 1843), Canton, Hankow, Shanghai (est. 1845)), Japan (Kobe, Nagasaki, Yokohama), in the Persian Gulf (Baghdad) and in the United Kingdom (London, Manchester). Like the Rothschilds in Europe David Sassoon placed his sons as heads of newly established branches of his company. In 1852, his son Abdallah Sassoon (1818–1896) joined him as a partner, followed by his second son Elias David Sassoon (1820–1880).

In 1867, Elias David Sassoon, broke away from the family company, setting up his own business, E.D. Sassoon & Co., starting to trade in dried fruits, nankeen, metals, tea, silk, spices and camphor from modest offices in Bombay and Shanghai. It soon proved to be more energetic than David Sassoon & Co. and by the later Edwardian years its capital was two to three times as much as the nominal capital of David Sassoon & Co. In 1872, David Sassoon & Co. moved its head office from Bombay to London (12, Leadenhall Street) for a better access to the markets for capital and information. In 1874 David Sassoon established a new subsidiary in Bombay, the Sassoon Spinning and Weaving Company. In 1875, David Sassoon & Co. built the Sassoon Docks in Bombay, the first commercial wet docks in Western India which helped establish the international trade with Indian cotton. In 1883 the company moved into the silk manufacturing business and also acquired extensive property in Hong Kong, Canton and northern China. David Sassoon & Co. acted as agent for many other companies in East Asia and South East Asia.

As well as merchant trade, David Sassoon & Co. were involved in banking activities, forming part of a consortium of British merchants who founded the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation in 1865. David Sassoon's son Albert Abdullah David (1818-1896) succeeded his father and subsequently passed the business on to his son Edward Albert (1856-1912). Under Sir Edward Sassoon’s leadership, David Sassoon & Co. was incorporated as a joint-stock company in 1901. Upon Sir Edward Sassoon’s death in 1912, his uncle Frederick David Sassoon (1853–1917) took control of the company. After Frederick Sassoon’s death 1917, David Gubbay (1865–1928), a Sassoon cousin, became chairman; with Gubbay ended the direct involvement of the Sassoon family in the management of David Sassoon & Co. (the participation of Sir Philip Sassoon (1888–1939) in the management of the company as chairman was only nominal although he held shares in it). After the Second World War David Sassoon & Co. was eventually sold to UBS of Switzerland.

The Sassoons and the Rothschilds

After a visit to England in 1873 Albert Sassoon (1818-1896) settled there permanently, directing the family business, David Sassoon & Sons, from London. With two of his brothers, Arthur Abraham (1840-1912) and Reuben David (1835-1905) he became prominent in English society, and the family were friends of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Arthur Abraham David Sassoon (1840-1912) married Louise Perugia (1854-1943), whose sister Marie Perugia (1862–1937) was married to Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917). Louise was affectionately known as ‘Aunt Lou’ to the Rothschild family. The Conservative politician Sir Edward Albert Sassoon (1856–1912), the son of Albert, married Aline Caroline de Rothschild (1868-1909) daughter of Gustave (1829-1911) and Cécile, Baroness Gustave de Rothschild (née Anspach) (1840-1912) in 1887. 

'Sassoon' sources in the Rothschild Archive

Business papers

There is surprisngly little business correspondence in the Archive collection; three letters to N M Rothschild & Sons from David Sassoon & Co. (12 Leadenhall St, the City, and Calcutta) concerning shipments of indigo, 1881-1882 will be found in Letters Received Miscellaneous, American Affairs, (II/54/0B). There are also references to the Sassoons in  Correspondence from de Rothschild Frères, 1895-1896 (XI/101/26-31). 

Family papers: Aline Caroline, Lady Edward Sassoon (née de Rothschild)

Aline Caroline de Rothschild (1867-1909) married Sir Edward Albert Sassoon (1856-1912) in 1887. The archive holds no private papers from that line of the family, with the exception of the photograph known as the ‘Gustaverie’ in which Aline and Edward appear, along with their son Phillip Sassoon (1888-1939). This photograph, of Aline’s father, Gustave (1829-1911), his wife Cécile, Baroness Gustave de Rothschild (née Anspach) (1840-1912) and 18 other relations was taken in 1909 on the occasion of his 80th birthday. See Named Collections; rue de Courcelles collection(000/2089/131). The Archive also holds examples of invitations to the wedding of Aline and Edward, sent out by both the groom’s parents and the bride's parents, The Lafite Papers I (OE 320); the wedding was held on Wednesday 19 October 1887 at the Synagogue on the Rue de la Victoire, Paris. Members of the Sassoon family were regular visitors to the great Rothschild houses, for example the Visitors' Book from Halton House (the country estate of Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918)) records that Aline and Edward spent Christmas there in 1894 (000/2123). A portrait photrgraph of Aline will be found in Named collections: The Ascott Collection: Photographs (000/360/214). An original watercolour (and sketch for the watercolour) by Eugène-Louis Lami (1800-1890) of the family of Gustave de Rothschild, including Aline will be found in Named collections: rue de Courcelles Collection, (000/2168/1-2).

Family papers: Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon (née Perugia) and Arthur Sassoon

(Eugenie) Louise Perugia (1854-1943), married Arthur Sassoon (1840-1912) in 1873. Louise was the older sister of Marie Perugia; Marie married Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917) in 1881. Papers of Marie will be found in Named collections: The Ascott Collection, including correspondence from Louise to her sister, c.1873-1936 (000/2019/38/1-4 and 000/2019/39/1-3). This collection also includes a photograph album, embossed with the initials ‘L.S’; [Louise Sassoon]; the photographs are of the family’s travels to Scotland, c.1888-1909 and there are also handwritten poems and letters included in the album. (000/2019/43/1). 

The Archive also holds papers relating to Louise and Arthur Sassoon in the records of the London bank. These largely consist of sundry ‘Sassoon’ papers deposited in the bank vaults of N M Rothschild & Sons; these are described below. There is also a small collection of papers dealing with ‘deceased account’ matters of Louise and Edward Sassoon, see Private client packets, (000/124).

Sassoon papers elsewhere

There is no central Sassoon business or family archive. Many business and family papers were destroyed in the London blitz during the Second World War.

Items from the manuscript and incunabula collections of the bibliophile David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942) (many auctioned by Sotheby's of London in Zurich and in New York between 1975-1994 in order to satisfy the Sassoon estate's British tax obligations) will now be found in The British Library, London, the University of Toronto, Canada, and the National Library of Israel. Papers of the poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) will be found in the collections of the University of Cambridge Library, and Yale University Archives.

Published sources

The following works are available in the Reading Room Library:

  • The Sassoon Dynasty, Cecil Roth (Robert Hale, London, 1941)
  • The Sassoons, 1550-1750, Stanley Jackson (Heinemann, London, 1968)
  • Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybil, Peter Stansky (Yale University Press, 2003)
  • Charmed Life: the Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon, Damian Collins (William Collins, 2016)
  • Global Merchants, Joseph Sassoon (Penguin Random House, 2021)

See also the monumental genealogy of the Rothschild banking family, Le Sang des Rothschild by Joseph Valynseele and Henri Mars (ICC Editions, Paris, 2004). A copy is available upon request in the Reading Room.

Sassoon family, sundry correspondence, 1873-1940

000/93/3, 1 box

Sassoon family private family papers, including private correspondence sent to Arthur Abraham David Sassoon (1840-1912) and (Eugenie) Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon, (née Perugia) (1854-1943), 1873-1940; correspondants include:

  • Lord Rosebery, Edward Prince of Wales, 1892-1909;
  • Princess Alexandra, 1888-1898 (includes postcards and cuttings concerning Louise's brother-in-law Leopold de Rothschild's horse St. Amant winning the Derby in June 1904;
  • Princess Louise, Princess Victoria; Prince Edward; Prince Albert, 1903-1904;
  • Prince George, Duke of York (George V), 1902-1909;
  • Sir Edward Hamilton; Duke of Devonshire; Duke of Nottingham; Arthur Moro; Marie, Mrs. Leopold de Rothschild (nee Perugia), 1908.

The papers were originally deposited in the New Court vaults of NMR in 1943, after the death of Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon.

Sassoon family, photograph album, c.1850-1915

000/93/2, 1 volume

Sassoon Family photograph album, with initials 'L.S'. for Louise Sassoon on the cover. In 1873, (Eugenie) Louise Perugia (1854-1943), daughter of Achille Perugia of Trieste, Italy, married Arthur Sassoon (1840-1912). Her sister, Marie Perugia (1862–1937) married Leopold de Rothschild (1845–1917) in 1881.  The album contains photographs of the Sassoon family and friends, and their relatives. The album was originally deposited in the New Court vaults of NMR in 1943, (with other Sassoon family papers) after the death of Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon.

Sassoon family, items deposited in the New Court vaults, c.1890-1930

000/1473, 1 box, 1 folder

Sassoon family items: small green leather case with key, originally from the New Court vaults. The case and its contents belonged to Arthur Abraham David Sassoon (1840-1912) and (Eugenie) Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon (née Perugia) (1854-1943). The box contained items of personal significance, including various artefacts (enamelled silver boxes, a combined silver page marker and letter opener, a silver seal, a mourning pendant and a mourning locket, an enamelled silver Vesta case), badges printed with family photographs, and sundry private family documents. The case and its contents were originally deposited in the New Court vaults of NMR in 1943, after the death of Louise.

Sassoon family, Arthur Sassoon, executors’ and estate papers, 1912-1918

000/80, 2 boxes

Papers concerning the estate of Arthur Abraham David Sassoon (1840-1912). Arthur Sassoon was an English banker and socialite. He was the fifth son of David Sassoon (1792–1864), a Jewish trader of cotton and opium in China His mother was Farha (Hyeem) Sassoon (1814-1886), a philanthropist. One of his brothers was Reuben David Sassoon (1835–1905), a banker, and Sir Edward Sassoon, 2nd Baronet, of Kensington Gore was his uncle. He was an original member of the Board of Directors of the Hong Kong Bank, which later became known as The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. For many years he was a director of David Sassoon & Company of Leadenhall Street, London, a trading company founded by his brother Reuben David Sassoon. In 1873, he married (Eugenie) Louise Perugia (1854-1943), daughter of Achille Perugia of Trieste, Italy, whose sister Marie Perugia (1862–1937) married Leopold de Rothschild (1845–1917) in 1881. For many years the couple resided in Hove, East Sussex. Sassoon was a personal friend and confidante of King Edward VII. He died on 13 March 1912 while staying at Ascott, the country estate of his brother-in-law, Leopold de Rothschild. His fortune, which exceeded £650,000, passed to the children of his brother Reuben.

Sassoon family, (Eugenie) Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon (née Perugia), estate papers, 1942-1943

000/129, 3 files

Will and probate papers of (Eugenie) Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon (née Perugia) (1854-1943). Louise married the banker Arthur Sassoon (1840-1912) in 1873. Her sister, Marie Perugia (1862-1937) married Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917) in 1881. Louise became a leading socialite in London high society, and her work with poor Jewish girls led to her being appointed CBE. For many years the couple resided in Hove, East Sussex. Her portrait, painted by George Frederic Watts in 1882, is in Tate Britain. 

Sassoon family, Visitors' Book, Tulchan Lodge, Scotland, 1906-1915

000/1768/2, 1 item

A photocopy of the Visitors' Book from Tulchan Lodge [the original is retained in the collection at Ascott House]. Tulchan Lodge was completed in 1906 to the order of George McCorquodale, a printer and publisher by trade, who had previously been a frequent guest of the banker Sir Philip Sassoon who was a close friend and financial adviser to HM King Edward VII. Sir Philip Sassoon was for many years the shooting and fishing tenant at Tulchan Lodge. In addition to the reputation of the Tulchan Water, the Tulchan and Cromdale grouse moors were also known as some of the best in the United Kingdom. Among the Royal guests who shot on them were King Edward VII (both as the Prince of Wales and King), King George V and King George VI (as Duke of York). Other illustrious guests included Theodore Roosevelt, the banker J.P Morgan, William Vanderbilt, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and King Leopold of Belgium.

A bound Tulchan Lodge ‘Souvenir’ album, embossed with the initials ‘L.S’ [Louise Sassoon], believed to have been compiled by Louise, Mrs Arthur Sassoon (née Perugia) (1854-1943), the sister of Marie, Mrs Leopold de Rothschild (née Perugia) (1862-1937), containing photographs of members of the Sassoon and Rothschild families, sundry dogs, fish and fishing scenes, original pages signed by guests to Tulchan 1888-1905 (possibly cut from a Visitors’ Book), including members of the Sassoon family and Lord and Countess Rosebery (Archibald Philip Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929) Hannah de Rothschild (1851-1890)) and other guests, handwritten poems (on ‘Dalmeny Park, Edinburgh’ headed paper), private speeches and verse (much of it humorous such as ‘Tulchan Proverbs’), drawings, and newspaper cuttings, such as ‘Royalty on the Spey’, 1888-1909 will be found in the Ascott Collection I, 000/2019/43/1.