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13 July 2021

Charles Lazarus & Co., of Calcutta, Cabinet Makers: Not Armenian but Talented Jewish Immigrants from Wales

I've had a Calcutta family in my files for a little while,  I researched them about five years ago.  I had observed that sometimes people had mixed them up with an Armenian family with a similar surname. With a name like Jacob Lazarus, whose wife was Eliza, you'd think that these were Armenian. After all, one of their sons, Edward married a Greek woman in Dacca, and it is commonly known there were several Armenian/Greek unions in India. This was probably a similar situation, right?

Wrong.

Having traced the Greek side of this family, and its Bangladesh connections I had noticed some people had assumed this particular Lazarus family were Armenian. There are of course a number of Armenians in Bengal with the Lazarus name and with family connections in Calcutta as well as Madras. However, the family of Lazarus I was researching turned out not to be one of them. To put the record straight, I thought I would share my findings. 

Charles Lazarus, the founder of C. Lazarus & Co, Calcutta, a well-known cabinet maker in the city was one of at least six children of Jacob and Eliza Lazarus, of Carmarthen, South Wales.[1]

He was born there in 1823,  his Jewish father had been a popular and well established jeweller and pawnbroker in the town.  Jacob had passed away in Carmarthen in early 1835, his wife Eliza died eight months later, Charles was only 12 years of age.  The Welsh community extended their condolences to the much liked and respected Lazarus family whose Jewish ancestry stretched back to Eastern Europe.

Charles’s older brother Benjamin had come to Calcutta in the early 1830s and had quickly secured a position with George Page as a cabinet maker[2]. Charles sailed to Calcutta on board the Saint George from the port of Bristol on 1st August 1838.[3] He and his younger brother, Edward John Lazarus  arrived in December 1838.[4]  Charles, at 15 years of age, looked after his younger 13 year old sibling, it must have been exciting and terrifying at the same time to make such a voyage to a land they had probably only heard about in letters.

Charles and the now established Benjamin set up a business together. At the beginning they weren’t wholly successful, suffering insolvency in January 1846,[5] but by May of that year they were both in a position to apply for their final discharge from that status and began to slowly build up the business, Benjamin being the lead cabinet maker between them. 

Typical advertisement for C. Lazarus & Co.
Typical advertisement for C. Lazarus & Co.

By 1850 Charles and Benjamin had found the commercial formula that allowed them to carve a very successful career. Charles had married in early 1850, instantly becoming a step-father to 3 children, and eventually a father to 4 of his own. In the 1860s, following the death of George Shearwood, owner and founder of cabinet makers Shearwood & Co., Charles acquired the business and ran the two together.[6] The Shearwood enterprise specialised in the ‘new sport’ of billiards, and was the popular establishment people turned to for new billiard tables or re-cushioning requirements of old ones.  Charles, ever the enterprising salesman, astutely changed the date the business was established from 1833 to 1820, which was when Shearwood & Co., had been established. Numerous Lazarus & Co., advertisements in newspapers carried both dates, but the true date of the Lazarus enterprise start-up was 1833 under the leadership of Charles’s older brother Benjamin. 

Benjamin was only 51 years of age when he died in London in 1861. Poignantly, buried with him in Brompton Road cemetery are two nieces; Florence Etherington aged 4 years, daughter of his sister Sarah, and Emma Maria Bowerman, aged 31 years, daughter of his brother Charles.[7]

Charles continued with his very successful business in Calcutta where he eventually passed away in 1881. Although he was the name and face behind Lazarus & Co., it was very much a family affair with extended family joining the company and being part of the team of craftsmen Charles employed. Today, it may be surprising to learn that some of the cabinetry created by Lazarus & Co., sells for several thousand Pounds Sterling, other, less decorated pieces, sell for a few hundred Pounds. The business was continued by Charles’s two sons, Charles and Francis, but they too experienced the despair of insolvency in 1886, but they did claw their way back to some sort of financial stability by the middle of 1887. Incidentally, both sons changed their surname by deed poll from Lazarus to Lamour,[8] but they continued to trade under the well-known flag name of C. Lazarus & Co; a smart move as it was a well established brand name synonymous with high quality work, reliability and affordable.

And what of the other brother Edward John Lazarus? He too had a stake in cabinet making, albeit briefly, but, more importantly, he qualified as a doctor, and became a well know and respected physician in Benares. His first wife was Harriet nee Athanes of Dhaka.[9] He went on to marry twice more.

I should also point out that there is absolutely no family connection whatsoever between the generous and philanthropic Armenian, Joseph Lazarus of Dhaka, who was born in Julfa in 1846 and the Calcutta cabinet making Lazarus family above. 

There was nothing Armenian about Charles Lazarus. His London based pencil-making grandfather Henry was very much Jewish. In his will, part of which was written in Hebrew, Henry requested to be buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Ducking Pond Lane, London.[10]

If you are the lucky owner of some fabulously fashioned furniture by C. Lazarus & Co., you may rest assured it was created with the skill and craftsmanship that flowed through the veins of a very long family line of enterprising and talented Jewish immigrants who settled in India from South Wales.

Family history: Watch out for the red-herrings others throw out there through their well-intentioned stories. Always fact check. Don't necessarily trust your instincts, nor those of others, dig out the elusive facts.



[1] Carmarthenshire Wales, Anglican Baptism, Marriage and Burial records

[2] Calcutta Monthly Journal and General Register 1836

[3] Bristol Mercury July 1838              

[4] Friend of India Dec 1838

[5] Insolvency notice London Gazette 1846

[6] Friend of India

[7] Brompton Cemetery Register

[8] The Times of India Feb 1881

[9] N1-67-62

[10] England and Wales Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills

 

1 comment:

  1. I sent you an email. I am a direct descendant of both Charles and Edward, their children Charles and Harriet married. I am lucky enough to have a desk that had been made for my great grandmother Lillian Ida Corden Larmour, the daughter of Charles and Harriet,

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