A Brief Account of Merchant Trading Empire
By 1800 the Ralli family, in common with many other Chiot families, had for several generations been firmly established in trading in a wide variety of cargo and shipping it to and from an equally wide variety of bases (primarily Constantinople and Smyrna, but also Romania, Egypt, Russia, London, Trieste, Marseilles, Vienna and Livorno among others). The island of Chios was ideally placed geographically and politically to take advantage of this trade, and was visited annually by dozens, if not hundreds, of foreign registered ships as well as those owned by the Chiot merchants themselves. In order to oversee all this trade, the family naturally had representatives in most if not all these places. For example, in 1815 Stephanos (Ambrouzis) Ralli (1763-1829) is recorded as being in Constantinople and his son Ambrouzis (Stephanos) Ralli (1798-1886) in Trieste.
By Sarah Long
Key to the Rallis' success seems to have been their uncanny ability to foresee trouble, especially incipient wars, and to predict accurately the consequences for shipping. Thus, for example, in 1851 they open a branch in India at the ideal moment to be able to take advantage of the need for a substitute (Indian jute) for Russian hemp once the latter becomes scarce as a result of the 1854 Crimean War. Similarly, in 1861 a Bombay office enables them to provide Indian cotton to Liverpool in place of the cotton traditionally supplied from the Southern States now threatened by the American Civil War.
An clear example of this ability occurs in 1815, when the fall of Napoleon meant that the shipping map of Europe was about to change dramatically. Recently, Napoleon's blockade of the continental ports had meant that Livorno was vital to the lucrative Russian/British corn shipments but no longer. Stephanos (Iannis) Ralli (1755-1827), then living in luxury on the island of Chios in the Aegean, reacted by establishing a base in London, where his eldest and youngest sons duly arrived in 1818.
The extent of Stephanos's foresight can only be speculated at, but the fact remains that by the time of the disastrous events on Chios of 1822 the only one of his immediate family still on the island was a married daughter, most of the rest of the family by now living in Marseilles.
These two sons, Iannis 'John' Ralli (1785-1859) and Eustratios Ralli (1800-1884), are first recorded in the business directories of the time in 1823 (Ralli & Petrocochino of 5 Union Court, Old Broad Street). In 1826 comes the first reference to Ralli Brothers of 25 Finsbury Circus an address that still served as Head Office 125 years later.
The Ralli brothers of the firm's title soon comprised all the sons of Stephanos, scattered around the globe to take care of the business coming through the relevant ports: Iannis 'John' Ralli took charge of Odessa, Augustus (1792-1878) Marseilles, Pandia Ralli (1793-1865) London, Toumazis Ralli (1799-1858) Constantinople and Eustratios Ralli (1800-1884) Manchester.
As London director, Pandia must be seen as the senior figure, and indeed he soon became widely known as 'Zeus', which appellation seems also to have referred to his standing in the Greek community of London.
How much of the credit for Ralli's foresight, already commented on, can be taken by Pandia personally can only be speculation, but it is certainly true that under his leadership Ralli Brothers soon established, and maintained, a position as one of the leading firms of its kind.
This can be seen by their position as key members of the Baltic Exchange, the headquarters of the international grain trade (along with Michael Zarifi, Peter Rodocanachi and Anthony Ralli, among others).
When Ralli Brothers moved into finance and insurance is not clear, but by 1860 there are references to highly lucrative money-changing transactions in India. Incidentally, Stephanos Ralli was even invited at one point to become a director of the Bank of England, which gives some indication of the firm's standing in the City.
One undeniable example of Pandia's foresight is that in 1851 he brought his nephew Stephanos (Augustus) Ralli (1829-1902) from Marseilles to London to become 'heir apparent' of the firm this despite the fact that he had a son of his own, then a schoolboy at Eton. As it happens, this son, Peter, died of consumption aged only 30 but it would be stretching a point to credit even 'Zeus' with a sufficient degree of foresight to have predicted such an event!
Under the leadership of Pandia and, later, Stephanos, Ralli Brothers and its related companies underwent a variety of name-changes for diverse reasons, and companies were set up and closed down according to the prevailing needs of the time. Some of the most interesting of these C19th century changes were:
After Stephanos's death in 1902 the firm was led by his cousin Lucas (Eustratios) Ralli (1846-1931), who had first been made a partner in 1879 and who in his turn was later succeeded by his son Strati (1876-1964).
Whatever knack of prediction and skilful forward planning Ralli Brothers possessed, it seems to have been diluted or lost by the time of the 1920s, when the firm's history becomes a sorry tale of unwise diversification and, by 1961, dawn raids and loss of financial autonomy.
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