The Silk Enterprise

London Daily News: March 3, 1865 – London’s banker Webster Murphy Mark finances an enterprise in British India.  The famous Italian silk traders De Vecchi brothers , Henry de Vecchi & Achille de Vecchi, establish three silk factories near Mysore, financed by Webster Murphy Mark.

During a vacation in Ooty, Mark was introduced to Murugappa at Wellington club by
Rev J W Wynch. The Chaplain and Mark were having a drink when a dark and burly man in his fifties walked up to the table and occupied a seat. He was formally dressed; spoke with a thick accent that Mark found difficult to follow. Murugappa shared with the Chaplain about his recent trip to Ceylon and his visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Matara.

Mark met Murugappa the next day during his walk near the Rhalia Reserve, a settlement of the Toda people, a pastoral community living off the Nilgiri hills. Murugappa  was dressed in a cotton dhoti and a starched white shirt. He was talking to the Toda headman and pointing to the cattle grazing on the slopes.

When Murugappa saw Mark a smile lit his dark face, he invited him to his bungalow beyond the Reserve. There Mark was offered a drink and a snack of spicy chicken pakodas. Warmed by Murugappa’s hospitality Mark spent an hour there, he looked around Murugappa’s cattle farm at the end of the Reserve. The milk from the farm is sent to the dairy in Ooty, Murugappa explained.

Later during the day, over a drink Rev Wynch said, no one can beat the hospitality and business astuteness of a Nattukottai Chettiar, you had a glimpse of both!

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The Madras Native Herald : May 4, 1869 – Webster Murphy Mark who financed the Italian traders set up silk factory in Mysore, now establishes a similar enterprise  near Kanchipuram, in Madras Presidency. Murugappa Chettiar, a local banker and businessman from Karaikudi has a stake in the silk producing unit set up close to a large colony of silk weavers outside the town of Kanchipuram. The silk yarns produced here are of fine export quality.

Mark is tanned beyond recognition by the sun in Karaikudi. He stands on the cool terracotta tiles and sips spiced buttermilk that Selvi gave him. The gold bangles on her wrist leave bands of sweat on her bronzed hands, Mark keeps his hand close to hers and they smile. There is sadness in her eyes that he cannot handle.

His room is empty; there is only his pen & ink case that he is leaving behind, and the expensive writing papers that he bought in China during his visit to Suzhou to buy silkworms.  On a sheet of paper Selvi has written in Tamil script, Mark’s name several times. It seems strange for him to leave his name behind like that. Selvi fancied and kept for herself a silk cocoon that he brought from China to the silk farmers in Kanchipuram. Like a polished stone the cocoon sits on her table; looks like an egg, Selvi said the night he gave it to her.

He has a long journey ahead by road to Kanchipuram, and his suitcases are packed. Murugappa Chettiar waits at the large living room, his wife Visalakshi Achi swathed in a fine silk sari standing beside him. Achi has a worried look, she looks at her daughter Selvi with concern when she comes out of the room with Mark.

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