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Bearsted, Marcus Samuel, First Viscount


BEARSTED, MARCUS SAMUEL, FIRST VISCOUNT (1853–1927), founder of the Shell Oil Company. Marcus Samuel was educated at Jewish schools in London and Brussels before joining the firm established by his father Marcus Samuel, who had prospered in the Far Eastern trade, principally from selling fancy shells and ornamental shell boxes. In 1878, the younger Marcus Samuel formed his own business partnership with his brother Sam (1855–1934), who later sat as a member of parliament for 20 years. Marcus Samuel successfully traded in the Orient, particularly Japan. Subsequently he became London banker to the Japanese government. Samuel entered the oil trade in 1892, built a fleet of tankers, and founded the Shell Transport and Trading Company in 1897. His neglect of his business during his year as lord mayor (1902–03) resulted in Shell's amalgamation with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company on what seemed disadvantageous terms, but he proved indispensable to the new organization. This move served Britain well in World War i. Another momentous war service was the supply of toluol, an essential ingredient in explosives. Marcus Samuel made generous donations to both Jewish and non-Jewish charities. The Bearsted Memorial Hospital, a maternity hospital in London, bears his name and was financed by him. Samuel was lord mayor of London in 1902–03, the fifth Jew to hold this office. In 1921, he was made baron, and in 1925, Viscount Bearsted. Although holding no important Jewish communal offices, Samuel used his influence to help persecuted Jews. While lord mayor of London he refused, in the face of opposition, to invite the Romanian ambassador to the lord mayor's banquet as a protest against Romania's treatment of its Jewish citizens. His brother Samuel Samuel was the founder of M. Samuel, a prominent City of London merchant bank.

His son walter horace samuel, second viscount bearsted (1882–1948) succeeded his father as chairman of Shell in 1920. A notable art collector, he was chairman of the trustees of the National Gallery in London. He also held various Jewish communal offices. The third viscount marcus richard samuel (1909–86) was chairman of the Bearsted Memorial Hospital and president of the Jewish Home and Hospital.


R. Henriques, Marcus Samuel, First Viscount Bearstead… (1960); Times (Nov. 10, 1948); jc (Jan. 21, 1927 and Nov. 12, 1948). add. bibliography: odnb online; dbb, V, 43–46.

[Vivian David Lipman]

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