Josiah Child was the second son of Richard Child, a merchant of Fleet Street and High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1640, and his wife, Elizabeth Roycroft of Weston Wick, Shropshire. He was baptized at St Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange, London, on 27 February 1631.
Child demonstrated a talent for business from his earliest days when he was apprenticed to a merchant in London. In a short time he had branched out on his own, largely as a supplier of timber and victualler to the Navy as well as providing financial services to the admiralty. He is first seen in Portsmouth in 1654, when, on the 26th December he married Hannah, daughter of Edward Boate, Master Shipwright at St. Thomas's Church in a civil marriage ceremony conducted by the mayor Francis Holt.
By the following year, at the age of only 24 years, he was appointed deputy treasurer of the navy at Portsmouth where he was responsible for cash transfers and allocation of prize money. He was obviously a devious and cunning man even at this age as he recommended delaying the payment of seamen's wages for one voyage until the ships were actually at sea on the next thereby encouraging the men to return to their ships. In the same year, 1655, Child was admitted a burgess in Portsmouth, then a year later he was elected Alderman and finally in 1658 he became Mayor of Portsmouth as well as MP for Petersfield. During his short reign as mayor he built a municipal market place in return for a lease of the stalls for ten years and is said to have presented the corporation with a magnificant silver gilt mace which was still in use hundreds of years later. In 1662, Child, along with a large number of other burgesses were ejected from the corporation for suspected disloyalty by Commissioners sent down by Parliament, presumably at the behest of Charles II.
Child's association with the navy was not entirely finished though as in 1665 Samuel Pepys recognised Child's potential and recommended his appointment as Victualler. He was not destined to win that position however, probably because he was not popular with either the shipmasters in general or James, Duke of York in particular who suspected that Child was a Commonwealthsman and in any case did not like the idea of having merchants on the Navy Board. Although Child was not appointed to the Board his involvement with victualling did not end, indeed he flourished, though payment from the Board was desperately slow, some agreements taking up to thirty years to complete.
By this time Child had left Portsmouth and moved to Wanstead in Essex and by 1671 had begun his lifelong interest in the East India Company, the stock of which he gradually accumulated until in 1691 he owned shares worth over 50,000 which enabled him to virtually control the company. He was never elected to senior office within the company as once again his loyalty to the crown was suspect, at least it was in the eyes of the king. This did not prevent Child from giving the king 10,000 per annum as a way of buying a priviledged status as a merchant, free from parliamentary interference.
Lilley and Everitt credit Child with a reputation as an economic theorist. Whilst others looked upon money as an end in itself, 'Child was able to show that money was merely the means of communication between the producers and consumers of wealth - that it was only useful when kept in motion'.
In 1678 he had purchased a baronetcy and for much of the rest of his life held prominent public positions in London, Essex and Warwickshire. He developed his estate at Wanstead at enormous cost and married twice more after Hannah died in 1662. His heir, also Josiah, was born in December 1668 and died childless in 1704, the barontcy then passing to his half-brother Richard.
Tim Backhouse
Dictionary of National Biography, article by Richard Grassby
"Illustrated History of Portsmouth" by William Gates
"Portsmouth Parish Church" by H.T. Lilley and A.T. Everitt