THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

28 December 2015

‘Four Cheeses in Lead and a Harpsechord’

What essential items did a Christian missionary need to undertake his duties in India in the 1760s?

On 17 November 1762 Thomas Broughton, Secretary to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company to ask that a number of goods required by their Protestant missionaries on the Coromandel Coast be taken out to India by a Company ship.

The list of goods was primarily focused on writing and reading materials –religious books and tracts, reams of paper, sealing wax, ink powder, parchment and 500 quills. Materials and supplies for their printing press were also in demand including tools for its repair and two pairs of iron chases.

Other supplies being sent included soap, penknives, a barometer and thermometer, foreign silver to be used locally as currency, and a harpsichord.

 

  Harpsichord

Image taken from Edward Eggleston, A history of the United States and its people, for the use of Schools (1888) BL flickr   Noc

 
The food supplies were an unusual assortment; along with prunes and pearl barley were four cheeses in lead, lead being the preferred container method for shipping perishable goods at that time, four chests of beer and a case of red port.  The most surprising items being shipped however were indigo and cinnabar, bright pigment dyes which the East India Company obtained from their factories in India and South Asia, but which the Society chose to send to its missionaries from England rather than obtaining it locally on the Coromandel Coast.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading
IOR/E/1/44, ff. 634-635

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