THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

71 posts categorized "Commerce"

14 November 2017

A paper maker makes the papers: the shocking death of William Moinier Leschallas

Add comment

Here in the British Library's Reference Team we often receive enquiries that spark our curiosity, tempting us to dig a little deeper. Following a recent request for help in establishing the identity of a paper manufacturer, I was surprised to find myself drawn into a Victorian mental health crisis, one which lead to a tragic death.

Tasked with establishing who watermarked their paper with the word ‘Moinier’ followed by the date, I began browsing newspaper reports on British Newspaper Archive. A search for ‘Moinier’ and ‘paper’ quickly revealed the full name of our man – William Lewis Moinier Leschallas. He was a wholesale stationer, rag merchant and manufacturer of a unique type of paper based in Chatham. His business ventures did not receive widespread media attention, but there was plenty of coverage in the circumstances of his demise.

Kendal Mercury

Kendal Mercury, Saturday 18 December 1852, British Newspaper Archive.

William ended his own life in 1852. His brother John Leschallas reported that William was 57 years old (although another report suggests he was 75, an early typo perhaps). This meant that he would have started seeing societal changes in approaches to mental health. At a local level, the 1808 County Asylums Act encouraged the building of county lunatic asylums. However, poor ‘lunatics’ often found themselves sent to workhouses, houses of correction or prisons, until asylum building became compulsory in 1845. These were intended to cure patients, where possible, with the introduction of new therapeutic regimes. A substantial number of patients were discharged from institutions within twelve months of admission.

Northampton General LA

‘The Northampton General Lunatic Asylum’, from Edward Pretty, 1849, Wetton's Guide-book to Northampton, and its vicinity, 1303.d.3. BL Flickr.

 

Sadly for William, he did not receive the support that he needed. A servant found his body seated upright between two piles of papers in his warehouse. A discharged pistol clasped in his right hand caused the bullet wound in his right temple. Many of the reports go into startling graphic detail about the servant’s gruesome discovery. The inquest into William’s suicide provides us with some understanding of what he was going through.

Witnesses alluded to William’s struggles with deteriorating mental health. His brother John told the Coroner that William had been suffering from deteriorating mental health for over a year. Problems were thought to have started shortly after a mill forming a significant part of his business was destroyed by a fire. This caused William believed that his business had fallen into financial difficulty. Prior to this, a report from 1836 suggested that William had encountered financial hardships before, when a partnership was dissolved because of growing debts.

Perry Bankrupt GazettePerry's Bankrupt Gazette, Saturday 06 February 1836, British Newspaper Archive

Scrutiny of accounts suggested that business had recovered, contrary to William’s beliefs, and was actually doing rather well. He thought that the company’s healthy accounts had been fabricated in order to mislead him. In a letter read out at the inquiry William mentioned that he thought he was being watched, and had attempted suicide on a previous occasion. This led to many newspapers declaring that William suffered from ‘delusions’ and ‘insanity’.

Carlisle JournalCarlisle Journal, Friday 24 December 1852, British Newspaper Archive

After all the evidence was heard at the inquest, the jury returned a verdict of ‘temporary insanity’.

Claire Wotherspoon

Manuscripts Reference Specialist

Further reading:

Barbara T. Gates, 2014, Victorian suicide: mad crimes and sad histories, YC.2015.b.2389.

Joseph Melling and Bill Forsythe (Eds.), 1999, Insanity, institutions, and society, 1800-1914: a social history of madness in comparative perspective, YC.2000.a.5463.

Andrew Scull, 1993, The most solitary of afflictions: madness and society in Britain 1700-1900, YC.1993.b.4876.

24 October 2017

English Nabob amasses a fortune from salt in Bengal

Add comment

Anselm Beaumont, an apothecary, arrived in Calcutta as a Free Merchant in 1753 with a chest of Mediterranean coral beads valued at £500. He was aged 38. He lost everything in the Siege of 1756 and was appointed a Factor in the East India Company 'because of his honourable conduct and his great losses in the late general calamity'. He was lent £1000 by each of his friends.

By 1759 he had risen to Senior Merchant and was the Provincial Military Store Keeper which included responsibility for the Mint. In 1763 he was appointed Resident in Midnapore with the task of building the new Fort. The British Library holds a transcript of his Letterbooks containing 217 business letters written between April 1763 and his death in 1776. These reveal that his major mercantile concern was the distribution of salt throughout West Bengal, some on his own behalf and some in partnership with other East India Company officials. A reasonable estimate is that he was distributing at least 10,000 tons a year making a profit of £10,000. He also dealt in opium for China, precious stones and coral imported from leading London jewellers and Indian textiles for export to England, as well as many other commodities.

Fort William in the Kingdom of Bengal
An 18th-century view of Fort William Bengal by Jan van Ryne, 1754 (P464)

He returned to England in 1765 with a fortune probably exceeding £70,000 since he bought Cheadle Park in Staffordshire for £30,000 as a buy-to-let investment. He had considerable problems in recovering his assets when the EIC stopped issuing company bills, resorting to French bills, diamonds and even a respondentia bond on a camel caravan between Basra and Aleppo. He was a close friend of Robert Clive, was portrayed in Benjamin West’s portrait of 'Lord Clive receiving the Grant of the Diwani', and accompanied him in 1773-74 on his travels to France and Italy, where Beaumont purchased 24 antique Roman sculptures, some of which were later purchased by Charles Townley and Lyde Browne for their collections.

The Grant of the Diwani
The Grant of the Diwani by Benjamin West, 1818 (Foster 29)
Beaumont is probably shown on the left side of the painting, head and shoulders in a black suit between an Indian in a turban and a young Englishman in red. He was not present at the ceremony but Clive asked for him to be included in the portrait.

The letters do contain some social news. When asked to make arrangements for a Miss Hyett he writes 'We have at present on hand 8 or 9 spinsters of a former importation not yet disposed & many of this year that I fear will be disappointed in their expectations I hope it will not be Miss Hyett’s Case'. Fortunately four months later he was able to write: 'Miss Hyett has not much depended on the Golden Tales she may have heard of Bengal as she thought proper to engage herself to Capt Pigou before her Arrival & was married soon after'.

 Thomaswaters
Letter from Beaumont to East India Company director Thomas Waters, 16th February 1764 (author's own collection)

After his death, Beaumont’s 'Household furniture, some pictures, china, fine linen, rich wardrobe and other valuable effects' were auctioned by James Christie in a two-day sale followed by a one day sale of his 'Well chosen library in fine condition'. The catalogues show that the six principal rooms in his Argyle Street house were lavishly furnished and his wardrobe included fifteen silk suits, four waistcoats and 140 shirts, of which 66 had not been worn!

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
P A K Covey-Crump. Typescript transcript of Anselm Beaumont’s letterbooks, 1763-1764, British Library Mss Eur F574

 

07 September 2017

David Scott, India merchant, and British Supercargoes at Macao

Add comment

Country ships, privately-owned British and Portuguese merchant vessels, were frequently employed by the networks of India merchants David Scott, William Fairlie and William Lennox.  Their myriad of business activities in India, China and elsewhere was also greatly helped by their use of agency houses, together with the establishment of Portuguese partners in Goa.  David Scott was a founder of many of these local and international alliances.

Portrait of David Scott
Portrait of David Scott (1746-1805), merchant and director of East India Company, by John Young (1798).  Image courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland  

Macao was important for both intra-regional and global trade.  Its residents included the Fitzhughs who were members of the East India Company Select Committee at Canton/Macao, and the British merchants John Henry Cox, a pioneer of the Nootka maritime fur trade, and Thomas Beale.  William Fitzhugh played a key role by going to Manila in 1787 to negotiate the Canton Committee's contract with the Royal Philippine Company with regard to bullion exchange.

Bird's ey view of Canton
Bird’s-eye view of Canton (Guangzhou) c.1770 

Merchants Michael Hogan, Alexander Tennant & Captain Donald Trail were all associates of David Scott. They traded slaves at Mozambique from the Cape and were at the vanguard of merchants making alliances with the Portuguese merchants in Goa and Macao to ship slaves to Brazil after British Abolition.

View of Goa Harbour
James Forbes, View of Goa Harbour (1813)

Another development was the illicit Malwa opium trade to China in the 18th century centred on Goa.  Scott, Adamson, Fairlie and the others were trading in opium from the 1780s, a precursor to the rise of the 19th century Bengal trade.

As merchants withdrew from their slave trading activities after British Abolition, they continued with 'investment' in the trade through Asian agency via Macao and India.
 
Ken Cozens and Derek Morris
Independent scholars

Further reading:
José Maria Braga, A Seller of 'sing-songs': A Chapter in the Foreign Trade of China and Macao (1967)
Cheong Weng Eang, 'Changing the Rules of the Game (The India-Manila Trade: 1785 - 1809)', Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2 September 1970, pp. 1-19.
Michael Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China 1800-1842 (1951).
Richard J. Grace, Opium & Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine & James Matheson (2014)
Celsa Pinto, Trade & Finance in Portuguese India: A study of the Portuguese Country Trade 1770-1840 (1994)
Arvind Sinha, The Politics of Trade: Anglo-French Commerce on the Coromandel Coast 1763-1793 (2002)

08 August 2017

Duncan Campbell: the Private Contractor and the Prison Hulk

Add comment

In 1776 Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) became the first superintendent of prison hulks stationed at Woolwich.  After the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, Britain was barred from transporting its felons to the colonies, where they had previously served sentences carrying out non-plantation labour.  The war with America caused a prison housing crisis; gaols in Britain could not cope with the volume of unexpected inmates and so in 1776 the Criminal Law Act, also known as the Hulks Act, was passed.

The act stated that convicts awaiting transportation would be employed in hard labour for ‘the benefit of the navigation of the Thames’.  At Woolwich, major dredging was needed to correct a drift in the river, and convicts provided a cheap workforce.  While their employment had been decided, the matter of housing hundreds of convicts was unresolved.  The state was unwilling to invest in new prisons as they were under economic strain from ongoing wars with both America and France.  A cheap and mobile solution was proposed; disused and dismantled warships, known as ‘hulks’ were to be used to house convicts along the banks of the Thames.

Engraving of Discovery Add MS 32360
Engraving of the Discovery, a prison hulk moored at Deptford. George Cooke after Samuel  Prout, 1826. British Library Add MS 32360; Item number: f. 112-B.

Duncan Campbell, who previously held the contract for transporting felons to Virginia, was successful in lobbying for the management of the hulk establishment. He proposed to use his ships, the Justitia and Censor, to house convicts at Woolwich.  Campbell’s attention was divided during the twenty-year period of his tenure; his niece was married to Captain William Bligh, commander of the HMS Bounty, the family’s estate Saltspring in Jamaica brought in returns of sugar and rum, and he was involved in lobbying for repayment of debts owed by America to British merchants, culminating in a meeting with Thomas Jefferson in 1786.

As a private contractor, Campbell’s management was subject to little regulation; quality of food was poor on the hulks, gaol fever -which became known as hulk fever- periodically ripped through the decks, and few medical or religious services were provided. Prison hulks drew the attention -and criticism- of prison reformers John Howard and Jeremy Bentham and after two years at Woolwich, a committee of inquiry headed by Sir Charles Bunbury in 1778 revealed appalling death rates; men were dying at a rate of one in four.  Despite these shocking figures, the system was allowed to continue, with some small improvements.

The hulk system under Campbell was not stable. He employed deputies and overseers who patrolled the decks of the hulks and the shores of the riverbank but escape and outbursts of violence occurred regularly.  Overseers were said to be afraid to descend the decks at night when lights were extinguished and portholes were shut.  Lacking clear instruction from the Home Office, Campbell was frustrated. In letters to officials, he asked if more could be done for men after they had served their sentences to stop them re-offending but few solutions were provided.  In 1802, Campbell’s contract was not renewed.  The system moved to more direct government control but the temporary measure of housing convicts on prison hulks continued for another fifty-five years, up until 1857.

Anna McKay
Collaborative Doctoral Student at the National Maritime Museum and the University of Leicester
Twitter: @AnnaLoisMcKay

Further reading:

Charles Campbell, The intolerable hulks: British shipboard confinement, 1776-1857, Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1994.
Criminal Law Act, 1776: 16 Geo. III, c.59.
Convict transportation & the Metropolis: the letterbooks and papers of Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) from the State Library of New South Wales. Marlborough: Adam Matthew Publications, 2005. Available on Microfilm at the British Library.

Victorian prisons and punishments
1862 Hulk
A Phantom Burglar and the Hulk

09 June 2017

Thomas Bowrey’s cloth samples

Add comment

To celebrate International Archives Day, we’re sharing some unexpected treasures we found in the India Office Private Papers.  One of the joys of being an archivist is the daily opportunity to be surprised and enchanted by the collections in our care.

Tucked away in a volume packed with closely-written correspondence and accounts are a number of cloth and colour samples from the early years of the 18th century.

MSS Eur D1076 (9)

MSS Eur D 1076

The papers belonged to Thomas Bowrey (d.1713), merchant and compiler of the first Malay-English dictionary.  As a young man, Bowrey worked as a ship’s pilot in the East Indies.  He then moved on to operating his own ships as an interloper breaching the monopoly of the East India Company in Asia. 

On his return to England in 1689, Bowrey married and settled in Wapping in East London.  He owned and freighted ships for the East India Company.

MSS Eur D1076 (10)

MSS Eur D 1076

The woollen cloth samples sewn onto papers show the colours selected as being suitable for export to the East Indies. 

MSS Eur D1076 (3)

MSS Eur D 1076

There is also a textile colour chart, like a modern paint chart.  The colours are still vibrant after 300 years.  The name which jumped out at me is number 18 - Gall Stone.  For lack of romance, this label certainly rivals the Persian silk colour described as Water Rat which featured in our story ‘Was 'water rat' the new black in 1697?’  

MSS Eur D1076 (6)

MSS Eur D 1076

So – Gall Stone, Water Rat.  I wonder what other surprising textile colour descriptions await discovery in the British Library collections?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
MSS Eur D 1076 Thomas Bowrey Papers
Margaret R. Hunt, ‘Bowrey, Thomas (d. 1713)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008

 

06 April 2017

English settlements on Madagascar – a tale of disaster

Add comment

East India Company ships regularly called at Madagascar for water and firewood, and bartered with the local people for supplies of beef and fresh provisions. But in the 1630s and 1640s there were English ambitions to establish a plantation on Madagascar.  The East India Company declined to become involved, saying all resources were fully committed to normal trading operations.

Madagascar 1655 Map of Madagascar 1655 from Gabriel Gravier, La Cartographie de Madagascar (Paris, 1896) 010095.g.13 BL flickr

In 1644 the Courteen Association sent 140 men, women and children as planters to Madagascar.  A settlement was established on the south side of St Augustine’s Bay.  But crops failed, there was not enough grass to pasture cattle, the settlers lacked proper supplies, and fever and dysentery struck. Faced with starvation, the survivors sailed for the Comoros in May 1646.

In the spring of 1649 an all-male group of planters set out. They planned to settle on one of the islands off the north-west coast of Madagascar. The East India Company was persuaded to reach an agreement with the merchants backing the venture, and in February 1650 sent two ships to drop more men and supplies at the plantation.  Presents were taken for the King of Assada – a small chariot which had belonged to Queen Anne, a sword, and a looking glass. But again death from disease and the hostility of the local people caused the planters to give up.  They sailed for Surat on 20 August 1650.  Most entered East India Company service as seamen, and the rest were sent home.

Bearblock journal

Extract from the journal of James Bearblock concerning his voyage to Assada and Bantam in the Supply  6 October 1650 - 16 March 1650/51 IOR/E/3/22 ff.29-36 (OC 2173)  Noc

This is what East India Company captain James Bearblock discovered when he arrived in the Supply at Madagascar in early October 1650:
‘As soon as the ship was moored, I sent the boat well manned ashore to Antifia, who when they came aland, found the town ruinated, and the most part burnt & not any inhabitant there, neither by my conjecture had been (for I went ashore presently after) of a long time.  But there we found scattered many bones and skulls of dead men to the number of 30 or thereabouts, and in the ruins of one great house, a piece of an English feather bed tick, with some feathers, and a piece of a rug, such as our company of planters were accommodated withall, with some shoes and slippers part burnt.  We also found in the same house, many great and small beads of glass striped, some whole and some melted.  Also hauling the seine in the river wee drew up at one draught one of the Company’s ammunition swords, just such a one as we had for the plantation.  This made me doubt more, having sad appearances of a tragic scene acted in that place.  I knew not suddenly what to conjecture of it, nor which way to apply myself to gain a real knowledge of this sad accident.  The natives were so shy, that it was impossible to have speech with them’.

Bearblock made repeated efforts to find the settlers before sailing to the Comoros where he learned what had happened.  Because of the inevitable time delay in news reaching London, the Company continued to send ships and planters to Assada, and the ships continued to search for the settlement before giving up and proceeding to India. The experiment was not attempted again.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company records: IOR/B Minutes of the Court of Directors; IOR/E/3 Correspondence with Asia
Alison Games, The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560-1660 (Oxford University Press, 2008)
William Foster, ‘An English settlement in Madagascar in 1645-6 ‘, English Historical Review, Vol.27, No. 106 (April 1912), pp.239-250

 

02 February 2017

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff

Add comment

In Saturday night’s episode of the BBC drama Taboo, James Delaney was keen to acquire saltpetre, the main constituent of gunpowder.  This resulted in a violent raid on the East India Company’s warehouse to steal a supply.

Saltpetre, or potassium nitrate, forms naturally in certain soils, or it can be manufactured by mixing decaying organic matter with alkalis. It was imported from India in large quantities by the East India Company .  In June 1814, the homeward bound East India fleet arrived in the Channel carrying 23,199 barrels of saltpetre.

  Liverpool Mercury 17 June 1814 saltpetre etc
Liverpool Mercury 17 June 1814 Noc

Because of its inflammable nature, the East India Company kept its saltpetre at a distance from the City of London.  Most was stored at the Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses which stood to the south of Cock Hill in Shadwell. The original Company warehouses built in 1775 by George Wyatt at a cost of £16,000 were destroyed by fire in July 1794.

The Times reported that the fire began at the premises of Mr Cloves, a barge builder, when a pitch kettle that stood under his warehouse boiled over.  As it was low water, the flames spread to an adjacent barge laden with saltpetre and other stores. ‘The blowing-up of the salt-petre from the barge, occasioned large flakes of fire to fall on the warehouses belonging to the East-India Company, from whence the salt-petre was removing to the Tower (20 tons of which had been fortunately taken the preceding day). The flames soon caught the warehouses, and here the scene became dreadful; the whole of these buildings were consumed, with all their contents, to a great amount.  The wind blowing strong from the south, and the High-street of Ratcliffe being narrow, both sides caught fire, which prevented the engines from being of any essential service.’

‘The Saltpetre destroyed at the late fire at Ratcliffe, ran towards the Thames and had the appearance of cream-coloured lava; and when it had reached the water, flew up with a prodigious force in the form of an immense column.  Several particles of the petre were carried by the explosion as far as Low Layton, a distance of near six miles.’  

A fund was launched to provide relief for the hundreds of people who had lost their homes and their personal belongings, including working tools, in the fire. The Company subscribed 200 guineas to this fund and quickly set about rebuilding and enlarging the saltpetre warehouses with the addition of an embankment on the Thames.

Free Trade Wharf 3

The former East India Company saltpetre warehouses from the Thames embankment. Author's photo Noc

   Saltpetre warehouse ground plan

Ground plan of Ratcliff saltpetre warehouse 1835 IOR/L/L/2/987 Noc

The Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses have survived to the present day, escaping the threat of further fires and explosions to outlive the East India Company warehouses storing less dangerous cargoes. Two of the original three buildings have been restored.as part of the Free Trade Wharf development.

  Free Trade Wharf 1

Two blocks face each other across a courtyard running between the Thames embankment and The Highway. Author's photo Noc

 

The Company arms appear over the 1796 gateway on The Highway side which was rebuilt in 1934. 

Free Trade Wharf 2

1796 gateway on The Highway surmounted by the East India Company arms. Author's photo Noc

I strongly recommend the walk from Limehouse Basin following the Thames path round to Free Trade Wharf.  The views down the river are very impressive, especially on a sunny day.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The Times Friday 25 July 1794 p.2d; Saturday 26 July 1794 p.3d.
The India Office Records holds property documents for the Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses – IOR/L/L/2/969-1170.

 

27 January 2017

The East India Company and Nootka Sound

Add comment

Viewers of the BBC TV series Taboo have heard about Nootka Sound and the machinations of the East India Company to acquire land there owned by James Keziah Delaney. Taboo is fictional, but Nootka is a real place and the East India Company had indeed been interested in it in the late 18th century.

Nootka is situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia, Canada.  The Sound is one of many inlets along the Pacific coast of the island.

 Vancouver Island

 From Handbook to Vancouver Island and British Columbia (London, 1862) Noc

Captain James Cook’s third voyage (1776-1780) had shown that there was potential for a maritime fur trade between North West America and China.  As China lay within the area of the East India Company’s trading monopoly, it was likely that British merchants would try to circumvent this restriction by entering foreign employment. To avoid losing out, the Company had to enter the fur trade itself or license British traders to operate at Canton in China.  Experimental voyages were sent out from England, India, and Macao. One of these was the result of a proposal sent to the East India Company in 1785 by Richard Cadman Etches, a London merchant. Etches headed a syndicate consisting of merchants and gentlemen, and one woman - Mary Camilla Brook, tea dealer of London.

 

Nootka

From James Bryce, A Cyclopædia of Geography (London, 1862) BL flickr Noc


In May 1785 Etches met with the Directors who sat on the Company's Committee of Correspondence. He proposed sending the ships King George and Queen Charlotte to the North West Coast of America where small trading posts would be established to purchase furs and other goods to sell in Japan and China. The Committee agreed that it was safe for the Company’s interests to grant a licence to the two ships to trade within the limits of its charter. However strict conditions were laid down, with large financial penalties if broken:

• The ships were to go to America via Cape Horn or the Straits of Magellan and then on to Japan or other places northward to sell furs and other goods.
• The ships were not to go southward or westward of Canton or westward of New Holland (Australia).
• No European goods were to be supplied to Canton.
• Money received for furs and other goods was to be paid into the Company treasury at Canton in return for bills of exchange.
• Unsold furs were to be offered to the Company's supercargoes at Canton, possibly for sale in India.
• If Etches’ ships were sound, they were to be used to carry a cargo of tea and other Chinese goods to London.  They needed to be free of any smell which might damage the tea. If unsuitable, the ships could go back to North West America and load goods for Europe.
•  If the traders upset the native peoples within the Company's monopoly limits, they were to make reparation so that Company interests were not damaged.

There are some journals for Etches’ ships in the East India Company archives as well as many papers about the various Nootka Sound expeditions, including ‘Additions to Capt. Cook's Vocabulary of the Nootka Sound Language’.  Plenty to satisfy the curiosity of anyone wanting to delve into the themes of Taboo!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Barry M Gough, Distant Dominion (University of British Columbia, 1980).
IOR/H/800 Papers concerning a Voyage to Nootka Sound.
IORL/MAR/B/404-O Journal of the voyage of the Prince of Wales to North West America and China 1786-1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/477A Journal of the voyage of the Queen Charlotte from China to England 1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/402G Journal of the voyage of the King George from China to England 1788.
IOR/D/120 Committee of Correspondence 6 May 1785.

IOR/D - the papers of the Committee of Correspondence 1700-1858 - now accessible as a digital resource:
East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.