THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

66 posts categorized "Commerce"

06 April 2017

English settlements on Madagascar – a tale of disaster

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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

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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

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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.

 

19 January 2017

From Stats Man to Ad Man: Jesse Scott

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The history of advertising is told via great men: in the early 1960s David Ogilvy wrote his Confessions of an Advertising Man and Winston Fletcher recently published his memoir-cum-history Powers of Persuasion. This blog tells of an untold life in advertising: that of a journalist turned statistician, Jesse Scott, whose periodical, The Statistical Review of Press Advertising, is often neglected by social and economic historians of modern Britain.

Contentspage

The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1949 - a problematic year of continuing austerity for the advertising trade when the Labour government sort to restrain proto-Mad Men! 

Jesse Scott migrated to the UK from the US and in 1928 set up a company to publish the American Legion magazine in Europe. This venture failed but his friends put a proposition to him. They noted that advertising in the UK was expanding fast and so manufacturers and the media required new sources of information: why did he not exploit this gap in the market by getting his company to counter all the ‘soft pedal and hush hush about expenditure’? (The Review, I, 1, October 1932.)

From 1932 to 1962 Scott’s company produced hard facts about the hard sell. The Review published figures on advertising expenditure by surveying quarterly all the space given over to display advertisements in national daily, evening and Sunday papers; provincial daily and evening papers; provincial and suburban weekly papers; and weekly and monthly trade and technical periodicals. From 1956 The Review also included expenditure on commercial television.

Example of data

The Review categorised data by product type, brand and firm: note that expenditure on Mars was the highest, and that this would have been a luxury product during the war and post-war austerity as sweets were rationed and expensive.
  

To compute an estimate of total expenditure, Scott multiplied his estimates of space given to adverts by standard market rates for advertising copy. From the 1940s and beyond, social scientists and the Advertising Association used these figures to calculate total expenditure on advertising, adding in non-mass media forms such as posters and direct mail (see Clayton for a critical evaluation of these methods).

Advertisement

The Review generated revenue via subscriptions and from adverts placed by media organisations, such as newspaper groups and advertising agencies as illustrated by this page promoting G. S. Royds Ltd.

By the mid twentieth century expenditure on advertising had become a controversial subject: scholars, politicians and cultural commentators alleged that vast sums were being wasted on puffery. In 1953, for example, Aneurin Bevan, a Labour MP, ex-cabinet minister and de facto leader of left-wing faction within the Party, provoked delegates at the Advertising Association conference by labelling advertising as “evil’—a trade that created a consumer who was “passive, besieged, assaulted, battered and robbed” (Sean Nixon, Hard Sell, p. 164).

Make_Do_and_Mend_Art.IWMPST14924

Make do and Mend - The government also advertised and The Review counted this expenditure which, as in this case of a wartime propaganda poster, presented the anti-thesis to the message of private sector adverts: consume more branded goods.

Scott disagreed with this socialist critique and he used his editorials to argue that advertising had social value: it was, he argued, a means by which consumers gained information about products, and thus a vital component of a dynamic capitalist economy. As an American he was ideally placed to promote advertising, which in the US had become, he claimed, ‘an indispensible element in sustaining economic activity’. Scott believed that if British firms were to compete at home and overseas they had to adopt American methods of selling, and embrace advertising wholeheartedly. Jesse Scott, Stats Man, had become Ad Man, an advocate for advertising.

David Clayton
University of York, UK

Further reading:
The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1932-December 1962 British Library General Reference Collection P.P.1423.clr.
Clayton, D. (2010) ‘Advertising expenditure in 1950s Britain’, Business History, 52, 651-665.
Nixon, S. (2013) Hard sell: Advertising, affluence and transatlantic relations, c. 1951-69 (Manchester University Press, Manchester).

 

17 January 2017

Major new digital resource for the India Office Records

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A major new digital resource has just become available for researching the East India Company and the India Office.  You can now take an online journey through 350 years of history, from the foundation of the East India Company to Indian Independence.

Adam Matthew Digital has digitised four series of India Office Records -
IOR/A: East India Company: Charters, Deeds, Statutes and Treaties 1600-1947
IOR/B: Minutes of the East India Company’s Directors and Proprietors, 1599-1858
IOR/C: Council of India Minutes and Memoranda, 1858-1947
IOR/D: Minutes and Memoranda of General Committees and Offices of the East India Company, 1700-1858

I have selected some documents to give you just a taste of the kinds of records you can view in the digital collection..

IOR B 1 f.6
IOR/B/1 f.6

Let’s start with the list of the first subscribers to the Company drawn up in September 1599. Differing amounts of money were pledged as investments in the proposed venture to trade with the East Indies.  The Lord Mayor of London heads the list followed by Aldermen and members of the City Livery Companies. Queen Elizabeth I granted a royal charter to the Company on 31 December 1600.

 

IOR B 2 f.20 Instructions to Henry Middleton cropped
IOR/B/2 f.20

Next is an extract from the instructions given by the East India Company to Henry Middleton before he sailed as General of the Second Voyage in 1604.  The Company hoped that Middleton would be able ‘to bringe this longe and tedious voyadge to a profitable end’.  Sailors were to be disciplined for blasphemy and ‘all Idle and fillthie Communicacion’ and banned from unlawful gaming, especially playing dice.


 

IOR B 26 p.278

IOR/B/26 p.278

Here are the Court Minutes for 1 August 1660 which discussed the business affairs of Robert Tichborne, an East India Company Director who had signed the death warrant of King Charles I.  The newly restored King Charles II was taking action to seize Tichborne’s property, including his investments in the Company. Tichborne was tried as a regicide in October 1660 and sentenced to death. He was spared but spent the rest of his life in prison. 

 

IOR D 7 p.876 cropped
IOR/D/7 p.876

In February 1821 Dr George Rees sent a note about patients placed at his mental health asylum by the East India Company.  Lieutenant Felham was very dangerously ill and the use of wine was absolutely necessary for him. Frederick Haydn was to have a violin provided for him. 

 

IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 
IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 - 2 cropped
 IOR/C/121

On 3 March 1931 the Council of India recommended that Lord Willingdon, on his appointment as Viceroy, should be allowed to take out to India five motor cars at a total cost of £3450 instead of one good Rolls Royce and 3 other cars.

 

IOR A 1 102
IOR/A/102 Instrument of Abdication

We finish with the Instrument of Abdication, one of six that Edward VIII signed at Fort Belvedere, Windsor Great Park, on 10 December 1936. The document is signed by Edward VIII and his three brothers. An Act of Parliament effected the King’s abdication on the following day, ending a reign of less than a year. India received this copy by virtue of the King’s position as Emperor of India. The document was delivered to the Secretary of State for India.

East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.  Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Happy hunting!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:

East India Company: Rise to Demise
Human Stories from the East India Company

 

29 September 2016

Persian carpets for European consumers

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Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle spent twenty-four years working as a British colonial administrator in the Persian Gulf before retiring in the summer of 1939. During that time he amassed a collection of thirteen Persian carpets.

  Mss Eur F126-28, f 16

Extract of an advert from the journal The Nineteenth Century, dated 1892. Mss Eur F126/28, f 16  Noc

Prior to returning to England, Fowle put the carpets up for sale at the Political Agency in Bahrain. A list in an Agency file offers details of Fowle’s carpets. Five of the cheapest were described as Baluchi (i.e. made in Baluchistan), their price likely reflecting their small size. Four further carpets originated from Turkmenistan, while the two most expensive items were manufactured in the city of Kashan, renowned for its superior carpets of intricate design.

IOR-R-15-2-1531, f 26.

 List of carpets for sale at the Bahrain Political Agency. IOR/R/15/2/1531, f 26. Noc

Europe’s affluent middle-classes became avid collectors of Persian carpets in the nineteenth century. Letters from the East India Company Resident in the Persian port of Bushire indicate that carpets were being sourced for European markets as early as 1813. In the meantime, a succession of European travellers to Persia, including the novelist James Morier and colonial administrators Henry Pottinger and John Johnson, penned narratives in which richly decorated carpets were closely associated with the opulence of the Persian court.

  IOR-R-15-1-12, ff 156-157

Extract of a letter from William Bruce, Acting Resident at Bushire to Francis Warden, Chief Secretary to the Government, Bombay, 17 January 1813.

IOR/R/15/1/12, ff 156-157 Noc

The European (and American) market for carpets had grown to such an extent that by the 1880s, demand outstripped supply. ‘Very old carpets are now extremely rare,’ reported Robert Murdoch Smith in 1883, while sourcing Persian carpets for the South Kensington (now V&A) Museum. In response to a diminishing supply of carpets, commercial companies, including manufacturers from England, set up carpet-making factories in Persia, with the intention of catering specifically to their domestic markets.

In 1883 the Manchester firm Zielger & Company established premises at Sultanabad (now Arak) consisting of houses for their employees, offices, stores and dyeing rooms. This was no factory though; carpets continued to be hand-woven by women and children in the home, although now according to orders and designs stipulated by the Company. Between 1894 and 1914 the number of looms in Sultanabad increased thirty-fold, from 40 to 1,200 (equating to one loom for every 5.8 persons in the town).

Mostasham_Kashan_19th_century (1)

 Nineteenth century Kashan carpet. Source: ArtDaily.com (Public Domain) Noc

 

Although one British colonial administrator reported that the firm was ‘much liked by the villagers’, evidence of the exploitation of weavers elsewhere was reported. The impressions of other visitors to Persia suggest that some carpet production had shifted to grim karkhanas (or manufactories), described as ‘low, dark, miserable rooms’, often with a ‘sour and sickening atmosphere’, in which ‘weakly children of ten or twelve years’ laboured on carpets, under pressure to complete ‘a certain allotted portion per diem’. In 1913 the British Resident at Bushire noted there was ‘no doubt that the industry as carried on is responsible for a great deal of human misery, in deforming and arresting the development of children, especially the girls’.

Of Fowle’s carpets, the expensive Kashanis remained unsold. They were returned to Fowle’s widow after the War (Fowle himself having died suddenly in 1940), but not before being lost by staff of the Southern Railway Company, and spending two months in the lost property office at Waterloo Station.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project Cc-by

British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading:
British Library, London, Volume 12: Letters outward. IOR/R/15/1/12  – East India Company correspondence dated 1811 to 1813.
British Library London, ‘Gazetteer of Persia. Volume II’ (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/3/1) – for a description of the Ziegler & Co.’s activities at Sultanabad.
British Library, London, ‘Administration Report of the Persian Gulf Political Residency for the Years 1911-1914' (IOR/R/15/1/711) – reporting attempts to reform conditions in carpet-weaving factories at Kerman, 1913.
British Library, London, ‘File 16/32-II Miscellaneous. Correspondence with the Residency, Bushire.’ (IOR/R/15/2/1531) – correspondence relating to Trenchard Fowle’s carpets.
George Nathaniel Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892), 523-525.
Frederic John Goldsmid, Telegraph and Travel (London: MacMillan & Co., 1874), 586-587.
Edward Stack, Six Months in Persia Vol. 1 (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1882), 209.
Leonard Helfgott, “Carpet Collecting in Iran, 1873-1883: Robert Murdoch Smith and the Formation of the Modern Persian Carpet Industry” Muqarnas Vol.7 (1990), 171-181.

 

26 May 2016

Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar

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Today is the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence, a country on the northern coast of South America. Formally known as British Guiana, it had a rich and diverse history. Journalist Lainy Malkani takes a look back at some archive newspapers with a remarkable link to one of the most expensive stamps in the world.

 

Royal Gazette 4 Mar 1856

‘Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar.’  Royal Gazette 4 March 1856 Noc


Judging by the variety of notices and adverts posted in the Royal Gazette in 1856, Georgetown, must have been a bustling and at times chaotic city. The proprietors of the printing shop, Messrs. William Dallas, Esq, who was one of a growing number of successful mixed-race businessmen, and Joseph Baum from Pennsylvania, were in the thick of it.

 The search for ‘100 Hogshead of Sugar’, is just one of thousands of ‘Wanted’ ads placed in the newspaper, and leafing through just one day in the life of the city feels like time travel at its best. On Tuesday 4 March 1856, Rose and Duff wanted to purchase ‘100 Puncheons of Rum’ while a shipment from London of 600 tonnes of ‘shingle ballast, gravel and sand’ was available for any discerning developer to buy if they had cash at the ready. On other days, an advert announcing the arrival of ships from Calcutta, laden with bags of rice and mustard oil for Indian indentured labourers indicates the country’s increasingly diverse population after emancipation in 1834.

 

Royal Gazette 3 Jan 1856

‘IRVING BROTHERS OFFER FOR SALE’  Royal Gazette  3 Jan 1856 Noc

 

The Royal Gazette, later known as the Official Gazette was regarded as the voice of the colonial administration and Government announcements were frequently posted. Disturbances in the city led to William Walker, the Government Secretary to decree that a reward of $50 dollars for information that led to a conviction of the troublemakers, would be withdrawn and replaced with a $250 reward - perhaps it was a sign of the fragility of peace in the city.

The printing office was located at No23 High Street and Church-Street in the upmarket district of Cumingsburg and it printed more than just newspapers. In 1843, it published a ‘Local Guide of British Guiana,’ a compilation of all the current laws as well as an historical sketch of the city. 

  Georgetown 1

From Local Guide to British Guiana (Georgetown: Baum & Dallas, 1843) Noc


But perhaps their greatest claim to fame was not as printers of newspapers or books, but of stamps, and one in particular, which is now the most expensive and rarest in the world.

The story begins with a delay in the shipment of postage stamps dispatched from London to British Guiana. By 1856, supplies were running low and so the local postmaster ordered Baum and Dallas to print a batch of one-cent stamps as postage for newspapers and a four-cent stamp for letters. The last remaining One-Cent Magenta recently sold at Sotheby’s for $9.5 million and the Four-Cent Magenta and Four-Cent Blue form part of an unrivalled collection of rare stamps donated by the wealthy Victorian businessman Thomas Tapling, held here at the British Library.

 

  British guiana677
British Guiana 4-Cent Magenta Noc

 

All in all, 1856 was a pretty good year for Baum and Dallas. The newspaper was now being printed three days a week instead of two, a sure sign that business was doing well. They had also, unwittingly secured a place in history as printers of the most valuable stamp in the world.

Lainy Malkani
Writer, broadcaster and founder of the Social History Hub

 

 

16 May 2016

William Adams – from Gillingham to Japan

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William Adams, often described as 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  He has become a powerful symbol of Anglo-Japanese friendship, and each year a memorial service is held in Hirado in his honour. The British Library holds letters written by Adams to the English East India Company and so curators from the Library send an annual message to be read aloud at the service.

Here is part of a letter dated 23 October 1611 which was sent by William Adams at Hirado to his fellow countrymen at Bantam.

Adams William - letter E 3 1 B20095-09
IOR/E/3/1 ff.122-129v Images Online  Noc

The letter provided a potted biography to explain how Adams came to be in Japan, starting with his birth in Gillingham Kent and his apprenticeship in Limehouse to ship owner Nicholas Diggins. Following service with Queen Elizabeth’s ships and the Barbary Merchants, Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598. After a disastrous voyage, Adams arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600.  Adams became immersed in local customs and built a new life for himself in Japan, prospering under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu. 

When the Dutch and English East India Companies arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively, Adams helped them to establish factories (trading posts) at Hirado. Adams served the English as interpreter and adviser and also undertook local trading voyages for them.

Adams had married Mary Hyn at St Dunstan Stepney on 20 August 1589 and they had at least two children.  One was a daughter named Deliverance. Letters passed between William and Mary while he was in Japan, and he arranged for money to be paid to her in London by the East India Company.  He also had a Japanese wife by whom he had a son Joseph and a daughter Susanna.  Another child was said to have been born in Hirado to a Japanese woman.

Hirado B20095-11

Sea route from Hirado to Osaka, Japan Or.70.bbb.9. (roll 2) Images Online Noc


Adams remained in Japan until his death. His will was dated 16 May 1620, the day he died, and probate was granted to Mary Adams in London on 8 October 1621.  He wished his estate to be divided into two parts, half going to his ‘lovinge wyfe & children in England’ and the other half to Joseph and Susanna.

His daughter Deliverance married Ratcliff mariner Raph Goodchild at St Dunstan Stepney on 30 September 1618. Records show that they had two daughters: Abigail baptised and buried in October 1619, and Jane baptised on 8 April 1621.

In August 1624, Deliverance Goodchild petitioned the Court of Directors for payment of her father's investment sent home on the Company ships Moon and Elizabeth.  Her mother Mary had died, leaving her share to Deliverance.

Very little else is known about William’s children.  I have discovered that Deliverance  was married for a second time to John Wright at St Alfege Greenwich on 13 October 1624. Joseph Adams made five voyages to Cochin China and Siam between 1624 and 1635.  Susanna was given a present by East India Company merchant Richard Cocks  in 1622 but then she disappears from the records.

Can any of our readers shed more light on the family of William Adams?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623 (London, 1991)
IOR/E/3 Correspondence of overseas East India Company servants
IOR/B Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors
Parish records at London Metropolitan Archives