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260 posts categorized "Journeys"

21 March 2017

Mary Dorothea Shore – a life brought out of the shadows

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Mary Dorothea Shore was the first wife of East India Company supercargo Thomas Shore whom we met in a recent post. She has been overlooked in narratives of the Shore family and so I should like to bring her out of the shadows.

Mary Dorothea was the daughter of Robert Hawthorn and his wife Dorothy, baptised in London at St Sepulchre Holborn in August 1709. Robert was an apothecary who had served as a surgeon’s mate on HMS Ranelagh.  He died when Mary Dorothea was a baby – his widow was granted probate of his estate in October 1710.

  St Sepulchre
St Sepulchre 1737 - from George Walter Thornbury, Old and New London, London  (1887)   Noc

Dorothy Hawthorn then married an officer in the East India Company’s maritime service named John Shepheard (d.1734). I have found baptisms for two children born to John and Dorothy Shepheard.  Son John was baptised in 1716 at St Alphage London Wall and appears to have died in childhood. Daughter Dorothy was baptised on 13 June 1725 and the register of  St Mary Whitechapel  records that her mother was dead – the burial took place on 17 June.  I wonder who cared for half-sisters Mary Dorothea and Dorothy whilst John Shepheard sailed on long voyages to Asia?

The next event for the family which I have traced is the marriage in 1732 of Mary Dorothea to John Edgell, an officer at Custom House.  John Shepheard gave his step-daughter a marriage portion of £1,000. The Edgells had six children baptised at St Mary Whitechapel: Mary, Priscilla, William, Amelia, and two sons called John who died in infancy. But in 1740 Mary Dorothea and John agreed to separate because of ‘some unhappy differences’. 

On 11 July 1741 John Edgell was admitted to Bethlem Hospital which cared for mental ill health.  He died there on 7 August 1741. His will provided for his children William, Mary, Priscilla and Amelia, but left only one shilling to his wife together with the income from her marriage jointure.  John died owing considerable debts and Mary Dorothea entered into Chancery proceedings to settle her husband’s estate.

The_Hospital_of_Bethlem_(Bedlam)_at_Moorfields _London;_seen_Wellcome_V0013185

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London Wellcome Images

However provision was made for Mary Dorothea by John Shore, East India Company warehouse-keeper and father to supercargo Thomas Shore. It seems that the Shore and Shepheard families had become friends through their Company connection.  John Shore died in October 1741 and his will gave Mary Dorothea £40 a year and possession of his house in Alie Street, Goodman’s Fields, with all the contents, until his ‘beloved’ son Thomas returned to England.

Thomas Shore returned from China in the late summer of 1743.  He was granted probate of his father’s will on 15 August and married Mary Dorothea on 29 August.

In 1745 Mary Dorothea and her half-sister Dorothy Shepheard were living together in Wanstead, Essex, whilst Thomas set off on another voyage to China.  They gave evidence at the Chelmsford trial of Jonathan Byerly who was convicted of breaking into the Shore house at night and stealing a quantity of silver items.  Byerly was sentenced to be hanged.

Mary Dorothea must have died within the next five years, because on 6 September 1750 Thomas Shore married Dorothy Shepheard. Was Mary Dorothea excluded from the Shore family story to avoid drawing attention to the blood relationship between Thomas’s first and second wives?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/L/MAR/B Ship journals for the voyages of John Shepheard and Thomas Shore, and IOR/B East India Company Court of Directors Minutes for the careers of John Shepheard and John and Thomas Shore.
Will of John Shore 1741 - The National Archives  PROB  11/713
Legal papers for the Edgell family - The National Archives C 11/2085/7
Case of Jonathan Byerley - The National Archives  ASSI 94/726

14 March 2017

John Syms, Puritan naval chaplain (and librarian)

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A “day-booke” kept by a Puritan minister, John Syms, has primarily been used as an historical source for studying the events of the English Civil War, especially in and around the Parliamentary stronghold of Plymouth.  The journal is also of significant importance to book historians as Syms listed the books he owned and read over the period.  A further list reveals the chaplain’s role as an early ‘librarian at sea’; Syms served as a naval chaplain aboard a Parliamentary man-of-war.

  Syms 1

"I came aboard the Providence: Aug 3 1644”, Syms listed a small collection of books he took with him. Add MS 35297 f1v  Noc

 

Naval chaplains were not ubiquitous in the Early Stuart period and prior to this time were usually only found on larger ships.  Some captains preferred to be autonomous and free of the (moral) constraints represented by a chaplain.  Why take along a (paid) chaplain when a captain or other suitably appointed person could perform religious services at sea?  In the first 60 years of voyages undertaken by the East India Company from 1601, just 40 chaplains were appointed.

Whether on long voyages across oceans or on ships operating along home coasts, the liturgical role of the chaplain expanded from leading religious services to providing pastoral care: tending to the sick, sending-off the dead, and, much as chaplains did on land, lending books.

Life at sea involves long periods of potential inactivity and frustrating idleness: time which, crucially, could be filled by a chance to read a book to oneself or participate in oral readings amongst a group of comrades.

This chaplain’s books taken aboard the Providence are, as may be expected, chiefly religious with a strong Puritan bias.  But there are also some works which show some signs of having been chosen for a particular readership: men at sea.  Puritans were quite conscious about how books can be used and it is arguable that Syms consciously selected books which would prove popular – and which would also lend some power and influence – all very expedient for someone whose constant purpose was to proselytise.

It’s hard to discern all the titles from Syms’s abbreviated ‘short-title’ list, there’s too little detail to establish particular editions but here are some of the books with editions given being those closest to 1644.

We can make out a Book of Psalmes; a Concordance and a Bible, but besides these functional, liturgical books, here are some of the more idiosyncratic books. …

  Syms 2
Syms took John Downham’s Christian Warfare, a best-seller (running to four editions).  It projects a plain message from anyone owning or lending copies. 4409.p.4 Noc

 

  Syms 3
The 'Heidelberg catechism' by Jeremias Bastingius - perhaps Syms had a copy of the 1614 edition? 3505.d.52 Noc

Syms 4
 'The Scottish history' may be John Knox’s work on the Reformation in Scotland - two editions were printed in 1644. This edition: 203.d.2.

  Syms 5
Noc

 

Syms 6Noc
Syms took copies of William Camden’s Remaines and Lightfoot’s Erubhin; or miscellanies – two quite ‘fun’ books (certainly by Puritan standards).  598.d.15 and 1020.e.12.(1)


  Syms 7
Along with an English’d edition of Heinrich Bunting’s The travayles of the patriarchs and apostles there are works chosen as books which might appeal to literate men at sea. 1481.b.50Noc

 

Syms 8
An example of a functional book taken to sea in the 17th century is, ‘A Physick book, Johannes Anglicus’ which was, ‘lent to Mr prat the surgion’. This book is Praxis medica rosa anglica by John of Gaddesden.  Syms’s copy was likely to have been printed in Augsburg in 1595.  542.a.8-9. Noc

 

Syms 9
The ‘Physick book', written in the 14th century, contains Arab renditions of the classic writers in medicine; it tells how to treat smallpox by wrapping patients in red cloths; has recipes for obtaining fresh water from sea water by distillatio, and advice on how to deal with the, ‘Evil Dead’ – DE MALO MORTVO – still in use in the 1640s.  542.a.8-9Noc

Syms’s list of books is suggestive and raises many questions: how did he choose which books to take?  Were they purposefully selected, or just what was to hand, what may have been in his trunk or on sale by local booksellers?   Further questions about the role of these books arise from Syms’s involvement in an acrimonious dispute with the captain of the Providence, John Ellison, which resulted in a dozen of the ship’s men being condemned to Marshalsea Prison by the Commissioners of the Navy for having, “much abused the Office of the Navy” and Captain Ellison.

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading :
John Syms Daybook, British Library Add MS 35297
Miller, Amos. C. John Syms, Puritan Naval Chaplain in Mariner’s Mirror, May 1974
Miller, Amos. S. The Puritan Minister John Syms (IV Parts) in Devon Notes and Queries
Green, Ian. Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Smith, Waldo E.L. The Navy and its chaplains in the age of sail. Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1961.

Syms’s list of books and the unrest he played a pivotal role in aboard the Providence has been examined in more detail in an unpublished paper given by Christian Algar at a conference on  Maritime Literary Cultures, in Heidelberg in October 2016.

 

07 March 2017

Flying over the Himalayas: RAF Flight to Gilgit in November 1934

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During the 1930s, the RAF conducted a number of flights to Gilgit. These flights served political purposes through projecting British power into this remote region of her Empire, propaganda purposes from the resulting prestige of conducting daring flights of exploration, and allowed the exploration of prospects for civil aviation.

    IOR L PS 12 1993 f. 183
Hawker Harts over Chamngarh Nala: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 183

A flight during November 1934 is particularly richly illustrated by a file from the India Office Political and Secret Department records. In addition to a detailed written report, the file also contains forty-five aerial photographic prints.

The outward bound flight, comprising five Hawker Harts, departed from Risalpur at 8:05am on 5 November 1934. The flight flew via Daggar, Kandar, and Patan following the Indus Valley. It arrived at Gilgit at 10:10am. The flight proceeded smoothly, but unfortunately poor visibility limited the use of the camera; only eight exposures were taken.

IOR L PS 12 1993 f. 177
Gilgit landing ground: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 177

The aircrew remained at Gilgit for three day camping at the edge of the landing ground. A programme by the local resident which included a chikor shoot, polo, and a display of dancing by men of the Gilgit Scouts kept them entertained. During their stay they undertook demonstration and reconnaissance flights; sadly due to a fuel leak in the photographic aircraft no photographs were taken.

The flight departed Gilgit on 8 November at 10:30am. The fuel leak in the photographic aircraft could not be rectified in time due to the amount of dust at the aerodrome, so only four aircraft made the return flight. Luckily the camera was transferred to another aircraft and a large number of exposures were taken during the return trip.

During the return flight a number of aerial photographs were taken of Gilgit town and the surrounding country.
 IOR L PS 12 1993 f.176

Gilgit Fort: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 176

The flight proceeded down the Indus Valley and obtained pictures of a number of very high peaks including Rakaposhi, Haramosh, and Nanga Parbat. The flight then descended, circled over Chilas, then proceeded along the Darel Valley as far as Reshmal [?]. It then returned back along the Indus Valley as far as Shiwai at which point a return course was set for Risalpur.

The flight returned to Risalpur at 1:20pm. The photographic aircraft returned with a relief plane the following day.

The photographs, along with the rest of this file's content, are available to view free of charge on the Qatar National Library’s online portal.

Robert Astin
Content Specialist, Archivist British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Coll 5/39 ‘Flights of RAF aeroplanes to Gilgit; flights of foreign aircraft over Gilgit and Chitral’ IOR/L/PS/12/1993

 

02 March 2017

The personal possessions of Thomas and Dorothy Shore

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India Office Private Papers recently acquired two fascinating documents concerning the personal possessions of Thomas and Dorothy Shore. Both Thomas and Dorothy came from families closely connected to the East India Company.  Their son John Shore (1751-1834) became Governor-General of Bengal.

The first document is an inventory of the household goods, plate, jewels, china, linen, furniture, clothing, and books belonging to Thomas Shore which were in his London house at the time of his death in 1759.

Thomas Shore inventory

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

The second is an auction catalogue for furniture, fine china, and ‘other East Indian Curiosities’ which were sold in June 1775 when Dorothy Shore, ‘A Widow Lady,’ moved from Golden Square in London to the country.

  Doorothy Shore auction

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

 Thomas Shore (1712-1759) was the son of John Shore, the East India Company’s warehouse-keeper at Botolph Wharf on the River Thames.  Thomas followed his father into Company service, becoming  a supercargo in charge of the commercial business of several voyages to China.

In 1743 Thomas Shore married widow Mary Dorothea Edgell (née Hawthorn).  Her stepfather was East India Company sea captain John Shepheard (d.1734).   Mary Dorothea died, and in 1750 Thomas married  her younger half-sister Dorothy Shepheard (c.1725-1783).  Thomas and Mary had two sons, John and Thomas William.  John continued the family tradition of East India Company service, whilst Thomas William became a Church of England priest.

The inventory lists the contents of Thomas Shore’s house room by room: servants’ garrets;  bedrooms; closets;  dining room; parlours; china room; kitchen; yard; wash house; pantry; and cellar. Every item is recorded from valuables to a cheese toaster and mops. Thomas owned many objects from Asia including Chinese snuff boxes, musical instruments, and ornaments; Indian textiles and tea kettles; dressing boxes and a bathing bowl from Japan.  Thomas’s book collection ranged from works of religion and history to geometric problems and Gulliver’s Travels.  Dorothy’s personal belongings in the house were itemised to distinguish them from her husband’s property, mostly jewellery but also her clothes, childbed linen, and textile pieces.

P7280016

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

The auction of Dorothy Shore’s household goods offered a ‘Variety of Furniture, useful and ornamental  China, curious carvings in Ivory, &c brought from India by her Husband’.  Amongst the items sold were an ‘India japan case with Mariner’s charts’ - 2s 6d; 27 small Indian pictures of birds and flowers - 6s; a parcel of India paper hangings on cloth - £1 6s 0d; ten blue dragon plates, two basins, a Nankeen sugar dish with handles, cover and plate – 7s; two Chinese summer houses with figures – 7s.  Some lots can be matched to objects listed in her late husband’s inventory, for example the ‘Luxemburg gallery’ of prints. The sale raised a total of £103 5s 0d.

P7280002 cropped

India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702 Noc

We should like to thank the Friends of the British Library for their generous donation enabling the purchase of such interesting documents which allow us to peek into the homes of an East India Company family in the 18th century.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers MSS Eur F702
The East India Company at Home 1757-1857

23 February 2017

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

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“Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe.”
- Letter in Malayalam by an Indian sepoy, August 1943, Central Mediterranean Forces.

Through letters exchanged between the home front and international battlefronts, Indian soldiers in the Second World War reveal themselves to be part of a mobile world. Military enlistment and its consequent legitimacy for travel open the door to foreign countries, and new ways of seeing. While the letters themselves become agents of communication between remote villages spread across India and theatres of war thousands of miles away, they also foreground soldiers as itinerant spectators, engaging in colonial encounters in new lands.  Travel becomes an affective experience, and Europe, viewed through eastern eyes, the site of intercultural exchange.

 © IWM NA 9418 Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943Italy - Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943 © IWM (NA 9418)

A sepoy in the Central Mediterranean Forces, part of the Allied forces in Italy, writes: “As a reward for all our previous sufferings, Almighty brought us here to Sicily. We are supplied with British Troop rations. Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe. Wherever you go, you will find groves of date palms and innumerable vineyards. The civilians are very sympathetic and kind hearted… The climate is very good, because it is an island in the Mediterranean Sea.… An Indian soldier is respected both for his fighting qualities and morale. The people here display no colour prejudice. The coloured are better loved than the white. Sanitation in Sicily is excellent. In our camps we enjoy radio music and cinema almost everyday. On the whole this is one of the happiest and most beautiful countries I have ever seen”.

   IWM E6547 Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941
Cyprus - Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941 © IWM (E 6547)

The verdant Italian landscape serves as a harmonious backdrop for amiable cross-cultural understanding that, nonetheless, indicates the presence of systemic inequalities during the war experience – in Indian soldiers’ rations contrasted to British troops, for instance. The extract also highlights the complexity of wartime hierarchies – being a colonial soldier on the victorious side destabilises racial structures to the extent that “the coloured” liberators become “better loved than the white.” And the rather idiosyncratic mention of Sicilian sanitation perhaps indicates its novelty to this soldier.

An Indian captain in the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps is similarly rapturous: “I am sitting under an olive tree and so many trees of almonds are standing near by. No sooner there is a slight wind than all the ripe almonds fall down on the ground. Vineyards are hanging everywhere. Birds are chirping and orchards are found all over the area round about us. Vegetables are in abundance and fruits are more than I can put in black and white. This is the first time in my life that my breakfast consists of almonds and grapes only… Our relations with the local inhabitants are cordial and they are very social”.  Here, the use of the present tense lends immediacy to this description of an Italian paradise’s mellow fruitfulness. Most significantly, both letters emphasise the restorative, albeit exoticised, potential of the natural world in a foreign land, seen through war-weary Indian eyes.

Diya Gupta
Third-year PhD researcher at King’s College London
Find out more in this short film 

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

 

16 February 2017

Thim Days Is Gone – a colonial memoir

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Patrick Tandy was a soldier and colonial administrator who wrote a memoir about his time in India and the Persian Gulf. The memoir has an arresting title: ‘Thim Days Is Gone’.

Tandy, an Irishman, was no lover of colonial ‘snobbery and pomposity’, as he explains in a preface: ‘The late Christabel, Lady Ampthill of blessed memory, answered the door-bell of her Castle of Dungorra in Connemara to find the coal-man on her door step. He said “Where do you want the coal, missus?” She drew herself up and replied “Kindly address me as your ladyship!” His answer was “Thim days is gone missus, where do you want the coal?”’

Mss Eur F226_28_0005

‘Thim Days Is Gone’ by Patrick Tandy. Mss Eur F 222/28, f 3.

Tandy had a career spanning the Royal Artillery, the North-West Frontier Province of India, and colonial administration in the Persian Gulf, where he was Political Officer, Trucial Coast, and later Political Agent, Kuwait. The memoir spans the years 1932-48, and was written in the 1980s.

We learn from Tandy’s colourful account, among other things, that the Urdu spoken by upwards of 90% of the British officers in India was in fact a language ‘almost unintelligible to the untutored Indian’, and Urdu-speaking recruits had to be taught by their fellow soldiers the ‘Sahib’s Urdu’ in order to understand their own officers (folio 6).

Amorous exploits include the ‘attractive blonde daughter’ of his boss, the Chief Commissioner of Ajmer-Merwara, ‘whose marriage was going through a difficult period, and who had flown to the shelter of her mother’s wing. One could hardly have asked for more’ (folio 34).

Then there was the Maharajah who always wore gloves to shake hands with Europeans ‘in order to avoid defilement’ (folio 33).

Service during the Second World War with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the borders of Iran and Russia brought him into contact with a local official who had removed a cache of arms and ammunition from behind the walls of his house. He had then disguised the repair to the wall by hanging up a sanitary instrument, ‘more, one imagines, for convenience than ornamentation’. The same official also made home-brew vodka, which exploded when lit by a match (folio 86).

Attempts to organise Russian deserters for guerrilla operations foundered on the fact that if captured the deserters faced execution by their own side, by the Germans, or by anyone else.

Tandy’s transfer to Sharjah in the Trucial Coast involved a stopover at Bahrain, where he tells the story of an unnamed VIP, an apartment for off-duty air hostesses, and a two-way mirror (folio 96).

Much follows about social customs, local rulers, and the advent of the oil industry.

On folio 103 the Sheikh of Sharjah (a diabetic) is saved by an insulin injection from a Jewish doctor, and on folio 115 the Sheikh of Kuwait fortunately takes the right glass at a Royal Navy reception (all the others had gin in).

Tandy finally left Kuwait (and the Gulf) in 1948, when he handed over to ‘a young man from The Foreign Office who had no Arabic’, leaving him with the feeling that ‘an era had come to an end’.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Mss Eur F 226/28 'THIM DAYS IS GONE'
Biographical notes on Maurice Patrick O'Connor Tandy (1912-1986) can be found in Paul John Rich, Creating the Arabian Gulf: The British Raj and the Invasions of the Gulf (Lexington Books, 2009)
Diana Quick, A Tug on the Thread: From the British Raj to the British Stage. A Family Memoir (Virago Press, 2009).

 

 

09 February 2017

Not So Strange – the East India Company Chairman in 1814

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Sir Stuart Strange is the Chairman of the East India Company in the TV drama Taboo which is set in the year 1814.  He is an unsympathetic character, calculating and ruthless, prone to ranting, swearing, and grabbing fellow Company men by their coat lapels to get his point across.

But who was the real East India Company Chairman in 1814? Was he at all like Strange? 

The Company's Chairman in 1814 was The Honourable William Fullerton Elphinstone (1740-1834). His memorial tablet in Marylebone Parish Church gave this description of his personality:

He was equally remarkable for sound judgment and decision, united the highest firmness to the utmost kindness of heart, and retained to the latest period of human life the warmth of his benevolence, and the serenity of his temper.

Kind, warm, benevolent and serene – not the model for Sir Stuart then!

Elphistone, William Fullerton

William Fullerton Elphinstone from Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar Noc

William Elphinstone was born in Stirlingshire, Scotland, on 13 September 1740, the third son of Charles, 10th Lord Elphinstone, and his wife Clementina. At the age of fifteen he went to sea and after a couple of voyages decided on a career in the East India Company’s maritime service. He studied navigation before securing an appointment as midshipman on the Company ship Winchelsea, sailing to India and China 1758-1760. Elphinstone went on to serve as third mate in the Hector and as captain of the Triton, completing his final voyage for the Company in 1777.

In 1774 Elphinstone married Elizabeth Fullerton, eldest daughter of William Fullerton of Carstairs, Lanarkshire, and henceforward became known as William Fullerton Elphinstone. Elizabeth was heir to her uncle John Fullerton of Carberry, Midlothian.

Elphinstone prospered in Company service, aided by the wise investment of a gift of £2,000 from a great uncle. After retiring from the sea, he set his sights on a new career as a Director of the East India Company. He first entered the Court of Directors in 1786 and was elected Chairman in 1804, 1806 and 1814. Considerable patronage was at his disposal - his sons and nephews had distinguished careers in Company service. He received hundreds of petitions on behalf of young men seeking advancement.  In 1806 his ‘very sincere friend’ the Prince Regent wrote to Elphinstone recommending a Mr Farquhar, and in 1817 the Duke of Kent sought clerkships at East India House for two brothers named Dodd.

  Elphinstone IOR D 11 p.135 22 Feb 1826
IOR/D/11 p.135 Minutes of Committee of Correspondence 22 February 1826 Noc

Elphinstone suffered a stroke in 1824 which temporarily deprived him of his powers of speech. In February 1826, aged 85, he informed the Company that he would not stand in the forthcoming elections for Directors because of his state of health.  The Court expressed regret and wished ‘that every possible comfort may attend him at the close of a life the greater portion of which (embracing the unexampled period of 70 years) has been devoted with talents of no ordinary description to promote the interests of the East India Company and to advance the welfare of the inhabitants of the extensive Empire committed to their charge’.

William Fullerton Elphinstone died at Enfield on 3 May 1834 and was buried a week later in Marylebone Parish Church, close to his Harley Street home.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar, vol.2 (1897)
W Bruce Bannerman (ed.), Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica vol V Third Series (1904)

Follow the career of William Fullerton Elphinstone in the records of the East India Company's Court of Directors (IOR/B) and the Committee of Correspondence (IOR/D) - 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.

 

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.