Untold lives blog

24 February 2015

Serving the East India Company in Persia

In an East India Company letter book, there is a list of men working in Persia in 1721. These fifteen men had entered into a covenant of good behaviour with the Company.  Two were destined for service in Bombay. The list includes their salaries but more interestingly the date they entered service in Persia and their starting salary. Some like John Myngs and Francis Cuthbertson were recent arrivals.  They were both writers, (the lowest rank of Company servant), despatched in order to learn Persian on the meagre salary of £5 a year. Others like Edmund Wright and Styleman Gostlin had been promoted from factor to senior factor over the course of only eighteen months. This might suggest that taking service in Persia, despite its insalubrious reputation as being “an inch-deal from hell”, gave opportunity for Company servants to gain rank in exchange for sacrificing the dubious comforts of Bombay or Madras.

Most interesting perhaps was Owen Phillips, Agent in Persia, who had started his service there as a lowly writer in 1709. Phillips had therefore risen to the top post in Persia over the course of twelve years, seeing his salary soar from £5 to £150.  There was a small English community in Persia, relatively diverse in terms of age and experience, ranging from young writers learning their Persian script and alphabet to seasoned Persia hands.

  Books & pen
From Life's Roses: a volume of selected poems (London, 1898) BL flickr Noc

Some of these men were separated from their colleagues by hundreds of miles. Writer John Hill was stationed at Kerman, the main source of valuable wool much prized back in England, whilst John Horne was the Chief at Isfahan. The rest of the employees on the list fulfilled various roles at the Company’s main factory at Bandar Abbas on the south coast of Persia. For the men stationed away from Bandar Abbas, it was no doubt exceptionally lonely.  Although other Europeans were present, especially in Isfahan, the lack of fellow Englishmen was no doubt felt most keenly. Many of the other Europeans in Persia at the time were either Dutch commercial rivals or French, those perennial enemies of the English.

Peter Good  
PhD student University of Essex/British Library

Further reading:
IOR/G/29/15 ff.25-27v



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