Untold lives blog

31 May 2016

Robert Clive arrives in India

On 31 May 1744 the East India Company ship Winchester anchored off Fort St George Madras.  The voyage from England had been exceptionally long.  Having sailed from Portsmouth on 19 March 1743, the Winchester ran aground on the coast of Brazil in May 1743.  Nine months elapsed before the ship was ready to resume her voyage in February 1744. On board was eighteen-year-old Robert Clive.

Clive had been appointed as an East India Company writer (or clerk) on the Madras establishment.  The protracted voyage meant that his reserves of money and supplies of clothing were seriously depleted before he arrived in India.  Matters were made worse when he fell overboard and lost his silver-buckle shoes, hat and wig.


Robert Clive in later life

Robert Clive in later life from G. L. Craik and C. MacFarlane, The Pictorial History of England (London, 1855)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Amongst Clive’s collection of private papers at the British Library is an account of miscellaneous items which the teenager thought it necessary to buy when he arrived in India to take up his Company post. The first part of the account dated 1 June 1744 shows ‘sundries’ purchased from Gabriel Steward or Stewart, Captain of the Winchester: two pairs of black stockings, one hat, one wig, one pair of silver buckles,  and one piece of duroy and trimming – duroy was a coarse woollen cloth manufactured in England and used chiefly for men's wear.

The second part dated 11 June 1744 lists what Clive bought on shore at Fort St George: glasses for wine and water , decanters, half a hogshead of Cape wine, ten yards of camblet, a looking glass, six pewter spoons, one firkin of butter, and one dozen ‘cocoa knives and forks’ (does anyone know what these looked like ?  They were still being advertised for sale in the early 20th century).

Lastly Clive recorded other sundries he paid for at Fort St George.  Many fabrics are detailed: long cloth, cambric, handkerchiefs, black dimity for breeches, silk for lining clothes, gingham for bedding, curtains, cotton and lace for bedding.  He purchased ‘wastecoats to write in the Office’, eight China plates, and some furniture: six chairs, a cot, a couch, and a table.

Clive had to pay for boat hire and for a chest when first coming on shore from the ship. He also noted down the servants’ wages which he would have to meet from his monthly allowance from the Company: dubash, cook boy, washer man; water women, and  ‘Shaving Barber & Powdring’.

Perhaps this story will cheer anyone worrying about sending their teenaged offspring out into the world.  At least they are very unlikely to have to undergo a fourteen-month sea voyage in a sailing ship and nearly drown by falling overboard. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers MSS Eur G37/19/3 ff.1-1v
Richard Garrett, Robert Clive (London, 1976)


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