THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

15 March 2018

Preventing disorder at the East India Company factories

More than 1500 volumes of East India Company Factory Records are being digitised though a partnership between the British Library and Adam Matthew Digital. The factories were the Company’s overseas trading posts from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Factory Records are copies of documents sent back to London to be added to the archive at East India House.  

EIC factory Cossimbazar 1795 Add.Or.3192 - Cropped East India Company Factory at Cossimbazar 1795 Add.Or.3192 Online Gallery Noc

The main categories of documents included in this series are formal minutes of official meetings; diaries recording daily business and life at the factory; and correspondence.

A wide range of topics is covered, for example:
• Commercial transactions and dealings with local merchants
• Descriptions of goods traded, with prices
• Private trade of Company servants
• Relations with other European nations and with local inhabitants
• Ship arrivals and departures; negotiations with captains
• Personnel management
• Misdemeanours
• Establishments and salaries
• Complaints and petitions
• Sickness and death

The first of two modules of digitised Factory Records was launched recently. It includes the Company trading posts in South and South-East Asia. Amongst these are the records for the Hugli Factory in the Bay of Bengal, 1663-1687.

IOR G 20 2 p.19IOR/G/20/2 part 2 pp.19-21 Rules for good behaviour December

In December 1679 the Agent and Council for the Coast of Coromandel and the Bay of Bengal composed a set of orders ‘’for advanceing the Honour of the English Nation and the preventing of Disorders’. All Company servants employed in the Bay of Bengal were instructed to –

• Stop lying, swearing, cursing, drunkenness, ‘uncleaness’, ‘profanation of the Lord’s Day’, and all other sinful practices.
• Be sure to be back inside the Company house or their lodgings at night.
• Say morning and evening prayers.

Penalties for infringement were specified.

• For staying out of the house all night without permission or being absent when the gates were shut at 9pm without a reasonable excuse – 10 rupees to be paid to the poor, or one whole day sitting publicly in the stocks.
• For every oath or curse, twelve pence to the poor, or three hours in the stocks.
• For lying - twelve pence to the poor.
• For drunkenness – five shillings to the poor or six hours in the stocks.
• For any Protestant in the Company’s house absent without a valid excuse from public prayers on weekday mornings and evenings - twelve pence to the poor or one week’s confinement in the house.
• For any Christian absent from morning and evening prayers on a Sunday - twelve pence to the poor.  If no payment was made, the money was to be raised by selling the offender’s goods, or he might be imprisoned.

If these penalties failed to ‘reclaim’ someone from these vices or if any man was found guilty of adultery, fornication, or ‘uncleaness’, or disturbed the peace of the factory by quarrelling or fighting, he was to be sent to Fort St George for punishment.  The orders were to be read publicly at the Factory twice a year so no-one could profess ignorance of them.

One of the Company officials who signed the regulations was Matthias Vincent. He was accused in India of corruption, immorality and extortion!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

The East India Company digital resource is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in British Library Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.