Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

02 March 2022

Letters of James Jackson of the Royal Navy – Part 2

A recent post on this blog introduced James Jackson, Royal Navy seaman, whose letters to his family in England have been acquired by the India Office Private Papers.  We left James aboard the HMS Suffolk sailing to India.

On 30 September 1794, James wrote from Madras Roads.  He says that they had a ‘tolerable pleasant voyage of 4 months and 9 days…but the monsoons or winter months are now very near coming on – we yesterday was drove from our anchor to sea in violent weather but are here again all well’.  Of India he says: ‘I find this country very hot but I think it pleasanter than Europe’, although he is unimpressed by the lack of good meat: ‘the beef is not bigger than your small calves of a twelvemonths growth, the sheep are also very diminutive and pigs like rats – all skin and bone’.

Letter written by James Jackson from Madras Roads. 30 September 1794

Letter written by James Jackson from Madras Roads. 30 September 1794 - Mss Eur F756 f.8Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

His sixth letter is dated 20 August 1795 and gives news of the British invasion of Ceylon.  He says they have been laying siege to Trincomalee for three weeks, ‘I cannot say how long they may hold it out with us – but we are determined to be victorious – it is the most valuable island the Dutch have in this country and nearly as large as England’.  The British were stopping all vessels that came to Ceylon so that the Dutch could get no supplies: ‘there is a strange vessel in sight of us now and I am going in our boat to board her’.  He also reports on the sinking of the British ship HMS Diomede, ‘but by the endeavours of all people on board the other ships here at that time – her men was saved but the loss was great happening at this critical time’.  He mentions that his brother William was well when last he heard in July, but he does not expect to see him on this voyage.

Letter written by James Jackson 19 March 1796 on board the Suffolk in the East IndiesLetter written by James Jackson 19 March 1796 on board the Suffolk in the East Indies - Mss Eur F756 f.14 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


James’s last letter is dated 19 March 1796, on board the Suffolk in the East Indies.  He describes the British attacks on Amboyna (‘this island was full of cloves and other spices and their warehouses were all full’) and Banda (‘the nutmegs on this island alone are valued at two hundred thousand pounds sterling’) in the Dutch-held Molucca islands.  He expected the British ships to sail for Europe about Christmas, but the war had taken its toll: ‘we have not much above half our compliment of men, we have buried a great many indeed’, and he was worried about the lack of fresh provisions ‘as we are all upon very short allowance of victuals - what we have is badly salted - the country is very hot and unhealthy for Europeans in this part which is near the Pacific Ocean’.  However, he is hopeful ‘if our Agents for our prize money do us the least justice in nature we shall be pretty well and decently paid for our troubles’.  James concludes his letter by looking forward to meeting his family again in England.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of the Jackson Family, 1784-1843, British Library shelfmark: Mss Eur F756.
HMS Suffolk 

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs