Private trade and pressed men – the voyage of the Houghton to China
In January 1784 Captain James Monro of the East India Company ship Houghton submitted to the Canton Factory a list of private trade goods procured in China. It records the mark and numbers on cargo items, the owner of the commodities, the type of goods, and the quantity of packages and contents
Captain James Monro -
Hyson tea 147 chests; rhubarb 20 chests; cassia & buds 52 chests; dragon’s blood 3 chests; Nankeen cloth 5 chests containing 1200 pieces; bamboo fans 2 chests containing 2000; turmeric (loose); sago (loose); rattans 800 bundles; cane mats (loose) 1000 pieces; China ware 1 half chest containing 45 pieces.
Samuel Whedon or Wheadon, first mate -
Hyson tea 20 chests; cassia & buds 16 chests; China ware 1 box.
Archibald Anderson, second mate -
Hyson tea 14 chests.
Robert Robertson, third mate -
Hyson tea 11 chests.
James Stewart, fourth mate -
Hyson tea 7 chests.
Benjamin Smith, fifth mate -
Hyson tea 4 chests.
John Baker, surgeon -
Hyson tea 11 chests; cassia 7 chests; dragon’s blood 1 chest.
John Farington Butterfield, purser -
Hyson tea 12 chests; cassia & buds 12 chests; cotton yarn 1 chest.
James Paterson, gunner -
Hyson tea 3 chests.
Cassia buds were used in medicine, especially as a laxative. Dragon’s blood, disappointingly, was a resin. Loose goods such as sago were packed round delicate goods much as we use polystyrene chips. A pecul was a weight equivalent to 133⅓ pounds avoirdupois.
There were set allowances for different private trade commodities according to rank.
Allowances for China and Japan ware, cabinets, fans, pictures, lacquer ware and screens taken from Charles Cartwright, An abstract of the orders and regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company (1788) p.lxviii
The commodities taken into the Houghton for the first mate must have been purchased on his behalf by a shipmate because Samuel Whedon/Wheadon had died as the ship was sailing towards Malacca on its way to China. He was buried at sea on 12 September 1783 after suffering from ‘a tedious and painful illness ever since leaving Madras’. Second officer Archibald Anderson took his place. Anderson was to disappear mysteriously in 1790 whilst in command of the Nottingham.
Whilst the Houghton was at Madras in July 1783, 36 of Monro’s best sailors were pressed and taken off the ship by officers from HMS Superb. He commented in his journal: ‘The Admiral has taken so many Men & the Men of Warrs Boat &c so frequently on board, we can scarse find a Man in the Ship, they hide themselves for fear of being pressed’. Monro issued each pressed man with a certificate to confirm the dates of his service with the East India Company and the amount of wages owed. In August a few men deserted from the Houghton at Madras, including the sixth mate John White.
As a postscript, HMS Superb was wrecked off Tellicherry on 5 November 1783 but no lives were lost.
There were lighter moments during the voyage. Monro recorded that as the Houghton approached Madras on 19 July 1783: ‘This Morning & at noon we have the most astonishing quantity of Butterflys about’.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
Records for the Houghton - IOR/L/MAR/B/ 438-O Journal 1783-1784; IOR/L/MAR/B/438- II(1) & II (2) Ledger and Pay Book.
Correspondence of James Monro – British Library Mss Eur Photo Eur 488B.
James Monro and the sale of East India Company maritime commands.
Charles Cartwright, of the India House, An abstract of the orders and regulations of the Honourable Court of Directors of the East-India Company, and of other documents relating to the pains and penalties the commanders and officers of ships in the Company's service are liable to ... Including also, the full particulars of the allowances of private trade, outward and homeward ... To which is added, as an appendix, copies of the papers usually given by the Company to the commanders and officers. And a list of the duties, etc. (London, 1788).