Untold lives blog

18 May 2023

100 years in the service of the East India Company

Ship’s captain, free mariner, surgeon, cleric and infantrymen – seven members of one family, spanning three generations between 1767 and 1868.  A story brought to life through the India Office Records at the British Library.

Three generations of Barkers employed by the East India CompanyThree generations of Barkers employed by the East India Company

1st generation - Commander
Robert Barker (1767-1835) attested his age before Major John Burnett at Mansion House in London on 17 January 1780.  He was just twelve years and five months old.  He sailed as an ordinary seaman for three years aboard the sloop Echo until, at sixteen, he was a midshipman aboard the Dutton on a voyage to India and back that took nineteen months.  Rising through the ranks of fourth, third and first mate, he became captain in 1801 of the Northampton.  Barker made three voyages to India and China before retiring to Brazil in 1807, where he became a plantation owner.

Robert Barker's service as Captain of the NorthamptonRobert Barker's service as Captain of the Northampton - IOR/L/MAR/B/198C, 198P (1) & (2)

2nd generation – Free mariner, surgeon, and cleric
Robert’s nephew, Alexander Popham Barker (1787–c.1821), sailed with his uncle aboard the Northampton in 1803 as a midshipman and in 1805 as a fourth mate, eventually rising to first mate.  In 1815 he applied to the East India Company to become a free mariner in the intra-Asian ‘country trade’ and based himself in Bengal.  Alexander was presumed lost at sea sometime after 1821.

Alexander’s younger brother, Thomas Brown Barker (1796-1848), was a member of the Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons at 21 and then applied to become an East India Company assistant surgeon.  By July 1818, he was working in Madras.  He served in infantry and cavalry regiments at Madras, Benares, Calcutta and Bengal, becoming surgeon in 1829 aged 33.  Then, in 1848, after some 30 years of service and eligible for retirement, he set sail for home aboard the Gloriana, only to die during the voyage.

Thomas Brown Barker’s application to be Assistant SurgeonThomas Brown Barker’s application to be Assistant Surgeon - IOR/L/MIL/9/370/14-17

Alexander’s younger sister, Francis Brown Barker (1790-1885), married Rev Joseph Laurie in 1822.  Later that year, Rev Laurie was installed as chaplain for the Church of Scotland for the Bombay Presidency.  He served as minister at the Scotch Kirk, later named the Church of Saints Andrew and Columba.  The Lauries lived in Colabah.  They had four children between 1823 and 1833.  The younger two died in infancy; the elder two entered the Company's Infantry.


3rd generation – Infantry cousins
Alexander Popham Barker (2) (1822-1844), Robert Laurie (1823-1856), and John Joseph Laurie (1825-1868) were cousins. All joined the Bombay Infantry, and all three died early - one with honour, one in disgrace and one through illness.

On 10 April 1844, Lt Alexander Popham Barker was wounded in the arm and side while in command at Hunooman Ghaut and died the same day, aged 21.

Alexander Popham Barker’s Service RecordAlexander Popham Barker’s service record - IOR/L/MIL/12/72/377

On 2 May 1854, Lt Robert Laurie was court-martialled for giving false testimony at the trial of Lt Col Gidley earlier that year and was cashiered from the service.  He returned to England in disgrace and died at his parent’s home at the age of 32. 

On 28 September 1868, Lt Col John Joseph Laurie of the Staff Corps was buried in Bombay by the chaplain of his father’s church, having died from brain and liver disease aged 43.

Mark Williams
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Anthony Farrington, Catalogue of East India Company Ships' Journals and Logs 1600-1834 (London: The British Library,1999), e.g. Northampton: Journal 12 May 1803 – 9 February 1805 IOR/L/MAR/B/198C; Ledger IOR/L/MAR/B/198P(1); Pay Book IOR/L/MAR/B/198P(2).
Anthony Farrington, A Biographical Index of East India Company Maritime Service Officers 1600-1834 (London: The British Library,1999) - officers by rank, ship and date of voyage.
Richard Morgan, An Introduction to British Ships in Indian Waters (London: The Families in British India Society (FIBIS), 2017).
The East India Register and Directory.
The Bombay Gazette via British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast.
Alexander Popham Barker’s application to be a free mariner - Minutes of Committee of Shipping IOR/L/MAR/C/29 1814-1815 ff. 778-9, 15 March 1815.
Thomas Brown Barker’s application to be Assistant Surgeon - IOR/L/MIL/9/370/14-17.
Alexander Popham Barker, Lt Bombay Infantry - IOR/L/MIL/12/72/377.
Robert Laurie, Lt Bombay Infantry – for Laurie’s court-martial, see Misbehaviour in the Bombay Army
John Joseph Laurie, Lt Col Bombay Staff Corps - Burial 28 September 1868 IOR/N/3/42 p.331
Cadet papers:
Alexander Popham Barker –IOR/L/MIL/9/195/535-37.
Robert Laurie - IOR/L/MIL/9/195/276-81.
John Joseph Laurie - IOR/L/MIL/9/196/769-75.

 

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