Untold lives blog

10 posts from May 2023

04 May 2023

Mark Hamill of the East India Company

It’s May the Fourth – Star Wars Day.  So it’s appropriate to feature Mark Hamill of the East India Company on the blog.

Mark Hamill petitioned the Company for a position as a clerk in the Pay Office at East India House in January 1761.  He was appointed on 4 February on an augmented annual salary of £40 because of his age (25) and his experience in business.  Hamill had to give security of £500 to guarantee his honesty and good behaviour.  The money was put up by his father Mark Hamill senior, a draper, and William Connop, a surgeon, both of Mile End in East London.

Entrance from Mile End or Whitechapel Turnpike'Entrance from Mile End or Whitechapel Turnpike' by Heinrich Joseph Schütz, – Views of London No.5 published I June 1 1798 at Ackermann's Gallery British Library Maps K.Top.22.6.e. BL flickr

On 16 December 1759 Mark Hamill junior married Ann Parsons in Hackney.  The couple had three sons – Hans Mark, born September 1760; Hugh Nicholas born April 1762, died July 1762; and Mark Hans born August 1763.

Unfortunately Mark Hamill had a very short career with the East India Company.  He died in May 1764 and was buried at St Dunstan Stepney.  Mark’s will was made on 7 April 1764 when he was ‘weak and infirm of Body’.  His wife Ann is not mentioned in the will although she was still alive.  He left his property to be divided equally between his sons Hans Mark and Mark Hans when they reached the age of 21.  The furniture and household goods in the apartments he occupied were owned by his father and should be retained by him.  He named his father as the executor of the will and only guardian of his children, with the request to ensure that the boys were properly educated and brought up.  Sadly Mark Hans died in July 1764, shortly before his first birthday, meaning that Hans was now the sole (or solo?) heir.

Greyabbey - a ruin with a graveyard in the foregroundGreyabbey, County Down, from Picturesque views of the Antiquities of Ireland Drawn on stone by J. D. Harding, from the sketches of Robert O'Callaghan Newenham (London, 1830) British Library Digital Store 10390.k.2 BL flckr 

Mark Hamill senior died in 1771.  His will left instructions for his burial in the parish church of Greyabbey near Belfast – the Hamills were an Irish family.  The bulk of his estate was left in trust for the support, maintenance, education, clothing, bringing up, and placing out of his grandson Hans Mark.  The trustees appointed were his brother Hans Hamill of Ballyatwood in County Down, grocer Abraham Brecknock and linen draper Felix Smith, both of St Botolph Aldgate London.  Hans Mark was to inherit in his own right at the age of 25.

In 1775 Hans Mark was apprenticed to linen draper James Wadham of High Street Southwark.  He was living in Chichester and serving as an ensign in the Sussex Militia when he married Jane Shoubridge at Horsham on 23 January 1779.  As both bride and groom were aged nineteen, they had to have parental consent.  Hans Mark’s mother Ann is recorded on the marriage licence as giving her consent and is described as a widow of Stoke Newington, Middlesex.

Jane died just four years later and was buried at St Mary Horsham in April 1783.  In 1785 Hans Mark married Frances, daughter of Thomas Bateson, a wine merchant of Orangefield in Ireland.  They lived at the Hamill family home of Ballyatwood, where Hans Mark died in 1796.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

With thanks to Lesley Shapland for pointing out Mark Hamill in the India Office Records.

Further reading:
IOR/B/76 pp.321.325 East India Company Court of Directors’ Minutes January-February 1761.
IOR/L/AG/9/4/13 Pay accounts for Mark Hamill 1761-1764.
The National Archives for the Prerogative Court of Canterbuty wills for Mark Hamill junior proved 15 May 1764, and Mark Hamill senior proved 26 August 1771.
Calendar of Sussex marriage licences recorded in the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Chichester for the Archdeaconry of Chichester, January 1775 to December 1800, compiled by Edwin H. W. Dunkin and edited by D. Macleod, Sussex Record Society ; Vol. XXXV (1929).


02 May 2023

Tax dodging and bribery: the practicalities of trade in the 18th-century Indian Ocean

East India Company merchant John Pybus compiled notes about the practicalities of trade in various ports and settlements of the Indian Ocean in the 18th century.  Among lists of prices, exchange rates, and goods are advice and instructions for enterprising traders looking to maximise their profits through bribery and tax dodging.

A list of goods available at BengalA list of goods available at Bengal, Mss Eur F110/11, f 16.

Gift-giving is mentioned in the description of many ports.  At Atcheen (Aceh, Indonesia), Pybus bluntly states that a visiting merchant must ‘visit the King and make him a Present’.  For the Spanish colonial port of Manila, he helpfully includes a list of individuals ‘whom it is proper to get acquainted with’ and whose goodwill was required to conduct business successfully at the port.

A list of notable officials  merchants  and other individuals in ManilaA list of notable officials, merchants, and other individuals in Manila. Mss Eur F110/11, f 36.

The propriety of these ‘gifts’ seems questionable, at least in the case of the authorities at Manila.  While a trader was instructed to prioritise visiting the Governor of Manila to present him with a token of gratitude, this ‘must be done… without any witness, for should any body be by, he will not accept it’.

Payments could also be used to avoid paying dues on merchandise when the Spanish authorities came to measure a ship and assess its cargo.  First, it was important to greet the inspectors warmly- ‘you must have a very handsome entertainment for them which is very acceptable to them… I would advise to have at least, a dozen dishes of victuals, with what variety you can of Europe pickles and likewise of wines’.  If this did not make a sufficiently good impression, the money-conscious captain was to emphasise that ‘you are no stranger to the customs of the port, and that you intend to be gratefull for all favours’.  Finally, a direct approach was taken to secure favourable treatment from the man tasked with measuring the ship.  When a Spanish official was sent below decks to take measurements, ‘send a man down with 10 or 12 dollars, to slip into the officer’s hand (unseen)… it will turn to good account’.

A map showing the Bay of ManilaA map showing the Bay of Manila, created in 1798

Even the constraints of European politics could be avoided through bribery.  Restrictions put in place by an imperial power half a world away could be ignored for the sake of mutual profit.  When describing Malacca, a Dutch colony at the time, Pybus mentions that ‘All trade is prohibited the English in all Dutch ports’, but the Dutch colonial administrators were not particularly attentive to this restriction.  At Malacca, an English merchant simply had to ‘land all goods in the night, by the Government’s permission, for which you pay 30 Rix Dollars for each chest of opium and 15 dollars for each bale’.  Pybus also advised the illicit trader to pay ‘four or five dollars each’ to the servants of the Governor who came to supervise the unloading of cargo.

Instructions for trading as an Englishman in Dutch-controlled MalaccaInstructions for trading as an Englishman in Dutch-controlled Malacca. Mss Eur F110/11, f 19

Ignoring rules and buying influential friends seem to have been essential business skills in this period.

Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library Mss Eur F110/11 Notes on Coins, Weights and Measures, and Conditions of Trade at Various Ports in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.