Untold lives blog

25 posts categorized "Americas"

17 September 2019

Bogle-L’Ouverture publishing house

In October 1968 the activist and author Walter Rodney, returning from the Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Canada, was declared persona non grata by the government of Jamaica.  He was banned from resuming his teaching position at the University of the West Indies.  In Kingston, students and other activists participated in what became known as the Rodney Riots, and there was considerable activity amongst Caribbean communities in the UK and the US.  Out of that struggle, the publishing house Bogle-L’Ouverture was founded in London by Jessica and Eric Huntley.  2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of their first publication, a collection of Rodney’s lectures entitled The Groundings with my Brothers

Cover of The Groundings with my Brothers by Walter RodneyCover of The Groundings with my Brothers by Walter Rodney - Artwork for cover design ©  Errol Lloyd

Named for the leaders of the Morant Bay Rebellion and the Haitian Revolution, Bogle-L’Ouverture, alongside New Beacon (founded 1966) and Alison & Busby (founded 1967), soon became an integral part of progressive independent publishing in London.  Their publications provided a space for radical black thought to be distributed and read in the UK.  In 1972, Bogle-L'Ouverture published one of the key early post-colonial texts in Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

Cover of How Europe underdeveloped Africa by Walter RodneyCover of How Europe underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney - work in copyright

The Huntleys founded the Bogle-L'Ouverture Bookshop in West London in 1974, and the space became a key venue for political meetings, talks and readings.  In 1980, following Rodney’s assassination in Guyana, the bookshop was renamed in his honour.  The physical space of the bookshop mirrored the fact that Bogle-L’Ouverture was an example of community publishing in the true sense, with publications often financed by friends of the Huntleys, and collaboration central to their work.  It was out of this sense of collective struggle that The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was established by Bogle-L’Ouverture, New Beacon and Race Today.  There were twelve Book Fairs held between 1982 and 1995 and they were intended, as John La Rose stated, 'to mark the new and expanding phase of the growth of radical ideas and concepts, and their expression in literature, music, art, politics and social life'.

Programme of International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books 1985 featuring photograph of Malcolm XProgramme of International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books 1985 featuring photograph of Malcolm X - work in copyright

The programmes from each of the twelve book fairs have all been reprinted in A Meeting of the Continents: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited.  Looking through them one is made aware of what important and creative accomplishments these events were.  Yet, rather than evoking nostalgia, the editors hoped to offer inspiration for others to act.  Indeed, longstanding publishers such as Hansib, Karnak House and Karia Press were founded in the wake of New Beacon and Bogle-L’Ouverture, and Peepal Tree sold their first publication, Rooplall Monar’s Backdam People (1985) at the book fair.  More recently, innovative publishing concerns such as Own It!, Jacaranda, and Flipped Eye have also begun to build on the tradition established by the Huntleys more than half a century ago.  Yet their legacy extends beyond the publishing world – the Huntley archives are held the London Metropolitan Archives, which since 2006 has hosted an annual conference reflecting on their life and work.

Laurence Byrne
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Andrews, Margaret Doing nothing is not an option: the radical lives of Eric & Jessica Huntley, Middlesex, Krik Krak, 2014 [YK.2015.a.1141]
Sarah White, Roxy Harris & Sharmilla Beezmohun (eds). A Meeting of the Continents: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited, London: New Beacon Books/George Padmore Institute, 2005 [m05/.29879]

 

05 March 2019

Indian Seamen and the Steamship 'Rauenfels' during World War One

The India Office Records contains many interesting files on the subject of Indian seamen, or lascars, during the First World War.  One example is a file on the lascar crews of German ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports.  The file contains correspondence, memoranda and statements concerning Indian seamen who had been serving on German ships prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, and had either been stranded at whatever port their ship was interned or had managed to return to India but with a loss of wages.  The file includes statements often listing the names of the seamen, the port of discharge, the name of the ship, and the amount of any wages owed.

 Rauenfels' crew petitionIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

Among the papers in the file is a petition from the Indian crew of the German ship Rauenfels describing their case.  The Rauenfels was a steamship of the Hansa Line Steamer Company of Germany, which embarked from the port of Calcutta on 5 January 1914 with a crew of 40 contracted for a one-year voyage to various ports in Asia and Europe, including Hamburg, Antwerp, Karachi, Bombay, and also New York.  With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the ship took shelter in Bahia in Brazil.  The Indian seamen were kept aboard ship for 5 months in order to complete their agreed term of employment, after which they were forced to go ashore, and left under the care of the British Consul there.  They stayed at Bahia for a month, and were supplied by the Consul with food and lodgings, before being sent back to Calcutta via Marseilles and Rangoon.  The British Consul in Brazil had told the seamen that they would receive the pay still due to them when they reached Calcutta, but six weeks after returning to India, they had still not received it.  They therefore sent a petition to the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in Calcutta, which forwarded it to the Government of India for consideration.  The decision reached by Government was that Local Indian Governments could make such payments to seamen, and then if possible recover the amount plus any repatriation costs from the ships owners or agents.

Rauenfels crew namesIOR/L/E/7/858 File 76 Noc

With the petition was sent a fascinating list of the 40 crew members giving their names, father’s name, address in India, their capacity (or role) on the ship, term of service, rate of pay, the payment received, and the balance due.  Some of the extraordinary sounding names of the roles listed are intriguing, for instance Donkeyman.  This was someone who was in charge of a steam engine, known as a donkey-engine, which was usually used for subsidiary operations on board ship.

As for the ship, it was seized by the Brazilian Government in 1917 and renamed the Lages.  In September 1942, it was part of convoy of merchant ships which were attacked by a German U-boat off the coast of Brazil.  The Lages was struck by a torpedo and sank with the loss of three lives.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Lascar Crews of German Ships interned at various Neutral, Allied and British Ports, 1915-1917 [Reference IOR/L/E/7/858 File 76]
Tyne Built Ships, A history of Tyne shipbuilders and the ships that they built
Lages

 

22 January 2019

'Citizens of the World' – the Collow network of merchants, agents and traders

In the 18th century there were merchants who traded on a global scale with wide-ranging projects from slaving to government contracting.  David Hancock has studied a group of these merchants based in London who developed the British Atlantic trade, calling them 'Citizens of the World'.

We have been researching the Scottish merchant brothers William and Thomas Collow.  They became residents of Le Havre, owning the ship Gosport & Le Havre Ferry which from 1788 operated as a packet boat sailing between France and Portsmouth.  The ship had previously been engaged in the slave trade and once had a famous Captain, Archibald Dalzel, author of A History of Dahomey.  It is unclear if the Collows were deeply involved with the sailing on a regular basis, but packet boats plying their regular schedules from British coastal ports were a great way for merchants to receive intelligence from Continental Europe.

Plan of Le Havre 1786 Plan of Le Havre 1786 from Frédéric de Coninck,  Le Havre, son passé, son présent, son avenir (1869) BL flickr

Whilst they were based in Le Havre, the Collows were arranging insurance for French ships.  Some of this business was via contact with Peter Thellusson, a Lloyd's founder and Bank of England Director, and Alexander Aubert, Governor of London Assurance Company. Both men were close associates of West India merchants Camden, Calvert & King (hereafter CC&K).  William Collow was the London contact for this network, although Thomas Collow was also well connected in his own right through his West Indies slave trading interests.

The Collows shipped tobacco from the American colonies through their Irish merchant partners the Fergusons.  The Irish connections of the Collows and Fergussons allowed them to be part of a well-established and organised trade to France, some of which was 'smuggling'.  There is evidence to suggest that there may be a link to Robert Morris, merchant in America, the supplier of tobacco to the French Farmers General.

There were strong links with Liverpool within the Collow network.  Some came about through the Collow brothers’ dealings with noted slave traders such as Thomas Hodgson and ships’ captains such as Arthur Bold.
 
Thomas Cheap, another of the Collow associates, had successfully negotiated the wine contract to the East India Company for the group.  His partners were the Gordons who also shipped 'specie' or gold coinage from Jamaica on behalf of the British government under contract with London merchant bankers Gordon & Murphy of Jamaica.

East India Company agents such as Charles Lindegren had connections to London merchants such as the Collows and their slave trading associates CC&K.  Lindgren was also a member of the Dundee Arms Freemasonry Lodge in Wapping, as was CC&K patron Sir William Curtis, a prominent City figure.

An important point to remember is how merchants such as CC&K and their agents used a system of 'neutral flags' for their ships. This was done on a global scale with agents in Ostend, India, Macau, China and other ports to enable movement of cargoes without restriction from the East India Company monopoly in the Pacific.  This 'flagging' provoked some serious comment: War in Disguise : or, The frauds of the neutral flags by James Stephens was published in 1805.

Ken Cozens, Greenwich Maritime Centre Affiliate
Derek Morris, Independent Scholar

Further reading:
David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735-1785 (1997).
Stephen D. Behrendt, 'The Journal of an African Slaver, 1789-1792, and the Gold Coast Slave Trade of William Collow', History in Africa (1995).
B.R. Tomlinson, 'From Campsie to Kedgeree: Scottish Enterprise, Asian Trade and the Company Raj', Modern Asian Studies (2002).
James Stephens, War in Disguise : or, The frauds of the neutral flags (1805).

 

24 December 2018

Captain Bendy’s not so Happy Christmas

Christmas 1780 was not a happy one for Captain Richard Bendy of the East India Company’s cutter Hinde.  He had left St Helena on 29 November, having been despatched to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for repairs to his ship.  Two years in the water had left it worm damaged, and Rio was the nearest suitable port to heave down and repair the ship.  Captain Bendy arrived in Rio on 22 December carrying a letter from John Skottowe and Daniel Corneille - respectively Governor and Lieutenant Governor of St Helena - to the Portuguese Viceroy requesting permission for the Hinde’s repair and asking for protection for Captain Bendy, his ship and crew.  With Rio being part of the Portuguese Empire, and Anglo-Portuguese relations in 1780 on the whole cordial, what happened next was unexpected.

 View of Rio on the sea coast 1789Add. 41761 f.30 no.2 ‘A View of Rio on the sea coast…’ (1789) Images Online

On 23 December, with his requests to see the Viceroy denied, Captain Bendy was informed that his ship was to be detained ‘until an answer was received from Lisbon to letters about her’.  He was immediately taken to ‘a common prison at night… without giving him a bed or telling him what crime had been committed’.  In the days that followed, the seamen from the Hinde were taken off and made prisoner on the island of Galoon (presumably one of the islands in Guanabara Bay), the ship was searched and its stores removed.  Captain Bendy complained of misunderstandings prompted by his lack of access to a ‘proper linguist’, and was compelled to sign a paper that he did not understand.  The Captain’s papers and the ship’s money totalling 2258 dollars were removed, although personal chests were given back to the officers and men.

Page from letter from Captain Bendy to the Viceroy of Portugal, Rio de Janeiro, 26 Dec 1780IOR/H/155, p.303. Copy of letter from Captain Bendy to the Viceroy of Portugal, Rio de Janeiro, 26 Dec 1780.

By 16 January 1781, Captain Bendy was informed that a Court had decided that the cutter and all its stores were condemned ‘and were to be sold off for the benefit of the Queen of Portugal’, the Captain and crew would be taken to Lisbon.  The ship’s colours were struck and Captain Bendy returned to prison ‘where from the badness of his situation he was taken very ill and denied assistance for some time’.

Captain Bendy and his crew left Rio on 20 July 1781 on the St Joas Baptista, leaving behind the condemned ship Hinde and six black slaves and a black ‘apprentice’.  Arriving in Lisbon on 1 October 1781, Captain Bendy had his sword and papers returned to him, and the men were free to go.

 List of crew of the Hinde arriving in Lisbon as prisonersIOR/H/155, p.307. List of crew of the Hinde arriving in Lisbon as prisoners

The episode did not prevent Captain Bendy’s appointment as Captain of the packet Swallow in June 1783, although the Chairman of the East India Company ‘very particularly cautioned him against illicit Trade and breaking bulk homewards’ – possibly suspicious of his activities.  Was his incarceration a mere misunderstanding, or did the Portuguese authorities suspect him of attempting to trade illegally in Brazil, where all commerce was prohibited except with Portugal?  It is not clear.  The East India Company themselves petitioned the Secretary of State against ‘the unwarrantable conduct of the Vice Roy of Rio de Janeiro’ and entreated him to obtain reimbursement from the Court of Portugal for £5503.19.4.  As for Captain Bendy, his health may well have been affected by months in jail; he died and was buried at Fort St George, Madras, on 9 September 1784.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/H/154: Home Miscellaneous: East India Series 62: pp.9-51 & 303-311
IOR/H/155: Home Miscellaneous: East India Series 63: pp.19-24 & 289-334
IOR/L/PS/19/126: Political and Secret Department Miscellaneous: Papers concerning Captain Richard Bendy of the Hinde and his imprisonment in Rio de Janeiro
IOR/B/98-99: Court Minutes of the Court of Directors of the East India Company, Apr 1782-Apr 1784

 

20 September 2018

‘Fulbrighters’: the US-UK Fulbright Commission Alumni

In this second blogpost relating to the US-UK Fulbright Commission Archive recently acquired by the British Library, Eleanor Casson looks at the newsletters of the British Fulbright Scholars Association (BFSA) and the Alumni of the US-UK Fulbright Commission. For more information about this collection, there is an event on 19 November 2018 called ‘Hidden Histories: Gaps and Silences in the Archive’; tickets are available now.

Over the course of 70 years The Fulbright Commission has administered grants to numerous high-flyers in a wide ranging selection of professions, sectors, and skillsets. Senator Fulbright’s main aim was to produce world leaders through educational and cultural exchange. The US-UK Fulbright Program has been a particularly successful Commission in achieving this aim.

From 1982-2012 The Fulbright Commission had a separate supporting British Fulbright Scholars Association (BFSA), which acted as a charity on behalf of the Commission. It also acted as a central point from which Fulbright Alumni could stay in touch with the work of the Commission and build social and business networks across the Alumni database. This blog takes a look at the copies of the newsletter recently acquired by the British Library as part of the US-UK Fulbright Commission Archive.

The BFSA Newsletter was established in 1983, it was sent out to registered members as a way of keeping the community informed about the activities of The Fulbright Commission and the successes of the numerous alumni. The BFSA received a grant from the US Embassy to produce the newsletter to a high quality and improve alumni engagement.

The newsletter went through various overhauls with changes of name and changes of focus before the BFSA moved away from paper copies and began to distribute the newsletter only online. The multiple BFSA events planned throughout the year were documented in the newsletters, including the May Concerts, BFSA Debates, as well as Annual General Meetings Talks. Amongst the articles and photographs of Fulbright events and fundraising efforts there were snippets of the Fulbright Commission’s community including; birth, marriage, and death announcements.  

Fulbright Association publications arranged on a tableThe British Fulbright Scholar Association Newsletter, 1983-1988, The British Fulbright Scholar Association: Link, 1989-2000, and The Fulbright Alumni News: Linking the UK and USA, 2001-2012

Alongside the community engagement element of the newsletter there were also thought provoking articles from Fulbright Scholars about their chosen interests and often related to the study they were undertaking with their Fulbright Grant. The BFSA newsletter aimed to engage the audience as well as inform them.

Article headline 'America's Dilemma. Illegal Mexicans in the U.S.'This article found in the Spring 1984 issue No. 2 highlights how little politics can change in 34 years. Article by Professor David Walker

Editors of the newsletter included Mary Hockaday, a journalist who went on to become Controller of BBC World Service English, and award-winning Adeola Solanke, a Nigerian-British playwright and screenwriter. Profile articles were written about well-known and successful alumni including Katherine Whitehorn, journalist and columnist with The Observer. Profile articles were also written for the politicians Lord Bernard Donoughue, Baroness Shirley Williams, and Charles Kennedy about their life experiences. Sir Malcolm Bradbury, the author and academic, wrote a small piece reflecting on his time as a ‘Fulbrighter’ in 1955, as well as imagining Sylvia Plath’s journey and experience travelling the opposite way in the same year.

Eleanor Casson
Cataloguer, Fulbright Archive

 

28 August 2018

Hazards when crossing the Atlantic in the early 19th Century

Charles Kingsley’s maternal grandfather, Nathan Lucas FLS, owned plantations in Barbados and Demerara.  Lucas left Liverpool in the Barton (Captain George Chalmers) on 4 January 1803.  She had two decks, three masts and displaced 212 tons.

The Port of Liverpool taken from the opposite side of the River Mersey. Drawn and engraved by William Daniell, 1813The Port of Liverpool taken from the opposite side of the River Mersey. Drawn and engraved by William Daniell.  (1813) G.7043 plate 39 Images Online

On 19 January, off the coast of Spain, he wrote in his journal: ‘At 5am a mountainous sea broke upon the Ship from head to stern, carried away our booms – one of our boats – stowed the other – all our stock washed overboard.  The ship was thrown on her beam ends, & did not right again! … she was entirely unmanageable, & could not wear round – but cut away the Mizen Mast, without any effect … we then cut away the main mast; & thanks to God she righted a little & we got her before the wind – immediately she was pooped, the windows all broken in, & the Cabin a sea of water.  As we had no masts, sails or boats, we did not think proper to put to Lisbon, fearful of being wrecked on a lee shore.  Madeira was out of the question & we kept on to Barbados … Got in a Jury Main Mast, made from the Derrick – we have no more spars, except foretop gallant mast & foretopsail yard – we are busy in making some from planks sawn and nailed together – busily employed in making sails, rope &c’.  The voyage to Barbados lasted 51 days. 

Bridgetown – engraving by Samuel Cope Bridgetown – engraving by Samuel Cope reproduced in West India Committee Circular Vol.XXVIII no.38, 6 May 1913

England and France were at war when Lucas returned on the Ash (master James Reed).  ‘A convoy for England being appointed, I determined to take the advantage of it, for safety of convoy, not expedition; for who has sufficient patience for the delays of a convoy! I have not, I candidly confess; but it is the lesser of two evils; & a prison would detain longer than a fleet.’  Twenty ships sailed from Barbados on 21 July, and eventually there were 176 ships escorted by HMS Courageous and HMS Venus. Lucas recorded six ships sinking:  “September 17th: We hear that the Betsey of Dublin foundered in the late gale, & all hands lost.  The unexpected & unfortunate War in which we are engaged, by keeping many tender vessels abroad, to wait convoy, instead of getting home as fast as loaden, & of course getting a winter’s passage, has been the cause of all the disasters in the fleet.”  The voyage to Bristol lasted 70 days.

On 18 August 1811 Lucas left Falmouth for Barbados on the Swallow (Captain Morphew). On 4 September they were boarded by the French frigate La Clorinde sailing from Madagascar to France. ‘It was soon rumoured that the Vessel would be given up to us, & the men &c exchanged on Cartel … They were in the greatest distress for provisions & water, though they had removed all from the Prizes they had made, but were now so low, they could not detain us.  Our private property was secured to us, tho’ they took away my Petite Neptune Francais.  Everything else was carried off, stores, rigging, sails, provisions &c … we really thought there were no provisions & water left; but we afterwards found some Pork & Potatoes.” They returned to Falmouth, where Lucas joined ‘the Express, Capt. Bullock, with Mails for the Windward Islands’, arriving in Barbados on 10 November. 

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive 

 

07 August 2018

Loss of the ’Empire Windrush’

The troopship Empire Windrush is best known for carrying hundreds of migrants to London from the Caribbean in 1948.  The ship hit the headlines again six years later when it was destroyed by a fire sweeping through its decks.

Ship Empire WindrushThe Empire Windrush - image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum © IWM (FL 9448)

In March 1954, the Empire Windrush was bringing 1,276 men, women and children back to the UK from Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Suez. Many were National Servicemen returning home to be demobbed.

On the morning of 28 March the ship was 20 miles off Algiers.  At about 6.15 am officers on the bridge heard a 'whoof' of air and, turning round, saw oily, black smoke pouring out of one of the ship’s funnels.  Then ten foot high flames appeared.  There was a fire in the engine room.  Since the alarm bell system failed to work, stewards and catering staff were sent to arouse crew and passengers. 

Some of the military officers thought it was a practical joke when they were awoken by stewards bursting into their cabins shouting ‘Get quickly to your emergency station!'.  Captain Anderson turned over in his bunk and continued to wait for his morning cup of tea, but then became aware of a smell of burning.  He threw on his overcoat and rushed on deck.  Hot paint from the top of the funnel was setting light to the wooden decks.  The ship’s power failed and there was no light, water, or telephone.


   The Empire Windrush as she burned at sea off the port of Algiers 1954The Empire Windrush as she burned at sea off the port of Algiers 1954- image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum  © IWM (A 32891)

Evacuation procedures swung into action.  Lifeboats and rafts were launched and ships were sent from Algiers.  Everything proceeded in a disciplined manner.  Within twenty minutes of the order to abandon ship, all 250 women and children had been placed in lifeboats, as well as 500 of the servicemen and the ship’s cat Tibby.  One boat was damaged as it was being launched and later sank when full of survivors.  Some of these were in the sea for two hours before being rescued.  As the fire spread, the order was finally given – every man for himself.  At about 7.15 am the last men left the ship,  including the captain.

Four lives were lost - engineers G W Stockwell, J W Graves, A Webster, and L Pendleton.  Others suffered injuries such as damaged hands from going down ropes and lifelines too quickly.

  Photograph of survivors (men, women and children) arriving at Blackbushe Airport – from The Courier and Advertiser 1 April 1954 Survivors arriving at Blackbushe Airport – from The Courier and Advertiser 1 April 1954 British Newspaper Archive

A relief operation was set up in Algiers and emergency accommodation found.  A soon-to-open holiday camp was commandeered.  The survivors were taken by ship to Gibraltar and then flown home by RAF and chartered aircraft, or taken by ship if they did not wish to fly.  Many had lost their clothing and possessions in the fire.  Service wives were handed a £30 ex-gratia payment by the War Office on arrival in the UK, plus £15 for each child.  Compensation for serviceman and for the families of the dead engineers was dealt with later.

An official enquiry into the loss of the Empire Windrush was held in June and July 1954.  It concluded that the cause of the fire could not be determined, but smoking, electrical fault, and sabotage were considered improbable. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Northern Whig 29 March 1954, The Courier and Advertiser 30 March 1954 and 1 April 1954.
W N Seybold (compiler), Women and children first…The Loss of the Troopship ‘Empire Windrush’ (1998).

 

Visit our free exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land - open until 21 October 2018

  Photograph of people arriving on the Windrush - young woman in hat in foreground

02 August 2018

James Cook and Adam Smith

The art historian Bernard Smith famously described Cook as ‘Adam Smith’s global agent’.  Cook’s voyages certainly promoted commerce as a civilizing activity, a key theme in Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776), published the same year Cook departed on his final voyage.  Commerce is often illustrated in John Webber’s images of the expedition.

  The ship, ‘Resolution’, at anchor in Nootka Sound, 1778,John Webber, The ship, ‘Resolution’, at anchor in Nootka Sound, 1778, pen, wash and watercolour, British Library, Add. 15514, no. 10 Images Online

In their eagerness to trade with the British, the Mowachaht are here exercising what Adam Smith terms ‘the most sacred of human rights’ – to make a profit from what they have produced, particularly sea-otter furs which were highly prized by the British – and in doing so, are sharing in the benefits of ‘civilization’.

Like Smith’s own public image, however, the man on the £20 note extolling the virtues of the division of labour, the realities of the encounter were more complicated than that.  Less often quoted are his comments on the impact of this division of labour on individuals’s lives: ‘The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations… becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to become’.

Smith was equally sceptical of European intrusions into the New World, motivated by ‘the dream of Eldorado’ or the equally fantastical ‘discovering a north-west passage to the East Indies’.  As for what he terms ‘colony trade’, this, he argued, tended to serve the interests of merchants above either those of the colonies or of the ‘mother country’. The ‘blankets, fire-arms, and brandy’ that the nations of North America traded for furs did little if anything to improve their lives, nor in Britain did those new imported products ‘consumed by idle people who produce nothing, such as foreign wines, foreign silks, &c’.

Smith was not alone in holding such critical views.  Some even stuck to the figure of Cook himself who was accused of being ‘amongst the pursuers of peltry’.  The accusation was not without some justification.  Soon after his death in 1779 a number of commercial expeditions were launched on the back of reports from Cook’s voyage of the abundance of sea-otter furs on America’s north-west coast and the huge prices they fetched in China.  Several of these trips were led by former crew members of Cook.  In 1792, George Vancouver, a midshipman on the Resolution, sailed to Nootka Sound to negotiate with Spain the rights of the British effectively to take possession of the region for purposes of trade.

In the background to Gillray’s caricature of Vancouver is ‘The South-Sea Fur Warehouse from China!’ selling ‘Fine Black Otter Skins.  The assertion: ‘No contraband goods sold here’ is hardly to be believed.  Instead, Gillray, like Smith, casts doubt on the benefits to the ‘mother country’ brought by ‘colony trade’, a point emphasised by the inscription on Vancouver’s cloak: ‘This present from the King of Owyhee to George IIId forgot to be delivered’.  Such criticisms of course take little, if any, account of the injurious impact the trade had on the Mowachaht themselves.

Satirical drawing by James Gillray, The Caneing in Conduit Street, dedicated to the Flag Officers of the British Navy, 1796 James Gillray, The Caneing in Conduit Street, dedicated to the Flag Officers of the British Navy, 1796 - hand-coloured etching British Museum

So it may be true that Cook’s promotion of trade was ‘the diplomatic hallmark of his command’.  But the suggestion that he did so with a particular economic theory in mind, Smith’s or anybody else’s for that matter, would be to credit him with a far greater clarity of purpose than all the evidence would imply he possessed.

Ben Pollitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University College London

Further reading:
Bernard Smith, ‘Cook’s Posthumous Reputation,’ in Robin Fisher and Hugh Johnston (eds), Captain James Cook and his Times, Vancouver and London, 1979, pp. 159-186
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776
James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1784
George Vancouver, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 1798
MacLaren, I.S., ‘Narrating and Alaskan Culture: Cook’s Journal (1778) and Douglas’s Edition of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784)’ in J. Barnett and D. Nicandri (eds.), Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015) pp. 231-261

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018

Advert for Cook exhibition

 

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