Untold lives blog

85 posts categorized "Commerce"

03 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

We met George Byworth in our story about the East India Company and Marine Society boys.  He was given as an example of a boy apprentice who made good of the opportunity offered by the Marine Society.  Here we look at his interesting life in more detail.

George was born in London, the son of watchmaker Thomas Byworth and his wife Mary.  His baptism record at St James Clerkenwell from March 1807 gives his date of birth as 23 February 1807.  This tallies with the age given on his death certificate.  However records from the Marine Society and the Board of Trade say George was 14 in March 1823 and 15½ in September 1824, suggesting he was born in 1809.  Why the discrepancy?

Sailor Boy on the lookoutSailor boy on the look-out from Mark James Barrington Ward, The Round World (London, 1890) Shelfmark 10004.f.7.  BL flickr  Noc

From March 1823 to May 1824 George served in the East India Company ship Scaleby Castle on a voyage to Bombay and China.  He sailed with nine other Marine Society boys, one of whom fell overboard and drowned.  They were paid a monthly wage of 10s. 

List of Marine Society Boys on the Scaleby CastleList of Marine Society boys from IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle Noc

Captain David Rae Newall’s journal of the voyage sheds light on how vulnerable these young boys were.  On 1 April 1823 seaman Thomas Barnes was confined in irons for making attempts ‘to commit an unnatural crime on some of the Marine Society Boys’.  On 13 August 1823 a court of enquiry found seaman James Russel guilty of an ‘unnatural attempt’ upon George Byworth.  Russel had a cut on the back of his hand which George said he had made with his knife.  Russel was punished with three dozen lashes.

 In September 1824 George was bound as a merchant navy apprentice to William Shepherd for four years.  He petitioned the East India Company in September 1827 to be granted free mariner’s indentures for India.  This was approved and he spent some time in Calcutta as a merchant officer in the intra-Asia or ‘country’ trade.

George then based himself in Australia undertaking convict and sealing voyages.  Questioned about provisions on sealing vessels in 1834, he described an allowance of pork, bread, flour, coffee, sugar and spirits, supplemented by gathered food such as fish, penguin eggs and petrels.

Map of KerguelenMap of Kerguelen from John Nunn, Narrative of the Wreck of the 'Favourite' on the Island of Desolation (London, 1850) Shelfmark 10460.e.23. BL flickr  Noc

In March 1832 George was the chief officer in the Adelaide when she was sent to Kerguelen, or Desolation Island, to rescue five shipwrecked men.  The Adelaide met with Captain Alexander Distant who reported that he had already taken the men to St Helena.  George went on board Distant’s ship for some supplies but a violent gale prevented him from returning to the Adelaide.  He was obliged to sail with Distant to St Helena.

View of St Helena from the seaView of St Helena from the sea from John Charles Melliss, St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island (London, 1875) Shelfmark 10096.gg.15.  BL flickr Noc

On 14 August 1833 George wrote to the Governor of St Helena telling his story and asking to be paid the cost of clothing provided by Captain Distant plus the rate allowed by the British government to wrecked mariners.  The St Helena Council granted him a daily allowance of 1s 6d.   George wrote again on 9 September expressing his thanks for the island’s kindness, and asking for £12 for his passage on the Lord Hobart to the Cape of Good Hope where he could pick up a ship to return to Tasmania.  The East India Company was repaid George’s expenses by the Admiralty in March 1834.

Part 2 will tell what happened next!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle and IOR/L/MAR/B/34DD Pay Book of Scaleby Castle.
IOR/B/180 pp.398, 406 Petition of George Byworth to the East India Company to be granted free mariner’s indentures September 1827.
The National Archives BT 150/1 Merchant Navy apprenticeship September 1824.
IOR/G/9/24 Cape Factory Records.
IOR/G/32/96 St Helena Factory Records.
Trove newspapers.
Thierry Jean-Marie Rousset, ‘Might is Right’. A study of the Cape Town/Crozets elephant seal oil trade (1832–1869). A dissertation submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Historical Studies. Faculty of the Humanities University of Cape Town. 2011.

 

01 October 2019

East India Company private trade

Advertisements in the Calcutta Gazette of 12 March 1795 alerted readers to the arrival of the East India Company ship Royal Admiral with private trade goods to sell.   Private or ‘privilege’ trade was allowed to the captains, officers and crew of East Indiamen on a sliding scale of cargo space and value based on rank.  Mariners tended to concentrate mainly on items of high value but low volume.

Calcutta - ships near Smith's Docks 1820s'A view of the river, shipping and town, from near Smith's Dock' from Views of Calcutta engraved by Robert Havell - Shelfmark X644(18) [1824-1826] Noc
 Images Online 

The firm of Tulloh, Henchman, and Innes in Calcutta begged leave to inform their friends and the public that within the next few days they would be offering for sale on commission at their warehouse ‘the large, elegant, and well chosen Investments‘ brought from England by Essex Henry Bond, Captain of the Royal Admiral, and William Fairfax, his chief officer.

The goods offered by Bond and Fairfax consisted of:
• Claret from Carbonal, Paxton, Brown and Whiteford, Wilkinson and Crosthwaite
• Old hock and red port
• Ale and small beer in hogsheads and butts
• Cider and perry from Silas Palmer
• Hams; pickled tongues; red and pickled herrings; salted salmon; pickled oysters, French and Spanish olives; capers; Durham mustard; salad oil, with ground stoppers; pickles and sauces; white wine, elder and tarragon vinegar
• Cheeses – Cheshire, Double Gloucester, Berkley and Pine
• Bloom raisins; new currants; shelled almonds; Turkey figs; French plums; Sir Hans Sloane’s and plain chocolate; cocoa; pearl and Scotch barley
• Confectionery from Hoffman
• Books
• Elegant lustres [candle holders] and girandoles [chandeliers]; table and wall shades; milk bowls; butter dishes; sweetmeat cups; hookah bottoms; salt cellars; muffineers [small castors for sprinkling salt or sugar on muffins, or covered dishes for keeping toasted muffins warm]; Italian shades; tumblers; wine and water glasses; Madeira and claret glasses to match
• Beautiful prints from Macklin
• Looking glasses
• Mathematical instruments
• Plate and jewellery
• Silk and cotton stockings for ladies and gentlemen
• Irish linen; Manchester dimities; cambrics
• Cloth and cashmere; buttons
• Blankets and flannels
• Perfumery
• Stationery and Mogul cards
• Saddlery
• Cutlery
• Haberdashery
• Medicines
• Mahogany furniture
• Fowling pieces and pistols; shooting tackle
• Tin ware; iron kitchen furniture; garden scythes; ship chandlery; ironmongery; spermaceti candles; garden seeds; cork and cork jackets; gunpowder and patent shot
• Toys

Dring, Cleland and Co were offering by private sale Madeira wine imported in the Royal Admiral.  Bucking the trend for non-bulky goods, Steuart, Maudslay and Gordon alerted readers to the arrival of a number of elegant London-built carriages on board the Royal Admiral – chariots, phaetons, gigs and buggies.  They were also selling saddlery, superior in ’variety, taste and fashion’.

There are several advertisements in that issue of the Calcutta Gazette offering European goods just arrived in other East India ships.  The auction houses vied for custom and the buyers had the luxury of choice.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
H V Bowen, ‘Sinews of Trade and Empire: The Supply of Commodity Exports to the East India Company during the Late Eighteenth Century’ in The Economic History Review, Vol.55, No.3 (Aug 2002)

 

08 August 2019

Captain Henry Liddell’s recipe for spruce beer

Entered in the journal of the ship Fame for 1796-1797 is Captain Henry Liddell’s recipe for spruce beer which was believed to ward off scurvy:

Take 2 tablespoons of essence of spruce, add 20 or 21 lbs of molasses or coarse sugar with 20 gallons of boiling water.  When well worked together and frothing, add 1 bottle of porter or wine. Work them all well together, then let them stand until cool, keeping the bung closed for 12-15 hours.  When done working, it will be fit for use.

If the beer was given to the sailors on Liddell’s ship, it was not entirely successful.  On 24 December 1796 there were ‘from four to Six People sick for some time past, complaint is most Scurvey’.


British sailor from mid 19th centuryA British sailor from A collection of 111 Valentines HS.85/2 plate 15 (London, 1845-50?) Images Online Noc


The Fame had been chartered by the East India Company from Calvert and Co for a voyage to Bengal.  The ship was built for the West Indian trade and had recently undergone thorough repairs.  Henry Liddell commanded the ship, assisted by two British officers: John Cundill, first mate, and Giles Creed, second mate.  33 crew members joined the ship on 22 July 1796 – twelve British, twelve Swedish, six German, two Danish and one Spanish. Of these, three died at sea, one drowned, and nineteen deserted. 

The Fame sailed from England in convoy with a fleet of East Indiamen in August 1796.  The French Wars increased the dangers of the voyage and there are many sightings of strange sails noted in the journal.  The ship arrived in Bengal in February 1797.   On 19 March 1797, 32 crew were signed on for the return journey to England via St Helena – nine Swedish, eight Malay, and fifteen Portuguese (two of whom drowned the same day).  A cargo of 4,729 bags of sugar, 434 bags of ginger, 773 cases of indigo, and one case of cochineal was loaded.  Evidence of some plundering by the crew is recorded.  Rum, rice and paddy was delivered to the East India Company personnel at St Helena.   The Fame arrived in the Thames in December 1797.

The ship’s journal is written in more than one hand, with Liddell’s distinctive writing easily to spot.  On 7 November 1797 Captain Liddell composed a note complaining about his officers, particularly ‘everlasting Grumbler’ John Cundill who was ‘of such a Temper that if any thing of violence happens he has brought it on himself by his Capricious ways’.

The Fame made a second voyage for the East India Company in 1798-1799, this time to Bombay under Captain Richard Owen.  Unfortunately there is no journal for this voyage in the Company archives, although there is a copy of a memo by Owen about Company shipping.  He reports that there is very little news from India apart from the expectation of war with Tipu Sultan, with a Company expedition sent from Bombay to take Mangalore. Calvert and Co subsequently sent the Fame on slaving voyages captained by Diedrick Woolbert.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/242A  Journal of the Fame on a voyage to Bengal, Captain Henry Liddell.
IOR/E/1/100 no.155 Copy of memo from Captain Richard Owen to the East India Company’s agent at Deal.
Gary L Sturgess and Ken Cozens, ‘Managing a global enterprise in the eighteenth century: Anthony Calvert of The Crescent, London, 1777-1808’ in Mariner’s Mirror Vol 99 No.2 (May 2013), pp.171-195.

 

26 February 2019

Trying to grow Syrian tobacco in Bombay

In 1841 seeds from Syrian tobacco plants were acquired by the Bombay Presidency.  Seeds were distributed to twelve collectorates or botanic gardens throughout Bombay Presidency with instructions to undertake experiments to see if the correct soil and climate conditions for growing the plants could be found.

Tobacco plantTobacco plant from p.37 of The Making of Virginia and the Middle Colonies. 1578-1701. 9605.c.18. BL flickr Noc

On 10 July 1843 the Bombay Revenue Department submitted a letter reporting on the results of these experiments to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London. The experiments had very mixed results.

In the collectorates of Ahmedabad, Khandesh, Ratnagiri, Surat and Thane the experiments failed completely as the plants either did not vegetate or died shortly after they appeared above the ground.

In Kaira [Kheda] the seeds sprang up well but most were washed away in heavy rain.  Those that survived produced a very small yield of an inferior quality to the local tobacco grown and were therefore considered a failure.

In Pune two of the three experiments failed, and the third although successful was not harvested in time and became a victim of the strong winds in that region.  As some seeds from the successful experiment had been preserved, it was decided that future experiments should be conducted by the Botanic Gardens there.

In Ahmednagar and Solapur one or two plants grew successfully and produced leaves of a good quality; seeds from these plants were preserved to be sown again the following year.

Dharwar was considered to be the most successful province as the first attempt sprung up and was growing well, but was a victim of the strong winds that follow the monsoon.  A second attempt was made to plant the seeds much earlier, however none of these vegetated so on the third attempt they were again planted later in the year.  This attempt was successful with good healthy plants and good quality leaves, but the plants received considerable injury from insects.  The seeds from these plants were preserved with the intention of trying again the following season and of sending them to other collectorates such as Thane to see if they would be successful there too.

The Botanic Gardens at Dapurie attempted the experiments on a much larger scale and they were successful in obtaining a good quantity tobacco from their plants.  They even sent samples of the product to London for the Court of Directors to test and give their opinions.

Extract from report by Dr Gibson of the Botanic Gardens at Dapurie on the experiments on the Syrian tobacco seedsExtract from report by Dr Gibson of the Botanic Gardens at Dapurie on the experiments on the Syrian tobacco seeds IOR/F/4/2808/91724 Noc

The report concluded however that Syrian tobacco had not generally adapted to the soil and climate of Bombay Presidency.  There had however been requests for fresh seeds to do more experiments and that request had been sent to the Company’s agent in Egypt.  They hoped that some of the collectorates that had seen some success would be able to replicate it on a larger scale in the future.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/2808/91724 experiments introduced in the several collectorates of the Bombay Presidency with a view of proving the adaptation of the soil and climate to the production of Syrian tobacco

 

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

 

25 October 2018

The East India Company and Marine Society boys

Jonas Hanway’s Marine Society is perhaps best known for its pivotal role in supplying the Royal Navy during manpower crises in the 18th century, ridding London’s streets of vagrant and delinquent boys, putting them to good use for the nation.  A lesser known aspect of the Society’s work is the apprenticeship of boys to merchant vessels; over 25,000 were sent to sea in this manner 1772-1873.

Britannia seated at the foot of a statue of charity inscribed 'Marine Society', as a woman at left brings two poor children towards her, and members Jonas Hanway, John Thornton and William Hickes stand at right with another boy.Britannia seated at the foot of a statue of charity inscribed 'Marine Society', as a woman at left brings two poor children towards her, and members Jonas Hanway, John Thornton and William Hickes stand at right with another boy. After Edward Edwards (1774). Image courtesy of the British Museum.

By the 1820s merchant supply was the main endeavour of the charity, and the East India Company was the biggest and most important employer for the Society.  Between 1786-1858, over 2,000 boys were supplied for trade expeditions or the Bombay Marine (later the Indian Navy).  The East India Company became de facto patrons, contributing generous donations; their relationship first began during the Seven Years war, as a letter of March 1757 from the Society to the Company illustrates, thanking them for £200.

Letter of March 1757 from the Marine Society to the East India Company thanking them for £200IOR/E/1/40 ff. 160-161v

The first batch of 42 boys were apprenticed on 5 December 1786, to the ships Locko and Melville Castle for five years.  Boys were generally apprenticed for between four and seven years, or sometimes contracted for the voyage only; because the Company were taking large numbers of boys at a time, the Society granted exemptions from their usual strict requirement for a formal apprenticeship.  This did not mean that those boys only had a short-term experience with the Company though; an informal arrangement was effected whereby a boy could return from the voyage and board the Society’s training ship until their next assigned voyage. 

The Society did try to monitor the fate of the boys.  A letter to the Company dated 1 October 1805 castigated '…sixty-six of the Boys sent from this Office into the Grab Service of the Honorable Company in 1801 are omitted in the return dated Bombay 1st January 1805, and to request that they [the Court of Directors] will be pleased to give orders, that the necessary information may be obtained as early as possible, the Friends of the Boys being under great anxiety at not having an account, as they were promised, and had reason to expect'.
 

Letter to the East India Company from the Marine Society dated 1 October 1805 complaining of the lack of information about their boysIOR/D/160 ff. 64-66

One of the missing boys never returned.  Patrick Connelly was a destitute thirteen year old from Ireland when he presented at the Society’s offices looking for a better life.  He was placed on board the Northampton for five years, but sadly drowned near the end of his term on 26 May 1805.  A certificate was provided to the Company: 'This is to Certify that Patrick Connelly was sent by this Society to the Honorable East India Company’s Grab Service, he went to India in the Northampton in 1802 and was drowned 26 May 1805'.
 

Certificate that Patrick Connelly was drowned 26 May 1805IOR/D/165 f 89

However, for some boys the risk of death was a gamble that ultimately paid off.  Fourteen-year-old George Byworth, son of a Lambeth watchmaker, went out to the East Indies in the Scaleby Castle in March 1823, and by eighteen was Third Officer on the Lord Lyndoch.

Caroline Withall
British Library Research Affiliate @historycw

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/40ff 160-161v  Letter from Marine Society to East India Company 24 March 1757
IOR/D/160ff 64-66 Letter from Marine Society to East India Company 1 October 1805
IOR/D/165 f 89  Certificate concerning Patrick Connelly 24 November 1808

More on George Byworth - Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper Part 1 and Part 2

13 September 2018

A day in the life of an East India Company Director

Every April the stockholders of the East India Company elected 24 men to serve as directors for the following year.  Two were then chosen by the directors to be Chairman and Deputy.  These ‘merchant- statesmen’ had responsibility for governing a vast overseas empire as well as dealing with administrative minutiae such as petitions from home staff.  What was a typical working day for an East India Company director in the early 19th century? 

Exterior of East India House in Leadenhall Street 1817Joseph C Stadler, East India House 1817 - P1389 Images Online

The Court of Directors met at East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London to take ‘cognizance of all matters of record relating to the Company’.  Thirteen directors had to be present to form a quorum.  One Court had to be held every week, but the directors often met two, three, or more times.  Proceedings generally started at 11am or midday, sometimes at 10am.  They usually broke up between 6pm and 7pm, although sittings might go on until 10pm. There were fines for non-attendance. During a sitting, some directors might go off to other parts of East India House whilst unimportant matters were being dealt with, but if something was brought forward for discussion, all directors were recalled to the Court before business continued.

  The Court Room, East India House c.1820  - tables, chairs and pictures on wallThomas Hosmer Shepherd, The Court Room, East India House c.1820  - WD 2465 Images Online

Court meetings started with the reading of all papers received since the last session. Dispatches from India were read in Court before being sent to the different departments at East India House, but the vast body of consultations copied back to London were merely referred to and read as necessary. Lengthy debates often took place. Matters were either dealt with immediately or referred to one of the specialised committees of directors. There were sixteen committees in 1813: Buying, College, Correspondence, Government Troops and Stores, House, Law Suits, Library, Military Fund, Military Seminary, Preventing the Growth of Private Trade, Private Trade, Secrecy, Secret, Shipping, Treasury, and Warehouses.

The Court then adjourned and the committees of directors convened.  About 5pm the Court came back together to consider reports from the committees and make final decisions. The Court also swore in captains and officers of Company ships, and saw civil and military servants returning to India.

Chair covered in red velvet and decorated with East India Company coat of arms used by the Chairman of the Court of Directors,manufactured c.1730 Chair used by the Chairman of the Court of Directors manufactured c.1730 - Foster 905 Images Online

Directors took turns at presiding over sales at East India House, and committees often sat on days when the Court was not meeting.  With very few exceptions, the Chairman and Deputy attended East India House every morning, and frequently were there until late in the day: ‘their constant attention is indispensable, from the frequent communication with Ministers and the Government Offices’. They often had to go to the west end of town on government business.  

General Court Room, East India House, c.1820, showing a crowded meetingThomas Hosmer Shepherd, General Court Room, East India House, c.1820 - WD 2466 Images Online

In return for their services, directors enjoyed patronage rights over certain civil and military appointments as well as a salary, fixed in 1793 at £300 per annum for directors and £500 each for the Chairman and Deputy.  In 1814, the General Court of Proprietors voted an increase: £1200 for the Chairman, £1000 for his Deputy, and £500 for directors (£700 for those on the Secret Committee or Committee of Correspondence).  Not all stockholders approved of the pay rise: the vote was 51 in favour, 21 against.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Proceedings of the Select Committee appointed by the General Court of Proprietors, on the 6th October 1813, to consider and report upon the expediency of augmenting the allowances to the Directors for their attendance upon the business of the Company … (London, 1814)

 

 

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