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83 posts categorized "Commerce"

08 August 2019

Captain Henry Liddell’s recipe for spruce beer

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

13 September 2018

A day in the life of an East India Company Director

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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)

 

 

28 August 2018

Hazards when crossing the Atlantic in the early 19th Century

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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 

 

02 August 2018

James Cook and Adam Smith

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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

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