Untold lives blog

113 posts categorized "Commerce"

25 October 2022

Exploring the richness and variety of letters sent to the East India Company

Over 300 volumes of East India Company Home Correspondence have recently been digitised and they are now available through an Adam Matthew Digital resource

There are two series: IOR/E/1/1-195 letters sent to the Court of Directors 1701-1858, and IOR/E/1/196-314 (Miscellanies) copies of letters being sent out by the Court of Directors to Company agents, servants and Government departments 1688-1859.  ‘Home’ indicates that the correspondence is with individuals in Britain and Europe rather than Asia.

Copies of outgoing letters written by the East India Company Secretary James Cobb in January 1817 

Copies of outgoing letters written by the East India Company Secretary James Cobb in January 1817  - IOR/E/1 /253 p.57  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The home correspondence arriving at East India House covers a vast array of topics and subjects ranging from the day-to-day running of the Company, personal requests from employees and their families, and even unsolicited letters advertising patents, proposals and publications.

The correspondence is arranged by the date it was received at the Court, rather than the date it was sent.  The date the letter was received is recorded on the back of the letter, along with any actions taken by the Court, such as referral to a committee; read in Court; laid on the table for any interested parties to look at; or given to a specific individual to answer.  When a letter was read in Court, the Court Minutes [IOR/B] can be consulted to discover the Company’s response.

Much of the routine correspondence relates to the East India ships, including signing charterparties; appointing captains and crew; paying wages, supplies and repair bills; notifications of ship arrivals in various ports; and matters relating to the trade goods being carried on board.   Other correspondence relating to trade includes dealings with Customs officials; notifications of sales; intelligence received from agents in other countries relating to rival companies’ trade and goods; and London merchants sending money and goods to Asia in exchange for diamonds, jewels and coral.

Approval of officers for Company ships 1761Approval of officers for Company ships 1761 - IOR/E/1/43 f.306 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Related to matters of trade and shipping was correspondence with other Government departments, particularly the Admiralty, as Royal Navy vessels often provided escort services for East Indiamen and the ships would come to each other’s aid at sea.

Letters from the Company’s agents in places like Italy, Vienna, Madeira and the Levant also form part of this series.  These tend to relate to packets of the Company’s correspondence sent overland, and intelligence about political relations between countries which might impact the Company.  In the case of Madeira, there are bills and invoices for wine supplied to East Indiamen, the Court of Directors, and key Company employees.

Commercial intelligence about commodities traded by the Dutch East India Company 1771Commercial intelligence about commodities traded by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1771  - IOR/E/1/55 f.486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are also many letters from Company employees and their families, mostly in the form of petitions.  These include requests from employees to be considered for promotion, to extend leave in England owing to illness, or for relief or other assistance from relatives of employees who found themselves in financial distress.  Other topics include requests to send family members and servants to and from India, and the administration of deceased relatives' estates in India.  Occasionally there are letters from people trying to ascertain whether their relative overseas is still alive.

Petition of Mary Winbolt, widow of Gale Winbolt former doorkeeper, for relief 1764Petition of Mary Winbolt, widow of Gale Winbolt former doorkeeper, for relief December 1764 - IOR/E/1/46 ff.796-797  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other recurring themes are concerns about the smuggling of Indian tea into England and Scotland; arrangements with missionary societies for sending supplies to their missions in the East Indies; and letters from individuals attempting to get the East India Company to take up their patent or invention, or to purchase copies of their recently published books.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/E/1 – Home Correspondence 
Adam Matthew Digital: East India Company Module 5 

 

25 July 2022

Hadge Biram: A Restoration Renegade

In the early modern period, the Ottoman Empire was a Mediterranean powerhouse, and a source of both fear and envy throughout Europe.  Daring Maghrebi corsairs filled printed books, plays, and romanticised ballads.  Many Britons, attracted by promises of opportunity and freedom, made the Maghreb their permanent home, converted to Islam and adopted local customs.  Several achieved great notoriety in Britain, blackened by insinuations of backsliding treason as ‘renegades’, but valued for information, assistance, and entertainment.  There was Yusuf Rais/John Ward (c.1553-1622), English privateer turned Tunisian corsair, who starred in Robert Daborne’s A Christian turn’d Turk (1612) and a slew of swashbuckling ballads and pamphlets.  A poor British woman captive, renamed Lella Balqees, married Moroccan Sultan Mawlay Isma’il (r. 1672-1727), and held influence over their Anglo-Moroccan diplomacy for decades.  In 1704, double convert Joseph Pitts (c.1663-c.1735-39) wrote the first description in English of Mecca and Medina from the inside.

A Restoration English map of North Africa  showing Tunis  Tripoli  and CairoA Restoration English map of North Africa, showing Tunis, Tripoli, and Cairo. Richard Blome, A generall mapp of the coast of Barbarie (London: for Richard Blome, 1669). British Library C.39.d.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

But these famous examples obscure many British converts who lived more marginal and stable lives, like merchant Hadge Biram (Hajj Bayramı).  We know about him from only a few letters exchanged with English merchants in Tunis and Tripoli, but these letters powerfully illustrate the everyday tensions converts experienced.  Named for the festival surrounding the hajj pilgrimage, Hajj Bayramı lived in Cairo as a Muslim from at least 1679.  Thomas Baker, British consul in Tripoli, called him ‘our Countryman at Cairo’, and trusted him to pass on letters to British merchants in Istanbul, mediate trade in velvet, wire, and scarlet cloth, and procure ‘two fine Damaskeen Barrells’ for Baker’s musket.

In 1692, Bayramı wrote to Thomas Goodwyn, British consul in Tunis, to recommend 21-year-old Edward Allen, ‘a god sevel Lad & bred a marchant &…Capable for al marchandes’ in Cairo on his uncle’s recommendation.  Disappointed to find ‘no English Christians to pas his time with hm’, Allen was ‘mad to meet wth English men’ and hoped to come to Tunis instead. Biram apologised for not replying to several letters Goodwyn sent him three years earlier, swearing it was ‘not ungratefulnes nor unnaturall forgetfulnes of my Cuntrymen’ but lack of reliable ships to carry them, and invited Goodwyn to do business with him.

A second letter centred on the ordinary merchant courtesy of passing on news.  Bayramı transmitted a French take on an Anglo-French naval battle, mentioning his friendly correspondence with Goodwyn’s close associates Horsey and Nelthorpe in Livorno, and asked whether the deposed James II had invaded England as planned, and whether the long-running Algerian-Moroccan war continued.  Finally, six years later, Goodwyn’s colleague James Chetwood recommended sending a cargo of lead to ‘old Honest Hagi Biram’, who would sell it for them ‘wthout any more adoe’.

For the English in Ottoman Tunis and Tripoli, Bayramı was a contradiction.  A countryman, apparently trustworthy, courteous, and interested in English news; yet Allen found his religion excluding, and Goodwyn apparently never accepted Bayramı’s commercial cooperation.  He was both an insider and an outsider: neither fully English, nor fully Ottoman, a renegade, yet not fully lost or disconnected.

Nat Cutter
University of Melbourne

Further Reading:
For letters about Hadge Biram, see The National Archives, Kew, FO 335/1/32, FO 335/2/3, FO 335/3/2, FO 335/9/8, FO 335/9/10, FO 335/13/1.

Barker, Andrew. A true and certaine report of the beginning, proceedings, ouerthrowes, and now present estate of Captaine Ward and Danseker, the two late famous pirates. London: William Hall, 1609. Available on Early English Books Online (EEBO) through the British Library.
Cutter, Nat. ‘Grateful fresh advices and random dark relations: Maghrebi news and experiences in English expatriate letters, 1660-1710’. Cultural and Social History (2022). Available online through the British Library.
Cutter, Nat. ‘“Grieved in my soul that I suffered you to depart from me”: Community and Isolation in the English Houses at Tunis and Tripoli, 1679-1686’. In Keeping Family in an Age of Long Distance Trade, Imperial Expansion and Exile 1550-1850, edited by Heather Dalton, 169-89. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020.
Daborne, Robert. A Christian turn’d Turke: or, The tragicall liues and deaths of the two famous pirates, Ward and Dansiker. London: Nicholas Okes for William Barrenger, 1612. Available on Early English Books Online (EEBO) through the British Library.
Dervla Laaraichi, Saoirse. ‘The Adventures of Helen Gloag in Morocco’, Untold Lives blog 30 May 2022.
Matar, Nabil. Britain and Barbary, 1589-1689. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. British Library Document Supply m06/.10725.
Nixon, Anthony. Nevves from sea, of tvvo notorious pyrats War the Englishman, and Danseker the Dutchman. London: Edward Allde for N. Butter, 1609. British Library General Reference Collection G.7343
Pitts, Joseph. A true and faithful account of the religion and manners of the Mohammetans. Exeter: Phillip Bishop and Edward Score, 1704. British Library General Reference Collection 1048.b.19.
Pennell, C.R. ed. Piracy and diplomacy in seventeenth-century North Africa: the journal of Thomas Baker, English Consul in Tripoli, 1677-1685. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989. British Library General Reference Collection YC.1992.b.5589.
The seamans song of Captain Ward the famous pyrate of the world. 1609. Available on Early English Books Online (EEBO) through the British Library.


This blog post is the last of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog have featured a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS. 

 

21 July 2022

The sale of East India Company maritime commands

The British Library and London Metropolitan Archives both hold collections of papers for James Monro who served in the East India Company’s maritime service in the second half of the 18th century. The documents give a fascinating insight into Monro's professional and personal life, and the use of private trade to accumulate a fortune which would allow him to quit the sea.

Portrait of Captain James Monro by John Downman - three-quarter length, in profile, the sea beyond Portrait of Captain James Monro by John Downman  (1789)  - image courtesy of The British Antique Dealers' Association via Wikimedia Commons

James Monro was the son of Dr John Monro, physician to Bethlehem Hospital.  He began his life at sea in 1766 at the age of just ten years, sailing to Madras and China as servant to Captain William Smith in the East Indiaman Houghton. Captain Smith was his mother’s brother.  Another uncle, Culling Smith, was one of the owners of the Houghton.  Monro made three more voyages with William Smith in the Houghton, as midshipman in 1769-1771; as 5th mate in 1773-1774; and as 2nd mate in 1777-1778.  Monro also sailed as a seaman to the West Indies and Calais, and as mate in two other East Indiamen, the Osterley to Benkulen, and the York to China.

In 1782 James Monro succeeded his uncle William Smith as captain of the Houghton, making four voyages to China and India before resigning and passing the command to Robert Hudson in 1792.  Captains were appointed by the ship owners and approved by the East India Company, and Monro’s correspondence sheds light on this system.

In April 1792, William Smith wrote to his nephew, addressing him as ‘Dear Jim’.  Smith understood that Monro had sold the command of the Houghton for 8,000 guineas, having paid him £4,000 for it.  Although Monro had not promised  him anything, Smith thought he should receive half the profit.  Smith claimed that he could have sold his command at a far higher price, perhaps as much as £7,000, but he had his nephew’s interest too much at heart to consider such offers.  He regretted the ‘disagreeable necessity’ of speaking his mind.

James Monro’s reply began ‘My dear Sir’.  He felt that he was being put in a very unpleasant position, and put forward his side as he would to someone not related.

Monro was away on board the York when it was decided that he should succeed as commander of the new Houghton which was being built to replace Smith’s ship.  On his return to England he was told to pay Smith £4,000. He had no idea that any future demand would be made on him until a chance conversation with his uncle some time later.

Both the East India Company and the owners had been trying to lessen the price given for ships, or to prevent totally the sale of commands.  If they had succeeded, would Smith have refunded part of his £4,000?  Smith had not paid for his own command but had received interest on Monro’s £4,000 for ten years.

Monro had always thought to offer his uncle £1,000 when he sold the command.  He would cheerfully give him 1,000 guineas and nothing more need be said.

Smith replied to ‘My dear James’.  He wished his nephew had told him sooner about the intention to offer £1,000.  This sum satisfied him and he asked Monro to pay it to his banker when convenient.  He hoped this business would make no difference or coolness between them, and closed by sending his best love to Mrs James and the young ones.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library – India Office Private Papers Photo Eur 488-B.
London Metropolitan Archives - ACC/1063 Records of the Monro family of Hadley, 1673-1905. Letters 45-48 Correspondence between James Monro and William Smith 1792.
Anthony Farrington, A biographical index of East India Company maritime service officers 1600-1834 (London, 1999).
James Monro features in Kate Smith, ‘Anglo-Indian ivory furniture in the British country house’ in Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds.), The East India Company at Home.

 

27 June 2022

Dining with style: the East India Company’s communal table at Mocha

In August 1720, the East India Company’s Council in Bombay received a letter from their factors and merchants based in the city of Mocha.  They had expected this letter for some time.  It was the practice for the factory’s staff to report on their activities regularly as Mocha was the entrepôt for the coffee markets of Yemen, in which the Company had invested heavily.  The letter contained the expected business news of the factory and the shifting political situation in Yemen, which had been growing more and more fraught in the preceding few years.  Despite all this, the Company’s investment in coffee was yielding good results and the Council could feel comfortable in the knowledge that their men in Mocha were managing their affairs well. 

View from the factory at MochaView from the factory at Mocha by Henry Salt from Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt (London, 1809) British Library Digital Store 10058.l.13 BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With this letter came a list of the factory’s expenses, the salaries of guards and domestic servants, the pay given to the Company’s four merchants, and the costs of running the factory itself.  One of the largest of these was the expenses incurred in maintaining the factory’s ‘Table’ which amounted per month to nearly 300 Spanish dollars (the famous piece of eight).  This was a considerable sum to feed the factory’s 22 residents, including the Eurasian ‘topas’ and ‘peon’ guards.  Access to the table was also open to visiting English merchants and ships’ officers when they were present in the port, making it a space for social interactions in addition to eating and drinking.

The records kept by the Mocha factors tell us a great deal about what the table would have been laden with.  For the most part it seems like fairly standard fare for an early modern English kitchen: greens, salt, beef, onions, limes, beef, mutton and fresh fish appear regularly, as do fowls, chickens, pigeons and eggs.  To this menu was added some local flavours, with limes, ‘spice’ and ‘temper’.  This latter is particularly interesting, as a temper, Tadka or Tarka, is a distinctive feature of South Asian cuisine, where spices are mixed with oil or ghee then strained, leaving a flavoured medium.  So, while some of the factory’s inhabitants may have been happy to stick to familiar flavours, others were regularly sampling local ones.  Additionally, the factory regularly received shipments of Persian wine, along with beer produced on the Cape.  Wine was so important to the factory that the letter received from Mocha protests that it had been two years since they had received any from the Company.  Instead, they had been forced to buy their own, rather than face doing without it.

The contents and habits around the Company’s table can tell historians a lot about the merchants’ attitudes to sociability.  The table was a forum for maintaining relationships with the factory’s staff, while also inviting travellers and visitors to make new connections.  Company pay may have been poor, but service in Mocha, as in other factories, came with significant benefits.  Studying the details of conditions in the factories beyond India can provide a great deal of texture and depth to our understanding of the lived experience of Company service, while giving an impression of the daily routines of the merchants themselves.  The factory was a place of commerce, but also a domestic space.

Peter Good
Lecturer in Early Modern Europe and the Islamic World, University of Kent

Further reading:
British Library IOR/G/17/1-2 Egypt and Red Sea Factory Records

This blog post is  part of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

 

21 June 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 3: The Price of Whale Oil

For hundreds of years the British hunted whales for their oil, blubber and bone.  Whales provided lubricant for machinery during the industrial revolution, fuel for lamps, and their baleen could be used as parts for everyday items such as corsets and umbrellas.  Traditionally the British whaling grounds lay to the north where Northern Right whales and Bowhead whale were hunted, but the prized sperm whale oil called ‘spermaceti’ would see the expansion of the trade into the southern seas.

Ink drawing of a sperm whaleInk drawing of a sperm whale from ‘A Voyage for Whaling and Discovery’ by James Colnett, f.141, Add MS 30369

The expansion of British whaling grounds is intimately tied up with the history of Empire and oil prices were often impacted by the gains and losses of colonies.  The eruption of the American Revolutionary War had a massive effect on the British whale oil trade, depleting output and raising prices.  Much of the whale oil trade had come out of the British colonies in North America, but with the advent of the war this was almost completely shut down.  At the end of the war the British wanted to create more self-sufficiency in terms of oil supply.  The American trade bounced back and the British wanted to compete in a buoyant market, so Britain imposed import duties on US oil and created the Southern Fisheries trade, focusing British whaling on the mid and south Atlantic, the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Accounts of Imports and Exports of Whale Oil showing a heavy trade deficit at the beginning of the Southern Fisheries TradeAccounts of Imports and Exports of Whale Oil showing a heavy trade deficit at the beginning of the Southern Fisheries Trade, Add MS 38352, f.123.

Notes on Acts of Parliament passed to encourage the expansion of whaling in the South SeasNotes on Acts of Parliament passed to encourage the expansion of whaling in the South Seas, 1791. Add MS 38350, f.262.

British Guiana, Madras, South Africa and Australia in the early 1800s further contributed to the whale oil trade.  They introduced landing points for ships working along the tropical latitudes pursuing the more lucrative sperm whale with its more valuable oil.  British whaling became a global enterprise and those staffing whaling ships were multinational and multi-ethnic.  Crews encompassed employed and indentured sailors, as well as enslaved and free African men.  Given the arduousness of the work, employers could not afford to refuse whalers whatever their background, therefore whaling ships were a popular destination from those escaping or freed from slavery during the 18th century.

However the War of 1812 interrupted the trade and temporarily sent the price of whale oil upwards again.  It was not until the end of the war that whaling returned without obstacles.  Production sky-rocketed to the point of over-supply, causing a glut and a fall in its value in the late 1830s.  The home-grown British whaling trade started to decline as more and more colonial oil was bought in from Australia and the government decided against further propping up the London-based trade.

Newpaper clipping describing the sale of whale oil at its highest price ever  4 September 1813Newspaper clipping describing the sale of whale oil at its highest price ever, 4 September 1813, Leeds Mercury, British Newspaper Archive, Image © The British Library Board.

A combination of free-trade policy with the Americans and the colonies decreased investors' interest in British-based whaling, and, as well as this, whale stocks were failing after hundreds of years of hunting.  The British began to import the majority of oil and so were liable to market shocks in America, such as that caused by the American Civil War.

Extract from letter from Charles Enderby to Robert Peel lamenting the decline of the Southern Whale Fisheries and the dominance of the American industry  1846Extract from letter from Charles Enderby to Robert Peel lamenting the decline of the Southern Whale Fisheries and the dominance of the American industry, 1846, Add MS 40458, f.307.

British whaling would return in the 20th century and a global, mass-commercialised whaling would cause far more devastation to whale stocks than the London and Nantucket-based industries of previous centuries.

A second ink drawing of a sperm whale Ink Drawing of a Sperm Whale from ‘A Voyage for Whaling and Discovery’ by James Colnett, f.142, Add MS 30369

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from -
The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795
The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

Further Reading:
‘An Overview of the British Southern Whale Fishery’, Bruce Chatwin, 2016, British Southern Whale Fishery
IOR/G/32/163 East India Company papers on the Southern Whale Fishery
IOR/F/4/1373/54697 Establishment of a whale fishery by the inhabitants of St Helena, 1833

 

12 May 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

The current struggles with inflation encompass some of the highest rises in living memory, but current rises pale in comparison to the exceptional case of the year 1800 where inflation reached a dizzying 36%.  This is the highest known figure in British history.

Satirical print  from 1800 entitled 'Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!' , A fat 'forestaller' is dragged along (left to right) by a rope round his neck which is pulled by a chain of countrymen, to the cheers of a crowd.Satirical print from  1800 entitled ‘Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!!’ British Museum number 1868,0808.6904 © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The explanation given for this incredible rise is that the twenty years of Napoleonic Wars had drained the country’s resources and an ever increasing demand provoked by the industrial revolution.  The economy struggled to supply ample arms, food and fuel to the Army and Navy, and shortages emerged across all sorts of everyday goods.  This drove up the price of clothing, beverages, candles, coal, animal meat, dairy and cereals, so that the common person dealt with rises across most of the items they would ever seek to purchase.  Such goods had been increasing in price for decades as an increase in population and a decrease in mortality rate meant an increase in demand.  Given the incredible rises, wages struggled to keep up, so how did the government analyse the situation at the time?

Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread!'Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread! Add MS 38234, f.155  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Correspondence to Earl of Liverpool from the Office for Trade offers an insight into the tension on the streets. The Office representative describes crowds of people at Bishopsgate protesting about the price of bread, gathering and shouting in the streets of London.

 

Further correspondence (below) to the Earl describes the mood of the country at large.

Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Add MS 38234, f.189.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are various pleas to control prices, both in the Liverpool Papers and in correspondence to Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger, including pleas about the spiralling cost of meat and the price of salt needed for fisherman wishing to conserve fish. As well as petitions from various industries, one can also see an increasing ideological battle over the right course of economic actions. Two members of the House of Lords, Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville, wrote to Pitt about the inflation crisis, warning the Prime Minister not to attempt to bring in legislation to reign in prices.

Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’.Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.73.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the letter above, Lord Buckingham states that the best that can be achieved is to ‘regulate a measure but which all grain and flour shall be sold’, but there should be no attempt to then control market prices.

Lord Grenville agrees and even provides some inspiration for his principles in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which had been published 24 years earlier. Lord Grenville describes how he and Pitt were sceptical to the theory of the free-market, but ultimately came around to it.

Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’.Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.85.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the government discussing the grander narratives of economics, the population had to push through the inflation crisis.  Output and growth were still up, and consequently many were making the profits needed to ride out the inflationary crisis.  Labour in the Northern cities central to industrial output actually saw real wages rise, as demand for labour was so high, but the average worker in London saw their real income fall.  This particular inflation crisis would be short and painful, as a massive fall in inflation in 1803 would see prices adjust, but such fluctuations would continue throughout the 19th century.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from Part 1: The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795 

Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Gilboy, Elizabeth W. 'The Cost of Living and Real Wages in Eighteenth Century England', The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 18, no. 3, 1936, pp. 134–43, 

 

19 April 2022

The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795

At the end of the 18th century, a succession of bad harvests severely depleted the national crop of wheat.  The harvest of 1795 in particular resulted in chronic shortages.  On top of this, the geopolitical landscape of Europe had been turned upside down by the French Revolution and the subsequent wars with the French Republic altering trade and commerce across the continent.  The combination of these pressures was a doubling of the price of bread among ordinary civilians.  Counties around Britain appealed to the Privy Council for supplies of wheat to aid their populations as people in towns felt the effect.  A number of bread riots broke out across the country as people went hungry.  Burial figures from these years show a marked increase in 1795, implying a rise in death rate.

Document entitled ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’ ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’, Add MS 38353, f.208. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Faced with increasing discontent and instability the government had to do something to address the crisis.  There was an effort to import more grain from the Quebec and the Baltic, but there were plans forged at home as well.  Records in the Liverpool Papers show how the government were concerned that big farms were benefitting from the shortage by selling their wheat at over-opulent prices.  There were suggestions of limiting the control that the big farms had over price at the markets, but little action was taken on big producers’ profits.

Instead, attention turned to stretching supply.  Members of Parliament debated a motion to force millers to not strip the bran from their flour, so supplies might go further.  Millers were a popular focus of anger during the crisis.  They were often accused of mixing in other substances into flour in order to stretch their profits, so by forcing millers to change their product from the popular white bread to an unpopular whole-wheat bread, the government hoped some of the public’s ire would be redirected to them.

Document suggesting a plan 'to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’ ‘…to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’, Add MS 38353, f.280.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Advice given to the government at the time shows that given there was least some bran in loaves of bread already it was unlikely that the public would notice too much change.  However, the author of the report stipulates that in his opinion the bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’.

Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’, Add MS 38353, f.290. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another suggested course of action was the mixing of grains; unlike wheat, harvests of barley, rye, oats and peas had done well.  Suggestions were made for bakers to mix grains and create new loaves of bread for sale, but again this divergence from the white loaf was unpopular.

Recipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of breadRecipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of bread Add MS 38377, f.116.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

When these plans were put in action it was the poorest segment of the population that would be consuming these altered loaves.  The richer demographics could choose to avoid wheaten bread altogether as they could easily exchange it for other sources of food.

The bread crisis would ease a little with a successful domestic harvest in 1796, however prices would continue fluctuate wildly over the end of the 18th century bringing continued hardship to those who relied on bread for many years to come.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Stern, Walter M. 'The Bread Crisis in Britain, 1795-96', Economica, vol. 31, no. 122, 1964, pp. 168–87.

 

Food Season 2022

British Library Food Season

 

28 March 2022

Those who Lust and those who Lack: Tyranny and Passivity in Early Modern English writing on the Ottomans

In A Voyage into the Levant (1636), Henry Blount creates a number of stereotyped images of Turkish people he encountered during his travels through the Ottoman Empire by stating that they were ‘addict[ed] to sodomy’ (Tiryakioglu, 2015, p. 134).  Blount, according to Rosli and Omar (2017), travelled to the Levant and stayed there for 52 days.  He then made a five-day stop in Constantinople before making his way to Egypt.  Blount even goes as far as to circulate false information about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  He claims that the Prophet himself thought those who followed his teachings were ‘rude and sensual’ (Blount, 1636, p. 121) and that he wished to trick them into believing in the false paradise for which they were fighting (for example, when the Ottomans invaded the Levant in 1516): ‘Mahomet [...] made not his Paradise to conflict in Visions, and Hallelujahs; but in delicious fare, pleasant Gardens, and Wenches with great eyes [...] he promises that their Souls shall suddenly have given them young lusty bodies, and set in Paradise, eternally to enjoy those pleasures [...]’ (p.122).

Castles Sultaniye and Kilitbahir on the European and Asiatic shores of the DardanellesThe castles Sultaniye and Kilitbahir on the European and Asiatic shores of the Dardanelles from Henry Blount, Zee- en Land-Voyagie Van den Ridder Hendrik Blunt, Na de Levant. Gedaan in het Jaar 1634 (1707) via Wikimedia Commons

Thus, it appears that Blount was attempting to demonise the Ottomans in the minds of his reader due to English anxieties about increased Anglo-Ottoman trade at the start of the 17th century (Ágoston, 2013; Erkoç, 2016).  This attempt to demonise the Ottomans as self-indulgent and barbaric also recurs in The Totall Discourse of the Rare Adventures and Painfull Peregrinations (1632) by William Lithgow.  Lithgow recounts what he witnessed of the Ottoman slave trade whilst visiting a market in Constantinople and, as a result of his experiences, warns his reader that Turkish people are ‘extremely inclined to all sorts of lascivious luxury ... besides all their sensual and incestuous lusts, unto sodomy, which they account as a dainty to digest [with] all their other libidinous pleasures’ (Lithgow, 1632, p.105).

The stereotyped cultural Ottoman figure that features in Blount’s and Lithgow’s writing also affected early modern dramatic portrayals of Ottomans as violent, lustful, and, politically corrupt.  The theatrical Turkish type may have generally encouraged early modern resurgences of crusading rhetoric, whereby the First Crusade in 1095 was seen as a means to relieve the Orient from what European Christians perceived as barbarism.  However, the endorsement of English crusading rhetoric against Ottomans in early modern writing are a point of contention for Roger Boyle in his play, The Tragedy of Mustapha (1665).  Boyle depicts his Sultan Solyman’s killing of Mustapha, not as being driven by violent impulse but instead, as being driven by the Sultan’s fear that his throne—and therefore, the safety of his subjects—is at risk of being disrupted by Mustapha.  Mustapha is also humanised by Boyle because, in submitting to his death sentence without retaliation, Mustapha fulfils his political duty to his father.  Thus, Boyle represents the disastrous consequences that occur (in the form of Mustapha’s death) when a ruler forces their actions to align with, or to conform to, the expectations of the stereotyped violent Ottoman.

Aisha Hussain
Doctoral researcher at the School of English, University of Salford

Further reading:
Ágoston, G. (2013). ‘War-Winning Weapons? On the Decisiveness of Ottoman Firearms from the Siege of Constantinople (1453) to the Battle of Mohács (1526)’. Journal of Turkish Studies, 39 (1), pp.129-143.
Blount, H. (1636). A Voyage into the Levant. London: Andrew Crooke.
Erkoç, S. (2016). ‘Dealing with Tyranny: Fulke Greville's Mustapha in the Context of His Other Writings and of His View on Anglo-Ottoman Relations’. The Journal of Ottoman Studies, 47(1), pp.265-90.
Boyle, R. (1665). The Tragedy of Mustapha, the son of Solyman the Magnificent. In: The Dramatic Works of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery: Volume One, ed. by William Smith Clark II. (1937). Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Lithgow, W. (1632). The Totall Discourse of the Rare Adventures and Painefull Peregrinations of Long Nineteene Yeares Travailes from Scotland to the Most Famous Kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica.
Rosli, U.N.B.M., (2017). ‘References of Sexuality in Relation to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in 17th-19th Century Selected French and English Orientalist Travelogues’. Arab World English Journal, 1(4), pp.68-82.
Tiryakioglu, N. O. (2015). The Western image of Turks from the Middle Ages to the 21st century: the myth of 'terrible Turk' and 'lustful Turk’. Published Doctoral Dissertation, Nottingham Trent University.

This blog post is part of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

 

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