Untold lives blog

96 posts categorized "Commerce"

17 November 2020

William Adams in Japan– a new digital resource

William Adams, 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  Events planned in Japan and the UK to mark the 400th anniversary of his death have unfortunately had to be postponed because of the pandemic.  However the British Library has been able to contribute to the celebration of a remarkable life.  Letters written by Adams during his years in Japan are preserved in the East India Company archive, and we are delighted to announce that digital copies of these are now available to access freely in our Digitised Manuscripts resource.

Firando (Hirado) from the sea 1669 with a Dutch shipFirando (Hirado) viewed from the sea-  Arnoldus Montanus, Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598.  He arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600 and built a new life for himself under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  William Adams worked for both the Dutch and English East India Companies after they arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively.

Firando (Hirado) Castle 1669The castle at Firando (Hirado)  - Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

The earliest letter written by William Adams in the English East India Company records is dated 23 October 1611 in Hirado.  He had heard that there were Englishmen at Bantam (Banten) in Java and so the letter is addressed to unknown friends and countrymen.  Adams gave an account of his life, explaining how he came to be in Japan, what had happened to him since his arrival, his relationship with Tokugawa Ieyasu and the honours he had received.  He had been refused permission to leave Japan and asked for word to be sent to his family that he was still alive.  Adams gave information about trading contacts with the Dutch.

This letter was received in Bantam by East India Company merchant Augustine Spalding.  He sent a reply via the Dutch, together with a bible and three other books.

On 12 January 1613 Adams answered.  He had received a letter from Thomas Smythe, Governor of the East India Company, promising that a ship would be sent to Japan to establish a factory (trading post).  Adams passed on to Spalding valuable commercial intelligence and advice about the best way of establishing trade with Japan.

Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613IOR/E/3/1 ff. 157-58  Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Adams wrote from Hirado on 1 December 1613 to the East India Company in London, announcing the arrival of John Saris in their ship Clove.  He detailed Saris’s reception at court and described how Saris was unhappy when he was not permitted by Japanese custom to hand a letter from King James directly to the emperor but only via his secretary.  Saris asked Adams if he would serve the English East India Company and, after considerable negotiation, a salary of £100 per annum was agreed.

On the same day, Adams wrote to Thomas Best at Bantam updating him with the latest news.  He said that he had intended to go home in the Clove but changed his mind because of discourtesies shown to him by Saris.

Other letters are addressed to English merchants in Japan and to the East India Company in London, with news of people, trade, and Japanese politics.  The final one in the archive was sent in November 1617 from Adams at Sakai to Company merchant Richard Wickham at Hirado.  400 years after his death, the voice of William Adams can still be heard through his written legacy.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/1 ff 116-29 William Adams at Hirado to his ‘unknown friends and countrymen’ at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 157-58 William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 203-04 Contract between William Adams and the East India Company, Hirado
IOR/E/3/1 ff 209-11 William Adams at Hirado to the East India Company in London
IOR/E/3/1 ff 212-13 William Adams at Hirado to Thomas Best at Bantam
IOR/E/3/2 f 43 William Adams at Hirado to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/3 f 78 William Adams at Shizuoka to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/4 f 143-44 William Adams at Hirado to Sir Thomas Smythe in London
IOR/E/3/5 f 189 William Adams at Sakai to Richard Wickham at Hirado

Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623 (London: British Library, 1991)

William Adams - from Gillingham to Japan

 

05 November 2020

Making gunpowder after the English method

A letter dated 2 February 1725 from the East India Company directors in London to their Council in Bengal contained sections on the manufacture and use of gunpowder.  The Company was concerned about the quality of saltpetre being sent from Bengal and sent instructions on how to improve it.  They were also keen to stop gunpowder being wasted.

Saltpetre was a key ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder.  The Company directors complained that the quality of saltpetre arriving in England had been declining for some years.  Very little had been bought at the London sale in March 1724, so they had decided to analyse samples from the 600 bags of saltpetre which had arrived from Bengal on the Lethieullier, Bridgewater, and Sarum.  The man who refracted the saltpetre reported that, although it looked white and good, there was a quantity of salt left in it.  The directors concluded that the Bengal Council must have employed unskilled people to refine the saltpetre, or their workers hadn’t been careful to separate the salt which was essential if good gunpowder was to be made.

Directions for refining saltpetre ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ IOR E/3/102 f.240v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

They sent ‘Directions for Refining Saltpetre after the English manner, in order to make Gunpowder’ based on advice from experts.  The workers in Bengal were to use these in a trial on a small amount of saltpetre to see how they got on.
• Dissolve the saltpetre in fresh boiling water.
• As the scum rises, take it off and put it to one side.
• When no more scum rises, draw off the liquor into vessels and let it settle.  The remaining filth or earth which makes the petre look so dirty will sink.
• When the liquor is perfectly clear, draw it off and boil with a gentle fire until a thin film can be seen on the surface.
• Pour into large shallow coolers, no more than eight inches deep.  The saltpetre will shoot into crystals.
• Decant any surplus liquor.  Either start again with fresh saltpetre added to it or boil it down by itself for a second shooting.

 

View of a Fort St George Madras from the sea, with a church to the left, hill peaks behind and ships in the foreground, including one firing guns.View of Fort St George, Madras, 1782, with a ship firing guns © The Trustees of the British Museum


The letter also reported complaints from the owners of East India ships about the great expense of gunpowder lavished on salutes.  The directors ruled:
• No more than nine guns were to be fired when Company ships arrived at a port in India and had a fort to salute.  The forts were to return salutes with only that number.
• Nine guns when captains first came onshore from Europe or were leaving for Europe. Just seven guns for saluting captains at any other time.
• No more than five guns to answer country ships (except foreigners).
• No more than nine guns when the Governor, members of Council, or other Company personnel came on board or left the ship.
• Be as frugal as possible when using gunpowder at festivals, funerals and other occasions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/102 ff.231-240 Letter from East India Company directors in London to Bengal, 2 February 1725

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff

13 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.4 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony continued

A massacre by Plymouth Colony militia

This is a journal chronicling events that occurred between 1622 and 1623 in and around the Plymouth Colony, obviously from a colonialist perspective.  One event in particular stands out.

Title page of Edward Winslow's Good Newes from New EnglandEdward Winslow, Good Newes from New England, C.132.h.20(2) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

During these early years of the colony there was a growing threat from the Narragansett and Massachusett tribes.  At the same time, more badly provisioned men were arriving at the colony amidst a shortage of food.  They settled at nearby Wessagusset and stole corn from the Massachusett tribe.  Tensions grew and rumours reached Plymouth of an oncoming attack.

To purportedly pre-empt this, the Plymouth militia massacred a group of Massachusett visitors in Wessagusset.  This atrocity is described by Winslow in this book as 'the just judgment of God upon [the Native American’s] guilty consciences' for plotting against the English.

A different perspective

Page from Thomas Morton's New English CanaanThomas Morton, New English Canaan, 1637. C.33.c.27 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The majority of contemporary printed sources about the Plymouth Colony were written by the colonists themselves or to promote further settlement in North America.  Thomas Morton, however, wrote from a different perspective.

His book is a harsh critique of the Plymouth Colony’s treatment of the native people, who Morton describe as more 'civilised and humanitarian' than the colonists.  Morton claims that Massasoit only made peace with the colonists because they claimed to keep the plague in their powder store and said they could unleash it at any time.   He also recounts the atrocity at Wessagusset, describing how the colonists 'pretended to feast the savages' before stabbing them with their own knives.


The Mystic Massacre

Engraving depicting the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by militia by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified villageJohn Underhill, Newes from America; or, a New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; containing, a True Relation of their War-Like Proceedings, 1638. C.33.c.25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This engraving depicts the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified village during the Pequot War (1636-1638).

The war against the Pequot tribe was fought by an alliance of the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and Saybrook colonies and their allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes.  It was ostensibly caused by tribal competition for political dominance and control of the fur trade, however this power vacuum only existed as a result of European involvement in the region and the spread of epidemics that reduced native populations.

The violence at Mystic horrified the colonists’ tribal allies.  Over 500 Pequots died, including women and children, as the village was torched. By the end of the war, the tribe was effectively extinct.

The loss of tribal lands

Deed showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists.Collection of Sundry Original Deeds of Conveyance of Lands ceded by Indian Sachems to English settlers in New England, from 1659 to 1711. Lansdowne MS 1052 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These are original manuscript deeds showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists. The Mohegans allied with the English colonists during the Pequot War and later conflicts such as King Philip’s War. This was to defend themselves against the Narragansetts.

By 1676 Uncas had suffered heavy losses and, in this weakened position, he ceded all Mohegan lands apart from a reserve of farms and hunting grounds to the colonists in exchange for protection.  Tract by tract, field by field, Native American lands were slowly lost to the English colonists during the 17th and 18th centuries.


Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

06 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.3 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony

The colonists signed the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony, before they disembarked the ship.  This was to establish legal order and quell dissenting views between the separatists and the other passengers on how the colony should be run.

The colonists settled at an abandoned settlement of the Patuxet people in Wampanoag territory.  They had raided this settlement shortly after their arrival, desecrating graves in their search for corn stores.  It became Plymouth Colony.  Construction began in December but most people stayed on the ship.  Many succumbed to disease and, by the spring, only 47 survived.  Local people made contact in March 1621 and it was only because of the help of Tisquantum, the sole survivor of the Patuxet people, that the colonists survived.

The arrival of the Plymouth colonists put Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, in a vulnerable position.  He had already witnessed the devastating effects of disease and colonisation on his people and the neighbouring Narragansetts were threatening.  He had little choice but to sign a peace treaty and ally with the English colonists, which he did at the end of March 1621.

That is not to say, however, that the Plymouth colonists maintained peace with other local Native American tribes in the years that followed.  Tensions in the region heightened as the English founded more colonies, encroaching on native territories.  The Plymouth colonists were perpetrators of violence and brutality towards some communities, namely the Massachusetts at Wessagusset in 1623 and the Pequots in the 1630s.

The first printed account of Plymouth Colony

 Title page of 'Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth'  1622Edward Winslow and William Bradford, Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth, 1622, C.33.c.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, this is the earliest printed account of the establishment of Plymouth Colony.  It functioned as a promotional tract, an appeal for investment and an attempt to gloss over the hardships and uncertainties facing the colony in its first two years.

The Mayflower Compact is printed, for the first time, in this account.  This was to give the impression of law and order within the colony and to emphasise that there was a unified mind-set across the colonists, separatist or otherwise.

This account also emphasises the devout nature of Plymouth Colony.  However, a mention of the whaling opportunities in the area lets slip the economic factors behind its establishment.  The colony quickly got involved with the profitable fur trade.  These things tend to be glossed over in the Pilgrim tradition.

This account also emphasises that relations between the local people and the English were cordial, ignoring any tension and conflict caused by their invasion of Wampanoag land.  Indeed, this relation’s description of the sharing of food between the Wampanoags and the English has become celebrated as the First Thanksgiving, but this is a mythologised 19th century reinterpretation of events.

Winslow and Bradford’s account also introduces us to Tisquantum of the Patuxet people.  Tisquantum had been abducted by English explorer Thomas Hunt and sold into slavery.  He escaped, returning to America to find his tribe wiped out by disease.  He worked ceaselessly to establish peace between the colonists and the local people, living in the colony for 20 months and acting as a translator, advisor and diplomat for Massasoit.  Tisquantum is often depicted as a ‘noble savage’ but he should be remembered as a practical advisor and skilled diplomat.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

04 September 2020

St Helena laws for inhabitants 1672

From its earliest days, the East India Company’s ships called at the South Atlantic island of St Helena on homeward voyages from Asia.  They gathered supplies of fresh water, citrus fruits, meat and fish. Company ships also used St Helena as a place of rendezvous.  It was safer to complete the final stage of the voyage with other vessels, especially in times of war.

Friar Rock on the island of St Helena - an immense pile of rocks rising perpendicularly eight hundred feet above the level of the sea.

Friar Rock on the island of St Helena - an immense pile of rocks rising perpendicularly eight hundred feet above the level of the sea.  Image from St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island ... The botanical plates from original drawings by Mrs. J. C. Melliss (London, 1875) British Library Digital Store 10096.gg.15 BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

In 1658 the Company decided to fortify St Helena and establish a colony.  The first group of English settlers arrived in May 1659.  Slaves were brought from West Africa to work on the plantations.

On 4 September 1672 a set of laws was issued: ‘Laws and Constitutions Ecclesiasticall Civill and Millitary made by the Councell to be observed by all the inhabitants of the Island St Hellena’.

Document showing extract from St Helena laws 1672IOR/E/3/33 ff.153v-154 Laws to be observed by the inhabitants of St Helena 4 September 1672 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Laws were:

1 God was to be worshipped and served diligently.  The guard at Fort St John was to attend morning and evening prayers at the toll of the bell, and all inhabitants were to attend church on Sunday unless prevented by necessity.

2 Sunday was to be kept holy and all were to refrain from cursing, swearing and excessive drinking.

3 To prevent idleness, every family was to have a plantation.  They must not encroach on their neighbours’ lands or privileges.

4 Everyone was to look after their plantations, keep the ground well-fenced, ring their hogs, and improve the stock of cattle for the promotion of trade.

5 Inhabitants should endeavour to live in love and unity.  Anyone bickering, brawling, or slandering neighbours would be severely punished.

6 No-one was to take revenge over a quarrel, instead going with witnesses to the Council for redress.

7 Every man was to live honestly and maintain himself and his family by careful labour and industry.  The Council would punish anyone stealing from a neighbour.

8 Anyone found guilty of murder, burglary, buggery or any other capital crime would be shipped to England for trial and sentencing.

9 If debts were not settled on time, the Council would seize goods or cattle as payment.

10 Inhabitants were encouraged to build outside the Fort for the convenience of trade, and had permission to go on board English or friends’ ships.

11 Seamen were not to stay on the island without permission.  Anyone harbouring a sailor would be fined £5.  The sailor would be housed with the black slaves and work on the Company’s plantations until he could be returned to England,

12 Everyone capable of bearing arms was to respond to all alarms, with a 20s fine or a week’s imprisonment for each default.

13 The watch was to be observed continually and strictly when shipping approached.  Each instance of neglect would be punished by a fine of 5s or another penalty decided by the Council.

14 Everyone was to go to Fort St John four times a year to be trained in martial discipline for the safety and defence of the island.

15 Anyone raising a mutiny or causing a disturbance of orderly government would be put in irons and sent home to the Company.

16 Anyone hearing of a plot, conspiracy or mutiny was liable to the same punishment as the perpetrators if they failed to alert the Council.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/33 ff.153v-154 Laws to be observed by inhabitants of St Helena 4 September 1672
William Foster, ‘The Acquisition of St. Helena’, The English Historical Review July 1919, Vol. 34, No. 135, pp. 281-289.
St Helena settlers in 1667

 

18 August 2020

Quetta to Sistan: The Development of a Strategic Trade Route

‘Such Central Asian trade as of old [that] drew its goods from British sources has slowly drifted into the hands of Russia, which on its part has not been backward in putting in motion every engine that ingenuity could devise, and its paramount position in Central Asia afforded to popularize its Asian and Persian trade at the expense of ours.’

Mss Eur F111_386_0282_cropDrawing of a telegraph station along the Quetta-Sistan Road (Mss Eur F111/386, f.137)


Thus wrote Lieutenant Frank Webb Ware, Political Assistant at Chagai, in his first report on the trade route being opened up between Quetta, in British Indian territory, and Sistan, on the Persian frontier.  Such fears of Russian dominance in Persia were the very reason for the British plan to revive what was an ancient road.  Russian influence had been growing in Persia since the Napoleonic era and their presence felt in Sistan since at least the 1860s. Being on the doorstep of the Indian Empire, any interference in Sistan could not be tolerated by the British, and their efforts to assert their own power over the region was a part of the ‘Great Game’ between Russia and Britain for predominance in Central Asia.

Mss Eur F111_377_0098_cropPhotograph of the ‘Mil-i-Nadir, or Pillar of Nadir’, probably taken by H A Armstrong, Assistant Superintendent, Indian Telegraph Department (Mss Eur F111/377, f.46)

To counter Russian activities in Sistan, Webb Ware was appointed at Chagai and tasked by the Government of India to establish wells, guard houses, and levy posts along the new route from Quetta.  Trade was seen as an important way of gaining influence and protecting British interests.  After travelling the route himself in the early part of the year, Webb Ware submitted his first report on the subject in the summer of 1897, remarking that he was ‘disagreeably astonished’ at the ascendancy that Russia had already gained in Sistan.

Mss Eur F111_377_0067_cropPhotograph of the landscape near the trade route, close to Dehbakri, Iran, probably taken by H A Armstrong (Mss Eur F111/377, f.30)

In the following years more reports would be submitted and progress made on the development of the route.  Recommendations were made to extend the railway from Quetta along the same road, largely for military purposes.  The project was of such significance that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India at the time, kept copies of all the relative documents.  It is from his papers that these images are taken.

Mss Eur F111_386_0291_cropDrawing of the landscape near Kirtaka, Pakistan (Mss Eur F111/386, f.141)

Military intelligence was gathered and a telegraph line proposed.  The resulting surveys produced photographs and sketches of a region little-known to the British.  The line drawings are reminiscent of those of the Lake District by Alfred Wainwright, albeit they were made for very different purposes.  These, along with Webb Ware’s reports, are being digitised as part of the Qatar Foundation-British Library Partnership Programme and are available on the Qatar Digital Library

John Hayhurst
Gulf History Specialist

Further reading:
'Report on the Baluch-Persian Caravan Route and Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts' - Mss Eur F111/362, f.10 and f.11 

'Report of Khan Bahadur Maula Bakhsh, Attaché to the Agent to the Governor General of India and Her Britannic Majesty's Consul-General for Khurasan and Sistan, on His Journey from Meshed to Quetta via Turbat-i-Haidari, Kain, Sistan, Kuh-i-Malik Siah and Nushki (7th April to 28th July 1898)' - Mss Eur F111/363 

'Report on the Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts for the year 1897-98 and on the Development of The Quetta-Seistan [Sistan] Trade Route' - Mss Eur F111/364 

'Report on the Development of the Baluch-Persian Caravan Route and on the Nushki, Chagai and Western Sinjerani Districts, for the year 1899-1900' - Mss Eur F111/374 

'Military Report on Persian Seistan' - Mss Eur F111/378 

'Notes on Persian Seistan' - Mss Eur F111/382 

 

03 July 2020

Vickers Jacob – a life in Ireland, India and Australia

In 1818 the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India received a memorial from Edward Cahill, a boot and shoe maker in Dublin.  Mr Cahill reported that in 1808 he had supplied Vickers Jacob, a Bengal Army cadet, with boots and shoes to the value of £10 16s 0½d.  Jacob left Dublin shortly afterwards without having paid and Cahill asked for help in recovering the debt.

First page of Edward Cahill's memorial about Vickers Jacob's debtFirst page of Edward Cahill's memorial about Vickers Jacob's debt IOR/E/2/51 f.1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Vickers Jacob was born in Queen’s County Ireland in 1788.  He enrolled at Trinity College Dublin in 1806 before joining the East India Company’s Bengal Army in 1808.  Jacob took part in the Nepal War 1814-1815 with the 3rd Bengal Native Infantry.

In August 1817 Lieutenant Jacob married Anne Watson at Barrackpore.  Anne’s father and brothers were officers in the Bengal Army.  During the early years of their marriage, a son and daughter died.  Because of ‘a deep conviction that the climate of India would have bereft me of my only surviving child and of my wife’, Jacob took furlough in 1821 and travelled with Anne and their daughter to the ‘genial clime’ of New South Wales.

In early October 1822 the authorities in Australia received ‘private information’ that Jacob’s request for furlough was a cover for mercantile speculation in Sydney.  This was considered ‘subversive of military feeling and character’.  Unless Jacob could prove he hadn’t been trading, he would have to return to duty or resign from the Bengal Army.

 Vickers Jacob's advertisement in Hobart Gazette 20 April 1822Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land AdvertiserSupplement 20 April 1822.  Image courtesy of Trove

Jacob refuted the allegation.  In April 1822 he had placed an advertisement in the Hobart Town Gazette announcing his intention of going from Tasmania to settle in New South Wales as a general merchant and agent.  The ship carrying his letter of resignation did not arrive in India until 20 October.  In November 1822 Jacob was granted permission to resign from the Bengal Army with effect from 11 July 1822.

In 1823 Jacob was granted 2,000 acres of land in Newcastle next to the Hunter River which became the Knockfine estate.  In December of that year tragedy struck the Jacob family again when baby Vickers Frederick died of a teething-related fever.

Death notice for Vickers Frederick Jacob in The Sydney Gazette 11 December 1823Death notice for Vickers Frederick Jacob in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 11 December 1823 Image courtesy of Trove

In February 1824 Amelia Australia Harriet Jacob, aged nearly 3, was a passenger for England on the ship Ocean, perhaps sent away by her grieving parents to a place they considered safe.

The ups and downs of Vickers Jacob’s eventful life in Australia can be traced through local newspapers, including a challenge to fight a duel and a case of defamation of character.  He published a pamphlet entitled A letter addressed to Earl Bathurst on the subject of hardships complained of by V. Jacob ... in New South Wales.  Two more children were born there, one of whom died as a baby.

In February 1825 the Jacobs sailed for Calcutta on the Princess Charlotte.  Vickers Jacob became an indigo planter at Jessore.  He and Anne had another five children, all of whom lived to be adults.

In June 1836 the Jacobs and four of their children were about to sail from Calcutta to Hobart on the ship Boadicea when Vickers died of a fever.  Anne and her children carried on to Tasmania but on 3 October 1836 she also died.

I can't tell you if Edward Cahill ever received his money.

Our next post will tell the story of the Jacob children after their parents’ deaths.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
V C P Hodson, Officers of the Bengal Army 1758-1834 (London, 1927-1947)
Trove for Australian newspapers 
Vickers Jacob, A letter addressed to Earl Bathurst on the subject of hardships complained of by V. Jacob ... in New South Wales (Sydney, 1825) - British Library General Reference Collection 8154.aa.56.  There is also a copy in The National Archives Colonial Office papers CO 201/167 – digital version available via Trove 
Baptisms, marriages and burials from the India Office Records have been digitised by Findmypast 
Documents relating to Vickers Jacob in New South Wales State Records and Archives 
Free Settler or Felon – Newcastle and Hunter Valley history 

15 June 2020

The mystery of the Roebuck

The records of the Marine Department of the India Office (IOR/L/MAR) include logs and journals from thousands of voyages made by East India Company ships.  It also contains a mystery.  Here is what the records tell us about the Roebuck, a ship that appears to have been in two places at once.

Inscription at the start of the Journal of Henry CrosbyInscription at the start of ‘The Jornall of Henry Crosbye’ (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX f 7) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX is a journal kept by Henry Crosby during journeys on three ships between 1619 and 1624.  As appears to have been common practice at the time, the ship’s journal went with its writer when he changed vessels rather than remaining with the ship.  Although Crosby departed England on the Charles in March 1619, having reached Achine [Banda Aceh, Indonesia] he wrote in July 1620 ‘We came awaye out to Sea the Charles the Rubye the Dymond and the Rauebucke… me in the Rauebucke’.  A pencil annotation in the margin, probably added by someone within the India Office during the 20th century, comments ‘The Writer Henry Crosby now in the Raebuch’.  The only East India Company ship that appears to match these two alternative spellings is the Roebuck, a ship built in 1619.  Assuming that this the same ship as the ‘Rauebucke’ in the text (and the mentions of ‘Rubye’ and ‘Dymond’ in the same sentence show the inconsistencies of 17th century spelling), Crosby remained on board the Roebuck in the vicinity of Sumatra before disembarking at Jakatraye [Jakarta] in December 1620.

Henry Crosby writes of departing Banda Aceh on the ‘Rauebucke’,Alternate spellings: Henry Crosby writes of departing Banda Aceh on the ‘Rauebucke’, which a later annotation calls the ‘Raebuch’ (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX, f 15) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXX is a journal kept by Richard Swan during journeys on two ships between 1620 and 1622.  In July 1620, when Henry Crosby was departing Banda Aceh on the Roebuck, Richard Swan was at least 1500 miles away sailing between the Cape of Good Hope and Surat, India, also on the Roebuck.  When Crosby was disembarking at Jakarta in December, Swan was arriving at Jasques [Bander-e Jask, Iran] over 4000 miles away.  Both of them, apparently, still on board the Roebuck.

Richard Swan describes arriving at Bander-e Jask in December 1620Richard Swan describes arriving at Bander-e Jask in December 1620, 4000 miles away from Henry Crosby in Jakarta (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXX f 22) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 
An extra complication is added by some date discrepancies within IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX.  The dates in the first half of the journal have been altered to a year earlier than originally written.  Since the altered dates fit with the dates in the second half of the journal, they have been presumed to be correct.  But if the dates as originally written are actually the correct ones, then perhaps the Roebuck was in Indonesia in 1621 instead of 1620.  Unfortunately, this explanation does not solve the mystery.  In July 1621 Richard Swan was with the Roebuck on the Island of Mazera [Masirah, Oman], 2800 miles from Banda Aceh.

The solution to this mystery can be found in IOR/E/3/7, a volume of East India Company correspondence from 1619-21.  Two letters within the volume make mention of Crosby’s Roebuck, but refer to it as a pinnace, a type of small sailing vessel that attended larger vessels.  While Swann was on one side of the Indian Ocean on the East India Company’s ship Roebuck, Crosby was on the other side aboard a pinnace that, with little regard for future historians, had been given the same name.

Matt Griffin
Content Specialist, Gulf History, British Library Qatar Foundation partnership

Further reading:
Full copies of the ship journals discussed in this post are available from the Qatar Digital Library:

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX    

IOR/L/MAR/A/XXX  

 

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