On 31 December 1713 Thomas Woolley, Secretary to the East India Company, wrote to agent Richard Knight at Deal in Kent where ships were preparing to sail to Asia. A number of Company directors had ordered Woolley to inform Knight that the supercargoes (merchants) of the ship Hester had several fiddlers with them and intended to take them on the voyage to China. The directors were very concerned as they had already heard of a revel-rout at Deal caused by the presence of the fiddlers.
‘The fun got fast and furious’ from Gordon Staples, Exiles of Fortune. A tale of a far north land (London, 1890) British Library Digital Store 012632.g.29 BL flickr
Knight was to inform the directors of what he knew about the matter or what he could discover. He was also to tell the supercargoes that they were not to attempt to take fiddlers or any other musicians on the voyage. Charles Kesar, captain of the Hester, was not to receive on board for the voyage anyone but the ship’s company and others authorised in writing by the Company. When Knight mustered all the men, he was to check whether any were musicians. Woolley supposed that the directors would not object to the captain carrying a trumpeter or two and perhaps just one fiddler.
The next day Woolley wrote to supercargoes Philip Middleton, James Naish and Richard Hollond. The directors had not thought Woolley’s letter to Knight sufficient and ordered him to tell the supercargoes that the Company was very concerned about their management and expected them, especially Naish, to clear themselves of the report if in any way untrue. From what the directors had heard, the beginnings of their management were a very ‘ill specimen’ of what was expected and it would take an extraordinary future performance to erase them. The supercargoes’ friends would be concerned that they had placed their favours on men who would not use their best endeavours to deserve them but, on the contrary, seemed careless about this. Woolley said he was sorry to hear the report and hoped their future deportment would show that, if they had no thoughts of their own reputation, they would at least do nothing unworthy of the good intentions of the gentlemen who recommended them to the Company. He ended by repeating that the directors positively forbade them carrying those fiddlers or any other musicians in the Hester.
On 3 January 1714 Middleton, Naish and Hollond replied to the directors protesting their innocence. They said that they were ‘much Surprized to hear of Entertaining Fidlers and the Revel Rout occation’d thereby’ as they had not heard the sound of an instrument since leaving London. However they were glad to know the Company’s ‘Pleasure in this perticular’ and would hold this in as great a regard as any other command. The reports were groundless and the supercargoes aimed to obey every order and behave in a way conformable to the directors’ ‘good liking’. It seemed that Naish especially was expected to clear himself, so he declared that he had not, nor intended, to entertain any fiddler or other musician to go on the voyage.
Middleton, Naish and Hollond found themselves again in trouble with the Company on their return from the voyage to China in 1715. All three men had exceeded their allowances for private trade and wrote asking for forgiveness.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
IOR/E/1/200 pp.75-78 Letters from Thomas Woolley about musicians at Deal, December 1713 and January 1714.
IOR/E/1/5 ff. 1-4v Letter to Company from Middleton, Naish and Hollond 3 January 1714.
IOR/E/1/6 – letters from Middleton, Naish and Hollond about their private trade allowances, 1715.