Untold lives blog

40 posts categorized "Money"

12 February 2021

Chinese New Year in Canton 1731

James Naish was Chief of the English East India Company Council in Canton (Guangzhou), China.  He kept a diary of ‘Observations and Transactions’ which includes a description of Chinese New Year celebrations in January and February 1730/31.

View of  Canton (Guangzhou) circa 1760-1770View of  Canton (Guangzhou) c.1760-1770 Maps K.Top.116.22.2 tab. BL flickr

Naish’s diary reads –

27th January This being the first day of the new Moon & of the new Year, great ceremony is observed by the Mandarins & all other persons in their visits and congratulations thereupon.

30th January The Foyen or Vice Roy of the Province haveing signified his approbation of all sorts of diversions, costly Pageants are daily carried about the streets, in which the State & Power of Mandarins in high stations are represented, Country & Low life well describ’d, & the seasons curiously discover’d.  At night the streets are finely illuminated, & a vast variety of fire works continually seen in the Air from all parts of the City.

17th February The Foyen hath Affixed a chop in several places which putts an end to the long continued festival, & likewise directs all persons to return to their professions & employments, the Mandarins of Justice may punish such Offenders as have been guilty of any crimes since new years day, from which time to this no sort of punishment could have been inflicted upon any criminal whatever.

Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary
Account of Chinese New Year celebrations from James Naish's diary IOR/G/12/32 p.1 27 January-17 February 1730/31 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

James Naish was a very experienced China trade merchant.  He was supercargo on East India Company voyages to Canton in 1716, 1722, 1725 and 1730, and had also worked for the Ostend Company.  In 1730-1731 he spent a whole year at Canton instead of returning to England between trading seasons, the only English East India Company supercargo ever to do this.   Naish wrote reports on the tea industry during his extended stay.

When China merchant George Arbuthnot arrived back in England in the summer of 1731, he accused Naish of fraud.  Arbuthnot claimed that Naish had understated the amount of money received for goods sold in China and inflated the cost of commodities purchased there.  Naish was also said to have imported a large quantity of gold bullion from China without paying duty. The East India Company decided that Naish had broken his covenant and considered sending a ship to seize his unlicensed goods and bring him to England under arrest.  Naish’s wife Hester was desperate to prevent this.  She had been given a letter of attorney by her husband in 1729 authorising her to conduct his business, so she agreed to deposit £20,000 with the Company to allow Naish to return as a free man.

The Company began proceedings in the Court of Exchequer.  Naish protested his innocence and lodged counter-claims against the Company in the courts.

The legal process dragged on for years.  When Naish made his will in 1736, he left everything to Hester because the size of his estate was uncertain, dependent upon the outcome of several pending law suits.  He said the family had long experience of Hester’s skilful management of his affairs whilst he was abroad and he trusted her to divide the estate as he would wish.  Although Naish did not die until January 1757, this will was the one submitted for probate.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/12/32 Observations and Transactions by James Naish at Canton in China (1926, 1929)
The Political State of Great Britain, Volume 44 July-September 1732
The Athenaeum January-June 1892,p.793
Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Courts of King's Bench ..., Volume 2 Naish v East India Company

04 February 2021

East India Company instructions for keeping records

We’re returning to the ship New Year’s Gift to share some more of the instructions it carried.  This time we’re looking at rules for record-keeping in Asia in the earliest days of the East India Company and the use of codes in correspondence.

The Company merchants in the fleet of four ships which sailed from England in March 1613/14 were told before they sailed that they were expected to record their work with care and ‘exquisiteness’. They were provided with –
• Four pairs of ‘faire bookes,’ i.e. journals and ledgers
• Four large ‘industriall’ or day books
• Books for expenses
• Books for copies of letters
• Large ruled sheets of paper for making copies of the journals
• Eight reams of paper, large and small
• Ink
• Penknives
• Quills
• Hard wax

More books had been sent to the Company’s trading post in Bantam in the ship Concord.

East India Company instructions for record-keeping 1614Instructions to East India Company factors 1614 from Thomas Elkington’s notebook IOR/G/40/25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Having provided ample supplies of stationery, the Company expected accounts to be kept ‘perfectly’ in all places.  The chief factor at Surat, or someone else appointed to the task, was to keep a fair pair of books for the Company general account.  All factors, whether working at settled factories or employed buying and selling commodities in fairs or markets, were to give their accounts from time to time to the chief factor at Surat so they could be brought into the general books there.  But all factors were also to send to London a copy of their journal and the balance of their ledger whenever Company ships sailed for England.  The chief factor was to send by every shipping a verbatim copy of his journal written on the large ruled paper being supplied.  Since all copies sent would be the same size, they could in future be bound together in one volume in London.  The Company also expected to receive the balance of the chief’s ledger from time to time, and an exact copy of his ledger once a year.

Changes in personnel at Surat must not lead to alterations in the methods of record-keeping.  No factor was to take away Company books as had happened in the past.  Completed books were to be sealed up and sent to London, with copies made to retain in the factory if required.  Local coinage and weights should be used in the accounts, with an explanation provided for London.

Similar instructions were given for the factory at Bantam, with a central record taking in information sent by merchants working away from base.  The Company advised all factors to write down immediately everything that happened – ‘our memory at the best hand is very slippery’.  Moreover, sickness and death could strike at any time.

If factors wrote home about an important matter using a dangerous or doubtful conveyance and passage, the Company asked them to write the letters, or at least ‘poynts of moment’, in ‘caracters’ i.e. a code or cipher.  Then, if the letters were intercepted, trade secrets would not be disclosed and cause damage to the Company.  A copy of the cipher was included with the instructions.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/G/40/25 Instructions to East India Company factors from Thomas Elkington’s notebook
IOR/B/5 Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors 1613-1615

19 December 2019

Christmas appeal from the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union

In 1925 the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union published a touching booklet entitled A Christmas Recipe.  It was an appeal for funds to support their work with needy London children.

Front cover of A Christmas Recipe Front cover of A Christmas Recipe Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Christmas recipe was this:
‘Take a little trouble.  Mix with it a little thought.  Add a pinch of imagination, and some warmth of heart.  Stir yourself up to the point of action.  Pour in as much as you can spare from your pocket.  Take a pen and ink, and an envelope, and a three-halfpenny stamp. Take the result to the post.  And there you are – a bit of happiness worth anybody’s while’.

The recipe from A Christmas Recipe A Christmas Recipe Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The old saying of ‘too many cooks’ did not apply to this recipe – the more cooks the better.  The leaflet then went on to urge the reader to open their eyes to children who were poor, lonely, ailing, hungry, and badly clad.  Then to imagine that they were their own children and that they were powerless to help them. 

As for the amount of the donation: ‘Trouble and thought and imagination and warmth of heart together will tell you more clearly than anything else just how much of this ingredient you should use… you should not stint it.  If you can spare half a crown, a florin piece will be just too little to bring the best result of happiness.  If you can spare fifty guineas, fifty pounds will be just too little for a really perfect dish of happiness’.  The very act of donating would bring cheer: ‘You will smile to yourself rather happily as you drop the letter into the box.  You will have a light heart for the rest of the day, and for some days to come’.

The booklet then goes on to set out why money was urgently needed.  Despite increases to wages and the help given through schools and other agencies, many poor children in London lacked warm clothing, nourishing food, and fresh air.  Many were ill or disabled.  In large families the dole given to unemployed men seldom met all necessary expenses after the rent was paid.

As well as gifts of money the Shaftesbury Society asked for clothing, boots, nourishing food, toys, and picture books.   The Society also appealed for donations of time: ‘It just means coming to one of our Missions for an hour or two a week, and being friends with the children’.  The Society’s volunteers were very diverse: ‘the unlettered, the rough toiler, the man and woman who were themselves such children as these,…the scholar, the University graduate, the artist, all eager to help’.

Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union in A Christmas Recipe Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Figures from the 81st Annual Report of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union demonstrated the breadth of work.  Children were given trips to the seaside and country.  Medical treatment, equipment and ‘industrial training’ was provided for disabled children.  Clothing and boots were supplied.  The Society maintained holiday homes and homes for destitute children, as well as organising day nurseries, infant welfare centres, Sunday Schools, Bible classes, schools and meetings for mothers, companies of Scouts and Guides, and Bands of Hope promoting temperance.

Seasonal greetings from A Christmas Recipe Seasonal greetings from A Christmas Recipe Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Society summed up its aims as to love and to serve.  The booklet includes a quote from the 1924 Declaration on the Rights of the Child: ‘Mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union, A Christmas Recipe (1925) shelfmark X.519/23823

 

18 April 2019

A Good Friday gift to the children of Christ’s Hospital

In his will of April 1586, City of London mercer Peter Symonds made a number of charitable bequests.  Amongst these was a yearly sum to provide raisins as a Good Friday treat for children from Christ’s Hospital school.

Blue Coat Boys at Christ’s Hospital Blue Coat Boys at Christ’s Hospital from Felix Leigh, London Town illustrated by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton (London, 1883) Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Symonds stipulated that on Good Friday, for ever, 60 children from Christ’s Hospital should attend a morning service at All Hallows Church in Lombard Street.  There they would receive 30 shillings for the school.  In addition the sum of 3s 4d was to be spent on 'good' raisins.  Each child was to be given a 60th share of these raisins wrapped in paper.  Symonds wrote that ‘although this gifte maie be thoughte very frivolous yet my minde and meaning being hidden maie notwithstanding be performed, praying God to make all those children happie members in this commonwealthe’.

The terms of Symonds’ will were duly carried out every Good Friday with 60 of the youngest children attending the service at All Hallows.  By the early 19th century, the custom had evolved so that Blue Coat boys each received a new penny as well as a paper of raisins.  There is a rhyme:
‘Come, little Blue-Coat boy, come, come, come,
Sing for a penny, and chant for a plum’.

This ceremony took place for over 300 years. Then the Charity Commissioners put an end to the custom by repurposing the funds. The last distribution of Symonds’ gift took place in 1891 when each child was also given a bun, an orange, and an Easter card. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Will of Peter Symonds or Simonds The National Archives PROB 11/71/136 proved 9 September 1587
William Harnett Blanch,The Blue-Coat Boys; or, School Life in Christ’s Hospital (London, 1877)
British Newspaper Archive

14 August 2018

Recommendations for Life Pensions in Colaba, India

A file in the collections of the Board of Control, part of the India Office Records, gives some brief but fascinating details of those living in the former Indian Princely State of Colaba which had come under British control in the 1840s. On annexing the territory from the ruling Angria family, British officials faced the responsibility for the financial maintenance of members of the Angria family, their dependants, and those who had loyally served the Colaba State.

View of Colaba seafront 1826View of Colaba by Jose M. Gonsalves from Lithographic Views of Bombay published in Bombay 1826 Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The file contains lists of persons who had received a pension under the previous rulers and those newly recommended for a life pension due to their past service. The recommendations were submitted to the Bombay Government by I M Davies, Political Superintendent of Colaba.

Document of Poilitcal Department about pensionsIOR/F/4/2075/95768 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Here are some examples of the entries (spellings as given in the file):

• Luxumon bin Baboo Meetbhowkur, aged 13: This boy’s father was accidentally blown from a gun at the marriage of one of the Chief’s daughters in March 1840. His son was pensioned, and was in the receipt of 2½ rupees monthly when the State was attached.

• Tsanag Dubboo, alias Dzomaee, aged 70: Widow of an old servant in the ‘Armarr’, or department of vessels. Has received an allowance for many years, in consequence of the death of her son caused by falling off the Flag Staff in the Fort of Colaba.

• Annundrow bin Crishnarow Dhoolup, aged 36: A great grandson of the famous Mahratta Admiral, Dhoolup. Received a pension from the Chief, Raghojee Angria in 1836/37. He resides at Viziadroog and is a very respectable person.

• Wasdeo Babjee Pitkur, Pooranick, aged 70: A servant of the late State, of upwards of 40 years standing. He accompanied Baboorow Angria in Hindustan from 1805 to 1812 and has since resided at Alibagh, where he was entrusted with the duties of Officer of the Adawlut. Under the Political Superintendent he has been employed in the same capacity and is one of the Assessors of the Superintendent’s Court. He enjoyed a liberal maintenance under the late State.

• Appajee Bajee, aged 75: Served as a Puntojee, or teacher, in the Chief’s family for upwards of 40 years. He has for some years past been dependent upon the charity of the Ranees. It is recommended that a pension of 5 rupees per mensem be assigned to him.

• Manajee bin Luxman Lar, aged 45: An old Shingara, or horn blower. He lost his eye sight from smallpox and was 8 years employed in the Artificer’s shop as bellowsman. He received in that employment 8 annas per mensem and 1½ maund of bhat. Being very destitute I beg to recommend that he be allowed a pension of 1½ rupees per mensem during his life.

• Sheik Ismael Gohundaz, aged 100: An old sepoy who has served the State upwards of 70 years. He is still borne upon the books as a sepoy of Saughurgur Fort where he has been for upwards of 40 years. I beg to recommend that a pension of 3½ rupees per mensem be allowed to him during the remainder of his life.

Note on pension for an old sepoy Sheik Ismael Gohundaz, aged 100IOR/F/4/2075/95768 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In submitting his recommendations, Davies assured the Bombay Government that he had been as frugal as he had been able to suggest. 

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
A list of persons recommended by the Political Superintendent of Colaba for life pensions, 1844 [Reference IOR/F/4/2075/95768]

 

05 April 2018

Ode to Income Tax

One of the joys of cataloguing an archive is that you never know what you might find.  At the beginning of this new tax year, we take a look at an unusual item found in the papers of Charles Canning, Governor General and Viceroy of India.

Bengali poem singing the praises of a new Income Tax.Mss Eur F699/1/1/1/12, letter 10, f.3r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It can't be common to find a document in favour of taxation, let alone a poem singing the praises of a new Income Tax.  It becomes an even more astonishing find when that poem is written in Bengali and the author is identified as a fourteen year old schoolboy.  The poem and its translation are found amongst letters written to Governor General Charles Canning by Sir Henry Bartle Frere, Member of the Council of India.  It was originally sent to Frere by the Scottish missionary Dr Alexander Duff.  Duff had founded the General Assembly's Institution, later the Free Church Institution in 1830, with the aim of offering English language based education to middle and upper class Indians.  The Free Church Institution was affiliated with the University of Calcutta soon after its establishment in 1857.

Portrait of Alexander DuffAlexander Duff by James Faed the Elder, mezzotint, published November 1851, NPG D35771 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC

Frere writes that the poem's author, Bejoy Nath Roy is “rather famous in the School of the Free Kirk Institute as a writer of occasional poems” and that the boy's Master was “struck by the singular subject he had chosen”.  According to the translation, Bejoy Nath Roy writes “The Government wet with the dew of  mercy incurred debt only for the good of India“ ... “Let no-one grudge therefore to pay the tax”.  He uses the metaphor of the Government as a physician curing the nation, and having affected a cure, demands payment for services rendered. 

Letter written to Governor General Charles Canning by Sir Henry Bartle FrereMss Eur F699/1/1/1/12, letter 10, f.5v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

What happened in India in 1860 to inspire such words?  The country had spent the years 1857 and 1858 in the turmoil of the uprising known as the Indian Mutiny.  Indian finances had been in a parlous state even before the rebellion, but with the need for extra military expenditure, the deficit increased.  The economist James Wilson was appointed as a financial member of Council of India in 1859.  His plans to reform India's financial structures included a new Income Tax, as well as an adjustment to Customs Duties, a License Tax for traders, and a new paper currency.  Wilson's plans caused consternation in some quarters.  Sir Charles Trevelyan's outright hostility to the tax led to his recall back to England.   And the extent of the dreaded Income Tax?  A two percent levy on incomes between 200 and 500 rupees, and four percent above that.  In little over a year, and with the support of the Governor General, Wilson managed to lay the foundations of improved financial planning, budgeting and auditing, so much so that India's deficit had been reversed by 1862-63.  Wilson did not see it, he died of dysentery in August 1860.

The poem is a snapshot, shedding light on an unusual poetic subject.  Perhaps though it says less about attitudes to taxation and more gives us a glimpse of the 19th century Western education system within India, whereby particular attitudes towards the British and British administration were promulgated within schools.

And if anyone is aware what happened to aspiring poet Bejoy Nath Roy, please do let us know. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F699 Papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning, Earl and Countess Canning

 

13 March 2018

Getting a fair price: a handy pocket-book for merchants (and smugglers?)

We recently acquired a little book with strong ties to Cornish trade and smuggling in the 18th century.  Money of England, reduced into money of Portugal was printed in the sea port of Falmouth, Cornwall, in 1787.  It is a pocket-sized book of tables and calculations of the rates of exchange between Portugal and England, together with conversion tables for measures of cloth, wine and corn, and weights – indispensable for the merchants and sailors involved in Falmouth’s lucrative trade network, clandestine or otherwise, wanting a fair price for their goods.

Title page of Money of England, reduced into money of PortugalMoney of England, reduced into money of Portugal Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

During the 18th century there was a thriving maritime trade between Lisbon and Falmouth, as described by Daniel Defoe in his Tour through the whole Island of Great Britain, 1724:

"Falmouth is well built, has abundance of shipping belonging to it, is full of rich merchants, and has a flourishing and increasing trade.  I say 'increasing,' because by the late setting up the English packets between this port and Lisbon, there is a new commerce between Portugal and this town carried on to a very great value.  It is true, part of this trade was founded in a clandestine commerce carried on by the said packets at Lisbon, where, being the king's ships, and claiming the privilege of not being searched or visited by the Custom House officers, they found means to carry off great quantities of British manufactures, which they sold on board to the Portuguese merchants, and they conveyed them on shore, as it is supposed, without paying custom.  But the Government there getting intelligence of it … that trade has been effectually stopped.  But the Falmouth merchants, having by this means gotten a taste of the Portuguese trade, have maintained it ever since in ships of their own”.

The Falmouth-Lisbon Packet Service described by Defoe started operation in 1689.  It was an early postal service that carried mail on packet ships from country to country.  There were other packet stations on the south and east coasts and, together, they ran important routes across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and through Northern Europe.  The packet crews furtively traded goods on their own account, duty-free, on the side, making the packet service risky but potentially lucrative work.  Even when the government got wind of this practice and stamped it out, the smuggling continued using privately owned boats.  Portuguese gold bars and coin were particular favourites, and often found their way up to London.  This little pocket book would have been a handy guide for converting measures of smuggled goods, and calculating the exchange rate between currencies.

Pages showing information about silver coins and measuresMoney of England, reduced into money of Portugal Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The last page has an advertisement for Elizabeth Elliot, bookseller, stationer and printer.  Elizabeth was the widow of the printer Philip Elliot and, together, their business was responsible for ten out of the 24 early printed books with Falmouth imprints that survive today.  Elizabeth’s shop sold an eclectic range of “books in all languages and all manner of bindings; stationary/wares of all sorts; mathematical instruments; violins, German and common flutes, and fifes, music, music-books and music-paper; the late Sir John Hill’s medicines, by appointment of Lady Hill; Wash-Balls, lavender-water, eau de luce, &c. &c.”.  Elizabeth took over the shop in 1787 and printed this book of tables, an English grammar for “young beginners”, two sermons, a book of spiritual songs and a satirical poem about slavery.

Advertisement for Elizabeth Elliot, bookseller, stationer and printer  Money of England, reduced into money of Portugal Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

18 July 2017

A Court Martial in India

Here’s a second instalment in the life of John Thompson born in Antwerp on the tenth day of Floreal, Year Twelve.

Thompson was appointed as ensign in the East India Company’s Bombay Army on 27 March 1821 and arrived in India in August that year.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the European Regiment on 10 June 1822.  An uneventful spell of ten years’ service passed.

View of Bombay from the sea 1754 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
'Bombay on the Malabar Coast belonging to the East India Company of England.' Reduced version of the engraving by Jan Van Ryne of 1754. Online Gallery 

However on 22 April 1831 the commanding officer of the regiment suddenly ordered an immediate inspection of the money bags and account books of each company.  Thompson was paymaster of his company but was unable to attend the audit as he was unwell.  He ordered his Pay Sergeant to make out the men’s accounts and to insert a debt of 707 rupees owed by Thompson. 

Later that day, Thompson was arrested. He tendered money to pay the debt but this was refused.  On 9 June 1831 he appeared at a Court Martial held in camp near Deesa charged with embezzlement.

Thompson was charged for conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman in having embezzled monies entrusted to him for the payment of the men of the 6th Company under his charge. The Court found Thompson guilty of embezzlement but without intent to defraud.  It acquitted him of ungentlemanlike conduct.  He was sentenced to be dismissed from East India Company service and was ordered to make good the deficiency.  The verdict was accompanied by a unanimous appeal for mercy as the members of the Court felt that the punishment they were compelled to award was disproportionate to the degree of offence committed.

Major General J S Barns, Commander of the Forces, confirmed the punishment but put on record his marked disapprobation of the Court’s finding that the embezzlement of public money was not conduct unbecoming the character of a gentleman.  Thompson was struck off the strength and ordered to take passage to England.

In November 1832 Thompson wrote to the Company Directors in London asking to be restored to the service.  On 29 January 1833 his request was rejected.  But the Company decided to grant him an annual allowance of £50 because of the Court Martial recommendation for mercy, the strength of testimonials produced by Thompson, and his distressed situation.

  East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case
IOR/D/87 p.318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

When John Thompson’s father William made his will on 8 December 1832, he directed his trustees to apply funds from his estate to support and maintain his son John for life.  John’s share of another bequest in the will was to be held in trust for him, rather then paid directly as was the case with his three brothers.  William Thompson was clearly concerned to protect his son from further financial mishaps.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/12/69 no. 31 - Record of service for John Thompson
IOR/L/MIL/17/4/401 pp.68-69 Bombay General Orders – Court Martial of Lt John Thompson
IOR/D/87 pp.316-318 East India Company Committee of Correspondence consideration of John Thompson’s case
IOR/B/185 pp. 128, 392 Court of Directors minutes about Thompson's case

East India Company records series IOR/B and IOR/D are now available as a digital resource.

 

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