Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book review #2

Title: The East India Company
Year: 1971
Author(s): Gardner, Brian
Publisher:Rupert Hart-Davis (U.K.)
Genre: Non-fiction, history

Recommended: No, and I don’t know why. OK as an overview

Extracts: text in paranethesis is mine, i.e. [comment by anglo-gone-native]

“[Commander, veteran mariner James] Lancaster, a bluff, hearty type of Englishman, ahd with him six letters from Queen Elizabeth for presentation to oriental kings; each was exactly the same, with a blank space for the name of the king to be fileld in. he also carried – as well as his cargoes of iron, lead, and Norwich and Devon [woolen] garments – items which it was hoped were suitable for presentation toe aastern potentates.” P. 24

“The [third expedition largest ship] the Trader’s Increase was the largest ship to be made in England up till that time, and the largest yet used for the East India run by any nation. It was 1,293 tons. The King [James I], other members of the royal family, and many noblemen, as well as the members of the Company, attended the launching; it was a great social event. After the ship was afloat, the King and other guests were entertained to a great feast on board, at the Company’s expense, served on the wonderful dishes and plate which the Company had brought back from the east, which had hardly ever been seen in before in England. But the English were not inspired shipbuilders of large craft, and the Trade’s Increase, clumsy and unwieldy, was not a success. It was eventually set ablaze at Bantam [Java, actually near Singapore].” P.28-29

“It was in August 1608 that the first East India Company ship arrived off india, after a voyage of seventeen months. She was the Company’s Hector. On board was the hardy, beer-swilling, jocular William Hawkins, bearer of a letter from James I to the Mughal [sic] asking for trade with India. Hawkins was no stranger to the east. He was an extraordinary character, determined, conceited, and ambitious. The Portuguese at Surat (the chief port linking Europe and India at the time) [in Eastern India, present Gujarat] did everything they could to keep him from coming ashore, and took some British crew prisoner. When Hawkins protested, the Portuguese commander ‘most viley abused his Majesty, terming him a king of fishermen and of an island of no importance.’ Hawkins, getting ashore, tried to trade his cargo, but the local ruler [unspecified] accepted most of it as presents. The Mughal’s viceroys, of course, were used to taking what they wished in form of payment, and enjoyed considerable autonomy. The Portuguese continued to threaten Hawkins. ‘I could not peep out of doors,’ he wrote ‘for fear of the Portugals, who in troops lay lurking in the by-ways to give me assault to murther me.’ Leaving two men behind at Surat to attempt to improve trade, Hawkins set off with a large hired retinue for Agra, the Mughal capital [of the time, it changed] p.32

“[The East India Company Directors in London] urged the court , with some wisdom, to send out to Agra, a far superior Ambassador to the adventurers the Company had to rely on hitherto. The man chosen was Sir Thomas Roe, himself a merchant and traveller – a grandson of the former Lord Mayor of London. He was a big man, with immaculate moustache and goatee beard. His mission was ‘to reside at Agra, to prevent any plottes that may be wrought by the Jesuits.’ He was to receive £700, a considerable sum, together with his own chaplain and surgeon. He was empowered to conduct full negotiations, and was to stress with the Mughal the strength of English naval power. He was to carry a message from James seeking ‘quiet Trade and Commerce without any kind of hinderance or molestation.’ P. 35

Comments: A lot of facts, but there is something lacking in the writing or the author’s approach, neither truly scholarly nor fresh and entertaining, that leaves me cold.

What I read:17-52 (38)

What I learned: A lot of facts, that the author failed to make me interested in. Much of the learning was simply this was my first reading of the EIC in any detail. Some highlights…

1. Undated: London merchants had set up the Levant company to import spices, silks, and other eastern luxuries from Middle-eastern middlemen, but the English could not effectively compete with the Portuguese and Dutch who were importing directly.

2. First voyage 1601 – ships: Red Dragon (twice the size of others), Hector, Susan, Acension, Guest (supplies)

3. 1602: Failing to convince the Achinese in Sumatra to buy any his English goods, he attacked the arriving Portuguese galleon, looted her, and left for Java to trade with the Dutch.

4. Mugahl Emperor Jahangir married EIC commander Hawkins to a Christian Armenian slave. Hawkins died on ship enroute to Bantam. Mrs. Hawkins made a nuisance of herself back in London and married a senior EIC servant.

5. At first EIC didn’t prosper. 1633-1642 stock dividends annual yield was only 3.5%. Between 1621 and 1632 12.5% was the highest yield. Only in cloves and pepper was the Company succeeeding. The Dutch were doing much better.

6. Hoping that English ships would wrest control of the Indian Sea from the Portuguese (vital for pilgrimages to Mecca) Jahangir issued an edict that gave the Company the right to trade in India - meaningless on the practical level since they already were.

7. Emperor Jahangir and Sir Thomas Roe did not get on well.

8. In Ambon, the Dutch suspected Japanese mercenaries of spying for the English in Moluccas. They extracted confessions of him and seventeen Englishmen by torture. Fifteen EIC were executed.

Appendix 2: List of Mughal rulers – in my period of interest, all Mughal rulers were independent. There were 11 of them from 1600-1719+ [How about 1550-1600?]

Weakness(es): Not a lot on early years, appendix 1 lists presidents of board from only 1790; appendix 3’s interesting accounting details of EIC finances too late in history for me (1850-53)

Strength(s): Compact with overview information

Bibliography: Ones that might be relevant - Ledger and Sword, Beckles Willson (1903); Trader’s Dream, R. H. Mottram (NY:1939); History of the Sikhs, J.D. Cunningham; The English East india Company 1600-40, K. N. Chauduri (London: 1965); John Company at Work, H. Furber (Harvard:1948); The Old East Indiamen, E.K. Chatterton (London:1914); The Administration of the East India Company, J.W. Kaye (London: 1853); The Founders, Philip Woodruff; Sultans of Aden, G. Waterfield (London: 1968); The British in West Sumatra 1685-1825, J. Bastin (Kuala Lumpur: 1965)

Glossary: No

Charts: No

Favorite images: map – European Settlements in the East, 17th century p. 70

Most interesting quote(s): “Among other Europeans, [the English] had an exceedingly poor reputation. Unaffected and unreserved, they were considered to be unmannered and rough; the Queen’s court was seen as crude compared to that of Philip [of Spain]. In appearance the English were said to be uncouth and in dress inelegant, as compared to the aristocracy of contiental Europe. In commerce they were not considered a match for the Dutch. The Channel kept them at a distance from the rest of Europe, and the rest of Europe was not sorry. It had to be admitted that they were good sailors and navigators, but only in a piratical and ruiffianly sort of way. The hearty Tudor English were the rough diamonds of Europe. And they were about to burst into the world in a most uncompromising way.” P. 20

Questionable info: None

Scan %: All

Source: Burnaby Public Library, August 2007

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