Horses, mules, a buffalo and a King
East India Company, Correspondence: Early Voyages, Formation and Conflict, released this week, showcases a vast quantity of archival material from Series E of the India Office Records held at the British Library. From the Company‚Äôs origins as a trading concern interested largely in the Spice Islands of Southeast Asia in the early seventeenth century to its abolition after an uprising staged by its own troops in the late 1850s, this vast trove of papers covers all aspects of the Company‚Äôs activities between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The EIC‚Äôs trade in various commodities, its relations with Asian powers and rival European colonial enterprises, its military capabilities, financial operations, and growth into a territorial power in its own right are all charted in meticulous detail in correspondence between the Company‚Äôs headquarters in London and its representatives not only in South Asia but across the globe. Documents relating developments in Venice, Persia, Syria, China, Japan, Madagascar, Singapore and modern-day Indonesia (among other places) all feature. And alongside great developments in global history, we can also trace the stories of a wide range of individuals whose paths crossed with those of the Company ‚Äď mariners, traders, diplomats, soldiers, clerks and political operators.
Just one volume of the Company‚Äôs outgoing correspondence, IOR/E/4/780, provides us with individual stories from around the world, and the responses which they elicited from the Company‚Äôs directors in London. We find, for example, that Lieutenant Arbuthnot Dallas has been deputed to travel to New South Wales ‚Äėto procure horses‚Äô, at a likely cost of ¬£25,000 to ¬£30,000 (perhaps ¬£2 million at current values). Replying to a request that he might draw upon the Company‚Äôs domestic reserves as well as the treasuries of Hong Kong and Mauritius, the Company‚Äôs Court of Directors, perhaps understandably, ‚Äėcannot apprehend that he will experience any pecuniary difficulty in the exercise of the duty‚Äô (pp. 9-10). The Company was more forthcoming in providing compensation of 700 rupees to ‚Äėthe owners of the brig ‚ÄúHardingar‚ÄĚ for‚Ä¶ bringing back to Penang seven convicts escaped from the ‚ÄúHarriet Scott‚ÄĚ‚Äô (p. 404).
We also learn that Paolo Avitabile, an Italian mercenary who served in the armies of Persia and the Sikh Empire, has sent a carriage and eight mules to the Governor General, perhaps as a parting gift upon his departure from Asia. This (officially) elicits ‚Äėno remark‚Äô from the Company‚Äôs leadership in London (pp. 90-91), but the General‚Äôs tangled finances are of more interest (pp. 309-11).
Turning to pp. 1151-55, we see that Mr Gubbins, the Officiating Magistrate in Delhi, has been censured by the Company for a failure to ‚Äėissue the usual orders for preventing opposition by the police to the King [of Delhi]‚Äôs intention of sacrificing a buffaloe [sic] at each of the city gates‚Äô; we also learn that a stipend has apparently not been paid to the King‚Äôs family.