Preventing disorder at the East India Company factories

13 March 2018

Empire and Globalism | History

More than 1500 volumes of East India Company Factory Records are being digitised through a partnership between the British Library and Adam Matthew Digital. The factories were the Company’s overseas trading posts from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Factory Records are copies of documents sent back to London to be added to the archive at East India House.

© British Library. East India Company Factory at Cossimbazar 1795 Add.Or.3192. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The main categories of documents included in this series are formal minutes of official meetings; diaries recording daily business and life at the factory; and correspondence.

A wide range of topics is covered, for example:

  • Commercial transactions and dealings with local merchants
  • Descriptions of goods traded, with prices
  • Private trade of Company servants
  • Relations with other European nations and with local inhabitants
  • Ship arrivals and departures, and negotiations with captains
  • Personnel management
  • Misdemeanours
  • Establishments and salaries
  • Complaints and petitions
  • Sickness and death

The first of two modules of digitised Factory Records: Module I: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 was published last year. It includes the Company trading posts in South and South-East Asia. Amongst these are the records for the Hugli Factory in the Bay of Bengal, 1663-1687.

© British Library. IOR/G/20/2 part 2 pp.19-21 Rules for good behaviour December. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

In December 1679 the Agent and Council for the Coast of Coromandel and the Bay of Bengal composed a set of orders ‘’for advancing the Honour of the English Nation and the preventing of Disorders’. All Company servants employed in the Bay of Bengal were instructed to:

  • Stop lying, swearing, cursing, drunkenness, ‘uncleaness’, ‘profanation of the Lord’s Day’, and all other sinful practices.
  • Be sure to be back inside the Company house or their lodgings at night.
  • Say morning and evening prayers.

Penalties for infringement were specified:

  • For staying out of the house all night without permission or being absent when the gates were shut at 9pm without a reasonable excuse – 10 rupees to be paid to the poor, or one whole day sitting publicly in the stocks.
  • For every oath or curse, twelve pence to the poor, or three hours in the stocks.
  • For lying - twelve pence to the poor.
  • For drunkenness – five shillings to the poor or six hours in the stocks.
  • For any Protestant in the Company’s house absent without a valid excuse from public prayers on weekday mornings and evenings - twelve pence to the poor or one week’s confinement in the house.
  • For any Christian absent from morning and evening prayers on a Sunday - twelve pence to the poor. If no payment was made, the money was to be raised by selling the offender’s goods, or he might be imprisoned.

If these penalties failed to ‘reclaim’ someone from these vices or if any man was found guilty of adultery, fornication, or ‘uncleaness’, or disturbed the peace of the factory by quarrelling or fighting, he was to be sent to Fort St George for punishment. The orders were to be read publicly at the Factory twice a year so no-one could profess ignorance of them. One of the Company officials who signed the regulations was Matthias Vincent. He was accused in India of corruption, immorality and extortion!

Module I: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 and Module II: Factory Records for South Asia and South East Asia of the East India Company: India Office Records from the British Library, 1595-1947 are available now. For more information, including trial access and price enquiries, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..The East India Company digital resource is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in British Library Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

 

 

About the Author

Margaret Makepeace

Margaret Makepeace

Margaret Makepeace is Lead Curator for the East India Company Records at the British Library. She has written about a variety of aspects of the history of the East India Company, including trade on the Guinea Coast; dealings with Armenian merchants; and the London business operations. She manages the British Library’s history blog ‘Untold Lives’.

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