Amid the discomfitures and distresses of the Company at home, resolute groups of Englishmen were making their presence felt in India. The sites of their settlements were at first determined by political rather than by commercial considerations. During centuries the natural meeting-marts of the Indo-European spice trade had been the ports of Malabar; but the monopoly of those marts was secured to Portugal by her fortress-capital at Goa, and the coast rajas were on too small a scale to afford protection to newcomers. If our captains of the “Separate Voyages” were to find a footing in India, it must be under the shelter of a strong native government. The march of the Moghul Empire southwards, at the end of the sixteenth century, gave them their chance. Leaving the direct route from Africa to Malabar, they struck northeast to the Gulf of Cambay, on whose coasts the Moghul Emperor Akbar had imposed his rule, between 1572 and 1592.
Surat, the emporium of this ocean inlet and the capital of Gujarat, lies on a bend of the Tapti where the stream sweeps abruptly westward toward the sea. The name Surat is the modern representative of the ancient province of Surashtra, which at one time included not only Gujarat but part of Kathiawar.
In ancient times the city was the chief maritime centre of India, and Ptolemy, about 150 B.C., speaks of the trade of Pulipula, which has been identified with Phulpada, the old sacred part of Surat town. In course of time, however, the silt-bearing currents of its river and sand-laden ocean tides blocked its approach to medieval shipping, although they formed a roadstead. protected by mud-banks at Suwali, near the river mouth. Gujarat was cut off from the Moghul base in Northern India by mountains and deserts, and its annexation to the Moghul Empire cost twenty years of war, from 1572 to 1592. The work of conquest was rudely interrupted by revolts, which flared up afresh in the early
years of the seventeenth century; but the long arm of the empire at length prevailed, and just as the anarchy ended the English came upon the scene.
In 1607, Captain William Hawkins, of the third “Separate Voyage,” landed at Surat with a letter from James I to the Moghul Emperor Jahangir, and proceeded to the court at Agra. But the magnificent monarch of India did not take seriously the proffers of an unknown island-king brought by a ship’s captain. Such European influence as then existed at the Moghul capital was entirely Portuguese; and, after four years, Hawkins returned to Surat with a native wife, but without any grant for trade. Meanwhile the local governor of Surat had allowed some of Hawkins’s followers to remain there, apparently as a set-off to the Portuguese, who formed an unruly element at the roadstead. In 1609 a shipwrecked crew of our fourth “Separate Voyage” also claimed shelter. This the Moghul governor, whether “bribed by the Portugals” or merely afraid lest he should have too many of the European infidels on his hands, discreetly refused. The poor sailors had to make their way home, part of them by way of Lisbon, by the clemency of the Portuguese, who were only too glad to get rid of them.
The accounts which thus reached England from Surat, of its settled government under the cegis of the Great Moghul, and of its opportunities for trade, determined the Company to effect a settlement at its port. In 1611 Sir Henry Middleton, of the sixth “Separate Voyage,” landed at Suwali in spite of the Portuguese,
although they had compelled him to do business by exchanging cargoes in the roadstead. The Moghul governor, while still refusing us a factory, allowed some trade. Next year, 1612, Captain Best with the old Red Dragon, and the little Hosiander routed the Portuguese squadron that commanded the approaches to Surat, while the Moghul governor looked on from the shore. A month’s hard fighting destroyed forever the Indian legend of the Portuguese supremacy over other Europeans. The gallant Captain Best would have been satisfied with his victory, but he had with him a man who was resolved that England should reap its full results. Thomas Aldworth, factor and merchant, improved the momentary congratulations of the Moghul governor into a grant for our first settlement in India.
“Through the whole Indies,” Aldworth wrote to the Company in 1613, “there cannot be any place more beneficial for our country than this, being the only key to open all the rich and best trade of the Indies.” With a handful of English merchants in an unfortified house he struggled through the reaction against us which followed the departure of Best’s ships, until Downton’s sea-fight two years later established for ever our superiority at Surat over the Portuguese.
Downton’s feat of arms proved, unexpectedly, to be a great strategic victory. He had cut in half the Portuguese line of communication along the Indian coast. That line was held by Goa as its southern, and by Diu as its northern, base; and between the two by a squadron, which assured to Portugal the traffic of Surat and
the Gulf of Cambay. This trade now passed to the English, and it became necessary to secure it by no mere grants of local Moghul governors, but by an instrument from the Imperial Court. In January, 1615, while Downton was battering the Portuguese fleet off Surat, James I issued his commission to Sir Thomas Roe “to be ambassador to the Great Mogul,” the
Company to pay all expenses and to reap any results that might accrue.
Roe reached Surat in September, 1615, and proceeded to the Moghul court, then at Ajmir. Surat was the chief starting-place for Mecca, and the Portuguese squadrons had troubled the ocean path of pilgrimage. The Imperial Court, too happy that one infidel fleet should destroy another, granted to Sir Thomas Roe an “Order” for trade. These “Orders” were sometimes called “grants” or “licenses,” and sometimes dignified with the name of “treaties10.” The truth is that as our power in India increased they gradually developed from mere permits into grants, then into treaties, and finally into de jure confirmations of conquests which
we had de facto won. The treaty as drafted by Sir Thomas Roe would have allowed the English to found factories at all ports of the Moghul Empire, particularly in Gujarat, in Bengal, and in Sind; and exempted them from inland transit tolls, on payment of a fixed import duty of 3½ per cent. on goods and 2 per cent. on treasure. But these proposals, although they figure as “Roe’s Treaty” in Anglo-Indian histories, never passed beyond the draft stage and were rejected by the Imperial Court. Roe obtained, however, a permit for the English to reside at Surat and to travel freely into the interior, together with an order for the redress of the injuries inflicted on them by the local officials. He afterwards, in 1618, received a farman, or grant, in similar although somewhat handsomer terms, from the heir apparent, Prince Mirza Khurram, afterwards the Emperor Shah Jahan, then “fifteenth Viceroy of Gujarat,” the province of which Surat was the chief port. The prince allowed the English to hire, although not to buy or build, a house for their trade at Surat, and promised the assistance of boats in case they were attacked by the Portuguese. Sir Thomas Roe lingered long enough among the Moghul grandees to find that he was by no means regarded as the ambassador of an equal sovereign. But his presence at the Imperial Court, and the heir apparent’s viceroyalty of Gujarat, gave prestige to the English at Surat.
Meanwhile Captain Keeling, the “General” of the squadron which had brought out Roe, resolved to carry the war against the Portuguese into Southern India.
Keeling was a sailor of taste with a wide outlook into the possibilities of his times. On a previous voyage, while detained at Sierra Leone, in September, 1607, he and his crew had played “Hamlet” and “Richard II” by way of private theatricals. He believed in India as a career, and wanted to carry his wife with him – but gave up his request on compensation of £200 from the Company. He now, in 1616, sailed boldly to Malabar, and tried to turn the flank of the southern Portuguese base at Goa, by a treaty with Calicut further down the coast. The allies were to drive out the Portuguese from Cochin, which was then to be made over to the English.
This project failed, but a halcyon period opened to the English at Surat. The crop-fields of Gujarat, with their miracle of two harvests a year, seemed a paradise to the storm-tossed mariners, as they rowed up the smooth channels of the Tapti. “Often of two adjoining fields,” they wrote, “one was as green as a fine meadow, and the other waving yellow like gold and ready to be cut down.” They might regret that spices did not grow so far north, but they found substitutes in the fine cotton fabrics and dyes of upper India. Small English agencies, which were thrown out into the interior (in Gujarat, Ahmadabad, Kathiawar – especially the Kathiawar coast of the Gulf of Cambay – and Sind), collected the muslins of the neighbouring provinces, and the indigo of Agra, for shipment at Surat.
The titular viceroyalty of the heir apparent to the
empire left the real administration of Gujarat in the hands of the governor who had seen us shatter the Portuguese fleet. Indeed the Emperor Jahangir complains in his “Memoirs” that this too liberal official bought from the Europeans a turkey and other curiosities quite regardless of the price11. An annalist makes the transaction take place at “Gogo” (Goa), in whose safe anchorage on the opposite side of the Cambay Gulf, our ships, when driven from the Suwali roadstead, could always find shelter. According to letters from India to the Company in 1616 and 1617, the only drawbacks to the Company’s success at Surat were the “voluntaries,” or private traders from England, who began to creep in, and who, when their speculations failed, became a burden on the factory, or turned Mohammedans “to keep them from starving.”
More formidable rivals soon came upon the scene. In 1616 a Dutch ship under Van den Broeck appeared in the roadstead, but was not allowed to establish a factory. Next year two Dutch ships got wrecked off the coast, and ten of the survivors remained at Surat. In 1618 they received a license from the Moghul government, notwithstanding the efforts of Sir Thomas Roe to “turn them out,” and in 1620 Van den Broeck returned
to Surat as director of Dutch trade. But the Dutch, accustomed to barbarian island chiefs, did not realize that they had come under an empire which insisted on good behaviour, and could crush the petty infidel settlements by a stroke of the pen. Even the English, backed by the imperial order for trade, had to rest satisfied with the protection assured to all residents within the Moghul Empire, and were not allowed to fortify their house at Surat. The Dutch attacks on native vessels now involved us in the common disgrace of the European name, and while the Dutch were slaughtering us at Amboyna, in 1623, the English at Surat were held responsible by the Moghul governor for the piracy of their most bitter enemies. He seized upon our warehouses, threw our president and factors into irons, and let them hold their consultations “in prison” for seven months, amid the revilings of “whole rabbles of people.”
The Moghul government, however, soon learned to discriminate. It ceased, at any rate, to confound the peaceable English traders, who paid their customs punctually and abhorred images, with the Portuguese, who prostrated themselves like Hindus before a tinsel goddess, and plundered the True Believers on the holy voyage to Mecca. In 1622 our factory at Surat had organized the fleet which destroyed the Portuguese power in the Persian Gulf, and so outflanked the northern base of the Portuguese at Diu, which had controlled the entrance to the Gulf of Cambay. The English, having thus freed the approaches at Surat from the menace
of the Portuguese, came to be regarded by the Moghul viceroy as a useful sea-police.
But the Portuguese, although beaten out of the Gulf of Cambay and the Persian Gulf, still harassed the route to the Red Sea. Surat was the main exit of the empire to Mecca, and the Moghul government hit upon the device of employing one nation of the infidels against another to keep open the pilgrim ocean highway. In 1629 it granted by a farman, or “order,” letters of marque to our president at Surat to make reprisals on all Portuguese ships, whether at sea or in harbour. Next year a Surat governor again witnessed a repulse of the Portuguese from his river, “our English” driving the landing parties pell-mell into the sea, and “not fearing to run up to the chin in water, even to the frigates’ sides.” We rescued the viceroy’s son in the sight of the whole people, “to their great admiration and our nation’s great honour.” In the following winter, December, 1630, the treaty of Madrid declared that thenceforth the English and Portuguese should dwell at peace in the Indies, and enjoy a free commerce open to both – a consummation not to be attained by parchment alliances.
The English at Surat thus early won for themselves a recognized position as trustworthy payers of revenue and as a maritime patrol for the Moghul Empire. On shore the empire was, within its limits, all powerful, but at sea it depended on mercenary fleets. As it held in check the pirate nests along the western shores of India by subsidizing the Abyssinian chiefs who had
settled on that coast, so it looked to the English at Surat to keep open the ocean path of pilgrimages to the holy cities of the Red Sea. The Moghul supremacy was essentially of land origin. It had started from Central Asia, spread from the mountain passes across the Panjab, forced its way through the Aravalli deserts to Gujarat, and followed the courses of two mighty rivers, the Indus and the Ganges, to the opposite shores of India. From the vast hinterland of Hindustan the Moghul emperors were constrained to find an outlet to the ocean. But the great distance of their capitals in North-western India from the coast rendered it impossible, when they had found an outlet, to exercise an effective sea-control.
On the east, Portuguese buccaneers and Arakanese pirates swept the Bay of Bengal, and the Moghul viceroy had, by a special tax, to maintain an armed flotilla to keep open the mouths of the Ganges. On the west, the royal galleons and frigates of Portugal blocked the approaches to the Indus and the Gulf of Cambay. What the river fleet of the Bengal viceroy did for the Gangetic delta, the Indian emperors resolved that the English at Surat should do for the Arabian Ocean. Our squadrons formed, in fact, the naval complement to the land-conquest of Gujarat by the Moghul Empire. The anarchy which had ended just as we arrived gave place to a period of prosperity unexampled in the history of the province. Caravans came and went to all the inland capitals of India – Golkonda, Agra, Delhi, Lahore; the products of Asia, from the Straits of Malacca
to the Persian Gulf, were piled up on the wharves of the Tapti. Merchants flocked in such numbers to Surat that during the busy winter months lodgings could scarcely be had. A succession of able men directed the English factory; and soon after 1616 a Surat chaplain, Henry Lord, commenced those liberal researches into the native customs and religions, which are among the most honourable memorials of our Indian rule, and which have done much to mould that rule to the needs of the people.
The Company saw the position which its little band of servants had won on the Gulf of Cambay, and recognized the president at Surat as the chief of the English in India. After Amboyna the hopes of reviving the trade in the Spice Archipelago flickered out, and in 1630 even Bantam, its headquarters in Java, was declared subordinate to Surat. In the same year a calamity fell upon Gujarat which enables us to realize the terrible meaning of the word famine in India under native rule. Whole districts and cities were left bare of inhabitants.
In 1631 a Dutch merchant reported that only eleven of the 260 families at Suwali survived. He found the road thence to Surat covered with bodies decaying “on the highway where they died, [there] being no one to bury them.” In Surat, that great and crowded city, he “could hardly see any living persons; “but the corpses” at the corner of the streets lie twenty together, nobody burying them.” Thirty thousand had perished in the town alone. Pestilence followed famine. The president and ten or eleven of the English factors fell victims, with “divers inferiors now taken into Abraham’s bosom “ – three-fourths of the whole settlement. “No man can go in the streets without giving great alms or being in danger of being murdered, for the poor people cry aloud, ‘Give us sustenance, or kill us.’ ” “This, that was in a manner the garden of the world, is turned into a wilderness.”
The Dutchman estimated that it would take three years before the trade could revive at Surat. Indeed, one striking contrast between native and British rule was the slowness of recovery from famine in the Moghul Empire. But the English at Surat clung to the wreck of their settlement, and their new jurisdiction over our other factories in India placed at their command the whole of the Company’s ships in the Indian seas. A strong naval force thus came under the centralized control of Surat. The Company had from twenty to twenty-five vessels employed in the East Indies, chiefly in port to port trade. In 1629, it declared that during the past twelve years it had “sent out
fifty-seven ships containing 26,690 tons, besides eighteen pinnaces, to be worn out by trading from port to port in The Indies.”
To this scattered fleet, strongly armed and always eager to fight, the Surat factory added a local flotilla of stout sea-going craft, carrying two to six guns apiece, and charged with the defence of the Tapti estuary and Gulf of Cambay. Ten of these Surat “grabs and gallivats” are said to have existed in 1615, during Captain Downton’s six weeks’ battle with the Portuguese, and from that year the permanent establishment of our Indian navy has been reckoned. In 1622, four of them accompanied the squadron which drove the Portuguese from Ormuz and the Persian Gulf. These Surat cruisers were greatly superior to the Portuguese “frigates.” Yet the Portuguese “frigates” sufficed to make it unsafe for Mitch ships to lie in at the Malabar roadsteads. The broad lateen sails, light draught, and hardy rowers of the Surat “grabs,” or galleys, enabled them to outmanoeuvre both the Dutch and the Lisbon galleons along the shore. When combined with the heavily armed English ships engaged in the port to port trade, they made up a formidable force.
The viceroy at Goa now found his whole line of communication on the west coast of India dominated by our Surat factory. The English at Surat, on their side, felt the necessity for a direct trade with the pepper districts and spice ports of Malabar, which also remained the Indian marts of exchange for the more precious cloves and nutmegs of the Eastern Archipelago. European
diplomacy had failed to secure peace between the Christian nations in Asia. So, in 1634, the Viceroy of Goa and the English president at Surat took the matter into their own hands and entered into direct negotiations. They signed a formal truce, which in 1635 they developed into a commercial convention on the basis of the ineffective Madrid treaty of 1630.
Two English ships were annually to obtain a cargo at Goa, two more might load at other Portuguese factories. The long promised liberum commercium between the English and Portuguese in India became an accomplished fact.
It was this talent of isolated groups of Englishmen for making their power felt in distant regions, that carried the Company through the dark days of Charles I. They turned their factory at Surat into a sea-defence of the Moghul Empire, convoyed noble and imperial devotees to the Persian Gulf on their way to Mecca, and guarded the pilgrim route. Their Dutch rivals, although much stronger in men and ships in Asiatic waters, found themselves on the Gujarat coast in the grip of the Moghul power. Nor did the Hollanders, secure of the Spice Archipelago, care so much to come to terms with the Indian Portuguese.
But while our Surat factors thus secured a strong position and earned large profits for their masters, they also, in spite of their masters, did a lucrative trade on their own account. The Company viewed with mixed emotions the rising power of its servants in the East. It had seen its president at Surat commission a squadron in 1628 to wage open war on the Portuguese. But for a local factory to make a treaty on its own account with an independent European power was a dangerous audacity. Yet, in 1636, in spite of the home directors’ alarm and half-heartedness, this convention of the Goa viceroy with the president at Surat became the basis of the settlement of the Indies.
Even Holland began to realize that, notwithstanding her Spice Island supremacy, the English understood the greater game of Indian politics better than her own servants in the East. The Dutch factors at Surat contrasted their insignificance with the strong position
which the English, by the favour of the Moghul sovereign, enjoyed. In a letter from Surat to the governor-general at Batavia, April 30, 1634, they wrote: “We have no real power in these countries,” they lament, “while the (Moghul) governors can always revenge any real or pretended affront, by laying an embargo on the Company’s property.” The truth is that the Dutch governors-general at Batavia, domineering over their petty island chiefs, had the very worst training for the direction of distant factories under the irresistible Moghul emperors. “The English get daily a firmer footing in India,” “we should act in concert with the English,” “a good understanding with the English is the best guarantee of our commerce in India” – the Dutch factors at Surat reiterated in vain.
From their height of prosperity the handful of English at Surat were suddenly cast down. In 1636 arrived Captain Weddell of Courten’s Association, with a letter from King Charles to our president, intimating that under his Majesty’s authority six ships “had been sent on a voyage of discovery to the South Seas,” and that “the king himself had a particular interest” in the expedition. Presently came news that two of these ships “to the South Seas” had turned pirates in the Red Sea and plundered an Indian vessel. The Moghul governor at once seized our factory at Surat, threw the president and Council into prison for two months, and only released them on payment of 170,000 rupees, or about £18,000, and on their solemn oath (in spite of
their protestations of innocence) never again to molest a Moghul ship.
As in 1623 the Moghul government had held the Company’s servants responsible for the piracy of their public enemies the Dutch, so in 1636 it punished them for the piracy of Courten’s interlopers. “Wee must beare the burthen,” says a sorrowful despatch quoted by Anderson, “and with patience sitt still, until we may find these frowning tymes more auspicious to us and to our affayres.”
A still heavier blow was about to fall on the poor prisoners at Surat. While the piracies of Courten’s Association brought them into disgrace with the Moghul government, the ablest captain of the interlopers, Weddell, resolved to snatch the fruits of the Surat president’s convention with the Portuguese viceroy. He sailed to Goa, and, on the strength of a letter from King Charles, got leave in 1637–1638 to hire a house and to land his goods. After forcing himself, by the same authority, on the Company’s struggling factories from the Bay of Bengal to near the Straits of Malacca, he fixed his headquarters at Rajapur on the Bombay coast. The site was well chosen. It lay up a long tidal creek, in the independent kingdom of Bijapur, about half-way between Goa and the modern city of Bombay. It thus cut in two the Company’s line of communication between Surat and Goa, as the Company’s settlement at Surat had cut in two the Portuguese line of communication between Goa and Diu. The Moghul Empire had not then advanced so far down the coast, and Rajapur
From Rousselet’s India
formed a chief inlet of the Arabian commerce for the yet unconquered kingdoms of the South. In vain the Company’s servants at Surat protested and tried to found a rival station in the South. Captain Weddell secured by lavish gifts the support of the King of Bijapur, and began to plant factories along the coast. The sagacity of his selection is proved by the part which these factories played in the subsequent annals of the Company.
From home the Surat factory could get no succour, nor any certain sound from their distracted masters, then in their desperate struggle with the court cabal. We have seen that fifty-seven ships and eighteen pinnaces had been sent out for port to port trade alone, during the twelve years ending 1629. The Company’s records, which during the same period abound in journals of voyages to and from India, preserve only eight such documents for the thirteen disastrous years from King Charles’s grant to Courten’s Association in 1635 to his Majesty’s death in 1649.
But the factors of the Company at Surat, although left to ruin, asserted their vitality in a wholly unexpected manner. They practically kept up the trade on their own account, continued to patrol the pilgrim highway, and maintained an attitude at once so reasonable and so resolute that the Moghul government repented of having punished them for the piracy of their rivals.
As the emperor used the English to check the piracy of the Portuguese, so he employed them to bring
it to an end. The Portuguese had continued to plunder Moghul ships, subject to such reprisals as the English could inflict on them. But the English president at Surat had now made a treaty on his own account with the Goa viceroy: Why should he not also include in it the Indian government? In 1639 the Surat Council found themselves raised into negotiators between the Moghul governor and the Portuguese. The degenerate successors of Albuquerque and the half-breed corsairs of Goa for a time transferred their piracies from the Mecca route to the Bay of Bengal, and the cold shadows which had fallen on the Surat factory were again warmed into prosperity under the sunshine of the Moghul court. However low the fortunes of the Company sank under king or Commonwealth in England, the Surat factory grew with a strength of its own. In 1657, on account of the prosperous condition of that factory, the Company decided that there should be but one presidency in India – and that Surat.
I have narrated at some length the rise of the Surat factory for several reasons. It formed the first headquarters of the English in India – a centre of English control in the East which had a vitality in itself apart from the Company in London, and which won by its Persian Gulf victory our first revenue grant – the Customs of Gombroon – and profoundly influenced our later settlements on the Indian continent. It also illustrates the position which the English quickly secured in the economy of the Moghul Empire: as a sure source of revenue, a sea-police for the coast, and the patrol of
the ocean path to Mecca, gradually developing into negotiators on behalf of the native government. Surat forms the type of an early English settlement under the strong hand of the Moghul emperors.
10. Farmana, variously spelt Phirmaund, Firman, etc., in the Company’s records. Under the strongly centralized system of the Moghul Empire every authorization, whether for succession to an office or to an estate, or for the levying of a toll, or for trade, or for industrial enterprises (from the manufacture of salt to the reclamation of waste lands and the cutting down of the jungle), required an order from the throne or its local representative. The word “treaty” is misapplied to such grants. From the native point of view they divide themselves into four not strictly demarcated classes. (1) Parwanas, permits issued by an executive officer, the governor of a port, or sometimes a mere custom house subordinate. (2) Nishans, literally signs,” in the form of a sealed document, or flag, or other emblem, from the local authority of a district or province. (3) Farmanas, issued by the emperor or his viceroys or deputies. A farman was literally an “Order” conferring title, rank, command, office, or privileges, and was essentially of the nature of an imperial command. It had the wide sense which attaches to our term “Order,” from a General Order in the Field to an Order in Council or a Local Government Order, or Order by the Board of Trade. (4) Sanads, or grants for land, money, inheritance, or high administrative office, under the Imperial seal, and serving as a discharge to the treasury for payments, allowances, or exemptions of revenue. The early servants of the Company in India had to content themselves with the inferior classes of permits, parwanas and nishans ; then followed farmanas, and finally sanads. But during their first century and a half in India, for “treaty” or “grant” it is generally safe to substitute the word “order.”
11. The turkey seems to have been introduced into India by the Portuguese. Its present Hindustani name, piru, is identical with the Portuguese peru, derived from Pernana (Peru) in its old wider sense. Peruana and Guyana were used to denote Spanish-America at least as late as the almanacs of Charles II’s reign; and the turkey, probably brought by Cortez to Spain, was long called the Guinea fowl. In Hindustani it preserves the other old name of Spanish-America, Peruana. Bluteau, in his Vocabulario Portuguez e Latino, 1720, gives no certain sound.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage