THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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24 March 2017

The East India Company’s Black Book of Misdemeanours

The East India Company knew that it was dangerous to employ overseas servants who were xenophobic, lazy, or dishonest.  Indeed the Company was so concerned that it created a ‘Black Book’ to record errors and misdemeanours. 

  Black Book IOR/H/29 Noc

The book which survives in the India Office Records covers the years 1624-1698.  It copies in complaints made in letters received from Company servants in Asia.  Most reports of wrongdoing relate to private trade carried on against express orders, but they also cover drunkenness, negligence, desertion, disobeying orders, embezzlement, and debauchery.

Company servants had to be careful that in obeying rules set by the directors in London they did not risk alienating the local society hosting them.  Merchants were generally keen to avoid giving offence and tried to discover local protocol before trying to gain access to powerful men. The reports tell us where things went wrong.

Here are a few examples of reported misconduct which affected the Company’s relations with local people in Asia:
• In January 1626/27 Robert Hackwell, master of the Charles,  put two black men to death at Jambi and was discharged from East India Company service for ever.
• Nathaniel Mountney and Thomas Joyce were involved in a fight in 1632: ‘theire heads full fraught with wyne fell out with the Moors & in the fray a moore was slaine’.  Joyce was put in irons for ten days for the offence and only released after a large sum was paid.
• Thomas Nelson, gunner of the Swan, was charged 500 rupees in 1635 for killing a man at Macassar by a bullet carelessly shot into the town.
• In 1642 Humphrey Weston left all the Company’s property at Japara and ran away in fear of his life because he had been consorting with a Javan married woman.
• Richard Hudson’s ‘ill behaviour’ at Masulipatam aroused the local people’s hatred, especially the ‘great ones’.  Hudson had dealt in their grains and taken government duties upon himself.

  IOR H 29IOR/H/29 Noc

Here is the entry in the ‘Black Book’ taken from a letter from Surat in 1686 concerning the conduct of Roger Davis, Captain of the ship East India Merchant. Davis had arrived in Bombay at the time of Richard Keigwin’s rebellion against the Company and had established friendly relations with the rebels. He then fell ill and died, thus removing the problem: ‘Had that naughty man Davis lived, we had for certain protested against him, and should have used the East India Merchant worse than we did’.  Death often did solve disciplinary difficulties for the Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/H/29 East India Company book of servants’ errors and misdemeanours.

21 March 2017

Mary Dorothea Shore – a life brought out of the shadows

Mary Dorothea Shore was the first wife of East India Company supercargo Thomas Shore whom we met in a recent post. She has been overlooked in narratives of the Shore family and so I should like to bring her out of the shadows.

Mary Dorothea was the daughter of Robert Hawthorn and his wife Dorothy, baptised in London at St Sepulchre Holborn in August 1709. Robert was an apothecary who had served as a surgeon’s mate on HMS Ranelagh.  He died when Mary Dorothea was a baby – his widow was granted probate of his estate in October 1710.

  St Sepulchre
St Sepulchre 1737 - from George Walter Thornbury, Old and New London, London  (1887)   Noc

Dorothy Hawthorn then married an officer in the East India Company’s maritime service named John Shepheard (d.1734). I have found baptisms for two children born to John and Dorothy Shepheard.  Son John was baptised in 1716 at St Alphage London Wall and appears to have died in childhood. Daughter Dorothy was baptised on 13 June 1725 and the register of  St Mary Whitechapel  records that her mother was dead – the burial took place on 17 June.  I wonder who cared for half-sisters Mary Dorothea and Dorothy whilst John Shepheard sailed on long voyages to Asia?

The next event for the family which I have traced is the marriage in 1732 of Mary Dorothea to John Edgell, an officer at Custom House.  John Shepheard gave his step-daughter a marriage portion of £1,000. The Edgells had six children baptised at St Mary Whitechapel: Mary, Priscilla, William, Amelia, and two sons called John who died in infancy. But in 1740 Mary Dorothea and John agreed to separate because of ‘some unhappy differences’. 

On 11 July 1741 John Edgell was admitted to Bethlem Hospital which cared for mental ill health.  He died there on 7 August 1741. His will provided for his children William, Mary, Priscilla and Amelia, but left only one shilling to his wife together with the income from her marriage jointure.  John died owing considerable debts and Mary Dorothea entered into Chancery proceedings to settle her husband’s estate.

The_Hospital_of_Bethlem_(Bedlam)_at_Moorfields _London;_seen_Wellcome_V0013185

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London Wellcome Images

However provision was made for Mary Dorothea by John Shore, East India Company warehouse-keeper and father to supercargo Thomas Shore. It seems that the Shore and Shepheard families had become friends through their Company connection.  John Shore died in October 1741 and his will gave Mary Dorothea £40 a year and possession of his house in Alie Street, Goodman’s Fields, with all the contents, until his ‘beloved’ son Thomas returned to England.

Thomas Shore returned from China in the late summer of 1743.  He was granted probate of his father’s will on 15 August and married Mary Dorothea on 29 August.

In 1745 Mary Dorothea and her half-sister Dorothy Shepheard were living together in Wanstead, Essex, whilst Thomas set off on another voyage to China.  They gave evidence at the Chelmsford trial of Jonathan Byerly who was convicted of breaking into the Shore house at night and stealing a quantity of silver items.  Byerly was sentenced to be hanged.

Mary Dorothea must have died within the next five years, because on 6 September 1750 Thomas Shore married Dorothy Shepheard. Was Mary Dorothea excluded from the Shore family story to avoid drawing attention to the blood relationship between Thomas’s first and second wives?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/L/MAR/B Ship journals for the voyages of John Shepheard and Thomas Shore, and IOR/B East India Company Court of Directors Minutes for the careers of John Shepheard and John and Thomas Shore.
Will of John Shore 1741 - The National Archives  PROB  11/713
Legal papers for the Edgell family - The National Archives C 11/2085/7
Case of Jonathan Byerley - The National Archives  ASSI 94/726

16 March 2017

Aristotle’s Masterpiece: What to expect when you’re expecting, seventeenth-century style

How would a seventeenth-century woman know if she’s pregnant? Why, by the following signs of course: “pains in the head, vertigo, and dimness of the eyes…the eyes themselves swell, and become of a dull or dark colour”.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece was the most popular manual about sex, pregnancy and childbirth from its first appearance in 1684 through hundreds of editions up to the late nineteenth century. The manual offers advice on everything from “the use and actions of the genitals” to “monstrous births, and the reasons thereof”. This is a book for the common people that would’ve been cheaply printed, sold ‘under the table’ and hidden under the mattress at home. With its advice for both men and women, it would’ve been furtively rifled through as often as we use Google (rightly or wrongly) to decipher our medical problems nowadays.

Image1
Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available].  Noc

In case you hadn’t already guessed, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is neither by Aristotle or, indeed, a masterpiece. Nicolas Culpeper had already written his Directory for Midwives in 1651 and other writers and booksellers sought to emulate its resounding success. Aristotle was a long-established pseudonym used when printing works about reproduction. The text itself is a peculiar mash-up of early seventeenth-century medical works and popular old wives’ tales about sex and reproduction passed down through generations.

For instance, is it a boy or a girl? Well, “male children lie always on the [right] side of the womb” and girls on the left. But if you wanted to be certain, cast a drop of milk into a basin of water. If the milk drop sinks to the bottom intact, it’s a girl. If it spreads and disperses on the surface of the water, it’s a boy. With sage advice like this, it’s hardly surprising that copies of The Masterpiece were used until they literally wore out. This means that comparatively few survive today, with the British Library being lucky to hold about thirty different early editions.

To us, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is a delightfully eccentric insight into seventeenth-century sexual and reproductive lore, sometimes recognisable as the precursor to modern science and sometimes decidedly not.

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Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

This manual devotes a lot of time to describing monsters, for example. These “monstrous births” are variously attributed to “maternal imagination, witchcraft, human-animal copulation or a disorder of the womb”. The crude curious woodcuts, instrumental to the manual’s appeal, feature a child with its eyes where its mouth should’ve been, a naked woman covered in hair and conjoined twins amongst others.

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Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

Elsewhere there are largely sensible instructions for midwives. The basic anatomical descriptions and the large, fold out diagram of the position of a baby in the womb also occupy more familiar territory for modern readers.

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Aristotle’s Compleat Master Piece. The twenty-seventh edition. [London]: printed and sold by the booksellers, 1759 [Shelfmark not yet available]. Noc

But home remedies that feature dog’s grease or even dragon’s blood soon confuse matters again.  As does the insistence that bleeding a woman, a somewhat primitive practice, is advised if she’s having difficulty during childbirth and that, during pregnancy, a woman must ensure that her home is not, for some inexplicable reason, “infected with frogs”.  Ribbet.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections