THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

20 September 2013

Pistol, teapot, soap, and satin doublet: an East India Company merchant’s possessions

East India Company merchant Richard Wickham was the son of William Wickham a Bristol merchant.  He was appointed in December 1607 as a factor for the Company’s Fourth Voyage. In early 1609 he was taken prisoner by the Portuguese and taken to Goa and then Lisbon. Wickham managed to escape and returned to England.  He was re-employed for the Eighth Voyage led by John Saris and sailed for the East Indies in 1611 on board the Clove.  He went to Japan with Saris and remained as a member of  the newly-established factory at Hirado from 1613 to 1617 when he left for Bantam.  He died at Bantam on 12 November 1618 and a detailed inventory was taken of his possessions, a copy of which survives in the India Office Records.

Wickham inventory
IOR/G/40/23 Richard Wickham's inventory Noc

Here is a selection of Richard Wickham’s possessions in 1618 taken from the inventory:

Chests of silk
Pieces of velvet and taffeta and many other textile pieces
Basins and ewers
Japanese wine
Writing desk and writing materials
Clothing including purple satin doublet with gold lace; purple satin hose with gold lace; scarlet hose with gold lace; doublet of cloth of gold; orange satin doublet and hose with black lace; suit of black striped satin; English cloth cloak lined with velvet; black satin suit cut upon yellow taffeta; velvet cassock; silk quilt waistcoat; suit of striped taffeta; handkerchiefs; 10 pairs of pumps, shoes and slippers; 18 doublets and waistcoats; bands and cuffs; caps; sashes; garters; stockings; hatbands; girdle with silver buckles; gold and silk Japanese girdle
Hats
Pistol
Perfuming ball
Silver teapot
Rapier and dagger
Brass astrolabe
Mathematical instruments
Weighing beam
Arrow case
Japanese saddle with furniture
Sheets, towels, quilts, carpets, cushions
Loose money
Silver spoons and forks
Gold rings
Pearls, diamonds, and other stones
21 + 58 books small and great; chest of books unopened
Embroidered Old Testament
Pair of spectacles in Japan case
Brass pictures
18 cases of soap
Java spear
Items from China e.g. quilts, aniseed, stillyard
Japanese bedsteads
15 bags of cloves
Pots of musk

From the list of his clothing, it appears that Wickham must have been a very snappy dresser!  He was also a keen collector of books and his will states that the proceeds from the sale of his books in Bantam were to be paid to the library in his home town of Bristol.

The value of Wickham’s estate from the inventory was £1,400 -  a vast sum in 1618. The East India Company was outraged, convinced that Wickham had gained his fortune by using its money to finance his own ventures or even by theft.  Wickham’s mother had to fight to have the estate made over to her by the Company but eventually won her case.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by


Japan400 logo + text

Further reading:
IOR/G/40/23 ff.4-7v Richard Wickham’s inventory
Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623 (The British Library, 1991)

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