Untold lives blog

24 April 2014

Street Fighting Men

On the night of Friday 30 June 1727, the East India Company factory and surrounding town of Gombroon (Bandar Abbas) bore witness to the spectacle of two English factors drawing their swords upon each other.  Both received wounds before being separated by a guard. The two men were William Draper, the Chief Factor, and John Fotheringham.

Two days earlier Fotheringham and William Cordeux, the Council Secretary, had refused to sign sailing orders for an English ship cruising around the Gulf.  They were concerned that the orders to this ship to “take, capture or burn” a Muscati ship suspected of piracy might cause undue offence to the Imam of Muscat. The Imam, being a major power in the region, was seen to be a useful person to be kept on the Company’s side, especially since the collapse of the Safavid dynasty in 1722.

This minor disagreement was resolved when the orders were slightly changed, but both Fotheringham and Cordeux publically remonstrated with Draper declaring that he was “no longer our Chief”.  Fotheringham left the Factory against Draper’s instructions and roundly insulted him.  Draper stopped Fotheringham, the two drew their swords on each other and fought in the public bazaar. Fotheringham was wounded in “the right breast, left shoulder and hip bone , Draper only “slightly on the right cheek”. The two men were parted by the Sergeant of the Guard of the factory. Both Fotheringham and Draper had ordered the Sergeant to restrain the other.

Roderigo attacks Cassio in the street
Roderigo attacks Cassio in the street [11765.k.9, page 33] Images Online

This raises interesting questions about authority in the factory itself.  Despite Draper being the chief factor, the guard did not follow his orders either to stop Fotheringham from leaving the factory, nor to restrain him once he had done so. At the same time, Cordeux was unable to persuade the guards to shut Draper out of the factory. It seems that no one was completely in charge of the armed men hired to protect them and the factory, nor did the guards consider themselves totally bound to follow orders with which they disagreed. Eventually, Draper regained control of the men, forcing them the next day to parade and make declarations of the events of the previous night. 

Most interestingly of all, perhaps, is that these events are all written down in the Company records amongst consultations and copies of letters concerning the day to day running of the factory; the comings and goings of goods and traders; and reports informing the factors of events in Persia during its decline into civil war that would last until 1796. The entries concerning these events are written impartially and are interspersed with statements from both parties and independent witnesses. This record would then have been returned to the Company’s officials first in Bombay and then London where opinions could be passed on their validity and the guilt of either party in the dispute.

Peter Good
PhD student University of Essex/British Library

Further reading:
IOR/G/29/4 ff.53-61



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