Untold lives blog

15 September 2015

‘A Severe Master’ - the murder of William Cordeux

On 20 April 1732 William Cordeux, the East India Company’s factor in Kerman, was brutally murdered. He was reported to have been strangled to death by his own servants, the rationale for which seems to have been his own harshness towards his men. Of the four men blamed for the act, two fled and the other two ended up being captured by the Persian authorities not long afterward. Nathaniel Whitwell, the Company servant sent from Bandar Abbas to take over at Kerman, discovered that the situation was not nearly so simple as it would first appear.

Whitwell was first informed that Manna, Cordeux’s 'girl', was being pursued by the Persian authorities, who hoped to gain a portion of Cordeux’s wealth by seizing her. Manna seems to have started at as Cordeux’s slave, but was manumitted by him and stayed with her former master. After outflanking the Khan of Kerman in his plans to seize Manna, Whitwell was faced with two further problems.  Firstly, what was to be done with the two men already captured by the Persians?  Secondly, what to do with Manna? It transpired she had goaded Cordeux’s servants into killing him, no doubt helped by his own heavy-handedness.

  Persian woman
From Samuel Green Wheeler Benjamin, Persia and the Persians (London, 1887), p.199 BL flickr  Noc

After sending for instructions, Whitwell was told in no uncertain terms that he should lobby for the execution of the murderers, which he believed would be possible with a well-placed and suitably large “gift” to the Khan. As for Manna, she was to be brought down from Kerman to Bandar Abbas and from there transported to Bombay to stand trial for her part in Cordeux’s death. It is interesting that the fates of the servants and Manna should be so different, presumably divided by sex, rather than culpability in the murder itself.

In the end, the servants captured by the Persians had the last laugh. Whitwell, having had to wait for instruction from his superiors in Bandar Abbas, had delayed the servants’ executions. The Khan, now demanding a bribe, was refused by the Agent in Bandar Abbas. The executions never seem to have taken place and it is unclear what happened to the murderers after this. Sadly, it is also not recorded what became of Manna, though it seems safe to say that she never saw any of Cordeux’s significant wealth after her trial in Bombay.

Peter Good
PhD candidate Essex University/British Library Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/G/29/5 Consultation books for the factories in Persia   
IOR/P/341/7a Correspondence received at Bombay

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