Famine and Dearth

The English Factories in India, Volume 10: 1655-1660

About this text

Introductory notes

"The English Factories in India" published in thirteen volumes was compiled by Sir William Foster. Sir William Foster, born in 1863, entered the India Office in 1882. He worked most of his his official life on the archives of the East India Company. Sir Arthur Wollaston, the then Registrar, and Superintendent of Records, gave Foster the opportunity to begin work on the monumental calendar, on the English factories in India. The English East India Company for commercial enterprise set up factories at different locations in India in the 17th Century. "The English Factories in India", was meant to be a compilation of documents emanating from or directly relating to these factories compiled from the archives of the British Museum, with addition from the East India Series at the Public Record Office. The English Factories of India was eventually published in thirteen volumes by the Oxford University Press, between 1906 to 1923. In 1907, Foster became the Superintendent of Records and in 1923 the post of Historiographer was temporarily revived in his honour; he held it until his retirement (1927). For the Hakluyt Society, of which he was Secretary (1893-1902) and President (1928-1945), he edited nine volumes, the last appearing in 1949. Foster passed away in 1951.

The publication of "The English Factories in India" was stalled during the Great War, from 1916 to 1920. Publication resumed with the tenth volume in 1921. The selected passages of tenth volume deals with the correspondences of the Company's factory in Surat between the years 1655 to 1660. The passages highlight on the scarcities and dearth caused by famines in land of the Scindias and Masulipatnam.

Selection details

The publication of "The English Factories in India" was stalled during the Great War, from 1916 to 1920. Publication resumed with the tenth volume in 1921. The selected passages of tenth volume deals with the correspondences of the Company's factory in Surat between the years 1655 to 1660. The passages highlight on the scarcities and dearth caused by famines in land of the Scindias and Masulipatnam.

[Page 196]

1. LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT AND COUNCIL OF THE SURAT FACTORY TO THE COMPANY, 17th FEBRUARY, 1659

The departure for England of a private vessel (the Richard and Martha ) on 17 February, 1659, enabled the President and Council to forward a letter to the Company (dated three days earlier), in which they supplemented the information already given.

The general outlook was far from favourable.

Want of raine the last yeare hath made all sorts of provisions to rise to double the price they use to be at. Wee feare the next yeare wee shall not be able to send you anie Agra goods; that place being now the seat of the warr, three of the Princes lying round about it with very great armyes, and it is said they will give battle to each other suddainly. Shaw Jehan, their father, contynu's still a prisoner to Oran Zeeb, who endeavours to gaine the crowne from his two eldest brothers. From Ahmadavad wee can expect no indica the next yeare, unless the cropp proves great; for Wee heare there will be very little or none of this years stocks remayning, though it hath prooved the worst that hath been made in many years.

[Page 197]

1.1. William Foster'S NOTES

The civil war continued with unabated fury. On the very day that this letter was written, Prince Dara, who had not yet heard of Shuja's defeat, started with his army for Ajmer. Aurangzeb hastened back to meet him, and a desperate encounter took place (12-14 March) at Deorai, four miles south of the city, which ended in the defeat and dispersal of Dara's forces. Shah Nawaz Khan was among the many notables who perished on this fateful day. The prince himself became once more a fugitive; and a few months later he was betrayed into the hands of his pursuers, brought to Delhi, and put to death. Shuja yet maintained himself in Bengal; but his chances had much diminished, and Aurangzeb felt his position so secure that on 5 June, 1659, he was publicly enthroned at Delhi with much pomp and magnificence.

[Page 209]

2. LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT AND COUNCIL OF THE SURAT FACTORY TO THE COMPANY, SEPTEMBER, 1659

The Vine sailed for Sind and Persia at the end of September. In a letter to the Company which she carried to Gombroon for [Page 210] transmission overland, it was stated that the goods to be embarked at Lahribandar would be fewer than usual, 'being the famine and plague in Scinda is so great that it hath swept away most part of the people,1 and those that are left are few, and what they make is bought by the country merchant at any price, that causeth them not to take care it be good'. The same letter advised that in April, 1659 (see p. 198), a new Governor had reached Surat in the person of Mīrza Arab, who, during a previous tenure of the same post, had lent the English a considerable sum of money, the return of which, with interest, he had promptly demanded; and, as no cash was available, the President and Council had been obliged to borrow about 60,000 rupees for the purpose. The supply brought by the new fleet was so meagre that there was no hope of paying off their indebtedness and also providing cargoes for four ships, as the Company expected. This showed, wrote the Council:

The inconvenience of not having a double stock, and starving so hopefull a begining as (God be thanked) wee are in, every sort of goods running into the old channell of goodness and price, if wee had money to encourage; which will both keepe up your high lookt upon credit and (being bought at the best hand) your proffit; as also fredome from the usurer, that may not commaund us at there pleasure, nor your goods at their price.

[Page 257]

3. William Foster'S NOTES

Of political events we hear nothing, except for a reference in a letter to Bengal of 8 August to the relief afforded by the rains, which had mitigated the previous scarcity and had brought down the price of grain. This scarcity had been partly due to 'the feeding of two great armys neare us'—presumably the troops of the King of Golconda and of the Raja of Chandragiri respectively; and the effect of these disturbances is seen in the fact that for much of the cotton goods sent home in 1659 it was necessary to go to Porto Novo and Pondicherri.

[Page 262]

4. William Foster'S NOTES

Others were more fortunately situated, and such of their private letters as have found their way into the India Office archives contain many references to this absorbing topic. Thus Daniel writes from Masulipatam to Thomas Davies at Hugli (17 January, 1659), promising to buy chintz for him and regretting the loss of a consignment of sugar from Bengal. He refers to the disposal of some 'Long Lane comodities'1 of his which are in Davies's hands, and adds: 'Pettepolees a brave, healthy, pleasant place, but affords nothing of private trade.' Johnson, in a letter to James Pickering at Patna (8 March), alludes to some 'paintings' [chintz] which he is to send him later, and says that he has advised Chamberlain to dispatch a vessel to Masulipatam with rice, butter, wax, [Page 263] and sugar, 'here being much feare of a famine this yeare'1. The Petapoli factors write (16 April) that they have been using their own money to buy saltpetre for the Company's purposes, and that they expect compensation for so doing, seeing that, if they had employed it in bringing corn from 'Due [i.e. Divi] Island', they could have made 15 or 20 per cent. profit in a month. The scarcity which was offering the English merchants such chances of gain seems, by the way, to have been as bad in the districts round Masulipatam as at Madras. 'Wee have at present', say the Masulipatam factors on 13 October, 'soe great a famine in these parts, the people dying dayly for want of food, that wee cannot have goods brought in as wee expected.'

[Page 306]

5. LETTER FROM PRESIDENT ANDREWS AND THE SURAT COUNCIL TO THE COMPANY, 13th APRIL, 1660

A second letter to the Company (13 April) touched upon the following topics (amongst others).

Copper at this tyme is exceeding deare, and a greate quantitye will vend. Considering, therefore, the losse that Your Honours have in sylver, please you to send out a quantity of that sort as the sugar vessells are made of, twill sell at this tyme for 45 ma[hmudis] per maund. Tis not likely to fall; 5,000 maunds is ready money; 10,000 maunds will vend; but it must be of that sort, the finer the better. Wee offer this, because the Kinge and Governour of the place, with the roguery of the shroffes, in the abasing of sylver is apparant; and when it cometh out in ingotts, the shroffes will cozen notoriously, and there is no remedye for it. The other comoditye being sould as readily and as easily, we humbly propound it for the more profitable; gold being also in its sale accompanied with little losse. Provisions are more then usually deare; that, though our expences are contracted soe neare as necessitye will give leave, yet your allowance [see p. 147] will be exceeded; that wee humbly intreate that you wrould give us more libertye, for it shall be apparent that wee will not abuse it nor in any thinge be extravagant. Our expence booke will speake our frugalitye and (the tymes scarcitye considered) our good husbandrye; for should wee sett downe the rates of provisions formerly and now, 'tis more then 50 per cent. in many or most thinges; that wee hope you will be pleased to allowe our reasonable accompts given, that wee may not eat in feare of paying for what wee exceed your appointment. And as wee plead for our selves, soe wee must for [Page 307] our friends in Ahmadavad, and especially in Scindye. In the former provisions are dearer; but in the latter neaver famine raged worse in any place, the living being hardly able to burye the dead.

[Page 387]

6. William Foster'S NOTES

It is advisable perhaps, before concluding, to round off the story of the siege of Panala. The English mortars did not have the effect expected; but famine began to threaten, and by September, 1660, Sivaji saw that his position was hopeless. With great cunning he opened negotiations with Sidi Johar for the surrender of the fortress; and then, after a personal interview which led the Bijapur commander to believe that the prize was within his grasp, he took the opportunity of the relaxed vigilance of the besiegers to make his escape at midnight with a few followers. Though closely pursued by Fazl Khan, he succeeded in escaping to his stronghold at Vishalgarh (Kincaid's History of the Maratha People, vol. i. p. 168), thanks to the devotion of his rearguard. The 'Mountain Rat' was thus once more free to gnaw at the vitals of the Bijapur kingdom; and, as will be seen, he took an early opportunity to revenge himself upon the English factors for the aid they had afforded to his enemies.

[Page 401]

7. LETTER BY CHAMBER, A COURT, AND GIFFORD TO COMPANY, REACHED THE COMPANY ON 22nd JULY, 1661

With regard to shipping for England, the East India Merchant and the Truro (which had evidently got back from Jambi) were under orders to leave Masulipatam for home by 15 January, 1661; the Madras Merchant was expected shortly from Bengal, and 'wee shall not be long in dispeeding her'; and the Katherine was ready to start with the letter from which the above quotations have been taken. The last-named vessel, in spite of the Company's criticisms on a similar arrangement in the case of the Love, was to call at Colone,2 Pullecherry, and Porto Novo, to gleane in such goods as are there provided; for there is a necessity now of imploying all [Page 402] places in these parts, for the continuance of the famine hath caused our freinds in and about Metchlepatam to remitt us part of the moneys that wee had consigned them, for that but little cloth of full demencions was there to be procured.1 And wee doubt not but you will find the goods that are provided here and at Porto Novo to be equall in goodnes at least with those of other places which is very good reason for our giveing your merchants imployement, aswell here as at Porto Novo, as far as our meanes will extend which otherwise would be taken up by the Dutch and would be no easy matter to bring your trade againe into that posture as now it is.

This letter, which is signed by Chamber, A Court, and Gifford, reached the Company on 22 July, 1661.

This is a selection from the original text

Keywords

famine, rice, scarcity

Source text

Title: The English Factories in India, Volume 10: 1655-1660

Subtitle: A Calendar of Documents in the India Office, Westminster

Editor(s): William Foster

Publisher: The Clarendon Press

Publication date: 1915

Original date(s) covered: 1655-1660

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: Oxford

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: http://archive.org. Original date(s) covered: 1655-1660

Digital edition

Original editor(s): William Foster

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 196 to 197
  • 2 ) pages 209 to 210
  • 3 ) page 257
  • 4 ) pages 262 to 263
  • 5 ) pages 306 to 307
  • 6 ) page 387
  • 7 ) pages 401 to 402

Responsibility:

Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > official correspondence > india office records

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.

Acknowledgements