Fort William-India House Correspondence, Vol-IX: 1782-1785

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Introductory notes

The Fort William-India House Correspondences was published under the Indian Records Series, by the National Archives of India, at the recommendation of the Indian Historical Records Commission. Indian Historical Records Commission instituted in 1919 as an advisory body on preservation and publication of historical documents, envisaged the publication of correspondence between the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London and the Fort William Council in Calcutta. Noted scholars attached with Universities and academic institutions were invited to edit each of the volumes under the General Editorship of the Director of the National Archives of India.

The ninth volume of the Fort-William India House Correspondences was published in 1959 by the National Archives of India. B.A. Saletore was the editor of this particular volume. Saletore was a professor of History at the Karnataka University. Saletore also became the Director of the National Archives of India. Volume-VII of the Fort William-India House Correspondences covered the letters to and from the Court of Directors in London by the Public Department, between 1782 to 1785. The volume is particularly important for the correspondences on the 1782 famine in the Madras Presidency and the discussions on remedial measures like construction of granaries.

Selection details

The ninth volume of the Fort-William India House Correspondences was published in 1959 by the National Archives of India. B.A. Saletore was the editor of this particular volume. Saletore was a professor of History at the Karnataka University. Saletore also became the Director of the National Archives of India. Volume-VII of the Fort William-India House Correspondences covered the letters to and from the Court of Directors in London by the Public Department, between 1782 to 1785. The volume is particularly important for the correspondences on the 1782 famine in the Madras Presidency and the discussions on remedial measures like construction of granaries.

VOL.IX: 1767-1769
B.A. SALETORE, M.A., Ph.D (London). D.Phil (Geissen)
Professor in History, Karnataka University

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11. We have likewise taken means for procuring large stores of grain for the relief of the Presidency of Fort St. George by directing the different collectors of the grain districts, which have fortunately produced very abundant crops this season, to make purchases on the Company's account and to send down these supplies, at the cheapest rates, to Calcutta.

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12. To the President and Council at Fort St. George we have written desiring them to engage all the tonnage they can procure to transport it, and as a number of transports belonging to Commodore Alms' squadron are already arrived in India, and many more may be expected in the course of this season, we have no doubt of being able to throw into the garrison of Fort St. George as large supplies of provisions as will be required for the support of that place and the army, provided, as we have every reason to suppose from the result of the late naval engagement, that our fleet is able to cope with that of the enemy or at least to divert it from destroying the grain vessels.

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8. In compliance with a pressing application from the President and Council at Fort Marlborough we have agreed to dispatch the Northumberland immediately to that place with stores and grain of which they are much in need, and to afford them tonnage for transporting a part of the Company's pepper to England, as they inform us that they had collected 1600 tons on the 27th of last January, and that the quantity would accumulate daily.

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5. The ship Queen, which was sent with a cargo of grain to Fort St. George in March last, has been dispatched from thence to Fort Marlborough and China being laden with military stores and ordnance for the former place to prevent any further ill consequences from an unfortunate loss they had met with from lightning, which struck one of their powder magazines and blew up a large part of the arsenal, etc.

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9. We have the pleasure to inform you that the Chesterfield, which was sent here from Madras, has been returned thither with rice, the Major is just arrived from thence and the ships Ganges, Calcutta, Alfred, Warren Hastings, Kent, Ann & Emelia, and Dutton [left] for [[from?]] this place the and ultimo. The Royal Henry was dispatched about the same time for Bo[mbay].

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26. Notwithstanding the liberal contributions of charity which have been subscribed at this place and the established monthly allowance collected at Madras for the support of the poor native inhabitants of that settlement we are informed that our united endeavors have hitherto proved inadequate to their subsistence, as hundreds are daily expiring through want. Considering the present extreme scarcity of grain at Madras and the increased distresses of the people, which have been described to us in a most affecting manner, we have opened a charitable subscription at every station of the army and at each subordinate settlement. We have also taken upon us, in order to promote so laudable and humane a purpose, to subscribe in the Company's name 50,000 rupees. By these combined means we hope to save the lives of many poor wretches who must otherwise perish in the most miserable manner from the famine.

27. Having received information, which we depended on as authentic, that the Alfred and another ship, laden with grain at this port, had delivered their cargoes at Tranquebar, which were immediately bought up for the use of the French troops at Cuddalore, then reduced to the utmost distress, we thought it necessary, in order to prevent our enemies from being again supplied through the same channel, to publish a prohibition against the exportation of grain from Calcutta to any foreign settlement whatever. The Danish Government at Tranquebar, receiving intelligence of this order, have thought proper to remonstrate against it as founded on a report which was totally groundless, and to represent the exigency of their situation as very critical and alarming, since they depended solely on this country for support. In reply to their letter we have informed them that the prohibition was meant to extend only to the shipping of our own port, which we had a right to command and should certainly employ in the relief of our own establishments on the Coast preferably to all others, but we remarked to them that there were at that time vessels of their own nation lying in this river more than sufficient to supply the wants of their settlement for a long time to come. On this ground we also thought it our duty to refuse Mr. Bie, the Danish Chief at Fredericksnagore, when he applied to us for permission to freight and load English vessels with grain for Tranquebar.

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12. The excessive drought throughout these provinces and the consequent alarming prospect of a famine having obliged us to annul the contracts, we had entered into for supplying the Presidency of Fort St. George with grain, and to lay a general embargo on the exportation of that article (of which you have been repeatedly informed in all our late letters) and our apprehensions of the extreme distress to which the inhabitants of the Carnatic might be exposed made it the object of our very anxious deliberations to attempt every measure which could afford a prospect of obviating or at least of alleviating it.

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15. We acquainted the Presidency of Fort St. George with our anxiety on their account, in consequence of the necessity we had been under of withholding their expected supplies, and of the application we had made to the Government of Batavia, and we directed Captain Murray to return with all possible expedition to Fort St. George with their answer that should it prove a favorable one no time might be fast in dispatching such ships as could be got ready for that purpose, to convey the grain to Fort St. George.

16. You have already been informed of the measures we had thought it necessary to adopt in order to avert as much as possible the effects of the famine, with which we were threatened, and of our appointment of a Committee of Grain, with very extensive powers, for this purpose. And we are happy to inform you that these exertions have had so good an effect that, although the scarcity has not been entirely removed, the alarm of the natives has in a great measure subsided, and we have every reason to expect that in a short time plenty will be again established throughout the provinces.

17. We referred the adjustment of the contractors' accounts to the Committee of Grain, that they might determine the compensation equitably due to each. They accordingly transmitted to us accounts current between the Honourable Company and the principal contractors, as recorded in the consultation noted in the margin, to which we beg leave to refer for your more particular information on this subject.

18. From these accounts and from the estimates of private merchants the Committee calculated the average rate of shipping and re-landing grain at this port, in order to determine the compensation which justice required should be made to such individuals as had actually shipped grain, but were prevented from exporting it by the embargo.

19. This calculation was made with the most minute exactness, and the average expence computed at 50 rupees per 100 bags, or 8 annas for each bag. We agreed therefore to make this allowance to such individuals as had laden their grain and were obliged to re-land it, the truth of which was verified by each of them on oath. The sum paid on this account, and a list of such persons as received the indemnification, is recorded in our proceedings last quoted, to which we again request leave to refer you.

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20. The Committee of Grain having likewise represented to us that in consequence of the very large quantity of grain to be delivered to them by the several contractors golahs would be necessary for its reception, we authorized them to erect such temporary buildings as would be absolutely required, but enjoined the strictest frugality not only in constructing these buildings but in every expense attending the reception and care of the grain committed to their charge.

22. The reasoning contained in the first part of the Governor General's minute operated on our minds with the force of compleat conviction from our recent experience of the certainty of the fact on which it is founded and though our determination to avoid as much as possible every expence militated strongly against our undertaking a project of such magnitude, the object of the plan, that of securing the inhabitants of these extensive provinces from the dreadful calamity of famine in future, appeared to us of so great consequence that we could not withhold our concurrence in a measure which, in the immediate though partial execution of it, would be attended but with an inconsiderable present expence.

23. We accordingly adopted a plan, recommended to us by the Chief Engineer, for the erection of a circular building at Patna for the purposes mentioned in the Governor General's minute, and appointed Captain Garstin of the engineer corps to execute it, under the orders of the Committee of Grain, allowing him, for the reward of his labor, a commission of ten per cent on the estimated sum, and a further commission of ten per cent between the actual cost to which he may be able to reduce it and the amount of the estimate.

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6. In our letter of 9th February we advised you of our application to the Government of Batavia for a supply of grain from the island of Java, and the ports to the eastward, for the settlement of Fort St. George which (with the large quantities of rice which would be shipped during the North East Monsoon from the Sircars and the Maratta countries to the northward and from the southern districts of the Carnatic when the monsoon charged) we hoped would afford them a relief nearly equal to their wants; and we were confirmed in this idea by the constant advices we received from Madras, of the low price of grain there even long after the embargo on its exportation from this port was known to have taken place.

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7. We were therefore much concerned at receiving a letter from the Government of Fort St. George, representing that their encreasing distresses for want of grain made them apprehensive of the most fatal consequences if left without assistance from hence, that they were without expectations of being enabled to provide for the settlement and army, and the expected supplies from Batavia were of a nature too distant and precarious to give them hopes of effectual relief.

9. We referred these representations to the Committee of Grain, and required their opinion how far we could afford relief to the Presidency of Fort St. George, consistently with the safety of these provinces.

10. From the statements which they had received of the quantity of grain in the several districts of Bengal the Committee were clearly of opinion that the embargo could not, at this period, be taken off without the greatest danger, but that a partial exportation for the relief of Madras might be permitted without material prejudice to the welfare of the country, if the provision of it were confined to particular districts and the quantity not exceeding 1,00,000 maunds.

11. We in consequence immediately advised the Governor and Council of Fort St. George of our resolution to supply them with 50,000 bags, the quantity pointed out by the Committee of Grain. And deeming this a favourable opportunity of making some compensation to the merchants who had suffered by the embargo and who had preferred claims upon our Government on that account, we directed that the quantity to be exported should be divided amongst them according to the respective losses they had sustained, obliging those who accepted this indulgence to deliver the grain at the price stipulated to be paid Captain Jameson, which had been represented to us as very reasonable by the Government of Madrass, and we admitted him to his proportion as a claimant for one cargoe, according to the terms of this contract.

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1. By the Earl of Mansfield, Captain Fraser, we had the honor to address you under dates the 22nd and 23rd instant, and to forward at the same time our broken set of proceedings, from this Department, for the month of January.

2. In the several letters, written by us, during this season you have been fully informed of the inconvenience and difficulties to which we have been subjected by the sudden and totally unexpected arrival of a number of the King's officers and men, that were sent here by the Presidency of Fort St. George for the purpose of being accommodated with passages to Europe.

8. In our proceedings noted in the margin you will observe an [Page 548] application from the Presidency of Fort St. George for a supply of fifty thousand bags of rice for their stores, as they were apprehensive of being unable to obtain any quantity of that article upon the Coast, owing to the uncommon drought of the season.

9. The motives which had induced us to restrain the President and Council there from drawing bills or procuring resources in any shape from hence continued the same, and as the embargo on the exportation of grain had been taken off, we were naturally led to conclude that the imports of grain in the common operations of trade would be more than sufficient to supply their wants; we were therefore compelled to act with the utmost caution in this business, and consequently complied with their request in part only, by promising to deviate in a small degree from our former determinations in accepting bills that they might draw upon us to the extent of two lacs of rupees, provided that amount was actually and bonafide applied to the purchase of rice, which their necessities absolutely required.

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49. In consequence of several representational from your Chief Engineer of the decayed and dangerous state of the draw-bridges before the St. Georges Royal, and water gateways in the new Fort we authorized him to make the necessary repairs to them, previously receiving his estimate of the expense which would be incurred, and strictly enjoining him not to exceed it. This mode we have thought proper to adopt as a general rule whenever temporary works are required, and are convinced of the advantage it will be of in confining charges of a contingent nature to specific sums, and all within our knowledge prior to their commencement. You have already been informed of the disposal of a great quantity of the stores which had been deposited in Fort William during the war, excepting the grain in the new golahs. This article we thought proper to reserve till lately for the purpose of completing the experiment that was proposed as the principal reason for its being laid up: and we are now happy to acquaint you that when the golahs were opened the grain deposited in them appeared in perfect condition and sold well. A small quantity is still kept for further trial, though we can have no doubt that rice may be preserved many years when the air is not suffered to get to it.

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20. The Ministers and Church Wardens at Fort St. George have repeatedly applied to us for payment of the sum of 50,000 sicca rupees, which we subscribed during the height of the war for the maintenance and support of the distressed inhabitants of that Residency, laboring under the dreadful calamity of famine. When the circumstances of the wretched situation of these people were first made known to us and represented in a light requiring instant attention we felt the necessity of contributing as much as possible to their relief, and as an encouragement to individuals to subscribe the sum above mentioned was put down in the Company's name; but private contributions to so laudable a purpose shortly exceeded our expectations, these being remitted, as proper opportunities offered, by our Secretary in the manner desired by the Minister and Church Wardens, seemed to render any further aid on our part unnecessary, besides the free tonnage which we gave for 500 bags of rice in each of your ships sent there, and our funds were so exhausted and our exigencies for the public service so great that we had it not in our power, at that time, to make such an extra disbursement for what appeared only a secondary object. The distress of the poor at Madras afterwards subsiding it was not till the 24th February 1784 that the Minister and Church Wardens addressed us, requesting that the subscription on the part of the Company should be paid. Such a payment not appearing there [Page 587] so immediately pressing as the fam[ine] no longer existed, we left this point for future consideration. The Minister and Church Wardens however having again urged the matter, and made a further application for payment in small bonds, we resolved to submit it to your decision, and accordingly acquainted them that we should refer the whole to your consideration which we now do, and beg to be honored with your instructions thereon. The consultations noted in the margin contain everything that has passed on this subject.

This is a selection from the original text


crops, drought, grain, rice, scarcity, settlement

Source text

Title: Fort William-India House Correspondence and Other Contemporary Papers Relating Thereto

Subtitle: Vol.IX Public Series, 1782-1785

Editor(s): B.A. Saletore

Publisher: The National Archives of India

Publication date: 1959

Original date(s) covered: 1782-1785

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: Delhi

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from print at the National Archives of India. Original date(s) covered: 1782-1785

Digital edition

Original editor(s): B.A. Saletore

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 299 to 301
  • 2 ) page 308
  • 3 ) page 314
  • 4 ) page 322
  • 5 ) page 326
  • 6 ) pages460 to 462
  • 7 ) pages 472 to 473
  • 8 ) pages 547 to 548
  • 9 ) page 577
  • 10 ) pages 580


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