The Early Annals of the English in Bengal, Volume 1

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Introductory notes

Charles Robert Wilson born in London in 1863, was educated at Oxford. Soon after taking his degree he joined the Indian Educational Service. He began his work in 1887 as a Professor in Dhaka College (now in Bangladesh). In 1895, he joined the Presidency College in Calcutta. He was also the Principal of the Government College, Bankipur in Patna, when he was also made the Officer in Charge of the Records of the India Government. He used his tenure as the Officer in Charge of the Records of Indian Government to retrieve the early history of the East India Company in Bengal. Wilson published a compilation of from the Bengal Public Consultation in three volumes, titled "Early Annals of the English in Bengal". The volume 1 of "Early Annals of the English in Bengal" was published by W.Thacker & Co. in 1895. C.R. Wilson also did important work on the early history of Calcutta, determining the topography of Calcutta during the early days of English settlement, particularly the plan and extent of the Old Fort William. Wilson oversaw the publication of a compilation of documents pertaining the old Fort William, in a volume titled, "Old Fort William in Bengal". Wilson died in 1904.

The volume one of the "Early Annals of the English in Bengal" is a compilation of the Consultation books of the Bengal Public Consultations from the year 1704 to 1710. The selections highlight on the early events which had far reaching significances, such as the settlement of East India Company in Sutanuti and Kolkata, death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The selections also point out the periods of scarcity of food crops, particularly rice, that the region faced during the above mentioned years.

Selection details

The volume one of the "Early Annals of the English in Bengal" is a compilation of the Consultation books of the Bengal Public Consultations from the year 1704 to 1710. The selections highlight on the early events which had far reaching significances, such as the settlement of East India Company in Sutanuti and Kolkata, death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The selections also point out the periods of scarcity of food crops, particularly rice, that the region faced during the above mentioned years.

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[Page 79]

When Hedges reached Hugli in 1682 he found that the general trade there was almost at a standstill. On the 9th October, "the several affronts, insolences, and abuses dayly put upon us by Boolchund, our chief Customer (causing a general stop of our trade), being grown insufferable, ye Agent and Councell for ye Hon'ble E. India Company's affairs at Hugly resolved upon and made use of divers expedients for redress of their grievances; but all means proving ineffectual 'twas agreed and concluded in consultation that the only expedient now left was for the Agent to go himself in person to the Nabob and Duan at Decca, as well to make some settled adjustment concerning ye customs, as to endeavor the preventing Interlopers trading in these parts for ye future; in order to which preparations were caused to be made. Mr. Richard Trenchfield and Mr. William Johnson were appointed to go along with ye Agent to Dacca. 'Twas also thought convenient to go by ye way of Merdadpore, a towne within 4 or 5 hours travell of Cassumbazar, to have ye opportunity to speak and consult with Mr. Charnock, and some others of ye Councell there, what course is best to be taken in this exigency."

This resolution to appeal to the nabob at Dacca led to a characteristic altercation between Hedges and Parameçvar Das, the local collector of customs. Ostensibly Parameçvar Das permitted the English to start for Dacca. Two barges and a number of small boats with provisions were made ready, and the agent, escorted by twenty-three Englishmen in soldier's garb and by fifteen Rajputs and footmen, proceeded on the evening of the 10th October to the English garden to the north of Hugli. But Parameçvar Das had secretly [Page 80] sent armed parties to seize the English boats; and so the quarrel began. The English lost two boats and tried to recover them by force. The myrmidons of Parameçvar Das set upon the English, who were afraid to fire their pistols. Both sides negotiated, argued, protested. Parameçvar offered liberty to any slaves who should run away from the English. He beat and imprisoned as many of the Company's footmen and boatmen as he could catch; or, if he could not catch the men themselves, he beat and imprisoned their relations. Hedges went on board his sloop to go to Dacca by the route through the Sundarbuns, and then on second thoughts returned to his barge.

After five days spent in disputing, he was reduced to the undignified expedient of running away from Hugli by night. On the 14th October, "resolving now to be abused no more in this manner, I sent all ye laden boats before, with Mr. Johnson, to see them make all the haste that might be, and not to stop all night. Next to them went the Souldiers with ye other Budgero. I followed that, and 2 stout fellows, an Englishman and a Spaniard, in a light boat came last of all. About 2 hours within night a boat full of armed men came up very near to the Spaniard, who speaking ye language demanded who they were, and commanded them to stand; but those in the boat returning no answer, nor regarding what he said, he fired his Musket in the Water, at which they fell astern. About an hour after, when we were got up as far as Trippany, the armed boat came up with ye Spaniard again, who commanded them to keep off, otherwise he would now shoot amongst them, though he shot at random the time before; so the boat fell astern, and, perceiving that we resolved not to stay at that place, we saw them no more."

Hedges followed what was then the usual route to Dacca up the Hugli and the Jellinghi into the broad stream of the Ganges, and [Page 81] thence by various cross cuts into the Burlganga. In July and August, during the time of the great rains, these eastern districts are more than half submerged, the familiar land marks disappear, the rivers become tempestuous seas over which the boatmen labour, often in doubt, sometimes in danger. But in October, when Hedges started for Dacca, the rivers, though much deeper than at present, had shrunk to their normal size. With clear skies and cool breezes the voyage was pleasant enough. The barges in which Hedges and Johnson travelled were of the sort commonly in use on the Gangetic rivers, lumbering and clumsy to look at, but roomy and comfortable. Two-thirds of their length aft was occupied by cabins with Venetian windows in which the traveller could sit or recline at ease and watch the varied life of the river, the craft plying up and down the stream, the fishers dragging their nets, the water-side folk bathing, arguing, chatting, praying. At noon they landed and ate their dinner beneath the shade of tamarind trees, the home of the peacock and the spotted deer. Then, after resting a few hours, they rowed on. In the evening came supper, and all night long they were "tracked" or towed from the bank, while the boatmen chanted in a minor key weird songs invoking the favour of the water-spirits.

On the 20th October Hedges was not far from the junction of the Jellinghi with the Ganges. At Kalkapur he was met by Charnock and the local Council, with whom he had a short consultation.

On the 25th October he reached Dacca. The English factory stood in the quarter now occupied by the English officials. It was some way from the river, and what were then the chief centres of business and power in Dacca. Shayista Khan held his court two miles away in the Lal Bagh, a large red brick fort built to command the river which once washed its south face but has since receded some distance from it. The only old buildings now standing within the enclosure are a ruined mosque and the white marble tomb of Bibi Peri, the daughter of Shayista Khan, and niece of the lady of the Taj. But from the traces which remain, we may well believe that a palace once faced the visitor as he entered under the great north portal. Hither came Agent Hedges [Page 82] full of hope, to ask that the interlopers might be expelled from the country; that the vexatious proceedings of the Mogul underlings might be stopped; that the Company's servants might no longer be forced to pay customs and duties, or that at least they might be exempted for seven months while they laid their case before the Emperor. It seemed that all difficulties were now nearly at an end. Hedges was well acquainted with Turkish and Arabic, but he had no knowledge of the delays of Indian diplomacy.

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[Page 107]

Charnock had commenced his operations with vigour. He had ransacked Hugli, attacked the Thana forts, destroyed Balasor, seized Hijili. To him these things seemed ample demonstrations of power, and he, no doubt, expected matters to come to a crisis at once. But to the rulers of India they seemed very minor incidents. Aurangzeb was at this time intent upon the taking of Haidarabad. He did not hear of the proceedings of the English till the beginning of March, and then contented himself with calling for the map and ascertaining where such obscure places as Hugli and Balasor were situated. Shayista Khan was almost equally unconcerned. He had ordered adequate forces of horse and foot to advance against Hijili, and he had no doubt that they would reach the place in due course and drive the rash invaders into the sea. At the same time, it was satisfactory to reflect [Page 108]that they had chosen to coop themselves up in the most pestilential swamp in all lower Bengal, so that they might almost be safely left to stew in their own juice.

March and April must have been trying months for the English at Hijili. Day by day the tropical heat grew fiercer; day by day their forces dwindled away, while the numbers of their enemies increased and multiplied. By the beginning of May the supplies of provisions had run very short. Nothing was to be had in the island, but beef and a little fish, a diet scarcely suited to the season of the year. Both ashore and on board the ships, great numbers died daily, the number of soldiers sick being never less than a hundred and eighty. The inhabitants, who had at first been friendly, and with whose assistance alone the necessary fortifications could be completed, either through fear or for want of rice, had begun to leave the island. The local magnate, who had offered to co-operate with Charnock, refused to give any help. The island was closely beset by the Mogul troops. On the other side of the Rasulpur river, opposite Hijili, Malik Qasim had raised a battery which commanded the river, the landing place, and even the fort.

The English were thus forced to resume the offensive. In one sally on to the mainland they carried off fifteen thousand maunds of rice; in another they took the battery, split the great guns, and brought away the small ones, with a large quantity of powder and ammunition. But the respite thus gained was short. The enemy soon returned in increased numbers, erected a larger and more powerful battery than before, beat the ships from their anchorage, and even flung shot into the fort of Hijili.

By the middle of May, 'Abdu-s Samad, the nabob's general, arrived at Hijili. His forces were considerable, amounting to twelve thousand men, and he was entrusted with ample powers to deal with the English as he thought best. He resolved on decisive measures. More batteries along the river wherever it was narrowest, and a furious cannonade opened upon the shipping. Every shot told. The English forces were completely disorganized. On the 28th May, in the afternoon, a detachment of seven hundred Mogul cavalry and two hundred gunners, filled with enthusiasm and bhang, crossed the Rasulpur river at the ferry three miles above the town, and surprised an unfinished battery of four field pieces. The men in charge hastened at once to give notice of the attack, but so vehement was the onset of the enemy that 'Abdu-s Samad's horsemen arrived as soon as the news, seized the town, and set it on fire. One of the English officers was cut to pieces as he lay sick in his house, [Page 109] and his wife and child were carried off prisoners. The stables which contained the English horses and the four elephants lately taken in the nabob's ship, fell an easy prey to the enemy. Already they had lodged themselves within the trenches, but the English, hurrying together after a desperate fight which lasted all the evening, succeeded in saving the fort.

Charnock's position now seemed altogether desperate. Two hundred of his men he had buried. Scarcely one hundred soldiers, weak with repeated attacks of fever and ague, remained to hold the fort. Out of forty officers only one lieutenant and four sergeants were alive and able to do duty. The Beaufort had sprung another great leak, and Nicholson had been compelled to empty her of her guns, ammunition, provisions, and goods, and order her away to careen. None of the ships were more than half manned; and it was evident that unless the fort could be held, and the passage to the landing place kept open, all would be lost.

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[Page 271]

"Being a cheap season for grain," it is ordered that the charges general keeper do provide a thousand rupees worth of wheat and "100 maunds of oil, and that it lie by for garrison stores, which, if no occasion for use here, may serve for provisions for the coasts."

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[Page 280]

The whole town and factory are thrown into confusion by the news that the Mogul is dead. As these tidings were received from several sources people were found to credit the story, and great was the consternation at the Fort.

A hasty Council was summoned and determined,

To stop as much as possible all paying out of money, and as a revolution is expected, order all the men that are near enough, such as Messrs. Darrell and Spencer, to come back with what money and charters they have belonging to the Company;

To send out a sergeant and 20 soldiers to meet Messrs. Darrell and Spencer, and bring them home safely;

To write to Messrs. Bugden and Feake at Cassimbazar to hold themselves in readiness to come to Calcutta and bring all the Company's effects with them.

On April 7th, at another Council meeting, the following resolution is passed:—"Considering the Emperor's death and the scarcity there may be of provisions, and the want they may have at Madras, agree to order that 5,000 maunds of rice and 1,000 maunds of wheat be provided by Mr. Arthur King for the use of the garrison, and to supply Fort St. George if they should be in want of the same."

A second order is despatched to Messrs. Bugden and Feake to come down at once, and bring all the Company's treasure they have, also the rupees provided for payment of the sanad. What broadcloth and other cloth they have they are to try and dispose of, but if they cannot it is to be left with Herry Kissen [Harikrishna], their banyan. [Page 281] Fearing that the neighbouring zamindars in case of trouble in the country may prove troublesome and rob and plunder the Company's towns, unless the Company have a force equal to theirs, they "order that sixty black soldiers be taken into the company's service and posted round the towns."

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[Page 308]

Mr. Cunningham, late President of Banjar, and Mr. Edwards, second arrived in the Company's ship Anna. They had been trying to settle the Banjar factory, but had failed. A Council was called immediately on their arrival to hear what news they brought and to give them a welcome. They told of their failure to re-establish the factory at Banjar, and that now even their endeavours to get a cargo for their ship had been frustrated by the hostile Government. They said that the Managers in England were expecting their vessel home with the rest of the winter shipping, and they begged of the Council to find her a cargo and despatch her at once. They also brought a message from the factory at Bencoolen, to the effect that that factory was greatly in need of stores, and not able to buy rice, because of the disturbed state of the country. The Council order the bakhshi to provide suitable lodgings for Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Edwards and also to see after getting a cargo for the ship, so that she may be despatched with the other winter shipping. They order rice and grain to be got ready to send to Bencoolen at once.

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[Page 333]

Rice was very scarce this year, not only in Calcutta but in Madras and Bombay too. Two or three ships had put into Calcutta, asking for supplies of rice. The [Page 334] Company therefore regulate the price at which it is to be sold to the poor people.

"There being now a very great scarcity of rice to that degree that the poor are ready to starve, agreed we order to be sold in the bazar, the fine at one maund for a rupee, and the coarse at maunds 10 for a rupee and to encourage the same: it is ordered that the Buxie sell five hundred maunds of the Company's at that price; by reason a great many of the country people hoard it up in hopes of getting a great price for it."

[Page 375]

BARON'S ACCOUNT OF BENGAL AND MADRAS. "Fort St. George, June 1695.''

Mr. Kenns, etc., advices about Bengali, etc., in the year 1661, being writt from Cassumbuzar.
[Page 401]

The presidency of Fort St. George (including Bengali) is at present the most considerable to the English nation of all their Settlements in India, whether we respect it in reference to the trade to and from Europe, or the Commerce from one part of India to the other. The usual Cargo from China is Tutanague, Sugar, Sugar Candy, China Root, Quick Silver, China Ware, Copper, Gold, Allom, Some few Silks, and Toys. Their price in Madras this year, viz.—Tutanague 24 to 25 pags. per Candy, Copper 60 to 62 pags per Candy, China Root 12 to 18 pags. per Cany., last year worth 30 to 40 do.. Sugar 12 1/2 to 13 pag per Cany., Sugar Candy 21 to 22 pags per Cany., Allom Nankeen 10 pag to 12 do., Amoy 8 to 10 pags per Candy, Quick Silver 60 to 65 pags per pecull. The Coast and Bay are so well provided with China goods that I believe upon the arrival of next ships they will hardly yield so much by 10 p. cent., for which I ascribe the following reasons, viz.—That Bengali is glutted with metalls of all sorts, that the last troubles and famine on the Coast of Gingerlee discourages sending any down thither, and that the continuing devastations committed daily by the Moors and Morattaes hinder their free passage into the Inland Countrys on this side. The usual freight from China, viz., Sugar, Allom, Sugar Candy, Gallingal, China Root, Cubebs, Anniseeds, &c., are accounted Gross goods and pay 25 p. c., Tutanague and Copper 20 p.c. Raw and wrought silk, Quicksilver, Vermilion, Musk, and Camphor are fine goods and pay 15 p. c. and Gold 7 or 8 p. c.

The scarcity of rain hath increased the trade to Bengal, but the plentifull season of rain will (its hoped) put a stop thereto, for surely there can be no advantage more uncomfortable than that which arrises [Page 402] from the poverty and misery of the poor, tho it may be as well charity as interest to deal therein at some time.

The usual freight and price of Bengali goods, viz.—Fine Piece Goods, which are Mulmuls, Tanjebs, Cossaes, Doreas, Taffiteas, Jemewars, Soosees, Sanoes &c., pay 4 and 4 1/2 p. o freight, and seldom gain above 10 p. c. clear of charges, many times not that. Gurrahs, Sailcloth, and Cambays pay 8 p. c. This year Sailcloth sold for pags 13 per Corge, Gurrahs of 36 Coveds Pagodas 15 1/2 to 16. Taffiteas of 18 Coveds 32 to 35 pag per Corge, ditto of 20 Coveds 37 to 38. Soosees of 50 Coveds from 50 to 55 (the last year worth 60), but no man can proportion these which rise and fall according to fancy and use, but the most rational and probable method is judging by the foregoing rate as a medium. Sugar pays 3/4 Pagoda freight per bale. Butter and Oyl paga. 1, and sometimes 1 1/4 per jar. The camp in our neighbourhood and countries adjoining alters the price of goods very much. But should there be brought up any large quantity of goods of sugar this year, upon the arrival of the expected ships from China, the market would be glutted so as to occasion the sending a vessel or two to Persia in September, which indeed often proves a happy necessity; for being the first that can arrive by two mouths, they have a double advantage in the sale of their goods there and the return hither. Because the sugar in Bengall coming from the country so late as November prevents an early dispatch and cannot in any wise disappoint those that go immediately from Madrass.

Freight of goods from Madrass to Persia, viz., Tissinda or fine Bengall sugar and Sugar Candy 18 p. cent. China and Java Sugars 20 p. c. and all Bussora or Course Bengall Sugars 23 p. c. Romalls, Cossaes, etc. Fine goods 7 to 10 p. c. Pegu stick laque yields a great price, but cannot be permitted on freight being so extremely bulky. The returns, viz., Gold (being either Chequeens, Goldbars, Ibrains ) pay freight per cent. Syrash wine of Abassees per chest. Fruit of abassees per matt bagg each qt. 38 Mds. Tabrees, each Md. Tabrees being 6 3/4 lb. and where it exceeds to allow per rate. The general custom is to pay the said freight in Persia.

Our correspondence with Acheen is in a manner broke of, for since the scarcity of rice first, and now of slaves, the dearness of cotton and the manufactures of this country (that place being supplyd from Surat at much cheaper rates than can be afforded from hence) its accidental that any vessel goes from this coast thither; except when having had arge quantitys of ophium from Bengal and worth but 12 or 13 pags [Page 403] per md., it may be adventured, tho it is a very uncertain commodity. The great gains or disappointment depending upon the Java fleet's arrival and the quantity they shall have occasion to buy up to carry with them to their respective ports.

This is a selection from the original text


crops, death, grain, quarrel, rice, scarcity, settlement, trade

Source text

Title: The Early Annals of the English in Bengal, Volume 1, THE EARLY ANNALS OF THE ENGLISH IN BENGAL, Volume-1

Subtitle: Being the Bengal Public Consultations for the First Half of the Eighteenth Century

Editor(s): C.R. Wilson, C.R.WILSON

Publisher: W. Thacker & Co.; Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co.

Publication date: 1895

Original date(s) covered: 1704-1710

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: Original date(s) covered: 1704-1710

Digital edition

Original editor(s): C.R. Wilson

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 79 to 82
  • 2 ) pages 107 to 109
  • 3 ) page 271
  • 4 ) pages 280 to 281
  • 5 ) page 308
  • 6 ) pages 333 to 334
  • 7 ) page 375
  • 8 ) page 401 to 403


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

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Genre: India > official correspondence > india office records

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