In such manner did the company gain at last a certain foothold in the Mogul empire. The factors stationed at the new post reported that Surat was the best situation in India to vend English goods.
Continuing The Beginning of British Power in India,
our selection from Ledger and Sword: Or, The honourable company of merchants of England trading to the East Indies, 1599-1874 by Henry Beckles Willson published in 1903. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Beginning of British Power in India.
On December 27th the Dragon and the Hoseander returned triumphantly to Surat, where a number of the company’s factors and supercargoes were, as may be imagined, anxiously awaiting them. It was felt by most, on hearing the good news, that the promised firman of the Great Mogul would not be long delayed; but Best, worn out with fighting, was by no means so sanguine, and ordered Aldworth and the other factors to repair on board the fleet at once, with such merchandise as they had. But Aldworth, even after most of the others had given in to the “General’s” views, insisted that Best’s victory over the Portuguese had removed the opposition of the Mogul, who would surely despatch his firman. This was corroborated by Kerridge, who had gone to Agra to deliver a letter from King James to the Mogul. But Best had no relish for Aldworth’s stubbornness, as he called it, and summoned a council “and so required the said Thomas Aldworth to come on board, which he again refused to do, for that he heard certainly the firman was coming.”
Aldworth’s confidence was rewarded, for just as Best was about to depart, Jehangir’s decree, granting the company a factory at Surat and at three other places about the Gulf of Cambay, arrived bearing joy to the bosoms of the English traders.
At Agra, it appeared from Kerridge’s account, he had been admitted to the monarch’s chamber, where Jehangir “sat on his bed, newly risen from sleep.” In his first letters Kerridge complains of a chilly reception and attributes it to his coming empty-handed. “No other treatment,” he says, “is to be expected without continual gifts both to the King and others.”
The character of Jehangir was described by Kerridge as “extremely proud and covetous,” taking himself “to be the greatest monarch in the world,” yet a “drunkard” and “given over to vice.” The Mogul, however, was very fond of music, and revelled in Robert Trulley’s cornet, though virginals were not esteemed, “perhaps because the player was not sufficiently expert,” and “it is thought Lawes died with conceit at the King’s indifference.” Nevertheless, on the whole, Jehangir behaved civilly to the company’s envoy, whose success in obtaining an audience was quickly followed up by Aldworth in sending William Edwards, who took with him from Surat “great presents,” including portraits of King James and his Queen, and “one that will content the Mogul above all, the picture of Tamberlane, from whence he derives himself.” At last, then, the coveted firman “for kind usage of the English, free trade, and so forth,” was gained, Edwards remaining in Agra as “lieger” or ambassador, “which will be needful among this inconstant people.”
By the terms of the firman a duty on imports of 3-1/2 per cent. was to be exacted; but on the other hand no damages were to be claimed for Sir Henry Middleton’s piratical exploits, and the company’s factories were to be protected by law in event of any calamity overtaking its servants.
To Aldworth undoubtedly belongs the credit of having negotiated this concession, but it is doubtful if it would ever have received the imperial sanction had it not been for Best’s victory. Even when he had the document in his hands the conqueror was diffident, and could hardly believe the good news. He was “doubtful whether it was the King’s firman or not, and, being resolved, would not receive it until some of the chiefs of the city should bring it down unto him to Swally, which in fine they did. And the very day following the receipt of it, being the 4th, the galleons were again in sight, but came not near to proffer fight. Notwithstanding, the general resolved not to make any longer stay there, but took in such goods as were ready, and landed the rest of the cloth, quicksilver, and vermilion, all the elephants’ teeth, and some twelve hundred bars of lead, carrying the rest along with him, as also all the pieces-of-eight and iron, and so, the 18th present, departed.”
In such manner did the company gain at last a certain foothold in the Mogul empire. The factors stationed at the new post reported that Surat was the best situation in India to vend English goods, particularly broadcloths, kerseys, quicksilver, lead, and vermilion, to be exchanged for indigo, calicoes, cotton yarn, and drugs, and added a list of such goods as might annually be disposed of there. They requested the merchant adventurers in London to send them some four thousand pieces of broadcloth, sword-blades, knives, and looking-glasses. They hinted that toys and English bull-dogs should be sent as presents. But the new trade, they were careful to explain, could only be protected by stationing five or six ships in the river at Surat to defend the factory and its occupants against the Portuguese.
On his return home Best was summoned to Philport lane to give a detailed account of his exploits, and was considered by the court to have “deserved extraordinarily well.” Yet his “great private trade,” whereby he had enriched himself, caused some dissatisfaction, and the governor, Sir Thomas Smythe, while admitting that no one could be a fitter commander than Best, thought that “Captain Keeling was far before him for merchandise, and so should command at Surat.” But this did not satisfy the victor of Swally. Unless he were allowed private trade he refused to make another voyage for the company, and finally insisted on an investigation into his conduct. The upshot was that the company was “content to remit all that is past and let these things die, which should not have been ripped up had he not called them in question himself.”
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