Placing his Red Dragon between the Portuguese admiral and vice-admiral, the company’s commander gave orders to the gunners, and the battle commenced by the firing of a double broadside, which “well peppered” the enemy, who responded by splintering the Englishman’s mainmast and sinking his long-boat.
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.
The company is informed that “if Moorish girdles, Turks, and cloaks will yield any profit, I pray give advice. They are here in abundance and the great chief merchandise. There is also a market for cloth of all kinds of light and pleasing colors, pleasing to the eye, as Venice reds, stamels, some few scarlets for presents, and also to sell to great men, popinjay greens of the brightest dye, cinnamon colors, light dove colors, peach colors, silver colors, light yellows with others like, but no dark or sad colors, for here they are not vendible. Those of the last voyage are yet upon our hands and will not be sold for the monies that they cost in England.” Thenceforward, it is to be supposed, the company bought no more of the “suitings of the Puritans,” then growing to be the vogue at home.
“Of new drinking-glasses, trenchers for sweetmeats, but especially looking-glasses of all sorts and different prices–but not small baubles–some reasonable quantity would be sold to good profit, and I verily suppose that some fair large looking-glass would be highly accepted of this King, for he affects not the value in anything, but rarity in everything, insomuch that some pretty new-fangled toys would give him high content, though their value were small, for he wants no worldly wealth or riches, possessing an inestimable treasury, and is, it is thought, herein far exceeding the Great Turk.”
Throughout all their reports and epistles the captains and factors appear above all anxious to establish themselves on the mainland, and express much indignation at the conduct of Macarab Khan, the Mogul’s vizier, at his juggling with their hopes.
“If it please God we attain Surat,” sighs one of the factors, “how comfortable it will be to those there, beneficial to the trade, and commodious to your worship.” Jostled aside, tormented by the Dutch in the eastern archipelago and by the Turks in the Red Sea, what wonder that the company and its servants now longed to displace the Portuguese in India itself?
At home the company had dispatched, in 1612, as its tenth expedition, three vessels. They comprised the stout old Dragon, commanded by Captain Thomas Best; the Solomon, alias the James, and the Hoseander. Was the new effort of Best and Kerridge, one of his supercargoes, to establish a factory at Surat to be more successful than that of Middleton in 1610?
While the Solomon was forthwith ordered elsewhere in search of trade, Best, with the other two vessels, reached Swally, near the mouth of the Surat River, early in the month of September, 1612. Here Kerridge, disembarking with several companions, was well received by the native merchants and inhabitants, although gaining the disapprobation of the Portuguese. He obtained permission to land some broadcloths, lead, iron, and quicksilver, procuring in exchange for these such Surat merchandise as the company had recommended him to acquire as suitable for the purchase of pepper and spices at Achin and Bantam.
In the midst of these agreeable transactions the Portuguese swept down upon the company’s men, with four ships, mounting one hundred twenty-four guns, besides a large flotilla of small native galleys. As they advanced, thinking to cut him off and board him, Captain Best perceived, with the intuition of the trained mariner, the weakness of their formation. He called out to Captain Pettie, of the Hoseander, to follow him, and, singling out the two largest of the Portuguese vessels, prepared to dash straight for them, his gunners, half naked, standing ready and alert for the word of command which should begin the fray.
But to Best’s confusion the Hoseander budged not a rod, being gripped fast by her anchors. In this predicament there was nothing for it. Best must close with the enemy single-handed. Placing his Red Dragon between the Portuguese admiral and vice-admiral, the company’s commander gave orders to the gunners, and the battle commenced by the firing of a double broadside, which “well peppered” the enemy, who responded by splintering the Englishman’s mainmast and sinking his long-boat.
“Having exchanged some forty great shot of each side,” reports an eye-witness of the battle to the company, “the night being come they anchored in sight of each other, and the next morning our ships weighed again and began their fight again, which continued some three hours, in which time they drove three of their galleons on the sands. And so our ships came to anchor, and in the afternoon weighed anchor, in which time the flood being come the galleons, with the help of the frigates, were afloat again.”
Yet there was to be more and fiercer fighting against even greater odds before the Portuguese had had their fill of the English off Swally. After an attempt on their part to set fire to the Hoseander by means of a fire-ship, which utterly failed, and cost the Portuguese a hundred lives, the company’s ships sailed away on December 1st, thinking to draw the enemy after them. But not succeeding in this, Best anchored at Moha to await their pleasure. It was not until December 22d that the enemy bore up, having been strengthened by ships and men from Diu. The shores were lined with spectators to see Best gallantly front them with his two ships’ colors flying.
This time it seemed as if Best and his men were doomed, yet to the astonishment, not merely of the natives and Portuguese, but of the company’s servants themselves, they were victorious in this engagement. On the following day, at the close of another battle, the enemy, dazed and staggering from so much fighting and bloodshed, abruptly turned and fled, trailing their wrecked flotilla behind them. Nothing can convey a better idea of the overwhelming superiority of the company gunners and ordnance, as well as of the matchless audacity of their onslaught, than the fact of their having lost but three slain, while the Portuguese list of killed was upward of three hundred. Not only this, but Best’s two ships were still in good condition.
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