Friday, December 16, 2011

Echoes 3

“What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do. ”
Alan Bennett

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An article on the Vizag observatory

For those interested in knowing more about the observatory in Vizag, here's the link to an article written by N. Kameswara Rao, A. Vagiswari and Christina Birdie in Current Science, Vol. 100, No. 10., published in May this year.

It's titled, "Early Pioneers of Telescopic Astronomy in India: G.V. Jaggarow and his Observatory" and is a detailed account of the founder of the observatory and those who ran it after him, the setting up of the observatory, the equipment acquired, the work carried out there, and its fading away. All this information is skillfully placed in the context of contemporary astronomical research in India and abroad.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thomas Bowrey: The Inspiration Behind the Vizag Factory?

The origins of Vizag’s European settlements date back to the mid-to-late 1600s according to the Vizagapatam Gazeteer, W. Francis. “The settlement was founded in 1682. In February of that year the Directors wrote to Fort St. George that an interloper (unauthorized trader) was designed for Metchelepatam or Gyngerlee (i.e., Mausulipatam or Vizagapatam) and left it to the Madras authorities to decide whether a factory should not be established at the latter place. The Madras consultations of the 1st August 1682 say that ‘The Company having resolved to make some investments this year at Gingerly & given order to send down some persons to further the same, as likewise to hinder and defeat any Interlopers that shall come there, resolved that Mr. George Ramsden doe proceed for this year as Chiefe there, his Second in Council being one Clement du Jardin. Thus it is clear that it was largely fear of the rivalry of the ubiquitous interloper which led the Company to first settle in Vizagapatam.”

Thomas Bowrey’s name occurs in a footnote to this text, but it is not clear whether this ‘interloper’ who inspired the English to set up a factory at Vizag was Thomas Bowrey or not. He does seem to have had some connection with this episode: one of his ship’s mates, Clement Jordan (who later changed his name to du Jardin) became one of the key persons in setting up the factory in Vizag. The links, though, are difficult to pin down based on my current reading.

Captain Bowrey (as Thomas was commonly known in English records) did, however, describe the coast around Vizag (Gingalee) in his book “A Geographical Account of the Countries Around the Bay of Bengal”. He calls this area “Certainly the most pleasant and Commodious Sea Coast that India affordeth, pleasant in many respects, beinge a most delicate Champion Land, and one of the most fertile lands in the Universe, and Commodious for Navigation’s Sake, enjoying many pleasant and good harbours, very well populated, and of a reasonable good Extent.”

Thomas Bowrey’s life (or whatever could be put together by Lt. Col. R.C. Temple in his introduction to the above-mentioned book) is an interesting one.

He sailed for the East from England while still in his teens. During his 19 years in the Eastern Hemisphere, he mainly traded in pepper, cloth and tea, but his time there was a far cry from the mundane buying and selling of goods. It was also full of adventure: he was imprisoned and put in irons and was witness to mutiny in Ceylon and a massacre in the Mergui archipelago (in southern Burma). He also drew charts and pictures of various places he visited, the best known being his chart of the Hoogli river.

In 1688, he left Fort St George (Chennai), apparently for good, and set sail for England. On his long journey back home, he put his time to good use and put together material for an English-Malayo (a far Eastern language) dictionary, which was published in 1701. He later married and probably still traded, possibly in the Western part of the New World.

When he was well into his 50s, his wanderings came in useful for Daniel Defoe (author of the widely read Robinson Crusoe), who gathered from Bowrey information on which to base his book -- “A General History of the Pyrates”, in particular information about piracy in Madagascar and Indian waters from 1695 to 1705.


1. Thomas Bowrey -- "A geographical account of countries round the Bay of Bengal, 1669 to 1679" -- Edited by Lt. Col. R. C. Temple; C.I.E., Haklyut Society; 1905

2. Francis, W. – “Vizagapatam District Gazeteer”; Asian Educational Services; first published, Madras 1907

3. Daniel Defoe – “A General History of the Pyrates” – Edited by Manuel Schonhorn; Dover Publicatio; 1999

Friday, December 9, 2011

What's gingelly got to do with it?

Gingelly grains

A previous blog of mine (see link), in tracing Vizag's history, mentions that European traders referred to the coast between the Godavari and Puri as Gingerlee. I kept wondering where in the world that word came from. Some light crept into my sleepy brain last night as I looked through the Hobson-Jobson dictionary. The book says the word possibly originated from the Portuguese word for sesame seeds “Gergelim”; the English too called the sesame seed oil gingelly oil.

Hobson-Jobson says: “The following quotations show that Gingerlee or Gergelin was a name for part of the E. coast of India, and Mr. Whiteway conjectures that it was so called because the oil was produced there.

1680-81 – ‘The form of the pass given to ships and vessels, and Register of Passes given (18 in all), bound to Jafnapatam, Manilla, Mocha, Gingerlee, Tenasserim, & c.’ Fort St. Geo. Cons. Notes and Exts., App. No. iii. P.47

“1701 – The Carte Marine depuis Suratte jusq’au Detroit de Malaca, par le R. Pere P.P. Tachard, shows the coast tract between Vesagapatam and Iagrenate as Gergelin.

“1753 – ‘Some authors give the Coast between the points of Devi and Gaudaweri, the name of the Coast of Gergelin. The Portuguese give the name of Gergelim to the plant which the Indians call Ellu, from which they extract a kind of oil.” – D’Anville, 134.

“(Mr. Pringle [Diary Fort St. Geo. 1st ser. iii. 170] identifies the Gingerly Factory with Vizagapatam).”


Thomas Bowrey -- "A geographical account of countries round the Bay of Bengal, 1669 to 1679")

Henry Yule, A.C. Burnell, and William Crooke – “Hobson-Jobson – A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Copper “dubs” from Bheemili

A Dutch-minted Mughal copper coin - 1719-48

I’m now sure that Bheemli had a mint, but am unable to find any reliable source that gives the details. Some entries on the forum,, say that the Dutch did issue copper dubs (check out the resemblance to the Telugu word for money: “dabbu”) in Machilipatam, Jaggernaikpur (Kakinada), and Bimlipatam. The dubs were a continuation of a type of coin introduced by the Mughal emperor, Aurangazeb Alamgir.

The entries say the mint in Bimlipatam was established under authority of a grant by the Raja of Vizianagaram; it is supposed to have minted copper dubs at least up to 1794.

These entries also mention an English mint in Vizagapatam, which started minting dubs in 1797 and continued to do so on and off until 1809, when it was shut down.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bheemili's Copper Purchases

According to the book “The Intra-Asian Trade in Japanese Copper by the Dutch East India Company” by Ryuto Shimada, Bimlipatam bought 50,000-100,000 Dutch pounds of Dutch-imported Japanese copper in 1700-02 and over 100,000 Dutch pounds of copper in 1740-42, figuring among the largest buyers of Dutch-imported copper in South Asia.

What was it doing with all this copper? Did it have a mint?

Friday, December 2, 2011

What's this War that Ravaged Bheemili?

While reading an article from the Oriental Herald (dated October 1829) by James Silk Bukingham, I came across the following passage about Bimilipatam:
“After some little detention at the warehouse in dispatching off to the ship some bales of punjum (calico) which we were to take to Bengal I found a conveyance ready to take me to Mr Suter's house which was nearly four miles in the country. In passing along the skirts of the town the ravages of war were most apparent and among a number of buildings seemingly battered down by cannon was a large edifice with a highly ornamented facade which had been probably the residence of the former Dutch governors. Several still larger buildings, probably barracks and military store houses, were also seen in ruins and the place looked to us if it had been once abandoned and but now recently peopled again. This settlement having formerly belonged to the Dutch had come into our possession during the late war and had been restored again to the Dutch by the English East India Company.”

I wonder which war is being referred to here: a war whose battle or battles destroyed Bheemli and the Dutch colony there. Is it one of the Anglo-Dutch wars that the English and Dutch fought to control trade in Asia? If so, the last one was fought in 1780-84, and it’s hard to imagine that the town had this ravaged look more than 40 years after whatever battles were fought there.