Sunday, November 25, 2012


“An Account of the Trade in India” (1711) is a wonderful travelogue containing accounts of the journey undertaken by Charles Lockyer across various coastal settlements in India and elsewhere. Lockyer first arrived in Madras in 1702 on board the “Colchester” and worked as an Assistant to the Accountant for eighteen months. He then resigned his service to pursue a life of active voyaging. His account of Fort St.George, which forms the first chapter of his travel experiences, is one of the early descriptions of the settlement and makes for interesting reading.

Fort St.George, Lockyer notes, was a port of greatest consequence to the East India Company for its strength, wealth and the returns made in Calicoes and Muslin. He describes The Citadel or the Inner Fort as lying N.N.E and S.S.W in the middle of the English Town, with four large bastions making the corners on which with the curtains were fifty six guns and a mortar. The two gates, Western or the Main Guard gate and the Eastern gate were manned by thirty soldiers and six soldiers and a corporal respectively. The keys were every night delivered to the Governor or in his absence, the Chief in Council. The Black City called “Madrass” and sometimes by the Moors as “Chinnepatam” joined the Fort Northwards.

The streets were straight and wide, paved with brick on either side, but the middle was deep sand for carts to pass through. Where there were no houses, causeways with trees on either side were found and this made it pleasant for those who otherwise would have had to walk in the sun. Out of the five gates of the Fort viz., Sea, St.Thomas, Water, Choultry and Middle gate, the St.Thomas and Choultry gates were opened for passengers at any time of the night “if unsuspected” but the other three were closed at 6 PM. The other public buildings mentioned in the Fort are the Town Hall, St.Marys Church, College, New House and Hospital.

Lockyer then gives an account of the early judicial system in force. According to the City Charter by which the Corporation came into existence in 1688, the Mayor and the Aldermen exercised the ultimate authority. A court of six Aldermen was held twice a week in the Town Hall, which decided the quarrels, small debts and other business. When the Europeans were not satisfied with the Mayor’s justice, they appealed to a higher court. Here, a judge appointed by the Company presided on the report of a jury and gave a final decree. When a man died in debt, his goods were seized by the Court of Admiralty and auctioned off after notice of the same was given by a Bill at the Sea Gate. The proceeds were divided amongst the creditors. The effects of the Debtors who ran away were dealt with in the same manner. Besides these, five justices of the Choultry from the Council or chief Citizens presided over controversies concerning Indians. These sessions were held twice a week.

The customs duty on goods imported and exported formed a major portion of the revenue. The Sea Gate customs was 5% on all goods brought by sea. The fee for goods valued at not more than 20 pagodas was three fanams while it was six fanams for goods valued between 20 and 1000 pagodas. For goods valued more than that, the fee was twelve fanams. The fees collected were divided amongst the Custom Master, the Head Searcher and the Receiver. A duty drawback of 10% in respect of goods such as wine, beer, looking glasses and flint ware was also provided to owners who produced their invoices and paid customs duty for the quantity mentioned therein without examination. The Land Customs rate was 2.5% on all goods brought in from the Country. They suffered 2.5% duty again at the time of export from the Sea Gate. Goods which paid the full duty of 5% in this process were exempt from paying duty at other English ports in India under a certificate from the Custom Master. The hire charges for the masulah boats used to transport the goods from the Madras roads to inland was six fanams or eighteen pence a trip.

The Company earned a rent of 1100 pagodas per annum from letting out of the village of Egmore, 120 pagodas per annum on letting out of the Old Gardens and 250 pagodas per annum from Quit Rent. Other profitable sources of income for the Company were the Tobacco, Beetle and the Arrack farms. The Tobacco and Beetle farm were let out on lease for 8000 pagodas per annum while the income from the licence of the Arrack farm was 3600 pagodas per annum.

The Governor was paid a salary of 200 pounds per annum with a gratuity provision of 100 pounds. The Chief amongst the six councillors was paid 100 pounds per annum, the third of the place 70 pounds, the fourth 50 pounds per annum and the rest, designated as Senior Merchants were paid 40 pounds per annum. Other servants included two junior merchants at 30 pounds each per annum, five Factors at 15 pounds each per annum and 10 writers at 5 pounds each per annum. There was also one judge who was paid 100 pounds annum and the Attorney General who was paid 50 pagodas per annum.

Lockyer describes the St.Marys Church as a “large pile of arched building, adorned with curious carved work, a stately altar, Organs, a white copper candlestick, very large windows etc.”, which “rendered it inferior to the Churches of London in nothing but bells”. The Church stock included Orphans money, which was money bequeathed by wealthy dying parents to their children, making the Church as the guardians. The Church let out this money as advance and earned about 7% per annum which was then distributed to the beneficiaries in proportion to their estates. The Church undertook prayers twice a day, with the Sunday worship being most seriously observed. Between 8 AM and 9 AM, the Bell was rung, announcing that the hour of prayer was drawing near, hearing which the entire Company of soldiers assembled at the Church door. The Church also ran a free school, where children could learn to read and write.

The College, which was the old hospital, was the residence of “seven or eight hopeful gentlemen”. Amongst them, the Governor made the one with the greatest experience and merit as the Overseer, whose duty it was to regulate all disturbances. The building was two storeys high with a paved court, two large verandas and about sixteen small rooms. The New House was the soldiers lodgings and according to Lockyer, the “scene of many a drunken frolick”. It fronted the Main Guard and had a strong Battery on the other side. One Company at a time slept in it, of which one Corporal and two soldiers walked the streets every hour in the night to suppress disorders and apprehend “any who cannot give a satisfactory account of themselves”.

The Hospital, which joined the New House by the Water Gate to the Northward, was a long building with a paved court before it. At one end of the court was the plaster room and at the other, the apothecary’s shop. The Governor’s lodgings took up one third of the inner fort. The building was three storeys high, with the accountants and secretary’s offices being one storey up. The Consultation room was a storey

The inhabitants, Lockyer notes, “enjoy as perfect health as they could do in England”, with only the heat in summer being the greatest inconvenience. The Governor during the hot winds retired to the Company’s new garden for refreshment, which was a delightful place with its “costly gates, bowling green, spacious walks and teal pond”.

The Governor, Lockyer notes, seldom went abroad with less than “three or fourscore Peons armed, besides his English guards to attend on him”. Two Union flags were also carried and the entire retinue was accompanied by Country music enough to frighten a stranger into belief!! Two Dubashes also accompanied to fan him and drive away the flies which were the greatest nuisance.

Most of the gun powder in use in the garrison was made at the Island. The powder however did not have the force of the ones manufactured in England. The reason for this according to Lockyer was not as much the quality of the ingredients available as the lack of skilled people to carry out the job. The Company, Lockyer notes, did not have “a single English carpenter, smith, joiner or other artificer in the city who knew half his trade” and had to depend on the natives of the Black Town.

The arrival of a European ship brought about lots of people thronging about the Sea Gate, some laying wagers, others waiting for masters and others just there to satisfy their curiosity. The goods were seldom cleared the first day, which was sufficient only to secure the ship, send the Company’s packets ashore and get refreshments for the men. The goods that were the best received were lead, wine and beer in casks and bottles, ale, cheese, cloth hats etc.

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