The East India Company

We have no idea quite why, but we seem to have been drawn to the East India Company (EIC) or The Honourable East India Company as it was also known, in so much of our research.

Whilst researching Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her family we discovered that her cousin John Mordaunt, the illegitimate sons born to Grace’s aunt Robinaiana Brown when she was the mistress of Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough went out to India to make his fortune, as was popular for well to do young men of the time.

John Mordaunt (Jack to his friends) became a favourite at the court of the Asaf-ud-Daula, Nawab of Oudh in Lucknow, where the two men shared a love for the sport of cock-fighting, a brutal and barbaric activity. John had several gamecocks imported from England for this purpose.


Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match shows a scene from the Nawab’s court with the two men engaged in this activity. Painted by Johan Zoffany c.1784-86 during his time in India, it was commissioned by Warren Hastings shortly before he resigned as the Governor-General of India. Hastings is not present in the picture, but he was in attendance at John Mordaunt’s cockfight on the 5th April 1784, on which this painting is probably based.  Jack Mordaunt was an easy-going and charming fellow, quite the male counterpart to his cousin Grace. He was in charge of the Nawab’s bodyguards and at the head of all the amusements of the court.

Now, somewhat surprisingly for us, two of Grace’s female cousins also travelled out to India for what appears to have been a ‘husband hunting trip’ – cousins Janet (known as Jessy) and Susannah Brown.

It was a tried and tested method of securing a wealthy spouse. Eligible young girls were encouraged to travel to India by the directors of the EIC who were aghast at their men taking local girls as their wives and adopting Indian custom and practices, in effect ‘going native’ even though the practice did ensure a certain level of influence for the British officials with the rulers of the territories.

If enough British girls could be sent out there, then it was hoped that the company men would settle with them instead. The two Brown sisters had enough male relatives already in India to look after them, and they could expect their Mordaunt and Dalrymple cousins to introduce them to their fellow officers and to the best society that India had to offer.

They lived in Calcutta with Colonel John Mordaunt at his house on the esplanade in the Chowringhee area, formerly a tiger-infested jungle but, since the construction of Fort William thirty years earlier, abounding with magnificent houses built by the British residents. Their scheme worked.

In May 1788 in the church at Fort William, Calcutta, Janet Lawrence Brown married John Kinloch. The marriage, however, was, as was often the case, short-lived. John Kinloch was in bad health and, hoping that a change of air would cure him, he journeyed to Serampore on the banks of the Hoogli River, unfortunately, this trip did not prevent his death which occurred less than four months after his marriage.

Six months later, at the same church in which her now widowed sister had married, on 3 March 1789 Susannah Robiniana Brown married Major Samuel Farmer, an officer in the Bengal army. Samuel Farmer was considered one of the three best officers in the company’s service and he moved in the same social circles as her cousins Colonel John and Captain Henry Mordaunt.

All was not lost for Jessy though, as there were plenty of well-to-do men in India. She remained a widow for over four years before accepting the proposal of John Bebb Esquire, a wealthy EIC director. Their marriage settlement was drawn up on 12 January 1793 and John Bebb promised to pay 100,000 Indian rupees or £10,000 sterling into a trust to be administered by several trustees including the Honourable Charles Stuart of Calcutta, a Member of the Supreme Council of the EIC on their Bengal establishment, and Janet’s brother-in-law Samuel Farmer. This trust would be for his wife’s benefit in the event of her becoming a widow.

Ultimately the couple returned to England where, anticipating his permanent return home, John Bebb had purchased the picturesque estate of Donnington Grove in Berkshire in 1795, the former home of the Brummell family and where the infamous Beau Brummell grew up.

The Regency Dandy, Beau Brummell
Beau Brummell

Once again, whilst researching our Georgian Heroine we found ourselves delving back into EIC on discovering the love our heroine, Charlotte’s life, none other than Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), who held the then powerful post of British Resident to the Mughal court at Delhi.

Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.
Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.

Charlotte met him whilst they were both teenagers, but rather than staying in England to marry her, he sailed for India, leaving a desolate Charlotte, whose life was to take a very different path, but despite this she never forgot the first love of her life and wrote to him in 1821, recounting part of her life story, probably wishing her life had turned out differently. Ochterlony, by this time had ‘gone native’ and had 13 concubines, who he paraded through the streets each evening on elephants – we do wonder whether Charlotte ever knew of this. He clearly never forgot the first love of his life and named one of his children, Charlotte – was this done deliberately? We would like to believe so.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden.

Whilst researching Dido Elizabeth Belle, who we have recently been writing about, yet again our research has led us to the EIC and her seemingly unknown uncle, brother to Sir John Lindsay, William Lindsay who, before he died leaving questionable provision for his native children.

Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido’s half brother also, John Lindsay also lived with a native woman, he, on the other hand provided extremely well for both mother and daughter when he died in 1821. Other relatives of Dido also found themselves in the EIC including her two sons, Charles and William Daviniere, Archibald Campbell, who was a company director at the end of the 1700’s.

If the East India Company and life in India during this period interests you then you can find a list of some of the others articles we’ve written which have mentions of it, below.

Art Detectives: The Mysterious Sir Thomas Mills and Lady Elizabeth

Revealing new information about the courtesan, Nelly O’Brien

The miser, his daughter and her lover: Elizabeth Cardinall, 1776-1803

Fanny Williams and the Amherst family of Kent

What happened to Parson John Ambrose and his family?

Henrietta and Caroline Ambrose

The family of Allan Ramsay, principal portrait painter to George III

Featured Image

‘Choultry’, or Travellers’ Rest House, Srirangam, Madras, Francis Swain Ward (c.1734–1805), British Library

5 thoughts on “The East India Company

  1. Brown

    A lovely blog Sarah … I was delighted to discover that several Dalrymple names and Archibald Campbell appeared in my ships list of St Helena when Napoleon was in Island … let me know if you want further details. Saddest was Capt John Dalrymple lost with ships surgeon, mate and 15 crew when the ship Cabalva was lost on the Lt Brandon Shoal 9 deg east of Madagascar July 7th 1818 … a relative?
    Keep your fascinating blogs coming, always so interesting

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sylvia wright

    I have several ancestors who served with the EIC. The first was a Walter Clavell who died in Bengal in 1677. He married 2 English girls – not at the same time!

    Then there was Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, 1745-1813, 1st Bt

    Also Sir Charles James Napier, 1782-1853 who was a British General in India. He has a statue in Trafalgar Square.
    General Sir Charles James Napier, Order of the Bath (August, 10, 1782 – 29 August 1853), was a general of the British Empire and the British Army’s Commander-in-Chief in India, notable for conquering the Sindh Province in what is now Pakistan.

    He was the eldest son of Colonel (the Honourable) George Napier and his second wife, Lady Sarah Lennox, with this being the second marriage for both parties. Lady Sarah was the great-granddaughter of King Charles II. Napier was born at Whitehall Palace in London, and he received part of his education at boarding school in Celbridge, Ireland. Napier enlisted in the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the British Army in 1794, and decided to become a career soldier.
    The Peninsular War

    Napier commanded the 50th (Queen’s Own) Regiment of Foot during Peninsular War in Iberia against Napoleon Bonaparte. Napier’s activities there ended during the Battle of Corunna, in which he was wounded and left for dead on the battlefield. Napier was rescued, barely alive, by a French Army drummer named Guibert, and taken as a prisoner-of-war. Nevertheless, Napier was awarded an Army Gold Medal after he was returned to British hands.

    Napier recuperated from his wounds while he was being held near the headquarters of the French Marshall Soult, and then somehow he was returned to the British Army.

    Napier volunteered to return to the Iberian Peninsula in 1810 to fight again against Napoleon in Portugal – notably in the Battle of the Côa, where he had two horses shot out from under him, in the Battle of Bussaco, in the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, and in the Battle of Badajoz (1812) (the second siege of Badajoz) in Castile, Spain, in which he was a lieutenant colonel in the 102nd regiment. For his deeds at Bussaco and at Fuentes de Oñoro, Napier won the silver medal with two clasps.

    In 1838, Napier returned to England to become the General Officer Commanding of the British Northern District.
    Service in India

    In 1842, at the age of 60, Napier was appointed Major General to the command of the Indian army within the Bombay Presidency. Here Lord Ellenborough’s policy led Napier to Sindh Province (Scinde), for the purpose of quelling the insurrection of the Muslim rulers of this region. They had remained hostile to the British Empire even after the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War. Napier’s campaign against these chieftains resulted in victories in the Battle of Miani (Meanee) against general Hoshu Sheedi and the Battle of Hyderabad, and then the subjugation of the Sindh Province, and its annexation by its eastern neighbors.

    His orders had been only to put down the rebels, and by conquering the whole Sindh Province he greatly exceeded his mandate. Napier was supposed to have despatched to his superiors the short, notable message, “Peccavi”, the Latin for “I have sinned” (which was a pun on I have Sindh). This pun appeared in a cartoon in Punch magazine in 1844 beneath a caricature of Charles Napier. The true author of the pun was, however, Catherine Winkworth, an English girl then in her teens, who submitted it to Punch, which then printed it as a factual report.[1] Later proponents of British rule over the East Indians justified the conquest thus: “If this was a piece of rascality, it was a noble piece of rascality!”[2]

    On 4 July 1843, Napier was appointed Knight Grand Cross in the military division of the Order of the Bath, in recognition of his leading the victories at Miani and Hyderabad.[3]

    Napier was appointed Governor of the Bombay Presidency by Lord Ellenborough. However, under his leadership the administration clashed with the policies of the directors of the British East India Company, and Napier was accordingly removed from office and returned home in disgust. Napier was again dispatched to India during the spring of 1849, in order to obtain the submission of the Sikhs. However upon arriving once again in India, Napier found that this had already been accomplished by Lord Gough and his army.

    A story for which Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:
    “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.” [4]

    Napier remained for a while as the Commander-in-Chief in India. He also quarrelled repeatedlly with Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India. Finally, Napier resigned from his post in India, and returned home to England for the last time. Napier was still suffering with physical infirmities which were results of his wounds during the Peninsular War, and he died about two years later at Oaklands, near Portsmouth, England, on 29 August 1853, at the age of 71. Napier’s former house is now part of Oaklands Catholic School of Waterlooville. His remains were buried in the Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth.
    Views on subduing insurgencies

    General Napier put down several insurgencies in India during his reign as Commander-in-Chief in India, and once said of his philosophy about how to do so effectively:
    The best way to quiet a country is a good thrashing, followed by great kindness afterwards. Even the wildest chaps are thus tamed.[5]

    which may help explain why he felt rebellions should be suppressed with such brutality.

    He also once said that:

    “the human mind is never better disposed to gratitude and attachment than when softened by fear.”[5]

    An implementation of this theory would be after the Battle of Miani, where most of the Mirs surrendered. One leader held back and was told by Napier:

    Come here instantly. Come here at once and make your submission, or I will in a week tear you from the midst of your village and hang you.[5]

    He also mused that:

    “so perverse is mankind that every nationality prefers to be misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another”[5]

    In 1903, the 25th Bombay Rifles (which as the 25th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry had formed part of Napier’s force in the conquest of Sindh) was renamed the 125th Napier’s Rifles. Since amalgamated, it is now the 5th Battalion (Napier’s) of the Rajputana Rifles.[6][7]

    A statue in honour of Sir Charles Napier by George Gamon Adams (1821–1898) is on the southwest plinth, of the four plinths in Trafalgar Square, London.

    The city of Napier in the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand is named after Sir Charles Napier. The suburb of Meeanee commemorates his victory in the Battle of Miani.

    The city of Karachi in Sindh (Pakistan) earlier had a Napier Road (now Shahrah-e-Altaf Hussain), Napier Street (now Mir Karamali Talpur Road) and Napier Barracks (now Liaquat Barracks) on Shara-e-Faisal. In the port area, there is also a Napier Mole. In Manora, the St. Paul’s Church, erected in 1864, is a memorial to Napier.

    The Napier Gardens in Argostoli on the Greek island of Kefalonia are named after him.

    Some ten pubs in England are named after him, either as the Sir Charles Napier, or the General Napier.[8]

    Karachi Grammar School named its second-oldest house “Napier” after Sir Charles Napier (the oldest House is named Frere after Sir Henry Bartle Frere).




    1. Ronique Breaux Jordan

      I’m working through international tax studies that began with fhe Dutch Eadt India comoany (VoC) which has led me to te EI and yhe origins of taxation and trade, privateering and real property estates….stock owning, creating and income producing. These excerpts are fascinating. Thank you.

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