The British Empire Library

British Ships in Indian Waters: Their Owners, Crew and Passengers

by Richard Morgan

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
It is due to the nature of the British Empire and the Honourable East India Company as international actors that the records they produced are often fragmented, scattered, or simply poorly catalogued. As a result, the British Library's collection of Honourable East India Company records can be intimidating for those who have not yet delved into the catalogues of logs, pay books, and other miscellaneous records - let alone linking those records to other archives.

Richard Morgan's guide, then, is of invaluable use to both the veteran and budding historian. However, its real values for the biographer, family historian, and genealogist (which is to be expected, it being a Families in British India Society publication.) In addition to a wealth of knowledge on practical use of a variety of archive collections, Morgan also provides a helpful, if brief, walk through the history of HEICo and interloper sailors and passengers in India. The bulk of the publication is divided into five parts with corresponding appendices, with the first covering HEICo ships, and the second 'Country Ships' (non-HEICo ships operating in Indian waters within the HEICo monopoly.) The third section covers 'Interlopers' (those ships that flaunted the HEICo monopoly), unfortunately very few records exist on these vessels; perhaps unsurprising considering that such smugglers would not want to be recorded. Consequently, Part III is a single page indicating the scant records where one can find information. Part IV, however, thoroughly walks the reader through the history and records of the HEICo's Marine Service; and Part V provides a useful directory of British steam ships in India.

The vast majority of the records produced by the British East India Company are today catalogued in three lists: L/MAR/A, L/MAR/B, and L/MAR/C: while A and B are relatively straightforward collections of ships' pay books, logs, etc., the final list is infamously imposing, consisting of any and all documents that survived the HEICo's documentation purge when it ceased trading in 1833. It is here that Morgan's work really shows value in the appendices; by enabling the researcher to find corresponding records across the A, B, and C series. In this he builds on Anthony Farrington's work for the British Library; Farrington was the first to untangle the confused records saved by Charles Danvers in the nineteenth century. While the ability to cross reference the above lists offers a unique value, Morgan also helpfully indicates where supplemental records may be found when the HEICo records fall short (such as the Military Embarkation Lists, since few captains recorded all military passengers by name). These are scattered within the relevant chapters: so directions on where to find Wills of HEICo civil servants within the Public Works Department are located in Section IV, which covers the Marine Service. In addition, he gives detailed directions to where information can be accessed, and always in a clear and straightforward manner. Morgan's book is of great use to the biographer and family historian, whether their subject worked the roads to India or China, or in-country within the Marine service. It is equally recommended for those researching non-HEICo crews and vessels, for while records are scarcer Morgan provides useful directions to where they can be found. In addition to thorough directions to useful sources, the book is also peppered with helpful historiography - which, while brief in interpretation, goes a long way to contextualising the primary materials he helps the reader uncover. Really then, this second edition has been nailed to the mast as a vital tool to anyone, as the publisher puts it, to 'study their ancestors' lives in India'.

British Empire Book
Richard Morgan
First Published
Mapin Publishing
Review Originally Published
Spring 2018 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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