The British Empire Library

The Estate of Major General Claude Martin at Lucknow: An Indian Inventory

Edited by Rosie Llewellyn-Jones

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
Claude Martin ( 1735-1800) was a Frenchman who entered the army of the English East India Company in 1760, became superintendent of the nawab's arsenal at Lucknow in 1776, and resided in the city for the remainder of his life. In addition to his duties at the arsenal, he became one of the wealthiest Europeans in India at that time, with interests in property, finance, and business, particularly indigo farming. When he died in September 1800, an inventory of his estate was made encompassing the contents of his principal houses in Lucknow - the Chateau de Lyon and Constantia, his Najafgarh estate near Cawnpore, and his business affairs including rents and debtors. This document forms the subject of this book.

Few of Martin 's possessions can be identified today with certainty. Amongst these is a dagger in the Wallace Collection, London, that bears his name scratched into the hilt. A sword with a jade hilt, bestowed on him by the nawab Asaf ud-Daula (r. 1775-1797), carries a gold inscription naming General Martin, giving his rank and titles with an Islamic date which can be interpreted as either 1786-7 or 1796-7. The inventory is therefore the principal surviving record of his lifestyle and interests. Preserved in the British Library, it is clearly the work of several clerks checking and recording every item they saw as they walked through the properties, room by room. Studied in its raw state the list is therefore rather random, neither arranged by material nor by subject. The book remedies this with selected topics examined in detail by a number of renowned experts in their fields.

John Ford examines Martin 's means of travel as itemised in the inventory, including his nineteen carriages, and his palanquins, horses, and boats. The most remarkable mode of transport favoured by Martin was the hot air balloon, although none appear in the inventory. Martin has been described as a man of the Enlightenment, and the record of his scientific and mathematical instruments reveals him to have been a polymath in the best 18th century tradition. Jane Desborough discusses these, and also his clocks and watches, in Chapter Three. Robert Elgood discusses the artillery, long guns and pistols, many characterised by distinctive silver mounts and silver barrels. Elgood has published widely on India and Islamic weapons, and brings his expertise to bear on the range of unusual weapons acquired by Martin.

This reviewer would take issue with him on the interpretation of the date on the sword presented by Asaf ud-Daula mentioned above, but this is a relatively minor point in this chapter. Charles Grieg reviews the paintings, silver and jewellery in the inventory in Chapter Five. A group of natural history paintings commissioned by Martin are held at Kew. Textiles and garments form a significant section of the inventory discussed by Rosemary Crill. Listed fabrics included textiles for furnishing and personal use, such as gold and silver threaded brocades, silks, muslins and chintz. The largest group of fabrics were piece goods, lengths of material to be cut and used for garments. There were also European carpets and a set of Gobel in tapestries. Chapter Seven by Jean-Marie Lafont highlights the extraordinary range of Martin 's interests. The library, perhaps the largest owned by a European in India at the time, included many classics and books on history, travel and languages. It extended to military works, mathematics, astronomy, physics and chemistry. Modern topics included books on electricity and on understanding the atmosphere so that he could fly hot air balloons. There were books on medicine and natural sciences. It is the library of a true polymath. This is followed by a catalogue of the books sent to Calcutta to be auctioned, giving full details of the author, title and edition for each volume, thus expanding the bare list of titles given in the original inventory.

Finally, a full transcription of the inventory is provided, enabling readers to appreciate the range of material owned by Martin. This section will also facilitate further research by others. These specialist chapters are book-ended by an introduction and concluding remarks, by Llewellyn-Jones, who has written extensively on Martin and Lucknow elsewhere. She gives details of his life, his houses and his personal affairs including his Indian mistresses, or bibis. This book is a standalone volume, but the contents are immeasurably enriched when read in conjunction with her other work on Martin by including her biography of him and his edited correspondence. It will appeal to anyone studying the interests of an eighteenth-century Enlightenment figure in India and will be a valuable addition to any library. Several aspects of Martin 's life remain obscure and details await discovery, as Llewellyn-Jones notes, including the source of the seed money which launched his extraordinarily successful business career and his undiscovered correspondence with Dr James Crichton, his agent in China. This important book will not be the last word on this remarkable man.

British Empire Book
Rosie Llewellyn-Jones
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2021 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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