Monday, 17 November 2014

First British Travelers in India

Early British traveler in India. Sir Thomas Roe. credit:telgraphindia.com
Thomas Roe at Jahangir's court. credit: www.bbc.uk
British East Indies Company, founded in 1599 by a group of English merchants with head office in London, had started sending ships to the Spice Islands to gain a share of this trade. At this point, the British had no intention whatsoever of even going to India, let alone of conquering it. At that time, the Mogul Dynasty had had a firm grip on the subcontinent, particularly in the north since 1500.

In 1607, William Hawkins (born Bet. 1565 - 1585 in Tavistock at Devon) commanded the ship "Hector" for East India Company on a voyage to Surat and Aden loaded with letters & presents from the King of England James I. He arrived in Surat in August, 1608 and lived in the court of Mogul emperor Jahangir till 1611. Despite his close friendship with the king, he was unable to win his trust and confidence to commission a factory at Surat,Gujarat due to excess Portuguese influence on the Mogul emperor. Further, courtiers in the Mogul court were regularly bribed by the Portuguese merchants who ha a close relationship with Mukarab khan, a close associate of the royal family and who wielded a lot influence in the Mogul royal household. Hawkins was not familiar with nuances of diplomacy with respect to Indian rulers and the protocols to be observed.He was arrogant and hated by the people around the Mogul. Having failed to strike a trade deal with Emperor Jahangir in spite of his sincere efforts, Hawkins returned to England in November,1611 disappointed.
Thomas Roe at the Mogul court,Ajmir. credit:explore-parliament.net
Sir Thomas Roe (c. 1581 – 6 November 1644 from 1615 to 1618 was ambassador to the court at Agra of the great Mogul Jahangir. He was a good policy maker and  sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1614 and 1644. Joe was an accomplished scholar and a patron of learning.He came to India at the request of the Crown and the primary object of his mission was to obtain protection for the East India Company`s factory at Surat .The Portuguese were tough competitors for the British. At the Mogul court, over a period of time Roe won the trust of Jahangir and allegedly became his favorite buddy and drinking partner. He had considerable influence on the Mogul emperor and this greatly enhanced Roe's status with the administration. His work was a valuable source of information for the reign of Jehangir.Through persuasion and tactics finally he got permission from the emperor to start a factory at Surat, Gujarat.
This was the first step made by the British to set their foot on this vast subcontinent. Indeed, a small beginning!!

Ref:
en.wikipedia.org