Tag Archives: racism

Black Fellow’s Ship from Bombay for the British in Baltimore

A rare copy of the first edition of the lyrics and music of what became the US National Anthem has recently been auctioned for a record price of 500,000 dollars. As is well known the draft lyric was written by Francis Scott Key (1780-1843) on the night of 13-14 September 1814 while he was detained on a British ship.
Christie’s , who conducted the auction, do not identify the ship in their promotional write-up, except saying that it was a truce ship. Of course what mattered to Key was the view rather than the name of the ship he was forced to spend the night on. It has been suggested that the ship was HMS Minden. (The reference ( which I have not seen) is One Hundred Bombay Notes for general circulation containing extracts from different writers upon subjects connected with Bombay. (Edinburgh: T. & A. Constable, 1876), p. 79), It is a matter of historical curiosity that the 74-gun line-of-war ship Minden was built in Bombay by the Wadia shipbuilders in 1810 for the British Navy.
As the British commerce expanded requiring more and bigger ships, shipbuilding was shifted to Bombay for two reasons . Teak was a better material than oak, and the move would save British forests. Although the Wadias were well regarded in official circles and the British and the Parsis in general maintained good relations, racism did occasionally raise its ugly head. In 1781, the Master Builder was hit on a visiting English ship. His successor’s revenge against racial abuse and slurs was subtle.
In 1800 the Wadias built for the East India Company a frigate, Marquis Cornwallis, which four years later was purchased by the Royal Navy. When the ship, since renamed Ackbar, returned to Bombay many years later, the Master Builder drew attention to the words secretly carved on the keelson “This ship was built by a d…d Black Fellow A.D. 1800”.

Glimpses of Colonial India.2.College of Fort William, Calcutta

College of Fort William, Calcutta, which was opened in 1800, instructed the newly appointed East India Company officials in vernacular languages.The professors were all European, but their assistants, called Munshis, were native. In the College setting the master- slave relationship transcended the student- teacher relationship

In 1810, a student named Kennedy beat his teacher, Ananda Mohan Sharma, a Munshi in the Sanskrit-Bengali department.The native teacher’s crime was that the  meaning he gave for  a Bengali word did not match the meaning given in Fortster’s  Bengali dictionary. As it turned out , subsequently  Forster’s dictionary was not reprinted because it was declared to be full of errors.

In 1811, a student, Mr Collins,could not find a particular word in the dictionary.He then asked his  teacher, Munshi Ghulam Hasan ,whose  long and tedious explanation  the Sahib could not quite comprehend. Thus annoyed, the student whipped his teacher.When asked to explain his conduct, Mr Collins wrote that ” he was not aware that these people were entitled to be consideed a Gentleman”.

Reference

Das, Sisir Kumar (1978) Sahibs and Munshis: An Account of the College of Fort William ( Calcutta: Papyrus, reprint 2001), pp.123-124.

Glimpses of Colonial India. 1. Elihu Yale in Madras

American-born Elihu Yale (1649-1721) is best known as the benefactor of what was later named Yale University. He was the governor of Madras from 1687 to 1692. The following incident was characteristic of him.

His native  butler left his service without proper notice.Yale directed that he should be hanged.The British law indeed  prescribed death sentence for a number of crimes. But leaving employment without notice was not one of them. Yale decreed that the butler be charged with piracy.And so the man was hanged.

Referense

Kinkaid, Dennis (1938) British Social Life in India, 1608-1937. (London: Routledge,2nd ed. 1973), p.65