Passionate Projectors: Savants and Silk on the Coromandel Coast 1780-1798 Maxine Berg



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Passionate Projectors: Savants and Silk on the Coromandel Coast 1780-1798

Maxine Berg



University of Warwick

December, 2010

[Please do not quote without permission]

Silk in India

Silk was an industry of longstanding provenance in pre-colonial India, highly specialized by region and the specific markets it provided. It was well known from the Punjab, Dacca and Bengal, Surat, Benares, Hyderabad,and in South India silk and cotton mixes were produced in Mylapore, Tanjore, Trichinopoly and Madura. Wild silks (Moonga) were known in India ‘from time immemorial’ and produced for the Arab market.1 Yet a recent survey of the early European and Eurasian industry mentions the Indian silk industry only once, as ‘known in India before our era’.2European imports from the Seventeenth Century, especially from Bengal included large amounts of silk textiles. Streynsham Master wrote in 1676 ‘All the Country, or great parts thereof about Cassambazar, is planted or sett with Mullberry trees, the leaves of which are gathered young to feed the worms with and make the silke fine, and therefore, the trees are planted every yeare.’3The silk trade became a focus of European traders; from the later seventeenth century the Dutch and the English imported large amounts of raw silk from Bengal. It accounted for 88 per cent of the Asian raw silk sold on the Amsterdam market 1693-1820. Bengal also supplied most of the raw silk and silk goods from Asia to the London market; Chinese silk piece goods made up no more than 2 per cent of imports at the turn of the eighteenth century.4 Indian silk was by the eighteenth century, a priority of the English East India Company, then seeking cheaper alternatives for a large London luxury market in Italian and later French silks, and to a lesser extent in expensive Persian and Chinese silks. Silk fascinated European savants and projectors. Its exotic provenance from ancient times in China connected with a curiosity in the tacit skills inherent in successful mulberry and silkworm cultivation. Yet climatic and environmental conditions apparently indicated that such cultivation was possible in various parts of the world, including Europe. Skills and techniques of throwing, winding and weaving had been transferred and adapted. Silk appeared to be a luxury industry of improvement and expansion, of the type that appealed to Enlightenment projectors and speculators from the mid eighteenth century. Of course silk attracted projectors from the early seventeenth century, seeking to establish mulberry plantations, cocooneries, and filatures in the Caribbean and the Carolinas; Britain had established its own silk weaving industry in Spitalfields in the later seventeenth century, and a filature and winding sector in the later eighteenth century in parts of Essex and Gloucestershire. But much of its market was supplied from Italy and later from France.



The Bengal Silk trade and East India Company initiatives

European competition and Enlightenment projects of useful knowledge and industrial improvement underpinned new interest in developing and extending the silks of India. The English started an extensive trade in silk from Bengal from the mid 1670s; the Company even discussed settling silk weavers in Bombay, but predicted that the weavers’ poverty would make it essential for the Company to buy their silk yarn for them. This would be uneconomic unless the fabric produced was closely suited to a European market.5 Volumes of silk imported from Bengal increased steadily until the 1730s, declining gradually over the next two decades. This was despite an Act in 1700 which prohibited the import of ‘all wrought silks, Bengals and stuffs mixed with silk or herba, of the manufacture of Persia, China and the East Indies and all calicoes painted, dyed or printed or stained there.’6Merchants exported two kinds of Bengal raw silk. The old country-wound silk was later complemented by another type reeled according to the Italian method. Bengal silks were sold not just to Europeans, but went to Armenian and Gujarati merchants, as well as those from Calcutta and Benares who sold raw and filature silk all over India.7 Improvements in English silk twisting techniques in the 1730s made the very fine Bengal raw silk more attractive, and this as well as fabrics attracted more buyers. Merchants bought up these silks at much cheaper prices than Persian and Chinese silks, but could still sell them in Europe at prices that could match those of Persian silks, and were only slightly lower than those of Chinese silks.8 By the 1740s and 1750s the English East India Company imported an annual average value of raw silk form Bengal of Rs. 400,000 and Rs. 300,000. But by 1766 it contracted for Rs. 1.8 – 2 million.9 By 1769, procuring raw silk had become ‘a great national object’, and in addition to this in the same year European merchants were exporting 67,000 to 70,000 silk pieces, not including the exports of a strong group of Asian merchants.10The market for this silk in India was highly competitive, including many groups of Asian merchants as well as European companies. East India Company merchants had many complaints about the quality of the silk they received and their lack of control over the markets. The silk they could get did not match the quality of the Piedmontese silks which dominated the high end of European markets. But there were still large markets in lower end raw silk, silk yarn and textiles. The English East India Company then entered into its experiment to introduce the Piedmontese reeling techniques and concentrated work spaces into the Kazimbazar industry. Suggestions to do so in the mid 1750s were turned down because of the expense.11 But by the 1760s, once the Company had gained political control of Bengal, efforts were renewed. Yet even so, the process of changing the reeling techniques was not easy. The story has been told of importing Italian, French and English managers, as well as a group of French and Italian reelers to teach the new methods to local artisans, and of importing mulberry trees and silk worms from China. The venture met only limited success. The Company was never able to overcome peasant reluctance, as well as that of the zamindars, to exclusive dependence on the Company, neither in mulberry cultivation, nor in cocoon harvesting, neither in reeling silk nor in selling output to Company merchants.12 The Company succeeded only because it would pay higher prices than its competitors. Whatever the difficulties faced by the Company, the Directors believed there were markets to be gained in Europe in lower quality silks, and Bengal raw silk did gain a considerable market share in London from the 1770s through the 1830s. The threat to Italian, then French competitors looked real. It was enough to provide an entry for a new partnership of Enlightenment ‘useful knowledge’ and colonial enterprise along the Coromandel coast in the 1780s and 1790s.

East India Company interventions to ‘improve’ Indian silk manufacture and to adapt it to European markets have been hastily written off as failures. The silk experiments have been mentioned in passing by recent environmental historians of India and empire, David Arnold and Richard Drayton.13Little effort has been expended on understanding their context, the intellectual arguments behind them, and the efforts to transform tacit into codified knowledge, along with efforts to transmit this across space and cultures. I will argue here that the silk projects in later eighteenth-century South India need to be set in the context of a European pursuit of what Joel Mokyr has called ‘knowledge economies’.

Joel Mokyr in his recent The Enlightened Economy called for the study of the public culture of knowledge which he claimed in Europe connected ‘savants’ to ‘fabricants’.14 A major part of his source material for this claim were the many surveys of manufactures especially popularized in the dictionaries of commerce and encyclopedias of industry and trade. Mokyr defined useful knowledge as knowledge of natural phenomena that might be manipulated by human endeavour. This includes not just what is now recognized as science, but practical and informal knowledge. It encompasses the work of those who collected observations, who compiled dictionaries and encyclopedias of arts and manufactures as well as scientific hypotheses and investigations. It included descriptions of industrial skills and crafts. Earlier historians had assumed this artisan knowledge to be ‘secret’ or unintelligible except by practitioners. He argued that ‘useful knowledge’ was more accessible than historians had previously assumed, and that it was more European.

Europeans, however, extended their surveys of arts and manufactures far beyond Europe. Few have attempted to set out what these more widely-travelled Europeans collected and argued, for there has been a disjuncture in our historiography between studies of trade, colonialism and empire and those of manufacture, industry and technology in Europe. 15 It is time to bring these worlds of scholarship together. The Silk projects provide a way into this. They take us into attempts among European natural historians and industrial surveyors to gather Indian ‘useful knowledge’ for presentation to East India Companies, European readers and manufacturers. Alongside this they convey the Enlightenment ethos and practical efforts at agricultural and industrial improvement.

A group of European natural historians, merchants and agents of the East India Companies in the later eighteenth century investigated manufacture and industry in India, just as did their many counterparts in Europe. They viewed Indian skills and knowledge through the prisms of European priorities and comparisons. But they were also curious, and keen to understand and to extend industrial crops and processes, and to adapt and transfer these to Europe or to other global settings. They were, above all, attempting to codify the tacit and local knowledge they were witnessing.16

James Anderson, East India Company Naturalists and the Tranquebar Mission

South India became a setting for the travels and investigations of a specific group of European natural historians in the last half of the eighteenth century. These were closely integrated with the Danish mission in Tranquebar and the East India Company factory in Madras. Over the period up to 1803 when the mission was abandoned, it attracted a number of surgeons and natural historians. These were not only missionaries and local practitioners, but maintained close contacts and correspondence with like-minded natural historians in the other South Indian factories, especially Madras, but also far beyond this to Europe, and to South East Asia, the Cape, and many other sites of botanic gardens and plantations. The Halle missionaries believed that it was education and science which would bring Christianity to India, and they started intensive collection of knowledge of South India – nature, medical practices, language, religious texts, custom and culture, and industry and agriculture. These missionaries became skilled in South Indian languages and Sanskrit, and Tranquebar became a serious centre for the study of natural history in South India. Its members corresponded widely in India and in Europe. 17

The group included figures from the Moravian phase of the Tranquebar Mission, led by Johann Koenig, a surgeon who arrived in the Tranquebar in 1768, and initiated its members in the collection and classification of specimens of natural history using the Linnaean methodology. Johann Koenig became the naturalist of the Nawab of Arcot in 1774, and often stayed in Madras while in his service. There he shared botanical interests with James Anderson, George Campbell and William Roxburgh. He was followed at the mission by other naturalists, Christoph Samuel John, John Peter Rottler (1749-1836), and Benjamin Heyne (1770-1819).

Most in the group were surgeons; they were all natural historians, and they were closely networked through connections with Tranquebar and Madras, and maintained a wide correspondence with those in other Company factories and botanic gardens from the Cape to St. Helena, as well as other correspondents in Europe. William Roxburgh was the key intermediary to Joseph Banks. James Anderson (1738-1809), an Edinburgh-educated surgeon became an assistant surgeon in the Madras presidency in 1765, moving on in 1781 to become surgeon-general. He was elected to be the first president of the Madras Medical Board in 1786, and later became physician-general. 18He left an extensive and persistent correspondence with Factory Governors, members of Council, members of the Revenue Board, as well as with his fellow natural historians. He published some of this correspondence in a series of Tracts between 1791 and 1793. He has been described by the historian of the Indian botanists as ‘a man of great compassion but also the personification of reckless optimism bordering on fanaticism’. 19

Anderson tirelessly promoted all manner of industrial crops for India: American cotton, sugar cane, coffee, indigo, silk and cochineal. He established a mulberry plantation in his botanic garden near Madras with 5000 healthy trees; he invented a reel for winding thread from silk worms; established filatures, and convinced the Board of Revenue that sericulture was a serious proposition on the Coromandel coast. A whole range of mulberry plantations and filatures were established, their expenses underwritten to an extent by the Court of Directors, so much so that by the time it wound up operations in 1798 it had expended well in excess of £20,000 on an operation that failed.20

The Silk Projects in South India

Anderson pursued his project of sericulture in South India within the framework of an enlightened pursuit of ‘useful knowledge’, setting the project as one of broad public policy for local improvement, and conducted in a series of experimental plantations and filatures. He engaged in wide correspondence with those in Bengal as well as London, Paris and Canton in his efforts to find the best species of mulberry tree and worms; he adapted the Piedmontese reeling machine from Bengal, and invented his own machine. He put many local proposals to the Factory Governors and the Revenue Board, all contributing to his grand scheme of a wide-spread sericulture and silk manufacture in South India which would reduce Europe’s dependence on Chinese and Persian silk, and Britain’s dependence on Italian and French sources.

These enlightened aspirations depended, however, on accessing East India Company investment, and he and others appealed to the profits to be gained by extending India’s silk manufacture beyond Bengal. Robert Corbett, one of Anderson’s early assistants and an advisor on Bengal silk, wrote to the Governor and Council at Fort St. George in 1792 of the large amounts of English silver expended in China on silk imports. Each of the Company silk filatures in Bengal, he argued employed three to ten thousand people in addition to mulberry planters and harvesters and worm feeders, that is from ten to forty thousand men, women and children attached to each filature, ‘which are just so many poor creatures wrested from slothful indolence to useful industry.’ He appealed to the Governor that Bengal’s success could be repeated on the coast of South India, and asked for a salary and a grant of land.21

Anderson’s efforts, the arguments he deployed and his correspondence networks connect him to that group of European savants and projectors then travelling in and surveying industrial processes and natural history in India. The questions he asked and the models of industrial and agricultural improvement he appealed to were those of contemporary European savants seeking to develop similar initiatives in their own countries.

Anderson made his bid to Sir Charles Oakely, Senior Member and Council in these terms in 1790: ‘so favourable an opportunity of establishing a manufacture of public utility, should be exposed to as little risk as possible…I have constructed the Piedmontese Reel agreeable to the plan in the French Encyclopdia.’22 He recommended that the Revenue Board ‘direct Mulberry plantations at every village on the coast.’ He sought a kindred spirit in Sir William Jones, sending him a letter on mulberry cultivation with the note ‘As the attention you display in pursuit of useful knowledge must tend to the advancement of the arts…’23 He recommended his venture for ‘the employment of old, and young, women, children and infirm persons who are otherwise idle’…’such an additional and universal communication of benefits, as will prove a spur to agriculture, and the consequent population and resources of the country.’24 To questions posed about silk as a luxury industry he answered ‘Far be it from me to insist on the culture of Silk, or any other article of luxury, where grain, the staff of life, may be more advantageously cultivated,’ but in fact, he claimed much of the land he hoped to develop for silk was uncultivated and he sought ways ‘these lands may be rendered useful.’25

Anderson discussed the article on Silk in the Encyclopédie, attempted to use the diagrams as a guide to build a reel, found them inadequate, and invented his own reel. He had also discovered that the Bengal reels were made of brass and imported from England. He suggested making his revised reel in sitù using local teak and red wood, wheels of black wood, and ‘teeth or cogs, and flies of the reel of ebony.’26He found an assistant, Robert Corbett, who had been in Italy and eventually got the Board of Revenue to agree to a salary for him.27 One of his correspondents, George Yonge compared conditions and methods of mulberry cultivation in England and France. Mulberry plants even in England needed to be planted close to ponds or running water, and even more so in India. He described mulberry planting in the South of France, and advised growing trees that would be ‘no higher than our raspberries, currants or gooseberry bushes.’28 Anderson drew on his networks in India for books on Chinese silk cultivation and the Italian silk industry.29

In his efforts to start mulberry cultivation and find the best silk worms he applied to bring cuttings and worms from Bengal, and at a later point also from China. Getting these, even from Bengal was no easy matter. Instead of eggs he received a letter, ‘I should have sent you Chinese silk worm eggs…but the distance I live from Calcutta, and the uncertainty of ships sailing from thence to the day they arrive there I really think it impossible for them to reach you before they would be hatched…’. Alexander Falconer in Canton reported back on the failure of his application to the Supercargoes to acquire silk worms and mulberry trees. He also reported that Macartney on his journey back from Peking had acquired some worms and mulberry plants, but had been instructed only to get enough for Bengal.30 Anderson’s key contact with China was through James Frushard in Calcutta. Frushard also advised him on different qualities of silk and different types of silk worm. Frushard had hopes of using the Macartney Embassy to access species of mulberry and silk worm from Nankeen. He told him that even the eggs that Macartney had procured for Bengal in China had failed. All had hatched before they reached Calcutta. ‘It would seem that the great distance of Nankeen from Canton, must have proved a great obstacle in the attempt of the Residents to procure the annual worm for you.’31 Those they did have from China were not the worms that produced the fine silks of Nankeen, instead they were worms going through a monthly cycle; they did not produce such high quality silk, but still ‘it is very superior to the quality of the silk of this country.’32 Frushard also advised on the silk qualities needed, comparing the output of Persia and Turkey. He advised that the Court of Directors wanted fine silks that could be converted into organzine in the mills in England, but this would not work unless a stronger staple could be produced. He was impressed with Anderson’s samples from Madras, but again advised that a strong staple was crucial, also ‘free from gouts, perfectly free from ends, and perfectly free from fine waste.’33 He compared the stronger-staple silks of Persia and Turkey, and advised a contact in Busara, ‘Mr. Manesty at Bussora’.34 Anderson’s early samples impressed the Court of Directors, encouraging it to invest in the venture. They were ’reported to us as being equal in quality to China Silk’…admirably well wound’…’if it is procurable at a rate of cost, equal to what the article is afforded for at Bengal, it would answer for sale in this Country.’35

Anderson drew on these wide networks of correspondence for advice and support. The real challenge, however, was to create the projects on the ground – mulberry cultivation, cocooneries and filatures. His own successes in his garden at Madras and his advanced filatures along with the quality silk he sent to the Court of Directors was only a start. The real project was to extend the development through South India. This depended on enthusing those in other East India Company factories, on convincing the Court of Directors to provide seed money, on agreements with local landowners for access to grounds and water sources for mulberry cultivation, and on organizing and training local labour to care for the cocoons and to work in centralised filatures.

Anderson set about his own venture for mulberry cultivation at Vellout, and had little trouble in attracting the attention of his countrymen to the silk ventures. Boswell Parkinson became superintendant and reported continued progress of the cocooneries at Vellout. Frazer from Chicacole [Srikakulam] reported his progress in planting 10,000 mulberry cuttings, and his plans for building cocooneries and housing for the workmen and their families.36 John Chamier wrote from Madapollam of the arrival of silk worm eggs and his plantations of mulberry trees, as well as his success in building a Piedmontese reel from Anderson’s drawing: ‘we hope to be considered as not inactive promoters of your laudable efforts for the introduction of a silk manufacture on the coast.’37 George Anderson had little success with his eggs the first time round at Taigar, but with more eggs sent by Anderson now reported a healthy second generation of cocoons.38 Anderson endorsed Robert Andrews’ plans to start a silk manufactory in Trichinopoly: ‘the pagodas of Seringham and the public choultries afford you the utmost accommodation…it is satisfactory to me to have distributed the insects and established them all over the coast.’39Hugh Maxwell thought that Chicacole [Srikakulam] and other parts of the Circars might draw on the advantage of their local colonies of poor Muslims. ‘The culture of silk might be promoted by Musselmen who remain without bread or employ in the town of Itchapore.’40 Robert Woolf developed another at Poondamalle, and later reported a flourishing development under his superintendant, Blackadder.41 Others were established at Arnee [Arani] by Capt. Mackay ,by Captain Flint at Taigar, and by a Mr. Nicol at Amboor.42 John Read ran a mulberry plantation at Vazagapatam [Vishãkapatnam]; two years after his removal to be Resident at Ganjam he was still managing it through a deputy, and had hopes of taking charge of a plantation at Ganjam.43 These mulberry plantations and silk manufactures run by various Company officials seemed for a time a sign of success, but Anderson had hopes of extending the industry into the indigenous population. By 1793, however, John Read reported little interest beyond a few private gardens with mulberry trees in the area around Ganjam in Orissa. ‘I do not learn that any other Europeans are desirous of engaging in the plantation of mulberry trees..’44

By 1795 Anderson conceded to Frushard in Calcutta that the silk manufacture of the Coromandel was ‘still confined to the Company’s plantation at Vellout, that of a society of gentlemen at Poonoomallee, Permall at Voyalore, Rangapilly, at Adayar, Armagaon, at Coomunglaum, and a plantation of the Hon. Company’s at Ganjam.’ He wrote that he ‘had long wanted to place it in the hands of the natives at large,’ but believed there was a mistaken idea that the culture of silk would be at the expense of grain growing.45

How far did the silk manufacture extend into local communities? To what extent did local zamindars take up the industry? How did Company entrepreneurs gain access to ground and water for mulberry cultivation? What local labour did they draw on, and how did they transmit the skills that were needed?

A number of plantations and filatures were started by local landowners or zamindars. Anderson wrote to the Board of Revenue in 1793 that the Chintapalli Zamindar wanted to establish the manufacture in his districts, and asked for the Chief and Council at Masulipatam to give him encouragement.46 Neera Permaul, later in the same year asked the Board of Revenue to rent three villages, one his hereditary village, to plant mulberry trees. He complained that the land the Company had previously granted him was all quick sand; his attempt to plant mulberries there had failed. Chinna Tomby applied to take over the rents of five villages to establish a manufactory.47 Nathum Vallayah applied to use uncultivated land of the Maganum of Pakum.48 Armagaon Moodellier asked to take over the rent of several villages to establish a silk manufactory.49 Anderson sent Charles Oakeley, the Governor in Council a piece of cloth made of the silk reared at Trichinopoly by the Nabob’s sons, reporting that they had invested 3,000 pagodas planting the Circar gardens with mulberries. He speculated that importing foreign silk would soon be unnecessary. He also reported success from Abdul Wahab Khan Bahadur , and in 1795 sent the Governor and Council, Edward Saunders nine pounds of his silk from the Jaghire of Chittore.50 He argued the need ‘to stimulate the natives to cultivate mulberries’…No means appears to me more likely to excite an emulation amongst the natives than by distinguishing the individuals who have mulberries in their gardens.’51 The Nabob Huffam ul Mulk showed off silk samples from his worms to one of Anderson’s correspondents in Trichinopoly, and Anderson reported to the Assistant Surgeon at Masulipatam the desire of Chintipilley Raja to cultivate silk in the area.52

Anderson was initially optimistic about transmitting skills and training local labour. English, Italian and French silk reelers and throwers had come to Bengal in the 1750s and the European wheels were introduced. Even though local winders were initially not used to the method, and Company agents feared that not enough labour would be found to work at the machines, the new techniques were transmitted, so that by the later 1780s the Bengal filatures were deemed enough of a success to provide a model for South India.53 Anderson induced the Governor at Fort St. George to send Robert Corbett to Bengal to report on the silk manufacture there, and then drew on the natural history networks he had, and through William Roxburgh applied to Bengal for silk winders. William Pope contacted him from Muhomispour in 1792, saying few were willing to travel so far without double their usual wages. 54The Board of Revenue directed that six workmen be brought from Bengal to work alongside a European superintendant competent in local languages in the Company’s filature on the coast, and to instruct local inhabitants in the business.55

Anderson drew especially on one of these Bengal winders, and set up reels in the Bengal style. He enthusiastically improved on these and on the Bengal frames supporting the worms.56 Six months later he reported that another seven Bengal workmen were on their way to his new plantation and filature at Vellout, and had praised his own small garden and manufactory near Madras. They did not at first like his new methods for feeding the worms, nor his new reels, but when they saw that ‘a child could turn them with three times as much velocity as the reels used in Bengal could be turned, and that the quality of the silk was capable of bearing the rapid motion, the Bengal workmen seized them, and would never afterwards work on any other.’57 Local labour was praised by other producers both in silk worm cultivation and in spinning. One reported that boys of ten or eleven at the Company filature produced considerable quantities of silk at reels that were employed constantly.58

Though Anderson pursued Company support and land use permissions for local producers he ultimately failed to induce enough enthusiasm for silk cultivation among either local landowners or labour. He warned that the lands needed to be inspected, and that the Company should only consider proposals from men of property. ‘The natives at large are yet too poor to make any advancement…’59 He suggested that the Court of Directors should empower officers on the spot to allot waste and unoccupied lands without any fee for at least 21 years for any who would undertake mulberry cultivation and silk manufacture.60

The Board of Revenue knew the stakes for success depended on local support. ‘Until the cultivation of the mulberry and the care and rearing of the worms become objects of speculation among the inhabitants, the manufacture can never be carried on to the desired extent, nor indeed the real cost of which it be procured ascertained.’ But it held out hopes that success in Bengal would be followed with success on the Coromandel coast. ..’the operation from the temper and habits of the people must naturally be slow..but we trust it will ultimately be successful…’61 Anderson exercised all his effort and ingenuity in attempting to attract local producers to the cultivation. He gave out mulberry cuttings to whomever he could, accounting for these assiduously, and listing those who persevered, even presenting each of these with a pair of gold earings.62 Some local farmers demanded rent remission from zamindars. Covoor Chundrapah complained about properties taken for mulberry cultivation without recompense to the farmers…’the farmers are making demands from me for payment for this which I must allow it as otherwise they will quit the village.’63

unning through the correspondence collected by Anderson and the Board of Revenue, however, were frequent references to competing land uses64, disputes over use of wastelands, demands on local water resources, and the poverty of local farmers and labourers. John Read reported from Ganjam in 1793, ‘I observe in the generality of the Natives rather a repugnance to the proposition, arising perhaps, from the lassitude and distress left by the famine, and from its being a speculation that does not offer any immediate prospect of advantage to the party…’65 At this time too Anderson reported neglect and losses at a number of the plantations. He doubted the state of the plantation taken over from Captain Mackay by Jaguidar at Arnee [Arani]; Captain Flint’s former plantations had been totally neglected since he had been removed; Mr. Nicol’s at Amboor rooted out and converted to a kitchen garden; cattle had destroyed the plantation at Ongole, and the plantations created by the Collector at Nellore and the cavalry officers at Arcot were neglected. 66 When challenged, the Nabob, Walla-Jah-Bahade, responded to Oakeley,

’ My friends have no concern in this business further than you have chose to remind me of it – In certain places where the ground was appropriated to the cultivation of…. paddy for my own use, mulberry plantation had been made – I directed my managers in the Talũqa to take away the plantations from such places and to preserve the rest.’ What can I say more?’67

By 1796, the Board reported ‘so little success in introducing it to the attention of the Natives’ that it was ‘convinced by the experiments already made that there is no prospect of fixing them in the pursuit of this object by the means hitherto adopted.’68Anderson spent large amounts of Company funds on his venture in Vellout, and other undertakings. Detailed accounts of preparing the grounds for cultivation, sinking tanks and wells conveyed the scale of the effort. Local resistance meant he had to create a new village for his workforce which was not allowed accommodation or access to surrounding villages, and manure for the land had to be brought from a distance of five miles. 69 The filatures he developed at his Madras garden and later at Vellout were large centralised manufactories separated from the cocooneries. For Vellout he suggested a filature 19 feet wide, and separated from the worm houses by 100 yards.70

Anderson, in a series of high-handed letters demanded the Company invest more in compensation to renters and inhabitants of villages leased by Chinna Tamby, and in a large and doubtful undertaking in the Jaghire. The Revenue Letter of 1794 commented ‘That Gentleman, as you will observe, in some of his letters, has spoken very harshly and disrespectfully on this subject, and for no other reason, that we can perceive, than because the Board of Revenue will not proceed in making grants and incurring expenses, without receiving the previous information necessary for their guidance…’71

Eventually the Company had had enough. An account for expenses in 1795 came to 13, 397.16.20 Pagodas.72 The year following further expenses were added up to come to 32,873.39.43 Pagodas or £13,149.73 The Board then declared that all expenses on the plantations should cease apart from those at Vellout and Ganjam where there were filatures. But then the filature at Ganjam was destroyed in a storm, and Company reports found neglect among the workforce and a general lack of interest by local people in the silk projects.74

The silk ventures failed, but Anderson was by this stage engrossed in other projects, especially his development of a native opuntia species and the development of a cochineal industry in India to displace the monopoly of its characteristic red dye in Mexico. Anderson had dedicated several years to his project to bring sericulture and silk production to South India. He pursued this as a frontier project, with virtually no mention of pre-colonial and long-standing production centres. His plans and projects were those of a long tradition of paper speculations and of more recent ‘enlightened’ improvement. The Company was patron, and indigenous commercial incentives and constraints never shaped the directions of the projects.



1 J. Forbes Watson, Textile Manufactures and Costumes of the People of India (London, 1886), pp. 34, 49-52, 97-101, 107, 114.

2 Thomas Ertl, ‘Silk Worms, Capital and Merchant Ships: European Silk Industry in the Medieval World Economy, The Medieval Historical Journal, 9 (2006), pp. 243-270, p. 247.

3 Streynsham Master’s Diaries cited in K.N. Chaudhuri, ‘The Structure of the Indian Textile Industry in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 11 (1974, pp. 127-183, p. 134.

4 Om Prakash, European Commercial Enterprise in Pre-Colonial India. The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. II, (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 220, 241.

5 Chaudhuri, ‘The Structure of the Indian Textile Industry’, p. 157.

6 Sushil Chaudhury, From Prosperity to Decline. Eighteenth Century Bengal (Manohar, New Delhi, 1995), p. 187.

7 Rajat Datta, Society, Economy and the Market. Commercialization in Rural Bengal c. 1760-1800 (Delhi, 2000), p. 302.

8 Ibid., pp. 220-234.

9 Prakash, European Commercial Enterprise, p. 279.

10 Prakash, ibid., p. 279; Chaudhury, From Prosperity, p. 209.

11 Ibid., p. 248.

12 Roberto Davini, ‘Bengali Raw Silk, the East India Company and the European Global Market, 1770-1833’, Journal of Global History, 4, 2009, pp 57-79, p. 66-72.

13 David Arnold, ‘India’s Place in the Tropical World, 1770-1930’ Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 26, (1998), pp. 1-21; David Arnold, Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India, The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. III (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 50-53; Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and he ‘Improvement of the World’ (New Haven, 2000); David Mackay, In the Wake of Cook: Exploration, Science and Empire, 1780-1801 (London, 1985), pp. 174-6

14 Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy. An Economic History of Britain 1750-1850 (New Haven, 2009).

15 Tirthankar Roy, ‘Knowledge and Divergence from the Perspective of Early Modern India’, Journal of Global History, 3, 2008, pp. 361-387 takes a different approach of comparing artisanal techniques and training in various industries of India with those in Europe.

16 See my paper, ‘Manufacturing Knowledge: Industrial Surveys in India 1780-1800’ (November, 2010). For wider background on Joseph Banks and the collectors of botanical, agricultural and industrial knowledge see H.B. Carter, Sir Joseph Banks 1743-1820 (London, 1988); Neil Chambers, ed., The Indian and Pacific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks 1768-1820 (London, 2009); David Philip Miller and Peter Hanns Reillm ed., Visions of Empire. Voyages, Botany and Representations of Nature (Cambridge, 1996). See especially chapter 2 by Miller, ‘Joseph Banks, Empire and “Centers of Calculation” in late Hanoverian London’, pp. 21-37 and by David Mackay, ‘Agents of Empire: the Banksian collectors and Evaluation of New Lands’, pp. 38-58.

17 Hanco Jürgens, ‘On the Crossroads: Pietist, Orthodox and Enlightened Views on Mission in the Eighteenth Century’, in Andreas Gross, Y.V. Kumaradoss, H.Liebau, Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India (2006).

18‘James Anderson, Oxford New DNB: http://www.oxforddnb.com/articles/0/476-article.htmlconsulted 3 Dec. 2010.

19 Ray Desmond, The European Discovery of the Indian Flora (Oxford), 1992, p. 208.

20 Desmond, The European Discovery, p. 208.

21 Robert Corbett to Maj. General Meadows, Governor & Council Fort St. George, 9 May, 1792, Letters for Promoting the Silk Manufacture on the Coast of Coromandel by James Anderson (Madras, Printed by J.D. Matthews, 1794), p.25

22 Correspondence for the Introduction of Cochineal Insects from America, the Varnish and Tallow Trees from China, the Discovery and Culture of White Lac, the Culture of Red Lac. And also for the introduction, culture, and establishment of Mulberry Trees and Silk Worms, with a description and Drawing of an Improved Piemontese Reel for the Manufacture of Raw Silk together with the Culture of the Finest Cinnamon Trees of Ceylon Indigo and some other Valuable Articles by James Anderson M.D., Madras (Printed by Joseph Martin), 1791, p. 19

23 Ibid., p. 20.

24 Anderson to Oakeley, 21 Jan., 1793, Some Additional Letters Principally regarding the Culture of Raw Silk and the Progress of the Italian Filature on the Coast of Coromandel by James Anderson, Madras Printed by H. Duckworth 1793.

25 Anderson to David Halliburton, President and Members of the Board of Revenue, 31 August, 1793, Letters for Promoting the Silk Manufacture on the Coast of Coromandel by James Anderson, Madras, Printed by J.D.Matthews, 1794, p. 11.

26 Anderson to Richard Molesworth, April 26, 1791, ibid., p. 21; Anderson to George Anderson, 10 Sept., 1791 in Supplement to the Correspondence of 1791 by James Anderson, p. 6.

27 Anderson to Oakeley, 4 May, 1791 in Correspondence for the Introduction of Cochineal Insects…, p. 23.

28 George Yonge to Anderson, 8 Dec., 1791 in Some Additional Letters Principally regarding the Culture of Raw Silk and the Progress of the Italian Filature on the Coast of Coromandel by James Anderson, Madras Printed by H. Duckworth 1793, p. 4.

29 Anderson to Oakeley, 21 Jan., 1793, Some Additional Letters Principally regarding the Culture of Raw Silk.

30John Glas Baughulpoor to Anderson, 14 April, 1792, in Copies of Letters to and from Dr. James Anderson, Physician General Fort St. George, 1792 on the Silk Trade, Roxburgh Ms. Eur D809,IOR Private Papers, British Library; Extract of a Letter from A. Falconer, 25 March, 1795, Correspondence for the Introduction of Cochineal Insects, p. 46.

31 James Frushard to Anderson, 17th and 18th August, 1795 in , Correspondence for the Introduction of Cochineal Insects, p. 77.

32 Frushard to Anderson, 13 January, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk on the Coast of Coromandel by James Anderson (Madras Printed by J. Martin, 1793), p. 7.

33 Ibid., p. 77.

34 Ibid., p. 77.

35 Extract of Revenue Letter, 3 July, 1793 and 21 May, 1794, Board of Control F/4/5, pp. 67 and 70.

36 C. Frazer to Anderson, 7 August, 1791, Supplement to the Correspondence of 1791 by James Anderson, p. 3.

37 John Chamier to Anderson, 20 August, 1791, Supplement to the Correspondence of 1791, p. 3.

38 George Anderson to Anderson, 27 August, 1791, Supplement to the Correspondence of 1791, p. 4.

39 Anderson to Robert Andrews, 1 Sept. 1791, Supplement to the Correspondence of 1791, p. 6

40 Hugh Maxwell to Anderson, 15 Sept. 1791, Supplement to the Correspondence of 1791, p. 8

41 Anderson to Boswall Parkisson, 4 July, 1795, Correspondence for the Introduction of Cochineal Insects, p. 50; Robert Woolf to Anderson, 28 September, 1795, State of the Silk Manufacture at Vellout and Panniwaddy by James Anderson (Madras, printed by W.S. Cooper), 1795, p. 12.

42 Anderson to Charles Oakeley, 29 June, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk, p. 33.

43 John Read to Anderson, 9 June, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk, p. 37.

44 Ibid.

45 Anderson to Frushard, 4 September, 1795, Miscellaneous Communications published by James Anderson (Madras, printed by W.S. Cooper, 1795), p. 79.

46 Proceedings of the Board of Control, Fort St. George, 13 May, 1793, Board of Control, F/4/5, India Office Records, British Library, p. 75.

47 Letter from Mera Permaul, 25 Nov. 1793, Board of Control, F/4/5, pp. 280, 305; Letter from the Collector of the Northern Division to Haliburton, 2 & 9th Dec., 1793, Board of Control. F/4/5, pp. 281-98, 303; Letter to Anderson 17th Dec. 1793, Board of Control, F/4/5, p. 317; Letter from Anderson to Haliburton, 30 Dec. 1793, Board of Control, F/4/5, p. 327.

48 Anderson to Haliburton, 1 Jan. 1794, Board of Control, F/4/5, p. 352.

49 Armogum Moodellier to Anderson, 12 January, 1794, Letters for Promoting the Silk Manufacture, p. 34.

50 Anderson to Charles Oakeley, 21 Jan., 1793, Some Additional Letters Principally regarding the Culture of Raw Silk and the Progress of the Italian Filature on the Coast of Coromandel by James Anderson, (Madras Printed by H. Duckworth, 1793), Correspondence for the Introduction of Cochineal Insects, p. 66.

51 Anderson to Oakley, 21 Jan., 1793, Some Additional Letters Principally regarding the Culture of Raw Silk.

52 Nicol Mein to Anderson, 13 Feb., 1793, Anderson to Fitzgerald, Assistant Surgeon Masulipatam, 21 March, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk, pp. 4, 9.

53 Chaudhury, From Prosperity to Decline, pp. 248-9; Davini, ‘Bengali Raw Silk’, pp. 60-61;

54 Robert Corbett to Major General Meadows, Governor & Council Fort St. George, 9 May, 1792; William Pope to Anderson, 26 May, 1792, Letters for Promoting the Silk Manufacture on the Coast of Coromandel, pp. 20-25.

55 Extract from the Report of the Board of Control, 15 June, 1794; Report from the Board of Control, 5 Oct. 1794, Board of Control F/4/5, pp. 42, 45.

56 Anderson to Oakeley, 21 Jan., 1793, Some Additional Letters Principally regarding the Culture of Raw Silk, pp. 12-13.

57 Anderson to Kirkpatrick, 2 Sept. 1794; Boswell Parkisson, 30 Sept., 1795, Miscellaneous Communications published by James Anderson, (printed by W.S. Cooper, Madras, 1795), pp. 17, 19.

58 Robert Woolf to Anderson, 28 Sept. 1795, State of the Silk Manufacture at Vellout and Panniwaddy, p. 12.

59 Anderson to Haliburton, 30 Dec., 1793, ibid., p. 329.

60 Anderson to Charles Oakeley, Governor in Council, 17 Dec. 1793, Board of Control, F/4/5, p. 333.

61 Extract of Revenue Letter from Fort St. George, 14 February, 1795, Board of Control, F/4/5.

62 Roger Darvall to Haliburton, President and Members of the Board of Revenue, 17 May, 1793 with response, Board of Control, F/5/5, p. 103.

63 Translated letter from Covoor Chundrapah submitted with letter from Anderson to Oakeley, Governor in Council, 17 Dec., 1793, Board of Control F/4/5, p. 345.

64 Anderson to Frushard, Fort St. George, Septe. 4, 1795, Miscellaneous Communications published by James Anderson (Madras, printed by S.W. Cooper, 1795), p. 79.

65 Extract from a Letter from John Read, Resident at Ganjam, 9 June, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk, p. 39.

66 Anderson to Oakley, 21 June, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk, pp. 31-2.

67 Translation of a Letter from his Highness the Nabob Walla-Jah-Bahade to Sir Charles Oakeley, Governor of Madras, 30 May, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk, p. 34.

68 Extract of Revenue Letter from Fort St. George, 23 February, 1796, Board of Control, F/4/5, p. 3.

69 Proceedings, Fort St. George, 27 May, 1793; Roger Darvall to Haliburton, President & Members of the Board of Revenue 17 May, 1793, Proceedings of Board of Revenue, Fort St. George, 20 June, 1793, Darvall to Haliburton, 25 July, 1793; Anderson to Haliburton, 6th January, 1794, Board of Control F/4/5, pp. 85, 90-92, 119, 171, 357.

70 Anderson to Oakeley, 29 June, 1793, Letters for Extending the Manufacture of Raw Silk, p. 33; ‘Observations and Remarks on the establishment of Italian Filatures on the Coast, Submitted to the Honourable Court of Directors by their most obedient Humble Servant, James Wiss’ in Letters for Promoting the Silk Manufacture,

71 Extract of Revenue Letter 20 February, 1794, Board of Control F/4/5, p. 4.

72 Extract of the Revenue Letter from Fort St. George, 14 Feb. 1795, Board of Control F/4/5, p. 19

73 Extract of Revenue Letter from Fort St. George, 23 Feb. 1796, Board of Control F/4/5, p. 31.

74 Report of 1 January, 1796; Report of 30th June, 1796, Board of Control F/4/5, pp. 58 & 62.




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