The “New Year’s Gift” we are offering you is not wrapped in paper and ribbon. It is an East India Company ship which sailed from England in 1613 for Surat and Bantam in company with the Hector, Hope and Solomon. However, the fleet was carrying many gifts chosen for rulers in Asia to encourage the granting of trading privileges.
The presents selected for the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, included a scarlet cloak embroidered with silver, a velvet-covered chest of bottles with “hot waters” (spirits), and several pictures. The paintings were of King James, his wife Queen Anne, Tamerlane, the emperor himself, East India Company Governor Sir Thomas Smythe and three English ladies.
The East India Company was worried about the effect the long voyage would have on the paintings. Would the colours fade or other damage occur? They provided detailed instructions for the preservation and repair of the artworks. Painter-Stainer Edward Gall, the trumpeter on New Year’s Gift, was entrusted with carrying out remedial work and directing the making of frames.
The ships were also taking looking glasses to Asia. The company feared that these might decay and had sent Robert Young to be trained in foiling. Young was to teach this skill to four or five of his fellow factors so that they could make repairs if he died.
Deaths on voyage
Robert Young died in November 1614 in India. Edward Gall also perished and his will leaving everything to his wife Eleanor was proved in London. The National Archives has a number of wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury for other men who died during the 1613-1616 voyage.
Many who died in the New Year’s Gift bequeathed items they had acquired in Asia: China girdles, Chinese porcelain, silk textiles and spices like pepper, mace and nutmeg. Quarter gunner William Crandall was bringing home 159 pounds of pepper when he died. Sailor Anthony Owen had a barrel contaning 100 pounds of mace.
Personal belongings such as clothing and bedding were often left to named crew members. Otherwise, they were sold before the mast and the proceeds added to the estate. Caulker Christopher Turpin left his tools to his mate Richard Dickson, together with a gown and a remnant of striped taffeta. This cloth was perhaps leftover from the suit of striped taffeta which Turpin left to Richard Brabson – sounds very natty! Turpin also owned three dimity waistcoats and a laced suit.
Sometimes bequests were made to sailors as thanks for care during sickness. Close friendships between shipmates are revealed, some pre-dating this voyage. William Crandall asked his “good friend” Captain Martin Pring to invest a sum of £20 to provide a nest egg for Crandall’s daughter Elizabeth when she came of age.
Master’s mate Lawrence Spooner asked for 30 pieces of satin to be sold and the proceeds invested for the benefit of Pring’s five children. Spooner left Pring his sword, Euclid’s Elements, clothing and linen. Pring’s wife Joan received porcelain and a waistcoat, and her mother 20 shillings for a ring.
Poignantly, Lawrence Spooner allocated money to restore the graves of his wife and daughter in Tamworth. He wanted a likeness of his wife over her monument, with a bowl or spoon in her hand, and the Latin inscription “Quisquis eris qui transieris, perlege, plora” – “Whoever you are who pass by, read, weep”.
The author is lead curator of East India Company Records.
This article first appeared on the British Library’s Untold Lives Blog.