Aske Hall Case Study: East India Company Connections

9. EIC StockEast India Company Connections

Although Lawrence Dundas was never a ‘servant’ of the East India Company, he was closely involved in its affairs. He bought considerable shares of East India Company stock for himself and on behalf of others; he worked with a number of East India Company commanders and captains who appear to have been relatives or had associations with his family and homeland in Scotland, investing in their cargoes; and he used his connections with the Company and its employees to bestow patronage, for family, friends and for political ends. His connections with the Company were thus both political and personal.

a) East India Stock & Scottish Politics

Various bills of sale and bonds that survive at the North Yorkshire County Record Office reveal that Lawrence Dundas invested varying large sums in East India Company stock. The size of these investments gave him considerable power, which was enmeshed with his own political ambitions.[i]  His wealth and financial acumen were useful to the North administration at whose behest in 1769 he bought up holdings of East India stock to the value of over £100,000 for splitting to provide qualifications at the 1770 election of directors.[ii] At this date voters were required to have a minimum of £500 worth of East India Company stock. Individuals could buy up stock, split it into £500 units and distribute amongst their friends to influence the election of Directors favourable to their cause.[iii] A statement of account for 1769 shows that Lawrence Dundas’s East India Company Stock amounted to £191,715.[iv]

By the mid 1770s however relations with North had grown increasingly strained. Dundas was the subject of attacks from his distant kinsman, Henry Dundas of Melville (1742-1811) who was also a key figure within the East India Company.  In alliance with the Duke of Buccleuch, Henry Dundas was soon in a position to influence Lord North, and to challenge Dundas’s control of Edinburgh Town Council. Under Henry Dundas’s co-ordination Lawrence Dundas now became a target of a pamphlet war that exposed his alleged corruption and vanity.


Front of investment record made by Lawrence Dundas NYCRO ZNK X 1-13-23a.

b) East India Company Ships, Commanders and Captains

Documents at North Yorkshire County Record Office reveal that between 1763 until his death Lawrence Dundas invested in at least seven East India Company ships: the Prime (1769/70, 1772/3, 1776/7 & 1778-9), the Lord Holland (1763/4),  the Latham (1762/3), the Bute (1773/4), the Triton (1775/6), the Northington (1776/7) and the Royal Henry (1777/8 & 1781/2).[v]  The most detailed records relate to his investments in the 864 ton ship the Prime. He invested in all five of its voyages, mostly to Madras and China.  A surviving investment shows a wide range of goods which he purchased to sell, including ironmongery, glassware, cutlery for Madras and lead, glassbeads and clocks for China.  The latter items were very popular in China, where as gifts they were an essential lubricant in gaining access to key officials, and were known as ‘sing-songs’.  The millinery, shoes and stationery would have been bought by East India Company servants and their households, whose access to these goods from home was only via this trade.[vi]


Back of an investment record made by Lawrence Dundas NYCRO ZNK X 1-13-23b.

The names of the commanders and captains of some of the ships in which Dundas invested suggest that he was using a network of local connections and relations in these speculations. However we have yet to discover the exact details, and would appreciate clarification from any of our readers. In response to this plea for help Georgina Green has generously shared her research to show that the Prime was captained by a James Dundas on three of its five voyages between 1772 and 1779. Furthermore, a Charles Dundas owned the Prime between 1772 and 1779, and the Royal Henry was captained by a Ralph Dundas on both its voyages of 1777/8 and 1781/2.[vii] There was no service ‘more difficult to get into’ than the the command of an East India Company ship ‘requiring great interest’ and huge sums of money, from between £8,000 to £10,000.[ix] The rewards could be substantial however, including: pay of £10 a month, a percentage of the total earnings made during the voyage, expenses for staying in port, income from passengers, and most importantly the right to private trade.  Sir Lawrence invested in a another voyage of the Prime to Madras and China, with James Dundas as captain, and a George Dundas as second mate. This is revealed in a Respondentia Bond of 1776, a form of loan where the ship’s cargo was the security.[x] The family connections between these men are still not clear,  although the christian names George and James do appear in this branch of the Dundas family of Fingask and Kerse tree.[xi]  In  1778 Lawrence Dundas invested £6,763 in voyages of the Royal Henry, captained by Ralph Dundas bound for Bombay.[xii]  Ralph Dundas came from Manour in Stirlingshire, part of the Dundas ‘empire’, he named his son Thomas who went on to become a Lt Colonel in the Bengal Native Infantry.[xiii]

[Note added 18.04.13] Project Associate Georgina Green has also pointed out that Charles Raymond, of Valentines Mansion in Essex  (see her Case Study on this website), owned the Latham in which Lawrence Dundas invested and he also owned the Bute between 1762-1767.The Latham was captained by James Moffatt on both its voyages in 1762/3 and 1766/7. Moffatt was part of a large Scottish family connected with the East India Company in various ways, and lived close to Valentines.  Clearly the web of potential connections is complex. [I am very grateful to Georgina  Green for enhancing this case study, her comments prove how useful this web-based approach can be.]

In the highly risky business of investing in East India Company voyages, it was safer to entrust your affairs to someone you knew or had some connection with, and had a degree of control over, rather than a stranger. This lesson Lawrence Dundas must surely have learnt as a successful contractor in the 1740s and 1750s.  A similar strategy can be seen in Georgina Green’s East India Company at Home case study ‘Valentines, the Raymonds and Company Material Culture’.[xiv]

c) East India Company Patronage

As George McGilvary has shown, from 1725 onward, a patronage system existed in Britain enabling government ministries to use posts in the East India Company and its shipping to secure political majorities in Scotland and Westminster.[xv]  Lawrence Dundas received many such appeals for support drawing upon his East India Company contacts, which were closely implicated with his political ambitions.  A series of letters to Sir Lawrence from his son Thomas, then MP for Stirling (1768-94),  between August and November 1777, show him  busy in Edinburgh ensuring that Dundas supporters were elected to the City Council, using East India Company appointments to secure their compliance. He wrote to his father:‘If you don’t get young Spottiswoode and young Lennox sent out to India I can assure you our interest above will be much suspected here … For God’s sake see Lord North yourself and get the matter settled’.[xvi]  The affairs of the East India Company were intimately connected with not only national, but also local Edinburgh politics.[xvii]

The many letters which survive appealing for Sir Lawrence’s preferment within the East India Company,  indicate the widespread assumption of his powers of influence within it.  In 1766 a David Anderson thanked Sir Lawrence for getting a post for his son in Bengal.[xviii]  Lieutenant Thomas Dundas in Calcutta hoped Sir Lawrence would  assist his promotion to the ‘Rank of Captain in less than Four or Five Years’.[xix]  Jack Wordie’s cousin, a mate on the East India Company ship the Vansittart  trusted Dundas might be able to get him ‘the Command of one of the East India Company packets’.[xx]  In 1775 Robert McFarlane in Bengal wrote to ask if Dundas  would recommend him as ‘superintendent of the Police for the town of Calcutta’ explaining that:

I have been living three years in this country, principally employed in the tea service, but have not been able to acquire even a small fortune, although I cannot say I am poor. Indeed I have never been in a right line for making one neither have I been recommended to any of the Gentlemen in Government in this country to push me forward; which perhaps has been my own fault, for not applying to any friends for that purpose, who I dare say would have served me in that way; and I do not in the least doubt, that had I applied to you some years since for such recommendation that you would a cheerfully done what you could. Particularly as you had such an interest in East India affairs, and I likewise judge from the good name you bear both from English & Scotch, which has even reached to this remote part of the world and often given me much pleasure, consider I am your relation, … although a distant one … .         My sister Mary writes me that you have got her husband appointed Collector at Morley[?], which I hope they will be forever grateful to you for.[xxi]

McFarlane’s letter reveals the assumption that large fortunes could be gained in the service of the Company, but were contingent on patronage to gain preferment. It also shows the importance of claiming family ties to secure that support.  Isabella Strange fulsomely thanked Dundas in August 1776:  ‘You never do things by halves you have made me most happy and sav’d Mr Strange a journey to London which we were both afraid would have been absolutely necessary to solicit getting our little Warrior to Madras’. In return for his position as a cadet she considered herself ‘as a part of your Family bound by the strongest Ties’.[xxii]   Dundas’s influence with the Company was invoked right up until his death in 1781. Henrietta Moodie wrote to him that year, asking for help on behalf of her son Donald who had just sailed for the East Indies.[xxiii]

It is likely, but so far uprovable, that these acts of patronage were acknowledged with gifts of thanks, tokens of gratitude that cemented the bonds of perceived ‘family’ which extended well beyond the ties of blood and kinship.[xxiv]  We turn now to the material culture of these East India Company connections, moving from the large – the houses which Lawrence Dundas purchased to illustrate his success, to the small – the search for East India Company traded goods within his homes.

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[i] Huw Bowen The Busness of Empre, 2006.

[ii]  History of Parliament online, volume 1754-1790, footnote 38: Whately to Grenville, 2 and 15 June 1769, Grenville mss (JM); L. S. Sutherland, E. I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 183; Lady Mary Coke, Jnl. iii. 134.

[iii]  P.Bruce Behan, ‘The East India Company 1749-1800: The Evolution of Territorial Strategy’, Business and Economic History, vol.23, no.1. Fall 1994, pp.56.  Share splitting was used by Clive in1763 in an attempt to influence the election of Directors sympathetic to his cause.

[iv]  NYCRO, ZNK X1-11-41. Thanks to Bob Woodings for sending information relating to the continued Thomas Dundas’s investments with the East India Company after his father’s death: ZNK purchased 2012, uncatalogued: Bundle 1 (letter from Henry Hale, dated 15 Nov 1794, apologising to Thomas Dundas that he will not be able to meet Dundas’ orders for items from India.  There is a long specific list.Bundle 8:  A letter dated 21 June 1789 to Thomas Dundas, in reply to a request for information, from his supplier Shadwell explaining how the latter is trying to find out whether cheaper rates can be found for East India ships.

[v] NYCRO ZNK X1/13/1-23 Ship Investments. Many thanks to Georgina Green for corrections on dates (18.04.13).

[vi]  Jean Sutton, Lords of the East The East India Company and its Ships, Conway Maritime Press Ltd, London 1981, p.77.

[vii] NYCRO, ZNK X1/13/23. I am grateful to Georgina Green for alerting me to Anthony Farrington A Catalogue of East India Company Ships’ Journals and Logs 1660-1834 (British Library 1999) and Anthony Farrington A Biographical Index of East India Company Maritime Service Officers 1600-1834 (London, 1999) for the careers of everyone with the surname Dundas.

[viii] NYCRO, ZNK X1/13/7 Respondentia Bond in £2000 by James Dundas, commander of the Prime 490 tons, and Sir Lawrence Dundas, to Harry Thompson on voyage to Bencoolen and China for payment of £1210 to Harry Thompson, 11 December 1772.

[ix] Sutton, 1981, p.70

[x]  NYCRO, ZNK X1/13/9 George Dundas, was a captain in the East India Company’s service, and commander of the Winterton East Indiaman, which was wrecked off the coast of Madagascar in 1792.

[xi] With thanks to Marion Moverley for pointing out via that  a George Dundas died before 1364,whose son was named James.

[xii] NYCRO, ZNK X1/13/15 Account of investment for Capt.Ralph Dundas shipped on the Royal Henry forBombay, 14 March 1778.

[xiii]  Thanks to Margot Finn for pointing out the connection in British Library online Family History, advanced search 1740-1800.


[xv] George K. McGilvary,  East India Company Patronage and the British State. The Scottish Elite and Politics in th Eighteenth Century, I.B. Tauris, 2008

[xvi] NYCRO ZNK X1/2/300, 4 November 1777

[xvii] Dundas also had to counter the opposition of James Cockburn who had joined an East India Company group of MPs led by Laurence Sulivan.   Cockburn lavished money on his burghs to counter the Dundas interest.

[xviii] NYCRO ZNK X/1/2/62, 5 May 1766.

[xix] NYCRO ZNK X/1/2/52, 11 January1766.

[xx] NYCRO ZNK X/1/2/217, 18 March 1775.

[xxi]  NYCRO, ZNK X/1/2/224,10 December 1775.

[xxii]  NYCRO, ZNK/X/2/232, 5 August 1776.

[xxiii]  NYCRO, ZNK/X/1/2/399  10 September 1781 &  ZNK/X/1/2/4000 12 September 1781.

[xxiv] Margot C. Finn, ‘Colonial Gifts: Family politics and the Exchange of Goods in British India c.17880-1820’, Modern Asian Studies, vol.40, no.01, 2006, pp.203-231.