Osterley Case Study: Winds of Trade


Figure 7:This chart, covering from 50 degrees north to 50 degrees south of the Equator, centers on the Pacific Ocean, ‘The Great South Sea’. Wind directions are indicated by arrows and fine engraved lines. Magnetic variation is shown by isogonic lines at 5 degree intervals. Moll, Herman, G201:1/38, circa 1715, 18.5 x 53cm, National Maritime Museum.

The Child family’s interest in East India Company sea trade was carried forward through their investment in shipping. Company ships were instrumental in the network of trade and commodity exchange in the Indian Ocean. The Company ran many ships, called East Indiamen, which were hired through tenders supplied for EIC voyages.[1] The EIC Directors were in the strong position of placing orders with captains and supercargoes of East Indiamen ships and this period saw an increased influx of Asian goods into Britain. Supercargoes or supra-cargoes were an essential part of commodity trade – they were responsible not only for negotiations for buying cargo but also had to ensure the safe arrival of goods back into Britain. These ships on the other hand were built to specifications by groups of managing owners who had an arrangement with the Company lasting for about four voyages. The owners could also build successor ships if needed.[2] In the second half of the eighteenth century, there were three ships called Osterley and each of them bore a connection with the Child family. Francis Child III was a principal owner of the first Osterley ship.

Private Trade and Osterley East Indiaman


Figure 8: A triple portrait of the East India Company ship ‘Royal Charlotte’, National Maritime Museum, BHC3599.

East India Captain BHC3126 Final

Figure 9: An East India Company Captain, circa 1690, 1270 mm x 1015 mm. National Maritime Museum, BHC3126.

The logs of the Osterley ships are representative of the larger networks of Company trade in Asia in the second half of the eighteenth century. Even as the East India Company Committees placed bulk orders for official goods with the ships’ captains and supercargoes there was a flourishing network of private trade that supported the regular inflow of luxury commodities into Europe. This form of ‘regulated corruption’ was sanctioned through indulgences in Company policy and ship captains could earn up to ten times their actual salary.

Though tea, cotton, silks, and spices remained a top priority for the East India Company porcelain, lacquerware, and finished textiles came a close second. The most popular privately traded commodities from India and China were porcelain, lacquerware, silk and cotton textiles, and ivory. The following section looks at a sample journey of the Osterley in detail to offer a sense of the commodities traded on it during Francis Child III’s tenure as its co-owner.

 Osterley I[3]

Owner: Francis Child III

Launched 1758

Principal Managing Owner: Charles Raymond


1)      1757/8 China

2)      1760/1 Benkulen, Madras and Bengal

3)      1765/6 Bombay and China

4)      1768/9 Madras and China

Like his father Samuel, Francis Child III invested in an EIC ship, the Osterley, in 1757/8 whose managing owner was Charles Raymond. [4] This ship, Osterley I, sailed four voyages around to Sumatra, around the Indian coast, St Helena and China between1758-1770.

Its Captain received permission to seize pirates and attack the French in 1757 and the ship seems to have taken on board a French prisoner of war whose death was reported a few years later. In 1761 under Captain Frederick Vincent the ship was commissioned by the Navy to assist a beleaguered Fort in Indonesia.[5] He seems to have stayed on to govern the Company Fort at Benkulen on the Sumatran coast for a while before returning to Gravesend in the following February where the Court Minutes record payment of £2000, £9000, and £3000 to the owners of the Osterley between April and December 1760 for freight and demurrage. After its first voyage before returning to Gravesend in February 1760 it was  ‘…met by many boats, such as the Providence which were loaded with the Hon Company’s goods, tea, Chinaware, Iron and some Chinawares.’[6]After this voyage in that December it was ordered that the Committee of Treasury be desired to ship 5 chests of foreign silver for China to the ship Osterley (and other similar ships) for Bencoolan (Benkulen).[7] At Benkulen the Osterley, like other Company ships, was engaged in buying large quantities of pepper.[8]

Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast.  Belonging to the East India Company of England

Figure 9: Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast. Belonging to the East India Company of England. 1754, Ryne, Jan Van, Sayer, 255 x 398 mm. Robert, National Maritime Museum, PAD1845.

Osterley I’s final voyage from Madras to China provides a good example of the East India Company’s dealings in Asia. Harbour logs from the Captain Francis Fortescue’s journal for Osterley I indicate that like most East Indiamen, it sailed along with other companion ships (Pigott, Thames, Ankerwick, Lincoln, Triton, Nottingham, Havannah, Hector, Ashburnham) as well as country vessels. Osterley I sailed for Madras on 31 January 1769. (See Figure 10: Fort St. George on the Coromandel Coast) In June while on its journey from the Goan port of Cabo de Rama (Cape Rama) in northwest India to Cape Comorin in the southernmost tip of India, the ship picked up an important consignment of elephant bone (ivory). On 12 July 1769 while docked close to Madras, the ship received redwood and cotton on behalf of the East India Company. These goods were usually brought to the main ship on smaller country ships, which did the rounds from ports and factories. The ship then sailed towards Bengal and stowed additional loads of five hundred bales of cotton and thirty tons of redwood. It was only in October that the ship reached Whampoa, through the Malacca Straits.

Once near Canton, much of the cotton and redwood as well as the ship’s cargo of lead was unloaded and the ship ‘…received on board 90 chests of china of the hon’ble comps [Honorable Company’s], and 62 Private trade.’ It is remarkable that the number of chests containing porcelain was nearly two-thirds of those bought on behalf of the Company. This also suggests that Fortescue was acting on behalf of several private clients one of whom may have been Samuel Child’s son Robert Child (since Francis III had died in 1763) under whom many restorations and refurbishments occurred at Osterley Park. Between November and December Osterley I stacked up hundreds of chests of different varieties of tea such as bohea, souchong, congo and nanheen. Osterley’s journey back in January 1770 was its last as in its next incarnation, the ship changed owners.

Osterley II

Principal Managing Owner: William Dent, Brother of Robert Dent a partner at Childs’ bank.

Launched 1771


1)     1771/2 Benkulen and China

2)     1774/5 St Helena and Benkulen

3)     1777/8 Madras and Bengal

Osterley III

Launched 1780

Principal Managing Owners: William Dent, Robert Dent and (later) John Atkins


1)     1780/81 Bombay and China

2)     1784/5 Madras and China

3)     1786/7 Madras and China

4)     1789/90 Bombay and China

5)     1792/3 China

6)     1794/5 China

7)     1797/8 Madras and Bengal

The EIC ships Osterley II & III retained a connection with the Child family through indirect means. Robert Dent, a partner in Child & Co. from 1763, was a member of the charterparty on a number of his brother William Dent’s ships including Osterley II and III. Both ships made regular voyages to India and China. But these ships, like others, also played an important part supporting the expansionist ambitions of the Company through serving it in battles. Towards the end of its third voyage, Osterley II was captured by the French following an attack by two frigates Purvoyeuse and Elizabeth in February1779.[9] It is also known that this incident led to the displacement and eventual deaths of four of five children bound for England, who drowned as their connecting ship was wrecked.[10] A similar fate befell Osterley III, which had one of the longest runs out of the three ships. After many successful voyages to India and China, Osterley III was embroiled in the rising Anglo-French rivalry at the end of the eighteenth century. While towards the end of its seventh run, Osterley III was captured by the French ship La Forte on 13 February 1799 but later rescued.[11] At the time, it had been carrying a detachment of 107 men of the 28th regiment of light dragoons from Madras on board.[12] The rescue of Osterley III by EIC ship La Sybille in March, 1799, and its eventual return to England constitutes the final chapter in the story of the Child family’s maritime connections with the commercial and material worlds of the Indian Ocean. La Sybille’s victory over the La Forte went down into history as one of the famous naval battles of its time. The ship’s dead captain Edward Cook, is commemorated in a bas-relief monument in Westminster Abbey with the following inscription:

Erected by the Honourable East India Company as a grateful testimony to the valour and the eminent services of Captain Edward Cook, commander of His Majesty’s ship Sybille, who on the 1st March, 1799, after a long and well-contested engagement, captured La Forte, a French frigate of very superior force, in the Bay of Bengal, an event not more splendid in its achievement than important in its results to the British trade in India. He died in consequence of the severe wounds he received in this memorable action, on the 23rd May, 1799, aged 27 years.

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On 27 August 2013, Nicholas Man left the following message:

The sinking interested me as an ancestor was an officer at age 11 and this is confirmed when he – with others – was captured by the French while on a naval vessel.
The officers, he included, were held for ransom and the civilians released – as was the custom.
The French were happy to let him go as he was so young.
I just wondered whether one of the ships was the one!

On 29 January 2014, de Saint Orens left the following message:

I am very interested in all informations concerning the ship OSTERLEY.
One of my ancestors, Chevalier Louis-Bernard de Saint Orens, was actually Captain of the french ship “la Pourvoyeuse”.
Another part of this story is that apparently he got quite a lot of problems according to the huge amount of money onboard the “Osterley”; I know he became later Captain of the ship “le Flamand” and died in Mauritius. Some authors say that his death has to do with the capture of the “Osterley”.
Many thanks

On 7 June 2014, Pauline Davies left the following message:

The capture is recorded in a letter sent from the Directors of EIC in 1779 .
“By letter from Messrs Edward Parry and Daniel Barwell, passengers on board the ship Osterley, dated Cape of Good Hope 17 May 1779 we are informed of the capture of that ship the 21st February about Latitude 36 degrees near False Bay by two frigates named the Purvoyeuse of 40 guns and Elizabeth of 36 guns. Monsr [St Olen]Commander . The Purvoyeuse carried 26 Eighteen pounders, 2 twenty four pounders and 12 twelve pounders, the Elizabeth carries 24 twelve pounders.
… the French Commodore & his officers also declared that the ship Elizabeth was the property of an English Gentleman now at Fort St George. This information alarms us exceedingly. If the facts can be proved the treachery cannot be too severely punished

We learn that the Company’s packets were all sunk the morning of the engagement & that after a cruize of eight days, a small French ship, loaded with Negro Slaves from Mozambique bound to Table Bay fell in with the Purvoyeuse, Elizabeth and Osterley, that the Commodore was prevailed upon to permit Messrs Parry, Barwell and two European Sick Seamen, being foreigners to leave the Prize, that they went aboard the vessel above mentioned, on arrival at the Cape the 2nd of March. It was supposed that Captn Rogers and every other person on board the Osterley wold be carried to the French Islands when the Cruize was over. The French ship Cruized at almost as high as latitude 38 from the Cape of Infanta & back to Cape Seguilla but the (W)Northington and Grosvenor escaped & arrived safe at St Helena, the former the 20th Of march and the latter the 1st of April. “
We also know that there was a suspicion of treachery on the part of the English owners of the ship The Elizabeth in that it was being used as an armed French shi after the declaration of war between England and France. In 1807 the aptly name “Anti-Jacobin Review” takes the owner of the Elizabeth to task for treachery. He states that John Sullvian, owner of the Elizabeth only gave up his share of the prize money for the Osterley late in the day. But from this account it seems as if the Purvoyeuse would have got the full amount of prize money. So this may be the basis for the report of a dispute about money.

[1] Chapman, 33.

[2] Summarized from Anthony Farrington, A catalogue of East India Ships Journals and Logs 160- – 1834 (British Library, 1999).

[3] This information is summarized from British Library, LMAR 400 series A through E.

[4] According to a Letter of Marque traced by Georgina Green, the owners of Osterley I in 1757/58 were Sir Richard Lyttleton, Francis Child, Jonathan Ewer and Charles Raymond. For further information on Charles Raymond, see the Valentine Mansion Case Study.

[5] National Archives  DD/N/223c/26 & 27  6 Sept. 1762 & 12 Oct. 1762.

[6] BL IOR L/Mar/B400A-E

[7] Court Minutes of the EIC 1760-61 B 76.

[8] BL IOR L/MAR/B/400B-C, Journal 23 Nov 1760-2. The Journal entry for 30 May 1762 records 595 bags of pepper; on 31 May and 1 June, 719 bags of pepper and 612 bags of pepper from the ship Deligence on account of the EIC.

[9]The event caused much controversy in EIC circles especially as it was revealed that a British subject resident at Fort St. George owned Elizabeth. BL IOR L/MAR/B/400G, 22 February 1779. Letter from the ship Duke of Kingston to the EIC, 16 June 1779, London. IOR/R/E/4-868, p. 465.

[10] BL IOR/E/1/65 54-57.

[11] BL IOR L/MAR/B/400-O, Journal entry, 13 -24 February, 1799.

[12] ‘Narrative of Transactions on Board the Honourable Company’s Extra Ship Osterleii, from tile 6th February, to the 2d March, including the Particulars of her Capture by La Forte.Asiatic Annual Register or view of the History of Hindustan… for the year 1799 (London, 1801), pp. 89-90.