William Gamul Farmer Case Study: Conclusion and timeline


Figure 10. Samuel Farmer’s will. Image courtesy of Penelope Farmer.


Indian fortune or not, William was no nabob in the tradition of the Bengal returnees. Though suspended like them between their English and Indian selves, he did not live long enough to throw his money about, had he been inclined to. Nor did he bring Indian goods and artefacts home with him- his lack of a wife and family might explain this. With him on the Amelia he proposed taking only his ‘bureau’, his papers – among them likely the letter book – cases of wine, and his ‘turkies’ – carpets. At the sale of the family house in 1937 the sole evidence of India in the sale catalogue was a Benares tray and four ‘very large’ elephants – carved ones, presumably.[1] And though his heir, Sam, made use of William’s money for his acquisitions of property, it was prudent investment judging by his refusal to advance his son more money until his estates had begun earning. His greatest extravagance was probably employing Wyatt to work on Nonsuch. On the other hand, Sam’s progeny were country gentry with the tastes and habits of country gentleman. His eldest grandson had a famous collection of orchids: his eldest great-grandson was Lord Lieutenant of Surrey. Only the younger brothers of the family had to seek employment, none in trade of any kind, and none as empire builders.  Though two did emigrate to Canada, other male siblings went into the army or the church or became lawyers like my grandfather.

Nonsuch remained in the Farmer family until 1937, when it was sold by my father’s niece: Sam’s intention to pass his house down through the male line had been thwarted by the nineteenth-century clerk who omitted the word ‘male’ from the entail. (I like to imagine the ghost of Margaret directing his pen.) One subsequent loser, my father, did inherit a little of the family – William’s? – money. He used it to put his four children through boarding school.  His son being no academic, the last vestiges paid for a daughter, me, to read history at Oxford.

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Time line of William’s career in India


Arrived at Bombay 1763 with the appointment of writer.


October 1764 appointed an assistant in the president’s office.


June 1767 was appointed assistant to the storekeeper.


In 1768 was permitted to return to Europe for the sake of his health. Recommended for leave

to return in 1771.


1772 appointed assistant to the marine storekeeper.


In 1774 obtained permission to proceed to Madras on private affairs.


In 1775 was sent to Bengal as assistant to Mr Taylor . In 1776 Mr Taylor died. In May 1777 Mr Farmer was censured for not returning from Bengal and on his arrival in Bombay in July 1777 explained the cause of his absence to the satisfaction of the board and the censure was withdrawn.


The latter end of 1777 he was permitted to go to Poona for his health.


In 1778 he was appointed secretary to the Poona committee, in February 1778 he was left as hostage with the Marathas. In March 1779 he was released.


In 1780 he proceeded to Europe on his private affairs and was recommended for leave to return.


According to 1794 letter to General William Palmer included in his letter book he had intended to remain, but lost his fortune by investing in ‘manufactory’ and was forced to return to India. 


In December 1784 he was appointed by the court to succeed Mr La Touche as resident as Bussorah (Basra) but to return to Bombay meantime. In December 1784 he was appointed by the court to succeed Mr La Touche as resident as Bussorah (Basra) but to return to Bombay meantime.


In 1785 he returned to Bombay. On being required to take charge of the residency at Bussora he relinquished this appointment on the grounds of ill-health.


In November 1795 Mr Farmer was appointed resident at Fort Victoria where he remained until 1787 when he was appointed Chief at Tannah.


In May 1790 he resigned the Chiefship at Tannah on account of ill-health.


In 1790 there being a great scarcity of grain  provisions for proposals of certain persons for supplying the market were accepted and Mr Farmer was appointed to superintend their conduct.


In 1791 the scarcity having eased he requested to be released from the appointment which the board granted.


In April 1991 he was appointed by the court to succeed to the chiefship at Surat upon the death or resignation of Mr Griffiths.


In April 1792 he was appointed one of the commissioners for arranging and settling the ceded countries on the Malabar coast.


In March 1793 he was appointed by General Abercromby Supervisor and Chief Magistrate of the provinces of Malabar which appointment he accepted on condition that it should not be any bar to the succession the chieftainship of Surat.


In late 1794 he became chief at Surat on the resignation of John Griffith.


In January 1796, his ill-health recurring he took ship on the Princess Amelia arriving in Southampton in July. He died in January 1798. His will was proved in February.