Norris, William (1657-1702) (DNB00)

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NORRIS, Sir WILLIAM (1657–1702), British envoy to India, born in 1657, was the second son of Thomas Norris of Speke Hall, Lancashire, by Katherine, daughter of Sir Henry Garraway [q. v.] [Some of his ancestors and kinsmen are noticed under Henry Norris, d. 1536, and under Henry Norris, Baron Norris of Rycote, ad fin.] The father, like his brother Edward, had taken the king's side in the war with the parliament. The family consisted of seven sons and four daughters; the eldest son, Thomas Norris (1653-1700), was M.P. for Liverpool, 1688- 1690 and 1690-5, and procured the charter for the town in the latter year. He was a whig, and in 1696 served as high sheriff of Lancashire. He died in June 1700, and was buried at Childwall, near Speke, having married Magdalene, second daughter of Sir Willoughby Aston; his only child, Mary, became heiress of the whole Speke property about 1736, and married Lord Sidney Beauclerc, fifth son of the first Duke of St. Albans. The third son, Sir John Norris (1660?-1749), admiral, and the fifth son, Edward Norris (1663-1726), are separately noticed. The sixth son, Richard (b. 1670), was bailiff in Liverpool 1695, mayor 1700, and M.P. 1708-1710; he was sheriff of Lancashire in 1718, and was alive in 1730.

William succeeded his eldest brother, Thomas, as member for Liverpool in 1695, and held the seat till 1701, being so much esteemed that he was re-elected during his absence in India, but unseated on petition. In 1698 the new General Society or English Company obtained an act of parliament and letters patent from the crown for the purpose of trading to the East Indies, and in order to obtain the necessary privileges from the mogul emperor, Sir William Norris, specially created a baronet for the mission, was sent out to India as king's commissioner in a ship of war, at a salary of 2,000l. a year, paid by the company.

Norris's task was from the first almost hopeless. He was expected to obtain the protection and privileges of the mogul authorities in favour of a new and unknown company, in face of the determined opposition of the officers of the old or 'London' East India Company, which had been the accredited representative of British commerce in India for a century, and which was armed not only with royal charters and grants of territory from the crown of England, but with firmans from the mogul emperors conferring special privileges of trading. In endeavouring to supersede the old company, the English company had undertaken a task beyond its resources, and parliament and king had entered upon a noxious policy in encouraging a struggle which seemed likely to end in the destruction of the commercial position which a century of persistent effort had Avon in the East Indies. To the native authorities the distinction between the two companies, both trading under authority from the king of England, was a point too fine to be easily explained.

The mogul emperor was not indisposed to recognise any company which was prepared to contribute handsomely to his exchequer; but even his recognition would not give the new company the position which long occupation had secured for the old. The matter was complicated by the precipitate action of Sir Nicholas Waite, the English company's representative at Súrat, who had written to the mogul emperor, Aurangzíb, before Norris's arrival, to request firmans of privileges, and offering to suppress piracy on the Indian seas in return for such favour, an offer which the English company was wholly incompetent to carry into effect. Norris landed on 25 Sept. 1699 at Masulipatam, where he found Consul Pitt of the English company expecting him. The consul had procured the services of 'Nicolao Manuchi' (Manucci, the authority for Catrou's 'Histoire de l'empire du Mogol,' who, however, shortly begged to be excused on the ground of his 'age, blindness, and other infirmities') as interpreter, but had prepared no 'equipage' for the ambassador's journey inland to the camp of Aurangzib. After waiting many months, and quarrelling with Consul Pitt, as well as with the officers of the rival company, Norris assented to the representations of Sir Nicholas Waite, and resolved to make his journey from Surat on the other side of the peninsula, a much easier route to the quarters then occupied by the emperor. He accordingly sailed from Masulipatam on 23 Aug. 1700, after reporting Pitt's conduct to the directors, and reached Swally on 10 Dec. Here fresh difficulties arose, partly from the intemperate conduct of the ambassador and Sir Nicholas Waite, who both treated the London company's agents as positive enemies, forcibly hauled down their ships' flags, and imprisoned their servants. The old company met force by force, ran the flags up again, and refused to recognise the king's ambassador in any way. They had their own royal letters patent, and possessed, what Norris lacked, the formal concessions of the native authorities, and they defied his excellency to interfere with them. In order to emphasise his official dignity, Norris, who seems to have been very tenacious of his own importance, made a state entry into Surat, after paying for the permission eighteen hundred gold mohurs to the mogul governor and his assistants. On 27 Jan. 1700-1 the ambassador set out from Súrat on his journey to the emperor's camp, which was then some way south of Burhánpúri on the Bhíma. He was escorted by over sixty Europeans and three hundred natives, and this force, in spite of a mutiny among the peons, commanded by its discipline and arms the respect not only of the Mogul troops, but of the marauding Maráthas who infested the country. A memorandum preserved in the India Office traces the route which the embassy proposed to take, and the identification of the various stages is of some interest as showing the roads of that time. Some of the halting-places are identified without much difficulty, but a few may be doubtful. The route included 'Barnoly' (Bardoli?), 'Balor' (Valod), 'Beawry' (Buhari), 'Pohunnee' (Poanni), 'Chundnuporee' (Chandanpúr), 'Suckoree ' (Sakora), 'Deegawn' (Deogaon), 'Doltabad' (Dawlatabad), Vurengabad, 'Mossee Gelgewn' (Jelgaon), 'Mossee Pohsee' (Bohsa), 'Shawgur' (Shaogarh, Shewgaon), 'Devrawee' (Adabwari?), 'Beer' (Bed?), 'Chow Salee' (Chausala), 'Bohum' (Bhum), 'Perenda' (Paranda), Anghur, and Chowkee, close to 'Bourhawnporee ' or 'Bramporee.' The total distance from Súrat to Burhánpúri is estimated in the memorandum at 234 kos, which may be roughly translated into 470 miles; and the journey was accomplished in thirty-eight days. The slowness is accounted for by the 'ruggedness of the roads,' which not only impeded the progress of the caravan, but so jolted the carts that, to the ambassador's great distress, nearly all the wine was lost, save 'two chests of old hock.' At last Burhánpúrí (not to be confused with the important city of the same name on the north-east frontier of Khandesh) was reached on 6 March. Here resided Aurangzíb's chief vizier, Asad Khan, the only man who could have influenced the mogul in favour of the embassy. Norris, however, threw away the opportunity of conciliating the statesman, by declining to visit him unless Asad Khan consented to receive him in the European fashion, which the vizier refused to do. In his report to the company the ambassador seeks to cover this rebuff, due to his own exaggerated self-importance, by explaining that his funds did not permit him to conciliate Asad with adequate presents, and adds that he is convinced that nothing could make the vizier friendly or serviceable to the objects of the mission. Setting him aside, therefore, Norris left Burhánpúrí on 27 March, and proceeded on his journey to the camp of Aurangzíb, some sixty kos farther south. He found the emperor, with a following of '400,000 souls,' engaged in besieging 'the castle of Parnello' or 'Pernallo ' (Panalla fort, near Míráj, about halfway between Kolápúr and Bíjápúr), one of the Maratha strongholds which had given him so much trouble for the past twenty years. Pitching his camp near Panalla on 4 April, the ambassador and his suite entered the emperor's 'laskar' (el-'askar, camp) a week later, and was accorded quarters within the enclosure. After some tedious negotiations with the officers of the court, an audience was granted on 28 April. The embassy was marshalled in a state procession, preceded by Mr. Cristloe, the 'commander of his excellency's artillery,' and twelve brass guns destined for presentation to the Great Mogul, 'five hackeries, with the cloth, &c., for presents,' Arabian horses, the union flag, the red, white, and blue flags, the king's and his excellency's crests, 'the musick, with rich liverys, on horseback,' and numerous guards, servants, trumpeters, and coats of arms. Behind the sword of state 'pointed up' came the ambassador in a rich palanquin, followed by pages and by his brother, Edward Norris [q. v.], secretary to the embassy, carrying the king's letter to the emperor, and the attaches. The presents included, besides two hundred mohurs, quantities of cloth, clocks and watches, looking-glasses, 'ribbed hubble- bubbles,' tea-pots, 'essence violls,' double microscopes, six 'extraordinary christiall reading-glasses with fish-skin cases,' an eight-foot telescope, &c. (Norris Correspondence, Manuscript, India Office, ff. 61-7). Aurangzíb readily promised to grant firmans to the three presidencies of the new company, together with total exemption from duties for the Bengal factory, and permission to establish a mint there. But it soon appeared that the firmans were to be granted on condition that Sir Nicholas Waite's unauthorised offer of suppressing piracy should be carried into effect, a point upon which the Mohammedan emperor laid peculiar stress, since these piracies had been directed against pilgrim ships bound for Mecca. Norris could not honestly make an engagement which he was aware the company would be unable to fulfil. The three trading nations of Europe, he observed, had already given the mogul security against loss by piracy, but it was impossible to guarantee the suppression of all pirates, many of whom were the emperor's own subjects. He offered Aurangzíb a lac of rupees (11,250l. at the exchange of the time) if he would pretermit this condition, and a long duel of bribes ensued between the agents of the rival companies, each bidding for the mogul's favour. The only result of this was to excite doubts in the emperor's mind as to which was the real English company, and to make him adhere the more resolutely to a stipulation which appeared to elicit so much jealousy among the merchants, and to promise considerable profits in bribes to the mogul authorities. When Norris held firmly to his refusal to give the necessary engagement, he was told 'that the New English knew whether it was best for them to trade or noe, . . . and that if the English Embassador would not give an obligation for the sea, he knew the way to return.' Norris accepted this dismissal, and without taking formal leave of the emperor departed, 5 Nov. 1701, from the mogul camp, which he had been following from place to place after the fall of Panalla, over the Kistna to 'Cattoon,' and finally to 'Murdawnghur ' (Mardangarh), where the camp had been fixed since July. The mission had been almost doomed to failure from the first, and its chances of partial success had been further diminished by the action of Sir Nicholas Waite, by the difficulties placed in Norris's way by want of adequate funds for bribes, and by the incompetence of his interpreter, Adiell Mill, who is stated to have been ignorant of Persian, the official language of the mogul empire. The ambassador himself appears to have been wanting in tact and suppleness, and his conduct was generally censured by English opinion in India; but it may be doubted whether any other man could have succeeded in the circumstances in which he was placed. His troubles were not over when he was dismissed by Aurangzíb, for he was forcibly detained for two months at Burhánpúri, probably in the hope of extorting the required engagement about piracy, and was not suffered to proceed until 8 Feb. 1701-2, when Aurangzíb sent him a letter and sword for the king, and a promise that, after all, the firmans would be sent. On the following day the ambassador resumed his journey, and arrived on 12 March in the neighbourhood of Súrat, where he immediately entered upon an acrimonious dispute with Sir Nicholas Waite, to whose action he ascribed the failure of the mission. On 5 May 1702 he sailed for England in the Scipio, paying ten thousand rupees for his passage. His brother and suite embarked in the China Merchant, with a cargo valued at 87,200 rupees on Norris's account (whence derived it is not stated), and sixty thousand rupees belonging to the company. The former proved a fertile source of litigation among his relatives. At Mauritius the two ships met on 11 July, but soon afterwards the Scipio parted company, and when she came to St. Helena it was ascertained that Norris had been attacked with dysentery, and had died at sea on 10 Oct 1702. He married the widow of a Pollexfen but left no issue.

[Norris Correspondence in India Office, extending over nearly the whole period of the mission (except 23 Aug. 1700 to 5 March 1701, when Norris was on his way from Masulipatam to Burhánpúr); Bruce's Annals of East India. Company, iii. 343-7, 374-9, 390, 394-406, 426; 456-75 (which requires verification with original authorities); Norris Papers, ed. T. Heywood (Chetham Soc. vol. ix.), pp. xvi-xviii, and letters from Norris, pp. 28-35, 40-5 ; information from. Mr. W. Foster of the India Office.]

S. L-P.