Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Oxenden, George (1620-1669)

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OXENDEN, Sir GEORGE (1620–1669), governor of the fort and island of Bombay, third son of Sir James Oxenden of Dene, Kent, knight, and of Margaret, daughter of Thomas Nevinson of Eastry, Kent, was baptised at Wingham on 6 April 1620. The family of Oxenden, or Oxinden, has been resident in Kent since the reign of Henry III.

George Oxenden spent his youth in India, and on 24 Nov. 1661 was knighted at Whitehall. At the time the London East India Company, after many uncertainties of fortune, had been strengthened by the grant of a new charter by Charles II, but the king's marriage to a princess of Portugal involved the company in a difficult crisis. The island of Bombay had, under the marriage treaty, been ceded by Portugal to England, and it lay within the company's territories. The court of directors in March 1661 resolved to restore their trade in the East Indies, and desired to make the acquisition of Bombay by the crown serve their own interests. Accordingly they appointed, on 19 March 1662, Sir George Oxenden to the post of president and chief director of all their affairs 'at Surat, and all other their factories in the north parts of India, from Zeilon to the Red Sea.' A salary of 300l. per annum and a gratuity of 200. per annum were provided for him, so as to remove him from all temptations to engage in private trade. The company further obtained from the king a warrant under the privy seal to Oxenden, authorising him, in the company's name, to seize and send to England such persons not in their service as might be engaged in private trade.

Oxenden found on his arrival in India that the position of the company was very critical. The company's trade was limited to the presidencies of Surat and Fort St. George, and to the factory at Bantam. The king's troops were coming from England to keep down private trade. Sir George Oxenden was instructed to assist them, and to abstain from embroiling the company with foreign powers. The States-General of Holland were endeavouring to wrest from England the supremacy of the sea in Asia, and they bitterly resented the recent action of the Portuguese. The English troops arrived, but were unable to obtain the immediate cession of Bombay, and Sir George Oxenden was prevented from assisting them by increased complications. France joined Holland in threatening the company's trade, while the mogul chieftains showed themselves jealous of English predominance, and formed a new source of danger. Aurungzebe, the mogul king, wished to increase his exactions from both the English and the Dutch, and was only hindered by his fear of the superior naval force of the two powers.

Sir Abraham Shipman, the commander of the royal troops, found himself powerless to take or hold Bombay, and therefore proposed to cede it to the company. Meanwhile the government of Acheen offered the whole of the trade of that port to the company, in return for the company's aid against the Dutch. Both these offers were under Oxenden's consideration when, in January 1663, Surat was suddenly attacked by a force of Mahrattas, consisting of some four thousand horse, under the command of Sevagee. The inhabitants fled, the governor shut himself up in the castle, while Oxenden and the company's servants fortified the English factory, where property estimated at 80,000l. was stored. Oxenden and his party defended themselves so bravely that they preserved not only the factory, but also the town from destruction. Sevagee, however, carried off an immense booty. The moguls were relieved of danger by the repulse of the Mahrattas, and Oxenden received the thanks of Aurungzebe, and an extension of the privileges of trade to the English, with an exemption of the payment of customs for one year.

But both the Dutch and the French maintained their warlike attitude, and active hostilities seemed imminent. Accordingly, in March 1667, Charles II ceded Bombay to the East India Company. The latter now determined to revive their western trade, and commissioned Oxenden to take possession of the island of Bombay. In August following the court of directors appointed him governor and commander-in-chief of Bombay, with power to nominate a deputy-governor to reside on the island, but he was placed under the control of the president and council of Surat. On 21 September 1667 the island was formally ceded by the royal troops to the new governor. The English officers and privates there were invited to enter the company's service, and thus the first military establishment of the East India Company at Bombay was created.

On 14 July 1669 Oxenden died at Surat, 'a man whose probity and talents had enabled the presidency [of Surat] to preserve the company's rights and commerce, and who, to the esteem of their servants, united the respect of the Dutch and French, as well as of the native government and merchants of Surat.' The company erected a stately monument over Sir George's grave at Surat. There is a portrait at Broome Park, Kent, the seat of the family from the seventeenth century, representing him in a long flowing white wig and a blue coat with the company's brass buttons, and a baton in his hand. In the background is an Indian scene.

Sir George Oxenden left a legacy of 300l. for the erection of the monument to the branch of the family at Dene, Kent. His nephew, Sir Henry Oxenden, third baronet (d. 1709), who was for a short time deputy-governor of Bombay, was second son of George Oxenden's elder brother Henry, who was knighted on 9 June 1660, was M.P. for Sandwich, and was created a baronet on 8 May 1678. The latter's third son, George, is separately noticed.

[Brace's Annals of the East India Company; Duff's History of the Mahrattas, i. 198; Diary of (Sir) William Hedges, ed. Yule, ii. 223, 303, 307; Philipot's Visitation of Kent in 1619; Betham's Baronetage, iii. 28; Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 28006-9, 33896 ff. 66, 120, 34105 f. 200, and Harl. MS. 6832 f. 298.]

B. H. S.