Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hedges, William

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HEDGES, Sir WILLIAM (1632–1701), governor of Bengal, born on 21 Oct. 1632 at Coole, co. Cork, was the eldest son of Robert Hedges of Youghal in the same county, and Kingsdown, in the parish of Stratton, Wiltshire, by his wife Catharine, daughter of Edward Wakeman of The Mythe, near Tewkesbury. He, as well as his father and grandfather, is formally styled ‘Lacy, alias Hedges;’ his great-grandfather was John Lacy of Wiltshire; Sir Charles Hedges [q. v.] was his second cousin. He commenced his career as a Turkey merchant, presumably in the service of the Levant Company at Constantinople. In his ‘Diary’ he refers to his colloquial knowledge of Arabic and Turkish. He was head of the factory at Constantinople, but finding the press of business too heavy for him and his partner Palmer, he invited Dudley North, who was then at Smyrna, to come and take a share. Leaving North to fill his place, Hedges returned to England about 1671–2. On 16 April 1681 he was elected one of the twenty-four ‘committees’ (directors) of the East India Company at a general court of the ‘adventurers’ (proprietors). On the following 3 Sept. he was chosen agent and governor of the company's affairs in the Bay of Bengal. He was instructed to put a stop to the growing exactions of the native rulers and their subordinates, to check the recently organised efforts of the ‘interlopers’ to break through the company's monopoly, and to punish the dishonesty of many of the company's own servants. In particular he was to arrest his predecessor, Matthias Vincent. Hedges sailed from the Downs on 28 Jan. 1682, anchored in Balasore Road on 17 July, and reached Hoogly on 24 July. His want of tact and prudence brought him into constant collision with his associates in the council at Hoogly, especially with Job Charnock [q. v.], John Beard, and Francis Ellis, and in the end they proved too strong for him. His detention of Beard's letter to Sir Josiah Child, the contents of which he had contrived to know, subjected him to the ill-will of the latter. On 21 Dec. 1683 the court issued a formal revocation of his commission, which reached him on 17 July 1684. He accordingly left Hoogly, embarked on 30 Dec., visited Persia on his way, and landed at Dover on 4 April 1687. On 6 March 1688 he was knighted by James II, and became a member of the Mercers' Company. On 26 May 1690 he, together with Thomas Cook, was put forward by the church party as a candidate for the shrievalty of the city of London, but neither won. In June 1693 he was chosen sheriff along with Alderman Abney. A month later he was elected alderman for Portsoken ward. In 1694 he was chosen one of the twenty-four directors of the ‘New Bank’ (Bank of England), and four or five years later resumed to a certain extent his connection with the East India Company. In 1698 the old company formed a ‘grand committee’ of twenty-six gentlemen associated with the twenty-six of their court to deal with certain resolutions hostile to their interests which had been passed by the commons on 24 May. A similar committee was again formed in January 1699, and of this last Hedges and Sir John Letheuillier were members. The two were deputed on 17 Jan. in that year to open negotiations for coalition with the new company. In 1700 Hedges was a candidate for the mayoralty, but was not successful. He died in London on 5 Aug. 1701, and was buried, as directed in his will, with his first wife at Stratton on the 15th. He was twice married. His first wife, Susanna, eldest daughter of Nicholas Vanacker of Erith, Kent, died in childbirth at Hoogly on 6 July 1683, leaving two sons, William and Robert, and a daughter Susanna. He married as his second wife, on 21 July 1687, Anne, widow of Colonel John Searle of Finchley, and by her had two sons, John and Charles. In 1693 Hedges bought land to the value of 200l. in Stratton, and settled it for an augmentation of the vicarage and better maintenance of the vicar and vicars' widows for ever. He also directed that a sermon on charity should be preached annually by the vicar ‘the next Sunday to the sixth of July,’ the day of his first wife's death. The sermon is suspended, though the endowment continues. Hedges's ‘Diary,’ commencing on 25 Nov. 1681, and terminating abruptly on 6 March 1688, was purchased by Mr. R. Barlow of a bookseller named Bohn in High Street, Canterbury, on 20 Sept. 1875. The manuscript has been presented by Mr. Barlow to the India Office, whence in all probability it originally came. It was printed by the Hakluyt Society, under the editorship of Colonel Sir Henry Yule, in 1887. A second volume of biographical and miscellaneous illustrations of the time in India was issued in 1888.

[Hedges's Diary, edited by Sir Henry Yule for the Hakluyt Soc.]

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