Lancaster, James (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


LANCASTER, Sir JAMES (d. 1618), merchant and sea-captain, pioneer of the English trade with the East Indies, was 'brought up among the Portuguese; lived among them as a gentleman,' a soldier, and a merchant (Markham, p. 47). As he afterwards spoke of them very bitterly, as a people without 'faith or truth,' it would seem that he considered himself as having sustained some injury or unfair treatment at their hands.

Lancaster returned to England before the war with Spain broke out; and in 1588 commanded the Edward Bonaventure, a merchant ship of 300 tons, serving under Sir Francis Drake in the fleet against the 'Invincible' Armada. In 1591, again in command of the Edward Bonaventure, he sailed on the first English voyage to the East Indies, in the company with George Raymond, general of the expedition, in the Penelope, and Samuel Foxcroft in the Merchant Royal. They sailed from Plymouth on 10 April, and ran south to latitude 8° N. with a fair wind, which then died away, leaving them becalmed in the 'doldrums.' For nearly a month they lay there, losing many men from scurvy, and did not anchor in Table Bay till 1 Aug. The suffering had been very great, and though the sickness rapidly abated, there were still many bad cases which were sent home in the Merchant Royal. The other two, with 198 men, sailed on 8 Sept.; but four days later, in a tremendous storm off Cape Corrientes, the Penelope went down with all bands. In another violent storm on the 16th the Edward was struck by lightning, when many men were killed or hurt. At the Comoro islands, in an affray with the natives, they lost the master and some thirty men, together with their only boat. At Zanzibar they rested and refitted ; and sailing thence in the middle of February, after a circuitous navigation and a season of unfavourable winds, doubled Cape Comoria towards the end of May, and in June anchored at Pulo Panang, with the 'men very sick and many fallen. Many too had died, and after landing the sick they were left with 'but thirty-two men and one boy, of which not past twenty-two were found for labour and help, and of them not past a third part sailors.' Thus reduced, the Edward put to put about the middle of August, and cruising on the Martaban coast captured a small Portuguese vessel laden with pepper, another of 250 tons burden, and a third of 750, with a rich cargo and three hundred men, women, and children. She then crossed over to Ceylon, and anchoring at Point de Galle, where 'the captain lying very sick, more like to die than to live,' the crew mutinied and insisted on taking the direct course for England. On 8 Dec. 1592 they sailed for the Cape of Good Hope, which they doubled on 31 March 1593, and after touching at St. Helena and at Trinidad in the West Indies, in the vain hope 'there to find refreshing,' they steered for Porto Rico, and at the little island of Mona met a French ship, from which they obtained some bread and other provisions. The ships then separated, but met again off Cape Tiburon, just a squall off the land had carried away all the Edward's sails. The Frenchman supplied her with canvas, and after she had got some provisions from the shore she sailed for Newfoundland ; but falling into a hurricane. About the middle of September, and being driven far to the southward and partially dismasted, she again came to Mona about 20 Nov. Shortly after, while Lancaster, with the lieutenant and the greater part of the crew, was on shore, the Edward Bonaventure, with only five men and a boy on board, was blown out to sea, and being unable to return to the anchorage went for England, where he arrived safely. Lancaster and those with him were, some time afterwards, taken by another French ship to Dieppe, and finally landed at Rye on 24 May 1594.

Terrible as the loss of life had been — barely twenty-five returning to England out of the 198 who had doubled the Cape of Good Hope — a very rich booty had been brought home; the Portuguese monopoly of the East India trade had been rudely broken, and it had been proved that, so far as England was concerned, it might be broken again at pleasure. The formation of the East India Company the natural consequence. But that, there were some — aldermen and merchants of London — who thought the Portuguese might be profitably, as patriotically, plundered nearer home, and who, in the summer of 1594, fitted out three ships for this purpose and placed them under Lancaster's command. They sailed in October, and, after capturing in any Spanish and Portuguese vessels on the way, arrived in the following spring at Pernambuco, where there happened to be a large accumulation of East Indian and Brazilian produce — spices, dye-woods, sugar, and calico. The town was taken with little loss, and the merchandise became the spoil of the victors. They had been joined at the Cape Verd Islands by one Venner, who had been admitted as a partner in the adventure. Three large Dutch ships in the harbour of Pernambuco, with four French ships, were chartered by Lancaster for the homeward voyage. All these he loaded with the plunder, and, after thirty days, prepared to sail for England. On the last day the Portuguese were observed constructing a battery to command the entrance of the harbour, and Lancaster, who was sick strong parly of men to destroy their work. This destruction was done without difficulty ; but advancing further, beyond the cover of the ships' broadsides, they were met by a large body of Portuguese and repulsed with great loss, almost all the officers of the party, and others. to the number of thirty-five, being killed. The loss was occasioned by great disobedience of Lancaster's orders. His men 'were much daunted,' but he put to sea that night with fifteen vessels, 'all laden with merchandizes, and that of and worth.' In a 'stiff gale of wind' outside the fleet was scattered, and most of the ships, being ignorant of the coast, 'went directly for England.' Lancaster, and four ships with him, filled up with water and fresh provisions in a neighbouring port, and arrived in the Downs in July.

The wealth thus brought home was a further incentive to the formation of the East India Company. In 1600 Lancaster was appointed to command their first fleet, the queen granting him a 'commission of martial law' and letters to the eastern kings with whom he might have to negotiate. In the Red Dragon of 600 tons burden, and with three other ships, Hector, Ascension, and Susan, Lancaster sailed from Woolwich on 13 Feb. 1600-1; he was, however, delayed in the Downs 'for want of wind,' and finally sailed from Torbay on 20 April 1601. Again keeping too near the coast of Africa, the fleet was more than a month in crossing the 'doldrums;' and being further delayed by contrary winds, it did not get into Table Bay till 9 Sept., by which time the three other ships had suffered so terribly from scurvy, having buried 105 out of 278 men, that they were not able to come to anchor till the Dragon sent men on board to their assistance. ‘And the reason why the general's men stood better in health that the men of other ships was this: he brought to sea with him certain bottles of the juice of lemons, which he gave to each one as long as it would last, three spoonfuls every morning’ (Markham, p. 62). The virtue of this specific was afterwards wholly forgotten, and seamen were allowed to go on suffering and dying wholesale for nearly two hundred years.

On 29 Oct. they sailed from Table Bay; doubled the Cape of Good Hope on 1 Nov.; on 17 Dec. touched at St. Mary's Island, where they obtained some oranges and lemons; but finding the anchorage unsafe, went on to Antongil Bay, where they anchored on Christmas day 1601. They stayed there recruiting their health and refitting their ships till 6 March; on 9 April they touched at the Nicobar islands, where they watered and refitted; and on 5 June 1602 anchored at Acheen. Here Lancaster found that ‘the queen of England was very famous in those parts, by reason of the wars and great victories which she had gotten against the king of Spain;’ and as the bearer of a letter from her, and as the known enemy of Portugal, of whose encroachments in the east the king of Acheen was jealous, he was most honourably received and was readily granted permission to trade. When in September Lancaster put to sea to cruise in the straits of Malacca in quest of passing Portuguese, the king willingly undertook to prevent any warning being sent from Acheen. The English had thus the opportunity, on 4 Oct., of capturing a ship of 900 tons, richly laden.

On 24 Oct. he again anchored at Acheen; again met with a most friendly reception from the king, to whom he made liberal presents; and with a most favourable letter from the king to the queen of England, he put to sea on 9 Nov. The Susan had been sent to Priaman for a cargo of pepper; the Ascension had filled up with pepper and cinnamon at Acheen, and was now ordered to make the best of her way to England. Lancaster, in the Dragon, with the Hector, went to Bantam, where also he had a very friendly reception. A free and lucrative trade was opened, as the result of which both ships were fully laden with pepper by the middle of February; and after establishing a factory at Bantam, and sending some of the merchants to establish another at the Moluccas, Lancaster, with the two ships, sailed on 20 Feb., and after a dangerous voyage arrived in the Downs on 11 Sept. 1603.

On his return to London Lancaster was knighted in October 1603. Being now a wealthy man, he settled down on shore, and as a director assisted in organising the young company. It was under his direction that all the early voyages to both the east and north-west were undertaken; and William Baffin [q. v.] assigned Lancaster's name to one of the principal portals of the unknown north-west region.

Lancaster died, probably in May, in 1618; his will, in Somerset House, dated 18 April, was proved 9 June. From it, it appears that he had no children, and that, if married, his wife had predeceased him; none is mentioned in the will. A brother, Peter, is named; several children of a brother John; the daughters of a brother-in-law, Hopgood; and many cousins. Small legacies were left to these, but the bulk of his property was bequeathed to various charities, especially in connection with the Skinners' Company, or to Mistress Thomasyne Owfeild, widow, for distribution among the poor at her discretion.

[Hakluyt's Principal Navigations, vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 102, iii. 708; Purchas his Pilgrimes, vol. i. pt. ii. p. 147. These are reprinted in the Voyages of Sir James Lancaster, edited for the Hakluyt Society by Mr. Clements R. Markham; see also the Cal. of State Papers, East Indies.]

J. K. L.