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Making money at the blessed place of Manila: Armenians in the Madras–Manila trade in the eighteenth century*

  • Bhaswati Bhattacharya (a1)

The question of ‘nodes’ in the Armenian commercial network, it is argued here, cannot be separated from a larger process, which helped places such as Madras to rise as alternatives to New Julfa, from as early as the beginning of the eighteenth century. The network of Armenian commerce did not have a single strong centre with many peripheries, but a chain of multiple nodes functioning as crucial linking points. This paper focuses on one particular trade route, from Madras to Manila, in the eighteenth century. The Philippines attracted Spanish American silver, which was then pumped into various regional economies of Asia – China and India in particular – in the shape of investment. A Spanish ban on European shipping at Manila made Armenians (and Indians) indispensable partners for European trade to Manila. This gave Armenian trade to Manila a strong European flavour. Armenians helped to camouflage this trade, and enriched themselves from it at the same time, operating often independently of New Julfa.

However an active network once frustrated always has a tendency to compensate for its losses. Driven out of one region, it may press its capital and the advantages it offers upon another. This seems at any rate to have been the rule whenever a really vigorous and accumulative form of capitalism was concerned.1

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1 Braudel, F., Civilization and capitalism, vol. 2: The wheels of commerce, trans. S. Reynolds, London: Harper & Row, 1982, p. 164.

2 E. M. Herzig, ‘The Armenian merchants of New Julfa, Isfahan: a study in pre-modern Asian trade’, PhD thesis, University of Oxford, 1991, and ‘The family firm in the commercial organisation of the Julfa Armenians’, in J. Calmard ed., Etudes Safavides, Paris: Institut Français de recherche en Iran, 1993, pp. 287–303; see also Ina Baghdiantz, McCabe,Shah's silk for Europe's silver: the Eurasian trade of the Julfa Armenians in Safavid Iran and India, 1530–1750 Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1999.

3 For a discussion of the Armenian agents, see Herzig, ‘Armenian merchants’; Sebouh Aslanian, ‘Circulation of men and credit: the role of the commenda and the family firm in Julfan society’, Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, 50, 2–3, 2007, pp. 124–71; Bhaswati, Bhattacharya, ‘The “Book of Will” of Petrus Woskan (1680–1751): some insights into the global commercial network of the Armenians in the Indian Ocean’, Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, 51, 1, 2008, pp. 6798.

4 Braudel, Civilization, p. 149.

5 Claude, Markovits, The global world of Indian merchants, 1750–1947: traders of Sind from Bukhara to Panama, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 25.

6 Sebouh Aslanian, ‘From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: circulation and the global trade networks of the Armenian merchants of New Julfa, Isfahan, 1605–1747’ PhD thesis, Columbia University, 2006; see also his ‘Social capital, trust and the role of networks in Julfan trade: informal and semi-informal institutions at work’, Journal of Global History, 1, 3, 2006, pp. 383402.

7 See Bhattacharya, ‘Armenian–European relationship in India, 1500–1800: no Armenian foundation of the European Colonial Empire?’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 48, 2, 2005, pp. 277322 and ‘Life and Times of Petrus Woskan, the Armenian Merchant of New Julfa and Madras’ (forthcoming).

8 Aslanian, ‘Circulation’.

9 This has been argued by Sanjay Subrahmanyam in his ‘Iranians abroad: intra-Asian elite migration and early modern state formation’, Journal of Asian Studies, 51, 2, 1992, pp. 340–63; also Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, ‘Global trading ambitions in diaspora: the Armenians and their Eurasian silk trade, 1530–1750’, in Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, Gelina Harlaftis, and Ioanna Pepelasis Minoglou, eds., Diaspora entrepreneurial networks: four centuries of history, Oxford and New York, NY: Berg, 2005, pp. 27–48; Muzaffar, Alam and Sanjay, Subrahmanyam, Indo-Persian travels in the Age of Discoveries, 1400–1800, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 176, 241. This image of India changed after Nadir Shah came to power.

10 Ghougassian, V.The Armenian diocese of New Julfa in the seventeenth century, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998, p. 164.

11 Baghdiantz McCabe, Shah's silk, p. 353.

12 Herzig, Armenian merchants, pp. 90–5.

13 Ibid., pp. 104–7.

14 Aslanian, ‘From the Indian Ocean,’ ch. 8. For a critique of the concept of a ‘coalition’ of Armenian merchants, see Bhattacharya, ‘“Book of Will”’.

15 For Agra, see Mesrovb J., Seth, Armenians in India: from the earliest times to the present day: a work of original research, New Delhi: Oxford Book House, 1983, pp. 122–34; for Delhi, see Omar, Khalidi, ‘Armenians in Mughal Delhi’, Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, 15, 2006, pp. 177–87.

16 Seth, Armenians, p. 540. This section is not present in the original version and was added to the later edition. I have assumed that, when he mentioned ‘last sixty years’ or ‘last thirty years’, he was calculating from the nineteen thirties.

17 See e.g. Chaudhuri, K. N.The trading world of Asia and the English East India Company 1660–1760, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978; Arasaratnam, S.Merchants, companies and commerce on the Coromandel Coast, 1650–1740, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1986;Ashin Das, Gupta, Indian merchants and the decline of Surat, c.1700–1750, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1979; Om, Prakash, The Dutch East India Company and the economy of Bengal, 1650–1720, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

18 Baladouni, V. and Margaret, Makepeace, eds. Armenian merchants of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: English East India Company sources, Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1998, passim.

19 Cited in Jan, Parmentier, De Holle compagnie: smokkel en legale handel onder Zuidnederlandse vlag in Bengalen, ca. 1720–1744, Hilversum: Verloren, 1992, pp. 42–4.

20 Bhattacharya, ‘ “Book of will” ’.

21 Sanjay Subrahmanyam, ‘French commercial ambitions and Armenian interlocutors in seventeenth-century Asia’, unpublished paper presented to the international conference ‘Ebb and flow of the Armenian communities of the Indian Ocean’, University of California, Los Angeles, 17–18 March 2007.

22 For San Thome, see Seth, Armenians, pp. 604–6; for Masulipatnam, see Baghdiantz McCabe, Shah's silk, ch. 10, and Ray, A.The merchants and the state: the French in India, 1666–1739, 2 vols. Delhi: Manohar, 2004, passim.

23 Baladouni and Makepeace, Armenian merchants, doc. 142; also 116, 123, 126, 131, 139, 143.

24 Records of Fort St George (henceforth RFSG), Despatches to England, vol. 1, 1694–6, p. 35.

25 Baladouni and Makepeace, Armenian merchants, doc. 142.

26 Ibid., doc. 143.

27 Ibid., doc.16: ‘We are glad to hear the Armenians begin to buy small ships, and should be well pleased if they had 20 of them, where they have but one, for then you might at any time freight one or more of their little countrey vessels to serve the Company upon occasion in your short countrey voyages … it is better and cheaper for the Company to make use of in such cases 3 or 4 hired ships than maintain one of their own in India’.

28 For the network of this merchant, see Bhattacharya, ‘“Book of will”’. The Madras pagoda was a gold coin, 52.4/5 grain, 20.7/10 carat fine. One pagoda was equivalent to 3.25 to 3.5 rupees.

29 Calcutta High Court, Original Side, index no. 224: The last will and testament of Coja Catchik Aga.

30 Tamil Nadu Archives (henceforth TNA), Copies of Wills, Probates, vol. 7. See below for his son Gregory.

31 British Library, P/328/64, 26–39.

32 RFSG, Diary and Consultation Book (henceforth DCB), 1750, the petition of Sultan David. For the son of Zachary, see below.

33 I have discussed Zachary di Avetik in ‘Armenian–European relationship’.

34 E. Gaudart and A. Martineau, eds., Procès verbaux de délibérations du Conseil Supérieur de Pondicherry, 1701–39, 3 vols., Pondicherry, 1912–13, vol. 1, 1 April 1706, p. 30; 24 September 1708, p. 61.

35 RFSG, DCB, 27 April 1724, p. 52, and 29 March 1742, pp. 88–9.

36 The proceeds from the land-customs in Madras had been low in 1740–1, when no ship had left Madras for Manila. Increased export by Armenians to Manila in 1741–2 resulted in an increase on this head. Ibid., 1743, p. 16.

37 Ibid., 1742, pp. 82–3, 88–9, 94. It is interesting to note that Hovannes di Gregory of Madras declared at Malacca in 1754 that he had sailed on board the annual ship that left Madras (perhaps San Thome) for Manila during 1742–4.

38 RFSG, DCB, 1743, pp. 74, 82, 85.

39 Nationaal Archief (henceforth NA) Den Haag, Declaration regarding foreign [read ‘European other than Dutch’] shipping at Manila given at Malacca separately by Alexander Jacob Jan (42 yrs.), an Armenian from Isfahan domiciled in Malacca, Hovannes Manuel (35 yrs.) also from Isfahan, Company's chargé d'affaires in Arakan, and Hovannes Gregory (30) of Madras, VOC 2826, fos 138–40.

40 NA, VOC 2351, List of ships arriving at and departing from Porto Novo in 1735, fo. 4409. It is not known if Armenian women accompanied the merchants to Manila; it is possible that the Dutch got the name wrong. The English governor (Richard Benyon)'s agent at Porto Novo was an Armenian: see Holden, Furber, Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 286. A bahar was a unit of weight varying between 354 and 375 pounds.

41 For the career of Markara, see Baghdiantz McCabe, ‘Shah's silk’; also A. Ray, Merchants, vol. 1, pp. 53, 58, 61, 64 for Aga Nazar Beg and pp. 36, 44–50, 52–65, 86 for Markara.

42 The expenses for the chapel increased to 4,000 pagodas, paid by Safar. Ray, Merchants, vol. 1, pp. 549, 562, 572.

43 Procès verbaux, vol. 2, pp. 270–2.

44 Manning, C.Fortunes à faire: the French in Asian trade, 1719–48, Aldershot: Variorum, 1996, p. 125.

45 Procès verbaux, vol. 2, pp. 313–14.

46 RFSG, DCB, 27 April 27 1724: 52; khoja Shahmir Sultan, the widow of khoja Johannes Mark, and khoja Johannes Benedict, among others, owned house and land in Pondicherry in the late eighteenth century. Jean, Deloche, Le papier terrier de la ville blanche de Pondichéry 1777. Pondichéry: Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2002, pp. 93, 101, 102.

47 Parmentier, Holle compagnie, pp. 56–7.

48 Cited in Furber, Rival empires, pp. 289, 373. Furber notes the name of the Armenian Krog contacted at Pondicherry as Thurcan Agarwal; this must be Tarkhan Agamal of the Minasian family.

49 A man was a unit of weight varying between 34.5 and 38 pounds.

50 Procès verbaux vol. 2, pp. 284, 315.

51 A Spanish dollar or peso was 28.74 grams weight and 93.1% pure silver; a rupee was 11.6 grams weight and 98% pure silver.

52 RFSG, DCB, 1742, pp. 116–23.

53 Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson, eds., The Philippine Islands 1493–1898: explorations by early navigators, description of the islands and their peoples, their history and records of the Catholic Missions, as related in contemporaneous books and manuscripts, showing the political, economic, commercial and religious conditions of those islands from their earliest relations with European nations to the close of the nineteenth century, 55 volumes, Cleveland, OH: The A. H. Clark Company, 1903–9, vol. 44, ‘Jesuit missions in the seventeenth century’, p. 29. I am grateful to William Clarence-Smith for drawing my attention to this series.

54 While trade in the earlier period was carried on by casado, the mid-seventeenth century saw the emergence of the solteiro in the Indian Ocean region. See Subrahmanyam, S.Explorations in connected history: from the Tagus to the Ganges, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2005, ch. 7.

55 Ibid., pp. 255–6.

56 Flynn, Dennis O. and Arturo, Giráldez, ‘Arbitrage, China and world trade in the early modern period’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 38, 4, 1995, pp. 429–48.

57 Pierre, Chaunu, Les Philippines et le Pacifique des Ibériques (XVIe, XVIIe, XVIIIe siècles), Paris: SEVPEN, 1960, pp. 268–9. According to Chaunu, 17,000 tons of silver reached Asia via Europe and the Cape of Good Hope between 1503 and 1650.

58 Chuan, Hang-Sheng, ‘Trade between China, the Philippines and the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, in Flynn, Dennis O and Arturo, Giráldez, eds., Metals and monies in an emerging global economy, Brookfield, VT: Ashgate/Variorum, 1997, pp. 281–85.

59 Dennis O Flynn and Arturo Giráldez, ‘Spanish profitability in the Pacific: the Philippines in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, in Dennis O. Flynn, Lionel Frost, and A. J. H. Latham, eds., Pacific centuries: Pacific and Pacific Rim history since the sixteenth century, London: Routledge, 1999, pp. 27–32. Flynn and Giráldez have depended largely on the works of Chaunu. A. G. Frank has cited Flynn and Giráldez to emphasize the importance of China in the trans-Pacific (and global) trade in silver: see ReOrient: global economy in the Asian Age, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1998, passim.

60 Huw Bowen, ‘British movements of silver to, around, and from Asia, 1760–1833’, unpublished paper. I am grateful to Huw for allowing me to consult the paper.

61 Cheong, W. E. ‘Canton and Manila in the eighteenth century’, in Jerome, Ch'en and Nicholas, Tarling, eds., Studies in the social history of China & South-East Asia: essays in memory of Victor Purcell, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970, pp. 227–46.

62 Parmentier, Holle compagnie, p. 43.

63 For the bilateral character of this trade, see Cheong, W. E.‘Changing the rules of the game (the India–Manila trade: 1785–1809)’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 1, 2, 1970, pp. 119.

64 William Lytle, Schurz, The Manila galleon, New York, NY: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1959, p. 137. Schurz refers to cambay as a kind of textile from China; in fact, it was a common variety in India, named after the port of Cambay.

65 Ibid.

66 Legarda, Jr, Benito J., After the galleons: foreign trade, economic change and entrepreneurship in the nineteenth-century Philippines, Manila: Manila University Press, 1999, p. 46.

67 W. E. Cheong, ‘An Anglo-Spanish-Portuguese clandestine trade between the ports of British India and Manila, 1785–1790’, Philippine Historical Review, 1965, pp. 80–94. I am grateful to Nicholas Martland of SOAS for making this paper available to me.

68 Generale Missiven van gouverneur-generaals en raden aan Heeren XVII der Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatiën, 's Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, vol. 7, p. 523; vol. 8, p. 80.

69 Generale missiven vol. 9, pp. 496–7.

70 Furber, Rival empires, pp. 71–2.

71 D. José Montero Y Vidal, Historia general de Fillipinas: desde el descubrimiento de Dichas Islas Haslta Nuestros Días, 3 vols., Madrid: Est. Tip. De la Viuda É Hijos De Tello, 1887–95, vol. 2: p. 121; Quiason, Serafin D., English ‘country trade’ with the Philippines, 1644–1765, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1966.

72 Aghassian, M. and Kevonian, K. ‘Armenian trade in the Indian Ocean in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, in Lombard, D. and Aubin, J. eds., Asian merchants and businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 154–77.

73 Somewhere between Goa and Surat the ship was captured by pirates: RFSG, DCB, 1690, p. 14.

74 Generale Missiven, vol. 6, p. 304.

75 NA, Declaration on foreign shipping at Manila, 29 September 1754, VOC 2826, fos 138–40.

76 Ibid.

77 A pikul was a unit of weight equivalent to about 60 kg.

78 NA, VOC 1348, Armenian and Muslim merchants and their agents at Malacca, fo. 917v.

79 Jan Parmentier, Holle compagnie, p. 43.

80 F. Delor Angeles, ‘Armenians before the Philippine Inquisition’, Silliman Journal, 28, pp. 113–21. I am grateful to William Clarence Smith for drawing my attention to this article and making it available for my consultation; see also Aslanian, ‘Circulation’.

81 Blair and Robertson, Philippine Islands, vol. 42, p. 261.

82 Angeles, ‘Armenians’.

83 Zafras di Naurer should be read as Safar di Nazar, as Nazar de Agamal was his father. For Safar di Nazar, see TNA, Copies of wills etc., vol. 14: The estate of Coja Petrus Uscan in account with Philippus Aga Pery Calander, fos 35–8.

84 For the will of Philippus di Aga Piri, see TNA, Copies of wills etc., vol. 23, fos 64–5. Gregorio di Zacharias was the son of Zachary di Avetik.

85 TNA, Copies of wills etc., vol. 24, Will of Aratoon Thaddeus Calandar, fos 74–5.

86 TNA, Copies of wills etc., vol. 23, Account of the estate of Coja Nazar Cojamaul, prepared by Miguel Johannes 1775, fos 92–3.

87 RFSG, Mayor's Court Records, Pleadings 1742–3, the case between Mutta Rasappa Chetti and khoja Maroot Joseph. The details regarding the mode of trade to Manila are from the reports concerning this litigation, 106–23.

88 Cheong, ‘Changing the rules’, p. 3.

89 Cited in Aghassian and Kevonian, ‘Armenian trade’.

90 Aslanian, ‘From the Indian Ocean’, ch. 6, pp. 240–1 n. 54.

91 See the case of Gregory di Miguel above. Also see Bhattacharya, ‘ “Book of Will” ’ for the network of some of these merchants. These suggest that the trading community was not large.

92 In Calcutta, the largest centre for Armenians in India in the nineteenth century, there were (between 1811 and 1835) only 505 Armenians: 290 male and 215 female. Birth to death ratio during this period was 11 : 15. See Johannes Avdall, Census of the Armenian population of the city of Calcutta, Calcutta: G. H. Huttmann, Military Orphan Press, 1837, pp. 9, 18.

93 Schurz, Manila galleon, p. 136.

94 Procès verbaux vol. 2, pp. 270–2.

95 See for example the fate of the Armenians freighting Sta Catherina in Sebouh, Aslanian, ‘Trade diaspora versus colonial state: Armenian merchants, the English East India Company, and the High Court of Admiralty in London, 1748–1752’, Diaspora, 13, 1, 2004, pp. 37100.

96 Willem, Kuiters, The British in Bengal, 1756–1773: a society in transition seen through the biography of a rebel: William Bolts (1739–1808), Paris: Les Indes Savantes, 2002.

97 Blair and Robertson, Philippine Islands, vol. 49: ‘Draper's journal of the proceedings of His Majesty's Forces on the expedition against Manila’, p. 83.

98 Gregory Miguel: 13,686 dollars (see above for his father, Miguel di Gregory); Miguel Bagtan: 4,550 dollars; Galstan & Balthasar: 13,330 dollars; Agavelly Sattur: 1,550 dollars; Hovannes Nazareth: 9,000 dollars; and Hovannes Hakob: 1,000 dollars. RFSG, Manila Consultations, vol. 6, 1763, Madras: Government Press, 1940, p. 40.

99 Blair and Robertson, Philippine Islands, vol. 48, ‘The memorial of Leandro Viana, 1765’, p. 271.

100 Ibid., vol. 42, pp. 52–3.

101 Ibid., vol. 51, pp. 254–5. The author of the manuscripts proposed the import of expertise in weaving and dyeing cambays and handkerchiefs from Madras to the Philippines in order to give a boost to the cotton industry in the island.

102 Ibid., vol. 48, p. 271.

103 Cheong, ‘Anglo-Spanish-Portuguese clandestine trade’, p. 94 n. 60; cf. Marina Alfonso Mola and Carlos Martinez Shaw, ‘Manila: an international trade port at the end of the eighteenth century’, unpublished paper presented to the international conference ‘Middlemen and networks: economic, social and cultural foundations of the global economy’, University of California, San Diego, 3–5 November 2006 (see (consulted 13 March 2008)).

104 Blair and Robertson, Philippine Islands, vol. 51, ‘Reforms needed in the Filipinas’, pp. 253–4.

* An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, Boston, 18–21 November 2006. I would like to thank Sebouh Aslanian, Razmik Panossian, and the editors and the anonymous referees of this journal for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. William Clarence-Smith, in particular, has been extremely helpful in locating sources and making them available for my use.

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