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The Valentine: The EIC's Ships at Trade and War

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Navigating, investing in and managing the vessels that carried the EIC’s goods from India to Britain was a risky business in the eighteenth century. European maritime skills and technologies were severely challenged by the vast distances entailed by trade with China, India and Japan. European death-rates in India were horrific: the majority of the Company merchants who traded in eighteenth-century India failed to survive to return home to Britain. Conflict with indigenous military formations (notably the Mughal empire and its successor states on the Indian subcontinent) and competition with the rival East India Companies established by the Dutch and the French raised the costs of trade, and could rapidly annihilate individual traders’ profits. War between the British and the French, endemic in the eighteenth century, continually spilled over from European military theatres into the two powers’ emerging empires in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. The maritime trade that allowed Company men such as Sir Charles Raymond to purchase and refurbish homes such as Valentines was fraught with danger, as the history of Raymond’s East Indiaman Valentine makes emphatically clear.


This illustration was included in the journal of the East Indiaman Suffolk 1755/6 (L/MAR/B/397D - p. 89, British Library) and gives an idea of the scale of East Indiamen.

East Indiamen were designed for carrying cargo, the container ships of their day, and in Raymond's day were built on the banks of the Thames at Blackwall. Each ship was usually owned by a group of investors, with one of them managing the voyage and signing the paperwork on behalf of the group when the ship was chartered for a voyage by the EIC. As East Indiamen were not built for speed they were vulnerable when laden, so were armed and ready to defend themselves. The picture above shows three ships Suffolk, Godolphin and Houghton, which fought off two French men-of-war in March 1757.

One of the East Indiamen which Charles Raymond built was named the Valentine after his home in Ilford. The first ship of this name was built by Perry and had three decks, with 3 inch bottom, registered as 655 tons, and was launched in 1758. Her first voyage was to India and China and on her way home she witnessed the sinking of the Griffin, Captain Thomas Dethick, with whom she was in convoy. This was in January 1761 when the Griffin struck a reef off the ‘island of Zelo’ to the east of the northern tip of Borneo. Valentine’s second voyage was to Benkulen and China. She was then rebuilt as was customary after deterioration due to weather and the effect of sailing in the warm seas.

Valentine (2) was also built by Perry with three decks and 3 inch bottom. Her length was 135 ft 11 inches, keel 110 ft 11½ inches, breadth 34 ft 4 inches, hold 14 ft 3inches, wing transom 20ft 10¾ inches, between decks 5 ft 9¾ inches, she was registered at 690 tons and was launched in 1767. Again the Principal Managing Owner was Charles Raymond. He would have put up a substantial part of the capital for rebuilding the ship, along with several others who relied on Raymond to manage the results of their investment. Others in the consortium may have included his cousin John Raymond and Richard Crabb Boulton who had sailed as a captain at the same time as Raymond (his son Henry married Charles Raymond’s daughter Juliana on 3 November 1774) as well as some of the friends and relations previously listed.

Valentine (2) made four voyages. The first two were under the command of Captain Charles Purvis: the first voyage 1767/8 was to Bengal, and the second 1769/70 to Madras and China. The third and fourth voyages were under Captain James Ogilvie: 1772/3 to China and 1776/7 to Madras, Bengal and Bombay. The last voyage ended in disaster when she was wrecked off the island of Sark in the Channel Iles (See Shipwrecks section). James Ogilvie first appears in the EIC records as fourth mate on the Duke of Richmond 1763/4. The ship was managed by Charles Raymond who knew the captain well and he probably selected this voyage as a good introduction to the sea for Ogilvie. He then served as second mate on the Neptune (3) 1768/9, also managed by Raymond. He was approved by the EIC Directors to be a Captain on 18 August 1772, aged 29, when he took command of the Valentine (2). It seems likely his father was known to Raymond or a close associate to have had such a rapid career progression. Maybe Ogilvie was Scottish and was connected to Andrew Moffatt who was on very friendly terms with the Scottish Earls of Mansfield and Elgin.

Valentine (3) was built by Randall and launched in 1780, but this time the Principal Managing Owner was Donald Cameron who became a partner in the bank of Raymond, Harley, Webber & Co. He purchased Valentine House from Raymond’s daughters after he died in 1788. These relationships again illustrate the dense webs of family, residence and business that bound the men and women of the EIC.

Like very many record books of the East India Company, the Captain’s journal of the last voyage of Valentine (2) can be seen at the British Library. The ship left Portsmouth on 1 January 1777 and arrived at Madras on 25 June. She then visited other ports en-route to Calcutta, but from then on she had a very unusual voyage. In December, when loaded for her return home, the ship ran aground near Madras due to an error in navigation. She suffered damage to the hull and it was necessary to cut away her masts in an attempt to get her afloat. Soon another East Indiamen came to help lighten her by off-loading her cargo. Once re-floated, temporary repairs were made at sea so that she could make it to the shipyard at Bombay where she spent ten weeks being repaired and refitted.

However, at this time war was endemic with the French and in August the Valentine’s Captain, James Ogilvie, was summoned to the Select Committee of the East India Company in Madras. After being sworn to secrecy Ogilvie was informed of the Company’s orders to besiege Pondicherry (on the coast, south of Madras), and that Sir Edward Vernon was to attack the French Squadron with HM navy ships and had requested the assistance of the Valentine along with another East Indiaman, Seahorse. On 10 August 1778 the five French and four English ships drew together in two lines, and exchanged fire as they sailed past each other, before the English ships turned to cut through the enemy line and further engage them. Eventually the French withdrew back to Pondicherry, giving an indecisive end to the encounter.

To learn more about Ogilvie's view of the battle - click here

The Valentine fought bravely, taking a leading role in the battle. She lost two dead and fifteen injured, and limped back to Madras for repairs. She was on her fourth voyage and had been repaired in Bombay earlier in the year. Consequently when she arrived in the English Channel she was struggling to keep up with her companions. At this time a convoy with naval protection was essential due to enemy vessels lurking in the vicinity. But a fierce storm blew up and the convoy was scattered. Evidently Captain Ogilvie must have decided to try and make for shelter at St.Peter Port in Guernsey. Sadly the Valentine was unable to reach this safe haven. As darkness fell on 16 November 1779, with a gale blowing through the remains of her tattered sails, she struck the rocks off the little island of Brecqhou, close by Sark. Her crew and passengers were able to get ashore safely so thankfully there was no loss of life.

For several weeks the ship herself was broken up by the waves and her cargo was looted. She had loaded 4,000 bags of salt petre and several hundred bales of raw silk, with 18 boatloads of redwood for the 'Honourable Company' as well as the private trade goods of the officers. Local tradition says the ladies of Sark enjoyed the luxury of silk dresses the following summer! The East India Company were naturally concerned by the loss of the ship but their enquiry exonerated Captain Ogilvie. They reported that ‘his behaviour was very commendable, and that he exerted himself to the utmost for the Preservation of the Ship and Cargo, and the Officers on board acquitted themselves properly on the Occasion.’

Shipwrecked East Indiamen provided conspicuous (and common) illustrations of the very high levels of human and financial risk in which the Company's fortunes were grounded in the Georgian era. After Raymond’s time the Abergavenny East Indiaman was wrecked just outside Weymouth Bay on a dark winter night (5 February 1805), having struck the Shambles sandbank at about 5pm. As she began to sink, perhaps 180 men climbed up the rigging as the main and mizzen masts still remained above water to below their yards. But she slowly settled deeper into the sandy seabed and the men gradually lost their hold in the icy spray and frosty wind. In the morning her topmasts and shrouds could still be seen, while her keel was ten fathoms below the waves (65 feet or 20 metres) about 1½ miles from shore. The Captain of the Abergavenny, John Wordsworth, was very experienced, but just unable to save his ship. He was the younger brother of the poet William Wordsworth who wrote a poem about his brother, including the lines:

All vanished in a single word,

A breath, a sound, and scarcely heard:

Sea - Ship - drowned - Shipwreck - so it came,

The meek, the brave, the good was gone;

He who had been our living John

Was nothing but a name


To read the next (and final) section of the case study - 'Shipwrecks and the East India Company's 'Immaterial' Material Culture' - click here

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