East Indiaman

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The East Indiaman Repulse (1820) in the East India Dock Basin EastIndiaman.jpg
The East Indiaman Repulse (1820) in the East India Dock Basin

East Indiaman was a general name for any sailing ship operating under charter or licence to any of the East India trading companies of the major European trading powers of the 17th through the 19th centuries. The term is used to refer to vessels belonging to the Austrian, Danish, Dutch, English, French, Portuguese or Swedish companies.


Some of the East Indiamen chartered by the British East India Company were known as "tea clippers". [1]

In Britain, the East India Company held a monopoly granted to it by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1600 for all English trade between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. This grant was progressively restricted during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, until the monopoly was lost in 1834. English (later British) East Indiamen usually ran between England, the Cape of Good Hope and India, where their primary destinations were the ports of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The Indiamen often continued on to China before returning to England via the Cape of Good Hope and Saint Helena. When the company lost its monopoly, the ships of this design were sold off. A smaller, faster ship known as a Blackwall Frigate was built for the trade as the need to carry heavy armaments declined.

Description of the sailing vessels and the trade

A full-scale replica of the Dutch Indiaman Amsterdam VOC ship Amsterdam2.jpg
A full-scale replica of the Dutch Indiaman Amsterdam

East Indiamen vessels carried both passengers and goods, and were armed to defend themselves against pirates. Initially, the East Indiamen were built to carry as much cargo as possible, rather than for speed of sailing. [2] The British East India Company had a monopoly on trade with India and China, supporting that design.

East Indiamen were the largest merchant ships regularly built during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, generally measuring between 1100 and 1400 tons burthen (bm). Two of the largest were the Earl of Mansfield and Lascelles being built at Deptford in 1795. The Royal Navy purchased both, converted them to 56-gun fourth rates, and renamed them Weymouth and Madras respectively. They measured 1426 tons (bm) on dimensions of approximately 175 feet overall length of hull, 144 feet keel, 43 feet beam, 17 feet draft.[ citation needed ]

In England, Queen Elizabeth I granted an exclusive right to the trade to the East India Company in 1600, a monopoly which lasted until 1834. The company grew to encompass more than the trade between England and India, but the ships described in this article are the type used in the 17th to the early 19th centuries to carry the trade.

During the wars with France

During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars they were often painted to resemble warships; an attacker could not be sure if gunports were real or merely paint, and some Indiamen carried sizable armaments. The Royal Navy acquired several East Indiamen, turning them into fourth rates (e.g., HMS Weymouth and HMS Madras, described above), maintaining the confusion for military ships seeking merchant ships as prizes of war. In some cases the East Indiamen successfully fought off attacks by the French. One of the most celebrated of these incidents occurred in 1804, when a fleet of East Indiamen and other merchant vessels under Commodore Nathaniel Dance successfully fought off a marauding squadron commanded by Admiral Linois in the Indian Ocean in the Battle of Pulo Aura.

Due to the need to carry heavy cannon, the hull of the East Indiamen – in common with most warships of the time – was much wider at the waterline than at the upper deck, so that guns carried on the upper deck were closer to the centre-line to aid stability. This is known as tumblehome. The ships normally had two complete decks for accommodation within the hull and a raised poop deck. The poop deck and the deck below it were lit with square-windowed galleries at the stern. To support the weight of the galleries, the hull lines towards the stern were full. Later ships built without this feature tended to sail faster,[ when? ] which put the East Indiamen at a commercial disadvantage once the need for heavy armament passed.

Ships for the India-China trade

East Indiamen in a Gale, by Charles Brooking, c. 1759 East Indiamen in a Gale.jpg
East Indiamen in a Gale, by Charles Brooking, c.1759
East Indiaman Grosvenor by George Carter Wreck of the Grosvenor02.jpg
East Indiaman Grosvenor by George Carter

According to historian Fernand Braudel, some of the finest and largest Indiamen of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were built in India, making use of Indian shipbuilding techniques and crewed by Indians, their hulls of Indian teak being especially suitable for local waters. These ships were used for the China run. Until the coming of steamships, these Indian-built ships were relied upon almost exclusively by the British in the eastern seas. Many hundreds of Indian-built Indiamen were built for the British, along with other ships, including warships. Notable among them were Surat Castle (1791), a 1,000-ton (bm) ship with a crew of 150, Lowjee Family, of 800 tons (bm) and a crew of 125, and Shampinder (1802), of 1,300 tons (bm). [3]

Notable ships

The full-scale sailing replica of the Swedish East Indiaman Gotheborg in 2005 Ostindiefararen-Gotheborg-avsegling-oktober-2005.jpg
The full-scale sailing replica of the Swedish East Indiaman Götheborg in 2005

Another significant East Indiaman in this period was the 1176-ton (bm) Warley that John Perry built at his Blackwall Yard in 1788, and which the Royal Navy bought in 1795 and renamed HMS Calcutta. In 1803 she was employed as a transport to establish a settlement at Port Phillip in Australia, later shifted to the site of current-day Hobart, Tasmania by an accompanying ship, the Ocean. French forces captured Calcutta in 1805 off the Isles of Scilly. She grounded at the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809, and was burned by a British boarding party after her French crew had abandoned her.[ citation needed ]

The 1200-ton (bm) Arniston was likewise employed by the Royal Navy as a troop transport between England and Ceylon. In 1815, she was wrecked near Cape Agulhas with the loss of 372 lives after a navigation error that was caused by inaccurate dead reckoning and the lack of a marine chronometer with which to calculate her longitude.

End of the era

East Indiaman Madagascar, c. 1837 East Indiamen Madagascar.JPG
East Indiaman Madagascar , c.1837

With the progressive restriction of the monopoly of the British East India Company the desire to build such large armed ships for commercial use waned, and during the late 1830s a smaller, faster ship known as a Blackwall Frigate was built for the premium end of the India and China trades. The last of the East Indiamen was reputed to be the Java (1813–1939) that became a coal hulk, then was broken up. [4]

A ship named Lalla Rookh , involved in an incident in November 1850 off Worthing, West Sussex, in which many local men died after their rescue boat capsized, was described as an East Indiaman bringing sugar and rum from Pernambuco, Brazil. [5] [6] [7] [8]

In literature

The Battle of Pulo Aura is featured in Patrick O'Brian's novel HMS Surprise, with French Admiral Linois in pursuit of a large fleet of East Indiamen. In the novel, HMS Surprise under Captain Aubrey organizes the merchantmen to defeat Linois and his squadron. In history, all the ships that defeated the French squadron were merchantmen.

The Black Pearl in the movie series Pirates of the Caribbean is based on the East Indiaman

In the Aubrey–Maturin series, East Indiamen are involved in many of the novels, including the second set in the Peace of Amiens, where some of the sailors took positions on East Indiamen. In other of the novels, Aubrey intercepts enemy vessels that interfere with the merchant ships, earning their gratitude.

Stuart Turton's 2020 novel The Devil and the Dark Water is mostly set on a Dutch Indiaman in 1634.

Selected examples

NameNationalityLength (m)Tons burthenServiceFateComments
Admiral Gardner British 448161797–1809strandedBlown ashore on Goodwin Sands with the death of one crew member. Wreck located in 1985 with plenty of coins (mostly copper) salvaged.
Agamemnon British 1855
AlbemarleBritish ? ? ?–1708strandedBlown ashore near Polperro, Cornwall, with her freight of diamonds, coffee, pepper, silk and indigo. The ship was a total loss and little of the freight ever recovered, yet it is said that most of her crew survived. The location of the wreck is still unknown.
Amsterdam Dutch42.511001749beachedLost on maiden voyage. Wreck still visible at low tide off Bulverhythe, Bexhill-on-Sea, reputed to be the best preserved wreck because of the covering of fine sinking sand. Protected under UK law. Can be dangerous to visit because of sinking sands.
Arniston British 5412001794–1815wrecked Longitude navigational error due to her not having a chronometer. [9] Only 6 of the 378 on board survived. [10] The seaside resort of Arniston, Western Cape, South Africa, is named after the wreck.
Atlas British 50.512671813–1830broken upShe arrived at Gravesend at the end of her last voyage in August 1830 and was sold in May 1831 to C. Carter for breaking. Carter paid £4,100 for the 'Atlas', not a large sum and with a considerable part of the value being no doubt in her furnishings.
Batavia Dutch East India Company 56.612001628–1629sunkStruck a reef on Beacon Island off Western Australia but most of the crew and passengers made it to a nearby island. In 1970, the remains of the ship and many artefacts were salvaged.
Bredenhof Dutch East India Company 418501746–1753sunkFoundered on a reef thirteen miles off the African coast on 6 June 1753 carrying 30 chests of silver and gold ingots. Her cargo was recovered in 1986.
Bonhomme Richard France/USA469981779sunkFormer French East India Company (as the Duc de Duras), gift to the US revolutionaries. Sunk in battle during the Revolutionary War.
Candia Dutch East India Company 150 ft 0 in (45.72 m)1150 tons1788-1796Dismantled in Batavia in 1796Depicted by Dutch maritime artist Gerrit Groenewegen (1754–1826) near Rotterdam in 1789.
CeylonBritish ? ? ?CapturedCaptured in the action of 3 July 1810
Cumberland British40.81350 ?SoldThe ship was sold to the revolutionary Chilean government 1818 and renamed San Martín. 1821 sunk in Peru
David Clark British 39.76081816Broken up 1854 at Batavia
Diemermeer Dutch ? ? ?Wrecked on the Banana Islands, Sierra Leone, 1748The Captain, Christoffel Boort, and some surviving crew members built themselves a fort on the Banana Islands, but became embroiled in a dispute with the inhabitants. They were accused of kidnapping three children. [11]
Doddington British ?499 ?–1755wrecked in Algoa Bay 23 survivors out of 270 marooned for some time on Bird Island. Ship carried a significant quantity of gold and silver, some of which was later illegally marine salvaged, with the ensuing legal battle influencing the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage
DuttonBritish ?7551781–1796strandedChartered to the government to carry troops, blown ashore on Plymouth Hoe, most of the crew and passengers rescued by Sir Edward Pellew.
Earl of Abergavenny (I) British48.911821789–1794SoldSold to the Admiralty in 1795
Earl of Abergavenny (II) British53.914601796–1805Wrecked, with more than 250 lives lostThe wreck is located at Weymouth Bay, in England.
Earl of Mansfield (I)British ?7821777–1790SunkSunk in 1790
Earl of Mansfield (II)British ?14161795–? ?
Earl of Mornington British 1799–? Packet ship
Exeter British 12651792–1811+UnknownDuring the action of 4 August 1800 Exeter captured the French frigate Médée , the only instance of a merchantman capturing a large warship during the French Revolutionary Wars. In February 1804 she was present at the Battle of Pulo Aura.
Friendship of Salem East India Marine Society 171 ft 10 in (52.37 m)1797–1812Captured by the BritishCaptured as a prize of war by the British in September 1812
General Goddard British143 ft 10 in (43.84 m)7991782–1799CapturedOn 15 June 1795 captured seven Dutch East Indiamen off St Helena; Captured by the Spanish in the West Indies; subsequent fate unknown
Gosforth British810 [12] 1856–?
Götheborg Swedish40.97881739–1745sunkSank off Gothenburg in 1745
Grosvenor British ?729 tons  ?sunkSank off the Pondoland coast of South Africa, north of the mouth of the Umzimvubu River on 4 August 1782. Of 150 crew and passengers there were 123 survivors of whom only 18 made it to land alive.
Horssen Dutch East India Company 93 ft 0 in (28.35 m)880 tons1784–1792Put out of service in Goeree in 1792Transported Mary Bryant on a voyage from Batavia, 21 December 1791, to Cape Town, arriving on 19 March 1792.
Java British48.5 m (159 ft 2in.)1175 tons1813–1827Converted to Coal HulkBuilt in 1813 at Calcutta, became a troop ship in 1827. Later served as an Australian migrant ship, and merchant ship serving Asia. Reputed as the last East Indiaman, taken to Gibraltar about 1860 as coal hulk number 16 and scrapped in 1939. [13]
Jonkheer Meester Van de Putterstock Dutch ? ? ?sankThe Jonkheer Meester Van de Putterstock with a cargo of sugar, coffee, spices and Banca tin with a value of £50,000 was wrecked under Angrouse Cliff near Mullion Cove, Cornwall in March 1667. [14]
Joanna British ? ? ?WreckedWrecked near Cape Agulhas on 8 June 1682
Kent British ?8201800CapturedCaptured by Robert Surcouf, Bay of Bengal.
Kent British ?1,3501825Burned at seaShe was lost in 1825 on her third voyage to China, shortly after setting out. Some 550 persons of the 650 passengers and crew were saved.
Lord Nelson British 1799
Nemesis British 1839First British-built ocean-going iron warship
Nossa Senhora dos Mártires Portuguese  ? ?1605–1606SunkStruck a submerged rock at the mouth of the River Tagus, near Lisbon, and went down close to shore. Wreck located in 1994, and excavated between 1996 and 2001.
Ogle CastleBritish ? ?1803–1825WreckedWhen Ogle Castle docked at Bombay in May 1825, the crew mutinied and were held in jail until loading was complete; on the return voyage, it was driven onto the Goodwin Sands on 3 November 1825, with the loss of over 100 crew members. [15]
PonsborneBritish43.68041780–1796WreckedSailed ports such as Bombay and China. Requisitioned for an expedition against the French in the West Indies in 1795, was wrecked off the coast of Granada on 26 March 1796.
Red Dragon (also Dragon)British ?3001601–1619SunkWas the flagship of the first voyage of the English East India Company in 1601. Sunk by Dutch fleet.
RepulseBritish ?13341820–1830 ?
Royal Captain British448601772–3sunkStruck a reef in the South China Sea, 3 lives and the entire freight was lost. Wreck located in 1999.
SussexBritish ?4901736–1738sunkSunk off Mozambique, located in 1987. No actual wreck, but the freight was dispersed over a large area on the Bassas da India atoll due to wave movement. Several cannon, two anchors and thousands of porcelain fragments were salvaged.
Tryal British ?5001621–1622sunkThe likely wreck site was found in 1969 off Western Australia (Monte Bello Islands). At least 95 of the crew of 143 were lost and due to use of explosives while searching for treasures, there are only very few remains.
Windham British36.2830 [16] 1800–1828ScrappedThe French captured Windham at the action of 18 November 1809, but the British recaptured her in December. The French again captured her at the action of 3 July 1810, but the British recaptured her at the Battle of Grand Port. Windham was sold to the revolutionary Chilean government 1818 and renamed Lautaro. [17] Beached at Valparaiso and scrapped 27 September 1828

Sailing replicas

Several East Indiamen have been reconstructed in recent decades. Some of these are (semi) permanently moored and can be visited as part of a museum collection.

NameNationalityReplica ofReplica construction periodReplica length (m)Status
Amsterdam Dutch Amsterdam (1748-1749) 1985-199148Moored at the Dutch National Maritime Museum (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Batavia Dutch Batavia (1628-1629) 1985-199556Moored at the Dutch Batavialand museum (former Bataviawerf, Lelystad, Netherlands)
Götheborg III Swedish Götheborg I (1738-1745)1995-200358Sailing (August 2022)

In other media

The 2018 video game Return of the Obra Dinn features an East Indiaman as the fictional title vessel, [18] with gameplay requiring players to thoroughly explore a 3D model of the ship and observe the crew's activities.

Empire: Total War features Indiaman as the primary Trading Ship for the European, Indian as well as the United States faction in game. Players move one or several of these ships to "trade nodes" in West or East Africa, Brazil or the East Indies to gain significant trade profit.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Pulo Aura</span> Minor naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Pulo Aura was a minor naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, fought on 14 February 1804, in which a large convoy of Honourable East India Company (HEIC) East Indiamen, well-armed merchant ships, intimidated, drove off and chased away a powerful French naval squadron. Although the French force was much stronger than the British convoy, Commodore Nathaniel Dance's aggressive tactics persuaded Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois to retire after only a brief exchange of shot. Dance then chased the French warships until his convoy was out of danger, whereupon he resumed his passage toward British India. Linois later claimed that the unescorted British merchant fleet was defended by eight ships of the line, a claim criticised by contemporary officers and later historians.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois</span> French admiral (1761–1848)

Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand, Comte de Linois was a French admiral who served in the French Navy during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. He commanded the combined Franco-Spanish fleet during the Algeciras Campaign in 1801, winning the First Battle of Algeciras before losing the Second Battle of Algeciras. He then led an unsuccessful campaign against British trade in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea in 1803, being defeated by a harmless fleet of the East India Company during the Battle of Pulo Aura and ending his cruise and sea-going career being bested in battle by John Warren in the action of 13 March 1806. Following the Bourbon restoration, Linois was appointed Governor of Guadeloupe. He supported Napoleon during the Hundred Days and so, on his return to France, he was forced to resign and was court martialled. Although acquitted, he was placed in retirement and never served again.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blackwall frigate</span> Type of three-masted full-rigged ship

Blackwall frigate was the colloquial name for a type of three-masted full-rigged ship built between the late 1830s and the mid-1870s.

French frigate <i>Sémillante</i> (1791) French Navy ship

The Sémillante was a 32-gun frigate of the French Navy and the lead ship of her class. She was involved in a number of multi-vessel actions against the Royal Navy, particularly in the Indian Ocean. She captured a number of East Indiamen before she became so damaged that the French disarmed her and turned her into a merchant vessel. The British captured her and broke her up in 1809.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Action of 31 May 1809</span> Minor naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars

The action of 31 May 1809 was a naval skirmish in the Bay of Bengal during the Napoleonic Wars. During the action, an Honourable East India Company convoy carrying goods worth over £500,000 was attacked and partially captured by the French frigate Caroline. The three East Indiamen that made up the convoy fought against their opponent with their own batteries of cannon but ultimately were less powerful, less manoeuvrable and less trained than their opponent and were defeated one by one; only the smallest of the three escaped. The action was the first in a string of attacks on important convoys in the Indian Ocean by French cruisers operating from Île de France and Île Bonaparte during a concerted campaign against British shipping in the region.

French ship <i>Jean-Jacques Rousseau</i> (1795) French Gunship

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Téméraire class 74-gun ship of the line of the French Navy, active during the French Directory, French Consulate and First French Empire. Renamed Marengo in 1802, she took part in Linois' operations in the Indian Ocean before her capture by the Royal Navy.

Britannia may refer to any one of a large number of ships:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Linois's expedition to the Indian Ocean</span> Commerce raiding operation launched by the French Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

Linois's expedition to the Indian Ocean was a commerce raiding operation launched by the French Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois was ordered to the Indian Ocean in his flagship Marengo in March 1803 accompanied by a squadron of three frigates, shortly before the end of the Peace of Amiens. When war between Britain and France broke out in September 1803, Marengo was at Pondicherry with the frigates, but escaped a British squadron sent to intercept it and reached Isle de France. The large distances between naval bases in the Indian Ocean and the limited resources available to the British commanders in the region made it difficult to concentrate sufficient forces to combat a squadron of this size, and Linois was subsequently able to sustain his campaign for three years. From Isle de France, Linois and his frigates began a series of attacks on British commerce across the Eastern Indian Ocean, specifically targeting the large convoys of East Indiamen that were vital to the maintenance of trade within the British Empire and to the British economy. Although he had a number of successes against individual merchant ships and the small British trading post of Bencoolen, the first military test of Linois squadron came at the Battle of Pulo Aura on 15 February 1804. Linois attacked the undefended British China Fleet, consisting of 16 valuable East Indiamen and 14 other vessels, but failed to press his military superiority and withdrew without capturing a single ship.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Vizagapatam</span> Naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Vizagapatam was a minor naval engagement fought in the approaches to Vizagapatam harbour in the Coastal Andhra region of British India on the Bay of Bengal on 15 September 1804 during the Napoleonic Wars. A French squadron under Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois in the ship of the line Marengo attacked the British Royal Navy fourth rate ship HMS Centurion and two East Indiaman merchant ships anchored in the harbour roads. Linois was engaged in an extended raiding campaign, which had already involved operations in the South China Sea, in the Mozambique Channel, off Ceylon and along the Indian coast of the Bay of Bengal. The French squadron had fought one notable engagement, at the Battle of Pulo Aura on 15 February 1804, in which Linois had attacked the Honourable East India Company's (HEIC) China Fleet, a large convoy of well-armed merchant ships carrying cargo worth £8 million. Linois failed to press the attack and withdrew with the convoy at his mercy, invoking the anger of Napoleon when the news reached France.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Action of 13 March 1806</span> Minor naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars

The action of 13 March 1806 was a naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, fought when a British and a French squadron met unexpectedly in the mid-Atlantic. Neither force was aware of the presence of the other prior to the encounter and were participating in separate campaigns. The British squadron consisted of seven ships of the line accompanied by associated frigates, led by Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, were tasked with hunting down and destroying the French squadron of Contre-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Willaumez, which had departed Brest for raiding operations in the South Atlantic in December 1805, at the start of the Atlantic campaign of 1806. The French force consisted of one ship of the line and one frigate, all that remained of Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois' squadron that had sailed for the Indian Ocean in March 1803 during the Peace of Amiens. Linois raided British shipping lanes and harbours across the region, achieving limited success against undefended merchant ships but repeatedly withdrawing in the face of determined opposition, most notably at the Battle of Pulo Aura in February 1804. With his stores almost exhausted and the French ports east of the Cape of Good Hope that could have offered him replenishment eliminated, Linois decided to return to France in January 1806, and by March was inadvertently sailing across the cruising ground of Warren's squadron.

The action of 4 August 1800 was a highly unusual naval engagement that took place off the Brazilian coast during the French Revolutionary Wars. A French frigate force that had been raiding British commerce off West Africa approached and attempted to attack a convoy of valuable East Indiamen, two ships sailing for Botany Bay, and a whaler sailing for the South Seas' whale fishery. The small British ship of the line HMS Belliqueux escorted the convoy, which otherwise had to rely on the ships' individual armament to protect them from attack. Due to their large size, the East Indiamen could be mistaken for ships of the line at a distance, and the French commander Commodore Jean-François Landolphe was un-nerved when the convoy formed a line of battle. Supposing his target to be a fleet of powerful warships he turned to escape and the British commander, Captain Rowley Bulteel, immediately ordered a pursuit. To preserve the impression of warships he also ordered four of his most powerful East Indiamen to join the chase.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Action of 26 July 1806</span> Minor naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars

The action of 26 July 1806 was a minor naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars fought off the southern coast of the island of Celebes in the Dutch East Indies. During the battle, a small British squadron attacked and defeated a Dutch force defending a valuable convoy, which was also captured. The British force—consisting of the frigate HMS Greyhound and brig-sloop HMS Harrier under the command of Captain Edward Elphinstone—was initially wary of the Dutch, mistaking the Dutch East Indiaman merchant ship Victoria for a ship of the line. Closer observation revealed the identity of the Dutch vessels the following day and Elphinstone led his frigate against the leading Dutch warship Pallas while Harrier engaged the merchant vessels and forced them to surrender. Only the corvette William escaped, taking no part in the engagement.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sunda Strait campaign of January 1794</span> 18th century conflict between British and French

The Sunda Strait campaign of January 1794 was a series of manoeuvres and naval actions fought between warships and privateers of the French Republic and a squadron of vessels sent by the British East India Company to protect trade in the region, later augmented by Dutch warships. The campaign developed as French forces based on Île de France reacted more quickly than the British forces in the Indian Ocean to the expansion of the French Revolutionary Wars on 1 February 1793. French privateers rapidly spread along the British trade routes in the Far East, becoming concentrated around the narrow Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies. These ships were soon joined by French Navy frigates and began to inflict losses on shipping in the region. The Royal Navy forces in the Indian Ocean were deployed elsewhere and so the East India Company, the private enterprise that ruled much of British India in the 1790s and maintained their own fleet and navy, raised a squadron of armed merchant ships to patrol the Strait and drive off the raiders.

Several ships have been named London for the city of London:

Indefatigable was a square-rigged, three-decked, three-masted merchant ship launched in 1799 at Whitby for James Atty & Co. for the West Indies trade. In 1804 she served as an armed defense ship and recaptured a merchantman that a privateer had captured. She was a transport in the 1805–1806 British invasion of the Dutch Cape colony. She twice transported convicts to Australia; on the first trip she was chartered to the British East India Company (EIC). She burned to the waterline in 1815.

A number of vessels have been named Alexander:

Numerous ships with the name Phoenix, for the constellation or the mythical bird, have sailed for the British East India Company (EIC) between 1680 and 1821:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Indiaman</span> General term for a merchant sailing ship sailing between Great Britain or Europe and the Caribbean

West Indiaman was a general name for any merchantman sailing ship making runs from the Old World to the West Indies and the east coast of the Americas. These ships were generally strong ocean-going ships capable of handling storms in the Atlantic Ocean. The term was used to refer to vessels belonging to the Danish, Dutch, English, and French West India companies.

Brunswick was launched in 1792 as an East Indiaman for the British East India Company (EIC). She made five complete voyages for the EIC before the French captured her in 1805. Shortly thereafter she wrecked at the Cape of Good Hope.

Several ships have borne the name Caledonia for Caledonia:


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