Gabriel Boughton

Last updated

Gabriel Boughton
Occupation East Indiaman surgeon
Medical career
Institutions East India Company

Gabriel Boughton was an East India Company (EIC) ship surgeon who travelled to India in the first half of the seventeenth century and became highly regarded by Mughal royalty.


He became the centre of a legend surrounding the acquisition by the EIC of a licence to trade freely in India and establish the first EIC factories on the banks of the Hooghly River in Bengal. According to the legend, incorrectly retold for over a century, Boughton treated and cured emperor Shah Jahan's daughter Jahanara Begum of burns after her clothing caught fire, and in return the emperor granted the EIC a licence to trade freely and to open factories. Boughton was further credited with receiving concessions from the emperor's son Shah Shuja for treating one of the prince's concubines.

After being retold in a number of reputable sources mainly throughout the eighteenth century, EIC expansion in the Indian state of Bengal in the 1840s became attributed to Boughton's story. However, when later historians examined its details, some details were found to be impossible due to inconsistencies in dates and the absence of evidence that the emperor's licence ever existed.


In the early days of the EIC, doctors frequently travelled with traders who were on their way to establish factories. In addition to medical care for themselves and their ships, warehouses, and factories, these "Company ship surgeons" were found to be useful in trading medical treatment for concessions from rich rulers. [1] In India, EIC establishments included Bombay, Surat, Persia, Madras and the east coast, and Bengal and the Bay. Boughton was one of the early medical practitioners of this era, the others including John Woodall, William Hamilton, John Zephaniah Holwell, and William Fullerton. [2]

The English acquired a foothold in India in 1613 by establishing a factory at Surat under the reign of Jahangir and with Portuguese opposition. In 1631, by the order of Shah Jahan, the Portuguese were expelled from Hooghly, and seven years later the emperor appointed his son Shah Shuja to be Viceroy of Bengal. The capital of the province was changed from Gaur to Rajmahal in 1639. [3]


Boughton entered Surat in 1644 and was appointed to Asalat Khan, the paymaster general of the Mughal empire, who was keen on having the services of a European surgeon. Subsequently, Boughton travelled to Agra. Following the death of Asalat Khan in 1647, Boughton was appointed to the emperor’s son, Shah Shuja, then the governor general of Bengal based at Rajmahal. When one of the prince's concubines developed a pain in her side, Boughton was able to cure her and, according to colonial administrator John Beard in 1685, in return received exemption from duty for personal trade but not for the EIC. In 1649, Captain Brookhaven's ship from London arrived in Bengal with duty-free goods "upon the account of Boughton's nishauns", [1] giving the British an advantage over other traders. Two years later, the British returned to establish a factory at Hooghly and obtain another exemption for the EIC. They obtained this by informing Shah Shujah that the previous privileges given by Shah Jahan were for the exemption of all duty. [1]

The legend

The traditional story differs and first appeared in the second volume of Robert Orme's History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan from 1745 [1] with a more detailed description in Stewart's book, amongst a number of other publications. [1] [4] [5] Their primary sources are likely to have been two accounts, one by EIC ship captain Thomas Bowrey and the other by John Beard. [1] It was also reiterated in the article "Surgeon in India: Past and Present", contributed by Dodwell and Miles to the Calcutta Review in 1854 (vol. xxiii). [3]

Appearance in India

Prior to 1639, as stated in Charles Stewart's 1813 book The History of Bengal, Sir Thomas Roe, who had been sent by James I as ambassador to Jahangir in 1615 and who remained in the Mughal courts for three years, made an entry regarding Boughton in his memoirs, [3] when he wrote that Boughton "had for his dinner three hens, with rice, his drink being water, and a black liquor called cahu [coffee], drank as hot as could be endured". [6] This story was found to be untrue and related to another Boughton. [7] For many years after there is no mention of him until 1636–1637, when he appears stationed in Surat in medical charge of the EIC's ship the Hopewell, as part of the Bombay establishment. [2]

Jahanara Begum's burns

Jahanara Begum 1635 Jahanara 1635.jpg
Jahanara Begum 1635

In either 1636, [8] 1643, 1644, [7] or 1645, [9] Jahanara Begum, the favourite daughter of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, was severely burnt when her clothing caught fire in an accident during a dance performance. [1] [7] Local healers had failed to cure her, and, at the advice of vizier Assad Khan, the Emperor requested an English surgeon. The council of Surat recommended Boughton, the surgeon of the EIC ship the Hopewell, as best-qualified for attending to the Princess and sent him to the Deccan, where the emperor had his camp. Boughton was successful in healing her and, in return, was asked to name his reward. His request was for the EIC to be granted the privilege and licence of founding factories in Bengal and of trading there freely, without the requirement to pay duty. [3] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Sultan Shah Shuja

Shuja, Mughal Prince Shuja, Mughal Prince.jpg
Shuja, Mughal Prince

Thereafter, to secure and begin trading, Boughton travelled to Rajmahal, where he became acquainted with the Viceroy of Bengal, Shah Shuja, one of the Emperor's sons, and where further privileges were granted after Boughton healed a lady from the Sultan's zenana. [1] [3] [7] [14] With royal approval, Boughton sent for his EIC men, and subsequently factories were founded at Hooghly, Balasore, and Pipli. [1] [3] [7]

He was described "with that liberality which distinguishes Britons, sought not for any private emolument, but solicited that his nation might have liberty to trade free of all duties in Bengal and to establish factories in that country", [14] and had therefore been credited with the beginnings of the EIC's trade in Bengal. [15]


An alternative account based on evidence from the historian Firishta is given in Alexander Dow's book The History of Hindostan, from the death of Akbar to the complete settlement of the empire under Aurangzebe (1772). [5] [16]

There is enough evidence to show that Boughton pleased his royal patients and had much "influence in high places", [3] important enough that the legend gained popularity and was retold in reputable sources for over a hundred years, gaining its acceptance as true. [1] [2] The legend was first scrutinised by historiographer Sir William Foster. [1]

A number of dates have been found to be incompatible. Boughton was not near any royal residence or Agra at the time of Jahanara's injuries. [2] On 3 January 1644, an official letter to the directors of the EIC in London, addressed by its president and council, discloses that Boughton was not sent to Shah Shuja until several years later than the legend tells. [3] Therefore, when further royal concessions were obtained, he was not in Rajmahal as stated in the legend. In addition, Jahanara's burns occurred in 1643–1644, while Boughton's mission to Agra occurred a year later. Her burns had in the meantime been treated and cured by Hakim Anitulla of Lahore. It is also not possible to credit the founding of the factory at Balasore to the further concessions, as it had already been established 12 years before Boughton's visit to Agra. [2] In Stewart's book, he leaves a footnote regarding the concessions given by the emperor, saying "I was not able to find a copy of this firman among the Indian records." [1]


Gabriel Boughton died in India shortly after the opening of the ports. [3]

Related Research Articles

Aurangzeb Sixth Mughal Emperor

Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad, commonly known by the sobriquet Aurangzeb or by his regnal title Alamgir, was the sixth Mughal emperor, who ruled over almost the entire Indian subcontinent for a period of 49 years. Widely considered to be the last effective ruler of the Mughal Empire, Aurangzeb compiled the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri, and was among the few monarchs to have fully established Sharia law and Islamic economics throughout the Indian subcontinent. He was an accomplished military leader whose rule has been the subject of praise, though he has also been described as the most controversial ruler in Indian history.

Shah Jahan 17th century Mughal Emperor

Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram, better known by his regnal name Shah Jahan, was the fifth Mughal emperor, who reigned from 1628 to 1658. He is widely considered one of the greatest Mughal emperors; under his reign the Mughal Empire reached the peak of its glory. Although an able military commander, Shah Jahan is perhaps best remembered for his architectural achievements. His reign ushered in the golden age of Mughal architecture. Shah Jahan commissioned many monuments, the best known of which is the Taj Mahal in Agra, which entombs his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. His relationship with Mumtaz Mahal has been heavily adapted into Indian art, literature, and cinema.

Mumtaz Mahal Chief consort of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan

Mumtaz Mahal was the Empress consort of the Mughal Empire from 19 January 1628 to 17 June 1631 as the chief consort of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal in Agra, often cited as one of the Wonders of the World, was commissioned by her husband to act as her tomb.

Jahanara Begum Shahzadi of the Mughal Empire

Jahanara Begum was a Mughal princess and the Padshah Begum of the Mughal Empire between 1631 to 1681. She was the eldest child of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Often referred to simply as Begum Sahib, she was also the older sister of the crown prince Dara Shikoh and Emperor Aurangzeb.

Dara Shikoh Indian Mughal prince

Dara Shikoh, also known as Dara Shukoh , (20 March 1615 – 30 August 1659) was the eldest son and heir-apparent of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Dara was designated with the title Padshahzada-i-Buzurg Martaba and was favoured as a successor by his father and his older sister, Princess Jahanara Begum. In the war of succession which ensued after Shah Jahan's illness in 1657, Dara was defeated by his younger brother Prince Muhiuddin. He was executed in 1659 on Aurangzeb's orders in a bitter struggle for the imperial throne.

Shuja-ud-Daula 18th-century Indian nobleman

Shuja-ud-Daulah was the Grand Vizier, Subedar and Nawab of Oudh from 5 October 1754 to 26 January 1775.

Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta in English, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal and is located in eastern India on the east bank of the River Hooghly. The city was a colonial city developed by the British East India Company and then by the British Empire. Kolkata was the capital of the British Indian empire until 1911 when the capital was relocated to Delhi. Kolkata grew rapidly in the 19th century to become the second city of the British Indian Empire. This was accompanied by the development of a culture that fused European philosophies with Indian tradition.

Rajmahal town in Jharkhand, India

Rajmahal is a subdivision and a notified area in Sahibganj district in the Indian state of Jharkhand. It is situated at the banks of Ganges and was former capital of Bengal Subah under Mughal governor, Man Singh I.

Shah Shuja (Mughal prince) Mughal Prince

Shah Shuja, (23 June 1616 – 7 February 1661) was the second son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal. He was the governor of Bengal and Odisha and had his capital at Dhaka, presently Bangladesh.

Murad Bakhsh Shahzada of the Mughal Empire

Muhammad Murad Bakhsh, (9 October 1624 – 14 December 1661) was a Mughal prince as the youngest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal. He was the Subedar of Balkh until he was replaced by his elder brother Aurangzeb in the year 1647.

Shah Alam II Mughal Emperor

Ali Gohar, historically known as Shah Alam II, was the sixteenth Mughal Emperor and the son of Alamgir II. Shah Alam II became the emperor of a crumbling Mughal empire. His power was so depleted during his reign that it led to a saying in the Persian language, Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam, meaning, 'The empire of Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam', Palam being a suburb of Delhi.

Roshanara Begum Shahzadi of the Mughal Empire

Roshanara Begum was a Mughal princess and the second daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Roshanara was a brilliant woman and a talented poet. She was a partisan of her younger brother Aurangzeb and supported him during the war of succession which took place after Shah Jahan's illness in 1657. After Aurnagzeb's accession to the throne in 1658, Roshanara was given the title of Padshah Begum by her brother and became the First Lady of the Mughal Empire and she became a powerful political figure.

Jai Singh I Maharaja of Jaipur

Maharaja Jai Singh was a senior general of the Mughal Empire and a ruler of the kingdom of Amer. His predecessor was Raja Bhau Singh who ruled 1614-1621.

Indian Medical Service military medical service in British India

The Indian Medical Service (IMS) was a military medical service in British India, which also had some civilian functions. It served during the two World Wars, and remained in existence until the independence of India in 1947. Many of its officers, who were both British and Indian, served in civilian hospitals.

Nadira Banu Begum Shahzadi of the Mughal Empire

Nadira Banu Begum was a Mughal princess and the wife of Crown prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son and heir-apparent of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. After Aurangzeb's rise to power, Dara Shikoh's immediate family and all of his supporters were in grave danger. Nadira died in 1659, few months before her husband's execution, and was survived by two sons and a daughter.

Mir Jumla II Subahdar of Bengal

Mir Jumla II was a prominent subahdar of Bengal under the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

Coins of British India

British trading posts in India were first established by the East India Company (EIC) early in the seventeenth century, which quickly evolved into larger colonies covering a significant part of the subcontinent. Early settlements or factories included Masulipatnam (1611) and Madras (1640) in the south, Surat (1612) in the west, and modern-day Kolkata (1698–99) in the east. These colonies gave rise to Madras Presidency, Bombay Presidency, and Bengal Presidency, and each Presidency had a separate coinage and monetary system. In 1835, the EIC adopted a unified system of coinage throughout all British possessions in India and the older Presidency system was discontinued. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, control of EIC territories passed to the British Crown. Coinage issued after 1857 were under the authority of the monarch as India became part of the British Empire. With the Royal Titles Act 1876, Victoria took the title "Empress of India", so in 1877 coin inscriptions changed from Victoria Queen to Victoria Empress. There was a transition period after India gained independence on 15 August 1947, and the first set of republic India coins were issued in 1950.

Bengal Subah Subdivision of the Mughal Empire

The Bengal Subah, also known as Mughal Bengal, was a subdivision of the Mughal Empire encompassing much of the Bengal region, which includes modern Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, between the 16th and 18th centuries. The state was established following the dissolution of the Bengal Sultanate, a major trading nation in the world, when the region was absorbed into one of the states of the Age of the Islamic Gunpowders. Bengal was the wealthiest and industrially the most developed place in the world and having waved the proto-industrialization, its economy showed signs of Industrial revolution.

Virji Vora was an Indian merchant from Surat during the Mughal era. The East India Company Factory Records describe him as the richest merchant in the world at the time. According to English records, his personal worth is estimated to be worth 8 million rupees, a substantial amount of money at the time. He has been variously described as a "merchant prince," and a "plutocrat."

Izz-un-Nissa Begum was the third wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. She is popularly known by the title, Akbarabadi Mahal, and commissioned the Akbarabadi Mosque in Shahjahanabad .Less commonly, she is also referred to as Sirhindi Begum


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Kochhar, Rajesh (September 1999). "The truth behind the legend: European doctors in pre-colonial India". Journal of Biosciences . 24 (3): 259–268. CiteSeerX . doi:10.1007/BF02941239. Archived from the original on 17 January 2019. Retrieved 16 January 2019 via Indian Academy of Sciences.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Passing of the I.M.S". The Indian Medical Gazette: 411. July 1947. S2CID   32191279.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "British Medicine in India". British Medical Journal . 1 (2421): 1245–1253. 25 May 1907. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.2421.1245. ISSN   0007-1447. PMC   2357439 .
  4. Charles Stewart (1813). The History of Bengal. Archived from the original on 3 October 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  5. 1 2 Beatson, William Burns; Royal College of Physicians of London (1902). Indian Medical Service past and present. London Royal College of Physicians. London : Simpkin and Marshall.
  6. Kerr, Robert (1824). A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels (Complete) Arranged in Systematic Order: Forming a Complete History of the Origin and Progress of Navigation, Discovery and Commerce by Sea and Land from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time. Library of Alexandria. ISBN   9781465516121.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Crawford, D. G. (January 1909). "The Legend of Gabriel Boughton". The Indian Medical Gazette . 44 (1): 1–7. ISSN   0019-5863. PMC   5167919 . PMID   29005236.
  8. McDonald, Donald (2 November 1955). "The Indian Medical Service. A Short Account of its Achievements 1600–1947". Section of the History of Medicine. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine . 49 (1): 13–17. doi:10.1177/003591575604900103. PMC   1889015 . PMID   13289828.
  9. Bhattacherje, S. B. (2009). Encyclopaedia of Indian Events & Dates. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. pp. A69. ISBN   9788120740747.
  10. Brown, Andrew Cassels (April 1907). "Two Forgotten Medical Worthies". Edinburgh Medical Journal . 21 (4): 339–351. ISSN   0367-1038. PMC   5280178 .
  11. Hansen, Waldemar (1972). The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN   9788120802254.
  12. Ritchie, Leitch (1848). A History of the Indian Empire and the East Indian Company from the Earliest Times to the Present: Together with Accounts of Beloochistan, Affghanistan, Cashmere ... London: W.H. Allen. p. 103.
  13. Crooke, William (2017). A New Account of East India and Persia. Being Nine Years' Travels, 1672–1681, by John Fryer. Taylor & Francis. ISBN   9781317187417.
  14. 1 2 O'Malley, L. S. S. (1917). "XXI – The roll of honour". Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa Sikkim. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9781107600645.
  15. Evan Cotton (1907). Calcutta, Old and New: A Historical & Descriptive Handbook to the City. New York Public Library. W. Newman. pp.  4.
  16. Dow, Alexander (1772). "The History of Hindostan, from the death of Akbar to the complete settlement of the empire under Aurangzebe". Archived from the original on 14 July 2019. Retrieved 14 July 2019.

Further reading