Gabriel Boughton

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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.

East India Company 16th through 19th-century British trading company

The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) or the British East India Company, and informally known as John Company, Company Bahadur, or simply The Company, was an English and later British joint-stock company. It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with Mughal India and the East Indies, and later with Qing China. The company ended up seizing control over large parts of the Indian subcontinent, colonised parts of Southeast Asia, and colonised Hong Kong after a war with Qing China.

Mughal Empire dynastic empire extending over large parts of the Indian subcontinent

The MughalEmpire was an early-modern empire in South Asia. For some two centuries, the empire stretched from the outer fringes of the Indus basin in the west, northern Afghanistan in the northwest, and Kashmir in the north, to the highlands of present-day Assam and Bangladesh in the east, and the uplands of the Deccan plateau in South India.


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.

Hooghly River

The Hooghly River or the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly, traditionally called 'Ganga', and also called Kati-Ganga, is an approximately 260-kilometre-long (160 mi) distributary of the Ganges River in West Bengal, India. The Ganges splits into the Padma and the Hooghly near Giria, Murshidabad. Today there is a further man-made bifurcation of the river upstream at Farakka. The Padma flows eastward into Bangladesh, whereas the Hooghly flows south through West Bengal. The river flows through the Rarh region, the lower deltaic districts of West Bengal, and eventually into the Bay of Bengal. The upper riparian zone of the river is called Bhagirathi while the lower riparian zone is called Hooghly. Major rivers that drain into the Bhagirathi-Hooghly include Mayurakshi, jalangi, Ajay, Damodar, Rupnarayan and Haldi rivers other than the Ganges. Calcutta and Hugli-Chinsura, the headquarters of Hooghly (district), are located on the banks of this river.

Shah Jahan 5th 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. His reign represented the height of the Indian architecture, most notably the Taj Mahal. His relationship with his wife Mumtaz Mahal has been heavily adapted into Indian art, literature, and cinema.

Jahanara Begum Padshah Begum and Mughal Princess

Jahanara Begum was a Mughal princess and 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 Shukoh and Emperor Aurangzeb.

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.

Saifullah "Sam" Zaman, known by the stage name State of Bengal, was a British DJ and music producer of BangladeshI descent associated with the UK and Asian Underground movement.


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]

Surat Metropolis in Gujarat, India

Surat is a city in the Indian state of Gujarat. It used to be a large seaport and is now a centre for diamond cutting and polishing. It is the eighth largest city and ninth largest urban agglomeration in India. It is the administrative capital of the Surat district. The city is located 284 kilometres (176 mi) south of the state capital, Gandhinagar; 265 kilometres (165 mi) south of Ahmedabad; and 289 kilometres (180 mi) north of Mumbai. The city centre is located on the Tapti River, close to Arabian Sea.

John Woodall

John Woodall (1570–1643) was an English military surgeon, Paracelsian chemist, businessman, linguist and diplomat. He made a fortune through the stocking of medical chests for the East India Company and later the armed forces of England. He is remembered for his authorship of The Surgeon's Mate which was the standard text to advise ships surgeons on medical treatments while at sea and contains an advanced view on the treatment of scurvy.

William Hamilton was a surgeon in the British East India Company. He was a part of the delegation that went from Calcutta, the base of the company, to meet Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar in his court in Delhi in 1715.

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]

Jahangir 4th Mughal Emperor (1569–1627)

Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim, known by his imperial name Jahangir, was the fourth Mughal Emperor, who ruled from 1605 until his death in 1627. His imperial name, means 'conqueror of the world', 'world-conqueror' or 'world-seizer'. The tale of his relationship with the Mughal courtesan, Anarkali, has been widely adapted into the literature, art and cinema of India.

A viceroy is an official who runs a country, colony, city, province, or sub-national state, in the name of and as the representative of the monarch of the territory. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roy, meaning "king". A viceroy's territory may be called a viceroyalty, though this term is not always applied. The adjective form is viceregal, less often viceroyal. The term vicereine is sometimes used to indicate a female viceroy suo jure, although viceroy can serve as a gender-neutral term. Vicereine is more commonly used to indicate a viceroy's wife.

Gauḍa (city) City/town in West Bengal, India

Gauḍa was one of the prominent capital cities in the history of the Indian subcontinent. It is located on the border between modern-day India and Bangladesh, with most of its ruins on the Indian side and a few structures on the Bangladeshi side. The course of the Ganges River was located near the city before a change in the course of the river. Gauda rivaled other imperial cities in the Indian subcontinent in terms of wealth and population.


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]

Agra City in Uttar Pradesh, India

Agra is a city on the banks of the Yamuna river in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is 378 kilometres (235 mi) west of the state capital, Lucknow, 206 kilometres (128 mi) south of the national capital New Delhi, 58 kilometres (31 mi) south of Mathura and 125 kilometres (78 mi) north of Gwalior. Agra is one of the most populous cities in Uttar Pradesh, and the 24th most populous in India.

Sir John Beard was an administrator of the English East India Company. He served as Chief Agent and President of Bengal in the late seventeenth century.

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]

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Further reading