‘New Caledonia’ and mythmaking in the Darien Scheme

Dr Alasdair Macfarlane shares his insights from a recent research trip to the Spencer Collection at the University of Glasgow. Here he explores how the print and manuscript material in the collection sheds further light on the relationship between the Cuna people of Darien and the Scottish settlers in the promotional literature surrounding the Darien Scheme.


My project in the Spencer Collection at the University of Glasgow was largely concerned with primary print and manuscript materials relating to the ‘Darien Scheme’.

The Darien Scheme was orchestrated by the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies (1695-1707) in the late seventeenth-century and involved the attempted establishment of a Scottish settlement and trade emporium dubbed ‘New Caledonia’ upon the Isthmus of Darien in Central America (1698-1700). While the effort proved abortive, the Scheme and its collapse has long been the focus of political and economic historians for its assumed role as a catalyst for the Union of Scotland and England in 1706/7.

Darien image 1
Sp Coll Spencer e1: ‘Carte particuliere de Isthmus, ou Darien’ (Amsterdam: Pierre Mortier). Image produced by the permission of the University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

More recent scholarship on the Scheme, such as Julie Orr’s Scotland, Darien and the Atlantic World (2018) has highlighted the significance of the natives of Darien, the Cuna people, as interlocutors between the rival European factions that operated in the South Seas and Caribbean. As Glasgow’s Spencer Collection holds a multiplicity of rare and original materials relating to the Scheme, many of which are outside digital circulation, I hoped to learn more of the relationship between the native peoples of Darien and the Scottish settlers, and gain a clearer sense of their significance in the short but intense period of promotional publications from the Scheme’s launch to its collapse.

One of the real strengths of the Spencer Collection is that you get a sense of the intertextual layers to the story of Darien as it was reported in Scotland. Looking at the journal of Robert Pennycook, the leader of the small fleet that departed Scotland’s shores and landed at Darien in late 1698, and its description of the first meetings with the local Cuna people, it becomes clear how familiar the Cuna had become with European encounters. The local leader ‘Captain Andreas’, on meeting the Scots is said to have ‘run in the praise of Captain Swan and Capt Davies two English Privateers, who he said were his particular friends, and whom he knew in the South Sea’ (Ms Gen 1681). Four Frenchmen are also said to have lived in the region for the last four years, and of course the garrisons of Panama, Cartagena, and Portobello were an ever-present reminder of Spanish prerogative claims over both coasts of the Isthmus.

Mythmaking around the early landings of Europeans on American shores has long been a necessary feature to their domestic promotion, and Darien was no exception (Mary Fuller, Remembering the Early Modern Voyage, 2008, p. 130). The express which was published in the March 23rd-27th (1699) edition of the Edinburgh Gazette with the arrival of Pennycook’s first dispatches back in Scotland describes the Scots landing at the invitation of the native peoples, the land itself never having been ‘possessed by any European Nation’. Moreover, the Cuna are described as resigning their own plantations and taking commissions from the colony’s council (Sp Coll Spencer f8). Poetic works followed, attributing to providence the hand of the tiller which guided the Company’s ships to the salutation of Darien’s ‘Fertile Fields and Golden Mountains’ (Sp Coll Spencer f52: Caledonia Triumphans).

Darien image 2
Sp Coll Spencer f15: ‘Advertisement. Edinburgh, the 9th of July 1696’. Image produced by the permission of the University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

I was already familiar with many aspects of this narrative from my PhD research, but I had underestimated how important these first reports were in defining the printed apologetics for the Darien Scheme in Scotland.

In successive speeches, pamphlets, and apologia scattered throughout the Collection, this first encounter appears to have been choreographed in print to counter the remonstrance of the Spanish crown to a Scottish settlement in Central America, by asserting the sovereignty of the native people over the Isthmus (Sp Coll Spencer 46). The history of armed conflicts between the natives of Darien and the Spanish authorities were similarly repeated to contest any notion of Spanish claims to the site of the Scottish colony, having been established through the ‘full and free Consent of the Natives’ in possession (Sp Coll Spencer 36; Sp Coll Spencer 49; Sp Coll Spencer Mu15-b.15). The most intriguing example of this assertion appears in the repeated citation of buccaneer authors such as Basil Ringrose, William Dampier, Bartholomew Sharpe, and Lionel Wafer, within the Company of Scotland’s arguments. These ‘English [and Welsh] travellers’ had crossed the Isthmus of Darien in the 1680s to harass Spanish settlements, including Panama, under the auspices of ‘letters of marque’ issued by the ‘Emperor of Darien’ (Sp Coll Spencer 65; Sp Coll Mu15-b.15). The Company attempted to argue that as the buccaneers had claimed to have been acting under legitimate warrants issued by a sovereign power, and were not convicted of piracy in the English courts on their return to Britain, the sovereignty of the Darien natives over the Isthmus had already been established in England (Macfarlane, 2020).

It is fascinating to see the relationship between the Cuna and earlier generations of English buccaneers referenced in Pennycook’s journal, and the citation of the buccaneers’ own travel accounts in popular contemporary circulation, positioned at the heart of the Company of Scotland’s promotional narrative around the Darien Scheme.

The contrast between the printed vision of ‘New Caledonia’ as it was understood and promoted in Scotland, and the hardships and deprivation which led to the Darien colony being abandoned by the first wave of settlers in mid-1699, and surrendered to the Spanish by the second wave in early 1700, has led a lot of the scholarship on the Scheme. And the Spencer Collection is not short of materials that illustrate this point (Sp Coll Spencer Add q2). Yet, when seen collected together, far less work appears to have been done on how much of the textual representation and arguments around the Scheme gained a self-perpetuating momentum once the news of the landing was made public. There is an intense internal referentiality between the materials promoting the Scheme and the Company in Scotland. Layer on layer, these materials create a sense of corroborative contemporaneity to their arguments, even as they appear to shape information to a predetermined framework around the legitimacy and viability of the Scheme.

The support of the Hakluyt Society Research Grant has given me the opportunity to explore a far wider range of primary materials around the Darien Scheme than I could have predicted. Much of the information about Darien and the settlement of New Caledonia published in Scotland appears to have been in some sense transformed or adapted to an anticipated narrative. It is clear there is an under-developed area of research around the control and transformation of information from and about the Darien settlement, especially as it relates to contemporary notions of national and native sovereignty.  Thanks to the Society’s support, I intend to pursue this further in my upcoming fellowship with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh later this year.

Sp Coll Ms Gen 1681: Pennycook’s Journal, 2 Sept – 28 Decb, 1698.
Sp Coll Spencer 36: A Speech in Parliament on the 10th day of January 1701, by the Lord Belhaven (Edinburgh, 1701).
Sp Coll Spencer 46: The History of Caledonia: or, the Scots Colony in Darien (London: John Nutt, 1699).
Sp Coll Spencer 49: A Just and Modest Vindication of the Scots Design (1699).
Sp Coll Spencer 65: Scotland’s Right to Caledonia (1700).
Sp Coll Spencer Add q2: ‘Darien Letters’.
Sp Coll Spencer f8: The Edinburgh Gazette (Edinburgh, 1699-)
Sp Coll Spencer f52: Alexander Pennecuik, Caledonia Triumphans (Edinburgh: Heirs to Andrew Anderson, 1699).
Sp Coll Mu15-b.15: A Defence of the Scots Settlement at Darien (1699)
Fuller. Mary, Remembering the Early Modern Voyage (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Macfarlane. C. Alasdair, ‘Pirates and Publicity: The Making and Unmaking of Early Modern Pirates in English and Scottish Popular Print’, Humanities 9:1, (2020). https://doi.org/10.3390/h9010014
Orr. Julie, Scotland, Darien and the Atlantic World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

Dr C. Alasdair Macfarlane is a postdoctoral researcher based in Glasgow with interdisciplinary interests in travel writing, travel hoaxes, questions of credible representation in seventeenth-century print, and Scottish colonial rhetoric.

Following his Hakluyt Society-funded research into the Spencer Collection, he was awarded a Daiches-Manning Fellowship in 18th Century Scottish Studies with IASH at the University of Edinburgh to continue his work on the materials surrounding the promotion of the Scottish colony of ‘New Caledonia’ on the Isthmus of Panama. Although currently unaffiliated, his present projects concern the development of news and correspondence networks in late seventeenth-century Scotland and the Atlantic maritime world, and their utility in the promotion of maritime enterprise.


Professor Roy Bridges


Members of the Hakluyt Society who knew Professor Roy Bridges and the many more who knew his work will be deeply saddened to learn of his death in Newmachar, Aberdeenshire, on 1 August 2020.

Roy was a leading member of the Hakluyt Society, which he joined in 1962. In 1964 he was appointed to the University of Aberdeen, where he became Professor of History, having previously taught at Makerere University in Uganda. His research and writing were mainly concerned with East Africa in the nineteenth century. He became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Historical Society.

Roy Bridges_Edinburgh
Roy Bridges speaking at the launch of A Walk Across Africa at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, in 2018.

Roy developed a great affection for the Hakluyt Society, where he had many friends and to whose work he made many important contributions. His commitment to the Society never faded. He served several terms on Council and was President for all of six years, from 2004 to 2010. He gave two of the Annual Lectures, in 1977 and 1993, and edited or co-edited three volumes in our main series (one in the Second Series, two in the Third).

The first volume, co-edited with Paul Hair in 1996 as Compassing the Vaste Globe of the Earth, was a set of essays marking the 150th anniversary of the Society’s foundation and including Roy’s own account of the founder, William Desborough Cooley. The Four Travel Journals volume appeared in 2007 and included Roy’s edition of ‘A Dangerous and Toilsome Journey’, the account by the freed slave Jacob Wainwright of the transportation of David Livingstone’s body to the coast. Roy’s magnum opus in his work for the Society, was published in 2018: A Walk Across Africa. J. A. Grant’s Account of the Nile Expedition of 1860-1863.

This major achievement is probably best approached through the three posts Roy wrote for the Hakluyt Society Blog to introduce the work: Hakluyt Society Edition of Grant’s Walk across Africa, The Nile Source Problem, Grant, the Nile Expedition and Colonisation.

It was important for Roy that he was able to conclude in the third post that, ‘Grant was certainly not a colonialist explorer but a distinguished and worthy traveller.’ Through the record of that journey, both James Grant and Roy Bridges have made available to us all a rich, insightful and historically located account of East Africa in the 1860s.

Roy Bridges_talk

We also have ready access to Roy’s view of the history and character of the Hakluyt Society, through a published version in the Society’s online Journal of a talk he gave at the Guildhall Library in 2014:The Literature of Travel and Exploration: The Work of the Hakluyt Society

The conclusion contains a personal credo: ‘I believe travellers’ texts can tell us a great deal about the way our now globalised world has emerged and that by promoting their study the Hakluyt Society can in a modest way promote understanding.’ Roy’s friends will recognise the man in that note of modesty but his wider readership also will agree with a momentary flamboyance elsewhere in his talk, where Grant’s Walk is called ‘a priceless and wonderful source of information.’

Jim Bennett
3 August 2020

CFP: ‘Maps and Mapping in English-speaking Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries’, Université Paris-Diderot, January 2021

The Hakluyt Society is one of the sponsors of a conference in Paris, 15-16 January 2021, with the theme ‘Maps and Mapping in English-speaking Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries’. It will be the annual conference of the Société d’études anglo-américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, held at the Université Paris-Diderot. The organisers have issued a call for papers (see below); offers of papers in English are welcome. DEADLINE for submissions: 20 June 2020. Paper proposals (300 words and a short CV) should be sent to colloque1718janvier2021@gmail.com by June 20, 2020.


Maps and Mapping in English-speaking Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Annual Conference of the SEAA 17-18
Dates: 15-16 January 2021
Venue: Université Paris-Diderot
Keynote Speaker: Max Edelson (University of Virginia)

CFP Maps and Mapping

Maps are multidimensional objects of study that entail scientific, artistic, political, diplomatic, military and economic stakes. On the scientific level, the cartographic techniques and their evolutions are related to the establishment of trades such as cartographers, geographers and land surveyors. Who makes maps, for what purpose and for whom are questions to consider in order to apprehend these documents. Secretly-used maps need to be distinguished from printed and circulated ones. The former are instruments in the hands of governments in the context of peace negotiations and military operations – as was the case for the maps on which the French and the Americans relied during the American Revolutionary War – but also in the context of the exploration and conquest of new territories, among which Northern and Southern America, as well as Africa and India. Most of the time, maps have been made public in books destined for a literate audience, but their degree of accuracy and their level of artistry need to be assessed. It can thus be considered that maps create spaces as much as they reflect them. Maps also circulate as separate objects such as terrestrial globes. This requires us to think about the manufacturing of objects and the printing of maps, but also to ponder over their commercialization, dissemination, exhibition in curiosity cabinets as well as their circulation in European and American learned societies.

Moreover, it will be necessary to tackle the way cartography and the knowledge and use of geography have transformed the writing of history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but also the way maps were used by writers and historians working on those periods in the centuries that followed. The historiographic discourse on the 17th and 18th centuries evolved in parallel with the progress of geographic and topographic science. These changes are particularly noticeable nowadays as digital tools have renewed the interest in maps as tools and sources of historiographic reflection. Conversely, some databases extracted from registers or other documents have been compiled thanks to digital softwares, enabling the creation of tools of digital cartography that alter our perception of the past and of History (see for example websites such as Mapping Early American Elections or Slave Voyages). These evolutions of cartography bring with them a redefinition of space(s) as being at the crossroads of power and knowledge.

It is also relevant to tackle the writing of space in the British eighteenth century by studying narrative cartography or the motif of the map inserted within travel narratives, fiction or utopias/dystopias (see for instance the inserted maps that open each of Gulliver’s Travels or the one that Thomas More inserts in his Utopia). In fictional texts, the map reinforces realism by its scientific qualities. Defoe and Swift, for example, borrowed maps from Herman Moll, a well-known cartographer at the time, in order to make their narratives appear truthful: the credit attributed to a cartographer was indeed far superior to that given to a writer of fiction. On top of the scientific dimension of maps and of the activity of mapping itself, there has always been art in cartography which can be defined as the art of drawing maps: “the map always involves a particular kind of imagination.” (Palsky, Artistes de la carte, 202) This imagination, which is at the core of the relationship between the map and the oeuvre, may be explored through a study of the decoration of legends or of the blanks of maps that can be filled in with representations of animals, monsters or ships. Reflecting over the articulation of cartographic and literary or aesthetic languages also permits us to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: geocriticism (Westphal, Tally) or literary cartography (Mapping Writing) will help us think about this articulation and the way of mapping fictional texts.

Therefore, this symposium will investigate the influence of cartography in a two-fold approach. It will assess its influence on the course of History, considering the impact that the perception of geography had on the political, scientific, intellectual and literary history in the 17th and 18th centuries. It will also consider its influence on historiographical science at the time and nowadays, in relation to the development of new historiographical approaches such as atlantic history, global history, the history of material culture and sociabilities, as well as gender and minorities studies.

We especially, but not exclusively, encourage contributions on the following topics and approaches:

  • cartography and narrative
  • inserting real or fictitious maps within fictional narratives
  • the contribution of writers to the geographic culture and the contribution of geography as discipline and as language to the literary production (“crossed fertilization”)
  • authenticity and truth of geographic data in literary texts
  • the map as vehicle for political sovereignty and as instrument for colonization, notably looking into the role of the Board of Trade
  • cartography as a performative act (creation of space, space of creation)
  • cartographic materials as aesthetic objects
  • the map as real or virtual historiographic object
  • authority as vested in cartographers, geographers and surveyors, and the empirical authority of maps (bias, omission, scale)
  • the materiality of maps (manufacturing, size, paper, weight, graphic and printing quality)
  • the role of the Academies of science
  • contour lines, separation lines—delineating geographic abstraction

Paper proposals (300 words and a short CV) should be sent to colloque1718janvier2021@gmail.com by June 20, 2020. Acceptance will be notified by mid-July 2020.

Selective bibliography

Books and articles:
Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen, Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence 1755-1783. New York: London W.W. Norton et Company, 2015.
Martin Brückner, The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860. Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
Eric Bulson, Novels, Maps, Modernity. The Spatial Imagination. 1850-2000. New York & London, Routledge, 2007.
Lucy P. Chester, “The Mapping of Empire: French and British Cartographies of India in the Late-Eighteenth Century”, Portuguese Studies, Vol. 16 (2000), pp. 256-275.
Max Edelson, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence. Harvard University Press, 2017 and website with maps online: http://mapscholar.org/empire/
Matthew H. Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765–1843. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Matthew H. Edney, Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds.), The History of Cartography, Volume 4: Cartography in the European Enlightenement. Chicago University Press, 2019.
Jean-Paul Forster, Eighteenth-Century Geography and Representations of Space in English Fiction and Poetry. Berne: Peter Lang, 2013.
John Brian Harley, Paul Laxton, and J.H. Andrews, The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the history of Cartography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2002.
Catherine Hofmann ed, Artistes de la carte de la renaissance au XXIe siècle. Paris, éditions Autrement, 2012.
Stephen J. Hornsby, Surveyors of Empire: Samuel Holland, J. W. F. Des Barres, and the Making of The Atlantic Neptune. Ithaca, N.Y.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.
Christian Jacob, L’Empire des cartes : approche théorique de la cartographie à travers l’histoire. Paris, Bibliothèque Albin Michel, 1992.
Jacques Lévy, ed. A Cartographic Turn. Mapping and the Spatial Challenge in Social Sciences. Routledge, 2016.
Mary Sponberg Pedley, The Commerce of Cartography: Making and Marketing Maps in Eighteenth-century France and England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005
Margaret B. Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002 and digital collection https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/degrees-latitude-mapping-colonial-america
John Rennie Short, Cartographic Encounters: Indigenous Peoples and the Exploration of the New World. London: Reaction Books, 2009.
Robert T. Tally, Spatiality. Londres et New York : Routledge, The Critical Idiom, 2013.
Judith A. Tyner, Stitching the World: Embroidered Maps and Women’s Geographical Education. Ashgate, 2015.
Bertrand Westphal, La Géocritique. Réel, fiction, espace. Paris : Les Editions de Minuit, 2007.
–. Le Monde plausible. Espace, Lieu, Carte. Paris : Les Editions de Minuit, 2011.

Digital humanities projects:
The Grand Tour Travelers Project, Stanford University : https://classics.stanford.edu/projects/grand-tour-project, part of the larger project : Mapping the Republic of Letters : http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/publications/index.html
Mapping Early American Elections : http://earlyamericanelections.org/
Slave Voyages : https://www.slavevoyages.org/
Mapping Writing : https://mappingwriting.com/
Nicholas Gliserman, (forthcoming): Cartography and Empire in Northeastern America, 1580-1760–digital humanities project employing ArcGIS to extract geospatial data from historical maps to analyze the changing colonial landscape.
Paul Sivitz, Billy G. Smith, Philadelphia and Its People in Maps: The 1790s. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/philadelphia-and-its-people-in-maps-the-1790s/

Selection Committee:

Peter Barber (Hakluyt Society)
Michael Barritt (Hakluyt Society)
Jim Bennett (Hakluyt Society)
Martin Brückner (University of Delaware)

Yann Calberac (Université de Reims)
Robert Clark (University of East Anglia/Literary Encyclopedia)
Matthew Edney (University of Southern Maine)
Stephen Hornsby (University of Maine)
Mary Pedley (University of Michigan)
Bertrand Van Ruymbeke (Université Paris 8)

Organizing Committee:
Carine Lounissi (Université de Rouen et Université Paris-Diderot, LARCA)
Emmanuelle Peraldo (Université de Nice, CTEL)
Agnès Trouillet (Université Paris III, CREW)
Sophie Vasset (Université Paris-Diderot, LARCA)

Encounters with the Querina

Dr Matthew Coneys sheds new light on the textual evolution of a 15th-century tale of shipwreck, near starvation, and miraculous rescue among the remote islands of Lofoten in the Arctic Circle….


My first encounter with the Querina was entirely serendipitous. At the time, I was completing a research project on the Italian translation of the Book of John Mandeville, the account of the infamous fourteenth-century ‘English knight’ who claimed to have travelled to Jerusalem and throughout the exotic East. Working in a small, regional Italian library, I called up an early fifteenth-century manuscript of the Book. When the volume arrived, I was surprised to find that it also contained another text, written in the same neat hand.

It told the incredible story of the Querina, a Venetian merchant ship which was sailing from Crete to Flanders in 1431 when it was blown far off course by a fierce storm. With the rudder destroyed and masts broken, the crew of 68 found themselves adrift in the North Sea with supplies of food and water running critically low. After weeks of deliberation, they eventually decided to abandon the ship and boarded two small lifeboats. The following pages made for grim reading. One of the boats was soon lost to the waves; on the other, many of the sailors soon succumbed to exposure. It drifted onwards at the mercy of the currents.

Querina 1
The departure of the Querina, from a series by Franco Fortunato

On 6 January 1432, the remaining sailors spotted land through the fog and rowed with what little strength they had until they reached a snow-covered beach. Staggering ashore, they drank from the snow and huddled together under the upturned boat. Several weeks passed and the Venetians were close to starvation, but their fortunes finally changed when a farmer and his son came across their camp. They had drifted to Lofoten, a Norwegian archipelago some 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where they had made landfall miraculously close to the village of Røst. Over the course of several months the survivors were nursed back to health and experienced life in this isolated fishing community. They would eventually depart for Venice, with many of the sailors understandably opting to take the lengthy overland journey, rather than search for a ship that would take them home.

The account I stumbled upon is one of two reports of the voyage of the Querina composed by her survivors. These are extraordinary historical sources, not least because eyewitness accounts of medieval shipwrecks are by their nature extremely rare. Written by professional merchant sailors, they also contain a wealth of technical detail of interest to the maritime historian, and offer a valuable insight into the complex trade networks that crisscrossed fifteenth-century Europe. What keeps drawing me back to these works, however, is their remarkable human story: one of bravery, despair and survival, of unlikely cross-cultural encounter, generosity and friendship. Struck by the kindness and religious devotion of the villagers and their simplicity of life, the Venetians describe Røst as ‘the first circle of paradise’ – a hyperbolic claim, perhaps, but one that reflects their profound admiration for their saviours.

The two accounts are reasonably familiar to scholars of Italian travel, having been included in Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s monumental printed compendium of travel accounts, the Navigazioni e viaggi (1550-59). More recently, they have inspired a series of prints by the Italian artist Franco Fortunato, and even a Norwegian-language opera by the composer Henning Sommero. However, relatively little is known about the circulation and textual evolution of these works in the century following the dramatic events they describe. I am particularly fascinated by the question of how the accounts were read and copied in the immediate aftermath of the voyage, and the differences between Ramusio’s scholarly edition and the original versions penned by the Venetian sailors.

Querina 2
A scene from the opera ‘Querini’, written by Henning Sommero and performed by professional musicians and a chorus of islanders from Røst.

The support of a Hakluyt Society Research Grant has given me the opportunity to continue my research by reading and transcribing two early manuscript copies preserved in Venice. As well as allowing me to investigate the accounts’ textual development and early reception, spending time with these books has given me a remarkable sense of connection to the past. This was also the case with that very first manuscript that I encountered: an autograph copy, made by sailors who had lived through a terrible ordeal and kept as a treasured possession. Thanks to the Society’s support, I am continuing working towards a critical edition and English translation which I hope will bring this incredible story to new readers.

Dr Matthew Coneys is currently Research Associate in the School of English at Newcastle University, working on the Manuscripts after Print project led by Dr Aditi Nafde. He completed a PhD in Italian Studies at the University of Warwick in 2017, having previously studied for a BA at the University of Cambridge and MA at UCL. He held postdoctoral positions at the School of Advanced Study (London) and University of St Andrews before being awarded an MHRA Research Scholarship in 2018.


Hakluyt Society Editorial Workshop, Friday 20 March 2020, London

The Hakluyt Society invites anyone interested in editing primary source texts for publication for its *free* editorial workshop:


Hakluyt Society Editorial Workshop

Friday 20 March 2020

Institute of Historical Research, London

Location: Wolfson Conference Suite, Institute of Historical Research, North Block, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Location Map

No charge; to register, please email Jim Bennett, jim.bennett@linacre.ox.ac.uk

The aims of the workshop are to encourage interest in the academic editing of texts for publication and to offer practical support and advice to those engaged on editing projects. While the emphasis will be on the Society’s approach to text editing, the workshop will be of value to anyone involved with or contemplating such work. There is no charge and lunch will be provided. If you would like to attend, please simply email jim.bennett@linacre.ox.ac.uk.



From 10.00 Coffee

10.30 Welcome and introduction from the President

10.45 Professor Trevor Levere will reflect on his work as volume editor for our most recent publication, The Arctic Journal of Captain Henry Wemyss Feilden, RA, the Naturalist in H.M.S. Alert, 1875-1876.

11.30 Dr Maurice Raraty, ‘The Travels of Purwalelana: Experiences of a Neophyte Series Editor’

12.00 Professor Joyce Lorimer, ‘Working with your Series Editor’

12.30 Dr Guido van Meersbergen: ‘Scoping and Planning a Major Project: The Norris Embassy to Mughal India

1.00 – 1.45 Lunch.

Afternoon chair: Professor Joyce Lorimer

1.45 The Hakluyt Society Pub Quiz

2.15 Professor Michael Brennan, ‘Editing English Travellers to Venice: 1450-1600 – Multiple Texts and Images’

3.00 Dr Gloria Clifton, ‘Images, Permissions and Copyright’

3.20 Dr Julia Leikin, ‘Russian Faith, Honour, and Courage: Capturing John Elphinstone’s travels with the Imperial Russian Navy, 1769-1770’

3.40 Coffee or tea

3.50 Dr Katherine Parker on preparing proposals for Hakluyt Society volumes

4.10 (or thereabouts) ‘The Brains Trust’ with panel members Dr Gloria Clifton, Captain Mike Barritt and Professor Will Ryan, and participation encouraged from the room.

5.00 Close


Captain Cook Conference in Paris on 7th-8th February 2020

‘Captain Cook After 250 Years: Re-exploring the Voyages of James Cook’


An International Conference on Captain James Cook’s Voyages (1768-1779)

7th-8th February 2020
Sorbonne Université

Organised jointly by the Hakluyt Society, the Society for the Study of Anglophone travel literature (SELVA), Histoire et Dynamique des Espaces Anglophones (HDEA) and Voix Anglophones: Littérature et Esthétique (VALE).

It is free to attend, but you must email the co-ordinator, Pierre Lurbe, (pierrelurbe@gmail.com) by 27 January, telling him whether you intend to attend the entire conference or just one particular day or session.

It will be held on Friday 7th (all day) and Saturday 8th (in the morning).

VENUE: Sorbonne University, Amphithéâtre Georges Molinié, Maison de la Recherche, 28 rue Serpente, 75006 Paris.


Friday 7 February 2020:

8.45-9.00: Welcome addresses

9.00-10.35: Session 1: “Visions of Paradise”
Chair: Pierre Lurbe (Sorbonne Université)

9.00-9.25: Anja Winters (University of Vienna), “Paradise Lost – An essay on Terra Australis Incognita and Captain James Cook”

9.25-9.50: Vanessa Alayrac-Fielding (Université de Lille), “From William Hodges’s View of Matavai Bay (1776) to Simon Gende’s Captn Cook in Australia (2018): the aesthetic of Pacific exploration and encounter in the 18th century and beyond”

9.50-10.15: Ben Pollitt (University College London), “Weaponized Aesthetics – Fireworks and the Burkean Sublime in Cook’s Last Voyage”

10.15-10.35: Discussion

10.35.-11.00: coffee break

11.00-12.35: Session 2: “Explorers and Conquerors”
Chair: Jim Bennett (Hakluyt Society)

11.00-11.25: Anna Agnarsdóttir (University of Iceland), “James Cook and Joseph Banks: From exploration to imperialism”

11.25-11.50: Pierre-François Peirano (Université de Toulon), “James Cook and the search for the ‘Northwest Passage’: the stakes and the scope of the third voyage”

11.50-12.15: Dane A. Morrison (Salem State University), “Performing Cook: American Explorers’ Appropriation of James Cook’s Voyages”

12.15-12.35: Discussion

12.35-2.00: lunch break

2.00-3.35: Session 3: “Transmissions and Translations”
Chair: Anne-Florence Quaireau (Sorbonne Université)

2.00-2.25: Odile Gannier (Université Côte d’Azur), “Cook’s Journals as Log-Books”

2.25-2.50: Erik Stout (University of Montreal), “The voyages of Cook and Bougainville, through the eyes of their fellow travelers”

2.50-3.15: Antoine Eche (Mount Royal University, Calgary), “Démeunier’s Translation of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean”

3.15-3.35: Discussion

3.35-4.00: coffee break

4.00-5.00: 1st plenary
Chair: Emmanuelle Peraldo (Université Côte d’Azur)

4.00-4.45: Jean-Stéphane Massiani (Aix-Marseille Université), “What Cook saw and What Hawkesworth wrote. Alterations and Authorship in the publication of Cook’s Endeavour journal”

4.45-5.00: Question time

Evening: dinner in town

Saturday 8 February 2020:

9-10.35: Session 4: “James Cook Revisited”
Chair: Will Slauter (Université de Paris)

9.00-9.25: Sandhya Patel (Université Clermont Auvergne), “The Afterlives of James Cook”

9.25-9.50: Ben Ferguson (Université de Versailles Saint Quentin), “Kaleidoscopic Cook: shifting legacies explored in Barry Lopez’ Horizon”

9.50-10.15: John Mullen (Université de Rouen), “Content Concerning Indigenous Peoples in Authorized Heritage Discourses about Captain Cook’s Voyages”

10.15-10.35: Discussion

10.35-11.00: coffee break

11.00-12.00: 2nd plenary
Chair: Ladan Niayesh (Université de Paris)

11.00-11.45: John McAleer (University of Southampton), “Exhibiting exploration: James Cook, voyages of exploration, and the culture of display”

11.45-12.00: question time

12.00-12.30: Concluding remarks and wrap-up


Further information can be found at:


and at http://hdea.paris-sorbonne.fr/node/201

Cosmopolitan Convicts? 19th-century convicts in Bermuda and Gibraltar

Dr Katy Roscoe shares some of her insights into 19th-century convict experience in Bermuda and Gibraltar from research she has pursued with the help of a Hakluyt Society Research Grant.


In this blogpost, I apply the concept of cosmopolitanism to an unusual group of people: convicts.

More than 12,000 British and Irish male convicts were transported to the British penal colonies of Bermuda and Gibraltar between 1824-75. During the day convicts worked on the Royal Naval dockyards, mostly quarrying and transporting stone for building projects, and were shut up at night on prison hulks or on-shore barracks.

To what extent did the ‘cosmopolitanism’ of these naval hubs shape the convicts’ ‘ways of being in the world’? Were convicts included in the bustling, mixed social worlds of these port-cities, or were they segregated? To answer, these questions, I refer to texts I examined at the Bodleian Libraries (Oxford) and the University of Nottingham Special Collections thanks to the generosity of a Hakluyt Society Research Grant.

Bermuda and Gibraltar were commercial centres which were also linked to imperial networks as military outposts and British colonies. The convict population reflected these global mobilities. Major Arthur Griffiths, stationed at Gibraltar from 1864-70 and briefly governor of the convict establishment in 1869, was a prolific author. In his fictionalised account Lola: A Tale of Gibraltar (1877), Griffiths described the inmates as follows:

‘It was a cosmopolitan collection of rogues herded together in this Gibraltar prison; to the pick of English ruffianism was added the scum of local society; Spanish smugglers rubbed shoulders with garroters from Whitechapel; a Greek sailor, sentenced to “life” for manslaughter … [and] Moorish pirates from the Riff coast’ (p. 273).

The convict establishment included both transported felons from Britain and Ireland and those convicted locally in Gibraltar: mostly Spaniards, but also sailors, soldiers and sojourners from around the world.

Roscoe Image 1
‘Prison Hulks at Portsmouth’, frontispiece of Arthur Griffiths, Non-Criminal Prisons (c. 1900). Prisoners at Gibraltar and Bermuda were also housed in prison hulks. Author’s own photograph.

Tensions ran high between Britain and Spain concerning Gibraltar, and the convict establishment was no exception. In 1856 the former Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Robert Gardiner, described Gibraltar as having ‘an excess of alien population as nationally Spanish in habits, connexions, family, predilections, language and religion, as on the day Gibraltar was ceded to England’ (Gardiner, Report on Gibraltar, 1856, p. 19). Officials were concerned about how association with local Spaniards might ‘corrupt’ British soldiers, warders and prisoners at Gibraltar, threatening the discipline of the prison from the outside in.

The former governor, Gardiner, believed that the ‘demoralisation of the troops was caused’ by being ‘in contact with the disorderly hordes, [Spanish] men and women, employed in … smuggling’ (Gardiner, Report on Gibraltar, p. 44). Since soldiers oversaw convicts on the naval works, this could, in turn, encourage smuggling into the prison.

In 1868, the visitors to Gibraltar’s convict establishment raised similar concerns about ‘the deterioration of Warders’ through association with Spaniards. They complained that ‘a large number of them are connected by Marriage with local families … [which] is the source of the illicit correspondence that goes on between the Prisoners and their families at home’ (The National Archives, CO 91/295, F.E. Watt, Chairman of Visitors of Convict Prison, to Captain Twyman, Gibraltar, 26 Aug 1868, no. 9745/65). Warders’ local familial links allowed prisoners to keep relationships with their family across the seas alive, away from the state’s surveillance.

Officials also disliked direct contact between Spaniards and British convicts who were associated together on the wards at night. Griffiths complained that ‘association with locals’ resulted in more escape attempts, as ‘home’ convicts learnt there was no extradition treaty with neighbouring Spain, and made mad dashes across the border (Griffiths, Prisons Overseas, 1900, pp.160-61).

Convicts worked on dockyards and other naval works which were manned by local workmen, offering opportunities for socialising and illicit trade. According to Griffiths, ‘at Gibraltar, where “free” people came and went in the quarries almost unquestioned, large transactions were constantly afoot’ (Griffiths, Prisons Overseas, pp.165-6). In Bermuda, both ‘the private manufactures of prisoners’ and ‘shoes were … a regular article of traffick’ (Whittingham, Bermuda: Colony, Fortress, and a Prison, 1857, pp. 210-11).

Roscoe Image 2
‘West end of Hamilton Wharf’, illustration in Frederick Whittingham, Bermuda: Colony, Fortress or Prison (1857), p. 38. Author’s own photograph.

Convict parties were marched to scattered work-sites across the Bermudian archipelago, so they frequently came into contact with the free populace. Ferdinand Whittingham, a former field-officer, describes how ‘few ladies liked to walk out… till after working hours’ because ‘pass[ing] through such number of convicts’ meant they were likely to be subjected to ‘verbal insults or disrespectful remarks’ (Whittingham, Bermuda: Colony, Fortress, Prison, pp. 210-11).

Sometimes, real romances blossomed. A convict named Lodge engaged in a relationship with a ‘woman of colour…who kept a small huckster’s shop in Ireland Island [Bermuda], outside the dockyard’ (Whittingham, Bermuda: Colony, Fortress, Prison, pp. 219-20). She left her husband, a black ‘sailmaker for 25 years working for the British government’ and departed Bermuda for England, taking £800 and the title-deeds to three houses with her. These kinds of relationships were not uncommon: some convicts stayed on at Bermuda after their sentence to work as warders, going on to have relationships and start families with local women.

Most central to ‘cosmopolitanism’ is global mobility. By that measure, convicts certainly qualify. They had – like the sailors, soldiers and settlers – travelled across the seas to get there. Some were transported directly from Britain and Ireland to Bermuda or Gibraltar, others were former-soldiers transported from other parts of the British Empire (especially Canada). Some returned directly home after serving their sentences, but others emigrated on to Western Australia in search of a better life. Once under sentence, they were mobile within the dockyards and to dispersed worksites offering opportunities to meet polyglot sets of free workmen, sailors and residents. Though enforced and constrained, convicts’ global and local mobilities meant their lives were certainly ‘cosmopolitan’.

Sir Robert Gardiner, Report on Gibraltar considered as a Fortress and a Colony (London, 1856).
Arthur Griffiths, Lola: A Tale of Gibraltar (New York, 1877).
Arthur Griffiths, Prisons Overseas: deportation and colonization, British and American prisoners today (London, c. 1900).
Glenda Slugg and Julia Horne, ‘Cosmopolitanism: Its Past and Practices’, Journal of World History, 21:3 (2010), pp. 369-74.
Frederick Whittingham, Bermuda: Colony, Fortress, and a Prison: or eighteenth month in the Somers’ Islands, by a field officer (London, 1857).

Dr Katy Roscoe is a historian of crime and punishment in the British Empire, with a particular focus on maritime geographies. She is researching convict-workers on the royal naval dockyards at Bermuda and Gibraltar as Caird-Sackler Fellow at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In 2020 she will take up Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Liverpool researching ‘How Convicts Connected the World: Unfree Labour on British and Imperial Dockyards’. She was awarded her PhD in history from the University of Leicester in 2017 for her work on prison islands in colonial Australia. She tweets from @katyaroscoe.

Hakluyt Society Essay Prize 2020 (DEADLINE: 30 November 2019)

Submissions are invited for the annual Hakluyt Society Essay Prize with an award (or more than one, if the judges so decide) up to a total of £1,000. The competition is open to any registered graduate student at a higher education institution (a university of equivalent) or to anyone who has been awarded a graduate degree in the past three years. The DEADLINE for submissions is 30 November 2019.

The prize or prizes for 2020 will be presented, if possible, at the Hakluyt Society’s Annual General Meeting in London in June 2020. Winners will also receive a one-year membership of the Hakluyt Society. The Society hopes that the winning essay will be published, either in the Society’s online journal or in a recognised academic journal.

Prizewinners will be invited to present a paper on the topic of their essay at a Hakluyt Society Symposium (in which case travel expenses within the UK will be reimbursed) and to contribute to the Hakluyt Society blog.

The winner of the 2019 Essay Prize was James Taylor. You can read about his winning essay here. Joint winners of the 2018 Essay Prize were Darren Smith (University of Sydney) and Whitney Robles (Harvard University). Previous winners include Owain Lawson (2015), Nailya Shamgunova (2016), and Annemarie Mclaren (2017). You can read about their winning essays herehere and here.


– Join the Hakluyt Society on www.hakluyt.com

Eligibility criteria

The competition is open to any registered graduate student at a higher education institution (a university or equivalent) or to anyone who has been awarded a graduate degree in the past three years. Proof of student status or of the date of a degree must accompany any submission. Allowance can be made for maternity leave.

Scope and subject matter

Before considering the submission of an essay, entrants should visit the Hakluyt Society’s web-site (www.hakluyt.com) to make themselves aware of the object of the Society and the scope and nature of its publications. Essays should be based on original research in any discipline in the humanities or social sciences, and on an aspect of the history of travel, exploration and cultural encounter or their effects, in the tradition of the work of the Society.

Essays should be in English (except for such citations in languages other than English as may appear in footnotes or endnotes) and between 6,000 and 8,000 words in length (including notes, excluding bibliography). Illustrations, diagrams and tables essential to the text fall outside the word count. Submissions should be unpublished, and not currently in press, in production or under review elsewhere.

Submission procedures and deadline

Essays should be submitted as email attachments in Word.doc format to The Administrator at office@hakluyt.com by 30 November 2019. The entrant’s name, address (including preferred email address), institutional affiliation (if any, with date of admission), and degrees (if any, with dates of conferment) should appear within the body of the email, together with a note of the title of the submitted essay. The subject line of the email should include the words ‘HAKLUYT SOCIETY ESSAY PRIZE’ and the author’s name. By submitting an essay, an entrant certifies that it is the entrant’s own original work.

Selection procedure

The Judging Panel encourages innovative submissions that make an important contribution to knowledge, or a critical or methodological contribution to scholarship. The panel and selected reviewers will pay attention to the analytical rigour, originality, wider significance, depth and scope of the work, as well as to style and presentation. The panel comprises selected academic faculty from among past and present members of the Hakluyt Society’s Council, including the editorial board of The Journal of the Hakluyt Society.

The Prize Committee reserves the right not to award a prize, if no submission is judged to be of sufficient merit. The Committee’s decision will be announced in April 2020.

NOTE: Prize winners agree to acknowledge the receipt of their award in any future publication of the prize essay. In addition, they will be expected to contribute to the Society’s public dissemination as appropriate. This may include, but is not limited to, presenting a paper at a Hakluyt Society symposium (in which case travel expenses within the UK will be reimbursed) and contributing to the Hakluyt Society blog.

@HakluytSociety – Become a member at www.hakluyt.com

Music-making, Hakluyt and Early Modern Travel Knowledge

Presenting a different perspective on early-modern knowledge of travel and trade, Dr Katie Bank highlights how descriptions of exploration, new lands, and luxury goods could be mediated to audiences through music and song. Her work sheds fascinating new light on the transfer of knowledge about far away lands, exotic explorations, and the use of Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations as a source for musical content.


Thomas Weelkes’s (1576-1623) anonymously-authored bipartite madrigal for six voices, “Thule, the period of cosmographie” (1600), paints a scene of strange spectacle complete with merchants from far off places, ‘flying fishes’, treasures and goods from abroad, foreign islands, exotic volcanoes and other wonders of exploration of the known world

Thule, the period of Cosmographie,
Doth vaunt of Hecla, whose sulphureous fire
Doth melt the frozen Clime, and thaw the Skie;
Trinacrian Ætna’s flames ascend not higher:
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose hart with feare doth freeze, with love doth fry.

The Andalusian Merchant, that returnes
Laden with cutchinele and China dishes,
Reports in Spaine how strangely Fogo burnes
Amidst an Ocean full of flying fishes:
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose hart with feare doth freeze, with love doth fry.

Thomas Weelkes, Madrigals of 5. And 6. Parts apt for viols and voices
(London, 1600), sig. D2r.
thule CANTUS
Fig.1 Weelkes’s “Thule, the period of cosmographie” (1600), Cantus

Music and music making were a daily part of life for early modern English people. One can imagine that in the household of Weelkes’s patron, Sir George Brooke (1586-1603), recreational music would have been played and sung alongside political chat, literary discussion, games, exchange about current events, wine drinking, and general banter. Brooke’s close social and familial circles included important courtly figures, like politician Robert Cecil (1563-1612) and Walter Raleigh (c.1562-1618), who may have been included in these types of evening entertainments.

I believe that the inspiration for Weelkes’s song text is Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations, as every image described in the text is accounted for in Hakluyt’s edition. Hecla and Ætna are mentioned dozens of times individually within Hakluyt’s greater work, but this passage makes a direct comparison between the two volcanoes: “[t]here is Hecla a mountaine in Island, which burneth like unto Ætna at certain seasons” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, 1598-1600, sig.Aaa6v). The equivalent section in Latin states that Ætna is in Sicily. Hecla is described as having a “frozen top, and the firie bottome” and the author remarks that it is “no marvelle that fire lurking so deep in the roots of a mountaine, and never breaking forth except it be very seldome, should not be able continually to melt the snow covering the toppe of the sayd mountayne” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.Aaa3r). Another writer mentioned Hecla and described Icelanders as inhabiting “frozen clime” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.Ccc3v).

Naturally, Hakluyt’s collection mentions “Andaluzia” many times as a busy port and discusses the activities of Spanish merchants thoroughly. Another of Hakluyt’s accounts describes the capture of a foreign ship that had recently returned from the New World: “[t]his ship was of some three or foure hundred tunnes, and had in her … sixe chests of Cochinell, every chest houlding one hundred pound weight, and every pound worth sixe and twentie shillings and eight pence, and certaine chests of Sugar and China dishes, with some plate and silver” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.Ooo4v).

Similarly, in an account of volcano ‘Fogo, so called, because it casteth continually flames of fire and smoake out of the top thereof, all the whole island being one high mountaine’, the writer also describes nearby sea life on the same page:

Here we saw flying fishes in great abundance, some a foote long, some lesse. Their fynnes wherewith they flye be as long as their bodies. They be greatly pursued by the Dolphine and Bonitoes, whom as soone as the flying fishes espie, immediatly they mount out of the sea in great numbers, and fly as long as their fynnes continue moyst: and when they bee dry, they fall downe into the sea againe.

Hakluyt, Principal Navigations (1599-1600), sig.Rrr2v.

In both Fogo/flying fish and with cochineal/China dishes, it is the proximity of the images on the page that make Hakluyt a convincing possible source for the poem’s imagery.

In his dedication to Robert Cecil, Hakluyt wrote that the “sweet studie of the historie of Cosmographie,” was the current limit of the mappable universe. Yet as Seneca predicted, one day the known world would expand, and the “yle of Thule would no more be the uttermost limite of the earth” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.A2r-A3v). In a sense, this madrigal’s text and setting fulfils Seneca’s prediction by redirecting wondrous exploration of the external world towards the mysterious frontier of selfhood with the repeated couplet at the end of each stanza. By exploring the reaches of the earth, we are forced to explore ourselves and our place in it.


Dr. Katie Bank is a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar at the Newberry Library and early career researcher in musicology.

Gift-giving in early modern European encounters with Southeast Asia

James Taylor, winner of the 2019 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize, gives us an insight into the nuances of gift-giving in encounters between early modern Europeans and Southeast Asians, with a extract from his prize-winning essay.


From the earliest European contact with Southeast Asia through to the era of ‘high imperialism’, the process of gift-giving sits at the fulcrum of a dynamic relationship; it is an instance of continuity apparent through several centuries of dramatic change over the course of which rough-and-ready trade deals came to be replaced by fully functioning imperial hegemony.

My research has addressed two broad questions: what role did the gift play in this context and what can be learnt from examining this area of history through the lens of reciprocal gift exchange rather than within the conceptual framework of an ‘age of commerce’?

The role of the gift

Initial encounters between European traders and Southeast Asians relied on gift exchange as a means of establishing basic mutual goodwill. During a brief stop at a supposedly uninhabited island in the Philippines in March 1521, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew were approached by a group of ten Filipinos in a boat, curious to discover the identity of their foreign visitors. Neither party could know the others’ intentions, whether they were friendly or hostile, stronger or weaker, nor could they vocally communicate these things to one another without chancing potentially serious misunderstanding. In the event, Antonio Pigafetta’s account tells us, ‘the captain … seeing that these people were reasonable’ gave them an assortment of small goods, and in return, ‘when these people saw the politeness of the captain … presented some fish, and a vessel of palm wine’.

First contact between parties that were largely if not entirely ignorant of one another’s social customs and backgrounds would often unfold like this. The exchange of gifts, however makeshift, served to establish a working equality between unfamiliar parties and created a platform of communication that defied language barriers. The gifts given in such situations were typically improvised and unceremonious; moments of on-the-spot reciprocity that conveyed basic but crucial messages of mutual respect and a willingness to cooperate.

Gift-giving took on additional meaning as relationships between Europeans and Southeast Asians became more established. Against the backdrop of growing European influence in the region during the seventeenth century, Southeast Asian rulers’ gifting became more noticeably orientated around those rulers asserting their dominance.

In a rather gruesome account, the English trader Thomas Bowrey describes watching the baiting and capturing of what was probably a black panther. The Raja of Janselone, noticing that Bowrey was impressed by the animal’s teeth, ordered his soldiers to knock them out and gave one to Bowrey as a gift. This presentation can be seen as the final act of an elaborate and highly symbolic spectacle, intended to demonstrate to foreigners the Raja’s mastery over the predators and threats of his world. The final, impulsive order given by the Raja to have the panther’s teeth put out and for one to be presented to Bowrey seems intended to shock him with the Raja’s readiness and freedom to manipulate the wild world according to his will.

Ambonese chiefs James Taylor
‘Tokens for Ambonese chiefs’, Zandvliet, The Dutch encounter with Asia, 1500-1950, plate 59, p. 117

As the imperial presence of the Dutch and English became more firmly established in the region through the expanding operations of their trading companies, the gift remained important, but its usage became more sophisticated. In 1620, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) presented medals (above) to Ambonese orangkayas (wealthy merchants or gentlemen) and princes whose design – engraved with a fleet of cora-cora on one side and the Dutch lion on the other – epitomised the Dutch effort to adopt Southeast Asian cultural symbolism in order to acquire legitimacy for their growing political and commercial influence.

At the end of the seventeenth century, moreover, these objects were still owned by the descendants of their original recipients. They were meant as lasting physical embodiments of the pact of friendship the Ambonese orangkayas had made with the VOC, and in this sense they reflect the Company’s impressive recognition of the significance of diplomatic gifts to Southeast Asians – symbols of the personal and of intangible bonds of loyalty rather than utilitarian or saleable objects.


As late as the mid-nineteenth century, Munshi Abdullah describes an elaborate presentation of a state sword (above) to the Temenggong of Johor in 1846 for help given to the colonial government. At the ceremony, the British Governor William Butterworth delivered a speech heavily laden with warnings to Asian peoples who might oppose the will of the British Company.

After receiving the sword, Abdullah tells us, the Temenggong ‘became all the more devoted and loyal.’ His loyalty became so great that he apparently ‘submitted entirely to the governor’s wishes and obeyed the directions of the government in all matters.’ Gift-giving seems to have served Europeans as a tool to socially elevate those who were compliant with their wishes; a strategy of divide and rule masked by a discourse of diplomacy that was reassuringly familiar to Southeast Asian subjects. Indeed, although the presentation of the sword to the Temenggong was organised by the British colonial administration, they allowed the ceremonial trappings of Southeast Asian gift-giving (quite literally) to surround the event – music played as girls danced in the Malay fashion ‘and in the style of Kelatan’ before the gathered crowd.

Gift-giving as a lens

Examining moments of gift-giving is important because it reveals significant differences between European and Southeast Asian aims, interests and discourses of diplomacy in the early modern period. Most apparent from my research has been the contrast between the personal and impersonal diplomatic approaches of Southeast Asians and Europeans respectively.

Many Europeans’ predominantly commercial interests in the region were not shared with such gusto by Southeast Asians, whose priorities were more concerned with forging political alliances that were often contingent on a personal bond with the particular explorer or trader who appeared before them.

Rather than a uniform ‘age of commerce’, then, the themes of engagement on which inter-cultural relationships were predicated in this era are highly nuanced. Accordingly, gift-giving proved to be an indispensable tool in mollifying potentially obstructive differences and enabling cooperation.

James Taylor is a graduate student at City, University of London and winner of the Hakluyt Society Essay Prize 2019. His essay, ‘Gift-giving, Reciprocity and the Negotiation of Power, c.1500-1824’, considers the role of gift-giving as an indispensable and ongoing process that facilitated inter-cultural interactions between European traders and Southeast Asian rulers throughout the early modern period. He will present his research in more detail at the Society’s Annual Symposium in Leiden this September.