|Chapter 6||Part 1 (of 2)||Part 2|
Edward Bland, Merchant Adventurer
We learn from his will that Edward Wollstonecraft held a share in the East Indiaman, the Cruttenden. There was a traditional system of part-ownership of merchant ships. To minimise risk, ownership was divided into shares, of which there were, at that time, normally sixteen or, sometimes, thirty-two and the shareholders would receive a portion of the profits, or losses, accordingly. A Principal Managing Owner would represent the shareholders who, amongst their responsibilities, would appoint the ship's officers and crew, subject to the approval of the East India Company, itself. Within certain limitations and guidelines depending on seniority, the officers and seamen would be allowed to undertake private trading, exporting and importing their own goods. Understandably, on a ship there were varying constraints on the types of commodities, their weight and the space they could occupy. The prospect of private trade was an attractive incentive, handsome profits could be made. An additional enticement to joining service in the East India Company was that the captains and first mates were exempt from being pressed into the Royal Navy.
Considerable expertise was required to navigate the seas to the Far East and the master was accorded a high degree of respect and social status. He might be the son of a merchant and had learned the necessary skills from an early age. His first mate could be required to take over command of the ship at any time on the voyage and so his degree of education and proficiency would need to have been similar1.
Edward Bland Wollstonecraft's first sailing with the East India Company was, as third mate, aboard the Valentine, the first Company ship to bear this name.
Farrington records that she was built by Perry. Perry, Wells and Green owned the largest private ship-building yard in the country and it was sited on the Thames at Blackwall. It was here at Blackwall, that the huge East India Docks were to be opened in 1806. The Valentine was launched in 1758. She had three decks, was 655 tons and the Principal Managing Owner was Charles Raymond.
Shortly before his twenty-third birthday, Edward Bland embarked on the vessel's maiden voyage with Captain William Fernell. The Valentine left Portsmouth on 16th February 1759 and, after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, reached Trincomalee in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, on 15th July.
The next port of call, two weeks later on the 29th July, was Negapatam, now Nagappattinam, on the coast of India. Moving northwards, they came to Madras on 16th August. On 6th December, they were at Batavia, in Java, now Djakarta the capital of Indonesia.
The town had been built by the Dutch in the style familiar in their home country. It was situated in a low-lying, flat area of land and had canals running beside most streets. It was, however, ridden with disease. The canals were foul, stagnant and heavily polluted with rubbish and sewerage. In the sweltering heat of the tropics, infection-carrying mosquitoes bred at an alarming rate. Vermin made their home in the filth, increasing the risk to health. Malaria and dysentery were rife. Eleven years later, in October 1770, Captain James Cook called there in his ship, the Endeavour. He remained in the town until just after Christmas and, during that time, seven of his ship's company of ninety-four died after falling victim to disease. When he left port, a further forty were so badly incapacitated by sickness, they were unfit to carry out their duties and, in the ten-week voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, twenty-three died2.
The Valentine sailed on to arrive at Whampoa in China on 7th June 1760. Whampoa, or Huangpu, lies on an island in the Pearl River, about fifteen miles below Canton, or Guangzhou, in the Guangdong province of South East China. A sea pilot would accompany the ship to the estuary, as far as the Macao Road, where a river pilot would take charge, guiding the vessel over two dangerous bars before reaching their destination3.
Here at Canton, in 1699, the East India Company had established one of its fortified warehouses, called "factories". It was an impressive edifice situated on the riverfront and staffed by officers of the Company. They would trade with the Chinese through the Emperor's Imperial Agent, exchanging gold or silver bullion for rare merchandise that would have a ready market at home and bring a good profit. Having the facilities to store the goods to await the arrival of the annual convoy, they would be able to buy when the price was most favourable to the Company4. The hold of the Valentine might be loaded with quantities of tea, silk, nankeen, lacquered-ware, chinaware, fans of all descriptions, sweetmeats, ivory-wares, paintings and many other fine commodities. From the middle of the eighteenth century, their particular interest would have been in tea. Silk was another important commodity, the majority of which would have been raw, to meet the needs of the weavers in Spitalfields.
A year later, the Valentine was on her way back home and, on 6th June 1761, she had navigated as far as St Helena, in the Atlantic Ocean. Three months after that, on 20th September, the log records she completed her voyage and was on that day off the "Downs" in the English Channel. She had been away for two years and seven months.
Soon after returning home, on 3rd November 1761, Edward Bland married Lydia Cooke. They named their first child Lydia and she was baptised on 11th October 1762. When the baby was hardly five months old, Edward Bland put to sea again with the East India Company, as first mate on the Cruttenden.
Like the Valentine, the Cruttenden was a newly built ship making her maiden voyage. She, too, was a product of the Blackwall yard, having been built by Wells and was launched in 1762. With three decks, she was over 112 feet long, 36 feet wide and weighed 784 tons. Her Principal Managing Owner was John Durand and her captain, John Bowland.
The ship's journal records in detail the whole of this and subsequent voyages5.
Officers and seamen amongst her crew were as follows: