100 not out

Today I have, somewhat to my surprise, reached my hundredth blog post. While there has never been any particular plan guiding my blogging (I tend to write whenever I find something that sparks my interest or curiosity ), I have found that these posts function usefully both as an aide-mémoire to the many aspects of Macintosh and his work I wish to explore in the planned book and as a first phase of analysis and interpretation. In most instances, therefore, these posts record interesting leads to be pursued further rather than definitive commentaries.

One such interesting lead presented itself today while I was consulting the digitised version of the archive of the Royal Geographical Society, to which I am fortunate to have temporary access for another purpose. Among the Society’s archives is a collection of letters and associated papers (RGS LMS M.39) written by the “soldier and adventurer” John Morrison to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (then Lord Advocate), promoting his plans for an alliance with Persia.

Morrison, himself, is an interesting character. His life is summarised by one biographer in the following terms:

Soldier and adventurer in the second half of the 18th century: at first in the E. I. Co.’s service…In 1769 the idea came to him of re-establishing Sha Alam on his throne: about two years after resigned his post under the Company, 1771: about 1772 he entered Sha Alam’s service, and received from him the titles of “General and C. in C. of the Great Mogul’s forces,” and “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” to George III: went to England, empowered by the Great Mogul to lay before Government his proposal to invest the King of England with the absolute sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bengal, and the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, in exchange for a body of British troops to defend his throne at Delhi: to press home this scheme, Morrison wrote his Tract on The Advantages of an Alliance with the Great Mogul, published in 1774.

Dictionary of Indian Biography (1906), by C. E. Buckland, p. 300.

One of Morrison’s letters to Dundas, dated 27 October 1788, contains a number of supplementary papers in support of his plan for an alliance with Persia (Morrison notes that he has sent the same papers to the Marquess of Carmarthen [i.e., Francis Osborne, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs] and Lord Hawkesbury [i.e., Charles Jenkinson, President of the Board of Trade]). One of the enclosed papers is a very neat transcript of the forty-ninth letter from Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa which, as Morrison notes, concerns “the Trade carried on from India with the Arabian & Persian Gulphs”.

Enclosure in John Morrison to Henry Dundas, 27 October 1788. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). LMS M.39.

This enclosure is interesting for two reasons: first, it offers additional evidence as to the readership of Macintosh’s book and the wider circulation of the ideas it contained; second, because it seems to indicate who the recipient of Macintosh’s forty-ninth letter actual was.

Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782), vol. 2, p. 135.

Although some of the recipients of Macintosh’s letters were clearly identified in Travels, many were either anonymised or disguised by means of dashes. It seems more than coincidental that Macintosh’s forty-ninth letter, addressed to “J—— M——”, was subsequently reproduced and circulated by John Morrison. Coincidence seems an even more remote possibility when one considers how similar the views of Macintosh and Morrison were with respect to a formal alliance with Shah Alam II. Indeed, in an earlier letter to J—— M—— (28 October 1779), Macintosh notes:

A partition of the sovereignty of Hindostan [sic], between Great Britain and the Emperor, and a firm alliance between these powers, would be attended with greatest advantages to both, and also with tranquillity to all the native princes of India. That the establishment of such a compact and alliance, would be productive of the greatest blessings to all these parties, will not, I imagine, admit of much dispute

Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782), vol. 1, p. 401.

What this post illustrates, I think, is the extent to which chance and serendipity play a part in my research. Under other circumstances I don’t think I would ever have known to look for Morrison’s correspondence, and certainly not at the Royal Geographical Society.

Leave a Reply