Art n Life

The Doctor who Doctored India's History

Md Bilal Farooqui | April 16, 2020 09:48 PM

During this pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, one faction of society which is doing its best to battle the virus and at great risk of their own lives, are the doctors. While reading Rana Safvi’s amazing book on Shahjahanabad I came across the story of a similar doctor William Hamilton who changed the history of the Indian subcontinent forever. We all know that Britishers ruled India for around 200 years, but in the beginning, they had arrived in India merely as a trading company. And at that time, the rulers of the Indian subcontinent were the Mughals. Though the East India Company had earlier sent many of its ambassadors but they were not able to gain full trading rights. So after much consideration, the famous Embassy of the Company started from Calcutta to Delhi in April 1714. The Embassy reached Delhi on 4th September 1715 after spending a considerable amount of their time in Patna. The Embassy was armed with the petitions of the Company regarding the trading rights to be presented in front of the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar. Mr. J. Talboys Wheeler in his work “ Early records of British India” give us some of the extracts from the letters exchanged between the Embassy and the Council of the Company.

“Delhi, 6th October 1715" We designed to have presented our petition on the first good opportunity, but His Majesty's indisposition continuing, and Mr. Hamilton having undertaken to cure him, it has been thought advisable by our friends, as well as by ourselves, to defer delivering it till such time as it shall please God that His Majesty in some measure returns to his former state of health, which advice, we intend to follow, considering that, whilst he is in so much pain, it can be but a very indifferent opportunity to beg favors of him. The first distemper the doctor took him in hand for, was swellings in his groin, which, thanks be to God, he is in a fair way of curing; but within these few days last past he has been taken with a violent pain, which is likely to come to a fistula; it hinders His Majesty from coming out, so naturally puts a stop to all manner of business, wherefore we must have patience perforce.”

Two months after that a letter dated 7th December from the Embassy reported Hamilton’s cure of the Emperor.

"Delhi, 7th December 1715. We write your Honors the welcome news of the King's recovery. As a clear demonstration to tho world, he washed himself the 23rd ultimo, and accordingly received the congratulations of the whole Court. As a reward for Mr. Hamilton's care and success, the King was pleased on the 30th to give him in public, viz., a vest, a culgee* set with precious stone, two diamond rings, an elephant, horse, and 5,000 rupees ; besides ordering at the same time all his small instruments to be made in gold, with gold buttons for his coat and waistcoat, and brushes set with jewels.”

Actually it is not important what Hamilton received but what the Company was going to receive eventually and they knew it, as the above-stated letter was received by the council in Calcutta on 9th January 1716. It seems wonderfully quick for a letter to reach from Delhi to Calcutta in a matter of 33 days in the early 1700s.

 In the April of 1717 Farrukhsiyar issued a firman meeting all the request that the company had made in its petition.

1)      Permission was granted to purchase 38 villages surrounding the three already held( Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata, the predecessor of modern Calcutta).

2)     Passport, signed by the President of Calcutta, should exempt the goods it specified from being stopped or examined by the officers of the Bengal Government under any pretence.

3)     Officers of the mint, at Murshidabad, should allow three days in the week for the minting of the coinage of the English Company.

4)     That all persons, whether Europeans or Natives, who might be indebted or accountable to the Company, should be delivered up to the Presidency at Calcutta, on the first demand.

With these petitions being fulfilled the company gained a strong foothold in Calcutta. The firman was instrumental in setting up of business and colonization of Bengal, later to be followed by the rest of India. After issuing the firmanFarrukhsiyar wanted to retain Hamilton as his personal physician but Hamilton wanted to return to his homeland.

After much difficulty, he was allowed to go back on the condition that he will return back to serve the Emperor. But as destiny would have it, Hamilton didn't make either to his homeland or Delhi. He died on 4th December 1717 in Calcutta and is now buried in the churchyard of St.John's Church, Calcutta.

(The writer is a BA II year student in Jamia University, Delhi)


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