The Voyages and Manifesto of William Fergusson, A Surgeon of the East India Company 1731–1739
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This volume brings to publication for the first time the manuscript of William Fergusson, a Scottish shipʼs surgeon who sailed for the East India Company in the 1730s. Written in 1767, while in retirement, Fergussonʼs diaries are the memories of his youth spent travelling the world during his apprenticeship. They detail the four voyages he took, the first, a passage from Scotland to England with a lading in Ireland, and three others to the East, calling at ports in the Atlantic, southern Africa, Arabia, India, and Southeast Asia, before reaching as far as China. Almost nothing is known of Fergusson and none of his other writings are known to survive. Remaining evidence suggests that he was an average man of his class, who travelled the well-plied trade routes of European merchant capitalism. While many logbooks of these voyages survive, comparatively few accounts were written by the men who sailed them. Fewer still ever come to light. Fergussonʼs manuscript offers a rare new source on what were by then the relatively routine voyages of the East India Companyʼs early trading network, providing a treasure trove of comments on the politics, economics, societies, and religious beliefs and practices he witnessed along the way.
Originally titled ʻJournals of my Voyages & Manifestoʼ, the name suggests Fergussonʼs manuscript offers far more than the insights usually contained in contemporary travelogues. In his manifesto, readers will discover Fergussonʼs impassioned polemics on natural religion, devotional ʻenthusiasmʼ, just governance, all while he implores the principles of rationality and reason. It is truly a manifesto of Enlightenment thought. As such, it also provides a unique example of how those who sailed for the East India Company during the early modern era participated in a global intellectual exchange of ideas.
Fergusson wrote his private memories in twenty-two small bound booklets, all of which have been transcribed and annotated to guide the reader. These are presented here along with a critical introduction that contextualises the complex eighteenth-century world into which Fergusson voyaged, including elements of his role as a shipʼs surgeon, the Indian Ocean trading and political environment, and the ideas of the Enlightenment he so passionately expressed. Researchers interested in the histories of ideas, medicine, early-modern colonialism, maritime merchant empires, as well as historians of Africa and Asia, will find much new information to explore within the pages of this volume.
Table of Contents
Ship’s Surgeons of the Early-Modern Era
William Fergusson, Apprentice Apothecary-Surgeon
European Medicine and the Indian Ocean World
A Manifesto of the Enlightenment
THE VOYAGES OF WILLIAM FERGUSSON
Voyage 1: Passage from Ayr to London, 7 June–16 July 1731
Voyage 2: London to Calcutta, 30 January 1733–12 August 1734
Voyage 3: London to the Malabar Coast, 1 December 1735–30 April 1737
Voyage 4: London to Canton, 6 October 1737–15 July 1739
Derek L. Elliott is assistant professor of history at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Before moving to the Middle Atlas Mountains, he completed a doctorate at the University of Cambridge. His research examines different lived experiences of colonialism at the intersection of law and violence within the British imperial world. His projects have been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Shastri Indo–Canadian Institute, and the Smuts Memorial Fund, amongst others. He is currently preparing a monograph on the use of extrajudicial state violence in governing early nineteenth-century South India.