On This Day: 19 November 1685

On this day in 1685, John Evans, East India Company chaplain at Hugli, Bengal (later Bishop of Bangor and Meath), wrote to Captain Thomas Bowrey on board the Borneo Merchant in Madras Roads.

Evans had loaded 14 Bengal maunds of opium on the Borneo Merchant for delivery to Elihu Yale (at this time employed by the East India Company but whose bequest partially funded Yale University). A maund was a unit of weight equivalent to 25 lbs (11.34kg). At the time, Bengal opium was considered the best in India. The market for opium was in the region now known as Malaysia and Indonesia.

As Yale was based at Fort St George, in this case it is not clear where the opium was destined. Elizabeth I instructed East India Company ships to bring opium back to England as early as 1601. By 1680, it was an ingredient in Sydenham’s Laudanum and other pills there. By Yale’s time in India, opium had been exported to China by English traders for decades. It is impossible to tell from today’s document whether or not the opium carried by Bowrey was for medical use in England.

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