On This Day: 18 December 1704

On this day in 1704,  Thomas Bowrey’s ship the Rising Sun was at Fort William (present day Calcutta). It was recorded in the diary of the East India Company there:

Captain Thomas Wibergh Commander of the Rising Sun, a separate Stock Company Ship, hoisted and wore in the Road opposite to the Fort Jack, Ensign and Pendant, all French colours aboard his Ship, but being told of it and the Inconveniencies which might happen, both to the United Trade, and to his own Ship if the Moors Government observed and took advantage by it, he took them down and hoisted English.

Ships at the time, both merchantmen and Royal Navy, carried flags of many nations in addition to their own. They would use the flags of other nations to deceive: either for safety reasons or to trick enemy shipping before attacking. In view of this, crews of ships (especially those of the Royal Navy) would learn to recognise individual ships by sight. At this time, England was at war with France (in the War of Spanish Succession) but the Rising Sun was at anchor near the East India Company fort so it seems a strange decision to have made to fly the French colours.

Perhaps, the Rising Sun had only recently arrived having passed French ships and had forgotten to take them down. Even enemy merchant shipping may have been carrying Letters of Marque from their government and, thus, have been privateering.

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