Bombay and Keigwin’s Rebellion

Bombay had been ceded to England by Portugal in the dowry of Catherine of Braganza in 1661. At that time, there was a Portuguese manor house there, close to where the Gateway of India stands today. Seven years later, Bombay was leased to the East India Company who immediately built a quay, customs house and warehouses. The manor house was renamed Bombay Castle. It was surrounded by a pleasant garden but defended by just four guns. It was a matter of urgency to build fortifications to protect it. The East India Company planned to move its western headquarters from Surat to Bombay to avoid the increasingly frequent Maratha raids. The Company was already encouraging the production of quality cloth on the island. It was not an untroubled place.

On Saturday 30 June 1683 Captain Consett, the commander of the Company ship the Berkeley Castle, recently arrived from England invited a number of people on board including Henry Smith, Stephen Adderton and Captain Richard Keigwin of the Bombay militia. After dinner, Smith spoke about the recent prohibition on Company employees purchasing slaves. He announced that he would not give a farthing for the proclamation and to prove it would buy two or three slaves within the next few days. Consett said that, if he did, he should like a girl to take home to England to which Smith retorted he should just take one from the slave ship in port. The dinner probably included a great deal of wine because Consett and his chief mate immediately tried to carry out Smith’s suggestion. The result was Consett being thrown, wounded, overboard from the slave ship. His mate stripped naked and dived in to save him and the Berkley Castle fired on the slave ship wounding twenty-four of the crew.

Smith, a disgraced member of the Council at Bombay had previously been sacked but reinstated on the orders of the Company in London. He was banished following the incident to again await a ship home. Keigwin was another Council member who, like Smith, believed most of the local Company officials to be corrupt. The following December, he was excluded from the Council. Supported by the militia, he led a revolt against them. He took the fort by force and, for nearly a year, ruled Bombay allegedly in the name of the King. By cancelling all trade monopolies, Keigwin won the support of much of the population.

Adderton joined the rebels and was appointed admiral of their fleet. The following March, he was sent by Keigwin to obtain supplies from a sympathiser at Surat. Whilst there, Adderton was put under pressure by Company officials. Despite claiming that he and his crew would die rather than submit, two days later they all surrendered in return for a free pardon. Keigwin was furious and, to make an example of him, seized all Adderton’s possessions and burned his house. The rebels damaged no other private property during the rebellion but the loss of Adderton’s papers at this time was to have the consequences for the administration of his estate following his death.

Keigwin wrote to Charles II asking him to take direct control of Bombay because of the failure of the Company. It was not what the king wanted and he despatched Sir Thomas Grantham to Bombay to resolve the situation. Grantham negotiated a general pardon allowing Keigwin to retain the salary he had claimed whilst acting as Governor and took him back to England with him.

As far as is known, Thomas Bowrey did not visit the west coast of India at this time but he had family connections with both Smith and Adderton, and kept abreast of developments in the region. His return from his one recorded voyage to Bombay did not end well. Once Smith sailed for England 1684 and Adderton died the following year, Thomas had no further connections with the island.

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