Prejudice in the East Indies

Prejudice has always existed and, although legislated against, today is constantly in the news. Although we would prefer to believe it is not true of ourselves, prejudicial views are held by most people but conscience, public opinion and legislation ensures that, in the main, these views are supressed. During the period of the British Empire, this was not so among the white colonialists convinced of their own superiority. Earlier the situation was more complex. Thomas and most of his compatriots in the East Indies had little power. That they believed their religion and way of life was superior but had to accept local authority was demonstrated by the incident which resulted in Thomas being imprisoned at Porto Novo (I have written about previously). Another example took place in May 1685.

Thomas was at Achin. He spent a few days in difficult negotiations with the local officials in order to receive the necessary permission to land his goods. Having done so, he was frustrated by the weather. The wind was against him all day stopping him from returning to his ship. As soon as he was able, Thomas collected his personal possessions and ten bales of textiles he was selling on his own account. Thomas’ earlier frustrations melted away when his chests were passed by the Customs House without being opened. This was a privilege granted to the English. He took everything to the house he had rented close to the catacombs and bazaar. He would have preferred to live by the river from where he could keep an eye on his ship but there had been no house available there.

The next day, events turned against him. The English privilege did not extend to residential property. Thomas wrote that the local chief officer sent for him and told him no Christian merchant was permitted to stay in the house he had rented. None ever had lived above the English factory. He was shown an alternative which he took although it was not as satisfactory and the next day he grudgingly moved his goods to his new house.

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