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The Third Voyage of the London East India Company (1607-10) was England’s first voyage to reach India. Aiming to build on the achievements of the first two voyages, which had seen England begin to enter East Indian markets for spices and textiles previously dominated by the Portuguese (and, increasingly, the Dutch), the Company sent three ships — the Red Dragon, the Hector, and the Consent — to perform this mission. William Keeling was the General of this voyage and the captain of the Dragon, William Hawkins was the Captain of the Hector, and David Middleton was the captain of the Consent. The three ships were to set sail together, but the mariners of Hector, receiving their wages on 11 March 1607, went to drink on shore and failed to come back on time. Keeling had to order the Consent to sail from Tilbury Hop on 12 March, nine days before the other two ships.

By the end of July, the Red Dragon and the Hector were close to the Coast of Guinea, but around 100 men aboard these two ships were sick, and they needed fresh victuals as soon as possible. The General followed the counsel given by the majority and decided to take a rest in Sierra Leone. They arrived in Sierra Leone on 6 August and treated the local people in a friendly manner, trying to communicate with them by signs in order to ask for fresh victuals. The local people understood them, and brought them a small quantity of limes and hens. To get more food, a few days later, the General sent John Rogers to the great Commander of Sierra Leone, King Buré. Two days later, John Rogers returned with the King’s gifts and a man called Lucas Fernandez, who was the King’s Portuguese-educated interpreter. Lucas promised to get enough hens and plantains for the Englishmen. While staying in Sierra Leone, the mariners bartered with the local people. Keeling tried to keep the mariners well disciplined. However, in late August, some men from Sierra Leone came to him, complaining that 11 parcels were stolen by English mariners. The case was immediately investigated, the offenders were punished in public to satisfy the victims, and the stolen parcels all returned. On 10 September, the mariner George King stole some shirts and other things. Refusing to confess anything, King leaped overboard when the others were not noticing and was drowned. Meanwhile, the General was trying to get in touch with Bartholomew André, master of a small Portuguese ship, hoping that he could help deliver some letters to England. Although André was reluctant to speak to Keeling, he notified Father Bartholomew Barrera of the request, and Barrera agreed to help. Well refreshed, the Englishmen left Sierra Leone on 13 September.

In April 1608, they arrived at Socotra. Socotra seemed to be a barren island and, having once been captured by the Portuguese and sold to the Turks as slaves, the local people ran away in fear while seeing the Englishmen. The mariners had to sail eastward along the northern coast of this island and arrived at the chief town of Socotra — Tamoré. They met around 200 local people armed with guns, swords and darts. The Socotrans promised to provide enough free water and sell goats, beef, rice, and wood to the Englishmen. But out of fear, they denied that this island was Socotra. In the meantime, the Englishmen met Gujarati mariners who provided them with important information both on Socotra and on other places further east, such as Aden, Surat, and Cambaya. The Socotrans, however, didn’t leave a positive impression on Keeling. Being asked to leave a letter in praise of the Socotrans to show to any Englishmen who shall come here in the future, Keeling wrote a letter to the contrary effect, indicating that the Socotrans were deceitful. On the Englishmen’s departure, an enslaved man, Nasher, escaped from the island, followed the Dragon, and begged Keeling to carry him from Socotra. Nasher also told the General more about Tamoré, saying that the King of Socotra originally planned to give bad water to the Englishmen, but finally abandoned the plan for fear of revenge. But due to the terrible weather, the two ships were forced back to Socotra half a month later. Nasher was returned to the King in exchange for fresh victuals. The King showed kindness, inviting Keeling and most of the English merchants to dine with him. In late June, it was decided that the two ships should part ways, with the Dragon heading for Sumatra and Java, islands in what is now Indonesia, while the Hector headed for Surat on the west coast of mainland India.

On 24 August 1608, The Hector safely arrived at Surat. Surat was then governed by two great noblemen: one was Chanchana, Viceroy of Decan; the other was Mocreb-chan, Viceroy of Cambaya and Surat. Mocreb-chan was the only man Hawkins had to deal with, but he colluded with the Portuguese. They plotted against Hawkins, trying either to murder or to poison him several times and to overthrow England’s attempt to establish a factory (i.e., trading post) in Surat. Hawkins had to travel to Agra to visit personally the Emperor of the Mughal Empire. Trusted by Emperor Jahangir, Hawkins consistently sought to persuade him to sponsor English trade. But the Portuguese, assisted by Mocreb-chan, warned the Emperor that allowing Englishmen to stay put the country at risk, both because England would invade and conquer India and because by so doing the Mughal court would displease Portugal. Also, the Portuguese tempted the Emperor with lucre, and Jahangir finally submitted to them. As a result, Hawkins never received an answering letter from Jahangir to King James of England nor a durable royal directive for a factory in Surat. Disappointed by the Emperor’s inconstancy, Hawkins left the Mughal court in November 1611.      

Summary of The Third Voyage of the London East India Company

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