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Welcome to Episode 247 of That Shakespeare Life.

In April of 1601, four ships set out from England with hopes of establishing trade with Asia. Remembered by history as the first voyage of the East India Company that launched a momentous relationship between what would become Britain and Asia, the first, as well as the subsequent three, voyages by this group were wrought with danger, disease, and completed at great personal sacrifice. On all of these journeys, the captains and sailors battled illness, poor living conditions, and perilously low morale. While the East India Company launched the missions with a set of rules designed to help alleviate the most significant hurdles, our guest this week, Cheryl Fury, shares in her recent publication that the human cost of these voyages remained astronomically high. 

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Cheryl Fury is a Professor of History at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John) and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Gregg Centre for War and Society. She teaches courses in European and British history (Tudor-Stuart England, early modern women, queenship, as well as modern Europe, especially the Holocaust and Fascism). She has spent her career studying the English maritime community. She has written and edited a number of books on the social history of English seafarers: Tides in the Affairs of Men (2002), The Social History of English Seamen 1485-1649 (2012) and The Social History of English Seamen 1650-1815 as well as several articles in academic journals and chapters in books. She is currently working on a book on diet, disease and disorder in the early East India Company.  She has also edited a number of books with Holocaust survivor, Vera Schiff.

I’ll be asking Cheryl Fury about:

  • Cheryl, how do we know what happened out in the middle of the ocean for these sailors and shipmen? Is it captain’s logs or letters written home, or what surviving records do we have that tell us about their journey?  
  • Cheryl writes that while the East India Company planned on significant fatalities with these voyages, they also launched a “seventeenth century health and wellness program” that brought together the “best practices” for future voyages. Cheryl, what were some of these best practices they instituted for these voyages? 
  • In 1609, master of the ship named Good Hope, John Lufkin, denied shore leave to his shipmen resulting in drastic consequences. Cheryl, explain Lufkin’s decision and share his ultimate fate.  
  • …and more!

Resources You Can Use to Learn More:

British Library – 9 miles of records!

Records from the period—some of them are printed The Hakylutt Society. Their mission is to make the accounts more accessible to anyone.

Qatar National Library, there’s a number of East India Company journals. Daunting hand writing but fun to see.  

Richmond Barber 

  • Transcribes the 3rd voyage journals with commentary 
  • Loss of the Trades increase, 6th voyage 

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Japanese document titled “Shuinjo”, with the original vermillion-seal of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, granting trade privileges in Japan to the English East India Company in 1613. Source
This is a drawing of the Red Dragon Ship. It is contested as to whether or not the play Hamlet was done aboard this ship in the 1600s.
James Lancaster, commanded the first Easy India Company voyage in 1601
James Lancaster commanded the first East India Company voyage in 1601. Source
Learn more about the East India Company and their visit to Japan with British merchant William Adams.

Explore the history of the Red Dragon ship (part of the East India Company) and their potential performance of Hamlet in the 1600s.

The Red Dragon and more about shipboard life when we discuss pirates and privateers with James Seth.