Wordsworth's weak link to the East India Company

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I wrote last week about the National Trust's Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery.  Subsequent to this, I wrote to the Trust about this passage about Allen Bank, a house near Grasmere.

"The poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) lived for a time at Allan Bank. He and his sister, writer Dorothy Wordsworth (1771–1855), are both known for expressing views in opposition to slavery.

Their brother, John Wordsworth (1772–1805), became Commander of the East India Company ship Earl of Abergavenny in 1801.  He captained two successful voyages to China, in which the family invested.  Wordsworth’s third voyage would have made the family a considerable sum, but the ship sank a few days into the journey, causing the death of John and many others."

I did not get a helpful reply (after a promise, I was fobbed off), but less than three minutes on the internet revealed a readily available account of the sinking of the Earl of Abergavenny (including details of the investments by the Wordsworth family) which was not referenced in the report.

These investments turned out to be money lent to their brother so that he could buy goods in the UK to sell in China; and then to buy goods in China to sell back here.  The link to the East India Company was that this was happening (as was common practice with officers) on a Company ship.

It makes me wonder why the second paragraph (above) was included in the text.  It’s not as though William or Dorothy Wordsworth were key figures in the East India Company's work or had any link to what it got up to in India.  What they invested in was trade between the UK and China hoping for a return on capital.
So what? you might think.  Of course, old money didn't really approve of trade.  Old prejudices, it seems, die hard at the Trust.  I'm giving Wordsworth the last word on his brother, although I note that, replacing "him" by "it" could be how an increasing number of people seem to view the National Trust today:
"We have lost him at a time when we are young enough to have been justified in looking forward to many happy years to be passed in his Society and when we are too old to outgrow the loss”.
* John Wordsworth and the wreck of the Earl of Abergavenny.  Researched, compiled and edited by Ed Cumming.  Honorary Fellow of the Nautical Archaeology Society

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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