1652, Thomas Billingsley seeks compensation for the murder of his uncle by the Dutch at Amboyna in the East Indies

‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/petitions/state-papers/1650s#h2-0012.

Thomas Billingsley. SP 84/159 f. 107 (1652)

To the right honourable the Council of State

Thomas Billingsley in this his most humble peticion sheweth.

That in the yeare 1622 in the moneth of February, in Amboyna, in the East India: the Dutch, then and there residing, for the East India Company of Holland; continued and executed an horrible massacre upon the persons of divers English merchantes and an utter vastation of their estates, both then (as it were) under the (inhumane) protection of the Dutch. Amongst which tortured and unjustly executed number, Emanuel Thompson your peticioners uncle was one tortured so much, and so long, that it would even torture expression to delineate. To whose estate your peticioner is administratour; amounting as appeareth per the annexed to 250 pounds sterling so long since

May it please your honoures out of sacred love to justice, from the noble sence of the long vilipended, and suffering honor of our nation, so long bleeding in their tortures, and expiring in their deathes; and allso out of the tender resentment of your peticioners personall deprivations, of the pretious life of his uncle, (a man of eminent partes) as allso of his long deteyned estate, to take such order for publique and private satisfaction as may consist with your unblemisht honoures and wisedomes.

And your peticioner as in duty bound, shall ever pray to the throne of grace to make you as honorable in peace as prosperous in warre

Thomas Billingsley

[paratext:] Petition of Thomas Billingsley presented 6o January 1651; Referred to the committee for forraigne affaires

Report by Janet Osbourne

In his petition Thomas Billingsley recalled a ‘horrible massacre’ of English merchants in Amboyna, in the East Indies, carried out by the Dutch East India Company in 1622.  The merchants’ estates were devastated in the course of the massacre. Among the victims was Billingsley’s uncle, Emanuel Thomson who suffered extremes of torture and was then executed. Billingsley, as the administrator of Thomson’s estate, valued at £250, sought redress.

The Amboyna Massacre

In March 1623 (1622 in the Stuart calendar), ten British merchants, along with several Japanese and one Portuguese merchants, were badly tortured and beheaded in Amboyna, now part of Indonesia, by order of Herman van Speult, Dutch Governor of the island. They died accused of plotting to seize control of the spice trade. News of the incident did not reach England until May 1624 where it caused outrage.[1]

View of Amboyna
View of Amboyna, c.1621. Source: Koninklijke Bibliotheek.

Emanuel Thomson and his family

Emanuel Thomson (sometimes Thompson) was the son of a Dutch mother. His father, Richard Thomson, was a Protestant who moved to mainland Europe during the persecutions in the reign of Queen Mary in the 1550s.

Emanuel was born in Hamburg, in 1573. He is recorded in 1599 as living in Stade, Germany. He is the author of influential translations into German of two English works: James I’s The Basilikon Doron (in 1604) and Robert Parson’s and Edmund Bunny’s Booke of Christian Exercise (in 1612).  It is not known when he became a merchant and moved to the East Indies.

Emanuel had a brother, Richard born in 1569 in Antwerp. He had no children. He was a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, a renowned philologist and one of the sixty or so men involved in the translation of the King James Bible. He also had a reputation for enjoying alcohol. He died in Cambridge in 1613 while he was serving as a vicar and is buried in St Edward’s Church. Emanuel also had a sister, Abigail, who married Henry Billingsley in October 1596, in Stade.[2]

The Billingsley family

Henry Billingsley was the son of Sir Henry Billingsley. Sir Henry was born around 1530 and died in 1606.  He had considerable wealth, was a translator, an English merchant and the Lord Mayor of London in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  In 1596 became one of Queen Elizabeth I’s four custom collectors.  He was briefly an MP. He married five times and had at least ten children.[3] Henry’s first wife was Elizabeth Bourne (1541-1577) and his eldest son was Henry, Abigail’s husband.

The son Henry was born around 1565 and was a draper by trade. He was knighted by James I in 1603. He also spent a period in the Marshalsea prison because of his debts.[4] Abigail and Henry had at least three sons, of whom one would have been Thomas, Emanuel’s nephew and the author of the petition.[5]

The petition

Survivors of the massacre with the support of the English government sought redress from the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch disputed the claims.[6]

In 1628, Henry Billingsley, his wife Abigail and their three sons submitted a petition to the King, setting out how Abigail’s brother, Emanuel Thompson had been ‘cruelly tormented and put to death by the Hollanders in Amboyna’. They sought the King’s aid in securing justice for the ‘fame, torture, life blood, and personal estate of their brother and uncle’. It appears that those currently negotiating the claim against the Dutch company ‘with the Ambassadors from the States of Holland’ were asked to take this petition into their special consideration.[7]

It appears that Henry Billingsley had his own troubles. In 1630 he submitted a petition claiming that his work as the Postmaster General’s deputy in administering the export and import of letters was being interrupted by one Matthew de Questor. He sought aid in confirming the ‘right of his employment’. He claimed to be a creditor of the late Earl of Desmond in the sum of £500 and added that he had lost his wife’s brother, Emanuel Thomson, among the ‘innocently-murthered men’ at Amboyna.[8]

The family’s initial petition in 1628 was clearly unsuccessful, given Thomas Billingsley’s renewed claim in 1652. His petition was referred to the Committee for Foreign Affairs.[9]  At the same time the claim against the Dutch East India Company was finally settled.  The Company was forced to pay £85,000 compensation to the English East India Company and £3,615 to the dependents of the ten men executed at Amboyna, that is about £362 for each family.[10]


[1] ‘Amboyna massacre’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amboyna_massacre.

[2] All information in this section comes from Paul Botley, Richard ‘Dutch’ Thomson, c.1569 – 1613: The Life and Letters of a Renaissance Scholar (2016), pp. 3-7, 66. ‘Richard Thomson, theologian’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Thomson_(theologian); and ‘Richard Thomson (Thompson)’, King James Bible Translators, https://kingjamesbibletranslators.org/bios/Richard_Thomson/.

[3] ‘BILLINGSLEY, Sir Henry (c.1538-1606), of Fenchurch Street, London’, in  Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris (eds.), The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1604-1629 (2010), http://historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/billingsley-sir-henry-1538-1606; ‘Henry Billingsley’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Billingsley.

[4] ‘Charles I – volume 108: June 23-30, 1628’, in John Bruce (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1628-29 (1859), pp. 174-188. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1628-9/pp174-188.

[5] ‘East Indies: February 1628’, in W Noel Sainsbury (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Colonial, East Indies, China and Persia, Volume 6, 1625-1629 (1884), pp. 458-472. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/colonial/east-indies-china-japan/vol6/pp458-472.

[6] ‘Amboyna Massacre’, Wikipedia.

[7] ‘East Indies: February 1628’, in W Noel Sainsbury (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Colonial, East Indies, China and Persia, Volume 6, 1625-1629 (1884), pp. 458-472. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/colonial/east-indies-china-japan/vol6/pp458-472.

[8] ‘Charles I – volume 180: Undated 1630’, in John Bruce (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1629-31 (1860), pp. 437-450. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1629-31/pp437-450.

[9] ‘Volume 23: January 1652’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1651-2 (1877), pp. 89-128. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1651-2/pp89-128.

[10] ‘Amboyna Massacre’, Wikipedia.