1690, John and Thomas Temple plead for relief after their ship was plundered and sunk by order of the East India Company

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1690s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, John and Thomas Temple, owners of the ship Bristoll of London. SP 32/14 f. 35 (1690).

To the honourable the knights cittizens and burgesses in Parliament assembled

The humble peticion of John and Thomas Temple owners of the shipp Bristoll of London

Most humbly shew

That your peticioners did in the first session of the last Parliament exhibite their peticion before that honourable house, setting forth the greate oppression they had susteyned in relacion to the said shipp which was plundered and sunck by one Captain John Tyrrell in the Phenix man of war and the master and marriners of the said shipp Bristoll most barbariously treated and imprisoned by order of the East India Company which said peticion was then read and ordered by the honourable house to be referred to a committee appointed to consider of the whole affaires of the East India Company, which said peticion and the matter therein was heard and examined by the said committee who came to this resolucion (videlicet) that it was the opinion of the said committee

That the seizure of the said ship and cargoe was a violation of the property of the subject

That the imprisoning the seamen of the said ship and puting them in irons was a violacion of the liberty of the subject

And that the seizing of the said ship Bristoll and cargoe and imprisoning the men was by order and direccions of the East India Company and that they and the said Captain Tyrrell ought to make full sattisfaction to your peticioners for the same, but before the committee made their report the house was dissolved.

And that also in the first sessions of this present Parliament your petitioners did exhibite their peticion to this honourable house praying releife for the damages they had susteyned by the seizure of the said ship and cargoe which said peticion was referred to a committee appointed to prepare a bill for the confirmacion of the charters to the East India Company untill another company be established by an act of Parliament, but before they came to a resolucion in this matter this honourable house was prorogued and since which your petitioners have made divers applicacions to the governour of the East India Company, but have beene delayed and have not obtained any sattisfaction. Your petitioners by reason of this and many other losses susteyned are become insolvent

Wherefore your petitioners doe most humbly pray that this honourable house will take the same into their consideracion and give such releife therein unto the creditours of your peticioners and to the marriners and others which have beene injured as to your honours shall seeme meete before a further divident be made out of the stock of the East India Company

And your peticioners shall (as in duety bound) ever pray etc.

A coppy

Your petitioners and the others concerned are dampnified more then 30000 pounds sterling by the seizing of the said shipp and cargoe as they are ready to prove wherefore they hope it may not be thought a presumption but a neadfull prayer in their peticion that noe divident be made by the company before they are satisfyed their dammage since of late yeares the company have made soe great dividents and soe frequently as goodes came home least there be nothing leaft at last to pay them their dammage

[Paratext:] Shipp Bristoll

Report by Jonathan Burchill

In their petition John and James Temple, recounted how their ship, the Bristol of London, was by order of the East India Company plundered and sunk by Captain Tyrrell (or Tyrell) in a man-of-war, the Phoenix. Its master and mariners were ‘most barbarously treated and imprisoned’. The Temples had petitioned the previous Parliament who referred the matter to a Committee considering the affairs of the Company. The Committee found that the seizure of the ship and its cargo and the imprisonment of the men, which had been ordered by the Company, was illegal. It directed Captain Tyrrell to make full recompense. When the petitioners sought relief from Parliament the matter was put to a second Committee preparing a Bill for a new charter for the Company. Before the Committee could complete the Bill, Parliament was prorogued.

The petitioners claimed losses of more than £30,000 which had led to their insolvency. They reiterated their request for relief. They pointed out that the Company had paid out large dividends. They asked that the matter be dealt with before the Company made any further payments.

The Petition

By the time this petition was raised, November 1690, the East India Company was reaching the end of its first century of trading.  The Company had recently (1686) been issued with a new charter by James II which had given it further rights and empowered it to meet any assault from outside parties. However, around this period it is apparent that the Company was already taking a more aggressive stance to protect its trading routes.  It is certain that the ship, the Phoenix, with Captain John Tyrrell, was one tasked with this action. A number of the reports show that the approach taken was questionable.[1]

The Company’s records show that a ship, the Phoenix was in its service between 1685 and 1687.[2]There is evidence that on 1 June 1684, the King appointed John Tyrrell to command the Phoenix, with its 42 guns, and that by 1688 he was appointed to command another ship.[3]  So, it is reasonable to assume the incident concerning the ship, the Bristol of London, took place sometime between 1685 and 1687.

It is recorded that the Phoenix was sent by the Governor of the East India Company, Sir Josiah Child, to carry out ‘a crusade against the interlopers to all the havens and high seas of the Cape’ (en route to India). Clearly some policing of the sea lanes was necessary but ‘by wilfully confusing interlopers and pirates, and claiming the right to waylay either wherever they threatened legitimate trade, the Company set a dangerous double precedent.  Its actions, however legitimate, would come to look just as piratical as those they were supposed to be preventing’.[4] There is evidence that the Bristol was not the only ship to suffer at the hands of the Company. At the time of the Temples’ earlier petition, April 1689, the part-owners of the ship, the Andaluzia, petitioned Parliament that this vessel had been seized in India by the Company and again in England, two years later.[5]

It is also recorded that prior to the events of this petition Captain Tyrrell and the Phoenix were sent to Bombay in 1684 for a two-year cruise in Indian waters ‘with the immediate object of suppressing the “mutiny” in Bombay and the more general task of eliminating the “interlopers” who were interfering with the Company’s monopoly of trade in the region.  Although he captured several such vessels, neither he nor the King received any prize money’.[6] A particularly unfortunate incident happened in September 1865, when the Phoenix was assailed by a Sanjanian vessel, mistaking it for a merchant ship. Captain Tyrrell hoisted his boats to capture the vessel but they were rebuffed. So, he sank her with a few broadsides, picking up 41 of the pirates but many of them refused quarter and 107 of them were either slain or drowned.[7]

A further brutal incident occurred in 1687 when the captain of an interloping vessel taken in the Red Sea was killed in his cabin ‘because he would not surrender up his ship voluntarily’.[8]

In their earlier petitions, of which there are records in December 1689 and May 1690, the Temples detailed their losses as precisely £31,208 2s 10d.[9]  When Captain Tyrrell ultimately returned, Parliament ‘refused to uphold the Company’s monopoly and obliged the latter to pay significant compensation to those whose ships had been taken’.[10] There is also a record that in January 1690 a warrant was issued ‘to apprehend John Tyrrell upon suspicion of dangerous and treasonable practices’ (although there can be no certainty that this is the Captain Tyrrell who commanded the Phoenix).[11]

Whether John and Thomas Temple obtained compensation is unclear, but there can be little doubt that the action inflicted on their ship was consistent with the modus operandi of Captain Tyrrell. By 1693 Tyrrell had died, prompting a petition from his father seeking relatively small sums of salvage money due to his estate.[12] This suggests that any prospect the Temples had of securing restitution direct from Tyrrell were slim.

As an aside, one member of the crew of the Phoenix was Samuel Jackson, Samuel Pepys’s elder nephew. He and his brother John were intended to be the principal beneficiaries of Pepys’s estate. However, Pepys wanted Samuel to be prepared for adulthood ‘as if he had not a farthing to trust to’. On 1 November 1684 he wrote to Captain Tyrrell, then commanding the Phoenix, to explain this and to ask that his nephew be trained as a cabin boy.[13]


[1] J. Keay, The Honourable Company, A History of the East India Company (1993), pp. 176-77.

[2] ‘Ship Phoenix, ID 1639’, East India Company Ships, https://eicships.threedecks.org/ships/shipdetail.php?shipID=1639.

[3] ‘John Tyrell (Royal Navy officer)’:


[4] Keay, The Honorable Company, p. 176.

[5] ‘William and Mary: May 1689’, in William John Hardy (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William and Mary, 1689-90 (1895), pp. 84-129. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/will-mary/1689-90/pp84-129.

[6] J. G. Bullocke, ‘Captain Tyrell and the East India Company – Abstract’ (1926), The Society for Nautical Research, https://snr.org.uk/captain-tyrrell-and-the-east-india-company.

[7] R. N. Saletore, Indian Pirates: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1978), p. 71, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1PVMMoChwY4C&pg=PA71&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false; Colonel John Biddulph, The Pirates of Malabar and an Englishwoman in India Two Hundred Years Ago(1907), p. 74, https://archive.org/details/piratesofmalabar00bidd/page/74/mode/2up?q=Tyrell.

[8] Keay, The Honourable Company, p. 176.

[9] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 10: 23 December 1689’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 10, 1688-1693 (London, 1802), pp. 317-318. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol10/pp317-318; ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 10: 8 May 1690’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 10, 1688-1693 (London, 1802), pp. 407-408. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol10/pp407-408.

[10] J. G. Bullocke, ‘Captain Tyrell and the East India Company – Abstract’ (1926), The Society for Nautical Research, https://snr.org.uk/captain-tyrrell-and-the-east-india-company.

[11] ‘William and Mary: January 1690’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William and Mary, 1689-90, ed. William John Hardy (London, 1895), pp. 388-441. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/will-mary/1689-90/pp388-441.

[12] ‘William and Mary: February 1693’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William and Mary, 1693, ed. William John Hardy (London, 1903), pp. 25-53. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/will-mary/1693/pp25-53.

[13] G. de la Bedoyere (ed.), The Letters of Samuel Pepys, 1656-1703 (2006), p. 192.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of James II, William III and Mary II, 1685-1699’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.