John Phipps and Seafaring Trade with Bengal

Various sources refer to John Phipps, who wrote A Guide to the Commerce of Bengal: Containing a View of the Shipping and External Commerce of Bengal. The book was published in Calcutta in 1823.

One period review refers to this book as one which provides “a view of the commerce of British India, since the opening of the free trade in 1814.” The book suggests that the author, John Phipps, held a close familiarity with seafaring trade between Britain and South Asia.

From what we’ve seen from other research, it should hardly seem surprising that a Phipps was in a distant land engaged in seafaring commerce. Wikipedia refers to John Phipps as a reference in an article about the three-deck sailing ship known as the General Hewett. That ship was purchased by the British East India Company to be used in trade.

John Phipps also authored A Practical Treatise on the China and Eastern Trade Comprising the Commerce of Great Britain and India, Particularly Bengal and Singapore, with China and the Eastern Islands. This book was published in 1836 by W.H. Allen in London.

He also wrote A Series of Treatises on the Principal Products of Bengal, No. 1, Indigo with Lithographic Sketches. This title was published by the Baptist Mission Press in Calcutta in 1832.

Another book written by John Phipps was titled A Collection of Papers: Relative to Ship Building in India, published in Calcutta in 1840. That book is subtitled “with Descriptions of the Various Indian Woods Employed Therein, their Qualities, Uses, and Value; also, a Register, Comprehending all the Ships and Vessels built in India to the present time; with Many Other Particulars Respecting Indian Shipping, and the External Commerce of Bengal.” The book was by “John Phipps, Late of the Master Attendant’s Office.”

This John Phipps appears to have been the one who died in Calcutta in 1840 at the age of 63. That would make him born around 1777.

That John worked for the British government in the bankshall, in other words the Master Attendant’s Office, in Calcutta. A death notice notes that he “distinguished himself by the publication of several very important works upon Indian Commerce and Ship-Building in India.”

A brief death notice appeared in The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, November 1840, p. 228. A somewhat more substantial obituary appeared in the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 10 September 1840, p. 2.

That obituary refers to John Phipps as having worked for a number of years in the bankshall, and as one who published several “very important” books having to do with commerce with India and with shipbuilding in India.

One he retired and received a pension, he still worked to aid to the poor, and was on the board of a charitable society. In fact, the obituary, which quotes from the Englishman for July 30th, 1840, says that he had been called “The Poor Man’s Friend.”

Another note of the passing of John Phipps appeared in the Bengal Obituary, in an article headed “New Burial Ground, Circular Road” (without identifying the location). There, it appears that perhaps his epitaph is being quoted:

Sacred to the Memory of
Mr. John Phipps,
died 28th July 1840, aged 63 years,
5 months and 15 days.
Also of Amy Matilda,
the beloved and deeply regretted wife of
Mr. James Chopin, aged only 19 years.
“Thy will be done.”

A website refers to what it calls “The New Burial Ground, Circular Road” (in quotes), located in Calcutta. The site says that the cemetery opened 29 April 1840 in order to accommodate the burial of a child of a certain Capt. E.T. Milner.

The cemetery contains around 12,000 burials and covers 33 acres. A number of large photos of the cemetery are the page linked below as “Lower Circular Road Cemetery.”

The family of this John Phipps must, one would think, have had some sort of relationship to the family of John Phipps Madge. He was born about 1805 in Calcutta in West Bengal.

For more, see the following:

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