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Dean Mahomet in Transit (1782–84)

Following Baker's dishonorable recall and Dean Mahomet's resignation, they took time to visit Dhaka city and explore the Sunderbans jungle on their way to Calcutta. Even for ordinary transfers between postings, the Bengal Army allowed British officers a generous amount of time: six weeks for this trip to Calcutta.[53] If he followed the usual practice, Baker hired at least three boats: a twelve-oared vessel for comfortable travel during the day and for sleeping at night, an attendant baggage boat for luggage and servants, and a separate cookboat. Dhaka remained famous at that time for the court of its Nawab, its urbane culture, and the quality of its fine muslin cloth and other products. Thus, Baker and Dean Mahomet may have been attracted to Dhaka to indulge in tourism and/or in private trade, purchasing goods for later sale in Calcutta or Ireland. Their subsequent voyage through the deltaic Sunderbans brought them into a densely jungled maze of low islands. British officers customarily took with them an escort of sepoys, since gang robbers lurked in fast boats among the islands.

The year that Baker and Dean Mahomet spent in Calcutta (January 1783–January 1784) must have been somewhat painful for them both. Dean Mahomet, having resigned from his prestigious appointment as subadar, apparently returned to the status of majordomo or dependent companion in Baker's household. Baker, also having effectively terminated his career in the Army, marked time as a supernumerary officer with no specific command. While in Calcutta, Baker may also have been winding up his business affairs, or passing them on to his younger brother, Lieutenant William Massey Baker, before leaving India permanently.

Baker officially resigned on November 27, 1783, citing pressing family responsibilities.[54] In deciding to end his career after some fifteen years in India, Baker was not unusual. In the more prestigious civil service, less than half the inductees of his age set still remained in service.[55] Further, prospects for promotion in the Army's officer corps (even for someone without Baker's tainted record of service) were in decline, as looming peace in Europe and India brought reductions in the Company's army. Cutting their ties to the English Company, Dean Mahomet and Baker left India on a Danish ship, rather than an English East India Company vessel.

The Danish and English Companies remained commercial rivals. The English Company tried to control the export of capital from India, desiring to harness it for the Company's own use. The Danish Company also tried to tap this capital for its purchases of Indian goods and thus offered better interest rates than the English.

On a more personal level, Dean Mahomet's emigration may not have been legal. The English Company had long worked to prevent the creation of an indigent community of Indians in London—mostly dismissed or runaway sailors or servants—since, by law, the Company was ultimately responsible for their passage back to India. Thus, the Company required all Europeans bringing an Indian servant with them to post a bond of £50 pounds as surety for the return passage of that Indian.[56] The English Company also repeatedly warned the Danish Company to respect this requirement.[57] Although the Danish Company assured the English that they would comply with this request, it is quite likely that the Danes circumvented this, as they did other English restrictions on them.[58] We do not know Dean Mahomet's legal status since he was not a simple servant, but sailing on a nominally Danish ship, and boarding it outside Calcutta, might have avoided the necessity for Baker to post such a bond, one he never would have recovered since Dean Mahomet never returned to India.

The very ship on which Baker and Dean Mahomet sailed added to the tension between the English and Danish Companies. This ship (originally named Fortitude), some seven hundred tons, had been part of the fleet built for the English East India Company. A French frigate, La Fine (thirty-six guns), had captured Fortitude off the Madras coast.[59] The French then sold the captured ship to Portuguese merchants in Calcutta. These Portuguese merchants, however, failed to raise sufficient capital to fill Fortitude for a return voyage to Europe. Eventually a British consortium in Calcutta bought Fortitude. In the summer of 1783, as peace between the English and French approached, merchants knew the first ships to reach Europe with Indian goods would reap a huge profit. To avoid English Company control, the new owners reflagged and renamed the ship as a Danish vessel, Christiansborg, with Ole Bie (head of the Danish factory) as the pro forma shipowner and Captain Adam Doack in command.[60]

After a year in Calcutta, Baker and Dean Mahomet sailed downriver to board Christiansborg, as the ship was loading a secret cargo. Bie sent a load of cloth from the Danish factory, officially consigned for other ships, seeking to evade English Company duties.[61] Baker and Dean Mahomet sailed with a cargo costing £102,656—what Bie called the “richest cargo that any Danish ship has ever brought from India to Denmark.”[62]

The trip to Madras often took only the week Dean Mahomet mentions; in a less favorable season, this trip could take up to three months. Christiansborg touched on the Coromandal Coast near Madras to load more piece goods.[63] As with many other such nominally Danish vessels, it probably also loaded cloth diverted from the English Company's stocks by profiteering English Company officials.

During his brief visit to Madras, Dean Mahomet noted both the European and the Indian parts of the city. His military training led him to assess the strengths and foibles of Fort St. George, at the heart of the European presence. He also remarked upon the pomp of the procession of the Governor of Madras, George Macartney. For someone like Dean Mahomet, the indigenous language, culture, and people of Madras appeared quite different from those of his own Bihar, a thousand miles to the north. He particularly described the “female choristers,” by which he probably meant devadasis (women trained in dance and music who were nominally married to a Hindu divinity). Following a tempestuous voyage, Christiansborg finally reached its next port of call, St. Helena in the south Atlantic, where it refitted and reprovisioned for ten days (June 13–23, 1784).

Dean Mahomet's brief mention of his arrival in southwest England, at Dartmouth, may conceal much. This region remained a center for smuggling of goods into and out of England. It is possible that some of Christiansborg's cargo made its way ashore to England in this small port or was transshipped to a coastal trader bound for Cork where Baker's father held charge of shipping, in the powerful office of Water Bailiff (harbormaster).

Although thousands of Indians made the trip to Europe over these years, apparently no one else had exactly Dean Mahomet's status. Most were sailors, servants, wives, or mistresses of Europeans. A few were travelers or visiting dignitaries. Dean Mahomet clearly fit into none of these categories. In his decisions to remain in Britain as an immigrant, to create a distinct identity there, and to record his life in his own words, he remained unique during his lifetime. His own account, reproduced in the next chapter, reveals his perspectives on the peoples of India and their changing relationship to British rule. The final chapter traces Dean Mahomet's life in colonial Ireland and Georgian and Victorian England (1784–1851).


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