Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Cheapness of Children at Malabar.

The following article taken from a book published in 1858, includes an account of the sale of children in Malabar. In this case desperate parents faced with famine or food shortage are selling their children to European's.

It is not possible to date the account, but other accounts in the book can be dated, and these appear to be up to 50 years older than the book.

"He depicts the melancholy effects of a famine, caused by a real scarcity of rice, or sometimes an artificial one, contrived by the native government. An ordinary consequence is, to see mothers offering to sell their children, and fathers both wife and children. But it should seem that the bonds of relationship among these devotees to Seeva, have a slightness that gives way to a much less violent force than that of the last extremities of famine :—"

" Malabar children are generally a cheap commodity at Anjengo. At the end of the rainy season, when there was no particular scarcity in the interior country, I purchased a boy and girl, of about eight or nine years of age, as a present to a lady at Bombay, for leas money than a couple of pigs in England. I bought the young couple, laid in two months provision of rice and salt-fish for their voyage, and gave each of them four changes of cotton garments, all for the sum of twenty rupees, or fifty shillings. English humanity must not pass a censure on this transaction : it was a happy purchase for the children ; they were relieved from hunger and nakedness, and sent to an amiable mistress, who brought them up tenderly, and, on leaving India, provided for their future comfort ; whereas, had I refused to buy them, they would assuredly have been sold to another, and probably have experienced a miserable bondage with some native Portuguese Christian, whom we do not reckon among the most merciful task-masters."
"A circumstance of this kind happened to myself. Sitting one morning in my verandah, a young fish-woman brought a basket of mullets for sale ; while the servant was disposing of them, she asked me to purchase a fine boy, two years of age, then in her arms. On my upbraiding her for want of maternal affection, she replied with a smile, that she expected another in a few weeks, and as she could not manage two, she made me the first offer of her boy, whom she would part with for a rupee. She came a few days afterwards, with a basket of fish, but had just sold her child to Signor Manoel Rodriguez, the Portuguese linguist; who, though a man of property and a Christian, had thought it necessary to lower the price to half a rupee. Thus did this young woman, without remorse, dispose of an only child for fifteen pence."[1]

It is also not entirely clear where these events took place. However the East India Company had employed a family of Portuguese linguists at Tellicherry called Rodriques, over three generations.  The earliest one was Pedro Rodriques who was working for the EIC by 1753.  This son Domingo was active by the 1780's and had managed to make sufficient money by trade, that he had acquired an estate at Calay.

This estate which lay outside Tellicherry had had to be abandoned during the wars with Hyder and Tipu in the 1780's. When the EIC and their Nair allies drove Tipu's army away, the EIC claimed the land.

Pedro's grandson Marco Antonio Rodriques tried to reclaim the property during the 1792 Malabar Commission. It is possible Signor Manoel described in the quote above was from this family. It is possible he was Marco's son.

In 1830 Thomas Hervey Baber wrote a description of how in 1803 he was offered two children for sale by a man he encountered by the road, whilst out riding one day.
The Commissions Report mentions that many slaves were sourced from the Alleppey and Travancore districts for sale to the French settlement at Mahé and to Dutch settlements.

[1] Fosteriana, consisting of thoughts, reflections, and criticisms, of John ... page 288.
By John Foster published in 1858. Although this book was published in 1858 the texts which are quoted in the book appear to date back between 50 and 75 years earlier than the published date.


MAPPILA said...


Please send your postal address (email ID too) so that I can post a complementary copy of Tuhfat to you. This book was written during 16th century.

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Mappila,

My email is

I can't find a way to email you privately. Could you send me a private email, and I will send you the rest of the details you have requested.

Nick Balmer

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Mappila,

Is this the book you are referring to?

Tuhfat al-Mujahidin

I would be very pleased to be able to read that.

When I visited East High in Calicut I met a very interesting and helpful junior Mappila curator and she asked me if I knew about the history of several Muslim admirals from the 16th Century, and although I knew that they existed, I have been unable to find much out about them.

I would be really interested for two particular reasons. The first is that I spent several years in Sharjah & Dubai, and during that time I was fortunate enough to meet elderly men at Ras Al Kaimah whose families had traded from there to Kerala, and I witnessed the Dhows being built there.

It was talking to Indian's at Sharjah building these dhows kept telling me that the best Dhows came from Beypore.

That is why I went to Beypore to see these vessels being built.

My second reason is more personal. I am descended from two generations of William Hawkins who lived in the 16th Century. They were also "pirates" Admirals and Captains. The younger one sailed to Surat in about 1608.

So he operated in the same environment at period as the Mappila admirals.

I find it fascinating to consider that he and his father, (brother and father to Sir John Hawkins, a very well known and notorious Elizabethan sailor) were also victims of Portuguese and Spanish expansionism and religious warfare.

William Hawkins had traded to Spain and Portugal peacefully before the Spanish became hostile to England when we turned from the Catholic religion to Protestantism.

Spain and Portugal were far stronger than England in those days, and cut off from their former trade and wanting to get spices, and textiles, they took the enormous risk of sailing pass Spain and Portugal to challenge the Portuguese in these trades.

The parallelism of the lives and influences between men from Devon and Calicut is very is fascinating to me.

Thomas Baber wrote some really interesting things about the Bibi of Arrakal and her shipping. This suggests that the earlier generations of her family had routinely had bigger ships (around 300 tonnes) that many of the European ships at that period.

I would love to hear this story from the "Indian" perspective, especially if accounts survive from the actual period.

Nick Balmer

rlg said...

Dear Nick Balmer

Thanks for an interesting article... The place Anjengo (Anjuthengu) is a coastal fishing village near present day Attingal... visit

It is a place of significant historic importance ... Even today this place is still a small fishing village marred with poverty and ignorance... I do have a little bit right to comment on this place since it is the ancestral place of my father... my father was born here... albeit to the daughter of an kind off well-to-do fisherman or who by then was a muthalali (boss/owner) with some small fishing boats and enough money to send his 3 daughter for convent education (Indian speak for being educated in Christian missionary run English medium schools...) The family was forced to move off to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the capital of Kerala during a heavy flood in the 70’s… both my grandparents are buried there and the place has not achieved the kind of progress that neighbouring places have… The history of English settlement in this place is even more interesting… I am sure some research can give you the facts… There is also an English poem which mentions Anjengo… The cemetery where my grand parents are buries has tombs of several British or Dutch people as well… The Attingal uprising of 1697, in which numerous company people (British) were killed, took place in Anjengo… at the time the company had a factory there… This is the first instance of agitation against the British in any form, any where in India… although it was not technically against the British (it was against the company)… the old fort is still there…

Nick Balmer said...

Hello Rig,

Thank you very much for dropping by my blog. I really like your blog, it is a great start.

I actually have quite a lot of information about the British in Anjengo which I haven't had the chance to write up.

It was a very important place for the British from the earliest days in India, and often supported Tellicherry with supplies and men when Tellicherry was under threat.

I have seen just three or four photos of the fort, and would be very interested to see more pictures of this fort.

I am wondering if I should send you some of the bits I have about Anjengo for you to post on your site. It will be a while before I can put more onto mine, and it is probably best if I keep it focussed on Tellicherry.

My great x 4 uncle John Croft Hawkins, a Bombay Marine Officer sailed into Anjengo on July 27th 1831 on his way back to Britain in Captain Pepper's HEIC Cruizer Coote.

Good luck with your blog.


Nick Balmer

Roshan Gomez said...

Hi Nick, thanks for the reply... I would like to see the pictures and any other info you have about Anjengo... I may not post them on any website but still would appreciate if you could email them to

I grew up hearing a lot of stories about this place... The local folks still have a lot of stories about the colonial times... All from a third persons point of view, with lots of assumtions and exaggerations...

Since you have a lot of information on Anjengo, please try and write some articles... I would love to read them.

I have never been consistent with my blogs and the one you saw may be something I started some time back, but never materialised, although oflate I am planning to start writing something... A recent blog I made was don't know if that would interest you at all...


Abhas Verma said...

wow nice blog hope u would like to visit mine also

Rhoda Alex said...
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rhoda alex said...

owadays Indian poor throng foreigners to beg...looks like those days they were either selling products or children !! is better??? !!!!

thank you for the post...
you have an awesome blog..
followed the RareBook comments in facebook and landed in your blogs

Rameez P. P. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ajmal Kodiyathur said...

Dear Nick Balmer
enriched by reading your articles
i am an asst. history and most of the information that you shares are very new and intresting for me.
pls keep in touch