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Ralph Fitch

Ralph Fitch

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Ralph Fitch was a gentleman merchant
Merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

 of London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and one of the earliest English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 travel
Travel
Travel is the movement of people or objects between relatively distant geographical locations. 'Travel' can also include relatively short stays between successive movements.-Etymology:...

lers and traders
Merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

 to visit Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

, the Persian Gulf
Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf, in Southwest Asia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.The Persian Gulf was the focus of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War, in which each side attacked the other's oil tankers...

 and Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

. At first he was no chronicler but he did eventually write descriptions of the south-east Asia he saw in 1583-1591, and upon his return to England, in 1591, became a valuable consultant for the British East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

 

Career


Fitch's place of birth has long been a mystery but recent research indicates that he was most likely born in All Saints' parish, Derby. The first known documentary reference to him is in the archives of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers
Worshipful Company of Leathersellers
The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The organisation originated in the latter part of the fourteenth century and received a Royal Charter in 1444...

, of which he was a Freeman and from which Company he received a loan of £50 for two years, 1575-77 . In February 1583 he embarked in the Tyger for Tripoli
Tripoli
Tripoli is the capital and largest city in Libya. It is also known as Western Tripoli , to distinguish it from Tripoli, Lebanon. It is affectionately called The Mermaid of the Mediterranean , describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. Tripoli is a Greek name that means "Three...

 and Aleppo
Aleppo
Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

 in Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, together with merchants John Newberry and John Eldred, a jeweller named William Leedes and a painter, James Story, all financed by the Levant Company
Levant Company
The Levant Company, or Turkey Company, was an English chartered company formed in 1581, to regulate English trade with Turkey and the Levant...

. This was the latest in a series of English attempts to penetrate the trade of the Indian Ocean and Far East, going back to Anthony Jenkinson's travels in Central Asia in the 1550s. From Aleppo
Aleppo
Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

 they reached the Euphrates
Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

, descended the river from Bir
Birecik
Birecik , also formerly known as Bir and during the Crusades as Bile, is a town and district of Şanlıurfa Province of Turkey, on the River Euphrates....

 to Fallujah
Fallujah
Fallujah is a city in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar, located roughly west of Baghdad on the Euphrates. Fallujah dates from Babylonian times and was host to important Jewish academies for many centuries....

, crossed southern Mesopotamia to Baghdad
Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

, and dropped down the Tigris
Tigris
The Tigris River is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq.-Geography:...

 to Basra
Basra
Basra is the capital of Basra Governorate, in southern Iraq near Kuwait and Iran. It had an estimated population of two million as of 2009...

 (May to July 1583). Here Eldred stayed behind to trade, while Fitch and the others sailed down the Persian Gulf
Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf, in Southwest Asia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.The Persian Gulf was the focus of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War, in which each side attacked the other's oil tankers...

 to the Portuguese fortress and trading station at Ormuz, where they were promptly arrested as spies (at Venetian instigation, as they believed, but the Portuguese were always jealous of their commercial monopoly in the Indian Ocean) and sent as prisoners to the Portuguese viceroy at Goa
Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

 (September to October).

Through the sureties procured by two Jesuits (one being Thomas Stevens
Thomas Stephens (Jesuit)
Thomas Stephens was a Jesuit priest missionary in Portuguese India, writer and linguist.- Early years and studies :...

, formerly of New College, Oxford
New College, Oxford
New College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.- Overview :The College's official name, College of St Mary, is the same as that of the older Oriel College; hence, it has been referred to as the "New College of St Mary", and is now almost always...

, the first Englishman known to have reached India by the Cape route in 1579), Fitch and his friends regained their liberty. Story chose to join the Jesuits, and the others managed to escape from Goa
Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

 (April 1584). They travelled through the heart of India to the court of the Great Mogul
Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire ,‎ or Mogul Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids...

 Akbar, then probably at Agra
Agra
Agra a.k.a. Akbarabad is a city on the banks of the river Yamuna in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, west of state capital, Lucknow and south from national capital New Delhi. With a population of 1,686,976 , it is one of the most populous cities in Uttar Pradesh and the 19th most...

. The jeweller Leedes obtained a remunerative post with Akbar while Fitch continued his journey of exploration. Fitch did the first leg of that journey, from Agra to Allahabad, by joining a convoy 'of one hundred and fourscore boates laden with Salt, Opium, Hinge (asafoetida), Lead, Carpets and diverse other commodities' going 'downe the river jumna (Yamuna)'. He reached Allahabad sometime in November 1585, when work on Akbar's great Fort at Allahabad was nearing completion. In September 1585 Newberry decided to begin his return journey overland via Lahore
Lahore
Lahore is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab and the second largest city in the country. With a rich and fabulous history dating back to over a thousand years ago, Lahore is no doubt Pakistan's cultural capital. One of the most densely populated cities in the world, Lahore remains a...

. He disappeared, presumably being robbed and murdered, in the Punjab.

Fitch continued on, descending the Jumna and the Ganges, to visit Allahabad
Allahabad
Allahabad , or Settled by God in Persian, is a major city of India and is one of the main holy cities of Hinduism. It was renamed by the Mughals from the ancient name of Prayaga , and is by some accounts the second-oldest city in India. It is located in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh,...

, Benares, Patna
Patna
Paṭnā , is the capital of the Indian state of Bihar and the second largest city in Eastern India . Patna is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world...

, Kuch Behar, Hughli, Chittagong
Chittagong
Chittagong ) is a city in southeastern Bangladesh and the capital of an eponymous district and division. Built on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, the city is home to Bangladesh's busiest seaport and has a population of over 4.5 million, making it the second largest city in the country.A trading...

, etc. (1585–1586). He then pushed on by sea to Pegu and Burma. Here he visited the Rangoon region, ascended the Irrawaddy some distance, acquired a remarkable acquaintance with inland Pegu, and even penetrated to the Tai
Tai peoples
The Tai ethnicity refers collectively to the ethnic groups of southern China and Southeast Asia, stretching from Hainan to eastern India and from southern Sichuan to Laos, Thailand, and parts of Vietnam, which speak languages in the Tai family and share similar traditions and festivals, including...

 Shan state
Shan State
Shan State is a state of Burma . Shan State borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south, and five administrative divisions of Burma in the west. Largest of the 14 administrative divisions by land area, Shan State covers 155,800 km², almost a quarter of the total...

s and the Tai kingdom of Lanna
Lanna
The Kingdom of Lanna was a kingdom centered in present-day northern Thailand from the 13th to 18th centuries. The cultural development of the people of Lanna, the Tai Yuan people, had begun long before as successive Tai Yuan kingdoms preceded Lanna...

 (December 1586 and January 1587).

Early in 1588 he visited Malacca
Malacca
Malacca , dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south...

, another of Portugal's great fortresses and the gateway to the Far East, but found the security too strict to get passage into the China Sea. In the autumn of this year he began his homeward travels, first to Bengal
Bengal
Bengal is a historical and geographical region in the northeast region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the sovereign land of People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous...

; then round the Indian coast, touching at Cochin and Goa, to Ormuz; next up the Persian Gulf to Basra and up the Tigris
Tigris
The Tigris River is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq.-Geography:...

 to Mosul
Mosul
Mosul , is a city in northern Iraq and the capital of the Ninawa Governorate, some northwest of Baghdad. The original city stands on the west bank of the Tigris River, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh on the east bank, but the metropolitan area has now grown to encompass substantial...

 (Nineveh
Nineveh
Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and capital of the Neo Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq....

); finally via Tirfa, Bir on the Euphrates
Birecik
Birecik , also formerly known as Bir and during the Crusades as Bile, is a town and district of Şanlıurfa Province of Turkey, on the River Euphrates....

, Aleppo and Tripoli, to the Mediterranean. He arrived in London on 29 April 1591, eight years after he had left. Since no news of him had reached his family and friends in that time he had been presumed dead after seven years and his will had been proved. He resumed his involvement with the Leathersellers' Company, serving as Warden in 1607 and joining the Company's Court of Assistants in 1608. His experience was greatly valued by the founders of the East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

, who consulted him on Indian affairs.

Fitch ranks among the most remarkable of Elizabethan adventurers. There is no evidence he ever married and the main beneficiaries of his final will in 1611 were eight nieces and two nephews.

Impact and legacy

  • Fitch's journey is referred to indirectly by William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

     in Act 1, Scene 3 of Macbeth
    Macbeth
    The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...

    , where the first witch cackles about a sailor's wife: "Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master of the Tyger."
  • Mahabandoola Park
    Mahabandoola Park
    The Maha Bandula Park or Maha Bandula Garden is a public park, located in downtown Yangon, Burma. The park is bounded by Maha Bandula Garden Street in the east, Sule Pagoda Road in the west, Konthe Road in the south and Maha Bandula Road in the north, and is surrounded by some of the important...

     in Rangoon was formerly named Fitche Square in his honour.

Works


  • Aanmerklyke Reys van Ralph Fitch, Koopman te Londen, Gedaan van Anno 1583 tot 1591. Na Ormus, Goa, Cambaya, Bacola, Chonderi, Pegu, Jamahay in Siam, en weer na Pegu: van daar na Malacca, Ceylon, Cochin, en de geheele Kust van Oost-Indien. Nu aldereerst uyt het Engelsch vertaald. Met schoone Figueren, en een volkomen Register. Leyden, Van der Aa, 1706

Literature

  • John Horton Ryley: Ralph Fitch: England's pioneer to India and Burma ; His companions and contemporaries with his remarkable narrative told in his own words. London, 1899. Excerpts
  • Michael Edwardes: Ralph Fitch – Elizabethan In The Indies. London, England Faber and Faber 1972
  • Cecil Tragen: Elizabethan Venture. London H.F. & G Witherby Ltd. 1953
  • Jerome Farrell: An Elizabethan in Asia: Ralph Fitch, our most adventurous Leatherseller, The Leathersellers' Review 2007-08, pp 16-18

External links