Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

The Pathan who settled in Ireland in the 1630s

I was fascinated to come across this snippet from seventeenth-century Ireland. It is one of the many depositions made by Protestant settlers who were attacked by Catholics during the insurrection of 1641 (I have modernised the spelling and punctuation). But the deponent is not an English or Scottish Protestant - he came from much farther away:
John Fortune, for 20 years a servant to Captain Richard Steele, and by birth an Indian Pethagorian, but now a Christian and Late an Inhabitant of Ballinakill in the Queens County, sworn and examined deposeth:

That since the begining of the present Rebellion, viz. about 2 months since, he, when the town and Castle [of Ballinakill surrendered, he] was deprived, robbed, dispoiled of, or otherwise lost his cattle, sheep, cloth, household goods & other goodes & chattels of the value of thirtie Pounds, by the means of besiegers & assailants of the said town & Castle which are all Rebels, viz. General Preston, the Earl of Castlehaven, the Lord Mountgarret, & their followers and divers other Rebellious soldiers whose names he cannot express.

Signed [mark] by the aforesaid John Fortune
21 June 1643
Ballinakill is about halfway from Roscrea to Nenagh, north of the main road just inside the Offaly (ie Queen's County) border. The castle had been confiscated from the Butlers in 1616, and then surrendered to the Confederate insurgents (led by Mountgarret, who was a Butler) in 1643 as Fortune reported, but was then shelled by Cromwellian troops a few years later and never rebuilt; the ruins are still visible from the main road apparently. 

So far, so normal for the horrors of war. But it is fascinating to see that an 'Indian Pethagorian', who would have left his homeland before 1621 at the latest (as he had been a servant to Steele for twenty years even before the rebellion started), had settled in Ireland. 

At first I thought that 'Indian' must here mean Native American, with 'Pethagorian' meaning either 'Patagonian' (as English pirates had settled there by 1586) or possibly 'Powhatan' (as in Pocahontas). The author of the book I am reading hints as much in another article published elsewhere on colonial links across the Atlantic, and on the face of it, given where English soldiers were active in general at the time, America seems more likely than actual India.

But in fact I now think that this is one of the rare cases in the early seventeenth century where 'Indian' actually does mean 'from India', because Captain Richard Steele was one of the early representatives of the British East India Company, and indeed left a description of his journey from the Moghul Emperor's court to Baghdad in 1615-16. Although he does not name any of his servants, it is notable that he still uses "we" after he parts company with the other Englishman in his party, so he was not travelling alone. I reckon that John Fortune was recruited by Steele at some point in the journey. Most likely he was a Pathan (not so far phonetically from 'Pethagorian'), probably recruited in Lahore where the two Englishmen appear to have hired extra staff (though the text is not clear), and sticking with him through war in Germany and rebellion in Ireland. That fits the dates rather well; if he had worked for Steele from 1616 to 1636 or so, and had followed him to Ireland, he then had seven years to build up £30 in capital before it was wiped out by the rebellion.

There cannot be many earlier identifiable examples of migration to Ireland from South Asia. No further record of John Fortune's adventures seems to survive, unfortunately.

(Steele's grandson of the same name became a famous writer.)
Tags: world: ireland
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 1 comment