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Pearson, John, 1771–1841

Journal of John Pearson, Advocate General of Bengal, 1824.

1824 March 21-1824 July 29.
Physical Description:
3 v.
Rare Books and Manuscripts
DS411.P43 J68 1824+ Oversize
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
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Copyright Status:
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Archives & Manuscripts
John Pearson (1771-1841) was Advocate General of Bengal from 1824 to 1840. A graduate of Oxford (1789) and Lincoln's Inn (1802), he was the eldest child of Thomas Pearson of Tettenhall, Staffordshire. Pearson married Jane-Elizabeth-Matilda Hooke on 21 Dec 1802, and subsequently practiced as a barrister at Tettenhall and London, until the East India Company appointed him Advocate-General of Bengal in 1824. He sailed with his family for Calcutta in April of that year. In ill health, he returned to England in 1840, and died 16 April 1841. His obituary appears in Gentleman's magazine, October, 1841 (pp. 428-431).
Title from manuscript title page of the fair copy (volume 3).
Watermark dates: Volume 1, J. Rump 1818; volume 2, Bridge Mill 1826; volume 3, Ruse & Turners 1825.
Volume 1 (25 x 19 cm) is bound in contemporary half calf and marbled boards. Bears (on rear pastedown) the engraved label of Pengelly, Mortimer & Co., booksellers, stationers, binders, engravers, &c. ... No. 13 Old Court House Street, Calcutta. Volume 2 (32 x 20 cm) is bound in contemporary marbled wrappers. Volume 3 (21 x 17 cm) is bound in contemporary gilt-tooled diced calf, with marbled edges and endpapers.
Associated material: The University of Pennsylvania records another fair copy manuscript of the present journal (Ms. Coll. 654) (watermark, J. Whatman 1831). The Penn copy is written on Whatman paper with a watermark date of 1831.
Manuscript diary, in pen and brown ink, kept by John Pearson during his sea voyage from England to Calcutta in 1824. Included is the heavily corrected first draft of the manuscript in two volumes and his edited fair copy, in one volume. The draft version occupies about 160 pages in volume 1 and 60 pages in volume 2; in both volumes, versos are usually blank, except where Pearson has written additional material to be added to the text on the facing recto. There are frequent corrections throughout both volumes. The fair copy version is written on 166 pages (rectos and versos) of the third volume.
Pearson embarks on the journey with his wife, two daughters, two sons, a Miss Penny, and a a young female servant who has wished to accompany his daughters. On March 27, just six days after leaving port, a "mutiny broke out among the seamen" over inadequate rations. In response, "the Captain seized one of the leaders and dragged him to the poop." There, he and five others are "put in irons ... [and] sent down into the steerage". The following day, two of the mutineers are flogged, while "the ladies had of course retired to their cabins". Though Pearson professes an "invisible dislike to sights of this nature", he expresses support for the captain's handling of the mutiny.
Between the Isle of Wight and Calcutta, the ship makes two significant stops, first at Madeira and later at the Island of Johanna (i.e. Anjouan, or Nzwani) in the Comoros. Pearson describes the week-long stay at Madeira, and his exploration of that island, in great length. His entry for April 4 shows that he is a tourist of mixed feelings: "I am glad that I have visited this wonderful scene ... [but] there is no sight worth the trouble of going to see it ... it was labour in the strictest sense, and under a burning sun." While still at Madeira on April 5, Pearson's family goes to a ball attended by 150 people, where Pearson meets and converses with the Portuguese governor of the island, who Pearson describes as a bon vivant, very fond of women and dance.
Back at sea, Pearson and his party experience much boredom during the equatorial doldrums; "the boys have been amusing themselves in fishing for sharks with lines & harpoons," but with no luck. While the winds are weak, Pearson's journal entries are brief, with short comments on whales, exotic species of birds, or the brilliance of the stars. By the 29th of May, the ship passes the Cape of Good Hope, on wintry agitated seas, and on the 15th of June they arrive at the Island of Johanna, where they are very warmly received by the local inhabitants. There, on June 16, Pearson meets the King Abdallah, who was "dressed in his robes of state, with a turban on his head embroidered, and adorned with topazes". The King and his family lavish Pearson and his fellow travelers with abundant fruits and garlands of flowers. Pearson's diary entries show a certain interest in the demographics of the island, where a small Arab ruling class dominates a much larger underclass of African descent.
On July 10, Pearon's ship reaches Madras, where he spends five days meeting the English notables. He also offers brief descriptions of the Indian peoples. His most detailed remarks are devoted to his wonder for the Ficus benghalensis, or banyan tree. The final sea voyage onward to Calcutta proves to be the most dangerous, as Pearson's ship experiences great monsoon storms and winds as it attempts to navigate up the mouth of the Hugli River. By July 25, they arrive on land for good at Diamond Harbour, and thence to Calcutta. Pearson quickly finds a suitable house in Calcutta, and a day or two later the house is supplied with appropriate furnishings, glass, and china. The journal ends as Pearson and family move in to their new Calcutta home on July 29.
Subject Terms:
Anjouan Island (Comoros) -- Description and travel.
Banyan tree.
British -- India -- Diaries.
Calcutta (India) -- Description and travel.
Colonial administrators -- India -- Diaries.
East India Company -- Officials and employees -- Diaries.
Hugli River (India) -- Description and travel.
India -- Description and travel.
India -- History -- British occupation, 1765-1947.
Madeira Islands -- Description and travel.
Madras (India) -- Description and travel.
Mutiny -- Great Britain.
Naval discipline -- Great Britain.
Ocean travel.
Pearson, John, 1771-1841 -- Diaries.
Travel literature.

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