Gathering ‘Knowledge’ in the Bay of Bengal: The Letters of John Adolphus Pope, 1785–1788
- Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
- Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
- Volume 87, Part 2, No. 307, December 2014
- pp. 1-19
- Additional Information
In 1992 the poet and independent researcher Anne Bulley published the letters of a youth named John Adolphus Pope who at the age of fourteen became Third Officer on an English country ship, the Princess Royal. These letters have been little used by historians of Southeast Asia, but they are an extraordinarily rich source for this period. On his arrival in India Pope was recruited by the Orientalist Sir William Jones to collect information and specimens of places he visited. Beginning in December 1785 and ending in September 1788, his letters to his friend George provide a personal view of trading operations in ports stretching from Madras, Kolkata and Mumbai to Rangoon (Yangon), Aceh, Penang, Kedah and ultimately China. Drawing on the books available to him, the information supplied by fellow country traders, his own observations and particularly the material supplied by local informants, Pope’s letters offer intriguing insights into the ways in which a younger mind determined the kind of knowledge that was useful and worthy of transmittal. Written at a time when British ascendancy was an ambition rather than an actuality, his opinions and attitudes highlight an environment where competition could reinforce European bigotry and prejudice, but where the need for commercial co-operation could also foster genuine cross-cultural communication.