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Charles Crommelin (1717-1788)
A Governor of Bombay

by Richard Pugh

There are no pictures of Charles in existence so far as is known. A portrait existed which was created whilst he was Governor but, despite a search in the archives in Calcutta, no trace was found. The picture that is said to be Charles, found in a number of sources, is in fact his legitimate son Charles Russel (see below).

Charles was born in Bombay, three years after his father’s marriage and two years after his sister Mary. The year was 1717, in the reign of King George I of England and Elector of Hanover.

His father was Marc Anthony Crommelin, then a Senior Factor in the EIC and his mother Mary Truman. There is no trace in the India office records of the arrival of Mary in India. Wagner, the Huguenot researcher and genealogist states that she married three times Crommelin-Say-Dacre (see below).

Two Trumans were in existence in Madras at this time (Jacob d. 1738 and John d. 1754) but they have so far not been linked to Mary. It is possible that she was a child of a union with a local woman. If so, the father could well have been one of the Madras Trumans. At least one was, and probably both were in the EIC army and therefore itinerant.

Charles' father, Marc Anthony, died in Mocha in 1720 when Charles was only 3 years old. He had sailed to Mocha on the Victoria (Capt. Bellowes) in 1719 to become Supervisor and provisional Chief. In Sept. 1720 the Victoria returned from Mocha to Bombay with a letter from Mr. Edward Say (NB.) to report the death of Crommelin.

When looking at the records of residents in Bombay, care must be taken not to confuse Mary Crommelin with her daughter Mary. In the Bombay list of residents for 1729/30 the following appear:

Edward Say. Free Merchant
Mary Say. Married Woman
Charles Crommelin. Boy.
Mary Crommelin. Maid (i.e. maiden, young girl).
This is almost certainly the marriage to Say.

If we slip ahead to 1733, we find a Mary Crommelin marrying a John Dacres. In 1739 Mary reports the death of her husband, in Gombroon, to the Bombay Court and seeks the guardianship of her four children, her husband having died intestate. Guardianship granted dated 20 December 1739.

Her children:-
Mary(5), Winifred(3), Elizabeth(2) and Philip Milner (under 1).

We must be looking at the daughter of Marc and Mary. Mary Dacres married a John Geekie in 1740. Unmarried women were in demand!

Charles first appears in his own right in the List of Residents in 1729 as a Boy. He was 13 years of age. His father died in 1720. There is no clear and total record of his whereabouts during those nine years. Probably he was in or around India. In 1732 he was enrolled in the EIC whilst in India.

In 1733 he is shown as a Writer (basic trainee) under Govnr. Robert Cowan and yearly until 1738 when he becomes a Writer and Factor (ie. a Trader). In 1739 he is 3rd Factor, in 1740 2ndFactor and in 1741 Junior Merchant. He was promoted to Senior Merchant in 1745 under Govnr. William Wake. At this time Laurence Sullivan was a Factor, a man whose friendship and influence probably helped Charles in later years.

Approximate site of the Governor’s House

Old Writers’ Building

Where the Fort and related buildings were is now a naval base and strictly off limits.

William Wake remained Governor until 1750 when he was succeeded by Richard Bouchier and by Crommelin in 1760. In the records of Bombay Castle there are numerous references to Charles:

  • 1740 shown as Collector of the Revenues and instructed to hand over his charge to Mr. Stuart.
  • 1740 Order to Richard Sanders to pay C.C. an unspecified sum of money.
  • 1741 Instruction to C.C. re management of affairs at Mocha.
  • 1741 Letter from C.C. re his transactions at Mocha.
  • 1741 Letter from C.C. in Mangalore re his transactions in pepper. (NB. Indian black pepper was then a highly valuable commodity).
  • Minute of consultation with C.C. re account of his expenditure.
  • Further instruction to C.C. re management of affairs at Mocha.
  • Letter to C.C. and Sadleir to take account of inhabitants in district of Mahim.

Further correspondence re Factory (ie. Depot) at Gombroon in Straits of Hormuz. Etc.,etc.

All of this time he was travelling up and down the west coast of India and the Gulf of Aden, pirate-ridden, and never certain of the position of French and Dutch shipping. In due course he returned to Bombay on the Council. He became Chief at Surat and on February 28th. !760 became Governor of The Presidency of Bombay.

His period of Governorship was beset by problems with the French and Raghuath Rao, the Nizam of Hyderbad. Rao wished to attack the Marathas. In return for a ‘blind eye’ the Council wished to secure possession of Bassein Fort Salsette and the islands in that neighbourhood. In the records at Powis Castle there is a letter from Robert Clive to C.C. asking him to find a job for an officer cashiered for a false muster.

The hours of business were from sunrise to 1 pm when dinner was taken followed by a hookah and a siesta, a ride on Bombay Green and an evening of eating, drinking and entertainment There is a description of a Ball in 1772:

"The night is fine. Government House is ablaze of many coloured lights the Cathedral looming black, a silent monitor. They come from all points of the compass - Church-gate, Bazar, Modi Khana and Apollo Streets - all the youth and beauty of the place. Old Crommelin totters past, our former Governor, full of weight of years and mercantile emprize in Canton. Mary Crommelin (his wife nee Mary Arden) is without a peer."
This in the time of the Hon. William Hornby (1771-84).

Charles sailed for England having made over his charge on January 27th 1767. Here he speculated, as a wealthy man, in EIC stock which shortly after fell in value. He returned to India in 1772 as a free merchant. In 1777 he was an agent in Canton and British Consul in Goa in 1784.

He died on Christmas Day 1788 in the house of his son at Kasim Bazar Bengal. He was buried in the old English Cemetery at Kalkapur Murshidabad. He had lived in India for 71 years, a good age indeed when men died overnight from cholera and beriberi etc.

He left a legitimate son, Charles Russel. By his Bibi to whom he had been attached for a number of years (as was virtually the custom) he had two illegitimate sons William 1756 and Charles 1758. By the time he became Governor it was necessary for him to marry (but not necessarily to put away his Bibi?). William lived on into Indian history. Charles Russel 1763 produced the English and Australian lines of Crommelins.

Charles’ wife was Mary Arden, the daughter of William Arden and Elizabeth Russell (the spelling of Russel(l) varies), whom he married in 1761.