of the British Period to 1947
Alexander Hamilton (died 1732)
Alexander Hamilton was a merchant adventurer, traveller and author. He was of British origin and described himself as having "a rambling mind and a fortune too narrow to allow him to travel like a gentleman." Nothing further is known of his family background or childhood. The only source on Hamilton is Hamilton himself, which is both the weakness and the strength of his famous book. Much of what he claims cannot be corroborated independently. Adventurer merchants and sailors of the age of sailing ships did not often write down their adventures. Rambling though Hamilton could be, he was nevertheless informative about the people and places he visited. About his own commercial activities he says practically nothing which could well mean that he was involved in business that was not entirely above suspicion. No picture of him exists, only his signature on a commercial letter dated London, 30th July of 1725:
Hamilton says that as a young man he travelled all over "maritime Europe" and then went to Jamaica from where he set sail in 1688, via Cape Horn, to the East Indies. He was to travel and to trade between the Red Sea and the China coast for the next 35 years, as captain, as owner of a ship and as employee of one of the many rival commercial companies. He claims - and there is no reason to doubt his words - to have visited almost every port between Jeddah and Amoy and including the Andaman Islands.
Hamilton returned to England in 1723 but kept himself busy travelling, mostly between England and Holland. In 1727 he published a chatty, naively charming book of reminiscences, including accounts that for his time were remarkably sober of tribes that had not before been described other than in terms of one-legged ogres and dog-faced cannibals. His notes, written down from a sometimes faulty by honest memory decades after the events, are of scientific interest not so much for their factual detail but for being the earliest to report any realistic detail at all. Hamilton was also among the first to draw attention to the then virtually unknown Andaman islands and their strange inhabitants. He deserves to be called the earliest pioneer.
His work was influential inasmuch as it helped to draw the attention of the British public towards the East in general and the Indian subcontinent in particular. In this he was such a success that in 1744 a second posthumous edition appeared. Despite their wide circulation at the time, originals have become rare and valuable items today, so much so that a reprint was published in 1930.
Merchant adventurer Hamilton stood out to sea for his final journey on 7th October 1732.
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