Volume 9, Chapter 11 -- Continuation of the Early Voyages of the English East India Company to India: *section index*

Volume 9, Chapter 11, Section 14 -- Account of the Massacre of Amboina, in 1623.[315]

In the preceding sections of this chapter, the early commercial voyages of the English East India Company have been detailed; and it is now proposed to conclude this part of our arrangement, by a brief narrative of the unjustifiable conduct of the Dutch at Amboina, in cruelly torturing and executing several Englishmen and others on false pretences of a conspiracy, but the real purpose of which was to appropriate to themselves the entire trade of the spice islands, Amboina, Banda, and the Moluccas.

They effectually succeeded in this nefarious attempt, and preserved that rich, but ill-got source of wealth, for almost two hundred years; till recently expelled from thence, and from every other commercial or colonial possession in Asia, Africa, and America. A just retribution for submitting to, or seconding rather, the revolutionary phrenzy of French democracy; for which they now deservedly suffer under the iron sceptre of the modern Atilla.

In giving a short narrative of this infamous transaction, besides the original account of Purchas, abridged from a more extended relation published at the time by the East India Company, advantage has been taken of the account given by Harris of the same event, which is fuller and better connected than that of Purchas, who most negligently garbled this story, under pretence of abbreviation. Harris appears evidently to have used the authorised narrative published by the Company, in drawing up his account of the event.

There are other documents, relative to this tragical event, both in the Pilgrims of Purchas and the Collection by Harris, particularly the Dutch justificatory memorial, in which they endeavour to vindicate their conduct, and to show that the English merited the lingering tortures and capital punishments to which they were condemned; to which is added a reply or refutation, published by order of the English Company. But the abridged narrative contained in this section seems quite sufficient on so disgusting a subject, especially so long after the events which it records.--E.

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After the fruitless issue of two several treaties for arranging the differences that had taken place in eastern India, between the English and Hollanders respecting the trade of the spice islands, the first at London in 1613, and the second at the Hague in 1616, a third negotiation was entered into at London in 1619, by which a solemn compact was concluded upon for settling these disputes, and full and fair arrangement made for the future proceedings of the servants of both Companies in the Indies, as well in regard to their trade and commerce, as to other matters.

Among other points, it was agreed, in consideration of the great losses the Dutch pretended to have sustained, both in men and expence, in conquering the trade of the isles, namely, the Moluccas, Banda, and Amboina, from the Spaniards and Portuguese, and in the erection of forts for securing the same, that the Hollanders were to enjoy two-third parts of that trade, and the English one-third; the expenses of the forts and garrisons to be maintained by taxes and impositions, to be levied ratably on the merchandize. In consequence of this agreement, the English East India Company established certain factories, for managing their share of this trade, some at the Moluccas, some at Banda, and others at Amboina.

The island of Amboina, near Ceram, is about forty leagues in circuit, and gives its name also to some other small adjacent isles. This island produces cloves; for the purpose of procuring which valuable spice, the English had five several factories, the head and rendezvous of all being at the town of Amboina, in which at the first, Mr. George Muschamp was chief factor, who was succeeded by Mr. Gabriel Towerson; having authority over the subordinate factories of Hitto and Larica on the same island, and at Loho and Cambello on a point of the neighbouring island of Ceram.

On the island of Amboina and the point of Ceram, the Hollanders have four forts, the chief of all being at the town of Amboina, which is very strong, having four bastions or bulwarks, on each of which there are six great cannons, most of them brass. One side of this castle is washed by the sea, and the other is protected on the land side by a very deep ditch, four or five fathoms broad, always filled by the sea. The garrison of this castle consists of about 200 Dutch soldiers, and one company of free burghers; besides which there are three or four hundred mardykers, by which name the free natives are known, who reside in the town, and are always ready to serve in the castle at an hour's warning.

There are likewise, for the most part, several good Dutch ships in the roads, both for the protection of this place by sea, and for the purposes of trade, as this is the central rendezvous of trade for the Banda islands, as well as for Amboina. At this place, the English factory was established in the town, under the protection of the castle, in a house of their own, where they lived as they thought in security, both in consideration of the ancient league of amity between the two nations, and in virtue of the firm compact of union, made by the late treaty of 1619, already mentioned.

The English factory continued here for about two years, trading conjunctly with the Hollanders under the treaty. During this period there occurred several differences and debates between the servants of the two companies. The English complained that the Hollanders not only lavished much unnecessary charges, in buildings and other needless expenses upon the forts and otherwise, but also paid the garrisons in victuals and Coromandel cloths, which they issued to the soldiers at three or four times the value which they cost, yet would not allow the English proportion of the charges to be advanced in like manner, but insisted always on their paying in ready money: Thus drawing from the English, who only were bound to contribute one-third part, more than two-thirds of the just and true charges.

Upon this head there arose frequent disputes, and the complaints of the English were conveyed to Jacatra, now called Batavia, in Java, to the council of defence of both nations, there residing. The members of that council not being able to agree upon these points of difference, the complaints were transmitted to Europe, to be settled between the two companies; or, in default of their agreement, by the king and the states general, pursuant to one of the articles of the before-mentioned treaty, providing against such contingencies. In the meantime, these, and other differences and discontents between the English and Dutch, daily continued and increased, till at length this knot, which all the tedious controversies at Amboina and Jacatra were unable to untie, was cut asunder by the sword, in the following manner.

About the 11th February, 1622, old style, or 21st of that month, 1623, new style, a Japanese soldier belonging to the Dutch garrison of Amboina castle, walking one night upon the wall, fell into conversation with a sentinel, in the course of which he asked several questions respecting the strength of the fortifications and the number of its garrison. It is to be observed, that most of the Japanese in Amboina were actually soldiers in the Dutch service, yet not in these trusty bands which always lodged within the castle, but only occasionally called in from the town to assist in its defence.

This Japanese, in consequence of his conference with the sentinel, was soon after apprehended on suspicion of treason, and put to the torture by the Dutch, to extort confession. While suffering under the torture, he was induced to confess, that he and some others of his countrymen had plotted to take possession of the castle. Several other Japanese were consequently apprehended, and examined by torture; as also a Portuguese, who was guardian or superintendent of the slaves belonging to the Dutch.

While these examinations were going on, which continued during three or four days, some of the English, then resident at Amboina, were several times in the castle on business, saw the prisoners, and heard of the tortures they had undergone, and of the crime laid to their charge; yet during all this time, never once suspected that this affair had any connection with themselves, being unconscious of any evil intentions, and having held no conversation with the prisoners.

At this time, one Abel Price, surgeon to the English factory at Amboina, was a prisoner in the castle, for having offered or attempted, in a fit of drunkenness, to set a Dutchman's house on fire. The Dutch showed this man some of the Japanese whom they had tortured, telling him they had confessed that the English were in confederacy with them, in the plot for seizing the castle, and threatened him with similar or worse tortures, if he did not confess the same; and accordingly, on the 15th February, O.S., they gave him the torture, and soon made him confess whatever they were pleased to direct.

That same morning, about nine o'clock, they sent for Captain Gabriel Towerson, and the other Englishmen belonging to the factory at Amboina, to come to speak with the governor of the castle; on which they all went, except one, who was left to take care of the house. On their arrival, the governor told Captain Towerson that he and others of his nation were accused of a conspiracy to surprise the castle, and must therefore remain prisoners, until tried for the same. The Dutch, immediately after this, took into custody the person who had been left in charge of the English factory, sequestrated all the merchandize belonging to the English Company, under an inventory, and seized all the chests, boxes, books, writings, and other things in the English house.

Captain Towerson was committed prisoner to his own chamber in the English house, under a guard of Dutch soldiers. Emanuel Thomson was imprisoned in the castle. All the rest, namely, John Beaumont, Edward Collins, William Webber, Ephraim Ramsay, Timothy Johnson, John Fardo, and Robert Brown, were distributed among the Dutch ships then in the harbour, and secured in irons. The same day, the governor sent to the two other factories in the same island, Hitto and Larica, to apprehend the rest of the English residents, who were all brought prisoners to Amboina on the 16th; Samuel Colson, John Clark, and George Sharrock, from the former, and Edward Collins,[2] William Webber,[2] and John Sadler, from the latter. On the same day, John Pocol, John Wetheral, Thomas Ladbrook, were apprehended at Cambello, and John Beaumont,[2] William Griggs, and Ephraim Ramsay,[316] at Loho; and were all brought in irons to Amboina on the 20th of February.

On the 15th of February, the governor and fiscal began to examine the prisoners. John Beaumont and Timothy Johnson were first brought to the castle, John Beaumont being left in a hall under a guard, while Johnson was conducted into another room. Beaumont soon after heard him cry out very pitifully, then become quiet for a while, and afterwards cried out aloud. Abel Price, the surgeon, who was first questioned and put to the torture, was brought in to confront and accuse him; but as Johnson refused to confess any thing laid to his charge, Price was soon taken away, and Johnson again put to the question, when Beaumont heard him repeatedly roar under the torture. At the end of an hour, Johnson was brought out into the hall, weeping and lamenting, all cut and cruelly burnt in many parts of his body, and so laid aside in a corner of the hall, having a soldier to watch him, with strict injunctions not to allow him to speak to any one.

Emanuel Thomson was next brought in for examination, not in the same room where Johnson had been, but in one farther from the hall; yet Beaumont, who still remained in the hall, heard him often roar out most lamentably. After half an hour spent in torturing him, he was led to another place, but not through the hall where Beaumont was. Beaumont was then called in for examination, and asked many questions concerning the alleged conspiracy, all knowledge of which he denied with the most solemn oaths. He was then made fast on purpose to be tortured, having a cloth fastened about his neck, while two men stood ready with jars of water to pour on his head: But the governor ordered him to be set loose again, saying he would spare him for a day or two, being an old man.

Next day, being the 16th, William Webber, Edward Collins, Ephraim Ramsay, and Robert Brown, were brought on shore for examination; and at the same time Samuel Colson, William Griggs, John Clark, George Sharrock, and John Sadler, from Hitto and Larica, were brought into the hall. Robert Brown, a tailor, was first called in, and being subjected to torture by water, confessed all in order, as interrogated by the fiscal. Edward Collins was next called in, and told that those who were formerly examined had accused him as accessory to the conspiracy for taking the castle. Denying all knowledge of or participation in any such plot, with great oaths, his hands and feet were made fast to the rack, and a cloth bound about his throat, ready to administer the water torture, upon which he entreated to be let down, saying that he would confess all.

On being loosed, he again protested his entire innocence and ignorance of every thing laid to his charge; yet, as he knew they would make him confess any thing they pleased by means of torture, however false, he said they would do him a great favour by informing him what they wished he should say, which he would speak as they desired, to avoid the torture. The fiscal said he mocked them, ordered him to be fastened up again, and to receive the water torture. After suffering this for some time, he desired to be let down again to make his confession, devising as well as he could what he should say. Accordingly, he said that he, with Thomson, Johnson, Brown, and Fardo, had plotted about ten weeks before, to surprise the castle with the aid of the Japanese.

While making this contrived confession, he was interrupted by the fiscal, who asked whether Captain Towerson were privy to this conspiracy. He protested that Towerson knew nothing of the matter. "You lie," said the fiscal, "did not he call you all before him, telling you that the daily abuses of the Dutch had instigated him to devise a plot, and that he wanted nothing but your consent and secrecy?" Then a Dutch merchant who was present, named Jan Igost, asked him, if they had not all been sworn to secrecy on the Bible? Collins declared with great oaths, that he knew nothing of any such matter. He was again ordered to be seized up again to the torture, on which he said that all was true they had said.

Then the fiscal asked, if the English in the other factories were consenting to this plot? To which he answered, no. The fiscal then next asked, if the English president at Jacatra, or Mr Weldon the agent at Banda, were engaged in this plot, or privy to its contrivance? He again answered, no. The fiscal next enquired by what means the Japanese were to have executed their purpose? And, when Collins stood amazed, and devising some probable fictions to satisfy them, the fiscal helped him out, saying, "Were not two Japanese to have gone to each bulwark, and two to the door of the governor's chamber, to have killed him on coming out to enquire into the disturbance you were to have raised without?"

Upon this, a person who stood by, desired the fiscal not to put words into the mouth of the witness, but to allow him to speak for himself. After this reproof, without waiting any answer to his former question, the fiscal asked what reward was to have been given the Japanese for their services? Collins answered 1000 dollars each. He was then asked, when this plot was to have been carried into execution? But, although he made no answer to this question, not knowing on the sudden what to say, he was dismissed, glad to get away from the torture, yet certainly believing they would put him to death for his confession.

Samuel Colson was next brought in; and, for fear of the tortures that Collins had endured, whom he saw brought out in a pitiable condition, with his eyes almost starting out of their sockets, he chose rather to confess all they asked, and so was quickly dismissed, yet came out weeping and lamenting, and protesting his innocence. John Clark was then taken in, and tortured with fire and water for two hours, in the same manner as had been done with Johnson and Thomson.[317]

Finding that all their cruelties could not force him to any consistent confession of himself, they helped him along to particular circumstances of their own contrivance, by leading questions. Thus wearied out and overpowered, by terror of the tortures being renewed, he answered, yes, to whatever they asked, by which means they trumped up a body of evidence to this effect:-- "That Captain Towerson, on New-Year's-day last, had sworn all the English at Amboina to be secret and aiding in a plot he had devised for surprising the castle, by the aid of the Japanese, putting the governor and all the Dutch to death."

On the 17th, William Griggs and John Fardo, with some Japanese, were brought to examination. The Japanese were first cruelly tortured to accuse Griggs, which at last they did; and Griggs, to avoid torture, confessed whatever the fiscal was pleased to demand. The same was next done with Fardo and other Japanese. Fardo endured the torture for some time, but at length confessed all they pleased to ask. That same day, John Beaumont was brought a second time to the fiscal's chamber, when one Captain Newport, the son of a Dutchman, but born and educated in England, acted as interpreter. Griggs was also brought in to accuse Beaumont of being present at the consultation for surprising the castle. Beaumont denied all, with great earnestness, and many oaths; but, on enduring the torture, was constrained to confess every thing laid to his charge.

George Sharrock was then brought in and examined. He fell on his knees, protesting his innocence, telling them he was at Hitto on New-Year's-day, when the pretended consultation was held, and had not been at Amboina since the preceding November, as was well known to several Dutchmen who resided at Hitto along with him. Being ordered to the rack, he told them he had often heard John Clark say that the Dutch had done insufferable wrongs to the English, and was resolved to be revenged on them; for which purpose he had proposed to Captain Towerson to allow him to go to Macassar, to consult with the Spaniards about sending some galleys to plunder the small factories of Amboina and Ceram in the absence of the ships.

Being asked what Captain Towerson had said to all this, he answered, that Towerson was very much offended with Clark for the proposal, and could never abide him since. The fiscal then called him a rogue and liar, saying, that he wandered idly from the matter, and must go to the torture. He craved favour again, and began another tale, saying, that John Clark had told him at Hitto of a plot to surprise the castle of Amboina, with the participation of Towerson. He was then asked, when this consultation was held? which he said was in November preceding. The fiscal said that could not be, for it was on New-Year's-day. The prisoner urged, as before, that he had not been in Amboina since last November, till now that he was brought thither in custody. "Why, then," said the fiscal, "have you belied yourself?" To this he resolutely answered, that all he had confessed respecting a conspiracy was false, and merely feigned to avoid torment.

Sharrock was then remanded to prison, but was brought up again next day, when a formal confession, in writing, of his last-mentioned conference with Clark, respecting the plot for surprising the castle of Amboina, was read over to him, after which, the fiscal asked, if it were all true. To this he answered, that every word of it was false, and that he had confessed it solely to avoid torture. The fiscal and the rest then said, in rage, that he was a false liar, for it was all true, and had been spoken from his own mouth, and therefore he must sign it, which he did accordingly.

Having done this, he broke out into a great passion, charging them as guilty of the innocent blood of himself and the rest, which they should have to answer for at the judgment-seat of God. He even grappled with the fiscal, and would have hindered him from carrying in the confession to the governor, but was instantly laid hold of, and carried away to prison.

William Webber was next examined; being told by the fiscal that Clarke accused him of having sworn to Towerson's plot on New-Year's-day, with all the other circumstances already mentioned; Webber strenuously denied all this, declaring, that he was then at Larika, and could not possibly be present in Amboina on that day. But, being put to the torture, he was forced to confess having been present at the consultation, with all the other circumstances in regular order, as asked. He also told of having a letter from Clark, in which was a postscript excusing his brief writing at this time, as there was then a great business in hand. But a Dutch merchant, named Kinder, who was present, told the governor that Webber and he were together making merry at Larika, on New-Year's-day, the time of this pretended consultation. The governor then went away, but the fiscal held on with him respecting the letter and postscript, promising to save his life if he would produce these.

Captain Towerson was next brought in for examination, and was shown what the others had confessed concerning him. He deeply professed his innocence, on which Colson was brought in to confront him, being assured he should be again tortured unless he made good his former confession against Towerson. On this he repeated what he had said before, and was then sent away. Griggs and Fardo were next brought in, and desired to justify to his face what they had before confessed.

Captain Towerson seriously admonished them, as they should answer at the day of judgment, to speak nothing but the truth. They then fell upon their knees, beseeching him to forgive them for God's sake, and declared openly that all they had formerly said was utterly false, and spoken only to avoid the torture. The fiscal then commanded them to be led to the torture, which they were unable to endure, and again affirmed their former extorted confessions to be true.

When Colson was required to subscribe this confession, he asked the fiscal, upon whose head he thought the sin would rest, whether on his who was constrained to confess falsely, or upon the constrainer? After a pause on this home-question, the fiscal went out to speak with the governor, and returned again shortly, commanding him to subscribe. Colson did so, yet with this remark,-- "You force me to accuse myself and others of that which is as false as God is true; for I call God to witness that I and they are as innocent as the child unborn."

Having thus examined all the servants of the English company in the several factories of the island of Amboina, they began on the 21st of February to examine John Wetheral, factor at Cambello, in Ceram. He acknowledged being at Amboina on New-yYar's-day, but declared he knew of no other consultation but about certain cloth belonging to the company, which lay spoiling in the factory, which they considered how best to get sold. The governor said he was not questioned about cloth, but treason; and protesting his innocence, he was dismissed for that day.

Next day he was again brought in, and Captain Towerson was produced to confront and accuse him, as he had formerly emitted something in his confessions against him. But Towerson only desired him to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, as God should put into his heart. Mr. Towerson was then removed, and Mr. Wetheral tortured by water, with threats of fire being applied if he did not confess. At length, they read over to him the confessions of the others, asking him leading questions from point to point, to all of which he answered affirmatively, to free himself from torture.

John Powel, assistant to Mr. Wetheral, was next called; but he proved that he had not been at Amboina since November; and being likewise spoken for by Jan Joost, his old acquaintance, was dismissed without torture. Thomas Ladbrook, servant to Wetheral and Powel at Cambello, was then brought in; but he, too, was speedily dismissed. Ephraim Ramsay, proving that he was not in Amboina on New-Year's-day, and being likewise spoken for by Joost, was also dismissed, after hanging up some time ready for being tortured. Lastly, John Sadler, servant to William Griggs at Larika, was brought in for examination; and as he was not in Amboina on New-Year's-day, he too was dismissed.

On the 25th of February, all the prisoners, English, Portuguese, and Japanese, were brought into the great hall of the castle, and there solemnly condemned to die, except John Powel, Ephraim Ramsay, John Sadler, and Thomas Ladbrook. Next day, they were again brought into the hall, except Captain Towerson and Emanuel Thomson, to be prepared for death by the Dutch ministers.

That same night, Colson and Collins were taken into the room where Emanuel Thomson lay, when they were told the governor was pleased to grant mercy to one of the three, and desired they might draw lots, when the free lot fell to Edward Collins, who was then carried to the chamber of the acquitted persons before-named. John Beaumont was soon after brought to the same place, and told that he owed his life to Peter Johnson, the Dutch merchant of Loho, and the secretary, who had begged his life.

The condemned, who still remained in the hall, were afterwards joined by the Dutch ministers, and received the sacrament, protesting their innocence. Samuel Colson, on this occasion, said, in a loud voice, "O Lord, as I am innocent of this treason, do thou pardon all my other sins; and, if in the smallest degree guilty thereof may I never be a partaker in the joys of thy heavenly kingdom." To these words all the rest exclaimed, Amen! for me, Amen! for me, good Lord!

After this, each, knowing whom he had accused, went one to another, craving forgiveness for their false accusations, as wrung from them by the pains or dread of torture. They all freely forgave their comrades; for none had been so falsely accused, but that he also had accused others with equal falseness. In particular, George Sharrock, who survived to relate the scene exhibited at this time, knelt down to John Clark, whom he had accused, as before related, earnestly begging forgiveness.

Clark freely forgave him, saying, "How shall I look to be forgiven of God, if I do not forgive you? as I have myself falsely accused Captain Towerson and others!" After this, they spent the rest of this doleful night in prayer and psalm-singing, comforting each other the best they could. The Dutch who guarded them offered them wine, of which they desired them to drink heartily, to drive away sorrow, as is the custom of their country in like situations, but this the English refused.

Next morning, the 27th February, William Webber was again called before the fiscal, and offered his life if he would produce the letter and postscript he confessed to have received from John Clark, which he could not do, as it never had existed: Yet, at last, they pardoned him, and sent him to the rest of those who were freed, and Sharrock with him, whom they also pardoned. That morning, Emanuel Thomson, learning that John Beaumont was pardoned, contrived to have him allowed to visit him, which was allowed with much difficulty.

Beaumont found him in a most miserable condition, the wounds or sores occasioned by the torture bound up, but the blood and matter issuing through the bandages. Taking Mr. Beaumont by the hand, he conjured him, when he came to England, to offer his duty to the Honourable Company, and others of his friends whom he named, and to assure them he died innocent, as was well known to Beaumont.

It is needless to dwell upon the minute circumstances of the catastrophe of this bloody tragedy: Suffice it to say, that ten Englishmen, one Portuguese, and eleven Japanese, were publicly executed; of whom the following is a list:

English: Capt. Gabriel Towerson, agent for the English at Amboina; Samuel Colson, factor at Hitto; Emanuel Thomson, assistant at Amboina; Timothy Johnson, assistant at the same place; John Wetheral, assistant at Cambello; John Clark, assistant at Hitto; William Griggs, factor at Larika; John Fardo, steward of the factory at Amboina; Abel Price, surgeon to that factory; Robert Brown, tailor.

The only Portuguese was Augustine Perez, born in Bengal, who was superintendant of the slaves in the employment of the English at Amboina.

Japanese: Hititso, Tsiosa, and Sinsa, natives of Firando; Sidney Migial, Pedro Congie, Thomas Corea, from Nangasaki; Quinandaya, a native of Coaets; Tsabinda, a native of Tsoncketgo; Zanchae, a native of Fisien.

Besides these, there were two other Japanese tortured, who both confessed a participation in the pretended plot, but were not executed, or even condemned, for reasons which the surviving English did not learn. The executions were all by cutting off the heads of the condemned with a scymitar; and the Dutch prepared a black velvet pall for Captain Towerson's body to fall upon, which they afterwards had the effrontery to charge in account against the English East India Company.

[Footnote 315: Purch. Pilgr. II. 1853. Harris, I. 877.]
[Footnote 316: These four persons are already named, as apprehended at Amboina.--E.]
[Footnote 317: The minute description of these tortures, in Purchas, and copied in Harris, are disgusting; insomuch, that Purchas exclaims at one place, I have no heart to proceed. They are here therefore omitted.--E.]


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