Mariana Starke: Grandfather Spurns Virginia for India

In ‘What Mariana Starke was Not’ I explain that she was not – as has so often been cited – born in India. ‘India’ was, however, a formative presence in her worldview, a continent with which generations of her forebears had been associated.  For, c 1710/11, it was to India that the young man who was to be her grandfather, John Starke (1685-1765), set sail. Having dealt with the many law suits he had inherited from his father, Thomas Starke, merchant and slave trader, John turned his back on the Virginia plantations and joined the East India ship, Averilla, heading for Madras.

Why did he forsake America for India? Doubtless the reasons were of the economic variety –  he saw better prospects in the East. The fact that 25 years later the grandson of Micajah Perry, one of Thomas Starke’s most successful associates, was forced to sell his home, Hylands House in Epsom, and that the buyer was John Starke, would appear to vindicate the decision.

John Starke settled down to life in India, marrying, in 1713 at Fort St George, Martha Empson, whose father, now dead, had been an English merchant there. John Starke, described as a ‘seafaring man in the Madras service’, was not an employee of the East India Company but certainly travelled on their ships as supra cargo (or supercargo) – that is with responsibility for the management of the cargo and its trading.

It is possible still to catch glimpses of John Starke’s life as a free merchant at Fort St George. For instance in February 1724 an East India Company ship, the Lynn, travelling out to ‘the coast of Coromandel’, carried on it for his use 6 rheams of paper £12; 2 fowling pieces [guns] £5; 2 hatts and 2 wiggs £12. John and Martha Starke had a son, Richard, born in Madras in 1719 and a daughter, Martha. The family returned to England in early 1727, sailing on the ship Lyell. This may have been for the sake of the health of John’s wife, for she died in England, buried on 24 November 1730 at St Dunstan in the East, the churchyard that had in the previous half century received so many Starke bodies.

John  travelling back east in 1731 and in 1732 was appointed supra cargo for a ship sailing to China.He was now, for a short time, associated with the developing China trade but by the end of 1734 had returned to England, buying and settling into Hylands House, Epsom, which comprised ‘a messuage, forecourt, coachouse, stables and other outhouses and garden, ¾ acre’.

His son, Richard, was not, however, able to enjoy the pleasures of Epsom for in 1735 he began his career with the East India Company. He still had family – the Empsons – in Fort St George. In 1736 John Starke had sent there to Matthew Empson (either his brother in law or his nephew)  ‘a box of books and apparel’ Empsons continued through several generations to live in Madras and Mariana may have been aware of these Indian relations – although they are never mentioned in any extant correspondence.

Comfortably settled in Epsom, John Starke maintained his interest in travel, in 1745 subscribing to A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels in Europe, Asia, Africa etc by John Green. At some point (I have, as yet, been unable to trace the date) he remarried – taking as his second wife Honor, daughter of Sir Thomas Rawlinson and sister of Mary Rawlinson, devoted friend of his sister, Martha. Starke clearly was the uxorious type, losing no time, after Honor’s death in February 1751, in marrying in October, at Temple Church, Ann Clotterbooke. He died 14 years later and was buried at St Mary, Ewell, on 11 April 1765.

In John Starke’s will, among the usual bequests, was one leaving £2000 [2012 = £229,000] to the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, specifying that part of the money was to be applied ‘by the Society towards such charitable purposes as they shall judge most efficacious towards converting the savage Indians in our American colonies and late Acquisition’ [ie territory gained up to the Mississippi following victory over the French in 1763].He stresses the need to extend the Gospel ‘in all the remote and uncivilised parts of our settlement where providence has been graciously pleased to open a fair field to us (and probably for that purpose). It seems as though John Starke felt the necessity of making amends – one takes it that conversion to Christianity was intended as a gift – to at least one group affected by his family’s business dealings in North America – while blustering, even in his will, that English men were also the gift of providence.

On her death, also in 1765, his former sister-in-law, Mary Rawlinson left to John’s daughter, Martha, ‘my dressing table and the dressing stand in my own bedchamber, the bureau in the maid’s room and the black and gold Japan corner cabinet in my bed chamber, the Japan tea table in the parlour, the little mahogany table in ditto and likewise my tea board and writer and all my china ware except 6 blue and white cups and saucer… I give likewise to Miss Starke a pair of glass salts and the turkey carpet in my bed chamber.’ Martha Starke never married and I have wondered if any of these delightful pieces were eventually subsumed into the Hylands House furnishings, to be appreciated by Mariana Starke.

Source: The East India Company papers in the British Library provide a wealth of easily accessible details of life about individual ‘British in India’.

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All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.
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