Governor James Macrae 1725-1730

It all started with a comment in CCG’s blog. Joyce Baker commented saying that they were renovating a monumet to one James Macrae who was Governor of Madras and would like to know more about his stay in Madras.

That set me on a google search, and what I came up was the fascinating story of James Macrae. Son of a washerwoman, fatherless at the age of 5, put in jail for stealing apples, ran away from home to become a sailor, fought with Pirates, rewarded with Governorship of Madras Presidency.

James Macraewas born in 1670 and he lost his father when he was young. His mother worked as a washer woman. He was supposed to have been put in jail for stealing apples from a Magistrate’s garden. He ran away from home joining the crew of a boat in Ayr Harbour. That was the last his hometown heard of him until he returned in triumph 40 years later.

He rose to become Captain of the ships of East India Company. In 1720 he was piloting the East India Company Ship “Cassandra” and was engaged in a fight with the Pirates Edward England and John Taylor in their ship “Fancy” off Madagascar. He fought bravely but his losses piled up. He lost 37 men and when there was no hope, ran the ship aground and went inland. The pirates too had lost 90 men and were angry with him. However the treasure of 75000 pounds placated them a little. After 10 days, he approached the pirates for negotiation. Taylor wanted him killed, but Edward England was lenient and wanted to let him go. The accounts of that time say, that there was a one legged soldier who spoke in support of James Macrae, saying he had sailed under Macrae and would help him. This incident was supposed to have resulted in the characterisation of Long John Silver in R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. So after plying Taylor with rum, they got Macrae and his men put on the much damaged “Fancy” and set on sea. Macrae commanded the ship to Bombay after six weeks, and was justly hailed a hero.

For his bravery he was rewarded with Governorship of Madras when a vacancy arose, and he became Governor of Madras in 18 Jan 1725. He is reputed to have put down corruption in the ruling council. But there are also rumours that he profited hugely from private deals. I found a link to a case filed against him by a local merchant Seetharama Chetty stating that Macrae had defrauded him of 2000 pagodas. He was Governor for a period of five years and sailed home to Scotland on Jan 31 a wealthy man with riches of 800,000 pounds.

In Scotland he found that his mother was no more, and his relatives had taken care of his mother during her last days. So he became their benefactor, marrying their three daughters off in grand style. He also donated a equestrian statue of King Willaim to the city of Glasgow in 1734. James Macrae died in 1750 having lead a charmed life.

4 Comments so far

  1. Kiruba Shankar (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 6:59 pm

    Great piece, Chen.

  2. sowmya (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 7:47 pm

    very interesting indeed. great post!!

  3. Anand (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

    2000 Pakodas? :P

  4. WA (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 10:51 pm

    Interesting stuff. BTW what are pagodas and what is it worth in today’s money?

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