Reading “plenty” in early modern English travel accounts

Bonisha Bhattacharyya, Jadavpur University


In a review of Niccolao Manucci’s Storia Do Mogor by H.B; the former is referred to as a “poor Venetian” who “ran off to sea” wishing to “emulate his career”. Fortune seems to have smiled on him, for he was taken in by an Englishman on board who “took pity on the stowaway and made him his servant”. For early travellers such as Manucci, travelling to India seemed to have been more to escape the struggles of a life led in poverty, back “home”. Most travellers such as him, were employed at the royal court, paid handsomely and were left with very little reasons to want to go back to their country.

However, in scrutinizing this very pattern, it is also curious to note that the East-Indies is often referred to as inhospitable by travellers who were constantly facing a lot of danger in transit, either by falling sick or being robbed on their way to different places. There appears to be no respite for the lot, who seem to have walked out of a certain kind of trial into a situation of disguised poverty, one may say. Not only were they constantly having to devise better methods to survive India, they were also perhaps battling to preserve their identities in a land, where most rulers would want them follow every protocol of conduct in the royal court, in return for a generous salary. The irony lies in having escaped misery, and yet having unknowingly walked amidst a group of people who have weathered poverty. My paper wishes to investigate how the politics of dearth and poverty complicated popular notions of “travel”.