Gabriel Boughton

Gabriel Boughton
Diedunknown
NationalityBritish
OccupationEast Indiaman surgeon
Medical career
InstitutionsEast India Company

Gabriel Boughton was an East India Company (EIC) ship surgeon who travelled to India in the first half of the seventeenth century and became highly regarded by Mughal royalty.

He became the centre of a legend surrounding the acquisition by the EIC of a licence to trade freely in India and establish the first EIC factories on the banks of the Hooghly River in Bengal. According to the legend, incorrectly retold for over a century, Boughton treated and cured emperor Shah Jahan's daughter Jahanara Begum of burns after her clothing caught fire, and in return the emperor granted the EIC a licence to trade freely and to open factories. Boughton was further credited with receiving concessions from the emperor's son Shah Shuja for treating one of the prince's concubines.

After being retold in a number of reputable sources mainly throughout the eighteenth century, EIC expansion in the Indian state of Bengal in the 1840s became attributed to Boughton's story. However, when later historians examined its details, some details were found to be impossible due to inconsistencies in dates and the absence of evidence that the emperor's licence ever existed.

Background

In the early days of the EIC, doctors frequently travelled with traders who were on their way to establish factories. In addition to medical care for themselves and their ships, warehouses, and factories, these "Company ship surgeons" were found to be useful in trading medical treatment for concessions from rich rulers.[1] In India, EIC establishments included Bombay, Surat, Persia, Madras and the east coast, and Bengal and the Bay. Boughton was one of the early medical practitioners of this era, the others including John Woodall, William Hamilton, John Zephaniah Holwell, and William Fullerton.[2]

The English acquired a foothold in India in 1613 by establishing a factory at Surat under the reign of Jahangir and with Portuguese opposition. In 1631, by the order of Shah Jahan, the Portuguese were expelled from Hooghly, and seven years later the emperor appointed his son Shah Shuja to be Viceroy of Bengal. The capital of the province was changed from Gaur to Rajmahal in 1639.[3]

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