Henry Lyell and the Two Princes

Henry Lyell was born in Sweden in 1665, the son of the Scottish born Henrik Lyell and his wife Judith Rokes. In the early 1700s he left Sweden and settled in London, England.

On 10 April 1711 he was elected a Director of the United Company of Merchants trading to the East Indies (East India Company). He was elected to be Chairman of the board of Directors of the East India Company in 1718, 1721 and again in 1726. He was a director of the East India Company from 1710 until he retired in 1730.

Henry Lyell was thus one of the 24 directors of the East India Company for the whole period covering the story of the two Princes related below. Indeed, he was Chairman of the board of directors in 1721. He is mentioned by name in the minutes of the East India Company`s Board of Directors and Proprietors in connection with the debate on opening up trade to Southeast Africa and with the question of how to return the Princes to Delagoa1

On the 13 July 1715 the East India Company received a request from Captain Thomas White for a licence to trade to Madagascar and Delagoa2 for slaves and elephants’ teeth to carry to Plantations in the West Indies3. This was followed up by a letter on 26. October 1715 from Thomas White to the EIC requesting a licence for three small ships and a sloop to trade at Delagoa and Madagascar for whale fishing, ivory and other commodities of those places4. The court ordered that this petition be referred to the Committee of Correspondence, to discourse with Captain White on his said proposal and report their opinion on the whole matter5..

Captain White received his licence and sailed in his ship “Mercury” for Delagoa Bay in 1716. On finally anchoring in Delagoa Bay, Captain White entertained the local tribal King with two of his relatives on board his ship6. During this period the Chief’s two young relatives expressed their desire to visit England. Captain White promised to take good care of them, and the King defrayed the expenses of the princes’ voyage by presenting White with valuable trading commodities.
The Mercury then sailed to Madagascar where Captain White purchased a number of slaves.

Captain White then sailed to the West Indies calling in at the Cape of Good Hope in April 17177 and then anchoring at the island of Jamaica where the nefarious Captain sold the two young Princes into slavery. His arrival at Jamaica in July 1717 is noted by Robert Drury in his diary8.

In Jamaica the two young Princes managed to convince a local lawyer, a Mr. Bowles, of their innocence and princely status and he managed to purchase their freedom from their slave master. Together with the two Princes, Mr Bowles set sail from Jamaica for England. However, shortly after leaving Jamaica the ship was struck by a hurricane and was sunk off the Spanish island of Cuba. Mr Bowles drowned but the princes survived together with a few others including Colonel John Toogood who took them to England9.

On arrival in England in 1720, Colonel Toogood petitioned the East India
Company to defray his expenses and to arrange for the princes to be sent back to their homeland in Mozambique. He also stated that it would be a good opportunity to open up trade with Mozambique10. He followed this up with another petition in November 1720 reminding the EIC of his previous petition.

After considerable discussion the EIC said they would send the princes to Bombay with one of their regular EIC ships. This was refused by John Toogood.
The EIC then entered into discussions with the Royal African Company. Francis Lynn, the secretary of the RAC wrote to the EIC on 6 Oct 1721 thanking them for permission to send an RAC ship to Delagoa to return the two princes and requesting the EIC to lift all trade restrictions with Delagoa. On the 29 December 1721 Francis Lynn wrote to the EIC asking when the licence for the RAC ship “Northampton” would be ready, for the return of the Princes to Delagoa11.

In the meantime, the young princes were instructed in the Christian religion by the Vicar of St. Botolph’s Aldgate, Dr. Thomas Bray. This led to them being baptized with the Christian names James and John on 20 June 1721 at St. Mary`s church, Twickenham by the Vicar, Dr. Pratt12.
Founded by Thomas Bray in 1698, the Society for Promoting Christion Knowledge wanted the princes to return to Delagoa accompanied by a missionary. Marmaduke Penwell was appointed to sail with them, having received £500 from the East India Company according to a report in the London Journal.

On the 13 December 1721 Francis Lynn sent a draft of the licence for the 110-ton ship Northampton with Captain John Sharrow in command to sail to Delagoa Bay with two princes onboard13. The draft was read by the EIC court of directors, and a fair copy was accordingly signed and sealed and returned to the RAC.

Both princes sailed from the Thames with Sharrow, but the older of the two princes, James, committed suicide in May, 1722 at Exmouth, where the ship was delayed for repairs after striking a rock.

The Northampton stopped at the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope on 9 December 1722, with Prince John of Delagoa and the Anglican missionary Marmaduke Penwell onboard. They reached Delagoa Bay at the end of December 1722. Prince John was recognised as the nephew of the Tsonga chief Mafunbo14. He wanted nothing more to do with the missionary Marmaduke Penwell who returned to England.


2 Delagoa Bay is on the Southeast coast of Mozambique and is now named Maputo Bay. The first European to survey it in 1544 was the Portuguese explorer Lorenzo Marques who named it Baía da Lagoa (Bay of the Lagoon).

1 Source DX211384_1_0001.tif (ucl.ac.uk) - an article by Jill Louise Geber and submitted as part of a thesis for her Ph D. to University College London.
3 India Office Records document IOR/1/6 ff132-33
4 India Office Records document IOR/1/6 ff 205-6
5 IOR/B/53. Title, Court Minutes, 8 Apr 1714 - 5 Apr 1716. Library, The British Library.
6 The story is admirably told by Margaret Makepeace and Richard Morel, Curators of the East India Company Records. Slavery, Shipwreck, and Suicide - Untold lives blog.
7 “The Cape and foreign shipping” 1974 by M. Boucher, University of South Africa.
8 “The Pleasant and Surprising Adventures of Robert Drury” by Daniel Defoe.
9 “Slavery, Shipwreck, and Suicide”. Untold Lives blog.
D/173 page 140. 23 Sep 1720.
11 Document IOR/E/1/12 East India Company Home Correspondence.
12 St Mary's Church, Twickenham - Wikipedia.
14 “Arabian Seas 1700-1763” by Rene Barendse page 136 Brill, 2009