FITCH, Ralph

FITCH, Ralph. 1550? — London (?) 1611. English Merchant and Traveller in India. In February 1583 left London with other merchants of the Levant Company (with John Newberry as leader) with the purpose of opening trade with India. They travelled through Tripolis, Aleppo (May), Baghdad and Basra to Ormuz (September), where all were imprisoned by the Portuguese and sent to Goa. In the end of December they were freed through the intervention of —> Stephens, another Jesuit and —> Linschoten. In April 1584 Fitch escaped from Goa together with Newberry and Leeds (the fourth member of the group accepted catholicism and remained there). They travelled through Bijapur and Golconda to Agra, where they met Akbar in September. Here Newberry left on his own to Europe, but was lost, probably killed in the Pañjāb, and Leeds accepted service under Akbar (and disappears from sources). Fitch went in river-boat to Prayāg, Benares and Patna, then by land to Kuch Behar, Hugli, Chittagong and Serampore, and in November 1586 to Pegu (Burma). After visiting the Shan states he sailed in January 1588 from Pegu to Malacca and, after returning to Pegu, in February 1589 to Cochin, where he was retained 8 months. In November to Goa, probably in disguise, then through Chaul, Ormuz, Basra and Mosul to Aleppo, where he remained several months. Sailed from Tripoli and arrived on 29.4.1591 at London. Carried on trade all the time during his travels. In 1596 probably a second voyage to the Near East. In 1600 he participated in the founding the E.I.C. and in 1606 was consulted as an expert of Eastern trade. Apparently he was unmarried. Probably he kept no diary, but gave his account from memory (taking some details from —> Federici).

Publications: His journey was first published by Hakluyt (who knew him personally) in his 2nd ed. vol. 2, 245ff., then by Purchas (part 2) and others; J. Horton Ryley (ed.), Ralph Fitch, England’s pioneer to India and Burma; his companions and contemporaries, with his remarkable narrative told in his own words. 16+264 p. L. 1899; Foster 1921, 8-47.

– Letters by Eldred, Fitch and Newberry also edited inJ. Courtenay Locke, The First Englishmen in India. London 1930, repr. Munshiram Manoharlal 1997.

Sources: *Ap. Chattopadhyaya, “The Account of R.F. – A Study”, JOIB 40:1-2, 1990, 89-98; C. H. C[oote] in D.N.B. 19, 1889, 77-79; *M. Edwardes, Ralph Fitch – Elizabethan in the Indies. L. 1972; Foster 1921, 1-8; Donald F. Lach, Asia in the making of Europe. 1. Chicago 1965, 477-482; Oaten 1909, 106-110; Prasad 1980, 23-62; Wikipedia.

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