Ralph Fitch

Ralph Fitch

Ralph Fitch (died 1611) was a gentleman merchant of London and one of the earliest English travellers and traders to visit Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, India and Southeast Asia.

In February 1583 he embarked in the "Tyger" for Tripoli and Aleppo in Syria, together with merchants John Newbery and John Eldred, a jeweller named William Leedes and a painter, James Story, all financed by the Levant Company. From Aleppo they reached the Euphrates, descended the river from Bir to Fallujah, crossed southern Mesopotamia to Baghdad, and dropped down the Tigris to Basra (May to July 1583). Here Eldred stayed behind to trade, while Fitch and the others sailed down the Persian Gulf to Ormuz, where they were promptly arrested as spies (at Venetian instigation, as they believed) and sent prisoners to the Portuguese viceroy at Goa (September to October).

Through the sureties procured by two Jesuits (one being Thomas Stevens, formerly of New College, Oxford, the first Englishman known to have reached India by the Cape route in 1579), Fitch and his friends regained their liberty. Story chose to join the Jesuits, and the others managed to escape from Goa (April 1584). They travelled through the heart of India to the court of the Great Mogul Akbar, then probably at Agra. Leedes became an employee of the Great Mogul, and in September 1585 Newbery decided to begin his return journey overland via Lahore. He disappeared, presumably being robbed and murdered, in the Punjab.

Fitch continued on, descending the Jumna and the Ganges, to visit Benares, Patna, Kuch Behar, Hugh, Chittagong, etc. (1585-1586). He then pushed on by sea to Pegu and Burma. Here he visited the Rangoon region, ascended the Irrawaddy some distance, acquired a remarkable acquaintance with inland Pegu, and even penetrated to the Siamese Shan states and the Northern Thai kingdom of Lanna (December 1586 and January 1587).

Early in 1588 he visited Malacca. In the autumn of this year he began his homeward travels, first to Bengal; then round the Indian coast, touching at Cochin and Goa, to Ormuz; next up the Persian Gulf to Basra and up the Tigris to Mosul (Nineveh); finally via Tirfa, Bir on the Euphrates, Aleppo and Tripoli, to the Mediterranean. He arrived in London on 29 April 1591. His experience was greatly valued by the founders of the East India Company, who consulted him on Indian affairs.

Impact and legacy

* Fitch's journey is referred to indirectly by William Shakespeare in Act 1, Scene 3 of "Macbeth", where the first witch cackles about a sailor's wife: "Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master of the Tyger."
* Mahabandoola Park in Rangoon was formerly named "Fitche Square" in his honour.


*Aanmerklyke Reys van Ralph Fitch, Koopman te Londen, Gedaan van Anno 1583 tot 1591. Na Ormus, Goa, Cambaya, Bacola, Chonderi, Pegu, Jamahay in Siam, en weer na Pegu: van daar na Malacca, Ceylon, Cochin, en de geheele Kust van Oost-Indien. Nu aldereerst uyt het Engelsch vertaald. Met schoone Figueren, en een volkomen Register. Leyden, Van der Aa, 1706 nl


*John Horton Ryley: "Ralph Fitch: England's pioneer to India and Burma ; His companions and contemporaries with his remarkable narrative told in his own words." London, 1899
*Michael Edwardes: "Ralph Fitch – Elizabethan In The Indies." London, England Faber and Faber 1972
*Cecil Tragen: "Elizabethan Venture." London H.F. & G Witherby Ltd. 1953



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