This region became exceptionally important with the breakout of the Padri War in 1803. The Padri War, fought between local chieftains of northwestern Sumatra following Adat law and Muslim clerics who, inspired by Wahabism after returning from Hajj, sought to convert the region to Sharia, or traditional Islamic law. Meanwhile, the colonial powers were vying for control of the region, with England based in Singapore and Bencoolen, and The Netherlands out of Batavia and Malacca. Colonial hegemony in Sumatra was nominal at best, being largely confined to the eastern and southern portions of the island. The Padri War further frustrated Dutch attempts to control Sumatra and its important pepper trade. At the same time, the lack of colonial oversight opened the pepper ports of northwestern Sumatra, most of which are noted here, to foreign trade. Merchants from Australia, India, and the United States were thus able to circumvent the Anglo-Dutch monopoly on pepper by trading directly with Sumatran producers. Ashmore, a merchant captain, possibly operating out of Mauritius (later out of Sydney), was among the first to accurately map this important stretch of coast – this being the only known surviving example of his manuscript chart. This map was later integrated into the important large scale nautical charts of this region compiled and published by James Horsburgh , with whom Ashmore was acquainted, in his East India Pilot.
Even with Ashmore’s excellent nautical chart, the pepper trade was dangerous. The Padri War, while hardly disrupting the pepper supply, displaced part of the local population and led to a spike in piracy all along the coast. Moreover, the powerful British and Dutch navies were actively discouraging any trade that disrupted their lucrative pepper monopoly. Nonetheless, Australians out of Sydney and Americans out of Salem swarmed to western Sumatra – some acquired great wealth though others suffered a more grisly fate. Just 10 years after this map was drawn, in 1831, an American pepper merchant ship, the Friendship, was stormed and its crew killed by Muslim villagers living in Kuala Batu (inset no. 3). The American president, Andrew Jackson, sent 300 marines and the frigate Potomac to ‘chastise’ the locals. Nearly 150 Malay pirates/villagers were killed. More recently this coast was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
Being a one of a kind manuscript there are few references to this chart, however, we did find a cople. An English version of this chart, entitled The Northern Pepper Ports, on the west Coast of Sumatra, by Samuel Ashmore, 1821 was recorded in 1878 in the manuscript archives of the British India Office. This document may still exist in the British Library, but we have not been able to specifically identify it. According to the same archive reference, James Horsburgh republished this chart in 1822, four examples of which are held by the India Office of the British Library.
The fact that the map is in French is exceptionally important and revealing. Initially we assumed the example recorded in the British India Office (British Library IOR/X/3628/50D), was most likely Ashmore’s original final draft. What then of our French example? There are a couple of elements here that are exceptionally striking, first, not only is it in French, but the spellings of the ports, geological features, and even Ashmore’s name, here spelled Aschemore, are transliterated into amalgam of Dutch and French (‘Asche’ being a Dutch name). This is highly unusual and when juxtaposed with a chronology of Ashmore’s life, leads to some speculation. Why would someone merely copying a chart change the spelling of the author’s name to make it seem more ‘Dutch’? Here is what we’ve come up with.
The extremely thorough and extensive British records of Ashmore’s Indian Ocean voyages identify annual, and sometime bi-annual, trade missions nearly every year from 1809 to 1833 – with a notable exception. These records are curiously blank between 1816 and 1822, when this map was made. What we do see is that he seems to have traveled extensively between British colonies in India and Australia and former French colony of Mauritius in the years just before and just after he disappears. Other records show that sometime during this period he became involved with Clara Potterick. Clara’s birth records indicate that she was born in the Dutch colony of Batavia, Clara being a common Dutch name at the time. Family records moreover suggest that Clara was more than half indigenous and by some family accounts a Javanese princess. Like Ashmore, Clara disappears from Batavia only to appear in Mauritius where, in 1830 she bore a son, Alfred Ambrose Ashmore. The Ashmore family subsequently moved from Mauritius to Sydney in 1831, where he and Clara married and lived out the remainder of their days.
Thus a fascinating story begins to emerge. Ashmore began voyaging on the Indian Ocean in 1809 as the merchant captain of the brig Hibernia. From 1809 to 1816 Ashmore captained the Hibernia on various trade voyages between India, Tasmania, and Sydney, with an 1814 stop at the Dutch port of Batavia, where he spent some time and even attempted to sell the Hibernia. It must have been on this voyage that he met and fell in love with Clara Potterick, possibly attempting to sell the Hibernia and reimagining himself as ‘Aschemore’ in an attempt to settle in the Dutch port. If, as Ashmore family histories suggest, Potterick was in fact a Dutch-Javanese princess, this may have been problematic. Having failed to sell the Hibernia in Batavia, Ashmore left Batavia in May of 1814. Clara most likely accompanied him. This was Ashmore’s last voyage as captain of the Hibernia. Subsequently he traveled as Captain of the Udney (Udny), which generally sailed between Mauritius and Indian ports. His last recorded voyage before he briefly disappears occurred in 1816 on the brig Guide, captained by John Higgins, with Ashmore is listed as the owner. Why then did he disappear? Our guess is that Ashmore, having abducted his princess decided to lay low for a while in the most remote British colony possible, Mauritius. It is important to keep mind that, while nominally British, Mauritius remained culturally linguistically French and was economically dominated by a French- Mauritian elite.
Around this time the Padri War broke out in western Sumatra, creating a unique trade opportunity for the opportunistic captain. This part of Sumatra was well known for the production of pepper – so much so that, as mentioned earlier, it was known as the Pepper Coast. Traditionally the pepper market was tightly controlled by British in Bencoolen (further south on Sumatra’s western coast) and the Dutch out of Batavia. The Padri War disrupted the established supply lines and opened various ports along the Pepper Coast to international trade with prices far below the monopolistic offerings in Bencoolen and Batavia. Since Ashmore made this map in 1821, we know that he was making unrecorded voyages to the Pepper Coast, probably in his new brig, the Guide. Being based in Mauritius and most likely sailing with a French-speaking Mauritian crew, it would be surprising if any maps that Ashmore drafted during this period were not in French. His interesting name change, to Aschemore, is unlikely to be a transcription era due to the fact that it is extremely unusual and moreover, such an error seems out of place in an otherwise highly detailed and meticulously produced chart. Most likely Ashmore himself instigated the name change not to disguise his identity, he was well known in the East Indies, but rather to disassociate himself with the British colonial hegemony in Mauritius and Batavia. Ashmore was certainly not the only captain to take advantage of the war to smuggle pepper, as mentioned already, entrepreneurs from Salem, Massachusetts, Sydney, and India were extremely active along the Pepper Coast throughout this period. Ashmore, nevertheless, was most likely the only one to produce such a beautiful chart.
In light of Ashmore’s history and association with Mauritius, it is our belief that this map is Ashmore’s original final draft. The English language manuscript variant identified in the archives of the British India Office was most like a copy produced for the founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who Ashmore must have met at Bencoolen. Writing in January of 1822 from Bencoolen, a British colony on the west coast of Sumatra, Raffles references this important chart in his letters to the Duchess of Somerset, stating almost in postscript, ‘Look after the chart of the pepper ports by Captain Ashmore, and interest Horsburgh : he will know the value of them.’ The variant on this chart mentioned by Raffles, is most likely a copy of the map offered here, prepared in English by Ashmore or an assistant for Stamford Raffles in January of February of 1821. This example, as Raffles hoped, found its way into the hands of Horsburgh who added it to his collections at the British India Office, and published a variant, in 1822.
We thus conclude that this is Ashmore’s original plan of the Pepper Ports of Western Sumatra, which was later copied for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1821, the same year the original was produced and passed on to Hydrographer James Horsburgh by Charlotte Seymour, the Duchess of Somerset. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the serious collector of maps pertaining to Sumatra, the East Indies, Horsburgh, or Stamford Raffles.
A catalogue of manuscript and printed reports, field books, memoirs, maps , etc., of The Indian Surveys, deposited in the Map Room of the India Office, p. 581.
Horsburgh, J. and Taylor, A. D., The India Directory, for the guidance of commanders of steamers and sailing vessels, Section V., pp. 603 – 609.
Moor, J. H., Notices of the Indian Archipelago and adjacent countries: being a collection of papers relating to Borneo, Celebes, Bali, Java, Sumatra, Nias: the Philippine Islands, Sulus, Siam, Cochin China, Malayan peninsula, etc, (1837) p. 109.
Travers, Thomas Otho, Journal, 1813 – 1820, (Banfield, 1960) P. 118.
Raffles, Sophia (Lady), Memoir of the Live and Public Services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles vol 2, p. 210.
British Library, India Office, IOR/X/3628/50D (inaccessible, page 581), IOR: X/3634/2/35 (page 588), IOR: X/3635/136/1 (the only coloured copy in our collections, page 593), IOR: X/3635/136/2 page 593.
British Library, Map Library, Map 147.e.18 (161) 2.