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William Gyfford was a British factor and Agent of Madras from July 3 1681 to August 8 1684 and the President of Madras from January 26 1685 to July 25 1687..

William Gyfford was associated with the British East India Company's factory at Madras right from the time of its inception. He was made a factor of the British East India Company in December 1657 and in 1662 was made a member of Council of Fort St George.

Tenure as Agent of Madras

On the removal of Streynsham Master on charges of private trade in the year 1681, William Gyfford was made the Agent of Madras. He was more or less a puppet of the authorities in England, most importantly, Josiah Childe.

Peace with Lingappa

Gyfford ended hostilities with Lingappa, the Naik of Poonamallee by proposing peace with him. Lingappa seeing his chance demanded a huge amount in return for his friendship ahd help in curbing private trade and other criminal activities. The Company agreed and paid him 7000 pagodas. A firman was signed by the Naik of Poonamallee on behalf of the Sultan of Golconda providing a new cowle for the district of Madraspatnam at the rate of 1200 pagodas per annum.

On November 12, 1683, a messenger from the Sultan of Golconda arrived at the Company's garden house and was greeted by a volley of gunshots. Amidst celebration and excitement the firman was signed.


Under extreme pressure from Josiah Childe, William Gyfford introduced reforms to increase the revenues of the British East India Company. The Madras Bank was established on June 21, 1683 with a capital of one hundred thousand pounds sterling. This bank lent money to the citizens of Madras at six percent interest. The Madras Bank, which later became the Bank of Madras in 1843 and eventually merged with the Bank of Bengal and the Bank of Bombay to form the Imperial Bank of India in 1921 is the oldest European-style banking instituition in India

Gyfford also introduced a law to curb slave trade in the Agency of Fort St George. Slave trade was made punishable by law and a Court of Admiralty was established to try offenders on July 10, 1684 thereby replacing the Court of Judicature that had been established by Streynsham Master in which the Agent passed judgement over interlopers and slave traders.

On August 8 1684, Madras was elevated to a Presidency and Elihu Yale made its First President.

Tenure as Second President of Madras

William Gyfford succeeded Elihu Yale was the Second President of Madras on January 26 1685. Under pressure from Josiah Child and the Board of Directors of the British East India Company, he imposed stringent taxes on the inhabitants of the colony. The house tax which had been in vogue since the times of Streynsham Master was standardized and strictly enforced and defaulters punished.

Rebellion against taxation

In January 1686, a rebellion broke out amongst the disgruntled people of Madras over the stringent taxation. The clerks, weavers and dubashes under the pay of the Company revolted and threatened to boycott their jobs. William Gyfford responded sternly and placed all the entrances to the city under heavy guard. A proclamation was issued and read out to the public. According to this proclamation, the administration threatened to banish all those who refused to pay the taxes. The grain merchants of the city were threatened with confiscation of their goods if they did not sell their grain. The next day (January 4, 1686), a compromise was reached by which the inhabitants of Madras submitted and agreed to pay the taxes.

Mutiny of the army

On August 4 1686, the Portuguesemarker soldiers in the service of the British East India Company deputed to serve in the war in Bengal refused to embark on their journey under the suspicion that the factors actually intended to send them to revive an abandoned settlement in West Sumatramarker which had fallen to a mysterious epidemic. When the authorities tried to force them, a mutiny broke out. The administration responded by arresting the ringleaders and executing them. The rebellion eventually subsided within a few days.


In the year 1686, a terrible famine broke out in Madras. 35,000 out of an estimated population of 300,000 died and over 6,000 families were forced to migrate from the city

Mughal conquest of Golconda

With death of Shivaji in 1680, Maratha power in the Deccanmarker began to decline and the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb lead a huge expedition to the South to recover lost territories. In 1686, Aurangazeb's son Muazzam lanched an invasion of Golconda culminating in the siege and the eventual conquest of the capital in September 1687. The forces of Golconda however defended stoutly for over seven months, during which the whole of Golconda was gripped by fear of invasion and carnage.

The factors of Madras, who had been faithful allies of Golconda, anticipating an invasion, applied to England for help. They also persuaded the factory at Calcutta, which had a stronger contingent and greater influence, to negotiate with Aurangazeb. However, even before the siege of Golconda came to an end and before Aurangazeb was free to direct his energies towards minor allies of the Sultan of Golconda, Gyfford was recalled and replaced by Elihu Yale as the President of Madras.


  1. List of Governors of Madras, from
  2. Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society by Hakluyt Society - 1888, pp clxxxv
  3. Insight into the progress of banking, Kanakalatha Mukund, The Hindu, Apr 03, 2007
  4. From Carnatic Bank to State Bank, The Hindu, July 11, 2005
  5. Paper promise, The Hindu Metro Plus, June 3, 2002
  6. Madras Tercenternary Celebration Committee Commemoration Volume by Tercentenary Madras Staff, Madras Tercentenary Celebration Committee, Madras Tercentenary Celebration Committee, Asian Educational Services, 1994, Pp 73-75

Further reading

  • WHEELER, J. T. (1861). Madras in the olden time: being a history of the presidency from the first foundation. Madras, Printed for J. Higginbotham by Graves and co., Ch VI and VII.
  • The English Historical Review, Vol 70, No 277, (1955), pp670-671
  • Early Records of British India: A History of the English Settlements in India, James Talboys Wheeler, 1878,pp 79.

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