Captain William Hawkins [1516 - 1613]

William Hawkins was a representative of the English East India Company. He was the commander of Hector, the first company ship to anchor at Surat in India on 24 August 1608.

This article aims to share the facts related to Captain William Hawkins’s life for aspirants preparing for the IAS Exam

Information regarding Captain William Hawkins and his visit to India is relevant for candidates preparing for the Civil Services under the Indian History part of the UPSC Prelims exam.

Candidates can know more about other Foreign Envoys who visited India on the linked page.

William Hawkins Visit to India – UPSC Prelims Facts

  • Sir William Hawkins was a diplomat of the English East India Company.
  • In 1607, Captain Hawkins commanded the East India Company’s ship ‘Hector’ on a voyage to Surat with William Keeling. He was charged with letters and presents from the King of England Jame I. 
  • Hector was the first English ship to set anchor at Surat. (Check out the details of Thomas Roe’s visit to Surat as ambassador to Mughal court on the linked page.) 
  • William Hawkins arrived at Surat in August 1608 but as soon as his ship Hector sailed in, he was captured by the Portuguese. 
  • Hawkins was told that all the ports belong to the “King of Portugal” and no one can come to India without the license from the Portuguese king. Somehow, the captain managed to receive a pass for his journey to Agra.
  • From Surat, William Hawkins proceeded to Agra for Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s Court. He was helped by the Viceroy of the Burhanpur midway and after much labor, toil and many dangers; he reached Agra on April 16, 1609. 
  • Hawkins was an envoy in the court of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir for two years.
  • The English East India Company sent William Hawkins to obtain formal permission to establish an English factory in Surat. 
  • Emperor Akbar was the contemporary of Queen Elizabeth-I hence was little known in England but when the captain arrived there was a different personality sitting on the throne. However, Hawkins was received with all Indian hospitality and warmth by the new emperor Jahangir. 
  • With the help of a Portuguese Jesuit, Captain’s letter was read in the court and he was taken to a private chamber for further discussions.
  • The discussion took place in the Turkish language as both William Hawkins and Jahangir along with his few ministers were well versed with the language. Turkish was the native tongue of Babur. 
  • Emperor Jahangir demanded a handsome maintenance fee for setting up the factory and also asked Hawkins to combat the intrigues of the Portuguese. 
  • Hawkins was able to acquire a footing in the court of Jahangir and in due course of time he got so intimate with the “talented drunkard” emperor that no Europeans had ever afterwards. Jahangir called William Hawkins ‘English Khan’.
  • William Hawkins was able to persuade the emperor to grant the required license for an English Factory in Surat by completing all the favors asked by Jahangir. However, under the Pressure of the Portuguese Viceroy, the grant was withdrawn.
  • Jahangir wanted to attach Captain William Hawkins to India so he persuaded Hawkins to marry a maid from his court. 
  • William wanted to reverse the order of the emperor regarding the grant of a license, so for his interest, he agreed to Jahangir’s advice and married Mariam Khan, an American Christian lady. Mariam Khan was a daughter of an influential merchant who worked in Akbar’s court.
  • After a year or two, William Hawkins fell into some disfavor with the emperor because the influence of Portuguese over the king was impregnable. Hence, Hawkins was allowed to depart from the kingdom. 
  • William Hawkings left Agra on November 2nd, 1611 and reached Surat after three months. 
  • After two years, i.e. in 1614, on the passage back to home, William Hawkins died. 

Later in 1615, Sir Thomas Roe arrived at Agra court to the great Mughal Emperor Jahangir. He lived in Agra for four years. Get all the details of Sir Thomas Roe’s visit to India on the linked page.  

Also, check out a few relevant links to prepare comprehensively for the upcoming UPSC examinations-

Aspirants can visit the UPSC Syllabus page to familiarise themselves with the topics generally asked in the exam. For further assistance visit the following links –

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