Hamilton, Alexander (d.1732?) (DNB00)

HAMILTON, ALEXANDER (d. 1732?), merchant and author, describes himself as ‘having a rambling mind and a fortune too narrow to allow him to travel like a gentleman.’ He therefore ‘applied himself to the study of nautical affairs,’ and having spent his younger days ‘in visiting most of the maritime kingdoms of Europe and some parts of Barbary,’ and having made a voyage to Jamaica, he went out to the East Indies in 1688, and remained there till 1723. During this time he seems to have followed a life of commercial adventure, sometimes as captain of a ship, sometimes as supercargo, sometimes in a ship of his own, or in one privately owned, sometimes in a ship of one or other of the rival companies, and so to have visited almost every port, from Jeddah in the Red Sea to Amoy in China. His adventures and experiences are told in a most interesting manner in his ‘New Account of the East Indies’ (2 vols. 8vo, 1727; 2nd edit. 2 vols. 8vo, 1744), a work which, in the charm of its naïve simplicity, perfect honesty, with some similarity of subject in its account of the manners and history of people little known, offers a closer parallel to the history of Herodotus than perhaps any other in modern literature. Its historical value must, however, be weighted with his distinct confession that ‘these observations have been mostly from the storehouse of my memory, and are the amusements or lucubrations of the nights of two long winters;’ and again, that ‘If I had thought while I was in India of making my observations or remarks public and to have had the honour of presenting them to so noble a patron’—as the Duke of Hamilton, to whom the work is dedicated—‘I had certainly been more careful and curious in my collections, and of keeping memorandums to have made the work more complete.’ As these reminiscences extend over five-and-thirty years, they may well be occasionally untrustworthy; still, as a seaman, we may suppose that he had his journals, or, as a merchant, his trade memoranda, which would to some extent keep him straight. Of his honesty and of his truthfulness, within the limits of his memory and observation, it is impossible to doubt. He returned to England in 1723, seems to have spent a considerable part of 1724 in Holland, presumably settling his business affairs, and the two following years in writing and arranging his ‘lucubrations.’ He describes himself as having ‘brought back a charm that can keep out the meagre devil, poverty, from entering into my house, and so I have got holy Agur's wish in Prov. xxx. 8.’ A ‘Captain Alexander Hamilton’ died 7 Oct. 1732 (Gent. Mag. 1732, p. 1030).

[The only authority for Hamilton's life is his own book; there is also some mention of him in Clement Downing's Compendious History of the Indian Wars (1737), pp. 14–25.]

J. K. L.