James Huggins (c.1742–1785) of Calcutta

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James Huggins was the second son of John Huggins (c.1714–1756) of Glenarb and Lettice Kennedy (1718–1797) of Gortnaglush, parish of Donaghmore, both of the county of Tyrone. The first mention found for James is in a renewal of the lease in Glenarb townland, granted by Lord Charlemont to his mother in 1762. The deed specifically states that the lease was taken in trust for the behoof of the children of the late John Huggins of Glenarb. [1]

Perhaps influenced to undertake an adventure in the nature of trade in India by the example of men like James Alexander, the first proprietor of the Caledon estate and who made his fortune in India, [2] James Huggins went off to India himself. Tracing his life course in the sub-continent is no easy task, however, as the Hon. East India Company kept better track of its armies and civil servants (over whom the company held direct sway), and other contemporary records are scant. Nevertheless, a few gems have come to light.

In Elliot O’Donnell’s sketch of John O’Donnell, a county Limerick man famed for founding the village of Canton near Baltimore, the author made a fleeting but very interesting reference to James Huggins as a rich merchant, viz.—

  Among the most prominent of the Irish in Baltimore to-day are the Limerick branch of the O'Donnells. The first of the O'Donnells to go to Baltimore was John, son of John O'Donnell of Truagh (Trough) Castle, County Limerick, who ran away from home when a boy, and, obtaining a post on one of the big ships trading with India, sailed thither. Landing practically friendless in Calcutta, he soon set to work, and with such success that he amassed a large fortune before he was thirty. Desirous of returning to Ireland, and anxious to try a new route, he obtained the security of the British Government, and a pledge from the Arabs, to allow him to cross Arabia. While he was crossing that Continent, accompanied by two other Europeans, he was treacherously attacked by his Arab escort, who murdered one of his white companions and took the other and himself prisoners. They were both stripped and beaten, and only saved themselves from sunstroke by swathing their head with fragments of John O'Donnell's shirt. After two years' captivity, they escaped, and after many adventures succeeded in reaching India. There, John O'Donnell was entertained at a public banquet by his old friends, and taken into partnership by Mr. Huggins, a rich merchant and Paymaster-General to the East Indian Company's Army. … [3]
   Transcriber’s note: A source reference has not been found to confirm that James Huggins was ever Paymaster General.


Neighbourhood of the Play House, Old Fort, Tank Square, Calcutta.
Aquatint and etching by Thomas Daniell, 1786.
Digital image online at Calcutta As She Was: A Visual Documentation of
Socio-Cultural Ethos Spanning Over Three Centuries
(accessed by Alison Kilpatrick, 2019-06-13).

Clues as to the location of James Huggins’ (apparently fine) house in Calcutta may be gleaned from two sources:

  1. In Calcutta, Past and Present, Kathleen Blechynden discusses buildings in Calcutta during the 18th century and the location of the house occupied by Major-General the Right Hon. Lord Clive (1725–1774), Governor of the Presidency of Fort William, Bengal, viz.:—

    … In the “Plan of the Territory of Calcutta in 1742,” given as an inset in Upjohn’s map, “Mr. Eyre’s house” [in which Clive was said to have lived] is shown to the north of St. Anne’s Church, the position described by the diarist as “behind Writers’ Buildings.” In Upjohn’s own map, 1792-3, what was presumably the same house is shown with the new Theatre adjoining it on the west, “Theatre Street” running between the two. The Theatre stood on the site of the present new China Bazar, which makes the position of the house correspond with the corner of the road from the Bazar into Lyons Range, and it is safe to conjecture that this was the house described in 1776, in which the deeds relating to the lease of the land on which Writers’ Buildings was built, as “the house in the occupation of James Huggins, merchant.” Clive most likely occupied “Mr. Eyre’s house,” if such it was, during the three years of his first administration of Bengal, from January, 1757, to February, 1760, …” [4]

  2. In An Historical Account of ‘The Calcutta Collectorate,’ Reginald Craufuird Sterndale wrote, with reference to a trust dated 15th June 1787 and Barwell’s property in Writers’ Buildings:

    All those two several pieces or parcels of ground situate, lying, and being on the north side of the Great Tank in the town of Calcutta, containing by estimation 16 bighas 17 cottahs and 8 chittacks, as the same two several pieces or parcels of ground are therein described to be lying and being intersected by the great road leading from Holwell’s monument by the south front of the Court-house; to the Salt Water Lake and bounded to the eastward by a road running parallel to the walls of the Old Fort; to the southward by a road of fifteen feet leading from the north-east angle of the railing of the Great Tank towards the Old Fort; and to the northward by a road leading from the south railing of the Play-house by the house then in the occupation of James Huggins, merchant[,] to the China Bazar, … [5]

While the precise location of James Huggins’ house has not been discerned by this writer, the approximate location can be seen in the map, below:

extract calcutta society diffusion useful knowledge ed

Calcutta. Published under the Superintendence of the Society
for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
London: George Cox, 1st January 1852.
Digital image hosted online by Harvard University, iiif.lib.harvard.edu.
Harvard Map Collection. Archival ref. G7654_C2_1852_D5_5745060934.
Accessed by Alison Kilpatrick, 2019-06-13. A segment of the map, only, is shown;
and adapted to show the approximate location of James Huggins’s house
just north of the Writers' Buildings; estimated to have been
within the red square drawn by A. Kilpatrick.

Click on image to view in new window.
Please note that North is to the left.

James Huggins died in 1785, [6] aged about forty-two or forty-three years. Not surprisingly, having died in early middle age, he did not leave a last will and testament. Instead, letters of administration were granted initially to a creditor. [7] An inventory of the effects and debts due to the estate—on account of both James Huggins himself, and the mercantile firm of Huggins and O’Donnell—was drawn up by Mr. Hamilton, Proctor, on the 20th December 1785, and filed with the Supreme Court in Calcuttta, 6th March 1786. This inventory included a line item, “Also an Acco’t with his Brother W’m Huggins;” with amounts due from Mr. William Ledlie (paid) and Mr. Solomon Hamilton[6] both of whom were near relatives to the Huggins family. On the 23rd October 1787, an account current of the goods of James Huggins was similarly filed with the Supreme Court in Calcutta, signed by yet another near relative, Alexander Colvin. [8]

At some point, James's brother, William Huggins, sailed into Fort William from Ireland, to apply to have the letters of administration redirected to himself. In his Memoirs (Vol. I, 1782–1790), William Hickey wrote an amusing, if not terribly flattering, account of the application made to the Police Court in Calcutta to initiate these proceedings:

… The house wherein the judges thus sat in rotation to transact the police business in an evening was hired by the [Hon. East India] Company, the upper part being occupied by the clerk, who was also an attorney of the Court. From the crowd that daily attended these chambers, of the lowest order of people, the house had been facetiously christened “Ragamuffin Hall,” a name that Mr. Hyde was much displeased at, nor could anyone offend him more than by so calling it in his presence.
  When sitting at these chambers the judges would execute any common matters for the practitioners of the Court and receive affidavits as the foundation for different processes issuing. Some matter of that sort had taken me there one evening, and while waiting for what I wanted, Mr. Solomon Hamilton came in accompanied by a client about to apply for letters of administration to the estate of a person deceased, named Huggins. The petition stated the applicant to be a nephew and next-of-kin, and that he had recently arrived in Bengal from Europe. It then prayed that former letters granted to a creditor might be recalled and cancelled and fresh ones granted to him.
  It appeared to me that this nephew, whose name was likewise Huggins, was abominably drunk, and I could not help thinking his proctor guilty of a glaring impropriety
in bringing a man in that disgraceful state to take an oath of so important and serious nature as that of administrator. Some doubts arising in Mr. Hyde’s mind relative to the propriety of the mode of application for recalling letters already issued, he desired the clerk to hand him the Charter and Act of Parliament under the authority of which the Court was constituted. While referring to these documents, the staggering drunkard muttered out, “And so I am to be kept waiting here whilst you are rummaging among your damned old musty law books, am I? Very pretty, by God!” This strange and coarse speech, although delivered in a low under-voice, nevertheless drew the attention of Mr. Hyde, who after attentively eyeing Huggins for a minute said, “The fellow’s intoxicated. Take the filthy beast away.” Hamilton, with difficulty, got him out, he cursing and swearing at the “damned old quiz, in his stiff formal perriwig, with his confounded folio volumes of chicanery.”
  A few evenings after the foregoing scene had occurred Hamilton again attended with Huggins, the attorney having previously taken care that his client was sober. The moment the Judge saw the petition he recollected the former circumstance, and, addressing Huggins, said, “So! you have again made your appearance. Are you now in a fit state to take a solemn oath and to engage to do your duty with fidelity should you obtain what you apply for?” Huggins with respectful humility answered, “Yes, my lord,” to which Mr. Hyde replied, “I have my doubts about it.” Having, however, administered the oath and signed an order for the citations, he said, “There, I have done it, notwithstanding I strongly suspect you to be unworthy of the trust. Prove that I wrong you, and when you have obtained letters of administration do not rob the children of your late uncle of their property.”
  Transcriber’s notes:  This could not have been a nephew, as none were old enough to attend court. Rather, given the line item in the inventory first cited above, this individual was very likely the deceased James Huggins’ brother, William (c.1749–1802), later of Englishtown in the parish of Eglish, county Armagh, and Coalisland and Gortgonis in the parish of Donaghenry, county of Tyrone.  There was no love lost between the two attorneys, William Hickey (the writer of the memoir), and Solomon Hamilton.

In this rather offhand manner, we learn that James Huggins had children. However, not until the will was proven of Kennedy Huggins (c.1778–1836) do we learn their names and, alas, only the initials of their mother’s name.

Having obtained the power to administer the estate, a final legal notice was published to the Calcutta Chronicle and General Advertiser on the 12th June 1788:

  All Persons who are indebted to the Estate of the late Mr. James Huggins, deceased, or to the late Partnership Concern of Messrs. Huggins and O’Donnell, are requested immediately to pay their respective Debts to James Forbes, Esq. at his Office, on the East Side of the Great Tank, who is authorized to recover and receive the same, and in whose Possession the Bonds, Notes, and Bills belonging to the said Estate and Partnership Concern, are lodged to be recovered.
  N.B. The Time given for Payment will expire on the Twentieth of June, Instant; when those who do not discharged their respective Debts will have the same put in Suit.
  10th June, 1788.

William Huggins returned to Ireland where his late brother’s estate finally made its way through the Prerogative Court of Armagh. On the 31st May 1797, Irish letters of administration were granted to Lettice Huggins, the mother, and William Huggins, the brother. [10]

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Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast. Lord Charlemont to Huggins. Archival ref. PRONI D2433/A/45/1 & /2, dated 30 July 1762. Citing a lease given by Lord Charlemont to Letticia Huggins and her son, John Huggins, jun.; citing also John Huggins’s brother, Thomas Huggins (age 14 years), as one of the three lives defining the duration of the lease; and citing the lease taken in trust on behalf of the children of the late John Huggins of Glenarb, namely James, Kennedy, Thomas, William, Elizabeth, Galbraith, Anne, and Joseph (accessed and transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick, November 2003).


Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Belfast). Introduction [to the] Caledon Papers. Archival ref. PRONI D2431.


O’Donnell, Elliot. “The Irish in the United States of America.” Chapter XX in, The Irish Abroad: A Record of the Achievements of Wanderers from Ireland. New York and Melbourne: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1915. (pp. 339–40) (consulted by Alison Kilpatrick, 10 June 2007.)


Blechynden, Kathleen. “Public Buildings.” Chapter IV in, Calcutta Past and Present. London: W. Thacker & Co., and Calcutta and Simla: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1905. (pp. 70–71.) (consulted by Alison Kilpatrick, 10 June 2007.)


Sterndale, Reginald Craufuird. An Historical Account of ‘The Calcutta Collectorate,’ ‘Collector’s Cutcherry, or Calcutta Pottah Office,’ from the days of the Zemindars to the present time, with a brief notice of the Zemindars and Collectors of Calcutta, &c. Published by: Superintendent, Government Printing, West Bengal Government Press, Alipore, West Bengal, 1958 (pp. 33–35). (consulted by Alison Kilpatrick, 10 June 2007.)


British Library (London). British India Office. Wills and Probate. Inventories and Accounts of Deceased Estates – Bengal, 1780–1937. Extract of title: “Inventory of the Effects & Debts Due to the Estate of the late James Huggins. Drafted 20th December 1785; filed 6th March 1786. Hamilton[,] Proctor.” Archival ref. L-AG-34-27-7, folio nos. 36ff. Digital images online at findmypast.co.uk (accessed by subscription, and transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick, 29 January 2014).


Hickey, William; and Alfred Spencer, ed. Memoirs of William Hickey. Vol. III (1782–1790). 5th ed. Published by Knopf (1923); reprinted in London, New York, Melbourne, Sydney, and Cape Town: Hurst & Blackett, Ltd., 1948. (consulted by Alison Kilpatrick, 10 June 2007).


British Library (London). British India Office. Wills and Probate. Inventories and Accounts of Deceased Estates – Bengal, 1780–1937. Extract of title: “Supreme Court [of Bengal]. Ecclesiastical Side. In the Goods of James Huggins, deceased. Account Current. Filed 23rd October 1787.” Archival ref. L-AG-34-27-8, folio nos. 102ff. Digital images online at findmypast.co.uk (accessed by subscription, and transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick, 29 January 2014).


Calcutta Chronicle and General Advertiser, 12 June 1788 (Issue 125). “Advertisement.” Legal notice re: the estate of the late Mr. James Huggins, and the late partnership concern, Messrs. Huggins and O’Donnell. Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick from microfilm purchased from the British Library (London), 9th June 2007.


Betham, Sir William. "Prerogative Administrations (Int.) H. 1793-99. I J.1661–1759.” In, Betham’s Genealogical Abstracts of Prerogative Wills, c.1550–1800. Dublin: Public Record Office (now the National Archives). Digital image online at findmypast.co.uk (accessed by Alison Kilpatrick 2018-05-07, by subscription). Transcript from genealogical abstracts of record from the Prerogative Court of Armagh: “59 Huggins Jas Bengal East Indies – To Wm H the Brother  Letitia H the Mother  Admin Granted 31st Day May 1797 [205).”

If you have a family history connection to a Huggins family from the county of Tyrone—or if you have information to add to the biographical sketches presented here—please consider getting in touch via the contact page.

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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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