“The views of the English extending with experience and success, and finding the long attempted north-east and north-west passages to India impracticable, they at length determined to proceed for that distant region round Africa by the same course with the Portuguese. In 1591, that voyage was undertaken for the first time by three large ships under the command of Captain Raymond; and in 1596, another fleet of three ships set out on the same design under Captain Wood, but with bad success. In the mean time several navigators were employed to discover this course to the East Indies. At length in 1600, a charter was obtained from Queen Elizabeth by a body of merchants, to the number of 216, having George Earl of Cumberland at their head, under the name of the Company of Merchant Adventurers, for carrying on a trade to the East Indies. From this period ships were sent there regularly every two or three years; and thus were laid the foundations of the English East India commerce, which has subsisted ever since under exclusive chartered companies.
“Long before the English sailed to India in their own ships, several English merchants and others had gone to India from time to time in the Portuguese ships, and some overland; from a desire to pry into and to participate in the advantages of that gainful commerce. Of those who went by land, several letters and relations remain which will be found in the sequel: But of all who performed the voyage as passengers in the Portuguese vessels, we know of only one who left any account of his adventures, or at least whose account has been published; viz. Thomas Stephens. To this may be added the account by Captain Davis of a voyage in the Dutch ship called the Middleburgh Merchants in 1598, of which he served as pilot, for the purpose of making himself acquainted with the maritime route to India, and the posture of the Portuguese affairs in that country. Both of these journals contain very useful remarks for the time in which they were made, and both will be found in our collection.
“Although the first voyages of the English to the East Indies are full of variety, yet the reader is not to expect such a continued series of new discoveries, great actions, battles, sieges, and conquests, as are to be met with in the history of the Portuguese expeditions: For it must be considered that we made few or no discoveries, as these had been already made before; that our voyages were for the most part strictly commercial; that our settlements were generally made by the consent of the natives; that we made no conquests; and that the undertakings were set on foot and carried on entirely by our merchants. On this account it is, probably, that we have no regular history extant of the English Voyages, Discoveries, and Transactions in the East Indies, as we find there are many such of the Portuguese and Spanish. It may be presumed, however, that as the East India Company has kept regular journals of their affairs, and is furnished with letters and other memorials from their agents, that a satisfactory account of all the English Transactions in India might be collected, if the Company thought proper to give orders for its execution.”—Astley.