Frederick, Caeser

Frederick, Caeser a Venecian traveler, who had traveled in the East from 1563 to 1581 and has left behind an account about some important cities, ports and business centres of India and of Bengal. His account covers the socio-economic and cultural life of the people.

Frederick returned to Goa to travel to Cochin. He threw interesting details on the life of the Nairs. From there he went to Quilon and thence to Ceylon. He then seems to have gone to Negapatnam from where he travelled to Orissa and Bengal. Frederick was one of the earliest European travellers to have visited Sandwip Island, which he found inhabited. The Island was very fertile and a river channel divided it into two parts. The inhabitants set up a market on the beach after seeing the ship. He was amazed by the cheapness of the provisions. The people were Muslims ruled by a Muslim King. The Island belonged to the King of Bengal.

Frederick then moved to Chittagong where he found a great store of rice, cloth and sugar for export to various parts of India. Coming through the Ganges, he entered satgaon (Saptagram) and reached the mouth of the Ganges by boat after eighteen hours of rowing with the tide. He had first come to Bettore, opposite Howrah, and it is probable that he had taken the Saraswati, which had begun to silt by that time. He says that from there “upwards the river is very shallow” with little water. Frederick found Bettore (or Betor was a major trading centre, the location being around present Shibpur of Howrah in West Bengal.) with infinite number of people and ships anchored in front.

Frederick saw thirty to thirty-five big and small ships at Satgaon with rice, cloth, lac, sugar, long pepper, oil and many other goods. He found 'Satgaon a reasonably fine city for a city of the Moors';, abounding with all things. He found a large number of merchants there. The number of ships being only thirty to thirty-five Satgaon, however, must have begun to decline by that time. The Mughal invasion of Bengal had not yet taken place. Interestingly Frederick spoke of the large number of fairs held every day in one or other place on the bank of the Ganges selling goods at cheap price. He also found a large number of Hindus worshipping daily the Ganges River.

From Bengal Frederick traveled to Pegu and a number of other places before returning to Venice via Hormuz in 1581.

The interesting aspect of the account of Frederick is the description of Satgaon and Bettore in their declining days. Later historians accepted his description since he was perhaps the last European traveller who had seen the ships anchored in front of Satgaon. His account throws the interesting suggestion that the Saraswati by which he had reached Satgaon from Bettore was called the Ganges then. Obviously the Hughli channel had not become navigable then. Sultanate Bengal on the eve of the Mughal conquest seems to be prosperous in his account. It seems that the capital of Bengal was then in the process of transfer from gaur to tandah, which might have prevented Frederick from visiting the capital, although he did not mention it. [Aniruddha Ray]

Bibliography EF Oaten, European Travellers in India, Lucknow, 1973, reprint of 1st ed. 1909; Purchas and His Pilgrimages, Hakluyt Society, Edinburg, 1911.