Director’s Diary: Nutmeg for the Big Apple

St Valentine at the Tunnel of Love is Saturday 11th February but most of the tickets have gone. Next Midnight Apothecary is Saturday 18th March for St Patrick’s Day and the anniversary of the Thames Tunnel’s opening. This seems appropriate because there were Irish (and Cornish) miners working for Brunel. Visit our website for details…

TABOO continues to horrify and entertain and shows the East India Company as the most venal and vicious of traders. Brunel’s Tunnel was built for cargo, for traders like them, and Rotherhithe is an old East India town. Our heritage walks tell the same story, but with a little less blood and gore.

The East India Company was first granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I: we say Royal Charter, but this is just a piece of paper: ‘If you see anything you want: take it. If there’s anyone in the way: kill them.’ A huge trading advantage which the East India used to the full; using the Royal Charter and the largest private army in the world, they controlled a quarter of the globe.

Their methods were entirely unscrupulous, their most infamous intervention the Opium Wars. The Company wanted to trade with China, but China would only trade for silver. The Company did not have enough silver, so they illicitly exported Bengal opium to China, creating a drug habit that would then require feeding. In terms of ethical business practice, this is off the scale! As our upright 19th century Prime Minister William Gladstone put it: ‘a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated in its progress to cover this country with a permanent disgrace, I do not know and have not read of’.

The greatest prize in the east was nutmeg because it offered protection form the plague. Brunel’s Tunnel was a nutmeg tunnel, and in our Museum bookshop look at the pictures in On the River (pub Age Concern): nutmeg from the hold is moved by spade and by sack. Nutmeg once grew on just five islands in the world, and the Dutch East India Company controlled four of them. The English controlled the fifth, an island called Rhum (not the one in Scotland!), and because it was protected by a reef, the island was difficult to storm. The English held it despite overwhelming odds, but eventually were brought kicking and screaming to treaty. The Dutch forced a trade: the island of Rhum for another island the other side of the world. With ill grace and bad temper, the English traded a small island in Oceania for New Amsterdam, or Manhattan. How many nutmegs is New York worth? The English thought they had been robbed. The moral? In these uncertain times especially, hold your nerve, trade long, don’t sell short: it will probably be alright in the end…

Strategic investment advice, and other valuable insights and information, offered by our guides and global analysts on daily heritage walks and boat tours. See below for details, but remember the value of investments can go up and down. Commodity markets look robust, but there is no nutmeg in the Tunnel. With recent improvements in sanitation, investors holding nutmeg and gambling on another plague should consider diversifying. With St Valentine approaching, chocolate looks like a clever bet, and for the squeamish there are now ethical sources…

Sunday 29th January
10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Monday 30th January
10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Tuesday 31st January
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
Volunteer Interviews

Wednesday 1st Feb
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
11.30 Harlow U3A
18.15 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Thursday 2nd Feb
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Friday 3rd Feb
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
14.00 Meeting Mayflower 400 Steering Group

Saturday 4th
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
13.30 lunch with the Director at the Tunnel Club, Mayflower pub upper room