Nathaniel's Nutmeg

2nd July 2006, 20:32
If you are interested you may well be able to pick up this book as remainder stock for about 3UK as I did.

Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton - publisher Hodder and Stoughton - Sceptre Paperbacks - ISBN0 340 69676 1

It tells the story of something that sounds very similar to the "Dot-Com" mania in the 90s but happened 400 years earlier. This was in the days when men were men and sheep were very careful.

The excitement was all about spices, and in particular the nutmeg. The nutmeg was a particularly valued spice that grew only on one island in the East Indies called Run. Nowadays most people won't even know what a nutmeg is - I remember it as a hard nut-like thing that my grandmother used to grate over puddings and it had a pleasing taste and pleasant smell. Run is now barely shown on the map but was at the heart of this tale of greed, sickness, international disputes, bloodshed and torture.

Spices were in great demand in the 16th Century - largely for medicinal purposes. Nutmeg was a key ingredient in the (actually useless) medicaments sold to combat the plague and more or less anything else you care to mention. But the trade to supply them was wholly in the hands of the Venetians who made a huge profit by cornering the market.

The other great nations of the day wanted their share of the profits and this book tells the story of what happened. I won't try and provide a full account but the lust for profit led amongst other things to the following:

Attempts to find an alternative (and fast) route to the Indies via the Northwest and Northeast passages - funding the first polar explorations
Constant treachery, local warfare and double-crossing between the Portuguese, Dutch and English (plus all of them dumping on the natives)
Great losses of fortunes - half of the ships sent to the Indies and the lives of half the people travelling were lost
Those not killed or maimed in fighting risked death from shipwreck, starvation or dehydration, scurvy, dysentery or the "bloody flux" plus misery for those that didn't actually die
Destruction of all the nutmeg trees on at least 2 occasions
The establishment of the East India Company and the Dutch East India Company
What can only be described as banditry, barbarity and torture by the representatives of the companies - especially the Dutch who seem to have been the most ruthless
The swapping of an insignficant island (Run) for New Amsterdam (i.e. Manhattan) which became New York) as an agreement to end the dispute between England and Holland
The Nathaniel of the title was an English trader who at the end of his career occupied and defended the island of Run and endured a seige of 1,540 days with no support, precious little food, and exhausted and sick men. He was outnumbered by more than 100 to 1 by the Dutch - though it has to be said he was in a position with good natural defences. Ultimately he was killed through treachery and the Dutch won the island back, killed most of the people on it and destroyed all the nutmeg trees.

The book is generally well researched and written but at times jumps backwards and forwards a bit too much for my liking - but this doesn't really spoil it.


3rd July 2006, 23:30
I can concur with benjidog as to this book being a good read.I read it a number of years ago when I got it as a review copy on my mobile library,that I operated.I found it a fascinating read from start to finish.

4th July 2006, 12:56
might try the book shops out here in the land of oz,sounds like a good read.
brian what was nats. full name please

4th July 2006, 15:35

The person in the story's full name was Nathaniel Coulthope. He occupies a fair bit of the tale but there are many players in the story as it unfolds over the years. Most of them more or less completely unscrupulous bastards judging by events.