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Cocks, Richardlocked

(bap. 1565, d. 1624)
  • Anthony Farrington

Cocks, Richard (bap. 1565, d. 1624), merchant and East India Company servant, was baptized on 20 January 1565 at St Chad's, Seighford, Staffordshire, the fifth of the seven children of Robert Cocks of Stallbrook, yeoman, and his wife, Helen (d. 1614). The family had held Stallbrook, close to the city of Stafford, since the reign of Edward IV. Richard's brother Walter (the sixth child) was in the service of Sir Thomas Hewett, an influential member of the Clothworkers' Company of London, who, like his father and grandfather before him, had connections to the Dorrington family of Staffordshire. It was doubtless through them that Richard was apprenticed in London to William Hewett, clothworker and elder brother of Sir Thomas, became a member of the Clothworkers' Company himself, and was eventually made free of the Merchant Adventurers of England.

Between 1603 and 1608 Cocks lived and traded at Bayonne in France, from where he also supplied intelligence to Thomas Wilson, secretary to Lord Salisbury. The circumstances of his employment by the East India Company are not known but his experience of the cloth trade and the Spanish language would have been sufficient recommendation. He sailed as a merchant in the Clove in the company's eighth voyage of 1611 under John Saris, whose instructions included a settlement at Japan. During previous service at Bantam in Java, Saris had gathered information on the Japan trade which helped to persuade the company that purchases, mainly silk, at Chinese junk-destination ports in south-east Asia, carried to Japan, would yield sufficient silver to finance return cargoes of Indonesian spices, and thus counter complaints in England about the ‘drain of national wealth’ caused by the company exporting bullion. It was also known that the English pilot William Adams was living in Japan in great favour with the shogun Ieyasu.

Cocks remained in Japan in December 1613 as head of the new ‘factory’ at Hirado, a small island off the west coast of Kyushu, which had a flourishing overseas Chinese community and a Dutch Company settlement dating from 1609. He spent just over ten years there in an unsuccessful struggle for profit. Cargoes brought from England varied from unsuitable for such a sophisticated market to absolute rubbish, and silk, which would have been the key to profitability, was never available to the English in any significant quantities.

The diary which Cocks kept between June 1615 and March 1622 is an invaluable source of information not only for English and other European activities in Japan but also for Japanese economic, political, and social conditions in the early Tokugawa period. In addition more than a hundred of his letters home to London or to his fellow servants in Asia are extant, helping to make the Japan factory one of the best-documented episodes in the early history of the company.

Cocks's first years at Hirado were spent in organizing the factory and its sub-agencies at Kyoto, Sakai, and Edo, and in fitting out local junks for English voyages to mainland south-east Asia. He was subsequently forced to make five journeys to court, spending a great deal of his time on the Inland Sea or hurrying up and down the Tokaido highway: August–December 1616 to Edo, in an attempt to obtain a renewal of the English trading privileges after the death of the shogun Ieyasu; August–November 1617 to Edo, to appeal against the restriction of English trade to Hirado only; August 1618–January 1619 to Edo, to protest against Dutch aggression; August–September 1619 to Kyoto, to protest again about the Dutch; and November 1621–April 1622 to Edo, to smooth over the activities of the temporary Anglo-Dutch alliance in east Asian waters.

Cocks showed a distinct lack of judgement in his close involvement with Li Tan (or Andrea Dittis), head of the overseas Chinese community at Hirado, who fanned his dreams of direct English trade to China while pocketing the bribes intended for influential mandarins on the mainland, and he was undoubtedly a poor manager. The period of Anglo-Dutch hostility between 1618 and 1620 made life at Hirado dangerous as well as difficult, while subsequent co-operation with the Dutch Company between 1620 and 1622 in blockading Manila and plundering junk traffic in the South China Sea brought the problems of numerous ships and hundreds of seamen to the small port of Hirado. However, despite all the grumbling in his correspondence, Cocks was reluctant to leave Japan when the time came. As early as 1621 he was strongly advised to wind up affairs in Japan, but he ignored the order, perhaps realizing that he would be blamed for their unprofitability. In March 1623 the East India Company's council in Java was forced to send the ship Bull on a special voyage to close the Hirado factory. Cocks, with his colleagues William Eaton and Edmund Sayers, was ordered to London to face examination by the company. He embarked on the Anne Royal from Batavia on 22 February 1624, but died and was buried at sea on 27 March 1624 in the southern Indian Ocean.

Measured against the outstanding pioneers of early European expansion in Asia, Cocks's career was a disaster. However, his diary presents a remarkable personal history of a residence he shared with his Japanese mistress Matinga. From the diary Cocks emerges as an unusually vivid and gentle figure—tending his garden at the English house at Hirado, caring for his goldfish, entertaining his Japanese neighbours with invitations to dinner and a hot bath, or carrying presents to them at new year.


  • R. Cocks, diary, 1615–22, BL, Add. MSS 31300–31301
  • R. Cocks, correspondence, 1613–23, BL OIOC, IOR, E/3/1–11 (infra)
  • R. Cocks, will and probate 1611/1627, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/151, fols. 458–9
  • Diary of Richard Cocks … 1615–1622, ed. E. M. Thompson, 2 vols., Hakluyt Society (1883)
  • Diary of Richard Cocks, 1615–1622, ed. Institute of Historical Research (Shiryō Hensan-jō), University of Tokyo, 7 vols. (1978–81) [includes Japanese trans.]
  • A. Farrington, The English factory in Japan, 1613–1623, 2 vols. (1991)
  • parish register, Seighford, Staffordshire, St Chad, 25 Jan 1565, Staffs. RO [baptism]


  • BL, diary, Add. MSS 31300–31301
  • BL OIOC, corresp., IOR, E/3/1–11

Wealth at Death

100 marks; plus £300: will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/151, fols. 458–9

very little, or none; wasted £40,000: Court minutes of the East India Company, 24 Nov 1626, BL OIOC, IOR B/11, pp. 202–3

Staffordshire Record Office, Stafford
British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London