The story so far!
The man whose name is one of the few English ones remaining in the geography of Bangladesh, being given to the, in 1799, newly established market near ancient Palongkee close to the Burmese border, is slowly emerging from the veiling mists of time.
Palongkee, by the way, was named for the huge number of what we might understand as palanquins in the entourage of the Mughal Prince Shah Shiya when he camped near what is now called Kolatoli Beach whilst en route to Burma during the late 17th century.
Whilst waiting for the result of a search of the papers of ‘The Honourable East India Company’, of which he was probably a more distinguished servant than previously realised, the bare facts seem to be as follows.
Cox was born in 1760. That can only be confirmed, and his home town can only be established, when the records are searched.
We are certain he died in 1799.
One writer claims he was born in Scotland, another in the South of England. Since Cox has more of a Welsh provenance than Scottish it would be wise to wait for the finding of Company or Parish records. Cox, unfortunately, is a common name in England.
We understand that he died of Malaria, on the banks of the Bakkhali River near Cox’s Bazar, and may have been buried there.
We also know that he was married, since we can identify at least one son, a Captain Henry Cox, who also, as was so often the way, seems to have spent much of his life in the service of ‘John Company’, as the Honourable company was colloquially known.
Hiram Cox first seems to have come to prominence when, in 1796, despatched as resident emissary, a kind of ambassador, to ‘the Court of Amarapoorah’ in Rangoon, Burma.
The recently republished ‘Journal of a Resident in the Burmhan Empire’, edited by Henry Cox, and published in London in 1821, gives an astonishingly detailed description of time and place.
To be sent to Burma at that time suggests he was a figure of some significance in the Bengal administration. Burma was not only an important trading partner, especially for vital timber supplies, but had also given refuge to French ships following the outbreak of war between England and France. Sustaining good relations was important to the Calcutta based administration.
Although there is some documentary evidence of controversy surrounding Cox’s time in Rangoon, on his return to Calcutta, the then Governor, the Earl of Mornington evidently regarded the job as being well done.
In early 1799, Cox was appointed Superintendent of Palongkee, the only settlement of significance on the coast south of Chittagong. It was an area of potentially dangerous conflict.
Civil war in Burma had produced a flood of Arakanese refugees, who were not welcomed by the long term residents of the area, the Rakhainese people. The conflict was compounded by the raiding of parties of Arakanese pirates, who were burning and looting the coast.
Cox seems to have rapidly gained a reputation, at least amongst the Rakhainese, as ‘a compassionate soul’, although the fact that his mission seems to have been successful, clearing the area of both refugees and pirates might suggest that the view was not universally held!
Nevertheless, when Cox died, it appears that the local inhabitants were happy for his colleagues to name the newly established market in the area as Cox’s Bazar.
There seems to be one other small ray of light that can be shed on his life. He had, it appears, a great interest in the game of chess. In 1799, he made a contribution to the 7th Volume of the Asiatic Researcher publication, commenting on a 2nd Volume article by Sir William Jones, describing the theory of a four handed origin for the game.
So far, we know little more about the man whose name figures so largely on the tourist map of Bangladesh. But we aim to know more, in order to contribute to the development of further visitor information and attractions in the area.