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‘Taboo': Did Any of That Stuff With the Cornwallis and the East India Company Really Happen?

We got more info on the drama over an East India Company slave ship that will no doubt be very important as ”Taboo“ approaches its climax

(Spoiler alert for the sixth episode of FX’s “Taboo.”)

George Chichester (Lucian Msamati) returned this week on “Taboo,” and once again he only played a very small part as he appeared in only two scenes. Though his presence still feels extremely important. So far, though, we aren’t sure exactly how he’s going to matter outside of the delightfully subtle way he calls all the white people he’s been dealing with racist.

Last week, Chichester met with a representative of the British Crown, who gave him permission to go ahead with his investigation into the sinking of an East India Company ship called the Influence, which Chichester says was illegally engaged in the African slave trade and was sunk intentionally in order to cover up the involvement of prominent Company men.

What we learned this week was that the Influence’s real name was the Cornwallis, and that the Influence was a fake name used to hide that whole illegal slave thing. Chichester then goes on to explain his account of the Cornwallis’ sinking and the possible motives for moving the slaves — offscreen, he brings up that Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), the big boss at the Company, has a brother who owns a sugar plantation in the West Indies and implies the slaves were to be delivered there.

As with pretty much everything else in “Taboo,” Chichester’s account of the Cornwallis/Influence does not draw from history — the time (1814) and place (London) are settings, but this is a fiction story. Though there were a number of ships called the Cornwallis or some variation thereof (like Earl Cornwallis) that were pressed into service for the East India Company in the years before the time of “Taboo,” there aren’t any that fit the description Chichester gives.

Though in theory it’s possible one of the ships called the Cornwallis could have really been involved in a story like this, because the publicly available historical records are hardly complete for all the ships that were roaming the Earth on behalf of the East India Company back then. But as far as we know, this scandalous ship Chichester is investigating comes entirely from showrunner Steven Knight and his collaborators.

This is not a criticism, of course. We’re just noting that if you want to read more about Chichester and his investigation into the Cornwallis/Influence, you’re not going to be able to.  You’ll just have to wait a while longer to find out what part Chichester will play in the show — and since his final action this week was to search, in vain, for Delaney, we’re guessing he’s important.

With only two episodes left, we should find out soon.

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