Streynsham Master (1640-1724) was one of the early pioneers of the British East India Company who served as the Agent of Madras from 27 January 1678 to 3 July 1681. He is credited with having introduced the first administrative reforms in the Madras Government.
Streynsham Master had a distinguished career in the British East India Company right from his early days and served as the Acting President of the Company's factory at Surat during the visit of the President Aungier to the new colony at Bombay. After the return of Aungier, Master served for sometime as a member of the Council. In 1670, he led the British in the successful defence of Surat from the Marathas. In 1676, even before Langhorne's removal from power, Master was nominated in advance as the next Agent of Madras in the case of Emergency. In the meantime, until the end of Langhorne's tenure, Master served for a time as the Agent of the Company's factory at Masulipatnam and then, Bengal, before he was sent back to Madras to take office as the second member of the Council.
In August 1678, the Maratha Emperor Shivaji sent an army of 1,500 horse to capture Poonamallee. While the Maratha army camped near Kanchipuram, news reached the Council at Fort St George by means of the Company's spies that the Marathas intended to proceed upon Madras, Sadras and Pulicat. However, the information proved to be false as the Maratha troops immediately returned to the north from whence they came after the siege of Poonamallee.
The foundations of St Mary's church, the oldest Protestant church in Madras were laid during the Agency of Streynsham Master. The foundation of the church was laid on Lady Day, 1678. The construction of the church was completed in two and a half years and opened on October 28, 1680.
In August 1678, Lingappa Naik, the Naik of Poonamallee demanded a large sum of money from the British East India Company. But the Company's merchant, Casa Verona, declined and sent him a harsh reply. A month later, when Lingappa visited Casa Verona to express his condolences on the death of the former's wife, he asked the latter the reason why the Agent had not sent anyone to receive. To this, Casa Verona delivered an extremely arrogant reply which left the Naik fuming with anger.
When Casa Verona died in 1680, Lingappa sent a Havildar named Shakeel Ahmed to take over the settlement of Madras from the Company. He was promptly arrested by the Company's troops and dispatched across the frontier. Following this act by the British, Lingappa blockaded Madras and prevented goods and supplies from entering the settlement. He demanded that the British agree to pay him an annual tribute of 2,000 pagodas in order to life the embargo. At one point of time, the situation became so serious that the Directors of the Council even contemplated the thought of moving the factory to Gingee. Neither food nor fuel could be obtained, and the inhabitants starved.
On April 9, 1681, Lieutenant Richardson was sent with 50 of the Company's troops to Gingee. Richardson reached the village of Khandur and besieged the town. At about midnight, Richardson took the town and drove away the Polygar. The required amount of provisions were obtained and transported back to Madras.
On June 3, 1681, Streynsham Master was replaced with William Gyfford as the Agent of Madras.
The population of Madras had increased greatly that it seemed difficult to retain the old Choultry courts. Hence, in 1678, the Government of Fort St George set up a judiciary with the Agent and the members of the Council as judges. Two English choulty judges were appointed to hear cases concerning their Indian subjects.
Master is credited with having introduced the role of a scavenger who was required to remove the dirt and filth of the streets and also empowered to collect the house-tax and other taxes. Watchmen were appointed to guard the settlement at night. Taverns, Hotels, Entertainment-houses and theatres had to be licensed.
He was the son of Richard Master of East Langham, Kent. He married Elizabeth Leigh of Lyme Hall, Cheshire with whom he had a daughter and two sons. In 1692 he purchased the Codnor Castle estate in Derbyshire. He served as High Sheriff of that county in 1712.