East India Company

views updated Jun 08 2018


The East India Company began as a joint-stock enterprise incorporated by royal charter; established a trading monopoly with East Asia, Southeast Asia, and India; and became progressively involved in both domestic and international politics. It played a vital role in securing Britain's hegemony over maritime shipping and was instrumental in the foundation of the British Empire in India. With settlements in the Indian coastal cities of Bombay, Surat, Calcutta, and Madras, the Company exported cotton and silk piece goods, indigo, saltpeter, and spices in exchange for bullion, eventually expanding its trade to the Persian Gulf, parts of Southeast Asia, and East Asia, including China, in the nineteenth century. Merging in 1708 with its main competitor to form an exclusive monopoly, the Company was run by twenty-four directors elected annually by a Court of Proprietors, who also exerted powerful influence in the British Parliament.

In India the Company obtained a Mughal charter of duty-free trade (1717), and invested heavily in local manufacture, especially textiles, operating from Fort William, Calcutta, and Fort Saint George, Madras, on the eastern seaboard. Company servants became involved in lucrative internal and coastal trade for their own private investments, leading to friction with local authorities. In Bengal, private trade in salt, betel nut, tobacco, and saltpeter; the fortification of Calcutta; and connections with indigenous traders ill-disposed toward the Nawab (Sirajud-Dawlah, c. 1729–1757) resulted in conflict, Robert Clive's (1725–1774) victory at the Battle of Plassey (1757), and the installation of "puppet" rulers. One of them, Mir Kasim, (r. 1760–1763) protested the flagrant abuse of trading privileges by Company servants, which led to the decisive Battle of Baksar (1764) in which Kasim, the Nawab of Awadh, and the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (r. 1759–1806) joined forces, only to be routed by the Company's superior Bengal Native Army. The Mughal emperor, in exchange for a yearly tribute, made the Company the collector (Diwan) of revenues of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, an annual gain of approximately £6 million, which solved its investment and currency problems. However, revenue collection proved difficult and administrative negligence coupled with drought led to crop failure and the famine of 1770, in which millions perished.

In southern India the East India Company was involved in a protracted military and diplomatic contest with the Marathas, the Nizam's dominion of Hyderabad, kingdom of Mysore ruled by Hyder Ali (1722–1782), and the French. The Company was successful in stalling the French, who were led by François Dupleix (1697–1763), but the conflict escalated during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) leading eventually to an end of the French challenge at Wandiwash (1760). Soon after, both Arcot and Tanjore came under indirect British rule. Mysore provided stiff resistance until the defeat of Tippu Sultan (1749–1799) in 1799. The Marathas, divided into various ruling houses, their forces depleted by the confrontation with the Afghans (1761), finally succumbed to the British after 1803. The Sikhs of Punjab were humbled in the 1840s and other princely states accepted the suzerainty of the Company, which had emerged as the most formidable fiscal-military state in the subcontinent.

Company affairs, especially mismanagement in Bengal, led to parliamentary inquiry into Indian affairs. Through the Regulating Act (1773) and Pitt's India Act (1784) a Board of Control responsible to Parliament was established, ending the undue influence of shareholders in Indian policy. Warren Hastings (1732–1818), the first governor-general of India (1772–1785), sought to restructure the fiscal and military affairs of the Company, but was charged with corruption by Parliament (led by Edmund Burke [1729–1797]), impeached (1788), and much later acquitted. Significant changes took place in British India by the early nineteenth century: the revenue system was restructured with new property rights vested in land; marketplaces, custom, and police were overhauled; an extensive cartographic survey of India was initiated; a new civil service trained at Haileybury College was put in place; strict limits were placed on all concourse between Britons and Indians; English education was gradually promoted; and modern technologies, including railways, steamships, and the telegraph, were selectively introduced.

In the aftermath of the loss of the American colonies, India under Company rule had emerged as a cornerstone of imperial Britain, although as a dependency and not a settler colony, a fact that possibly restricted the direct impact of the Indian imperial venture on British domestic politics. Under the Company Raj, Indian manufacturers declined in the nineteenth century, making way for a vast, largely dependent market for Britain's industrial output. In 1813 the Company forfeited its commercial monopoly, although it remained as the administrative agent in India till the Sepoy Mutiny and popular uprisings of 1857: a brief debacle for British rule in India that set the stage for direct Crown Rule.

See alsoColonialism; Colonies; Great Britain; Imperialism; India; Sepoy Mutiny; Trade and Economic Growth.


Chaudhuri, K. N. The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660–1760. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1978.

Furber, Holden. Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600–1800. Minneapolis, Minn., 1976.

Keay, John. The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company. London, 1991.

Lawson, Philip. The East India Company: A History. London and New York, 1993.

Marshall, P. J. East Indian Fortunes: The British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford, U.K., 1976.

Sudipta Sen

East India Company, English

views updated May 21 2018


EAST INDIA COMPANY, ENGLISH. The English East India Company (1600–1874) was one of the longest-lived and richest trading companies. It exercised a pervasive influence on British colonial policy from early in its history because of its wealth and power both in England and in the rest of the commercial world. Nevertheless, not until the era of the American Revolution did the company figure in American affairs. At that time it was expanding its activities in the East, particularly in China, and in order to strengthen its rather precarious foothold at Canton, the company purchased increasing amounts of tea. Soon, with its warehouses overflowing and a financial crisis looming, the company surrendered part of its political power for the exclusive right to export tea directly to America under Lord North's Regulating Act (1773).

This development coincided with and influenced the outbreak of disputes between Great Britain and its American colonies. After Britain imposed the tea tax in 1767, American boycotts reduced colonial tea consumption from 900,000 pounds in 1769 to 237,000 pounds in 1772. The Regulating Act allowed the East India Company to ship huge quantities of tea to America duty-free. Although this act allowed Americans to purchase tea at a discounted rate (even accounting for the tea tax), it also enabled the East India Company to undersell colonial smugglers who had benefited from tea boycotts. When Boston importers resisted Patriot pressure to refuse tea shipments, proponents of the tea boycott organized anti-British activities, which culminated in the Boston Tea Party (1773). After the Revolution the company had little or no contact with America.


Keay, John. The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company. New York: Macmillan, 1994.

Lawson, Philip. The East India Company: A History. New York: Longman, 1993.

Charles F.Mullett/s. b.

See alsoBoston Tea Party ; Coercive Acts ; East Indies Trade ; Intolerable Acts ; Smuggling, Colonial ; Tea, Duty on .

East India Company

views updated May 23 2018


British trading firm doing business in the Middle East during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The East India Company was active on behalf of Britain in the Persian Gulf, from 1820 until World War I, to ensure the security of Britain's merchant vessels heading toward ports in southern Iraq and Iran. This was achieved by signing peace treaties with the shaykhs of the lower Gulf, the first in 1820 and two more in 1835 and 1853. The main objectives of these treaties were to put an end to piracy, to prevent traffic in slaves, to curb widespread smuggling of arms and other goods, and to promote peaceful trade. By 1869, Britain was able to conclude a treaty in which the Gulf rulers pledged to refrain from conducting foreign relations with powers other than Britain, in effect providing Britain with protectorate powers over those territories.

Britain's interests were represented in the Gulf by the government of India through the local political resident, headquartered in the coastal township of Bushehr in Iran (moved after World War II to Bahrain). The political resident had representatives, called political agents, posted in Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain, and political officers in the Trucial Coast.

See also Trucial Coast.

jenab tutunji

East India Company

views updated Jun 08 2018

East India Company. The first English East India Company was formed in 1599 to compete with the Dutch for the trade of the spice islands. However, following the Amboyna massacre of 1623, it abandoned the East Indies to concentrate on the Indian subcontinent. The Stuarts regularly revoked and reawarded its charter, Charles II no fewer than five times. It was not until the so-called Godolphin Charter of 1709 that the company's institutional structure was consolidated. Thereafter, it prospered greatly from trade with China, over which it also had a monopoly. The company began to acquire a territorial empire in India after the battle of Plassey in 1757. The defeat of the Maratha empire in 1818 gave it undisputed supremacy. Territorial conquest, however, brought about more direct parliamentary control through the Regulation Act of 1773 and the India Act of 1784. The company was progressively converted from the activities of a merchant to those of a governor. In 1813 and 1833, it lost its monopolies over the India and China trades. It survived somewhat anomalously as a quasi-department of the British state until the Indian mutiny of 1857, whereafter it was abolished and its powers vested in a secretary of state for India.

David Anthony Washbrook

East India Company

views updated May 29 2018

East India Company Name of several organizations set up by European countries in the 17th century to trade e of Africa. Louis XIV founded the French company in 1664, and it set up colonies on several islands in the Indian Ocean. It was abolished in 1789. The Dutch company was founded (1602), with headquarters in Jakarta from 1619. It dissolved in 1799. The British company was set up in 1600 to compete for the East Indian spice trade, but competition with the Dutch led it to concentrate on India. In the 18th century, Robert Clive defeated the challenge of the French company and captured Bengal (1757). Corruption and financial mismanagement led William Pitt (the Younger) to make the company responsible to Parliament. Increasingly it became an administrative arm of colonial government in India and the company lost its commercial monopolies in 1813. The Indian Mutiny (1857) led to its powers being transferred to the British Crown and the company dissolved in 1873.

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