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The British Empire East India Company Trade History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

This is a story of trade and exploration of ambition and foresight, silk and spice, tea and cricket, timber and gunpowder, cities and ports. It is the story of how a band of traders created a company that far exceeded the sum of their ambitions, uniting distant markets, bringing people together, building and sustaining an empire. It all starts in 1600.

The concept of corporations was first established under ancient Roman law (source: University of Virginia). It all began on 31st December 1600, when Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to the British East India Corporation, naming the corporation “The Governor and Company of Merchants of London, trading with the East Indies.”

Ships’ belonging to The Company dock at Surat and in the next two years establishes its first factory as trading posts were called, in the town of Machilipatnam of the Coromandel Coast f The Bay of Bengal. Landing in India gave the company access to spices not controlled by Dutch traders.

Sir Thomas Roe was instructed by James 1 to arrange a commercial treaty with Emperor Nurudin Salim Jahangir. This gave The Company exclusive right to reside and build factories around Surat in exchange for rare commodities from Europe. This provided a secure base for operations to wage trade wars with Portuguese and Dutch governments and merchants.

The major factories became the walled forts of Fort William in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Fort St George in Madras (now Chennai) and Bombay (now Mumbai) castle, which developed into the great Indian Cities of today.

In 1667 London weavers attack on East India House, weavers, dyers and linen drapers in England protest that imports of Indian cloth are threatening their own industries. Initially, The Company responds by re-exporting Asian textiles to other countries in Europe. But market forces soon overshadow the cries of protesters, and Asian textiles continue to be hugely popular in England throughout the 18th century.

The French and British East India Companies and their respective Indian allies were at war with each other. The East India Company led by Robert Clive defeat the Feench ally, Siraj Ud Daulah, at the battle of Plassey ending the rule of the last independent Nawab of Bengal. This is judged to be one of the pivotal events leading to the formation of the British Empire in South Asia. The resulting central administration and governance starts a process that leads eventually to the formation of unfiled India.

In 1784 The East India Company had grown into a powerful political and trading organisation, rivalling that of the British Government, in effect ruling many of The British Empires territories. In political matters The East India Company was subordinated to the British government directly. The process was slow and required subsequent parliamentary acts to allow The British Government to fully separate the Company’s political control from its commercial activities.

In 1813 The Charter Act asserted the sovereignty of the British Crown over the Indian territories held by The Company. It renewed the Charter of The Company for a future twenty years but ended its Indian trade monopoly except for trade in tea. At this point The East India Company was forced to open India to missionaries, who had previously been banned.

In 1848 Robert Fortune, a botanist was hired by The Company to obtain the finest tea plants from China to establish plantations in India. He disguised himself as Chinese from a distant province, hired an interpreter, a precaution as the Chinese were extremely protective of their virtual monopoly on tea production. His efforts resulted in the shipment of 20,000 plants to the Himalayas, establishing Darjeeling as one of the finest tea producing regions in the world, and India as the dominant world tea producer it is today.

By the time of The Act’s passing, The Company had been effectively dissolved anyway, as The Crown assumed all governmental responsibilities held by The Company by The Act for the Better Government of India. The Company’s military force was incorporated into the British Army, leaving it with only a shadow of the power it had wielded years earlier. Queen Victoria was the ruling monarch at the time, and thanks to her new authority over India, became the first monarch to use the title Empress of India.

It accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other company ever attempted and such is likely to attempt in the years to come.

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