Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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East India Co

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1600 The first charter to the company was granted by Queen Elizabeth on December 31st, 1600.

As their first venture, the company had a small fleet of four ships and a pinnace, totalling about 1500 tons, built and fitted out at Deptford by private builders. The fleet left the Thames for the East in February, 1601.

The expedition was a great success - the enormous profits made induced the Company to take land at Deptford Creek, form a shipyard, and become its own shipbuilder. Some of the launchings of its ships were honoured by the presence of royalty.

A destructive fire eventually occurred in the yard that destroyed nearly the whole of the premises. Shipbuilding was then abandoned by the Company, its vessels being afterwards built in private yards in the neighbourhood.

1615 When a proper ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe, was sent to India by King James the Company was allowed to set up a base there.

By 1690, the Company had trading centres all along the West and East coasts of India. The main centres were at Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. The Company started to protect its trade with its own armies and navies. London also became an important trading centre, where goods were imported, exported and transferred from one country to another.

1699 The Company wanted to trade directly with China but it was not until 1699 that the Chinese allowed the Company to trade at Canton. From China, the Company bought tea, silk and porcelain. The Chinese wanted silver in return. Over the next 100 years tea became a very popular drink in England, and there was a fear that too much silver was leaving the country to pay for it. To stop this happening, the Company became involved in a triangular trade by smuggling opium from India (where the Company grew it) into China. The consequences for Chinese users were severe.

Demand for Indian textiles, with their beautiful colour-fast designs, grew fast in Britain, and many patterns for the new English textile industry came from India. By 1750, Indian silks, cottons and calicoes made up 60 per cent of the company's sales.

By 1750, the Mughal Empire was in a state of collapse. Regional states emerged in India and the Company began to get involved in power politics. It raised its own armies and prepared for war.

The company became responsible for the civil, judicial and revenue administration of India's richest province, with some 20 million inhabitants.

1783 The British government, having become concerned about the Company's ability to govern its territories, decided to make Calcutta the centre of government under a new Governor-General.

The first person appointed to this role was Warren Hastings. Power gradually moved away from the Company into the hands of the British government.

By 1813 the Company's trade was limited to China

1834 the Company's trade monopoly with China was abolished and smuggling of opium into China by European private traders intensified. The Chinese state was deeply disturbed at this and threatened force. Britain was prepared to defend 'free trade' and, in 1840, they went to war. These 'Opium wars' led to a humiliating defeat of the Chinese and a trade treaty which ceded Hong Kong to the British

1857 There was a rebellion in Bengal by Indian troops employed by the Company. As a result the Company was abolished in 1858.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • The Engineer 1897/09/03
  • The story of the Company [1]