East India Company

East India Company (EIC)
Public
IndustryInternational trade, Opium trafficking
FateDissolved, after being mostly nationalised in 1858
Founded31 December 1600
FoundersJohn Watts, George White
Defunct1 June 1874 (1874-06-01)
HeadquartersLondon, England (Great Britain)
Colonial India
British Indian Empire
Imperial entities of India
Dutch India1605–1825
Danish India1620–1869
French India1668–1954

Portuguese India
(1505–1961)
Casa da Índia1434–1833
Portuguese East India Company1628–1633

1612–1757
Company rule in India1757–1858
British Raj1858–1947
British rule in Burma1824–1948
Princely states1721–1949
Partition of India
1947

The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) or the British East India Company and informally as John Company,[1] was an English and later British joint-stock company,[2] formed to trade with the East Indies (in present-day terms, Maritime Southeast Asia), but ended up trading mainly with Qing China and seizing control of large parts of the Indian subcontinent.

Originally chartered as the "Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies", the company rose to account for half of the world's trade[3][dubious ], particularly in basic commodities including cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, spices, saltpetre, tea, and opium. The company also ruled the beginnings of the British Empire in India.[3] In his speech to the house of commons in July 1833, Maccaulay explained that since the beginning, the East India company had always been involved in both, trade and politics, just as its French and Dutch counterparts had been.[4]

The company received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I on 31 December 1600, coming relatively late to trade in the Indies. Before them the Portuguese Estado da Índia had traded there for much of the 16th century and the first of half a dozen Dutch Companies sailed to trade there from 1595, which amalgamated in March 1602 into the United East Indies Company (VOC), which introduced the first permanent joint stock from 1612 (meaning investment into shares did not need to be returned, but could be traded on a stock exchange). By contrast, wealthy merchants and aristocrats owned the EIC's shares.[5] Initially the government owned no shares and had only indirect control until 1657 when permanent joint stock was established.[6]

During its first century of operation, the focus of the company was trade, not the building of an empire in India. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power and the East India Company struggled with its French counterpart, the French East India Company (Compagnie française des Indes orientales) during the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. The battles of Plassey and Buxar, in which the British defeated the Bengali powers, left the company in control of Bengal and a major military and political power in India. In the following decades it gradually increased the extent of the territories under its control, controlling the majority of the Indian subcontinent either directly or indirectly via local puppet rulers under the threat of force by its Presidency armies, much of which were composed of native Indian sepoys.

By 1803, at the height of its rule in India, the British East India company had a private army of about 260,000—twice the size of the British Army, with Indian revenues of £13,464,561, and expenses of £14,017,473.[7][8] The company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions.[9] Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 and lasted until 1858, when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown's assuming direct control of the Indian subcontinent in the form of the new British Raj.

Despite frequent government intervention, the company had recurring problems with its finances. It was dissolved in 1874 as a result of the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act passed one year earlier, as the Government of India Act had by then rendered it vestigial, powerless, and obsolete. The official government machinery of British India had assumed its governmental functions and absorbed its armies.

History

Origins

James Lancaster commanded the first East India Company voyage in 1601

Soon after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the captured Spanish and Portuguese ships with their cargoes enabled English voyagers to potentially travel the globe in search of riches.[10] London merchants presented a petition to Queen Elizabeth I for permission to sail to the Indian Ocean.[11] The aim was to deliver a decisive blow to the Spanish and Portuguese monopoly of Far Eastern Trade.[12] Elizabeth granted her permission and on 10 April 1591 James Lancaster in the Edward Bonaventure with two other ships sailed from Torbay around the Cape of Good Hope to the Arabian Sea on one of the earliest English overseas Indian expeditions. Having sailed around Cape Comorin to the Malay Peninsula, they preyed on Spanish and Portuguese ships there before returning to England in 1594.[11]

The biggest capture that galvanised English trade was the seizing of the great Portuguese Carrack Madre de Deus by Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Cumberland at the Battle of Flores (1592).[13] When she was brought in to Dartmouth she was the largest vessel that had been seen in England and her cargo consisted of chests filled with jewels, pearls, gold, silver coins, ambergris, cloth, tapestries, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, benjamin, red dye, cochineal and ebony.[14]:125–27 Equally valuable was the ship's rutter containing vital information on the China, India, and Japan trades. These riches aroused the English to engage in this opulent commerce.[13]

In 1596, three more English ships sailed east but were all lost at sea.[11] A year later however saw the arrival of Ralph Fitch, an adventurer merchant who, along with his companions, had made a remarkable fifteen-year overland journey to Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, India and Southeast Asia.[15] Fitch was then consulted on the Indian affairs and gave even more valuable information to Lancaster.[16]

Formation

On 22 September 1599, a group of merchants met and stated their intention "to venture in the pretended voyage to the East Indies (the which it may please the Lord to prosper), and the sums that they will adventure", committing £30,133.[17][18] Two days later, "the Adventurers" reconvened and resolved to apply to the Queen for support of the project.[18] Although their first attempt had not been completely successful, they nonetheless sought the Queen's unofficial approval to continue. They bought ships for their venture and increased their capital to £68,373.

The Adventurers convened again a year later, on 31 December, and this time they succeeded; the Queen granted a Royal Charter to "George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses" under the name, Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies.[11][19] For a period of fifteen years, the charter awarded the newly formed company a monopoly on English trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan.[19] Any traders in breach of the charter without a licence from the company were liable to forfeiture of their ships and cargo (half of which went to the Crown and the other half to the company), as well as imprisonment at the "royal pleasure".[20]

The governance of the company was in the hands of one governor and 24 directors or "committees", who made up the Court of Directors. They, in turn, reported to the Court of Proprietors, which appointed them. Ten committees reported to the Court of Directors. According to tradition, business was initially transacted at the Nags Head Inn, opposite St Botolph's church in Bishopsgate, before moving to India House in Leadenhall Street.[21]

Other Languages
Simple English: East India Company
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Britanska istočnoindijska kompanija
Tiếng Việt: Công ty Đông Ấn Anh