THE BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY

TRADING HUB OF ENGLAND

HOW IT BEGAN

Before the superior navigational technology and skills of the Portuguese created an easier route in the sixteenth century, merchants of the valuable spice trade traveled on land over Asia and the Middle East. The Spanish and Portuguese controlled most of the trade until the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which allowed Britain and the Dutch to ply their own hand at the trade. The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies was created on December 31st, the last day of 1600, in order to trade in the East Indies, which is now considered most of the Middle East and Southeastern Asia. A group of London coffee merchants were granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I, and from there became one of the greatest corporations known worldwide. Seeing that the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) were under control of the Dutch, the Company turned to mainland India, which was closer and easier to access. There, it began a trade route with India, mostly textiles with spices from the south. After the mid-18th century, however, cloth trades declined, while the tea trade with China became exceedingly important. Beginning in the early 19th century, the trade was financed by illegal exports of opium into China, leading to the first Opium War (1839-42). European trading rights continued to expand after the Arrow War (1856-60). Opposition to the strength and general size of the Company led to the founding of a rival company in 1691. In 1709, the two joined together and became the United Company of Merchants Trading to the East Indies.
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--------Queen Elizabeth I after the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588-------

Did You Know?

The tea dumped in the Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party was the tea the British East India Company was exporting from China.

THE COMPANY IN INDIA

While the company had remained a faint presence before the 18th century, it began waging war and reaping the benefits all over India, especially Bengal. In the heat of the Industrial Revolution, Britain had improved not only its living standards but the demand on overseas trading, thereby securing the Company's position in both the global trade market and the government. By then, major bases had been established in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta. The Mughal empire was declining at this point, leaving trading settlements more and more vulnerable to harassment by local princes. The Company responded by pushing itself deeper and deeper into the Indian government for protection, ending with a symbolically important ruler on the throne while the British pulled the strings from behind. Meanwhile, the rivalry between the French and the British was sharpening; in 1757 it came to a head, with Robert Clive leading Britain to a victory against the Nawal (prince) of Bengal and the French company in the Battle of Plassey. The battle ended with an economically and politically powerful company controlling a country with little care for its people. The famine of 1769, which the Company did nothing to alleviate, resulted in the deaths of as many as a third of the population of Bengal. In 1773, the British government passed the Regulating Act and appointed Warren Hastings as the first governor-general of British India. The government continued to take control of India; the East India Act of 1784 ended with the Company managing commercial policy and lesser administration. The parliamentary acts of 1813 and 1834 left the Company as a managing agency of the Indian government. After the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857, when native troupes rebelled against the use of animal fat in cartridge and killed hundreds of Europeans, the British East India Company lost all such control and was abolished in 1873.
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--------A meeting between Indian government officials and company officials---------

Did You Know?

Cricket, a popular sport in modern-day India, was first played in 1721 by officers of an English ship.

The Pros and Cons of British Rule in India

While the cons of the Company in India are more clear, there are many pros to British rule as well. Certainly, the utter ambivalence and even disgust toward native Indians was common; similar, in fact, to past American attitudes toward African-Americans. It cannot easily be said that the Company helped India in any humane or social way. However, Britain was one of the countries most affected by the Industrial Revolution. Colonies of Britain in both India and America were introduced to new inventions, such as the railroads and telegraphs. The government, weakened by incompetent kings, was suddenly strengthened by Western civilization. Education and medical care improved, and religious traditions such as suttee, in which a widow is cremated on the funeral pyre of her husband as a sign of devotion, and the caste system were restricted or abolished by British law. Even in the end, when India was pushed to the point of fighting against super-empire Britain, the struggle brought about a sense of unity and pride among Indians that had not been there before. However, while India benefited in the way of civilization and politics, culture and other traditions were completely ignored. Before the arrival of Great Britain and the Union Jack, India had a booming economy and various valuable exports. In spite of the political instability, citizens were living comfortably enough. The colonization of India put an end to all such developments.

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