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The Effect of the East India Trading Company on British Impe
Transcript of The Effect of the East India Trading Company on British Impe
The British were interested in goods such as pepper, silk, tea, and spices.
By: Benjamin Horne and Lyndsay Vi Parkhurst
India was a major producer of these things, therefore the British endeavored to trade directly with the Mughal Empire, which was the ruling government in India at the time.
In 1581, Queen Elizabeth I provided a royal charter for the Levant Company, which was tasked with overseeing British trade with Turkey and the Levant. It was hoped that, through the Levant Company, Britain could acquire Indian goods in an inexpensive manner.
Unfortunately, the Levant Company failed due to an inability to acquire sufficient amounts of Indian products, and as a result, its charter, which expired in 1588, was not renewed, thus ending its operations.
Fortunately for Britain, the Spanish naval fleet suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the British Royal Navy. This effectively broke Spanish dominance over the world’s oceans. Seeing an opportunity for trade with India via naval transport, a group of merchants based in London petitioned Queen Elizabeth for a trading charter. The petition was granted, thus bringing about the creation of the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies.
This company, which was also known as the East India Company, was tasked with the “Advancement of Trade of Merchandize” between Britain and India.
The first company ship set sail for India in 1601. Soon after arriving, the Mughal emperor, Ja-hangir, formally issued a Firman, a treaty allowing trade within Mughal territory, to the Company.
Soon after establishing trade with India, though, the Company found itself embroiled in a bitter rivalry with the Dutch East India Company, which would consistently work to hinder British trade. This rivalry escalated until armed clashes between the two companies began to occur. Jahangir took an interest in this rivalry, for he believed that whichever company emerged victorious would be worthy of exclusive trading rights with his empire.
A series of Dutch defeats at the hands of British Company soldiers would effectively force the Dutch East India Company out of the Mughal empire. As a result, the British found themselves in a position of almost complete control over European trade with India. Taking advantage of this, the company began to expand rapidly. As its territory grew, so too did its influence over the Indian economy.
As the Company grew, it began to modernize production methods in India. Importing new tech-nologies and production methods, the Company ensured that massive quantities of cheaply made goods could be produced, thus allowing for more products to be sold and for profits to in-crease. However, this modernization severely harmed Indian craft industries, since they could not produce commodities in the quantity, or at the low cost, as could the Company.
By 1757, the Company had expanded to a point where they effectively governed the Indian subcontinent. The Mughal government, weakened by a series of wars, was powerless to stop the Company and eventually came to govern only one city: Dehli. The Company, having a firm hold over the entire nation and acting as its de facto government, worked to modernize the entirety of India.
In order to do this, the Company built numerous factories throughout India in order to mass produce cheap goods. They also built a series of railroads in order to facilitate fast, efficient transport of raw materials and goods throughout the nation and abroad. In the process, though, native craft industries were further weakened and almost disappeared entirely.
Unfortunately, Company rule in India was marred by constant turmoil and instability. Unstable economic conditions created equally unstable job markets and high unemployment rates. This, combined with a series of famines in the late 19th century severely weakened the Indian econ-omy and helped to foment discontent within the Indian populace, eventually leading to the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The Indian Rebellion began in 1857 and was staged by native soldiers in the employ of the East India Company. It was caused primarily by the fact that the ammunition cartridges issued to these soldiers were lubricated by cow and pig fat. Since these cartridges were to be opened by mouth, the primarily Hindu and Muslim soldiers found this situation intolerable and, in the face of Company unwillingness to remedy the situation, they rebelled.
The rebellion spread throughout India and, although it was put down by the Company in 1858, it proved to be the final nail in the Company’s coffin. Seeing the rebellion and the poor economic state of India as indicative of the Company’s inability to effectively govern the subcontinent, the British government seized control of India and moved it under the direct rule of the British crown, thus transforming it into an official colony of the British empire.
In becoming a colony, India soon became the empire’s most prized holding. Its ability to provide the empire with massive quantities of cheap raw materials helped to fuel the British industrial revolution, and so it greatly contributed to British economic growth during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, British exploitation would continue to weaken India economically, and would sow the seeds of the Indian independence movement.
In conclusion, the East India Company provided the British empire with its most prized colony, through which the British were able to fuel their industrialization and growth as an economic powerhouse. This economic growth largely secured Britain’s ability to expand its empire, thus making India indirectly responsible for British imperial domination during the 19th and 20th cen-turies.
Harrington, Peter (1994). Plassey 1757, Clive of India's Finest Hour; Osprey Campaign Series #36. London: Osprey Publishing.
Kulke, Hermann, and Dietmar Rothermund. A History of India. 4th ed. New York: Routledge Publishing, 2004. Print.
Lawson, Philip. The East India Company: A History. 1st ed. Routledge Publishing, 2010. Print.
Peers, Douglas. India Under Colonial Rule. Pearson Education Canada, 2008. Print.
Robb, Peter. A History of India. 2nd ed. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.