East India Company

British East India Company was the First among various East India Companies formed and it was granted an English Royal Charter, under the name “Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies” by Queen Elizabeth-I on 31 December 1600.

It was a joint stock company and initially had 125 shareholders with capital of 68,373 Pounds Sterling. The capital was raised to 429,000 Pounds Sterling when voyages were undertaken on the first joint-stock account.

The first governor of the company was Thomas Smith and commander of first voyage to India was James Lancaster {he commanded the ship called Red Dragon}.

The East India Company was also known as John Company in its initial days. It was established at a time when Portuguese had already monopolized the commercial activities in East Indies. Further, the Portuguese had also shifted the cradle of commerce from Mediterranean to Atlantics.

Initial Efforts to Establish Niche in India

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth-I had died. Around the same time, in India also Mughal Emperor Akbar had demised (1605) and his place was taken by Jahangir. The new monarch James-I sent William Hawkins to the Court of Jahangir as official diplomatic representative of King to India. Hawkins arrived at Surat in 1608 in a ship named “Hector”. But this ship was captured by Portuguese. Portuguese told him that all ports belong to the King of Portugal and none ought to come here without his license. However, somehow Hawkins was let go. He reached Agra in April 1609. He was received with all Indian hospitality and warmth by Emperor Jahangir.

Hawkins was able to garner close relations with Jahangir, who fondly called him English Khan. He was able to persuade the emperor to grant a commission for an English Factory at Surat but that permission was withdrawn under pressure of Portuguese Viceroy. Hawkins tried to reverse the decision, but the Portuguese influence over the King was impregnable. He returned in disgust in 1611 and died soon.

In 1611, Captain Middleton was able to get permission to start a factory in Surat from the local Mughal governors. But he needed to fight a battle with the Portuguese. Under him, the British defeated Portuguese in 1611 in the Battle of Bombay. However, royal permission was still needed to make the factory sustainable. In 1615, Sir Tomas Roe came to India and lived as resident of Agra in Court of Jahangir till 1619. In these years, he tried to swipe out the Mughal influence from court of Jahangir. Although a treaty between India and England was not possible {because England was too small an economy in comparison to India at that time}, he was able to get a royal order “Firman” to local authorities sanctioning English Trade at Surat at reasonable terms. With this Firman, the English Factory got a legal authority and permanent basis. A branch factory at Masulipattanam was established after few days.

Expansion of Commercial Activities

British faced severe competition with Dutch in both India and South East Asia. The Amboyna tragedy in 1623 had thrown them out of Indonesia and eastern archipelago. However, with that event, their entire focus was shifted towards India. The established a new factory at Armagaon in 1625-26 as branch of Masulipattanam. In 1632, they obtained rights to trade in Golconda from Sultan of Golconda. In 1633, they established a factory near Hariharpur, near Balasore in Odisha.

Establishment of Presidency of Madras

In 1639, they purchased the land in Madraspatanam from Raja of Chandragiri to establish Fort Saint George there.  They established the fort there and inhabited area around it to be called St. George Town. This was their first territorial possession in India. Fort St. George was kept as subordinate to their Bantam establishment. In 1653, it was elevated to rank of a Presidency and thus First Presidency of British East India Company was established at Madras. In 1650, they had established a factory at Hooghly, followed by Kasimbazar in 1655. These establishments in Bengal were made subordinate to Presidency of Fort St. George.

Establishment of Presidency of Bombay

Bombay, which was given to British by Portuguese in 1661 as a part of Dowry of Catharine Braganza to Prince Charles II of England; was transferred to East India Company in 1665 for annual payment of 10 Pounds to Government. Meanwhile in 1664, George Oxenden, Company’s officer at Surat, had repelled an attack of Shivaji’s Maratha raiders on Surat factory. Since Marathas were enemies of Mughals, the happy Mughals allowed the company to do custom free trade from Surat for one year. In 1667, they moved the headquarters of British India Company from Surat to Bombay. In 1669, Oxenden died and was succeeded by Gerald Aungier as Governor of Bombay.  Gerald Aungier turned the small town island of Bombay into a promising hub for commerce. He set up first mint in Bombay and imported first printing press to set up there. It later became seat of Presidency of Bombay.

Establishment of Presidency of Bengal

The company got royal Firman to carry out trade in Bengal in 1667. They managed the trade of Bengal till 1681 from Madras but then it was not a good arrangement. By 1685, efforts began to make Bengal an independent presidency. But then in 1686, the factory at Kasim Bazar was confiscated by Nawab Shaista Khan. The company officers were forced to quit Hooghly and Kasimbazar. After four more years, they got renewed royal Firman from Mughals to trade in Bengal. But this time, the company Officer Job Charnock established company’s fortified factory at Sutnati instead of Hooghly. This Sutnati later became the city of Calcutta.

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