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The English East India Company was said to be the child of the Elizabethan age. The Portuguese royal system had been created by a dynasty – run by, and worked for the benefit of, the crown. This system of trade was alien to the English nation and Queen Elizabeth, who were much more aligned to the Dutch model of maritime trade (shipping, seafaring). On September 22, 1599, the London merchants met with the Lord Mayor in Founders’ Hall to seek a remedy for a block that had taken place in the Indian Trade. Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have lamented that the Dutch had gained all the foreign freight, whilst the English ships lie still and decay, or go to Newcastle for coals.
The East India Company is said to have, in part, grown out of the Levant Company (also known as the Turkey Company – in fact, a member of this company was known as a ‘Turkey Merchant’) which was an English charter company founded in 1581 to regulate trade with Turkey and the Levant until 1825.
On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth signed a charter (which effectively increased powers, areas of business and a longer term monopoly). This was ‘for the Honour of our Nation, the Wealth of our People… the Increase of our Navigation, and the advancement of lawful Traffick to the benefit of the Common-wealth.’ Essentially, this ‘all-powerful’ charter was to become the East India Company. It also stands as the final expression of the co-operative principle of the Elizabethan period. This all had the makings and feel of a modern-day joint stock company.
Sir W.W. Hunter provides a great overview of the further development of the East India Company (upon which most of the above is based) it’s available here.
In essence, the East India Company drove the expansion of the British Empire in Asia. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the British Crown began to assume an increasingly large role in the affairs of the Company. A series of Acts of Parliament were passed, including the Regulating Act of 1773, Pitt’s India Act of 1784 and the Charter Act of 1813 which regulated the Company’s affairs and established the sovereignty of the Crown over the territories that it had acquired. The Company’s eventual end was precipitated by the Indian Rebellion, a conflict that had begun with the mutiny of sepoys, Indian troops under British officers and discipline. The rebellion took six months to suppress, with heavy loss of life on both sides. The following year the British government dissolved the Company and assumed direct control over India through the Government of India Act 1858, establishing the British Raj, where an appointed governor-general administered India and Queen Victoria was crowned the Empress of India. India became the empire’s most valuable possession, “the Jewel in the Crown”, and was the most important source of Britain’s strength.
It was initially fairly common for British officers and soldiers to take local Indian wives and have Eurasian children, due to a lack of British women in India during the 18th and 19th centuries. By the mid-19th century, there were around 40,000 British soldiers, but fewer than 2,000 British officials present in India. As British women began arriving in British India in large numbers around the early to mid-19th century, mostly as family members of British officers and soldiers, intermarriage became increasingly uncommon among the British in India and was later despised after the events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, after which several anti-miscegenation laws were implemented. As a result, Eurasians were neglected by both the British and Indian populations in India.
Over generations, Anglo-Indians intermarried with other Anglo-Indians to form a community that developed a culture of its own.
A good overview and history of British India with a range of additional resources can be found here.
Further historical writing entitled: From the first European settlements to the founding of the English East India company, by Sir W.W. Hunter is a fascinating read available here (particularly from page 216 ‘The Constitution of the First English East India Company.’)
An overview of the British Empire can be found here.
Cover picture credit: “The British Empire Anachronous” by The Red Hat of Pat Ferrick
Interact with the Anglo-Indian Project