Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2012
James Lancaster

James Lancaster

December 31, 1600: Queen Elizabeth I grants a Royal Charter. The recipients were “George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Alderman, and Burgesses” under the name, Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies. It is better known as the East India Company. They were originally given a fifteen year monopoly on all trade with all countries east of Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. The first East India Company voyage took place in 1601 under the command of Sir James Lancaster. Their direct competition was the already working Dutch East India Company, as the British still attempted to break into the lucrative spice trade.

Their first voyage found them opening a factory in Bantam on the western end of the Island of Java. From there, they could export pepper, an important part of their trade for the next twenty years. The factory stayed open until 1683. By 1608, the Company ships were docking at Surat in what is today the Indian state of Gujarat. Soon they had built their first factory in India at Machillpatnam along the Bay of Bengal. Their profits were high and this sparked the new leader of England, King James I, to grant subsidiary licenses to others. However, in 1609, King James renewed the Charter for the Company, this time for an indefinite period. Included in this new charter was a clause that would void it if the Company was unprofitable for three consecutive years.

Even with the support of the Crown, trading was not all smooth sailing. Unfortunately for the British, there were already both Dutch and Portuguese traders in India and these three entities would often be in conflict. The British had a major victory over the Portuguese in the Battle of Swally in 1612. With this victory, they created a greater foothold on mainland India. That same year, a treaty between Sir Thomas Roe and Nuruddin Salim Jahangir gave exclusive rights to the East India Company to reside and build factories in Surat. In return, the British were to supply the Emperor with goods available only from the European market.

The Company grew and grew. They eventually were able to hold a complete monopoly, first with trade and then with colonial expansion. Local rulers were unwilling to simply give up their control to the British and so military expansion was needed to subdue the locals and take control. The East India Company was famous for some of the exports, saltpeter and opium perhaps the most notable. As the British empire expanded and circled the globe, the Indian tea exportation also led to some issue with other British holdings. Over the centuries there were many laws enacted to help sustain the Company, but it finally was dissolved in 1874. India itself finally was freed from British rule in 1947.

Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. – Henry David Thoreau

No nation was ever ruined by trade. – Benjamin Franklin

Men cannot not live by exchanging articles, but producing them. They live by work not trade. – John Ruskin

This high official, all allow, is grossly overpaid; there wasn’t any Board, and now there isn’t any Trade. – A. P. Herbert

Also on this day:

Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Quarters – In 1960, the farthing was finished.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.