Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast, Madras c.1785 (Getty Images)
View more images
The story of the British in India started in 1608 with William Hawkins negotiating to trade from Surat. By paying three and a half per cent import tax, he imported English cloth and metals and exported calico to England. His trading ideas worked. Hawkins set the trend and calico, a most desirous cloth in Europe set the fashion.
Surat became the first British toe-hold in India. In 1639, Francis Day bought the lease on a strip of the Coromandel Coast built there, Fort St George, which became Madras and by 1658 all settlements in Bengal and along the Coromandel coast were subordinate to it. Effectively, the English East India Company had become, for the first time, landowners in another country.
Madras was designated an independent presidency and soon afterwards so was Bombay, the newly acquired British holding on the west coast. In half a century the mini empire expanded from a few settlements in America to large Caribbean holdings, India and the East Indies. Yet by the 1640s, the East India Company was close to financial ruin. The noticeable change of fortune came in the 1660s with the arrival in the Company of Sir Josiah Child.
Child raised capital and Charles II issued a new charter giving the Company greater freedoms to trade. The difference between India and the other success story, the West Indies, was that in the islands, the planters and the crown owned the land. In India, Britain was establishing settlements and small colonies in a subcontinent which was already part of an empire, that of the Moghuls. Childs, who had rescued the Company died in 1699 (see below). This was the year that the French established its own territory from a base in Pondicherry. The politics of Europe now came face-to-face in India.
Back to top
Josiah Child 1630-1699
Sir Josiah Child was the son of a London merchant. He set up as a naval chandler in Portsmouth, made a fortune in his twenties and became an investor in the English East India Company. Josiah Child became MP for Petersfield, then Dartmouth, after which he became a baronet and MP for Ludlow. His interests in the Company grew, as did his involvement in its financial rejuvenation and he was eventually appointed its very dictatorial governor. Child's reputation was made in other areas than India. He espoused the doctrine of free trade and low interest rates to improve commercialism although he thought Britain should have the sole right to trade with her colonies. Child is also remembered for radical ideas of helping poor workers.
Back to top
Did You Know...
Madras was named after a local fishing village and Bombay is sometimes thought to be named after the Portugese Bom Baia - Good Bay. But feel free to research further ...
Back to top
Have Your Say
Events of this episode took place in the Indian subcont. region. We're interested to hear your comments on the influence of Empire on this region:
Comment on the Indian subcont.
There are currently no messages.
Back to top
A section from the charter granted to the English East India Company, signed by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600.
"October the twenty third, the year sixteen hundred. The Privy Council, having found her Majesty graciously inclined to the furthering of the same voyage, and ready to grant unto the petition of the said adventurers touching the particular demands by them exhibited, did direct letters to the said adventurers signifying thereby that it was her Majesty's pleasure that they should proceed in their purpose; assuring them that they should not be stayed or prohibited therein, wishing them to accept their certificate of her Majesty's pleasure as an earnest of a further warrant which afterward should be to them named by her Majesty."
King Charles II on receiving Bombay from the Portugese as part of his wife's dowry.
"Our main design in putting our self to this great charge for making this addition to our dominions being to gain our subjects more free and better trade in the East Indies and to enlarge our dominions in those parts and to advance thereby the honour of Our Crown and the general commerce and wealth of our subjects, you are with all convenient speed and advice to make use of the best ways and means for encouragement and invitation to our subjects and strangers to resort and trade there; and you are especially to give all manner of encouragement, help and assistance to the subjects of the King of Portugal in the East Indies, to protect them, as much as in you lyeth, in their trade and navigation there.
You are also to keep a very good correspondence with the Vice-King of Goa and all other Portugal governors, and likewise with the natives of the country, and to do all you can to settle a trade among them. You are to give such encouragement as securely as you may to such natives and others as shall submit to live peaceably under Our obedience."
Back to top