Sunday, November 29, 2009



Towards the close of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, English sailors and merchants became interested in voyages to the East because of its wealth. A group of merchants, organised as "The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East India", was granted a charter by the Queen to trade in the East for a period of 15 yeal"s. Initially, the Company was active in the Spice Islands only. Its trading activities in India began at the port of Surat.

Wllliam Hawkins presented the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, a letter from James I and stayed at Jahangir's court from 1609 to 1611. But he failed to get the king's permission to erect a factory at Surat. Captain Middlet~n succeeded in this effort in 1611. The Company defeated the Portuguese on the sea of Surat in 1612 and thus revealed its strength. An imperial Jarman allowed the Company to set up a permanent factory at Surat in 1613. Two years later, Sir Thomas Roe James I's ambassador to the Mughal court, arrived at the court

Roe,who stayed at the court till 1618, managed to obtain rights to trade in Gujarat. In 1668, Bombay, which had been gifted to Charles IT by the King of Portugal, as dowry when he married Catherine was given over to the Company and, in 1687, it was Bombay, and not Surat, that was the Company's main settlement on the west coast of India.

The Company first set up factories at Masulipatnam and Armagaon in 1616 and 1626 respectively, on the east coast of India. By a golden farman issued in 1632, the Company was allowed trading rights in the kingdom of the Sultan of Golconda. The Company obtained the lease of Madras from the Raja of Chandragiri in 1639 and built the Fort St. George in Madras which took over from Masulipatnam the distinction of being the headquarters of the English on the Coromandel Coast. Soon, the Company set up factories in Orissa (Hiuiharpur and Balasore), West Bengal (Hooghly and Kasimbazar) and Bihar (Patna). Shuja, subahdar of Bengal, allowed the English to trade in Bengal in return for an annual payment of Rs. 3,000, in lieu of all duties. In 1690, a factory was set up at Sutanuti village by Job Charnock. In Sutanuti and nearby villages of Kalikata and Gobindpur, grew the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata).

In 1696, the Company fortified the factory into Fort William, citing a rebellion in the nearby areas as the cause behind the move. In 1698, the company acquired the right to collect revenue (zamindan) from three Bengal villages-Sutanuti, Govindpur and Kalikata. In 1700, the factories in Bengal were kept under a separate control of a president and council. In 1717, John Surman obtained a farman from Farrukhsiyar which gave large concessions to the Company. This farman has been called the 'Magna Carta' of the Company.

In 1708, all the rival companies were amalgamated into one body named 'The United Company of Merchants of England Trading with the East Indies'. It was this Company which was to establish the British Empire in India.

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