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East India Company

East India Company was the name of several historic European companies chartered with the monopoly of trading with Asia for their respective countries. Before 1600, Portugal controlled most European trade with India and the Far East or 'the Indies' and until the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) by England it was much of a monopoly of Spain and Portugal. Because of the Spanish failure to quell a Dutch rising in the Netherlands, and after the defeat of the Spanish Armada the trade was opened to both the Dutch and England.

Portuguese East India Trade (1511 - 1999)

When the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut in 1498, he was restoring a link between Europe and the East that had existed many centuries previously. The first known connection between the two regions had been Alexander the Great's invasion of the Punjab, 327-325 BC.

The Portuguese were the first agents of this renewed contact, because they were among the few European nations to possess both the navigational know-how and the necessary motivation for the long sea voyage. During the 15th century, the land routes for the Indian trade - via the Red Sea and Egypt or across Persia, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey - had become increasingly blocked, mainly by Ottoman action. The surviving Egyptian route was subject to increasing exploitation by a line of middlemen, ending with the Venetian monopoly of the European trade, and in 1517 it likewise passed under Ottoman suzerainty. The motive for finding a new route was therefore strong; this task fell to the Portuguese, partly because the stronger Spaniards were absorbed in discovering the New World but doing so by searcing for an Eastern route.

Further in favour of the Portuguese was the inherited crusading zeal from wars against the Moors in Portugal and North Africa. and the fact that they had learned navigational techniques from the Genoese, who were disgruntled at their exclusion from the Mediterranean carrying trade.

When Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut, he hoped to find Christians cut off by Muslim action, to deal a blow at Muslim power from their maritime rear, as it were, and to corner the European spice trade. He found his Christians in the Syrian Christians of Cochin and Travancore, he found the spices, and he found Muslim Arab merchants entrenched at Calicut. It was his successors, Francisco de Almeida and Afonso de Albuquerque, who established the Portuguese empire in the East. Almeida set up a number of fortified posts; but it was Albuquerque (governor 1509-15) who gave the empire its characteristic form. Afonso de Albuquerque took Goa in western India in 1510, Malacca in the East Indies in 1511, and Hormuz (Ormuz) in the Persian Gulf in 1515 and set up posts in the East Indian Spice Islands.

The object of these moves was to establish for Portugal a strategic command of the Indian Ocean, so as to control the maritime spice trade and to ruin the Ottoman-controlled Middle Eastern Muslim world by cutting off its trade. Hormuz dominated the Persian Gulf; an attack on Aden was intended to do the same for the Red Sea. While Malacca was the nerve centre for the spice-producing islands of Indonesia and the exchange mart for the trade with the Far East (East Asia), Goa, not Malacca, was the capital because of Portuguese concern with the Ottomans of the Middle East.

The Portuguese method was to rely on sea power based on fortified posts and backed by settlements. Portuguese ships, sturdy enough to survive Atlantic gales and mounted with cannon, could easily dispose of Arab and Malay shipping. The bases enabled the Portuguese to dominate the main sea-lanes; but Portugal, with fewer than one million people and involved in Africa and South America as well, was desperately short of manpower. Albuquerque turned his fortresses into settlements to provide a resident population for defense. Intermarriage was encouraged. At the same time, Christianity was encouraged through the church. Goa became an archbishopric. St. Francis Xavier started from Goa on his mission to the South Indian fishermen. The Inquisition was established in 1560. The new mixed population thus became firmly Roman Catholic and provided a stubborn resistance to attacks.

A lack of resources precluded any attempt to establish a land empire. Portugal's control of the Indian Ocean - its period of empire - lasted through the 16th century.

During this time it attained great prosperity. Goa acquired the title of Golden, and it became one of the world's wonder cities. Trade with Europe was a royal monopoly, and, in addition, a system of licenses for all inter-Asian trade enriched the royal exchequer. Inter-Asian trade was free to individual Portuguese; and it was the profits of this, combined with trimmings from the royal monopoly, that gave them their affluence.

The three marks of the Portuguese empire continued to be trade, anti-Islamism, and religion. The Portuguese early considered that no faith need be kept with an infidel, and to this policy of perfidy they added a tendency to cruelty beyond the normal limits of a very rough age; the result was to deprive them of Indian sympathy.

In religion the Portuguese were distinguished by missionary fervor and intolerance. Examples of the former are the Madura mission of Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656), nicknamed the White Brahman, and the Jesuit missions to the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar (ruled 1556-1605). Of the latter, there was the Inquisition at Goa and the forcible subjection of the Syrian church to Rome at the Synod of Diamper in 1599.

The Portuguese thus had few friends in the East to help them in a crisis, and in 1580 the Portuguese kingdom was annexed to Spain and until 1640 Portuguese interests were sacrificed to those of Spain. Because of the Spanish failure to quell a Dutch rising in the Netherlands, and after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the route to the East was opened to both English and Dutch. The Dutch arrived first; under their blows in Indonesia and those of the English in India the Portuguese ascendancy crumbled, though they held on to Goa until 1975 and Macao until 1999, losing out, in the end, respectively to India and China.

English East India Company (1600-1873)

The English East India Company, sometimes referred to as "John Company", formally (1600-1708) Governor And Company Of Merchants Of London Trading Into The East Indies, or (1708-1873) United Company Of Merchants Of England Trading To The East Indies, English company formed for the exploitation of trade with East and Southeast Asia and India, incorporated by Royal Charter by Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600. Starting as a monopolistic trading body, the company became involved in politics and acted as an agent of British imperialism in India from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century. In addition, the activities of the company in China in the 19th century served as a catalyst for the expansion of British influence there.

The company was formed to share in the East Indian spice trade. This trade had been a monopoly of Spain and Portugal until the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) by England gave the English the chance to break the monopoly. Until 1612 the company conducted separate voyages, separately subscribed. There were temporary joint stocks until 1657, when a permanent joint stock was raised.

The company met with opposition from the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the Portuguese. The Dutch virtually excluded company members from the East Indies after the Amboina Massacre in 1623 (an incident in which English, Japanese, and Portuguese traders were executed by Dutch authorities), but the company's defeat of the Portuguese in India (1612) won them trading concessions from the Mughal Empire. The company settled down to a trade in cotton and silk piece goods, indigo, and saltpeter, with spices from South India. It extended its activities to the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.

After the mid-18th century the cotton-goods trade declined, while tea became an important import from China. Beginning in the early 19th century, the company financed the tea trade with illegal opium exports to China. Chinese opposition to this trade precipitated the First Opium War (1839-42), which resulted in a Chinese defeat and the expansion of British trading privileges; a second conflict, often called the "Arrow" War (1856-60) or the Second Opium War brought increased trading rights for Europeans.

The original company faced opposition to its monopoly, which led to the establishment of a rival company and the fusion (1708) of the two as the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies. The United Company was organized into a court of 24 directors who worked through committees. They were elected annually by the Court of Proprietors, or shareholders. When the company acquired control of Bengal in 1757, Indian policy was until 1773 influenced by shareholders' meetings, where votes could be bought by the purchase of shares. This led to government intervention. The Regulating Act (1773) and Pitt's India Act (1784) established government control of political policy through a regulatory board responsible to Parliament. Thereafter, the company gradually lost both commercial and political control. Its commercial monopoly was broken in 1813, and from 1834 it was merely a managing agency for the British government of India. It was deprived of this after the Indian Mutiny (1857), and it ceased to exist as a legal entity in 1873.

Dutch East India Company (1602-1799)

The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch, literally "United East Indies Company") was established on March 20, 1602, when the Estates-General of the Netherlands granted it a monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. It was the first multinational corporation in the world and it was the first company to issue stocks. The VOC consisted of 6 Chambers (Kamers) in Amsterdam, Middelburg (for Zeeland), Enkhuizen, Delft, Hoorn and Rotterdam. Delegates of these chambers convened as the Heeren XVII (the Lords Seventeen). To the counsel of Heeren XVII, eight delegates were from the Chamber of Amsterdam, four from Chamber Zeeland and one from each of the smaller Chambers. Access to the seventeenth seat was rotated among the Chamber of Zeeland or one of the smaller Chambers. Amsterdam had thereby the decisive voice. The Zeelanders were particularly suspicious at the start up of the VOC for this reason. The fear was not unfounded, because in practice it meant that indeed Amsterdam stipulated what happened.

The Heeren XVII met alternately 6 years in Amsterdam and 2 years in Middelburg. They defined the VOC's general policy and divided the tasks among the Chambers. The Chambers carried out all the necessary work, built /their own ships and warehouses and traded the merchandise. The Heeren XVII sent the ships' masters off with extensive instructions on the route to be navigated, prevailing winds, currents, shoals and landmarks. The VOC also produced its own sea charts.

The first fully-equipped VOC fleet sailed on 18 December 1603, with orders not only to engage in trade, but also to attack Portuguese strongholds in Goa and East Africa. This latter task was beyond its powers, and the same was true of the fleets that sailed in 1605, 1606 and 1607. The only Portuguese fort to surrender – and that without a fight - was on the remote, but valuable spice-island of Ambon. It became clear that they needed a permanent base in the East Indies that could serve as a meeting point for VOC ships and become a staple harbour for the goods they carried. In short, the VOC must set up a rival to the Portuguese Goa.

Strategy required the chosen location to be close to the Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java, where VOC ships could reach the East Indies without passing through the Malacca Strait, which was controlled by the Portuguese.

The obvious site was Banten on the Java side of the Sunda Strait, but since the local regent neither wanted to disturb the established Chinese trade in pepper nor force the English factory to close, so in 1610 the Dutch subverted the 'prince' of Jacatra - a harbour city along the coast to the east of Banten – and with his support established a fort there.

In 1613 the VOC appointed as its director-general in charge of its trade in Asia Jan Pieterszoon Coen. He was convinced that Jacarta alone must become the centre of both government and commerce. By mobilizing all available VOC ships nearby he succeeded in establishing Jacarta, once and for all, as the VOC command centre in the East Indies. The directors in Amsterdam decided to call their new Dutch town 'Batavia' – the old Roman name for the Netherlands. This is now again known as Jakarta and since 1949, the capital of the Republic of Indonesia, with a present population of more than ten million.

With the company headquarters established in Batavia on Java (now Jakarta, Indonesia) other colonial outposts were also established in the East Indies what later became Indonesia, such as on the Spice Islands (Moluccas), which include the Banda Islands where the VOC forcibly maintained a monopoly over nutmeg and mace. Methods used to maintain the monopoly included the violent suppression of the native population, not stopping short of extortion and mass murder.

The VOC traded throughout Asia. Ships coming into Batavia from the Netherlands carried silver from Spanish mines in Peru and supplies for VOC settlements in Asia. Silver, combined with copper from Japan, was used to trade with India and China for textiles. These products, such as cotton and silk, including ceramics, were either traded within Asia for the coveted spices or brought back to Europe. The VOC was also instrumental in introducing European ideas and technology to Asia. The Company supported Christian missionaries and traded modern technology with China and Japan. A more peaceful VOC trade post on Dejima, an artificial island off the coast of Nagasaki, was for a long time the only place where Europeans could trade with Japan.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck established an outpost at the Cape of Good Hope (the southwestern tip of Africa, currently in South Africa) to re-supply VOC ships on their journey to East Asia. This post later became a fully-fledged colony, the Cape Colony, when more Dutch and other Europeans started to settle there. VOC outposts were also established in Persia (now Iran), Bengal (now Bangladesh and part of India), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Malacca (Melaka, now in Malaysia), Siam (now Thailand), mainland China (Canton), Formosa (now Taiwan) and southern India. In 1662, Koxinga expelled the Dutch from Taiwan (see History of Taiwan).

By 1669, the VOC was the richest private company the world had ever seen, with over 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50,000 employees, a private army of 10,000 soldiers, and a dividend payment of 40%.

The company was in almost constant conflict with the English; relations were particularly embittered after the Amboyna Massacre in 1623. During the 18th century, its possessions were increasingly focused on the East Indies. After the fourth war between the United Provinces and England (1780–1784), the VOC got into financial trouble, and in 1798, the company was dissolved, four years after the end of the Estates-General. The East Indies were awarded to the Kingdom of the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Danish East India Company (1616-1729)(1732-1772)

The Danish East India Company (Danish, Dansk Ostindisk Kompagni) was founded in 1616, following a privilege of Danish King Christian IV. It was focused on trade with India and had its base in Tranquebar.

After a short blossoming, it lost importance quickly and was dissolved in 1729. In 1732, it was refounded as Asiatische Compagnie ("Asiatic Company"), yet in 1772 it lost its monopoly. During its heyday, the Danish and Swedish East India Company imported more tea than the British East India Company.

During the Napoleonic Wars, in 1801 and again in 1807, the British navy attacked Copenhagen in the Battle of Copenhagen (1807). As a consequence of the last attack, Denmark lost its entire fleet and the island of Helgoland. British control of the seas spelled the end of the Danish East India Company.

French East India Company (1664-1769)

The French East India Company (French Compagnie des Indes Orientales) was a commercial enterprise, founded in 1664 to compete with the British and Dutch East India companies.

Planned by Jean Baptiste Colbert, it was chartered by King Louis XIV for the purpose of trading in the Eastern Hemisphere. The first Director General for the Company was François Caron, who had spent 30 years working for the Dutch East India Company, including 20 years in Japan.

The Company failed to found a colony on Madagascar but established ports on the nearby islands of Bourbon and Île-de-France (today's Réunion and Mauritius). By 1719, it had established itself in India but was near bankruptcy. In the same year it was combined under John Law with other French trading companies to form the Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes. It resumed independence in 1723.

With the decline of the Mogul Empire, the French decided to intervene in Indian political affairs to protect their interests, notably by forging alliances with local rulers in south India. From 1741 the French under Joseph François Dupleix pursued an aggressive policy against both the Indians and the English until they ultimately were defeated by Robert Clive.

The Company was not able to maintain itself financially, and it was abolished in 1769, a few years before the French Revolution.

Several Indian trading ports, including Pondicherry and Chandernagore, remained under French control until 1949.

Ostend Company (1717-1731)

The Ostend Company was a private company established in 1717 to trade with the Indies. The success of the Dutch, English and French East India Companies led the merchants and shipowners of Ostend in the Austrian Netherlands to desire to establish direct commercial relations with the Indies. The emperor Charles VI encouraged his subjects to raise subscriptions for the new enterprise, but did not grant a charter or letters patent. The company was abolished in 1731.

Swedish East India Company (1731-1813)

The Swedish East India Company (Swedish: Svenska Ostindiska Companiet or SOIC) was founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1731 for the purpose of conducting trade with the far east. The venture was inspired by the success of the British East India Company and grew to become the largest trading company in Sweden during the 18th century, until it closed in 1813. Already in 1626 the Dutch Willem Usselinx got royal privileges from the Swedish King for a trading company. Wars and hard times did however stop the company before it got ships off to the far east. Another attempt was made by pirates sailing out from Madagascar, as they thought Sweden better suited as a base. They offered solid financial rewards, and the negotiations was well ahead with the Swedish King Karl XII at his camp in 1718 during his campaign towards Norway. With the Kings death the venture folded.

Sweden was poor after the Great Northern War, trade was therefore seen as an option for rebuilding the country. Opinions were however mixed, as steel and timber were used for trading; was it not a waste to exchange such good for worthless tea and porcelain. The emerging Swedish textile industry was also threatened by the trade, so much that the new company promised to refrain from it.

To start a new trading company that would venture into the interests of European powers France and Britain was not easy, but at the same time the monopoly given to trade companies was a help. The Scottish and English merchants left out of the British East India Company were more than eager to have their share of the trade, by financing the new Swedish company.

In 1729 the Scottish merchant Colin Campbell got help for setting up a company with the Swede Henrik König and the Gothenburg born merchant Niclas Sahlgren. The reaction from the Swedish government was reluctant: the failure of a similar company based in Ostende in Austrian controlled Holland was not tempting the Swedes to go against the main powers. König took the matters to the Swedish parliament and succeeded, gaining royal privileges for the company on 14 January 1731, initially for a period of 15 years

The dividend on expeditions could be around 25-30% of capital invested, but up to 60% was achieved. The last official SOIC vessel returned to Gothenburg in March 1806, and even though the company had a privilege until 1821 it closed in 1813 due to financial difficulties.

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