Timeline

1600 The East India Company is founded

Sir Thomas Smythe, first Governor of the East India Company
Sir Thomas Smythe

Sir Thomas Smythe

At first the company is known as 'The Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies.' It is founded by a Royal Charter, signed by Queen Elizabeth I, on 31 December 1600. Sir Thomas Smythe is the Company's first Governor.


1601 The voyages begin

Cover of Dialogues in the English and Malaiane languages.
Early English to Malaiane phrasebook.

Early English to Malaiane phrasebook

English ships set out for the Banda Islands to trade woollen cloth and silver for spices. There the English meet Arab, Turkish, Gujarati, Bengali, Malay and Chinese merchants. Traded  goods include spices, drugs, silks, porcelain, precious stones, carpets, gourmet foods and perfumes.


1623 Massacre at Amboina

A Potuguese Carrack
A Potuguese Carrack

A Potuguese Carrack

 

The Dutch get to Bantam 6 years ahead of the English who arrived in 1602. Their own United East India Company (VOC) wants to monopolise European trade in fine spices. The VOC tries to prevent the English from trading directly with the Spice Islands of the Bandas and the Moluccas in eastern Indonesia, a source of valuable cloves, nutmegs and mace. In 1623, on the clove island of Amboina, the Dutch torture and execute English and Japanese traders.


1640 The Company builds a trading centre at Madras

A cloth merchant seated in his shop
Cloth merchant

Cloth merchant

 

After the massacre at Amboina the Company concentrates on trade with India. From its base in Madras, the Company ships Indian cottons to other countries in the East Indies. There the fabrics are traded for spices.


1690 The Company builds trading centres in Calcutta

Fort William, Calcutta.
Fort William, Calcutta.

Fort William, Calcutta.

 

There is a great demand for all kinds of gorgeous Indian textiles in Europe. Indian craftsmen produce many beautiful textiles for the Company: cottons, silks, muslins and embroidered quilts. While these workers suffer the effects of famine, war and poverty, the Company grows rich on the profits of the textile trade.


1697 London weavers attack East India House

The old East India House, Leadenhall St., London.
The old East India House in London.

The old East India House in London.

 

Weavers, dyers and linen drapers in England protest that imports of Indian cloth are threatening their own industries. Initially, the Company responds by re-exporting Asian textiles to other countries in Europe. But market forces soon overshadow the cries of protesters, and Asian textiles continue to be hugely popular in England throughout the 18th century.


1699 Trade with China

Scene in a tea warehouse at the Canton factories
Canton tea warehouse

Canton tea warehouse

 

The Company begins to trade with Canton, importing silk, tea and porcelain from China. In England, the demand for tea booms, and by the late 1700s tea accounts for more than 60 per cent of the Company's total trade. Having initially traded tea for silver, the English are concerned that too much silver is leaving their shores. They begin to trade the illegal and highly addictive drug opium, introducing a widespread drug problem in China. Millions of Chinese will die from the drug as a result.


1757 Battle of Plassey

Robert Clive
Robert Clive

Robert Clive

 

The strength of the wealthy Mughal Empire weakens, and wars break out between different districts of India. Robert Clive, a Company member, recaptures Calcutta from Siraj-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey. The Company becomes responsible for the whole of Bengal, India's richest province. Once the Company takes control, land taxes triple and many Indians are left living in terrible poverty. Millions die in a famine, and over the next 2 decades, millions more are dispossessed of their land.


1773 Warren Hastings becomes the first British governor-general in India

Admission ticket for the trial of Warren Hastings in Westminster Hall
Trial of Warren Hastings

Trial of Warren Hastings

 

The British government is concerned about the way the Company is governing its Indian territories, and decides to curb its power. Warren Hastings is appointed as the first governor-general of India. He is charged with mismanagement in 1785.

 


1813 The monopoly of all trade with India ends

'A Transfer of East India Stock'
Political caricature

Political caricature

 

The Company's sole trade with India is stopped but it continues to trade with China.


1833 The end of the East India Company's trading days

A view of the East India Docks, by William Daniell, 1808
East India Docks, 1808

East India Docks, 1808

 

During the East India Company's life about 4,600 ships voyages are made from London. The company is finally abolished in 1858 after a rebellion by its Bengali Army.