This aquatint, produced by the English landscape artist William Daniell (1769-1837), depicts the newly built East India Docks at Blackwall, east London. It was published by Daniell in 1808. The view is one of a series of seven in the King’s Topographical Collection representing a set of new docks on the Thames, built from 1800 as part of a scheme to totally overhaul and modernize shipping in London. Trade imports, both domestic and foreign, dramatically increased over the eighteenth century and London’s docks needed to expand and upgrade in order to accommodate the daily influx of ships and goods. Architects and engineers bid to remodel the city’s docks, each of their designs featuring the latest technological developments. The new infrastructure was considered revolutionary and visionary: the embodiment of modern Britain as a sophisticated and scientifically advanced imperial power.

The East India Docks were the third enterprise in the port modernization scheme. They were built exclusively for the use of the British East India Company, a powerful conglomerate of aristocrats and merchants which established in 1600. The Company traded mainly in the Indian sub-continent and Qing China, dominating imports of tea, opium, silk, indigo dye, and saltpeter as well as luxury goods.

Built to the designs of engineers John Rennie and Ralph Walker, construction begun in 1803 and the new docks were officially opened in August 1806. Brunswick Dock (which Daniell also pictures as part of the series) was remodeled as the East India export dock, while a new 18 acre site was constructed directly to the north of Brunswick to accommodate imports. Both docks were connected to the Thames via an eastern basin; this is pictured on the left in Daniell’s aquatint, opening out onto the horse-shoe river bend via a channel. The artist writes that the import dock facilitated 84 ships ‘of eight hundred tons each’.