2. Trading in Bantam

Bantam is now just a few ruins and a mosque but in the 16th Century its kingdom covered most of western Java and Southern Sumatra. Pepper made Bantam rich, transforming it into one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia. It was here that the Company established its first Asian factory - a place where factors, or Company reps, lived and traded. And it was from here that the English were able to expand into other parts of Asia.


The Dutch got to Bantam 6 years ahead of the English who arrived in 1602. Their own United East India Company (VOC) wanted to monopolise European trade in fine spices. They continually prevented 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. Wars were fought over English claims to freedom of the seas and it was not until the end of the 1600s that the balance shifted. While the Dutch had focused on Indonesia, the English saw that wealth and power lay elsewhere.


The great daily market at Bantam was cosmopolitan and thriving. There the English met Arab, Turkish, Iranian, Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali, Malay, Javanese and Chinese merchants who were selling products from their own countries. At the market, traders bought and sold an incredible range of exotic goods - silks, porcelain, spices, carpets, drugs and gourmet foods.


The English had their woollen cloth and silver, but the Asian traders were not interested in these goods. It soon became clear that the English would do better to barter with other Asian goods, especially Indian textiles.