The East India Company’s Timeline is a gathered story of our collective world’s history. It is a story of trade and exploration, of silks, spices, tea and cricket, of timber and gunpowder, of cities and ports. It is the story of how a band of merchant traders created a company that far exceeded the sum of their ambitions, uniting distant markets, bringing people together, building and sustaining an empire. It started in 1600 and continues to today.
1600 ROYAL CHARTER
The Company of Merchants of London Trading into The East Indies is granted a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth I, established with 125 shareholders and £72,000 of capital. Sir Thomas Smythe is appointed as The Company’s first Governor. Queen Elizabeth I also limited the liability of the investors as well as her liabilities in granting a Royal Charter. This made The East India Company the world’s first limited liability corporation.
1601 THE FIRST VOYAGE
Five vessels leave Woolwich for the Spice Islands or East Indies led by James Lancaster holding six letters of introduction from The Queen, each with a blank space for the name of the local King. Lancaster intended to trade iron, lead and British broad cloth for spice, but made little impression as the Dutch controlled trade, and the broad cloth was deemed too heavy to be of value by those living in the tropics.
1608 LANDING IN INDIA
Ships belonging to The Company docked at Surat, and in the next two years established the first “factory” as trading posts were called, in the town of Machilipatnam of the Coromandel coast of The Bay of Bengal. Landing in India gave The Company access to spices not controlled by Dutch traders.
1613 JAPAN LANDING
In June 1613, The Clove, an East India Company ship, became the first British ship to reach Japan. Bearing official letters and gifts from King James I for retired Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and his ruling son, Hidetada, and with the assistance of Englishman William Adams known as ‘Anjin’ (a trusted advisor of the Shogun), the Commander of The Clove, Captain John Saris presented from England a telescope, a precious cup and cover and English Wool. In return, Hidetada presented Saris with two suits of armour for King James I, while Ieyasu gave to him ten spectacular painted gold-leaf screens, as well as a warm letter for the King and an official Vermilion Seal Letter granting the English permission to live and trade throughout Japan. This began a remarkable friendship between two countries on opposite sides of the world.
By 1668 The Company had established factories in Goa, Chittagong, Bombay, Madras and three small villages in the east of India called Sutanati, Gobindapore and Kalikata which was renamed Calcutta in 1690. The major factories became the walled forts of Fort William in Calcutta, Fort St George in Madras and Bombay castle, which developed into the great Indian Cities of today. Of these forts Fort William remains active as the Head Quarters of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army.
1733 ST HELENA, THE FORGOTTEN COFFEE
The East India Company first introduced coffee plants and seeds from Yemen to St Helena on board the Houghton from the Red Sea port of Mocha. Unique and rare in flavour, St Helena coffee is produced from a single type of Arabica bean known as Green Tipped Bourbon Arabica. It is still grown in St Helena and remains one of the world’s finest and most respected coffees. Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled to the island in 1816, remarked on the fine quality of St Helena coffee, and allegedly even asked for it as his dying wish.
1773 BOSTON TEA PARTY
The Boston Tea party was driven by resistance throughout British America against the Tea Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act because it violated their right to be taxed only by their own elected representatives. Men thinly disguised as Mohawk Indians dumped 342 chests overboard three ships, the ‘Dartmouth’, the ‘Eleanor’ and the ‘Beaver’, loaded with tea from The East India Company.
Today, a single chest, with its original East India Company marks survives at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.
1848 DARJEELING TEA ESTABLISHED
Robert Fortune, a botanist, was hired by The Company to obtain the finest tea plants from China to establish plantations in India. His efforts resulted in the shipment of 20,000 plants to the Himalayas, establishing Darjeeling as one of the finest tea producing regions in the world, and India as the dominant world tea producer it is today.
1873 EAST INDIA COMPANY STOCK REDEMPTION ACT
By the time of The Act’s passing, the East India Company was effectively dissolved, as The Crown had assumed all governmental responsibilities held by The Company by The Act for the Better Government of India. The Company’s 24,000-man military force was incorporated into the British Army, leaving it with only a shadow of the power it had wielded years earlier.
Its legacy was to last forever, as quoted by The Times in 1874, “[The Company] accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other company ever attempted and as such is likely to attempt in the years to come.” Queen Victoria, the ruling monarch at the time, became the first monarch to use the title ‘Empress of India’.
2010 EAST INDIA COMPANY IS REBORN AND THE FLAGSHIP STORE ON CONDUIT STREET OPENS