East India Company, British

East India Company, British

East India Company, British, 1600-1874, company chartered by Queen Elizabeth I for trade with Asia. The original object of the group of merchants involved was to break the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade with the East Indies. However, after 1623, when the English traders at Amboina were massacred by the Dutch, the company admitted defeat in that endeavor and concentrated its activities in India. It had established its first factory at Machilipatnam in 1611, and it gradually acquired unequaled trade privileges from the Mughal emperors. Although the company was soon reaping large profits from its Indian exports (chiefly textiles), it had to deal with serious difficulties both in England and in India. During the 17th cent. its monopoly of Indian trade was constantly challenged by independent English traders called "interlopers." In 1698 a rival company was actually chartered, but the conflict was resolved by a merger of the two companies in 1708. By that time the company had established in India the three presidencies of Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Calcutta (now Kolkata). As Mughal power declined, these settlements became subject to increasing harassment by local princes, and the company began to protect itself by intervening more and more in Indian political affairs. It had, moreover, a serious rival in the French East India Company, which under Joseph François Dupleix launched an aggressive policy of expansion. The victories (1751-60) of Robert Clive over the French made the company dominant in India, and by a treaty of 1765 it assumed control of the administration of Bengal. Revenues from Bengal were used for trade and for personal enrichment. To check the exploitative practices of the company and to gain a share of revenues, the British government intervened and passed the Regulating Act (1773), by which a governor-general of Bengal (whose appointment was subject to government approval) was given charge of all the company's possessions in India. Warren Hastings, the first governor-general, laid the administrative foundations for subsequent British consolidation. By the East India Act of 1784 the government assumed more direct responsibility for British activities in India, setting up a board of control for India. The company continued to control commercial policy and lesser administration, but the British government became increasingly the effective ruler of India. Parliamentary acts of 1813 and 1833 ended the company's trade monopoly. Finally, after the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 the government assumed direct control, and the East India Company was dissolved.

See studies by B. Willson (1903), H. Furber (1948, repr. 1970), L. Sutherland (1952), and B. Gardner (1972); D. Gilmour, The Ruling Caste (2006).

Charles Grant (16 April 1746 – 31 October 1823) was a British politician influential in Indian and domestic affairs who, motivated by his evangelical Christianity, championed the causes of social reform and Christian mission, particularly in India. He served as Chairman of the British East India Company, and as a Member of Parliament, and was deeply associated with the 'Clapham Sect'.


Grant was born at Aldourie, Inverness-shire, Scotland on the same day that his father Alexander Grant was killed fighting for the Jacobites, against the British Crown, at Culloden. However, Charles Grant himself was one of the growing number of Scots who prospered in the service of the British Empire. In 1767 Grant travelled to India to take up a military position. Over subsequent years, he rose in the ranks of the British East India Company. Initially he became superintendent over its trade in Bengal. Then, in 1787, having first acquired a personal fortune through silk manufacturing in Malda, Lord Cornwallis the Governor-General appointed Grant as a member of the East India Company's board of trade. Grant lived a profligate lifestyle as he climbed through the ranks, but after losing two children to smallpox he underwent a religious conversion. Viewing his life, and indeed India, from his new evangelical Christian perspective, was to mold his career from that point.

Grant returned to Britain in 1790 and was elected to Parliament in 1802 for Inverness-shire. He served as an MP until failing health forced him to retire in 1818. However, his relationship with the East India Company did not end. In 1804 he joined the Company's Court of Directors, and in 1805 he became its chairman. He died in Russell Square, London at age 77.

His eldest son, Charles, was born in India and later followed his father into politics, eventually becoming a British peer as Baron Glenelg. His other son Robert followed his father into the Indian service and became Governor of Bombay, as well as being a Christian hymn writer.

Indian affairs

Grant opposed the Governor-General Richard Wellesley's combative and expansionist policies in India, and later supported the unsuccessful parliamentary move to impeach Wellesley. Grant saw Indian society as not only heathen, but also as corrupt and uncivilised. He was appalled by such native customs as exposing the sick, burning lepers, and sati. He believe that Britain's duty was not simply to expand its rule in India, and exploit the continent for its commercial interests, but to civilise and Christianise.

In 1792, Grant wrote the tract "Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain. This famous essay pled for education and Christian mission to be tolerated in India alongside the East India Company's traditional commercial activity. It argued that India could be advanced socially and morally by compelling the Company to permit Christian missionaries into India, a view diametrically opposed to the long-held position of the East India Company that Christian missionary work in India conflicted with its commercial interests and should be prohibited. In 1797, Grant presented his essay to the Company's directors, and then later in 1813, along with the reformer William Wilberforce, successfully to the House of Commons. The Commons ordered its re-printing during the important debates on the renewal of the company's charter.

He was largely responsible for the foundation of East India Company College, which was later erected at Haileybury.

As Chairman of the Company, Grant used his position to sponsor many chaplains to India, among them Claudius Buchanan and Henry Martyn.

Christian humanitarianism

Grant was part of an evangelical Anglican movement of close friends which included such luminaries as the abolitionist Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, John Venn, and John Shore. This 'Clapham sect' welded evangelical theology with the cause of social reform. Both in India and in the Parliament, Grant campaigned for the furtherance of causes of education, social reform, and Christian mission. In 1791, He was heavily involved in the establishment of the Sierra Leone Company, which gave refuge to freed slaves. He served as a vice-president of the British and Foreign Bible Society from its establishment in 1804, and also supported the Church Missionary Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Notes and references

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