The East India Company
|Ships and shipbuilding|
Given that it was such a rich and powerful organization, it is not surprising that the Company used the largest ships that visited the port of London. Even after the eastern market was widened to include other traders in 1813, the Company led the way.
Every season, its fleet of ships, known as East Indiamen, sailed between London and the East Indies. Between 1600 and 1833 the Company's ships made about 4600 voyages from London.
Lords of the ocean
For more than 200 years there was nothing more superior than the East Indiamen anywhere in the shipping world.
The stately, magnificent ships were considered to be the 'Lords of the ocean'.
In 1607, the Company therefore decided to build its own ships and leased a yard in Deptford. Initially, this new policy seemed to work, as the first ships cost only about £10 per ton. However, the shipbuilding and repair yards at Deptford soon proved expensive to run. The Company, ever eager to save money, had second thoughts. Later in the 17th century it went back to the practice of hiring vessels.
Many of the leased vessels were built in private yards on the Thames. The most important of these was Blackwall. The Blackwall shipyard, begun in the late 16th century, continued, under various owners, to repair and build ships for the Company throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
The 'shipping interest'
Many of the East Indiamen that traded between London and the East were built in Indian dockyards. The Charles Grant, for example, was built at Bombay. Ships built in India were constructed using superior tropical hard-woods such as teak. They were more resistant than vessels built from English oak to the sea-worms that ate through the bottoms of many ships.
Although the Company's Indiamen were very beautiful ships, they made very slow journeys to the East Indies. This did not really matter so long as the Company's monopoly continued.
However, when the Company lost its monopoly of trade with China in the 1830s it needed faster vessels to compete with its new rivals.
They were faster than the East Indiamen, which they superceded, but were built to look like well-defended single-deck warships.