The East India Company was a London-based trading organization. It acted as the vehicle for British commercial and imperial expansion in Asia. For more than two centuries, until its demise in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny (1857-59), it dominated both trade and Empire.
|A fleet of East Indiamen at sea. © NMM|
|Model of a Blackwall frigate East Indiaman, c. 1840. © NMM|
Today, not even the most powerful firm can compare in terms of longevity and wide-ranging economic, political and cultural influence. At one time, a tenth of the British exchequer's revenue came from customs duties on the Company's imports. Its armed forces were bigger than those of most nation states. Without it there would have been no British Empire.
Influence on London
|Unloading tea ships in the East India Docks. © NMM|
The Company also played a leading role in London's commercial, cultural and political life.
Its employees included tradesmen, manufacturers, shipbuilders, soldiers, seaman, dock labourers, warehousemen and clerks.
The Company itself had a huge influence on the development of the port of London. It was responsible for the establishment of docks, warehousing and even roads.
|The East India Docks. © NMM|
|Porcelain plate depicting the arms of the East India Company. © NMM|
The 'East India' lobby was a powerful voice in London's business and political life. Events at the Company's headquarters in the City were always watched closely by a suspicious Parliament uneasy about its power and influence.
For centuries, the Company held a monopoly of trade with the east. Its sole trading rights were always a source of controversy and were eventually revoked by Parliament.