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The East India Company

Early years
The London headquarters
Ships and shipbuilding
A dangerous business
Company cargoes
The East India Docks
Final years
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A fleet of East Indiamen at sea
View full size imageA fleet of East Indiamen at sea. © NMM
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.

Trading giant

Model of a Blackwall frigate East Indiaman, c. 1840.
View full size imageModel 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
View full size imageUnloading 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.  

A view of the East India Docks.
View full size imageThe East India Docks. © NMM
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.

Porcelain plate depicting the arms of East India Company.
View full size imagePorcelain 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.

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Customs duties

Find out more
GalleriesThe Lords of the Ocean: Ships of the East India Company
The East India Company's ships were the most magnificent vessels of their era
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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