Migration from India and Pakistan

Role of the East India Company

Why did the British go to India?

In 1600 a group of London merchants established the East India Company. Queen Elizabeth I granted it a monopoly of English commerce with ‘the East’ and at its height, it controlled half the world’s trade. Its first ships arrived in India in 1608. For 250 years its trading activities - followed by conquest and colonisation - profoundly affected both India and Britain, leading to the establishment of the British Raj (Empire).


The East India Company rapidly established numerous trading bases along India’s coastline. Cheap cotton textiles and other goods were exported from Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Whilst the East India Company ran its business from these major commercial towns, it was guarded by private armies recruited in England.

What was the role of the East India Company?

For the first 150 years the East India Company’s presence was largely confined to the coastal areas. The rule maintained by the Mughal emperors provided a secure framework for trade. As Anglo-French rivalry in Europe spread to India and French trading companies began raising Indian armies, the East India Company expanded its military activities. It began to recruit local soldiers, commanded by British officers, and imported new cavalry and infantry regiments from Britain. As the Mughal Empire went into decline, French and British commanders allied themselves with emerging Indian leaders. Huge rewards were at stake for those who won power in the new regional states.

Look at the map of India below and try to locate the major ports of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta (it will help to know that their names have now changed to Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata!)

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Photos © Tim Smith www.timsmithphotos.com

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