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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

400 years of colonisation ~ since East India Company and Sir Thomas Roe's visit

The Spanish Armada was a Spanish fleet of 130 ships that sailed in Aug 1588, under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia with the purpose of escorting an army from Flanders to invade England. The strategic aim was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I of England and the Tudor establishment of Protestantism in England, with the expectation that this would put a stop to English interference in the Spanish Netherlands and to the harm caused to Spanish interests by English and Dutch privateering.  It was defeated.

Soon after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, London merchants presented a petition to Queen Elizabeth I for permission to sail to the Indian Ocean. The permission was granted and in Apr 1591, three ships sailed from Torbay around the Cape of Good Hope to the Arabian Sea on one of the earliest English overseas Indian expeditions.  In 1596, three more ships sailed east; but were lost at sea.  In 1599, another group of merchants met and stated their intention "to venture in the pretended voyage to the East Indies.  In Dec 1600, the Queen granted a Royal Charter to "George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses" under the name, Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies.

The East India Company (EIC) was originally chartered as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies, and more properly called the Honourable East India Company (HEIC). It was an English joint-stock company, formed to pursue trade with the East Indies but ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent.  The company rose to account for half of the world's trade, particularly trade in basic commodities that included cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. The company also ruled the beginnings of the British Empire in India.

The British East India Company who came in as traders became rulers and  eventually passed on the mantle to British Crown which from 1858 assumed direct control of India.  The East India Company was to be dissolved in 1874 as a result of the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act had no impact on India.   The history of the British Raj refers to the period of British rule on the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947.  In between in 1876,  Queen Victoria  proclaimed as Empress of India.  The British controlled the sub-continent and ruled over hundreds of large and smaller principalities.  

Tracing back, it was in Dec 1600 East India Company was incorporated and were  given monopoly privileges on all trade with the East Indies. The Company's ships first arrived in India, at the port of Surat, in 1608. Sir Thomas Roe reached the court of the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, as the emissary of King James I  and gained for the British the right to establish a factory at Surat. Gradually the British eclipsed the Portugese and over the years they saw a massive expansion of their trading operations in India.  In 1717, the Company achieved its hitherto most notable success when it received a firman or royal dictat from the Mughal Emperor exempting the Company from the payment of custom duties in Bengal.

In 1607, William Hawkins commanded the ship "Hector" for East India Company on a voyage to Surat and Aden loaded with letters & presents from King of England James I.  Hector was captured by the Portuguese. William Hawkins was told that all the ports belong to the "King of Portugal" and none ought to come here without his license. The Portuguese had traded directly with India for over 100 years before the first English East India Company ships reached Surat.

The arrival of English diplomat Sir Thomas Roe heralded the British Raj and it is 400 years since then.  In 1614, Roe was elected Member of Parliament for Tamworth.  From 1615 to 1618, he was ambassador to the court at Agra, India, of the Great Mogul, Jahangir.  At the Mughal court, Roe allegedly became a favourite of Jahangir.   In January 1615, Sir Thomas Roe presented his credentials to the emperor Jahangir as the Ambassador of the King of England. The objective of Thomas Roe was to finish what was left unfinished by Captain Hawkins.  He resided in Agra till 1619 and enabled swiping out the Portuguese Influence from the Mughals.  The English factory at Surat was set on a permanent basis with the Firman, officially recognized by the Emperor as well as the Prince-Governor Khurram.   Sir Thomas Roe’s  work-  "Journal of the mission to the Mogul Empire" is considered  a valuable contribution to the history of India in the early 17th century.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
30th Jan 2015.

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