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Episode
279

The East India Company: The Company That Conquered A Country

Jul 12, 2022
History
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25
minutes

It's the story of how one company turned from a small trading organisation to a massive corporation with a private army of 250,000 soldiers.

In this episode, we'll learn about how The British East India Company took over India.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the East India Company. 

[00:00:28] It’s the story of how one company went from an idea to arguably the most powerful corporation to ever exist, accounting for half of the entire world’s trade and controlling one of the world’s largest countries. 

[00:00:43] So, let’s get right into the cut-throat capitalist story of The East India Company

[00:00:51] Our story starts back in 1600, in London. 

[00:00:56] Although a couple of hundred years later, by the 1800s. Britain would have an empire so large and powerful that it would claim that the sun never set on the British Empire, in 1600 Britain was just one of several small European countries vying for global dominance. 

[00:01:16] France, Spain, Portugal and Holland - all these European countries all had started to exert a growing influence on world trade. 

[00:01:26] But they were all dwarfed by, they were much smaller than, the vast Chinese and Mughal empires in the East. 

[00:01:34] And it was in the East that riches were to be found. 

[00:01:38] In particular, spices from Indonesia. 

[00:01:42] Now, there’s an entire episode on the history of spice–it’s episode 168–so I’d encourage you to listen to that one if you haven’t already.

[00:01:51] But, long story short, spices were incredibly profitable goods to trade. 

[00:01:57] They didn’t take up much room in a ship, and they could be sold for a lot of money back in Europe. 

[00:02:04] They were used for everything from covering up nasty smells to adding flavour to food. 

[00:02:10] The problem was that there were never enough of them, and that it was expensive to go to the Western Pacific Ocean to actually get these spices. 

[00:02:20] You needed boats and sailors, and by the time you had sailed there, got the spices and come back, it could take several years. 

[00:02:30] So, in 1600 a group of wealthy British merchants decided to get together to form a company to buy ships and hire sailors. 

[00:02:42] This was what was called a “joint stock” company. In practice, this meant that everyone put in a bit of money and in return they would become a part-owner and receive a share of the profits. 

[00:02:57] Although most companies are formed this way now, and it wasn’t completely unique at the time, it was a relatively new structure, and what it did was separate the owners of the company from the people who were paid to operate it. 

[00:03:14] This structure of having multiple owners also meant that, because there were 200 or so initial investors, the company was able to raise enough money to start, to get off the ground

[00:03:27] It needed ships and men to sail them, and the process of sailing to the Spice Islands, buying lots of spices and returning back could take several years, so the company needed a large injection of money to get it started.

[00:03:43] Another important point to mention is that the company, which was called the East India Company, was given a “royal charter” by Queen Elizabeth I of England. 

[00:03:54] This was a document signed by the queen, which not only gave the company an outward sense of legitimacy and high status, it also gave it exclusive trading rights to the Far East and the ability to have its own army–something that would come in handy later on. 

[00:04:13] Now, the British East India Company wasn’t the only East India Company - there was, most famously, a Dutch East India Company but there were also Danish, French, Portuguese, Genoese, Swedish and Austrian East India companies. 

[00:04:30] And soon enough after the first British East India Company ship set sail, in 1601, it found that there was a lot of competition for spices in the East Indies, in modern day Indonesia. 

[00:04:43] The Dutch East India Company had developed a powerful monopoly on global spice trade with its iron grip, its tight hold, on the Spice Islands.

[00:04:55] But one place that had been relatively untouched by the Europeans was the Indian subcontinent - essentially the area that includes all of modern day Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 

[00:05:10] The Portuguese, Spanish and French had landed there and set up some trading posts, but much of the area was controlled by the powerful Mughal Empire. 

[00:05:22] In the early 1600s this empire, the Mughal empire, covered about 4 million square kilometres and ruled over approximately 100 million people - it was far richer and more powerful than any of the fledgling European empires. 

[00:05:40] And when the first traders from the British East India Company arrived in India, in 1608, there was no grand plan for imperial expansion, for taking over the country, as they would do later. 

[00:05:54] They were there to make money, to trade. 

[00:05:58] They came looking for spices, but it wouldn’t be spices that would become the main commodity the East India Company traded. 

[00:06:06] It would be textiles, cloth, or woven fabric. 

[00:06:11] India had a very advanced textile industry, and the East India Company would buy the latest textiles and send them back to Britain. 

[00:06:22] Indian textiles were in high demand back in Britain, and soon enough the company was setting up factories in Indian coastal cities. 

[00:06:32] At the time, the Mughal emperor was happy for the British to do this - after all, they wanted to trade with him, they bought Indian textiles, and everyone was making money. 

[00:06:44] The British were also tiny compared to his empire, and he was well aware of the power imbalance between the two powers.

[00:06:54] He would even, reportedly, make some British diplomats wait several years before they were granted an audience, a meeting with him. 

[00:07:04] The one thing the Mughal emperor did grant the British though was an exemption from taxes, they didn’t need to pay local taxes. This will be important later on in our story. 

[00:07:16] But for the first 130 years or so of the British East India Company’s existence in India, it was principally a trading company, a company that would buy textiles from Indian merchants and sail them back to Britain to sell for a profit. 

[00:07:36] This would all change in the mid 18th century, when the British East India Company began its transition, its change, from a trading company to a corporation that ruled all of India. 

[00:07:49] And it happened for a few reasons. 

[00:07:53] Firstly, the collapse of the Mughal empire, which started in the early 18th century and was sped up with the invasion of India by the Persian ruler Nadir Shah in 1739. 

[00:08:06] Secondly, India became an increasing battleground for tensions between Britain and France back in Europe. There were frequent skirmishes, small battles, between the British and the French in India, and both sides had formed alliances with local Indian rulers as a way to try to reinforce their military capabilities. 

[00:08:29] To defend itself against the French, the British East India Company had started to build up an army mainly filled with Indian soldiers. 

[00:08:39] This all culminated in the year 1757 with the Battle of Plassey, which is often considered to be a turning point in the history of the British East India Company, the history of India, and even world colonial history.

[00:08:56] The battle pitted the British East India Company against a local ruler called The Nawab of Bengal and his French allies. 

[00:09:05] It was both a battle between the British and the French, but also a battle between the British and a local Indian ruler. 

[00:09:13] Now, why, you might be thinking, was a trading company fighting battles with local rulers and their European allies? 

[00:09:21] Well, with the Mughal empire in decline, local Indian rulers were becoming increasingly powerful, and they would often seek to form alliances with foreign trading companies, so you would have situations where armies of trading companies from different countries, let’s say Britain and France, would fight each other.

[00:09:43] In 1757, this particular local ruler, the Nawab of Bengal was unhappy with the East India Company.

[00:09:52] It didn’t pay him taxes, because of the exemption the Mughal emperor had given it, and it had been building fortified trading posts in his territory.

[00:10:02] These forts were in principle to protect against attack from other European powers, but perfectly reasonably the Nawab of Bengal saw them as a threat to his power.

[00:10:15] Together with a small French force, the Nawab of Bengal attacked the British fort in Calcutta. 

[00:10:22] Unprepared, the company’s civilian employees, plus a small group of mostly unprofessional soldiers, either attempted to escape or surrendered. 

[00:10:34] When the Nawab’s army took over the town, the remaining East India Company civilians and soldiers were locked inside a small underground room that was normally used as a sort of prison cell, and was nicknamed “The Black Hole”. 

[00:10:50] The hole measured 4.3 by 5.4 metres, and it would normally be used for a maximum of 6 prisoners.

[00:11:00] On the night of 20th June, 1757, almost 150 people, it’s believed, were locked in The Black Hole without any food or water.

[00:11:12] Perhaps you can imagine what happened next.

[00:11:15] With no water or fresh air, in the June heat, it’s thought that up to 123 of the prisoners inside died overnight.

[00:11:25] A horrible death, but these would be far from the only people to meet a grim end in the subsequent months and years.

[00:11:34] When word got out what had happened, the East India Company leaders decided to seek revenge.

[00:11:41] Lieutenant-colonel Robert Clive, who was originally an East India Company clerk but now one of the company’s top military leaders, was sent to free Calcutta. 

[00:11:52] Clive led a small army and managed to liberate Calcutta, but there was still the issue of the Nawab of Bengal to deal with. 

[00:12:01] And this is what takes us to The Battle of Plassey.

[00:12:05] The two armies met at a place called Plassey, approximately 150km north of Calcutta.

[00:12:12] Clive’s army had around 3,000 men, while the Nawab and French forces numbered 50,000.

[00:12:21] But luck, or perhap cunning, was on Clive’s side. 

[00:12:26] He had managed to bribe, to secretly pay, one of the Nawab’s leaders, a man called Mir Jafar. 

[00:12:34] Mir Jafar was in control of about ¾ of the Nawab’s forces, and when the two armies met on the battlefield, Mir Jafar simply instructed his soldiers to not engage, to not fight.

[00:12:49] It wasn’t really much of a battle - the British forces only lost 22 men while the Nawab lost around 500. 

[00:12:59] But the damage had been done, and this “battle” became the deciding incident in the fate of India.

[00:13:07] Mir Jafar was rewarded by the British with the position of Nawab, and the British now had their man in power. 

[00:13:15] After the Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company was able to put pressure on the severely weakened Mughal emperor to appoint it as the main tax-collector for the country, and over the next 100 years it went from trading company to country-administrator, essentially giving it the right to govern the entire country.

[00:13:39] With this, it continued to build up its army, which would consist primarily of local, Indian soldiers.

[00:13:47] By the 1790s this army numbered about 100,000, and by 1815, the East India Company had an army in India of almost a quarter of a million troops - more soldiers than the entire official British army.

[00:14:04] By this time India had turned from an important trading partner to a colonial interest. 

[00:14:11] This was especially so after the loss of the American colonies, which was also partially caused by the East India Company, or at least by the British government’s treatment of the East India Company. 

[00:14:25] In an attempt to support The East India Company, the British Parliament decided to grant it a monopoly on the sale of tea to British American colonies, meaning it didn’t have to pay taxes or have to worry about British competition. 

[00:14:40] This put American tea merchants out of business, and culminated in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, an important episode in American history that led to the American revolution and the kicking out of the British in 1776. 

[00:14:58] So, having lost its most valuable colony, the Americas, an increasing importance was placed on India. 

[00:15:06] By the start of the 19th century the British East India Company had succeeded in kicking out all of the other European powers in India, defeating the Mughal emperor, and it was now in charge of all of the collection of taxes. 

[00:15:20] Essentially, it ruled the country, it had political control over the entire state. 

[00:15:27] But while you might have thought that this would bring with it huge profits and wealth, it was during the late 18th and early 19th century that the East India Company actually started to run into financial difficulties. 

[00:15:41] Back in Britain, the Industrial Revolution was well underway. Indian textiles were no longer so competitive, and in fact it was often cheaper to make clothes in Britain and export them to India. 

[00:15:56] What’s more, having a standing army of a quarter of a million men was not cheap, and the East India Company had to ask the British government for financial support on several occasions. 

[00:16:09] By this time the East India Company was a de facto extension of the British state. 

[00:16:16] It was still independent, however not only was it supported by the state but it was part-owned by some of the most powerful politicians in the country, with 25% of British members of parliament owning shares in the East India Company.

[00:16:33] Put another way, 1 in 4 politicians had a personal financial interest in the British state supporting the East India Company.

[00:16:43] But the textile industry was becoming less and less profitable, so the East India Company looked for other goods to trade. 

[00:16:52] There was one commodity that it could still make a healthy profit trading: Chinese tea. 

[00:16:58] Chinese tea was the next big thing in Europe and the East India Company wanted a piece of the action. 

[00:17:05] The only problem was that the British East India Company simply didn’t have enough money to pay for the tea from the Chinese tea growers. 

[00:17:14] Britain had adopted the gold standard, it mainly had gold reserves, but the Chinese used silver. 

[00:17:22] To get silver, Britain needed to sell something to the Chinese, but the Chinese empire was proudly self-sufficient, with the Chinese Emperor Qianlong famously writing that “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders.” 

[00:17:43] But there was one product the British could bring into China, which they could sell for silver, with which they could buy Chinese tea. 

[00:17:53] Opium, the powerful drug made from poppies

[00:17:57] The East India Company used its Bengal territories to grow poppies and illegally smuggle opium into China in return for silver with which they bought their tea. 

[00:18:09] This resulted in addiction, suffering and deaths, triggering the First Opium War. 

[00:18:16] We have an entire episode on this, by the way, it’s episode 93, so I’d recommend listening to that one if you’d like to learn more about it. 

[00:18:24] Anyway, back to our story. 

[00:18:27] The British East India Company has gone from a relatively small trading company to a corporation running India, smuggling opium to China, and triggering vast and expensive wars.

[00:18:40] There were concerns about the growing influence and power that Company employees had in India. 

[00:18:45] Many were growing spectacularly wealthy, and there were plenty of valid concerns about corruption. 

[00:18:53] As you might imagine, if you are in charge of collecting taxes there is a lot of room for anything from corruption to extortion, and there were reports of towns and villages being ransacked, being destroyed and robbed, by British company tax collectors. 

[00:19:11] The East India Company was in charge of ruling the country, but its primary concern was on its bottom line, on making money, not for the people it was in charge of.

[00:19:23] This is perhaps no better illustrated than in The Great Bengal famine of 1770.

[00:19:30] The East India Company had forced farmers to switch from producing food crops to producing crops like tea and cotton rather than food to feed themselves.

[00:19:42] A bad harvest pushed things over the edge, and it’s thought that up to 10 million people starved to death, all while the British East India Company employees would have plenty of food for themselves.

[00:19:56] This is just one of many examples of maltreatment of the local Indian population under the British East India Company.

[00:20:05] And in fact, the ultimate downfall of the East India Company would come from within, from the soldiers that it had hired for its private army.

[00:20:17] As a reminder, this army, at its peak, numbered around 250,000 men, over 80% of whom were local Indians.

[00:20:28] Many of these Indian soldiers were unhappy with their levels of pay and promotion. 

[00:20:34] What’s more, a lot of soldiers from higher levels of Indian society saw the company’s attempts to recruit soldiers from what were seen as lower levels of society as being a direct insult, given India’s strict caste, the social class, system. 

[00:20:52] To add insult to injury, cartridges for the East India Company's new rifles, their new guns, were said to have been greased with pig and cow fat, making them off limits for both Hindus and Muslims alike. 

[00:21:09] Combined with the famine, corruption, and general maltreatment and suffering, enough was enough.

[00:21:17] In 1857, in a town just outside Delhi, Indian soldiers, who were employed by the East India Company, rose up and attacked British officers, killing British soldiers and other company employees, as well as other Indians who refused to join in the movement. 

[00:21:36] Over the next year and a half, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people also joined in with them. 

[00:21:42] In retaliation, as revenge, and to make sure that they had definitely crushed all signs of the uprising, the East India Company tortured and killed thousands of suspected rebels

[00:21:55] In a particularly grisly and violent display, the chosen method of execution for Indian rebels was to tie them to the front of a cannon and fire it, literally blowing the rebels to pieces.

[00:22:11] Alarmed and horrified by the bloodshed, the British state finally got to grips with the East India Company. 

[00:22:18] In 1858, the Government of India Act transferred the East India Company's possessions to the British Crown, with Queen Victoria becoming the ruler of India. 

[00:22:30] The East India Company continued to exist for another 15 years, trading tea for the British government, before finally closing down in 1874. 

[00:22:42] After 274 years the British East India Company was no more, but its legacy is longstanding both in Britain and India. 

[00:22:53] From the docklands of London, which were built for the East India Company, to grand country houses built on shareholder profits, from colonial outposts in India through to the Indian civil service, there are traces of the East India Company that are still very visible today. 

[00:23:11] It is clearly a complicated legacy, one of a corporation from a tiny island in Northern Europe that took over one of the largest countries in the world, started wars, trafficked drugs, and mercilessly punished anyone who stood in its way. 

[00:23:28] It’s easy and perhaps simplistic to make parallels between the powerful multinational corporations of today, but when you realise that there was basically no oversight or accountability, when you realise the extents to which the East India Company was prepared to go in pursuit of its profits and you see the true scale of the East India Company, it’s clear that it was in a league of its own

[00:23:56] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the East India Company. 

[00:24:01] I hope it was an interesting one, and it has shed some light on what happens, or rather what “happened”, when a company is allowed to do almost anything it wants, and is answerable only to its shareholders.

[00:24:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:24:19] What do you think about the legacy of the British East India Company? 

[00:24:23] How do you think the history of India, or indeed the world, would have been different without it? 

[00:24:29] Do you think that the East India Company had any positive lasting impact for India, or was it all negative?

[00:24:36] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:24:40] You can jump right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com, and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:49] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:24:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode. 

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the East India Company. 

[00:00:28] It’s the story of how one company went from an idea to arguably the most powerful corporation to ever exist, accounting for half of the entire world’s trade and controlling one of the world’s largest countries. 

[00:00:43] So, let’s get right into the cut-throat capitalist story of The East India Company

[00:00:51] Our story starts back in 1600, in London. 

[00:00:56] Although a couple of hundred years later, by the 1800s. Britain would have an empire so large and powerful that it would claim that the sun never set on the British Empire, in 1600 Britain was just one of several small European countries vying for global dominance. 

[00:01:16] France, Spain, Portugal and Holland - all these European countries all had started to exert a growing influence on world trade. 

[00:01:26] But they were all dwarfed by, they were much smaller than, the vast Chinese and Mughal empires in the East. 

[00:01:34] And it was in the East that riches were to be found. 

[00:01:38] In particular, spices from Indonesia. 

[00:01:42] Now, there’s an entire episode on the history of spice–it’s episode 168–so I’d encourage you to listen to that one if you haven’t already.

[00:01:51] But, long story short, spices were incredibly profitable goods to trade. 

[00:01:57] They didn’t take up much room in a ship, and they could be sold for a lot of money back in Europe. 

[00:02:04] They were used for everything from covering up nasty smells to adding flavour to food. 

[00:02:10] The problem was that there were never enough of them, and that it was expensive to go to the Western Pacific Ocean to actually get these spices. 

[00:02:20] You needed boats and sailors, and by the time you had sailed there, got the spices and come back, it could take several years. 

[00:02:30] So, in 1600 a group of wealthy British merchants decided to get together to form a company to buy ships and hire sailors. 

[00:02:42] This was what was called a “joint stock” company. In practice, this meant that everyone put in a bit of money and in return they would become a part-owner and receive a share of the profits. 

[00:02:57] Although most companies are formed this way now, and it wasn’t completely unique at the time, it was a relatively new structure, and what it did was separate the owners of the company from the people who were paid to operate it. 

[00:03:14] This structure of having multiple owners also meant that, because there were 200 or so initial investors, the company was able to raise enough money to start, to get off the ground

[00:03:27] It needed ships and men to sail them, and the process of sailing to the Spice Islands, buying lots of spices and returning back could take several years, so the company needed a large injection of money to get it started.

[00:03:43] Another important point to mention is that the company, which was called the East India Company, was given a “royal charter” by Queen Elizabeth I of England. 

[00:03:54] This was a document signed by the queen, which not only gave the company an outward sense of legitimacy and high status, it also gave it exclusive trading rights to the Far East and the ability to have its own army–something that would come in handy later on. 

[00:04:13] Now, the British East India Company wasn’t the only East India Company - there was, most famously, a Dutch East India Company but there were also Danish, French, Portuguese, Genoese, Swedish and Austrian East India companies. 

[00:04:30] And soon enough after the first British East India Company ship set sail, in 1601, it found that there was a lot of competition for spices in the East Indies, in modern day Indonesia. 

[00:04:43] The Dutch East India Company had developed a powerful monopoly on global spice trade with its iron grip, its tight hold, on the Spice Islands.

[00:04:55] But one place that had been relatively untouched by the Europeans was the Indian subcontinent - essentially the area that includes all of modern day Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 

[00:05:10] The Portuguese, Spanish and French had landed there and set up some trading posts, but much of the area was controlled by the powerful Mughal Empire. 

[00:05:22] In the early 1600s this empire, the Mughal empire, covered about 4 million square kilometres and ruled over approximately 100 million people - it was far richer and more powerful than any of the fledgling European empires. 

[00:05:40] And when the first traders from the British East India Company arrived in India, in 1608, there was no grand plan for imperial expansion, for taking over the country, as they would do later. 

[00:05:54] They were there to make money, to trade. 

[00:05:58] They came looking for spices, but it wouldn’t be spices that would become the main commodity the East India Company traded. 

[00:06:06] It would be textiles, cloth, or woven fabric. 

[00:06:11] India had a very advanced textile industry, and the East India Company would buy the latest textiles and send them back to Britain. 

[00:06:22] Indian textiles were in high demand back in Britain, and soon enough the company was setting up factories in Indian coastal cities. 

[00:06:32] At the time, the Mughal emperor was happy for the British to do this - after all, they wanted to trade with him, they bought Indian textiles, and everyone was making money. 

[00:06:44] The British were also tiny compared to his empire, and he was well aware of the power imbalance between the two powers.

[00:06:54] He would even, reportedly, make some British diplomats wait several years before they were granted an audience, a meeting with him. 

[00:07:04] The one thing the Mughal emperor did grant the British though was an exemption from taxes, they didn’t need to pay local taxes. This will be important later on in our story. 

[00:07:16] But for the first 130 years or so of the British East India Company’s existence in India, it was principally a trading company, a company that would buy textiles from Indian merchants and sail them back to Britain to sell for a profit. 

[00:07:36] This would all change in the mid 18th century, when the British East India Company began its transition, its change, from a trading company to a corporation that ruled all of India. 

[00:07:49] And it happened for a few reasons. 

[00:07:53] Firstly, the collapse of the Mughal empire, which started in the early 18th century and was sped up with the invasion of India by the Persian ruler Nadir Shah in 1739. 

[00:08:06] Secondly, India became an increasing battleground for tensions between Britain and France back in Europe. There were frequent skirmishes, small battles, between the British and the French in India, and both sides had formed alliances with local Indian rulers as a way to try to reinforce their military capabilities. 

[00:08:29] To defend itself against the French, the British East India Company had started to build up an army mainly filled with Indian soldiers. 

[00:08:39] This all culminated in the year 1757 with the Battle of Plassey, which is often considered to be a turning point in the history of the British East India Company, the history of India, and even world colonial history.

[00:08:56] The battle pitted the British East India Company against a local ruler called The Nawab of Bengal and his French allies. 

[00:09:05] It was both a battle between the British and the French, but also a battle between the British and a local Indian ruler. 

[00:09:13] Now, why, you might be thinking, was a trading company fighting battles with local rulers and their European allies? 

[00:09:21] Well, with the Mughal empire in decline, local Indian rulers were becoming increasingly powerful, and they would often seek to form alliances with foreign trading companies, so you would have situations where armies of trading companies from different countries, let’s say Britain and France, would fight each other.

[00:09:43] In 1757, this particular local ruler, the Nawab of Bengal was unhappy with the East India Company.

[00:09:52] It didn’t pay him taxes, because of the exemption the Mughal emperor had given it, and it had been building fortified trading posts in his territory.

[00:10:02] These forts were in principle to protect against attack from other European powers, but perfectly reasonably the Nawab of Bengal saw them as a threat to his power.

[00:10:15] Together with a small French force, the Nawab of Bengal attacked the British fort in Calcutta. 

[00:10:22] Unprepared, the company’s civilian employees, plus a small group of mostly unprofessional soldiers, either attempted to escape or surrendered. 

[00:10:34] When the Nawab’s army took over the town, the remaining East India Company civilians and soldiers were locked inside a small underground room that was normally used as a sort of prison cell, and was nicknamed “The Black Hole”. 

[00:10:50] The hole measured 4.3 by 5.4 metres, and it would normally be used for a maximum of 6 prisoners.

[00:11:00] On the night of 20th June, 1757, almost 150 people, it’s believed, were locked in The Black Hole without any food or water.

[00:11:12] Perhaps you can imagine what happened next.

[00:11:15] With no water or fresh air, in the June heat, it’s thought that up to 123 of the prisoners inside died overnight.

[00:11:25] A horrible death, but these would be far from the only people to meet a grim end in the subsequent months and years.

[00:11:34] When word got out what had happened, the East India Company leaders decided to seek revenge.

[00:11:41] Lieutenant-colonel Robert Clive, who was originally an East India Company clerk but now one of the company’s top military leaders, was sent to free Calcutta. 

[00:11:52] Clive led a small army and managed to liberate Calcutta, but there was still the issue of the Nawab of Bengal to deal with. 

[00:12:01] And this is what takes us to The Battle of Plassey.

[00:12:05] The two armies met at a place called Plassey, approximately 150km north of Calcutta.

[00:12:12] Clive’s army had around 3,000 men, while the Nawab and French forces numbered 50,000.

[00:12:21] But luck, or perhap cunning, was on Clive’s side. 

[00:12:26] He had managed to bribe, to secretly pay, one of the Nawab’s leaders, a man called Mir Jafar. 

[00:12:34] Mir Jafar was in control of about ¾ of the Nawab’s forces, and when the two armies met on the battlefield, Mir Jafar simply instructed his soldiers to not engage, to not fight.

[00:12:49] It wasn’t really much of a battle - the British forces only lost 22 men while the Nawab lost around 500. 

[00:12:59] But the damage had been done, and this “battle” became the deciding incident in the fate of India.

[00:13:07] Mir Jafar was rewarded by the British with the position of Nawab, and the British now had their man in power. 

[00:13:15] After the Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company was able to put pressure on the severely weakened Mughal emperor to appoint it as the main tax-collector for the country, and over the next 100 years it went from trading company to country-administrator, essentially giving it the right to govern the entire country.

[00:13:39] With this, it continued to build up its army, which would consist primarily of local, Indian soldiers.

[00:13:47] By the 1790s this army numbered about 100,000, and by 1815, the East India Company had an army in India of almost a quarter of a million troops - more soldiers than the entire official British army.

[00:14:04] By this time India had turned from an important trading partner to a colonial interest. 

[00:14:11] This was especially so after the loss of the American colonies, which was also partially caused by the East India Company, or at least by the British government’s treatment of the East India Company. 

[00:14:25] In an attempt to support The East India Company, the British Parliament decided to grant it a monopoly on the sale of tea to British American colonies, meaning it didn’t have to pay taxes or have to worry about British competition. 

[00:14:40] This put American tea merchants out of business, and culminated in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, an important episode in American history that led to the American revolution and the kicking out of the British in 1776. 

[00:14:58] So, having lost its most valuable colony, the Americas, an increasing importance was placed on India. 

[00:15:06] By the start of the 19th century the British East India Company had succeeded in kicking out all of the other European powers in India, defeating the Mughal emperor, and it was now in charge of all of the collection of taxes. 

[00:15:20] Essentially, it ruled the country, it had political control over the entire state. 

[00:15:27] But while you might have thought that this would bring with it huge profits and wealth, it was during the late 18th and early 19th century that the East India Company actually started to run into financial difficulties. 

[00:15:41] Back in Britain, the Industrial Revolution was well underway. Indian textiles were no longer so competitive, and in fact it was often cheaper to make clothes in Britain and export them to India. 

[00:15:56] What’s more, having a standing army of a quarter of a million men was not cheap, and the East India Company had to ask the British government for financial support on several occasions. 

[00:16:09] By this time the East India Company was a de facto extension of the British state. 

[00:16:16] It was still independent, however not only was it supported by the state but it was part-owned by some of the most powerful politicians in the country, with 25% of British members of parliament owning shares in the East India Company.

[00:16:33] Put another way, 1 in 4 politicians had a personal financial interest in the British state supporting the East India Company.

[00:16:43] But the textile industry was becoming less and less profitable, so the East India Company looked for other goods to trade. 

[00:16:52] There was one commodity that it could still make a healthy profit trading: Chinese tea. 

[00:16:58] Chinese tea was the next big thing in Europe and the East India Company wanted a piece of the action. 

[00:17:05] The only problem was that the British East India Company simply didn’t have enough money to pay for the tea from the Chinese tea growers. 

[00:17:14] Britain had adopted the gold standard, it mainly had gold reserves, but the Chinese used silver. 

[00:17:22] To get silver, Britain needed to sell something to the Chinese, but the Chinese empire was proudly self-sufficient, with the Chinese Emperor Qianlong famously writing that “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders.” 

[00:17:43] But there was one product the British could bring into China, which they could sell for silver, with which they could buy Chinese tea. 

[00:17:53] Opium, the powerful drug made from poppies

[00:17:57] The East India Company used its Bengal territories to grow poppies and illegally smuggle opium into China in return for silver with which they bought their tea. 

[00:18:09] This resulted in addiction, suffering and deaths, triggering the First Opium War. 

[00:18:16] We have an entire episode on this, by the way, it’s episode 93, so I’d recommend listening to that one if you’d like to learn more about it. 

[00:18:24] Anyway, back to our story. 

[00:18:27] The British East India Company has gone from a relatively small trading company to a corporation running India, smuggling opium to China, and triggering vast and expensive wars.

[00:18:40] There were concerns about the growing influence and power that Company employees had in India. 

[00:18:45] Many were growing spectacularly wealthy, and there were plenty of valid concerns about corruption. 

[00:18:53] As you might imagine, if you are in charge of collecting taxes there is a lot of room for anything from corruption to extortion, and there were reports of towns and villages being ransacked, being destroyed and robbed, by British company tax collectors. 

[00:19:11] The East India Company was in charge of ruling the country, but its primary concern was on its bottom line, on making money, not for the people it was in charge of.

[00:19:23] This is perhaps no better illustrated than in The Great Bengal famine of 1770.

[00:19:30] The East India Company had forced farmers to switch from producing food crops to producing crops like tea and cotton rather than food to feed themselves.

[00:19:42] A bad harvest pushed things over the edge, and it’s thought that up to 10 million people starved to death, all while the British East India Company employees would have plenty of food for themselves.

[00:19:56] This is just one of many examples of maltreatment of the local Indian population under the British East India Company.

[00:20:05] And in fact, the ultimate downfall of the East India Company would come from within, from the soldiers that it had hired for its private army.

[00:20:17] As a reminder, this army, at its peak, numbered around 250,000 men, over 80% of whom were local Indians.

[00:20:28] Many of these Indian soldiers were unhappy with their levels of pay and promotion. 

[00:20:34] What’s more, a lot of soldiers from higher levels of Indian society saw the company’s attempts to recruit soldiers from what were seen as lower levels of society as being a direct insult, given India’s strict caste, the social class, system. 

[00:20:52] To add insult to injury, cartridges for the East India Company's new rifles, their new guns, were said to have been greased with pig and cow fat, making them off limits for both Hindus and Muslims alike. 

[00:21:09] Combined with the famine, corruption, and general maltreatment and suffering, enough was enough.

[00:21:17] In 1857, in a town just outside Delhi, Indian soldiers, who were employed by the East India Company, rose up and attacked British officers, killing British soldiers and other company employees, as well as other Indians who refused to join in the movement. 

[00:21:36] Over the next year and a half, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people also joined in with them. 

[00:21:42] In retaliation, as revenge, and to make sure that they had definitely crushed all signs of the uprising, the East India Company tortured and killed thousands of suspected rebels

[00:21:55] In a particularly grisly and violent display, the chosen method of execution for Indian rebels was to tie them to the front of a cannon and fire it, literally blowing the rebels to pieces.

[00:22:11] Alarmed and horrified by the bloodshed, the British state finally got to grips with the East India Company. 

[00:22:18] In 1858, the Government of India Act transferred the East India Company's possessions to the British Crown, with Queen Victoria becoming the ruler of India. 

[00:22:30] The East India Company continued to exist for another 15 years, trading tea for the British government, before finally closing down in 1874. 

[00:22:42] After 274 years the British East India Company was no more, but its legacy is longstanding both in Britain and India. 

[00:22:53] From the docklands of London, which were built for the East India Company, to grand country houses built on shareholder profits, from colonial outposts in India through to the Indian civil service, there are traces of the East India Company that are still very visible today. 

[00:23:11] It is clearly a complicated legacy, one of a corporation from a tiny island in Northern Europe that took over one of the largest countries in the world, started wars, trafficked drugs, and mercilessly punished anyone who stood in its way. 

[00:23:28] It’s easy and perhaps simplistic to make parallels between the powerful multinational corporations of today, but when you realise that there was basically no oversight or accountability, when you realise the extents to which the East India Company was prepared to go in pursuit of its profits and you see the true scale of the East India Company, it’s clear that it was in a league of its own

[00:23:56] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the East India Company. 

[00:24:01] I hope it was an interesting one, and it has shed some light on what happens, or rather what “happened”, when a company is allowed to do almost anything it wants, and is answerable only to its shareholders.

[00:24:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:24:19] What do you think about the legacy of the British East India Company? 

[00:24:23] How do you think the history of India, or indeed the world, would have been different without it? 

[00:24:29] Do you think that the East India Company had any positive lasting impact for India, or was it all negative?

[00:24:36] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:24:40] You can jump right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com, and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:49] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:24:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode. 

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the East India Company. 

[00:00:28] It’s the story of how one company went from an idea to arguably the most powerful corporation to ever exist, accounting for half of the entire world’s trade and controlling one of the world’s largest countries. 

[00:00:43] So, let’s get right into the cut-throat capitalist story of The East India Company

[00:00:51] Our story starts back in 1600, in London. 

[00:00:56] Although a couple of hundred years later, by the 1800s. Britain would have an empire so large and powerful that it would claim that the sun never set on the British Empire, in 1600 Britain was just one of several small European countries vying for global dominance. 

[00:01:16] France, Spain, Portugal and Holland - all these European countries all had started to exert a growing influence on world trade. 

[00:01:26] But they were all dwarfed by, they were much smaller than, the vast Chinese and Mughal empires in the East. 

[00:01:34] And it was in the East that riches were to be found. 

[00:01:38] In particular, spices from Indonesia. 

[00:01:42] Now, there’s an entire episode on the history of spice–it’s episode 168–so I’d encourage you to listen to that one if you haven’t already.

[00:01:51] But, long story short, spices were incredibly profitable goods to trade. 

[00:01:57] They didn’t take up much room in a ship, and they could be sold for a lot of money back in Europe. 

[00:02:04] They were used for everything from covering up nasty smells to adding flavour to food. 

[00:02:10] The problem was that there were never enough of them, and that it was expensive to go to the Western Pacific Ocean to actually get these spices. 

[00:02:20] You needed boats and sailors, and by the time you had sailed there, got the spices and come back, it could take several years. 

[00:02:30] So, in 1600 a group of wealthy British merchants decided to get together to form a company to buy ships and hire sailors. 

[00:02:42] This was what was called a “joint stock” company. In practice, this meant that everyone put in a bit of money and in return they would become a part-owner and receive a share of the profits. 

[00:02:57] Although most companies are formed this way now, and it wasn’t completely unique at the time, it was a relatively new structure, and what it did was separate the owners of the company from the people who were paid to operate it. 

[00:03:14] This structure of having multiple owners also meant that, because there were 200 or so initial investors, the company was able to raise enough money to start, to get off the ground

[00:03:27] It needed ships and men to sail them, and the process of sailing to the Spice Islands, buying lots of spices and returning back could take several years, so the company needed a large injection of money to get it started.

[00:03:43] Another important point to mention is that the company, which was called the East India Company, was given a “royal charter” by Queen Elizabeth I of England. 

[00:03:54] This was a document signed by the queen, which not only gave the company an outward sense of legitimacy and high status, it also gave it exclusive trading rights to the Far East and the ability to have its own army–something that would come in handy later on. 

[00:04:13] Now, the British East India Company wasn’t the only East India Company - there was, most famously, a Dutch East India Company but there were also Danish, French, Portuguese, Genoese, Swedish and Austrian East India companies. 

[00:04:30] And soon enough after the first British East India Company ship set sail, in 1601, it found that there was a lot of competition for spices in the East Indies, in modern day Indonesia. 

[00:04:43] The Dutch East India Company had developed a powerful monopoly on global spice trade with its iron grip, its tight hold, on the Spice Islands.

[00:04:55] But one place that had been relatively untouched by the Europeans was the Indian subcontinent - essentially the area that includes all of modern day Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 

[00:05:10] The Portuguese, Spanish and French had landed there and set up some trading posts, but much of the area was controlled by the powerful Mughal Empire. 

[00:05:22] In the early 1600s this empire, the Mughal empire, covered about 4 million square kilometres and ruled over approximately 100 million people - it was far richer and more powerful than any of the fledgling European empires. 

[00:05:40] And when the first traders from the British East India Company arrived in India, in 1608, there was no grand plan for imperial expansion, for taking over the country, as they would do later. 

[00:05:54] They were there to make money, to trade. 

[00:05:58] They came looking for spices, but it wouldn’t be spices that would become the main commodity the East India Company traded. 

[00:06:06] It would be textiles, cloth, or woven fabric. 

[00:06:11] India had a very advanced textile industry, and the East India Company would buy the latest textiles and send them back to Britain. 

[00:06:22] Indian textiles were in high demand back in Britain, and soon enough the company was setting up factories in Indian coastal cities. 

[00:06:32] At the time, the Mughal emperor was happy for the British to do this - after all, they wanted to trade with him, they bought Indian textiles, and everyone was making money. 

[00:06:44] The British were also tiny compared to his empire, and he was well aware of the power imbalance between the two powers.

[00:06:54] He would even, reportedly, make some British diplomats wait several years before they were granted an audience, a meeting with him. 

[00:07:04] The one thing the Mughal emperor did grant the British though was an exemption from taxes, they didn’t need to pay local taxes. This will be important later on in our story. 

[00:07:16] But for the first 130 years or so of the British East India Company’s existence in India, it was principally a trading company, a company that would buy textiles from Indian merchants and sail them back to Britain to sell for a profit. 

[00:07:36] This would all change in the mid 18th century, when the British East India Company began its transition, its change, from a trading company to a corporation that ruled all of India. 

[00:07:49] And it happened for a few reasons. 

[00:07:53] Firstly, the collapse of the Mughal empire, which started in the early 18th century and was sped up with the invasion of India by the Persian ruler Nadir Shah in 1739. 

[00:08:06] Secondly, India became an increasing battleground for tensions between Britain and France back in Europe. There were frequent skirmishes, small battles, between the British and the French in India, and both sides had formed alliances with local Indian rulers as a way to try to reinforce their military capabilities. 

[00:08:29] To defend itself against the French, the British East India Company had started to build up an army mainly filled with Indian soldiers. 

[00:08:39] This all culminated in the year 1757 with the Battle of Plassey, which is often considered to be a turning point in the history of the British East India Company, the history of India, and even world colonial history.

[00:08:56] The battle pitted the British East India Company against a local ruler called The Nawab of Bengal and his French allies. 

[00:09:05] It was both a battle between the British and the French, but also a battle between the British and a local Indian ruler. 

[00:09:13] Now, why, you might be thinking, was a trading company fighting battles with local rulers and their European allies? 

[00:09:21] Well, with the Mughal empire in decline, local Indian rulers were becoming increasingly powerful, and they would often seek to form alliances with foreign trading companies, so you would have situations where armies of trading companies from different countries, let’s say Britain and France, would fight each other.

[00:09:43] In 1757, this particular local ruler, the Nawab of Bengal was unhappy with the East India Company.

[00:09:52] It didn’t pay him taxes, because of the exemption the Mughal emperor had given it, and it had been building fortified trading posts in his territory.

[00:10:02] These forts were in principle to protect against attack from other European powers, but perfectly reasonably the Nawab of Bengal saw them as a threat to his power.

[00:10:15] Together with a small French force, the Nawab of Bengal attacked the British fort in Calcutta. 

[00:10:22] Unprepared, the company’s civilian employees, plus a small group of mostly unprofessional soldiers, either attempted to escape or surrendered. 

[00:10:34] When the Nawab’s army took over the town, the remaining East India Company civilians and soldiers were locked inside a small underground room that was normally used as a sort of prison cell, and was nicknamed “The Black Hole”. 

[00:10:50] The hole measured 4.3 by 5.4 metres, and it would normally be used for a maximum of 6 prisoners.

[00:11:00] On the night of 20th June, 1757, almost 150 people, it’s believed, were locked in The Black Hole without any food or water.

[00:11:12] Perhaps you can imagine what happened next.

[00:11:15] With no water or fresh air, in the June heat, it’s thought that up to 123 of the prisoners inside died overnight.

[00:11:25] A horrible death, but these would be far from the only people to meet a grim end in the subsequent months and years.

[00:11:34] When word got out what had happened, the East India Company leaders decided to seek revenge.

[00:11:41] Lieutenant-colonel Robert Clive, who was originally an East India Company clerk but now one of the company’s top military leaders, was sent to free Calcutta. 

[00:11:52] Clive led a small army and managed to liberate Calcutta, but there was still the issue of the Nawab of Bengal to deal with. 

[00:12:01] And this is what takes us to The Battle of Plassey.

[00:12:05] The two armies met at a place called Plassey, approximately 150km north of Calcutta.

[00:12:12] Clive’s army had around 3,000 men, while the Nawab and French forces numbered 50,000.

[00:12:21] But luck, or perhap cunning, was on Clive’s side. 

[00:12:26] He had managed to bribe, to secretly pay, one of the Nawab’s leaders, a man called Mir Jafar. 

[00:12:34] Mir Jafar was in control of about ¾ of the Nawab’s forces, and when the two armies met on the battlefield, Mir Jafar simply instructed his soldiers to not engage, to not fight.

[00:12:49] It wasn’t really much of a battle - the British forces only lost 22 men while the Nawab lost around 500. 

[00:12:59] But the damage had been done, and this “battle” became the deciding incident in the fate of India.

[00:13:07] Mir Jafar was rewarded by the British with the position of Nawab, and the British now had their man in power. 

[00:13:15] After the Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company was able to put pressure on the severely weakened Mughal emperor to appoint it as the main tax-collector for the country, and over the next 100 years it went from trading company to country-administrator, essentially giving it the right to govern the entire country.

[00:13:39] With this, it continued to build up its army, which would consist primarily of local, Indian soldiers.

[00:13:47] By the 1790s this army numbered about 100,000, and by 1815, the East India Company had an army in India of almost a quarter of a million troops - more soldiers than the entire official British army.

[00:14:04] By this time India had turned from an important trading partner to a colonial interest. 

[00:14:11] This was especially so after the loss of the American colonies, which was also partially caused by the East India Company, or at least by the British government’s treatment of the East India Company. 

[00:14:25] In an attempt to support The East India Company, the British Parliament decided to grant it a monopoly on the sale of tea to British American colonies, meaning it didn’t have to pay taxes or have to worry about British competition. 

[00:14:40] This put American tea merchants out of business, and culminated in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, an important episode in American history that led to the American revolution and the kicking out of the British in 1776. 

[00:14:58] So, having lost its most valuable colony, the Americas, an increasing importance was placed on India. 

[00:15:06] By the start of the 19th century the British East India Company had succeeded in kicking out all of the other European powers in India, defeating the Mughal emperor, and it was now in charge of all of the collection of taxes. 

[00:15:20] Essentially, it ruled the country, it had political control over the entire state. 

[00:15:27] But while you might have thought that this would bring with it huge profits and wealth, it was during the late 18th and early 19th century that the East India Company actually started to run into financial difficulties. 

[00:15:41] Back in Britain, the Industrial Revolution was well underway. Indian textiles were no longer so competitive, and in fact it was often cheaper to make clothes in Britain and export them to India. 

[00:15:56] What’s more, having a standing army of a quarter of a million men was not cheap, and the East India Company had to ask the British government for financial support on several occasions. 

[00:16:09] By this time the East India Company was a de facto extension of the British state. 

[00:16:16] It was still independent, however not only was it supported by the state but it was part-owned by some of the most powerful politicians in the country, with 25% of British members of parliament owning shares in the East India Company.

[00:16:33] Put another way, 1 in 4 politicians had a personal financial interest in the British state supporting the East India Company.

[00:16:43] But the textile industry was becoming less and less profitable, so the East India Company looked for other goods to trade. 

[00:16:52] There was one commodity that it could still make a healthy profit trading: Chinese tea. 

[00:16:58] Chinese tea was the next big thing in Europe and the East India Company wanted a piece of the action. 

[00:17:05] The only problem was that the British East India Company simply didn’t have enough money to pay for the tea from the Chinese tea growers. 

[00:17:14] Britain had adopted the gold standard, it mainly had gold reserves, but the Chinese used silver. 

[00:17:22] To get silver, Britain needed to sell something to the Chinese, but the Chinese empire was proudly self-sufficient, with the Chinese Emperor Qianlong famously writing that “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders.” 

[00:17:43] But there was one product the British could bring into China, which they could sell for silver, with which they could buy Chinese tea. 

[00:17:53] Opium, the powerful drug made from poppies

[00:17:57] The East India Company used its Bengal territories to grow poppies and illegally smuggle opium into China in return for silver with which they bought their tea. 

[00:18:09] This resulted in addiction, suffering and deaths, triggering the First Opium War. 

[00:18:16] We have an entire episode on this, by the way, it’s episode 93, so I’d recommend listening to that one if you’d like to learn more about it. 

[00:18:24] Anyway, back to our story. 

[00:18:27] The British East India Company has gone from a relatively small trading company to a corporation running India, smuggling opium to China, and triggering vast and expensive wars.

[00:18:40] There were concerns about the growing influence and power that Company employees had in India. 

[00:18:45] Many were growing spectacularly wealthy, and there were plenty of valid concerns about corruption. 

[00:18:53] As you might imagine, if you are in charge of collecting taxes there is a lot of room for anything from corruption to extortion, and there were reports of towns and villages being ransacked, being destroyed and robbed, by British company tax collectors. 

[00:19:11] The East India Company was in charge of ruling the country, but its primary concern was on its bottom line, on making money, not for the people it was in charge of.

[00:19:23] This is perhaps no better illustrated than in The Great Bengal famine of 1770.

[00:19:30] The East India Company had forced farmers to switch from producing food crops to producing crops like tea and cotton rather than food to feed themselves.

[00:19:42] A bad harvest pushed things over the edge, and it’s thought that up to 10 million people starved to death, all while the British East India Company employees would have plenty of food for themselves.

[00:19:56] This is just one of many examples of maltreatment of the local Indian population under the British East India Company.

[00:20:05] And in fact, the ultimate downfall of the East India Company would come from within, from the soldiers that it had hired for its private army.

[00:20:17] As a reminder, this army, at its peak, numbered around 250,000 men, over 80% of whom were local Indians.

[00:20:28] Many of these Indian soldiers were unhappy with their levels of pay and promotion. 

[00:20:34] What’s more, a lot of soldiers from higher levels of Indian society saw the company’s attempts to recruit soldiers from what were seen as lower levels of society as being a direct insult, given India’s strict caste, the social class, system. 

[00:20:52] To add insult to injury, cartridges for the East India Company's new rifles, their new guns, were said to have been greased with pig and cow fat, making them off limits for both Hindus and Muslims alike. 

[00:21:09] Combined with the famine, corruption, and general maltreatment and suffering, enough was enough.

[00:21:17] In 1857, in a town just outside Delhi, Indian soldiers, who were employed by the East India Company, rose up and attacked British officers, killing British soldiers and other company employees, as well as other Indians who refused to join in the movement. 

[00:21:36] Over the next year and a half, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people also joined in with them. 

[00:21:42] In retaliation, as revenge, and to make sure that they had definitely crushed all signs of the uprising, the East India Company tortured and killed thousands of suspected rebels

[00:21:55] In a particularly grisly and violent display, the chosen method of execution for Indian rebels was to tie them to the front of a cannon and fire it, literally blowing the rebels to pieces.

[00:22:11] Alarmed and horrified by the bloodshed, the British state finally got to grips with the East India Company. 

[00:22:18] In 1858, the Government of India Act transferred the East India Company's possessions to the British Crown, with Queen Victoria becoming the ruler of India. 

[00:22:30] The East India Company continued to exist for another 15 years, trading tea for the British government, before finally closing down in 1874. 

[00:22:42] After 274 years the British East India Company was no more, but its legacy is longstanding both in Britain and India. 

[00:22:53] From the docklands of London, which were built for the East India Company, to grand country houses built on shareholder profits, from colonial outposts in India through to the Indian civil service, there are traces of the East India Company that are still very visible today. 

[00:23:11] It is clearly a complicated legacy, one of a corporation from a tiny island in Northern Europe that took over one of the largest countries in the world, started wars, trafficked drugs, and mercilessly punished anyone who stood in its way. 

[00:23:28] It’s easy and perhaps simplistic to make parallels between the powerful multinational corporations of today, but when you realise that there was basically no oversight or accountability, when you realise the extents to which the East India Company was prepared to go in pursuit of its profits and you see the true scale of the East India Company, it’s clear that it was in a league of its own

[00:23:56] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the East India Company. 

[00:24:01] I hope it was an interesting one, and it has shed some light on what happens, or rather what “happened”, when a company is allowed to do almost anything it wants, and is answerable only to its shareholders.

[00:24:15] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:24:19] What do you think about the legacy of the British East India Company? 

[00:24:23] How do you think the history of India, or indeed the world, would have been different without it? 

[00:24:29] Do you think that the East India Company had any positive lasting impact for India, or was it all negative?

[00:24:36] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:24:40] You can jump right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com, and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:49] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:24:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode. 

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