The East India Company

The East India Company was established to rival the Portuguese and Dutch in the spice trade from Asia.

‘The Company of Merchants of London Trading in to the East Indies’ was granted a fifteen-year trading monopoly in Queen Elizabeth I’s Royal Charter of 1600. James I’s new charter gave the East India Company an indefinite monopoly.

The company’s activities rapidly expanded to include trade in Indian textiles and tea, and the control of large territories in the Indian subcontinent. Although much of its trading in Asia relied on the exchange of other Asian goods across the continent, the company exported large quantities of materials from Britain for trade. The company was under political pressure at home to export goods rather than bullion and from 1760 commodities dominated its exports. Woollens, including worsteds such as the Devonshire serges or long ells, made up over half the value of these commodities between 1756-1800. Other goods traded for tea included metal raw materials such as copper, iron, lead and Cornish tin. The company had difficulties finding a market for the woollens and there are reports of them being sold at a loss or languishing in Canton warehouses. However, this trade continued into the 1830s. The East India Company’s governing power was transferred to the British crown in 1858.

Unloading tea ships

Unloading tea ships at the East India Docks, Deptford, Illustrated London News, 1867, National Maritime Museum, London.


Entry in Playne's accounts

This entry in Playne’s accounts at Longfords Mill show that the East India Company was an important client.