« PreviousContinue »
About the same period, a remarkable instance of the vindictive rapacity of the Company occurred. Thomas Skinner, English merchant, had fitted out a ship for the India trade in 1657, purchased of the King of Jambee the little island of Barella. He appears to have been successful in his enterprise, which roused the cupidity of the Company; they seized his house, his merchandise, and his island, and even refused to afford him a passage home. Having no other means of reaching his native country, Skinner set out for England over-land, and having arrived in London, laid his complaint before Government. He was referred first to a committee of the Council, and then to the House of Peers. The Company refused to acknowledge the ju isdiction of the Peers, but their objection was overruled. They then appealed to the Commons; and this so incensed the Lords that they awarded to Skinner a remuneration of 50001. And now the Commons were enraged in their turn; and the two Houses of Parliament proceeded to act in the most extravagant manner, treating each other's proceedings as entirely nugatory, At length the King interfered, the Lords and Commons were reconciled, and poor Skinner, who, while these disputes were in agitation, had been sent a prisoner to the Tower, was sacrificed, and left without redress.
Meanwhile, the Company was terrified by the formation of an East India Company in France, of which Colbert, the French minister of finance, conceived the design in 1661. A French fleet of twelve ships arrived at Surat in 1671-72, and excited considerable alarm in the imaginations of the Company's agents.
The Company's first order for the importation of tea was sent out in 1667-68. It was conceived in these words :--- Send home by these ships 100lb. weight of the best tey that you can gett.” In 1673 the island of St. Helena, which had frequently passed alternately from the hands of the Company into those of the Dutch, and back again, was granted anew, and confirmed to the Company by a royal charter.
In the disputes which now began to arise between the Company and the Mogul, as well as with Sevagee and the petty Rajahs, we discover the adoption of a principle which has since been a distinguishing mark of English policy in the East : they recommended to the Chief President and his council the practice of temporizing with the native Princes, and granted them discretionary powers, enabling them to use force as often as they saw convenient; while, for their own part, they determined to impute any hostilities which might be complained of to the errors of their servants. Among these servants themselves the most dangerous rivalry and animosity now arose, from discordant pretensions to rank and advancement; these the Directors hoped to allay by adopting seniority as the principle of promotion, reserving to themselves the power of special nomination to the office of Member of Council at the agencies and presidencies.
In 1682-83 the project of a rival East India Company was set on foot, and obtained the approbation of the nation. The King and Council were brought to lend an ear to the scheme, which seemed to acquire importance; and the old Company were so much alarmed, that, unable to give real reasons why their monopoly should be continued, they adopted a regular course of falsification and imposture ; speaking of the amount of their equipments in pompous and extravagant terms, in order to impose upon the ing and the public. That they might succeed the better in this r dey no longer spoke in detail of their adventures and transactions, but crowded them in the gross into big terms and phrases. They spoke of immense capital—of millions. Meanwhile the Directors exercised their ingenuity in concealing their debts, which, on former occasions, when they were required to make reparation for the injustice they had comınitted, they used to bring forward and exaggerate, in order to excite pity and commiseration. It was asserted, that in 1676 they owed 600,0001.; and Mr. Mill is of opinion, that in 1683-84 their debts exceeded their capital.
About this period the English were expelled from Bantam, and took shelter at Batavia, from which time the Dutch remained sole masters of Java, and the presidency for the government of the eastern coast was removed to Fort St. George. Private traders now excited the hostility of the Company, to whom no extent of power seems ever to have appeared sufficient; for they about this time applied to the Government for Admiralty jurisdiction, to empower them to seize and condemn the ships of the interlopers, without liability to be called to any after-account by the municipal laws of England. This power they obtained, but their triumph was embittered by a formidable insurrection at Bombay. It was caused by the Company's complete ignorance of the principles of government and of human nature; for, in the first place, they attempted to enrich themselves by excessive taxation; and when they found that the expenses of government still exceeded the revenue, they bethought themselves of another expedient, which was, to curtail the pay of their servants. This unwise proceeding alienated the hearts of both parties. Besides, the Governor of Bombay had been guilty of wanton intolerable oppression and excessive tyranny; and, altogether, the Company's rule appeared so detestable to both the military and the people, that, in 1683, Captain Kcigwin, commander of the garrison, threw off the yoke of the Company, and declared by proclamation that the island belonged to the King.
This insurrection, however, was soon suppressed; the seat of government was removed from Surat to Bombay, which was now elevated to the dignity of a regency, and Madras was formed into a corporation, governed by a mayor and aldermen. These events took place in 1687. In Bengal, those quarrels between the Company and the Natives, which have ended in the total enslaving of the latter, had already commenced. It was pretended that the English were oppressed by the governments of the country, and a large military equipment was sent out to obtain redress by force of arms. Tlie commander was instructed to seize and fortify Chittagong, and to make such retaliation on the Nabob and Mogul as should induce them to make what was termed reparation. The ships of the expedition not arriving together in the Ganges, and the party that arrived first imprudently engaging in hostilities, they were driven from Hooghley, and obliged to take shelter at Chutanutte, afterwards Calcutta. Upon this, the Directors accused their servants in Bengal of cowardice and breach of trust; and upon the occurrence of further reverses, though these were followed by an accommodation with the Nabob, by which the
English were permitted to return to Hooghley, removed Charnock, the Company's agent in Bengal, and sent Sir John Chi with authority to reform abuses in Madras and Bengal, and to re-esta
the factories at Cossimbazar and the other places from which they had been driven in the course of the war. But while the Company's servants were successfully negotiating with the Natives, who, for this reason, were supposed to be off their guard, a ship of war, commanded by a Captain Heath, arrived. Captain Heath seems to have been a genuine India House politician, for, in the midst of negotiation, he suddenly attacked and plundered the town of Balasore, and attempted to surprise Chittagong. In that, however, he was disappointed, and the consequence was, the total abandopment of Bengal.
The Company's behaviour in Bengal so highly exasperated Aurungzebe, the Great Mogul, that he immediately exerted his power to drive them out of India ; their factories in the various parts of the empire were seized ; numbers of their servants slain; the island of Bombay was attacked by the fleet of the Siddees; the Governor besieged in the town and castle; and, in short, the pride and insolence of the Company were so effectually humbled, that they were compelled to stoop to the most abject submissions to procure leave to remain in the country. Thus their inordinate ambition was punished, and for a season repressed.
Meanwhile the French had strengthened their powerin India, and formed an establishment at Pondicherry. Jealousy and revenge, therefore, united in impelling the Company to struggle for dominion in the East : partially neglecting their commerce, they turned their chief attention to the acquiring of sovereignty, and eren confessed that the increase of their rerenue was an object of more importance in their eyes than the honest gain of trade. What is most surprising ton, they expressed a desire to become
a nation” in India; they, who have since put in practice every art of tyranny to keep their countrymen from growing into a nation in that country. They confessed, that if their principle of Colonization were not acted upon, they were no better than a great body of interlopers. Their reasoning has materially altered since then ; but it is almost peculiar to the East India Company to discorer principles, which, like the cameleon, can change their colour as often as is convenient. With these vieirs, Tegnapatam, a toirn and harbour on the Coromandel coast, a little to the south of Pondicherry, ras purchased of the Natives, surrounded with fortifications, and named Fort St. David.
The people of England, however, indignant at the monopoly of the Company, began to question the power of a royal charter granted without authority of Parliament; and numerous merchants accordingly resorted to India on private adrentures. The Company, on the other hand, possessing almost unlimited power orer their countrymen in the East, were not slow in putting it in operation ; they seized the interlopers wherever they could be found, accused them of piracy, or of any other crime they chose, and sitting in judgment on their avoured enemies as traders, condemned them to death, and rould willingly hare executed them had the law permitted : but it was necessary, before they proceeded to capital punishment, that the royal pleasure should be known. However, they did what they could, thrusting their unhappy adversaries for months and years into sultry and unwholesome dungeons, where they generally perish in the utmost wretchedness. In his instructions to the Governor nbay, who, to excuse himself from perpetrating illegal cruelties. on his countrymen, had pleaded the laws of England, Sir Joshua Child, then Chairman of the Court of Directors, had the audacity to say:
“ That he expected his orders to be his rule, and not the laws of England, which were a heap of nonsense, compiled by a few ignorant country gentlemen, who hurdly knew how to make laws for the good of their own private families, much less for the regulating of companies and foreign commerce.”
At home, it was resolved by the House of Commons, that in future Parliament should determine what regulations were necessary for the carrying on of the Indian trade : but in spite of Parliament, a new charter was granted by letters-patent from the crown to terminate all disputes. But this was very far from setting the matter at rest ; for the House of Commons voted, “ that it was the right of all Englishmen to trade to the East Indies, or any part of the world, unless prohibited by Act of Parliament." The House of Commons also ordered the books of the Company to be examined, by which it was discovered that it had been their constar habit to lyribe great men to maintain their interests. The sums expended in bribery in one year (1693) amounted to 90,0001. Of these s'ins 5,0001. went to bribe the Duke of Leeds, and 10,0001., as it is said, was traced to the King. In support of this, Mr. Mill quotes Macpherson's Annals, who appears to speak hesitatingly; but Burnet (History of his Own Times, vol. ii. p. 145,) says: " Whereas both King Charles and King James had obliged the Company to make them a yearly present of 10,0001., the king (William) had received this but
He asserts likewise, that 170,0001. had been expended in bribery, the greater part of which was generally believed to have gone among the Members of the House of Commons; and all this in order to stifle the project of free trade, or to free themselves from a rival company. What virtuous and admirable Kings, Companies, and Parlia
How conducive their example to the spread of virtue! The indignation of the House of Commons at the corrupt practices of the Company, died away suddenly, mollified, as was supposed, by the gold of those honest traders, and all further inquiry into the matter was dropped.
In spite, however, of the Company's bribery, argument, and lamentation, a new Company, called “The English Company Trading to the East Indies,' was formed in 1698, and the old, or London Company, received notice that their charter would expire in 1701, but that in the meanwhile they would be perniitled to trade to India along writh the new Company. The existence of a rival association only animated the old Company to greater exertion; they once more put in practice their usual policy of treating their rivals as interlopers;" wrote to their servants abroad to excite them to new endeavours ; fitted out large equipments; and, in short, acted altogether so vigorously, that the new Company was induced to make proposals for a coalition.
At length, in 1702, their union was effected ; and the two parties took the common name of · The United Company of Merchants Trading to
the East Indies.' Still their interests were not so completely identified as to preclude all contention and jarring. But in 170 the Government exacting a loan of 1,200,0001. of the two Companies addition to one of 2,000,0001., which it had already received of the new Company for granting its charter, the fear of giving rise to a third association, which by offering the Government money might easily have supplanted them both, drew them together to avert the common danger. The differences subsisting between the two Companies were submitted to the arbitration of the Earl of Godolphin, whose award they agreed to receive as complete and final. This award was dated and published on the 29th September 1708, and operated to blend the whole of their separate properties into one stock. Their importance was thus immensely increased, and this may be considered the first great era in the Company's history.
Adapted to the Air of All's Well,' in the Opera of The English Fleet.'