Overview

 

 

From 16th-century origins as a trading venture to the East Indies, through to its rise as the world’s most powerful company and de facto ruler of India, to its demise amid allegations of greed and corruption, the East India Company was an extraordinary force in global history for three centuries.

This digital resource allows students and researchers to access a vast and remarkable collection of primary source documents from the India Office Records held by the British Library, the single most important archive for the study of the East India Company.

From the Company’s charter in 1600 to Indian independence in 1947, the East India Company resource tells the story of trade with the East, politics, and the rise and fall of the British Empire. It records the challenges of a globalising world and sheds light on many contrasting lives – from those of powerful political figures to ordinary people in Britain and Asia and the individual traders who lived and worked at the edge of Empire.

This incredible story is told through the manuscript records of the period, with over 1.2 million pages of content digitised. This ambitious project transforms the accessibility of these archival documents, with enhanced viewing and browsing tools allowing for easy navigation.

This is simply an essential resource for scholarship of British imperial history, maritime trade, global commerce, and the history of the first great multinational corporation.

 

About the East India Company

The East India Company was established under a charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. Users of this resource can trace the Company's first voyages east, its early attempts to trade in the Spice Islands (Indonesia), India and Japan, and Company men’s skirmishes with pirates and rival trading companies.

By the mid-18th century, the Company had unprecedented powers to raise armies, purchase territories, mint currency and administer criminal justice to citizens of its dominions. It straddled the globe with its domination of international commodity networks, and generated nearly half of the world’s entire trade.

In the 19th century, the Company had become deeply embroiled in scandals, diplomatic crises, uprisings and wars but had also come to dominate the valuable trade in tea and opium with China. The Indian Uprising of 1857 was the death knell for the Company, which was stripped of all its functions in 1858 and replaced by direct governance of India by the British Raj, which continued until independence in 1947.

 

Topics and research interests

This resource presents new research opportunities for teachers and students of the history of exploration, international finance, transnational trade, commodities, early-modern warfare and diplomacy, and the interaction between European imperial powers and colonial elites.

Topics covered include:

  • Administrative and ecclesiastical appointments
  • Agriculture
  • Charters and the Company’s relationship to the English/British Crown
  • Courts and legal affairs, including legislation
  • Diplomacy, treaties and ambassadorial expeditions
  • Finance and debt
  • The machinery of government
  • Pay and pensions for Company servants and their families
  • Railways
  • Trade
  • Early voyages to Japan and the Spice Islands (Indonesia)
  • Warfare and military matters

 

Functionality

Browsing and searching

Since the vast majority of the material in East India Company is in manuscript and so not fully searchable, we have created two browsing tools – the chronology and the Government Structure Chart – to facilitate ease of navigation of the volumes for users.

For full instructions on how to navigate and use East India Company, please see our user’s guide.

 

Browse via chronology

We have compiled a detailed chronology of key events in the Indian subcontinent and the wider Asian trading world from 1600 to 1947. Users can click on each entry in the chronology to bring up a list of the documents which have been tagged with the date of that entry. The chronology itself is also searchable.

 

Browse via Government Structure Chart

This feature is a chart of the positions and dates of office of hundreds of key officials in British India. As with the chronology, the documents are browsable by date through each chart entry.

 

Free-text search

This is always available in the search box at the top-right of each page in the site.

 

Advanced search

The advanced search page allows users to combine search terms, restrict their searches to specific metadata fields and date ranges, and to use tools such as wildcards and word-stemming.

 

Full-text searchability

A small amount of the material in East India Company is printed or in typescript – largely the printed compilations of papers relating to the East India Company and the British Government in IOR/A/2 and the later volumes in IOR/C. These documents are full-text searchable and are indicated in the document list by a 'printed page'  icon next to their titles.