“The Country round Trichinopoly with the Camps and Marches of the English and French Troops in 1753 and 1754″By Thomas Jefferys
“Ad Antiquam Indiae Geographiam Tabula”By Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville
“Carte Générale du Cours du Gange et du Gagra”By Joseph Tiefentaller
“Neueste Karte von Hindostan”By Franz Anton Schrämbl
A Brief History of the Colonization of India
Captain William Hawkins of the British East India Company brokered a deal with Jahangir of the Mughal Empire in 1611. The Company was allowed to set up a trading post at Surat and Jahangir was hoping that the British Navy would help against the Portuguese. The arrangement worked out nicely, and the Company was allowed to set up more trading posts and factories at Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta.
In the 1600s and early 1700s, India’s economy was considered “proto-industrial.” Though a majority of the population lived in villages, agricultural production and domestic industry were conducted simultaneously. Silks, sugar, and opium were all important items produced in India, but cotton spinning and weaving was the largest industry. There was an extensive trading network within India and beyond – to Persia, Africa, China, and more.
The Mughal Empire started to decline during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, and especially after his death in 1707. Some historians maintain that this decline can be attributed to the economic success of India at the time, which gave smaller, local leaders the wealth and ability to throw off the Mughal yoke.
Until 1740, both the French and British East India Companies did not have any intention of increasing their military power or territorial holdings. They only laid claim to a tiny bit of land, and were overwhelmingly concerned with the economic benefits of trading. In 1744, the British and French East India Companies ostensibly went to war in India, each supporting a different claimant to the throne of Nawab. The French company was heavily in debt and suffered defeats, but the Marquis de Bussy managed to create a stronghold in Hyderabad that would last for eight years. War between the two nations was officially declared in 1756.
In a move to counter the French, but also to gain increased trading opportunities, the British East India Company started expanding its reach after 1760. Exports from India to the British market were booming, but India did not become a market for British manufacturing goods as the Company had hoped. Gold and metal bullion were exchanged for Indian goods, but the loss of precious metals to India was not popular in Britain. Thus, the Company sought another way of making money within India itself. The collection of taxes was soon usurping trade as a money-maker for the Company. As no one in India “owned” land in the British sense, the establishment of a so-called “land-owing” class in India was the first major social reordering that the British attempted.
Armed revolt was commonplace in India, where there were comparatively small numbers of European administrators and officers. Indian mercenary soldiers or “sepoys” working for European armies far outnumbered their European counterparts (23000 to 128000). Though revolts of different natures were common, they were also very scattered and presented little threat to the Company’s power. Before 1850, India was too fragmented along caste, class, religious, and linguistic lines for unified nationalism to arise.
On May 19, 1857 in Meerut, three sepoy regiments objected to the arrest of sepoys who refused to use a new rifle that was greased with unclean beef and pork fat by killing their officers and marched to Delhi. Others joined in the mutiny, and attacks were perpetrated against British people and those associated with assisting British rule. But without a clear plan in place, the mutiny lost its advantage – surprise, and its force holed up in Delhi. Gradually the British regained Delhi and by late summer of 1858, most rebel forces had been quashed.
(The preceding text is a transcription of the embedded video presentation)
Words from the Curators
Web Resources for Research on Colonial India
- Fordham’s Internet Indian History Sourcebook
- More historical maps of India
- British Library India Office Records and Private Papers
- University of Chicago Digital South Asia Library Image Resources
- Mount Holyoke’s British Colonial India in the 19th Century
- Digital Colonial Documents (India) Homepage
- Ebooks Online, India: British Era (1765-1945)