What was the size of the British East India fleet at the end of the War of 1812?

What was the size of the British East India fleet at the end of the War of 1812?

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There was a recent quote from the television show Taboo, set in 1814, that

"The British East India Company has more ships than the combined fleets of all the nations of the world"

I know that the power of the company was vast, but is this hyperbole? What was the size of the British East India fleet, both owned and contracted? Did it include military vessels such as privateers, and if so, to what extent?

Not only is the quote not true, it's not even close to being true in 1814.

At the time not only was the War of 1812 going on but also the Napoleonic Wars in Europe meant that European fleet strengths were at their highest (in purely numeric terms) levels in history.

According to Jean Sutton's Lords of the East, between 1791 and 1832 the East India Company had around 450 ships in service (excluding warships). However, most of these were in service for only part of that time, so the actual number in service in 1812-15 was probably nearer 100-150. The East India Company's warships never amounted to more than a dozen or so vessels at any one time (and most of them were frigate sized or smaller).

In comparison, the British Navy's fleet in the same period was nearly a thousand ships of all sizes. So just on that comparison alone, the East India Company is only about a fifth the size of the British Navy. If you add in the substantial French, Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Ottoman, US and Scandinavian fleets and the East India Company comes no where near to having " more ships than the combined fleets of all the nations of the world".

Sources: Lords of the East, Jean Sutton (Conway, 1981) British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793-1817, Rif Winfield (Seaforth, 2005)


The history of the Indian Navy can be traced back to 1612 when Captain Best encountered and defeated the Portuguese. This encounter, as also the trouble caused by the pirates, forced the British East India Company to maintain a small fleet at Swally, near Surat (Gujarat). The First Squadron of fighting ships arrived on 5 September 1612, forming what was then called the Honourable East India Company's Marine. It was responsible for the protection of the East India Company's trade in the Gulf of Cambay and the river mouths of the Tapti and Narmada. The officers and the men of this force went on to play an important role in surveying the Arabian, Persian and Indian coastlines.

Although Bombay had been ceded to the British in 1662, they physically took possession of the island on 8 February 1665, only to pass it on to the East India Company on 27 September 1668. As a consequence, the Honourable East India Company's Marine also became responsible for the protection of trade off Bombay.

By 1686, with British commerce having shifted predominantly to Bombay, the name of this force was changed to Bombay Marine. This force rendered unique service, fighting not only the Portuguese, Dutch and French, but also interlopers and pirates of various nationalities. The Bombay Marine was involved in combat against the Marathas and the Sidis and participated in the Burma War in 1824.

In 1830, the Bombay Marine was renamed Her Majesty's Indian Navy. With the capture of Aden by the British and the institution of the Indus Flotilla, the Navy's commitments grew manifold, and its deployment in the China War in 1840 bears adequate testimony to its proficiency.

While the Navy's strength continued to grow, it underwent numerous changes of nomenclature over the next few decades. It was renamed the Bombay Marine from 1863 to 1877, after which it became Her Majesty's Indian Marine. At this time, the Marine had two divisions, the Eastern Division based at Calcutta under the Superintendent, Bay of Bengal, and the Western Division at Bombay under the Superintendent, Arabian Sea.

In recognition of the services rendered during various campaigns, its title was changed to Royal Indian Marine in 1892, by which time it consisted of over 50 vessels. The Royal Indian Marine went into action with a fleet of minesweepers, patrol vessels and troop carriers during the First World War when mines were detected off Bombay and Aden, and was utilised mainly for patrolling, ferrying troops and carrying war stores to Iraq, Egypt and East Africa.

The Royal Indian Marine was reorganized in the late 1920's on a combatant basis. In 1928 it hoisted the White Ensign for the first time, and from 1934, after the passage of the Indian Naval Discipline Act, was designated the Royal Indian Navy. The Royal Indian Navy was presented the King's Colour in 1935 in recognition of its services.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Royal Indian Navy consisted of eight warships. In September 1939, when the Second World War started, the Royal Indian Navy had only five sloops, one trawler, one survey ship and one patrol craft. It had 114 officers and 1732 ratings (sailors were called ratings). All the six rating training schools were concentrated inside the Naval Dockyard in Bombay - Gunnery, Seamanship, Signals, Anti-submarine, Boys Training Establishment (BTE) and Mechanical Training Establishment (MTE). There were no rating training schools for Torpedo, Electrical or Radar. Officers went to Britain for basic and advanced training in all disciplines. Eighty percent of rating recruits came from the Punjab and from the Bombay Presidency - mainly Konkan, and of them, seventy five percent were Muslim and nine percent Hindu.

During the war, the Royal Indian Navy underwent a phenomenal expansion. Thirty one small vessels were immediately requisitioned to serve as minesweepers and patrol craft until newly built ships could enter service. The first Basset class trawler built in Garden Reach Workshop Calcutta entered service in 1941 - it was followed by five more. The first Bangor class fleet minesweeper built in India entered service in 1943. Six new sloops came from Britain and were named after Indian rivers. Bathurst class minesweepers came from Australia. Numerous minor vessels like motor minesweepers, harbour defence motor launches and landing craft came from Britain, America and Australia. The naval base and Naval Dockyard at Bombay were modernised. Three new branches were created - Electrical, Education and Medical. By the end of the war, its strength had risen to 117 combat vessels and 30,000 personnel who had seen action in various theaters of operations.

On India attaining Independence in August 1947, the Royal Indian Navy consisted of 32 ageing vessels suitable only for coastal patrol, along with 11,000 officers and men. The senior officers were drawn from the Royal Navy, with R Adm ITS Hall, CIE, being the first Post-independence Commander-in-Chief. The prefix 'Royal' was dropped on 26 January 1950 with India being constituted as a Republic. The first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Navy was Adm Sir Edward Parry, KCB, who handed over to Adm Sir Mark Pizey, KBE, CB, DSO in 1951.

After partition, the minimum force recommended was two aircraft carriers, three cruisers, eight destroyers, four submarines and miscellaneous small ships to be built up in 10 years. The plan envisaged gradual development of the Navy to form two fleets, each to be built around a light fleet carrier. The plan clearly reflected the Indian Navy's aspiration for regional pre-eminence.

In December 1948, another revised plan spelt out the `The Role of the Navy' and proposed a smaller 47 ship Navy comprising two aircraft carriers, three cruisers, eight escort destroyers, four fleet destroyers (British Battle Class/Weapon Class), four submarines, four A/A frigates, two A/S frigates, six fleet minesweepers, one survey vessel, five motor launches, seven minor landing craft and two squadrons of aircraft per carrier (one each for fighter and strike and one for SAR). The fleet of 1950 included the 7,030-ton cruiser Delhi (ex- Achilles), 3 destroyers (Rajput [ex-Rolherham], Rana [ex-Raider], Ranjit [ex-Redoubt]), 4 frigates, formerly sloops (Jumna, Sutlej, Kistna, Cauvery) the boys' training frigate Tir (ex-Bann) the surveying vessels Kukri (ex-Trend) converted from a frigate, and Investigate 6 fleet minesweepers 4 motor mine-sweepers 4 motor launches the tank landing ship Avenger and 6 tank landing craft. The Government planned to launch a comprehensive program of expansion of the Navy within the following 10 years and to build up a balanced naval force. The establishment of the Indian Navy in 1950 was 1,000 officers and 10,000 ratings. The partition resulted in the loss of the R.I.N.'s three best training establishments, which were situated in Karachi, i.e., the boys' training establishments, H.M.I.S. Dilawar and H.M.I.S. Jjattadur, and the gunnery and radar school, H.M.I.S. Himalaya. The Government of India intended to build modern training establishments for the Navy. A new boys' training establishment (I.N.S. Gircars) was established at Vizagapatam. By 1950 the Indian Navy has thd following training establishments for ratings in Indian territory: (a) Communication school (6) torpedo and electrical school (c) mechanical training establishment (d) physical training school (e) seamanship, damage control and disciplinary school (/) anti-submarine school (g) supply and secretariat and cookery school. Gunnery, navigation and radar schools are planned. Since 1939, the R.I.N. dockyard, Bombay, has been expanded. New machinery was installed and much work in repairing R.I.N., R.N. and Allied naval vessels carried out during the war. With the acquisition of the cruiser, further developments in the dockyard were expected.

In 1954, agreements were signed for the acquisition from Britain of eight new frigates (3 anti aircraft, 2 first rate anti submarine, 3 second rate anti submarine) and 6 minesweepers (4 coastals and 2 inshores). As part of the Naval Replacement Programme, the Government also sanctioned two Fleet tankers. A second hand tanker had been purchased from Italy in 1953 and commissioned as SHAKTI in 1954. The Government sanction stipulated that the second tanker should be built in India.

In April 1956 Government approved the development of combatant naval aviation. The light fleet carrier HMS HERCULES was purchased from the British Navy. In 1957, the Navy proposed to the Government the retention of existing ships in commission. If approved, this together with the new acquisitions under construction in Britain would double the number of ships in the Fleet and enable it to cope with the increased size of the Pakistan Navy.

After the military reverses during China's attacks in end 1962, India sought defence assistance from America, Britain and the Commonwealth. The year 1963 was a major milestone in Indian naval planning. The Government initiated an exhaustive review of defence requirements. China was viewed as the primary threat. The Government decided that the Army's strength should be raised to 825,000 men and the Air Force's strength to 45 squadrons. The resources required to achieve this meant that the Navy could not be strengthened. Whereas the Navy had proposed a force level of 130 ships, the Defence Plan for the Navy envisaged "a phased programme for replacement of over-aged ships".

Despite the disinclination to increase defence expenditure and even after meeting the pressing needs of the Army and Air Force, the Navy's percentage share of the defence budget rose from 4 per cent in 1950/51 to 9 per cent in 1956/57 and 12 per cent in 1959/60. From 1961 onwards, the Navy's allocation steadily declined to 4% in 1964/65, mainly because of the over-riding need to swiftly modernise the Army and Air Force after the Chinese aggression of 1962.

The first efforts at naval rearmament emerged in the 1964-69 Defence Plan, which called for the replacement of India's aging fleet and the development of a submarine service. Between 1947 and 1964, fiscal constraints had prevented the implementation of ambitious plans for naval expansion. Consequently, many of the vessels were obsolete and of little operational value.

Frigates play a pivotal role in Naval warfare by performing a variety of functions in both offensive and defensive roles. The Emergency Committee of the Cabinet decided in 1964 that the Navy should maintain a force level of 28 frigates. Indigenous production of frigates started in 1966. As part of this expansion program, the British helped develop the Mazagon Dock shipyard for the local production of British Leander-class frigates.

The Navy was reluctant to go in for Soviet ships/submarines on several counts. All ships and craft of the Navy were of British origin. Spares held in ships and depots were for the British ships. There was much commonality of equipment between various ships originating in the same country which minimise the holdings of spare-part inventories. The dockyards and shore maintenance facilities were geared up for looking after British ships.

With the Navy's primary concern having now become the defence of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and in view of the concern voiced by the Indian Delegation in August 1964 regarding the operability in monsoon conditions of the small ships then offered, in August 1965 the Russian side offered the larger Petya class anti submarine vessels and Landing Ships.

The Soviets were willing to support all phases of the planned naval expansion. Accordingly, they supplied naval vessels, support systems, and training on extremely favorable terms. By the mid-1960s, they had replaced Britain as India's principal naval supplier.

By 1968, the Design Organisation had successfully designed and handed over to the Navy numerous auxiliary vessels: 200 ton water boat AMBUDA (1966), 500 HP Tug BALSHIL (1966), Hopper Barges SEVAK and SAHAYAK (1967), Bucket Dredger NIKARAKSHA (1967), and Victualling Barges PANKAJ and AMRIT (1967/68). Under construction were Landing Craft Utility (LCU's Mk1), an Ocean Going Tug (GAJ), Avcat Tankers (PURAK and POSHAK), HSD Tankers, 150 men Ferry Craft, Harbour Cargo Boats and diverse types of pontoons. At the design stage were Oilers, Tugs, Ammunition and Water Barges and Diving and Water Boats. In 1966, the Design Organisation had also assisted in the construction of the new Fleet Tanker DEEPAK in Germany.

The infamous "Topass Mutiny" of 1970 occured when some sailors in the Western fleet refused to clean latrines after the abolition of the navy's Topass branch. The Topass performs the more menial tasks for the crew. The Topass mutiny led to the repeal of the unpopular decision to abolish the Topass branch. The term Topass or topaze was first applied to the offspring of Portuguese men and South Asian women. At one time these Euro-Asians formed a sizeable proportion of the population of Goa and other Portuguese colonies. Many assumed their father's religion and profession as soldiers. Referred to as 'black Christians', they were highly valued in infantry and artillery units.

There were many significant spinoffs after the 1971 war with Pakistan. Within India, for the first time since independence, there was public jubilation at the Navy's startling contribution to victory. There was the Government's realisation of the effectiveness of seapower. Both of these dispelled the doubts about the "relevance of a Navy for a peace - loving country like India which had no vital interests overseas". The maritime world accepted India's naval predominance in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

The Russian acquisition program between 1965 and 1975 could have been managed better. There were strong pressures from the Material Branch to slow down the pace of acquisitions because the shortage of technical artificers and lack of repair facilities could not keep the acquisitions going. There were, also, other underlying causes.

These stresses and strains were compounded by the inability of the Navy to overcome the constraints of austere usage for which the Russian equipment had been designed. This followed from the need to give sea time to every officer and sailor by rotating ships crews every year. A Navy which was used to unrestricted usage of steam propelled ships ignored the repercussions of not adhering to the limitations laid down regarding the operating hours of critical machinery like diesel engines and diesel generators. The Russian view, stated to every Indian delegation which complained about the non availability of critical operational spares, was that the shortage derived more from what, by Russian norms, was "excessive usage" and "beyond what the equipment was designed to do".

There persists a widespread misperception that the reason why the operational availability of ships was unsatisfactory in the 1960's and 1970's was because the Navy acquired too many ships too quickly and funnelled the budget to acquisitions, thereby delaying the setting up of repair and refit facilities. The reality was different. There will always be a time lag between the induction of vessels and the setting up of their special to type maintenance, repair, refit and logistic support facilities.

When vessels are acquired from abroad, it is economical to acquire them in sufficient numbers, rather than one at a time. Inescapably, the bunching at the time of their acquisition leads, years later, to the bunching of their major refits. Since refit facilities always lag, operational availability diminishes.

Certain number of frigates of the Nilgiri Class and Godavari Class were constructed at Mazagaon Docks Ltd., (MDL) between 1972 and 1988. Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) approved construction of 9 more frigates from time to time under three projects namely Project 15, 15-A and 16-A. Project 15 and 15-A were entrusted to MDL whereas Project 16-A was entrusted to Garden Reach Ship Builders & Engineers Ltd., (GRSE).

During the 1980s, Indian naval power grew significantly. During this period, the naval facilities at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, in the Nicobar Islands, and in Lakshadweep were significantly upgraded and modernized. A new line of Leander-class frigates was manufactured at Mazagon Dock in collaboration with Vickers and Yarrow of Britain. These frigates, redesignated as the Godavari class, have antisubmarine warfare capabilities and can carry two helicopters. During the 1980s, plans were also finalized for the licensed manufacture of a line of West German Type 1500 submarines (known as the Shishumar class in India). In addition to these developments at Mazagon Dock, the naval air arm also was upgraded. India purchased nearly two squadrons of the vertical and short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) Sea Harriers to replace an earlier generation of Sea Hawks.

The Establishment of the British System and the Trucial States: 1820-1920

On January 20, 1820 an agreement was signed between the British and the shaykhs of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, umm al-Qawain, Bahrain and the Qasimis in Sharjah and Ras al-Khaima (Rogan, 2012, p. 176). It became known as the General Treaty of Peace with the Arab Tribes. It was from this agreement that the term the Trucial States or states of the peace or truce is derived. In return the Qawasim were to be allowed to resume limited trade with India but acts of piracy were outlawed. The British would have absolute powers to inspect Qawasim shipping and to limit the size of their vessels after they had already destroyed most of their fleet. The British also required that all ships be registered with the British and permission obtained before sailing. The British also banned the import of shipbuilding quality timber or wood from India. They were deliberately trying to stifle and limit shipbuilding among the Qawasim merchants and shipbuilders. Further the British denied the restoration to power of Sultan ibn Saqr as ruler of Ras al-Khaimah (Kelly J. B., 1968, p. 159).

Throughout the 1820s the British policy was aimed at extending their influence and control of Gulf trade by gaining more power over the Gulf towns. As Iran was an independent state, Britain sought to gain direct power over the Arab towns and sheikhdoms of the Gulf. The British in part realized but also in part imagined that their empire and control of these waterways was greater in power that it actually was. The attempt to secure control of ocean based trade and ports was a part of British imperial policy to dominate world trade under a 19 th century concept of Pax Britannica under which the Arabian Gulf was to become a British protectorate. Exactly what the British assumed they were protecting was vague and some historians might now call this their imagined empire. The British sought this control as way of countering the presence and expansion of the land based Ottoman Empire that held Iraq and parts of the Hejaz in Arabia. Eventually Kuwait would join this British Gulf protectorate in 1899 and later Qatar would join in 1916 (Rogan, 2012, p. 176).

During this long century, it was the British navy’s decision in 1907 to convert from coal to oil that would have immediate effect on British policy toward the Gulf. This decision was emphasized directly by the then Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill who announced this new dependence on oil to the British Parliament in 1913. In 1908 the first oil reserves were found and explored in Iran. Thereafter a search for additional oil reserves was underway and over the next decades all of the various sheikhdoms would grant the British oil companies rights to explore for oil in exchange for royalties and payments that would subsidize each of the local rulers (Rogan, 2012, pp. 176-77).

Meanwhile the rise of Abd al-Azizi ib Abd al-Rahman al-Faysal Al Sa’ud, better known as Ibn Saud, (1880-1953) in Central Arabia became a major political force in the region. In 1902 he had defeated his rivals the Rashidi clan in a civil war, and by 1913 he had conquered Eastern Arabia and the coast around al-Qatif and Hufuf. As a result the Saud-Wahhabi confederation had now established itself as another of the Gulf Sheikhdoms or local powers. All of these developments led to a series of complicated maneuvers both politically and militarily as World War I broke out in 1914. While the Ottomans initially sought a political arrangement with Ibn Saud to seek their help against British presence during the war, in 1915 the British also negotiated their own treaty that recognized Ibn Saud’s authority over central and eastern Arabia. In return Ibn Saud began receiving monthly payments and guns from Britain, but in reality Ibn Saud remained neutral during the First World War and refused to attack the Ottomans with whom he also had diplomatic relations.

Thereafter the decision of the elderly Sharif Husayn of Mecca to create a military alliance with Britain to attack the Ottomans form their base in the Hejaz allowed Ibn Saud to maneuver against the Hashemite dynasty of Sharif Husayn. While Sharif Husayn’s sons and the tribes of the Hejaz joined in the British campaign, this is the famous Arab Revolt of the Lawrence of Arabia saga, ibn Saud was able to position himself to launch pressure and attacks against Sharif Husayn’s position and against the Hashemite dynasty in the Hejaz. Sharif Husayn may a number of blunders including the refusal to allow any of Ibn Saud’s loyal forces, the Ikhwan to enter Mecca during the time of the Hajj or on other visits.


Working and living conditions for the average sailor in the Royal Navy in the 18th century were very harsh by modern standards. Naval pay was attractive in the 1750s, but towards the end of the century its value had been steadily eroded by rising prices. [3] Sailors' pay on merchant ships was somewhat higher during peacetime, and could increase to double naval pay during wartime. [Note 1]

Until 19th-century reforms improved conditions, the Royal Navy was additionally known to pay wages up to two years in arrears, and it always withheld six months' pay as standard in order to discourage desertion. Naval wages had been set in 1653, and were not increased until April 1797 after sailors on 80 ships of the Channel Fleet based at Spithead mutinied. [5] [6]

Despite this, there were still many volunteers for naval service. The work for individual sailors was less than on merchant ships, since the naval crew size was determined by the number needed to man guns – around four times the number of crew than was needed to simply sail the ship. [7] Furthermore, the food supplied by the Navy was plentiful, regular, and of good quality by the standards of the day. [8] In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was not at all unusual for impressed men to view life in the navy (hard though it was) as still preferable to their previous lives on shore, and to volunteer for further service when the opportunity came to leave the ship. [9] Shipowners and governments routinely estimated that 50% of the sailors on a given voyage would die due to scurvy. [10] [ specify ]

The main problem with naval recruitment, though, was a shortage of qualified and experienced seamen during wartime, when the Navy quickly had to recruit an extra 20,000 (early 18th century) to 40,000 men (late 18th century). Privateers, the Royal Navy, and the Merchant Navy all competed for a small pool of ordinary and able seamen in wartime, and all three groups were usually short-handed. The recruitment figures presented to Parliament for the years 1755–1757 list 70,566 men, of whom 33,243 were volunteers (47%), 16,953 pressed men (24%), while another 20,370 were also listed as volunteers separately (29%). Although there are no records that explain why volunteers were separated into two groups, it is likely these were pressed men who became "volunteers" to get the sign-up bonus, two months' wages in advance and a higher wage it is known large numbers did do this. Volunteering also protected the sailor from creditors, as the law forbade collecting debts accrued before enlistment. The main disadvantage was that volunteers who subsequently deserted were liable to execution if captured whereas pressed men would simply be returned to service. Other records confirm similar percentages throughout the 18th century. [5]

Average annual recruitment 1736–1783 [11]

Dates Period Royal Navy Privateer Merchant Total
1736–1738 Peacetime 14,845 35,239 50,084
1739–1748 War of Jenkins' Ear 43,303 2,602 30,392 76,297
1753–1755 Peacetime 17,369 40,862 58,231
1756-1763 Seven Years' War 74,771 3,286 37,584 115,641
1773–1775 Peacetime 18,540 50,903 69,443
1775-1783 American Revolutionary War 67,747 3,749 44,947 116,443

All three groups also suffered high levels of desertion. In the 18th century, British desertion rates on naval ships averaged 25% annually, with slight difference between volunteers and pressed men. [12] The rate of desertion started high, then fell heavily after a few months on board a ship, and generally became negligible after a year — because Navy pay ran months or years in arrears, desertion might mean not only abandoning companions in the ship's company, but also the loss of a large amount of money already earned. If a naval ship had taken a prize, a deserting seaman would also forfeit his share of the prize money. In a report on proposed changes to the RN written by Admiral Nelson in 1803, he noted that since 1793 more than 42,000 sailors had deserted.

The Impress Service (colloquially called the "press-gang") was formed to force sailors to serve on naval vessels. [10] [13] There was no concept of "joining the navy" as a fixed career-path for non-officers at the time, since seamen remained attached to a ship only for the duration of its commission. They were encouraged to stay in the Navy after the commission but could leave to seek other employment when the ship was paid off. Impressment relied on the legal power of the King to call men to military service, as well as to recruit volunteers (who were paid a bounty upon joining, unlike pressed men). Seamen were not covered by Magna Carta and "failure to allow oneself to be pressed" was punishable by hanging, although the punishment became less severe over time. [14]

In Elizabethan times a statute regulated impressment as a form of recruitment, and with the introduction of the Vagabonds Act in 1597 men of disrepute (vagrants) found themselves drafted into service. In 1703 an act passed limiting the impressment of men under 18 years of age to those who were not apprenticed. A further act in 1740 raised the maximum age to 55. Although no foreigner could normally be pressed, they lost their protection if they married a British woman or had worked on a British merchant ship for two years. Some governments, including Britain, issued "protections" against impressment which protected men had to carry on their person at all times but in times of crisis the Admiralty would order a "hot press", which meant that no-one remained exempt. [13]

The Royal Navy also impressed seamen from inbound British merchant ships at sea, though this was done by individual warships, rather than by the Impress Service. Impressment, particularly press gangs, became consistently unpopular with the British public (as well as in the American colonies), and local officials often acted against them, to the point of imprisoning officers from the Impress Service or opposing them by force of arms.

At the time of the Battle of Trafalgar over half the Royal Navy's 120,000 sailors were pressed men. The power of the Impressment Service to conscript was limited by law to seafarers, including merchant seamen, longshoremen and fishermen. There is no basis to the widespread impression that civilians without any seafaring background were randomly seized from home, country lane or workplace by press gangs or that the latter were employed inland away from coastal ports. [15] However, convicted petty criminals were often given the option of volunteering for naval service as unskilled "quota men" by inland courts (see below). [16]

There were occasions when the local populace would band together to oppose the activities of the press where these exceeded legal bounds. One such incident, the Easton Massacre in 1803 (see caption at right), resulted in a press gang firing on a crowd, killing four people in the village of Easton on the Isle of Portland, where they were trying to impress the quarrymen. [17] In 1808, Thomas Urquhart was saved from a press gang of three or four men when London passersby intervened. [10] [18] Urquhart complained to local officials, identified at least one of the men involved and successfully sued for damages in the Court of King's Bench. He went on to lobby for changes in law and practice, publishing Letters on the evils of impressment: with the outline of a plan for doing them away, on which depend the wealth, prosperity, and consequence of Great Britain in 1816. [18]

Patrolling in or near sea ports, the press gang would try to find men aged between 15 and 55 with seafaring or river-boat experience, but this was not essential. Potential crewmen with no experience were called "landsmen". From 1740, landsmen were legally exempt from impressment, but this was on occasion ignored in wartime unless the person seized was an apprentice or a "gentleman". [19] Two landsmen were considered by captains to be the equivalent of one able seaman. If a landsman was able to prove his status to the Admiralty he was usually released. Court records do however show fights breaking out as people attempted to avoid what was perceived as wrongful impressment, and the London Times reported occasions when press gangs instituted a "hot press" (ignoring protections against impressment) in order to man the navy. [20]

Merchant seamen ashore from their ships (and usually conspicuous by their clothing and general appearance) were however another matter. Anyone with seafaring experience encountered in the street would first be asked to volunteer for naval service. If the potential recruit refused he was often plied with alcohol or simply seized and taken. A commonly held belief is that a trick was used in taverns, surreptitiously dropping a King's shilling ("prest money") into a man's drink, as by "finding" the shilling in his possession he was deemed to have volunteered, and that this led to some tavern owners putting glass bottoms in their tankards. However, this is a legend press officers were subject to fines for using trickery and a volunteer had a "cooling-off" period in which to change his mind.

The great majority of men pressed were taken from merchant ships at sea, especially those homeward bound for Britain. This was legal as long as the Navy replaced the man they took, and many Naval captains would take the best seamen, replacing them with malcontents and landsmen from their own ship. It was also common for "trusted" volunteers to act as substitutes they would then desert as soon as the merchant ship docked, and return to their Navy ship. [21]

Outbound merchant ships, officers and apprentices were exempt from impressment. When war broke out the Navy would deploy frigates and vessels off the coast to intercept inbound merchantmen. Reportedly some merchant captains redirected their ships to Irish ports to offload favoured crewmen, before making final landfall in England. In 1740, a merchantman fired on a cruiser attempting to impress its crew threats of similar violence to avoid sailors being pressed were supposedly not uncommon, especially with the East India ships whose crews had been away from their families and England for a considerable time. In times of an extreme shortage of men, the Navy would "embargo" the coast for a short time merchantmen had to supply a portion of their crew in exchange for permission to sail. [5] Many merchant ships had hiding places constructed where their best crew could hide when approached by a Naval vessel. [21]

The owners of British whalers, because of the Press, often appointed a master to them whilst the vessels were in port in order to protect the whalers' crews. Otherwise the Press could take the men for naval service. The owners would then appoint an actual master to replace the placeholder masters.

In addition to impressment, Britain also used the Quota System (or The Quod) from 1795 to 1815, whereby each county was required to supply a certain number of volunteers, based on its population and the number of its seaports. Unlike impressment, the Quota System often resulted in criminals serving on board ships as counties who failed to meet their quota offered prisoners the option of completing their sentence or volunteering. Apart from the probably lower quality of recruits taken by this means, another downside of the Quota System was the frequent introduction of disease, especially typhus, to healthy ships. [14]

Ireland formed a separate but subordinate state, the Kingdom of Ireland, between 1534 and 1800. All of Ireland was united to Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 1801 and 1922. The Royal Navy recruited heavily in Ireland during this period, including using impressment. [22] [23] For example, in 1734, impressment took place in Wicklow. [24] Impressment was also common during the Napoleonic wars, although poverty in Ireland made sure that volunteers were usually available. [25]

One of the largest impressment operations occurred in the spring of 1757 in New York City, then still under British colonial rule. Three thousand British soldiers cordoned off the city, and plucked clean the taverns and other sailors' gathering places. "All kinds of tradesmen and Negroes" were hauled in, nearly eight hundred in all. [26] Four hundred of these were "retained in the service".

The Royal Navy also used impressment extensively in British North America from 1775 to 1815. Its press gangs sparked resistance, riots, and political turmoil in seaports such as Halifax, St John's, and Quebec City. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy extended the reach of its press gangs into coastal areas of British North America by the early 19th century. In response, sailors and residents fought back with a range of tactics. They sometimes reacted violently. The riots in St John's in 1794 and Halifax in 1805 led to a prohibition on impressment on shore for much of the Napoleonic Wars. The protest came from a wide swath of the urban community, including elites, rather than just the vulnerable sailors, and had a lasting negative impact on civil–naval relations in what became Canada. The local communities did not encourage their young men to volunteer for the Royal Navy. [27]

The American Continental Navy impressed men into its service during the American Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress authorized construction of thirteen frigates, including USS Virginia in 1775. The senior captain of the Continental Navy, James Nicholson, was appointed to command Virginia. When it was fitted out in 1777, Nicholson received orders to sail to Martinique. Many of Nicholson's crew had deserted to sign on as privateers, for higher pay at less risk. Therefore, Nicholson impressed about thirty citizens of Baltimore, an act expressly forbidden by Maryland law. Maryland governor Thomas Johnson demanded immediate release of the impressed men and Congress convinced Nicholson to release them all. Nicholson avoided impressment on land and instead stopped two American merchant ships at sea in 1780, to impress men from their crews. [28]

The individual states did not deny the concept of impressment for their own navies, but were reluctant to grant the right to the Continental Congress. The concept of drafting men into armed service remained contentious, even after adoption of the federal constitution. [29]

There is one documented case of a British seaman impressed by the US Navy in 1810. [30]

In 1795, the Jay Treaty went into effect, addressing many issues left unresolved after the American Revolution, and averting a renewed conflict. However, the treaty's neglect to address British impressment of sailors from American ships and ports became a major cause of complaint among those who disapproved of it. While non-British subjects were not impressed, at this point Britain did not recognize naturalised American citizenship and treated anyone born a British subject as still "British" as a result, the Royal Navy impressed over 9,000 sailors who claimed to be American citizens.

During the wars with France (1793 to 1815), the Royal Navy aggressively reclaimed British deserters on board ships of other nations, both by halting and searching merchant ships, and, in many cases, by searching American port cities. Although these impressments were illegal, Jefferson ignored them to remain on good terms with Britain as he was negotiating to obtain "the Floridas". This tolerance changed in 1805 when the British began seizing American merchantmen trading with the West Indies and condemning the ships and their cargoes as a prize and enforcing impressment on their crews. [31] Under the Rule of 1756, in times of war direct trade between a neutral European state and a British colony was forbidden if such trade had not existed in time of peace. The Americans had found a way around this policy by "landing" cargoes from Europe in the United States and issuing certificates that duty had been paid. The ship would then sail, with the cargo never having been offloaded or duty actually paid, as now bona fide commerce between neutral America and the West Indies. The British became aware of the practice during the court case involving the seizure of the Essex. The court ruled that the cargo of the Essex had never been intended for American markets so the voyage had not been broken and could thus be considered continuous. The end result was the blockade of New York Harbor by two British frigates, the Cambrian and the Leander, which provoked public demonstrations.

For the next year scores of American ships were condemned in admiralty courts and American seamen were impressed with increasing frequency until, in the early summer of 1807, when three deserters from the British frigate HMS Melampus lying in Chesapeake Bay enlisted on the American frigate USS Chesapeake. After searching the Chesapeake, the deserters, David Martin, John Strachan, and William Ware, were found to be native-born Americans who had been wrongly impressed. The search also established that another crew member, listed as Jenkin Ratford, was actually a British deserter however, he could not be found. Admiral Berkeley angrily issued an order to all commanders in the North Atlantic Squadron to search the Chesapeake if encountered on the high seas. Eight miles southeast of Cape Henry a boat from the British frigate HMS Leopard intercepted her but Commodore Barron declined to permit his crew to be mustered. The Leopard began approaching and the commander shouted a warning to which Barron replied "I don't hear what you say". The Leopard then fired two shots across the bow and almost immediately poured a broadside into the American ship. The Chesapeake did not return fire but the British ship fired another two broadsides. Three crew were killed and eighteen wounded. The British boarding party not only arrested the British deserter but also the three Americans. The ChesapeakeLeopard affair provoked an outcry for war from all parts of the country and Jefferson later wrote: "The affair of the Chesapeake put war into my hand, I had only to open it and let havoc loose". He ordered the state governors to ready their militias but the Embargo Act of 1807 he eventually passed only ordered all British armed vessels out of American waters and forbade all contact with them if they remained.

As a cause of the War of 1812, the impressment and ship seizures caused serious diplomatic tension, and helped to turn American public opinion against Britain. Impressment was widely perceived as humiliating and dishonoring the U.S. because it was unable to protect its ships and sailors. [32] [33]

Britain fought the war against Napoleon on the high seas, enlarging its Royal Navy from 135 ships in 1793 to 584 in 1812, and expanding personnel from 36,000 seamen in 1793 to 114,000 in 1812. [34] In spring 1814 Napoleon surrendered, the allies restored the Bourbon kings to the throne, and France was no longer an enemy of Great Britain. The naval war was over and Britain could now sharply reduce its Royal Navy. It had no need to impress sailors, and never again used that means of forced recruitment, although it did not officially renounce the practice. [35] [36] By the time of Britain's next major war, against Russia in 1853, a new system of fixed-term engagements had given the Royal Navy a sufficient number of volunteer recruits to meet its manpower needs. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century changes in manpower needs and improved conditions of service permitted the Royal Navy to rely on voluntary enlistment to meet its requirements, augmented by the recall of reservists when necessary. This continued to be the case until World War I, when organised conscription was introduced in 1916 for all the military services.

The first Act of Parliament legalising this practice was passed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1563 and was known as "An Act touching political considerations for the maintenance of the navy". It was renewed many times until 1631. In the Vagabonds Act 1597, several lists of persons were subject to impressment for service in the fleet. Following the execution of King Charles I, the Rump Parliament passed several acts in 1649 and 1650 concerning the encouragement of officers, mariners and for the impressment of seamen (e.g. 22 February 1648/9). In 1695 an Act was passed to build a permanent register of 30000 men for ready call-up by the navy, "without having recourse to the barbarous and unconstitutional practice of pressing". [37] The act also established basic rules and benefits for all types of seamen, including access to Greenwich Hospital.

With wars raging in Europe and in America the Navigation Act 1703 (2 & 3 Ann. c. 6) was passed "for the Encrease of Seamen and better Encouragement of Navigation, and the Protection of the Coal Trade". [38] This act gave parish authorities the power to indenture and apprentice boys to the sea, from as young as 10, until age 21 it also reaffirmed that rogues and vagabonds were subject to be pressed into the navy. The act establishes administration and regulations for the act, including youth who volunteer for the indenture and certain seamen engaged in the coal trade supplying cities, are exempt from impressment for three years. This act was followed by the Recruiting Act 1703 (2 & 3 Ann. c. 13), which allows impressing able-bodied men into the army and navy who did not have visible means of subsistence also as a wartime measure the act relaxes English crewing requirements under the Navigation Acts, to make experienced English seamen more available to serve on ships of war. [39] In 1740, impressment was limited to men between 18 and 45, and it also exempted foreigners.

As part of a wider effort to build colonial capability and harass its enemies, Parliament passed the Trade to America Act 1707 (6 Ann. c. 64). Section 9 mandated that mariners serving on board privateers and trading ships in any part of America, and those on shore, are not liable for impressment. [40] Lingering questions remained whether the law applied only to the navy, or to civil authorities as well, and whether it applied only to the current war or to all future wars. [41] Two attorneys-general of Great Britain, one in 1716, and another in 1740, issued opinions that the 1707 Act was no longer in effect, [42] but many American colonists disagreed.

Despite doubts over the continuing legality of impressment in continental waters, but for similar reasons, Parliament passed the Sugar Trade Act 1746 (19 Geo. 2 c. 30) stating that impressment was forbidden in the West Indies, but it added certain exceptions and made no specific mention of America. [43] This would lead to the Knowles Riot in Boston the following year, and continuing colonial questions, particularly in heavily maritime New England. [41]

The last law was passed in 1835, in which the power to impress was reaffirmed. This limited the length of service of a pressed man to five years, and added the provision that a man could not be pressed twice. Although Britain abandoned the practice of impressment in 1815, impressment remained legal until the early 1900s, and the various laws authorising impressment have never been repealed. [ citation needed ]

Starting in 1645, the New Model Army raised by Oliver Cromwell to overthrow Charles I during the English Civil War was largely manned by impressment. [44] [45] After the restoration of the monarchy, impressment into the army was discontinued.

During the American Revolutionary War, after the losses at the Battle of Saratoga and the impending hostilities with France, the existing voluntary enlistment measures were judged to be insufficient. Between 1775 and 1781, the regular army increased from 48,000 to 110,000. Two acts were passed, the Recruiting Act 1778 and the Recruiting Act 1779, for the impression of individuals into the British Army. [46] The chief advantages of these acts was in the number of volunteers brought in under the apprehension of impressment. To avoid impressment, some recruits incapacitated themselves by cutting off the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, making it impossible to use a musket or sword. [47] The Recruiting Act of 1779 was repealed on 26 May 1780, and army impressment was permanently discontinued.

During the experiment, the British government allowed army impressment under severely restricted circumstances — both acts emphasized volunteering over impressment, and offered strong incentives to volunteers as a "carrot and stick" tactic, to encourage the men to volunteer lest they be pressed instead. The impressment portion of the 1778 Act applied only to Scotland and the area around London, excluding Wales and the rest of England, to avoid interfering with harvesting. The 1779 Act applied to all of Great Britain, but was initially suspended everywhere except the area around London, and actually applied to all of Great Britain for only six months, until the 1779 act was repealed in May 1780, and army impressment ceased in Britain. [48]

Unlike naval impressment, army impressment applied only to "able-bodied idle, and disorderly Persons, who could not, upon Examination, prove themselves to exercise and industriously follow some lawful Trade or Employment, or to have some Substance sufficient for their Support and Maintenance", as well as smugglers, according to the 1778 law, but excluding from that any men who were voters, or harvest workers. The 1779 law extended impressment also to "incorrigible rogues" who had abandoned their families, and left them as expenses on the parish. [49] Impressed apprentices were released under appeal from their masters, and impressed foreigners were released when requested by their countries' embassies. [49]

11. The Royal Navy blockade of the American coast was a complete failure

During the early years of the Revolutionary War French firms, such as Hortalez et Cie, were created to camouflage the support of the French government for the American cause. Supplies from France, including uniforms, boots and shoes, muskets and flints, gunpowder, field guns, food, and all of the other requirements of an army in the field were supplied by the French, later joined by the Dutch and the Spanish. The supplies did not trickle in, they arrived in ship after ship having successfully run the British blockade. The British did seize many ships, but many more got through.

The failure to establish a successful blockade was the single biggest contribution by the Royal Navy to the defeat of the British in the war. The blockade also failed to contain the raids of the privateers and Continental Navy ships which went to sea and preyed on the vessels sent to resupply British troops in North America. The porous nature of the blockade was wholly avoidable, as later wars would prove, such as during the War of 1812, when the US Navy was effectively blockaded after 1813, and the American Civil War, when blockade running by Confederate ships became a far more hazardous occupation.

Notable ships

Another significant East Indiaman in this period was the 1176-ton (bm) Warley that John Perry built at his Blackwall Yard in 1788, and which the Royal Navy bought in 1795 and renamed HMS Calcutta. In 1803 she was employed as a transport to establish a settlement at Port Phillip in Australia, later shifted to the site of current-day Hobart, Tasmania by an accompanying ship, the Ocean. French forces captured Calcutta in 1805 off the Isles of Scilly. She grounded at the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809, and was burned by a British boarding party after her French crew had abandoned her. [ citation needed ]

The 1200-ton (bm) Arniston was likewise employed by the Royal Navy as a troop transport between England and Ceylon. In 1815, she was wrecked near Cape Agulhas with the loss of 372 lives after a navigation error that was caused by inaccurate dead reckoning and the lack of a marine chronometer with which to calculate her longitude.

British parliament passes unpopular Tea Act

On April 27, 1773, the British Parliament passes the Tea Act, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company from bankruptcy by greatly lowering the tea tax it paid to the British government and, thus, granting it a de facto monopoly on the American tea trade. Because all legal tea entered the colonies through England, allowing the East India Company to pay lower taxes in Britain also allowed it to sell tea more cheaply in the colonies. Even untaxed Dutch tea, which entered the colonies illegally through smuggling, was more expensive the East India tea, after the act took effect.

British Prime Minister, Frederick, Lord North, who initiated the legislation, thought it impossible that the colonists would protest cheap tea he was wrong. Many colonists viewed the act as yet another example of taxation tyranny, precisely because it left an earlier duty on tea entering the colonies in place, while removing the duty on tea entering England.

When three tea ships carrying East India Company tea, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to send back the cargo, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the so-called Boston Tea Party with about 60 members of the radically anti-British Sons of Liberty. On December 16, 1773, the Patriots boarded the British ships disguised as Mohawk Indians and dumped the tea chests, valued then at ꌘ,000 (nearly $1 million in today’s money), into the water.

In 1770, Bengal suffered a catastrophic famine in which about 1.2 million people died one fifth of the population.

The Company maintained the same levels of taxation and in some cases even raised them by 10%. No comprehensive famine relief programmes, like the ones previously implemented by the Mughal rulers were put in place. Rice was only stockpiled for company soldiers.

The EIC was a corporation, after all, whose first responsibility was to maximise its profits. They did this at an extraordinary human cost for the Indian people.


The old trading routes between the East and the West came under Turkish control after the Ottoman conquest of Asia Minor and the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Moreover, the merchants of Venice and Genoa monopolised the trade between Europe and Asia and refused to let the new nation states of Western Europe, particularly Spain and Portugal, have any share in the trade through these old routes.

The West European states and” merchants therefore began to search for new and safer sea routes to India and the Spice Islands in Indonesia, then known as the East Indies. They were well-equipped to do so, as great advances in ship-building and the science of navigation had taken place during the 15th century. Moreover, the Renaissance had generated a great spirit of adventure among the people of Western Europe.

Eventually, the new sea route via the Cape of Good Hope was discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1498. Thereafter, many trading companies came to India and established their trading centres.

They entered India as traders at the outset but by the passage of time indulged in the politics of India and finally established their colonies. The commercial rivalry among the European powers led to political rivalry. Ultimately, the British succeeded in establishing their rule India.

Portugese were the first to come to India, the new sea route viz, the Cape Route, was discovered by Vasco da Gama. He reached the port of Calicut on the 17 th May, 1498 and was received warmly by the Hindu ruler of Calicut (known by the title of Zamorin).

Pedro Alvarez Cabral arrived in 1500 and Vasco da Gama also made a second trip in 1502. They established trading stations at Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin. The first governor of the Portuguese in India was Francis de Almeida. Later in 1509 Albuquerque was made the governor of the Portuguese territories in India. In 1510, he captured Goa from the ruler of Bijapur. Thereafter, Goa became the capital of the Portuguese settlements in India.

Albuquerque captured Malacca and Ceylon. He also built a fort at Calicut. He encouraged his countrymen to marry Indian women. Albuquerque died in 1515 leaving the Portuguese as the strongest naval power in India.

The successors of Albuquerque established Portuguese settlements at Daman, Salsette and Bombay on the west coast and at San Thome near Madras and Hugli in Bengal on the east coast. However, the Portuguese power declined in India by the end of the sixteenth century. They lost all their possessions in India except Goa, Diu and Daman in the next century.


The Portuguese monopoly of the Indian Ocean remained unbroken till 1595 but gradually lost many of the her settlements in India. Shah Jahan captured Hugli in 1632. In 1661, the king of Portugal gave Bombay as dowry to Charles II of England when he married Catherine of Braganza, the sister of Portuguese king.

The Marathas captured Salsette and Bassein in 1739. In the end the Portuguese were left only with Goa, Diu and Daman, which they retained till 1961. The decline of Portuguese power in India was due to several internal and external factors.


  1. The Portuguese failed to evolve an efficient system of administration.
  2. Their religious intolerance provoked the hostility of the Indian rulers and the people.
  • Their illicit practises in trade went against them, one of which was the Cartaze system by which every Indian ship sailing to a destination not reserved by the Portuguese for their own trade had to buy passes from the Portuguese Viceroy to avoid seizures and confiscation of its merchandise as contraband.
  1. The discovery of Brazil drew the colonizing activities of Portugal to the west.
  2. The Portuguese failed to compete successfully with the other European companies.

The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602 by a charter of the Dutch Parliament.The merchants of this company came to India and established their settlements at Masulipattinam, Pulicat, Surat, Karaikal, Nagapattinam, Chinsura and Kasimbazar. In the seventeenth century they won over the Portuguese and emerged the most dominant power in European trade in the East.

Pulicat was their main centre in India and later it was replaced by Nagapattinam. In the middle of the seventeenth century the English began to emerge as a big colonial power. Beginning of rivalry between the Dutch and the English in the middle of the 17 th century decline of the Dutch power in India by the beginning of the 18th century, their final collapse with their defeat by the English was marked by the battle of Bedara in 1759.



The English East India Company was founded by a royal charter on 31 December 1600, as a joint stock company of London merchants uniting to combat Dutch competition in Eastern trade. It was given monopoly of all trade from England to the East and was permitted, even in an age dominated by mercantilist ideas, to carry bullion out of the country to finance its trade. It was not, however, given any agenda at that time to carry on conquest or colonisation. The Company formally started trading in India from 1613 after settling scores with the Portuguese, who had arrived at the scene earlier.

A farman from Mughal emperor Jahangir gave them permission to establish their factories or warehouses in India, the first factory being set up in Surat in the western coast. In 1617 Jahangir received Sir Thomas Roe as a resident English envoy in his court. This was the modest beginning from where the Company gradually extended its trading activities to other parts of India, with Bombay, Calcutta and Madras emerging by the end of the seventeenth century as three major centres of its activities. Political expansion started from the middle of the eighteenth century, and within hundred years almost the whole of India was under its control.

  • Formation of the French East India Company by Colbert under state patronage
  • Establishment of the first French factory at Surat by Francois Caron in 1663.
  • Establishment of a factory at Masulipatnam by Maracara in 1669.
  • Acquisition of a small village from the Muslim Governor of Valikondapuram by Francois Martin in 1673. The village developed into Pondicherry and its firstgovernor was Francois Martin.
  • Acquisition of Chandranagore in Bengal from the Mughal Governor (1690).
  • Arrival of Dupleix as French Governor in India in 1742 and the beginning of the Anglo-French conflict (Carnatic Wars).



  • The War of the Austrian Succession broke out in Europe in 1740. In this war Britain and France joined opposite camps. As a result the English and the French Companies also became engulfed in the war. Thus the First Carnatic War was started.
  • At first a British fleet under Barnett captured some French ships and even endangered Pondicherry. Dupleix, the Governor General of French, then sent an appeal to La Bourdonnais, governor of Mauritius, to assist him with his fleet. With the help of this fleet Dupleix kept Madras under his control.
  • But soon differences flared up between Dupleix and Bourdonnais. La Bourdonnais went back with his fleet. The English then made a naval attack on Pondicherry but was repulsed with heavy loss.
  • Anwaruddin, the Nawab of Carnatic, did not like these hostilities in his kingdom. The English appealed to him to come to their rescue. Responding to their request the Nawab asked the French to quit Madras.
  • Dupleix at first tried to appease him by saying that he would hand over Madras to the Nawab at an appropriate time. But the Nawab was not satisfied with this vague reply. He sent a large army to fight against the French.
  • But to the surprise of all, a handful of French army and some properly trained Indian soldiers routed Anwarud­din’s vast army at Mylapore near Thomas in 1746. This exposed the military weakness of the Indian rulers. It also revealed the helplessness of an Indian army against a small body of properly trained European soldiers.
  • The war in Europe came to an end in 1748 after the signing of the treaty at a place Aix-La-Chapelle between the European powers. According to the provisions of the treaty war in India was brought to an end and Madras was returned to the English East India Company.


  • Dupleix the France Governor General at Pondicherry was the 1 st among European governor to evolve a strategy of using the well-disciplined modern French army to take territorial and monetary advantage of the mutual quarrels of the Indian princes by supporting against the other.
  • In 1748, political situation in the Carnatic & Hyderabad gave Dupleix to try out his strategy. Disputes were going on at two capitals in the south for the possession of the throne. In 1748 the Nizam of Hyderabad Asaf Jah died. For his empty throne quarrel broke out between his son Nasir Jung and grandson Muzaffar Jang. Dupleix took up the cause of Muzaffar Jang and the English therefore supported Nasir Jang. Similarly at Arcot the capital of Carnatic there started an alarming dispute between the ruling Nawab Anwar-ud-din and another claimant Chanda Sahib.
  • Dupleix helped Chanda Sahib and thus the English came to the side of Anwar-ud-din. Thus the two European powers took up opposite sides in a contest for throne in Southern India. In the name of their respective candidates they began their war which is famous as the Second Anglo-French War or the Second Carnatic war.
  • In the first phase of the war, success was with the French. The combined army of Dupleix and Chanda Sahib defeated and killed Anwar-ud-din in the Battle of Ambar in 1749 and Chanda Sahib was made the Nawab of Carnatic. Muhammad Ali the son of dead Nawab Anwar-ud-din fled and took shelter inside the fort of Trichinopoly. When the English Company’s hopes were almost lost in the South and everybody was in despair, Robert Clive, the outstanding intelligent man saved the situation.
  • He saw that the French soldiers and Chanda Sahib were busy at Trichinopoly to destroy Muhammad Ali whereas Chanda Sahib’s capital Arcot remained unprotected, he therefore proposed that the English soldiers should better capture the city of Arcot. He attacked Arcot and captured it. Clive next attacked Trichinopoly and defeated Chanda Sahib and the French. Mahammad Ali was rescued and brought to Arcot and was made the Nawab there in 1752. Chanda Sahib was killed. That became a terrible blow to French prestige. On the other hand the whole Carnatic region and the Nawab remained under the influence of the English.
  • At Hyderabad too the diplomacy of Dupleix became successful. Through treachery he got Nasir Jang killed and raised Muzaffar Jang to the throne. When Muzaffar was killed within a short time by some of his enemies Dupleix placed Salabat Jang over the throne. To protect him General Bussy was placed at Hyderabad with a French army. But this success in Hyderabad was equally failed in the Carnatic front by Clive. Dupleix’s fall became Clive’s opportunity. At this critical time the Government of France directed Dupleix to return in 1754. It shattered the hope of Dupleix as much as it shattered the French cause. The Treaty of Pondicherry was signed in 1754 and the second Carnatic war came to an end.


Dupleix had gradually formulated a definite policy of “building up French influence and domination by calculated interference in the native politics”. The first round of the Anglo- French conflict showed “Dupleix as ‘a diplomat and an organiser’. He displayed great talents as an “organiser and a diplomatist”. “He was the first European to exploit the weakness of the Indian military science in order to get political and territorial gains in India.”

Macaulay rightly credits him as the first man that saw the possibi­lity to find an empire on the ruins of the Mughal empire, and in fact, for a time the Nizam of the Deccan, the Nawab of Arcot and the Northern Sarkars were under the French influence. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle marked the zenith of his power.

Dupleix’s imperious temperament had made him unsuited for working with equals. His quarrel with La Bourdonnais which compelled the latter to withdraw from the Indian seas was of disas­trous consequence to the strength and security of the French.

Dupleix had taken upon himself too much responsibility and even did not keep the home government informed of his plans and activities. Many facts have recently come to light which show that he kept the authorities at home informed of his victories but concealing his defeats. His despatches never even mentioned cap­ture of Arcot. Naturally, there was a communication gap which at least reflected the Company’s and the home authorities’ attitude towards him.

Dupleix failure was also due to the incredible folly and incompetence of his generals which made him lose the prize which was almost in his grip.

But it is agreed on all hands that the main and the immediate cause of Dupleix’s failure was the absence of appreciation of the merits of his plan and policy and lack of support and assistance from home.

The contention that Dupleix did not keep the home government and the company informed of his plans and activities which was responsible for the attitude of the home government and the Company towards him only “reveals the inherent conviction of Dupleix, justified in a large measure by later events, that the government of France were either unwilling or unable to devote serious attention to the Indian issues and were always apt to view them as minor and subsidiary parts of their general policy”. Dupleix, therefore, thought of raising revenue in India and in (hat attempt he risked all his accumulated fortunes.

Martineau on the other hand holds Dupleix himself responsible for his failure. He emphasises Dupleix’s wrong judgment and blind obstinacy as the causes of his failure. He remarks, “No doubt at the beginning, the error was legitimate, but in the later stage, when came an unending series of misfortunes and disillusions, it became evident that the substance was being sacrificed for the shadow. The blindness or the obstinacy of Dupleix was the principal cause of his fall”.

In spite of divergence of opinion about the nature, practicability of his political conceptions and the causes of his fall, the fact remains that “he had indicated a new way which was to lead one day to the establishment of European domination in India”.

“But in spite of his final failure Dupleix”, observes P. E. Roberts, “is a striking and brilliant figure in Indian History’. He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest of Frenchmen. In grandness of his policy, in boundless extent of his conception he was the forerunner and unconsciously perhaps the inspirer of his ruins, the English. The French never had an officer more desirous, or more capable, of extending their reputation and power.

At a time when Europeans, without exception, entertained a morbid dread of native armies, he boldly encountered them in the field, and demonstrated their weakness and, if he had been adequately supported from France, he would probably have succeeded in the great object of his life–the establishment of a French empire in India.

  • The French and the English retained their old positions by the terms of the treaty signed after the Second Carnatic War and promised not to interfere in the local politics in future. However, this marked the beginning of the decline of the French influence and the ascendancy of the English in India.
  • THIRD CARNATIC WAR (1758-1763)

In 1756, there broke out a bigger war in Europe known as the Seven Years War. Once again England and France appeared in opposite sides to fight as enemies. As an echo of the war the French and the English took up arms and fought in India. That war is famous as the Third Anglo-French War or Third Carnatic War. That war was not confined only to the South India but spread to other parts of the country.

  • In 1757 the English captured the French territory Chandarnagore in Bengal and under Clive defeated Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal Bihar and Orissa in the battlefield of Plassey and laid the foundation stone of the British Empire in India. For a little longer however the French and the English continued to fight in the south. Count Lally the French general fought with English from Pondicherry.
  • The Nizam of Hyderabad was fighting in the side of the French and the French general Bussy was in the capital of the Nizam with his army to protect the Nizam. All-in-a-sudden Count Lally recalled Bussy from Hyderabad and the influence of the French on the Nizam came to close for all times.
  • In 1760 AD in the Battle of Wandiwash,Sir Iyre Coote, the British general defeated the French general Count Lally. Madras, Pondicherry, Jinji, Mahe, Karaikal fell to the British. The French practically lost everything to English. In 1763 AD, the Peace of Paris concluded after the Seven Year’s War, ended the Anglo-French rivalry over theCarnatic. Though the French got back their territories as per the terms of the Treaty of Paris they were not allowed to fortify them. It brought an end to what Dupleix and France had strived for and heralded the age of British imperialism in India.


The English Company had complete approval and confidence of their Home government. The British Government interfered in the affairs of the Company only when it was necessary to secure the interest of its shareholders. The French East India Company had to repeatedly look up to the Home government for all kinds of support including financial and military assistance.

  • The English East India Company was independent Commercial Corporation with sound finance and less interference from the British Government. It was a joint-stock company in whose fortune or misfortune a large section of the English nation was directly interested unlike French Company where major share was held by the monarch. French Company was like a department of the State as the major share of the French East India Company was held by French Naturally, the Company did not enjoy autonomy.

Since the French government decided everything, decisions were taken in view of politics and not commerce. This led to decreasing commercial profit forcing it to borrow or selling trading rights or begging the French government for grant.

Officers of the French Company focused more on territorial expansion instead of commerce. When their home government was not in position to subsidise them, they should have concentrated on consolidating their finances before entering into expensive political ventures.

Another major factor for French failure was the superiority of the British naval power. This enabled the English to bring soldiers from Europe and to send supplies from Bengal. But the French were unable to replenish their resources from outside.

The English East India Company was a private company and it showed greater enterprise in business. But the French Company was dependent on the government and lacked the spirit of bold, individual and corporate effort. Neither the French government nor the shareholders who were assured of a fixed dividend took any active interest in the fortunes of the Company.

The British had three important bases in India – Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. If any of these bases were endangered by the French, the English could still get resources from other centres and could continue war from the other bases. On the other hand, the French had only one strong base at Pondicherry. If Pondicherry was endangered, it could not get any effective support from their other bases in India.

The British Company was lucky to have many capable men like Clive, Lawrence, and Eyre Coote etc. in its service. On the other hand, besides Dupleix, the French Company had no really able man to serve it.

Finally the victory at Plassey gave the English Company large resources which were essential for fighting further battles.


  • The English East India Company had very humble beginnings in India. Though started as a trading concern which managed to establish its first trading post in Surat by 1813, the British East India Company developed into a great territorial power eventually. The establishment of British power in India was in a fit of absent-mindedness. Initially, it seems British had no pre-planned ideas to rule over India. The British conquests began when British and French both tried to get hold of lucrative Trade from Indian Sub-continent. This competition led to Anglo-French Rivalry and thus British got more involved in politics of Indian Kingdoms. The taste of success in Carnatic Wars have made them bold and in 1757 challenged Nawab of Bengal. With the help of greedy nobles and native rivals, overnight Company found itself in indirect control of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
  • The acquisition of income and workers on a large scale put the British power in India in a different class from all competitors. Now Britain had the resources to do what no other European power could accomplish, namely the conquest of the whole subcontinent. They would do it one step at a time, usually in response to threats against what they already had.
  • Later, in the nineteenth century, Britain would take the Suez Canal, Australia, Burma, Malaya, and a third of Africa, all in the name of defending their Indian interests, and they would meddle in the Balkans, the Middle East and Tibet for the same reason.
  • By the time they were done, the Indian Ocean was effectively a British lake. In short, “The Empire on Which the Sun Never Sets” was created just to secure its most valued colony.

The ‘Drain of wealth’ from India to England started after 1757, when the Company acquired political power and the servants of the Company a ‘privileged status’ and, therefore, acquired wealth through dastak, dastur, nazarana and private trade. For company, becoming a political power meant its ownership of revenues as used in financing ‘investments’ and ‘expenditure’ of ‘colonial budget’.

The Company servants, after 1757, extorted immense wealth from Indian rulers, zamindars, merchants and common people, amounting to not less than 6 million between 1758 and 1765 four times more than the total land revenue collection of Bengal in 1765. After 1737 and especially after 1765 (year of receiving diwani rights of Bengal) financial structure of the Company had a qualitative change. Earlier, the Company had to import ‘treasure’ fell (bullion in form of gold and silver) to buy Indian goods for sale in Europe.

After Plassey, however, the import of ‘treasure’ fell sharply in size and yet the export of the Company to England and Europe continued. This became possible due to appropriation of Indian revenue which was used as the investment of the Company and this investment financed the cost of commodities which the Company had to export from India. In other words, the company was getting Indian goods for sale outside India for nothing. Investment was thus nothing but a ‘political’ tribute. This is how there began the ‘Drain of Wealth’ which was nothing but a unilateral transfer of fund the Early nationalist leaders made this point central to their economic criticism of the British colonialism.


Unlike all other British Government records, the records from the East India Company (and its successor the India Office) are not in The National Archives at Kew, London, but are held by the British Library in London as part of the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections. The catalogue is searchable online in the Access to Archives catalogues. [98] Many of the East India Company records are freely available online under an agreement that the Families in British India Society has with the British Library. Published catalogues exist of East India Company ships' journals and logs, 1600–1834 [99] and of some of the company's daughter institutions, including the East India Company College, Haileybury, and Addiscombe Military Seminary. [75]

The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its Dependencies, first issued in 1816, was sponsored by the East India Company, and includes much information relating to the EIC.


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