The rise of British East India Company

In 1600 the British East India Company obtained from Queen Elizabeth a charter of exclusive rights to trade in the Eastern seas.

The western coast of the Deccan and Peninsula was dotted with Portuguese fortresses, garrisoned with cannon and Portuguese soldiers.

For a hundred years they had been building factories in the territories of Hindu Rajas, and converting them into fortresses.

The Portuguese built their capital on the island of Goa, about half-way between Surat and Comorin.  Goa became a center of the Catholic religion as well as of Portuguese trade.

British merchants in the service of the British East India Company would gladly have traded on the same sea-board. However Portuguese shut British out of these Forts.

British East India Company – Battle with Portuguese

Accordingly they sailed further northward, and tried to get a footing in the Mogul port of Surat.

This port was a centre of the Mohammedan religion and an emporium of Mogul trade. Surat became the starting-point for all pilgrims going to Mecca.

At Surat, however, the Portuguese prevented British from trading. They told Nawab of Surat that the British were pirates.

Portuguese threatened the merchants of Surat with the capture of their ships if they had any dealings with the British. Fighting was the only way of meeting the difficulty.

Accordingly the British attacked a Portuguese fleet outside the bar of Surat.
The news of battle and the roar of cannon brought the Nawab, the merchants, and half the population of Surat to the sea-shore.

The British sunk or burnt several Portuguese ships until the residue of the fleet steered back to Goa.

The British victory fascinated Moguls. The Nawab of Surat feasted the conquerors in his tents on the sands. The Surat merchants eagerly bought British cargoes and supplied Indian commodities.

Rise of British Surat Factory

In 1612 the British set up a factory at Surat in a large Indian house, with warehouses and offices.

They employed Native brokers to buy cotton goods, silks, indigo, and other Indian commodities.

British hold Public auctions in the factory for the sale of British broadcloths, glass and cutlery, especially sword-blades. They also for the sold lead, copper, quicksilver, and other European commodities.

In those early days, company prohibited British ladies from residing in India. If a servant of the Company happened to be married he was obliged to leave his wife in England.

The “English House,” as it was called, was thus a bachelor’s establishment, without ladies, but not without Surat punch or Persian wine.

The chief of the factory was known as the President. The President transacted all business with the help of four or five senior merchants, who met twice a week in council.

President and Council managed the affairs of the company survived the lapse of nearly three centuries.

Within a few years the “English House” at Surat was well known to all European sea-captains and voyagers.

British East India Company – Rise of British Madras Factory

In 1639 a British merchant named Day bought a strip of territory on the Coromandel coast, about 300 miles to the south of Masulipatam.

It included a small island, which faced the sea and was defended on the land side by a river. Mr. Day agreed to pay the Raja a rent of 500 coin per year.

This factory was the germ of the city of Madras, on the coast of Coromandel.

British Madras Factory
British Madras Factory

Weavers, washers, painters, and hosts of other Hindu artisans, flocked to the spot and eagerly entered the service of the British.

They began to set up their looms and to weave, wash, and paint their cotton goods in the open air beneath the trees.

Villages of little huts of mud and bamboo soon grew up on the sandy soil to the north of the island and factory.

The Portuguese built the town of St. Thome four miles to the south of Fort St. George; but the Portuguese now develop friendships with the English.

The Dutch overshadowed the power of the Portuguese. As Dutch founded a town and fortress at Pulicat, nearly thirty miles to the northward of Fort St. George.

Fight with Sultan of Golconda & Expansion

Meanwhile, the country round about Madras was in a state of turmoil.

The Mohammedan army of the Sultan of Golconda advanced against the Hindu Rajas of the south, and formed a camp in the neighborhood.

The Raja who had sold the territory to the British East India Company fled away to the interior.

The Mohammedan army captured the Portuguese town of St. Thome, dismantled the walls of the fortress, and carried off the cannon to Golconda.

They would have treated Fort St. George in like fashion, had not the British stoutly resisted. They promised sultan to pay him the rent which they previously paid to the Raja.

Within forty years of the building of the British factory, Madras was the pride and glory of the East India Company.

Fort St. George, or White Town, was a European city in miniature.

A stately mansion with a dome, known as the Governor’s House, a town-hall, a council-chamber, and sundry offices replaced the primitive factory in the center.

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