A reminder to those in or near Sydney that the current exhibition – East of India- Forgotten Trade with Australia, at the Australian National Maritime Museum will end early on August 18.
I had hoped that the book ‘East Indies’ would be published in time for the exhibition, but unfortunately events have conspired against me.
You should not miss the exhibition, as the Maritime Museum has done a great job in bringing together maps, paintings and photos from Britain and India to tell the history of the English East India Company and its forgotten trade with Australia. The early Australian colonies, at the ‘ends of the earth’ from Europe, turned to nearby Asia for survival and growth. This exhibition tracks its colonial links with India, the power and monopoly of the English East India Company, and its decline. It’s a tale of ships and shipwrecks, rice and rum, officers and officials, sailors, soldiers and servants – taking us from the old allure of Asia to modern-day ties between India and Australia.
In the 15th century Portugal embarked on an era of exploration which culminated in Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a seaway to India in 1498. His voyage opened a gateway to the wealth of Asia and for the next century, Portugal controlled Asian trade to Europe.
By the end of the 16th century Portugal’s monopoly was being challenged by merchant companies from England and the Netherlands. In time, the Dutch East India Company established its headquarters in Batavia [Jakarta] dominating control of the spice trade and forcing the English East India Company to concentrate its power in India. It proved a good business decision, for while the spice trade gradually declined in importance, the English East India Company’s activities flourished in India.
India and the changing role of the East India Company
By the end of the 17th century, the East India Company had established fortified factories and trading bases at Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta (Kolkata). These cities became the administrative centres for the British.
War helped to mould the Company. In 1757, rivals Britain and France clashed over trade – ‘Clive of India’ – defeated a combined Indian and French force at Plassey (Pelashi) and eliminated French influence in Bengal
The Battle of Plassey marked a radical shift away from the East India Company’s traditional trading operations towards control of territory and resources.
Decline and fall
As the company consolidated its military power in India, many in Britain called for greater scrutiny of its administration and an end to its monopoly on trade. From the beginning of the 19th century the company’s power was eroded with the loss of its Indian (1813) and China (1833) monopolies which allowed new traders to enter the market. When in 1857 a mutiny of troops in Bengal ignited bloody uprisings across India, the company forfeited its power to the British Government, ending over 200 years of control. Three years later the great London edifice of East India House was demolished.
(from the Australian National Maritime Museum website)