East India Days

Article Featured Image
painting of a large sailing ship

'An East Indiaman taking a pilot off Dover' from Merseyside Maritime Museum's collections. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo.

I like to use spices when cooking but only sparingly. To my mind there's nothing worse than making things so hot or spicy you can't taste the food.

Many years ago a friend took me around old spice warehouses on the River Thames when they were empty, awaiting redevelopment. I was overwhelmed by the wonderful smells that still permeated everywhere – this was part of the East transported to London.

British trade with India and China was controlled by the East India Company from the closing years of the Tudor era until the 19th century.

The company was granted a royal charter by Elizabeth I in 1600 and went on to generate huge wealth for many investors. The charter granted a monopoly of trade with all countries to the east of the Cape of Good Hope and to the west of the Straights of Magellan in South America.

In its early days the company fought Dutch and Portuguese rivals in sea battles on the Indian Ocean. These operations were costly so the company decided to set up bases in mainland India, initially with the agreement of Indian rulers.

These footholds grew over the years until the East India Company was largely responsible for the British conquest of India and was used by the government to rule that vast country.

The company's ships were among the finest and largest of their time. Among the cargoes they brought back were tea, silks, spices, porcelain, sugar and rice.  They also carried passengers – mainly military and government officials – between London and India.

At Merseyside Maritime Museum there is an oil painting called 'An East Indiaman taking a pilot off Dover', attributed to Robert Dodd (1748 – 1815).

This finely-observed work shows the ship with ensigns flying alongside other vessels off the White Cliffs of Dover as the pilot prepares to board.

The company’s century-long rule of all of India effectively began following the Battle of Plassey in 1757 when Robert Clive defeated Siraj Ud Daulah, the last independent ruler of Bengal.

The East India Company's monopolies were scrapped in the 19th century following a campaign in which Liverpool merchants played a leading part.

Liverpool’s Asia trade involving the export of cotton goods and import of tea, East Indian sugar and Asian produce underlined its importance as a world-class port.

The East India Company's monopoly of trade with India was abolished in 1813. The company was dissolved in 1858.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.00 p&p UK).