In the late 1500s, European explorers started sailing east for trading purposes. Not wanting to fall behind the Dutch, Queen Elizabeth I granted over 200 English merchants the right to trade in the East Indies utilising these trading routes. One of these groups of merchants called themselves Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, later to become simply The East India Company.
Although these initial voyages turned out to be extremely profitable for the shareholders, increased competition in the mid-1600s made trading much more difficult. Wars, pirates and lower profit margins forced the Company to turned its attention to cotton and silk from India, instead of competing with the dutch on the spice trade.
This strategy paid off as by the 1700s the became the dominant force in the global textile trade, and had even created its own army stationed in India, at Madras, Bombay and Bengal in order to protect its interests.
By the mid 18th century, due to increasing demands for Chinese tea in England, the company started trading profits from opium grown in India for tea in China. Although this was illegal and ruined the lives of many opium addicts, the opium trade went on for 50 years, until 1839 when the Chinese demanded that all opium stock be handed over to its government for destruction. This ultimately led to the Opium Wars.
Around the same time trouble was brewing inside the Company. The cumulative effects of poor terms of employment and pensions, bad pay, increased cultural and racial insensitivity from British officers all contributed to the uprising. In a surprise outbreak, rebels, many of whom were Indian troops employees, killed many British soldiers, civilians and Indians loyal to the Company. In retaliation, the Company killed thousands of Indians, both rebels as well as a large number of civilians. The Indian Rebellion of 1857 eventually led to the British gov abolishing the company a year later in 1858. The Crown then took control and ruled over India until its independence in 1947.
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