The East India Company


Numerous commercial companies were founded in the 17th and 18th centuries in order to profit from trade expansion between Europe, the Americas, the Indian continent and China. However, none was as famous and as powerful as Great Britain's Honourable East India Company.

Established very early on, in 1600, it traded predominantly in spices, silk, cotton, tea and opium. Its power became so great that it eventually exercised military power and conquered vast territories, particularly in India, subsequently assuming administrative functions and organizing civil society.

The strength of the East India Company lay, above all, in its fabulous ships, known as "Indiamen". Officially, these exceptional boats were mighty trading ships, capable of transporting many passengers and large amounts of goods. However, they were also formidable, heavily armed war machines, able to resist attacks by pirates, so much so that the Royal Navy called on their services regularly.

If the Indiamen had always enjoyed an edge over their competitors, it was also due to their having experienced sailors and intrepid captains, who were keenly aware of the opportunities offered by the marine chronometer. Here are two examples of such individuals:

"Possessed of a good chronometer made byArnold(No. 64,) having great dependence on my instrument, and losing no opportunity of ascertaining our precise situation each noon by meridional double altitudes and lunar observations, day and night, I am in hopes that navigators, failing in my track, will find in it but few errors." Captain Thomas Butler of the Walpole, on the subject of his voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to China in 1794.

"It is the most dangerous shoal I ever beheld, and the water is so very smooth, owing no doubt to its eastern extent, that a ship might be on the reef presently, and almost with the best look-out. I have ascertained the longitude of its north-west extreme by a very goodArnold'stime-keeper, whose rate agrees with our lunar observations as nearly as possible." Captain Hogan on the Marquis Cornwallis, during his voyage to the New Hebrides in 1796.

The East India Company was dissolved in 1874. However, the Indiamen continued to plough the seas with their precious chronometers on board until the beginning of the 20th century.



Huddart, Joseph, Captain,The Oriental Navigator(London, 1801).


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