31 December

The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company and informally as John Company was an English and later British joint-stock company, formed to pursue trade with the East Indies, but which ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and Qing China.

Originally chartered as the “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies”, the company rose to account for half of the world’s trade, particularly trade in basic commodities that included cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. The company also ruled the beginnings of the British Empire in India.

The company received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth on this day in 1600, making it the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies. Wealthy merchants and aristocrats owned the Company’s shares. The government owned no shares and had only indirect control. The company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions. Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858 when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India in the form of the new British Raj.

Despite frequent government intervention, the company had recurring problems with its finances. The company was dissolved in 1874 as a result of the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act passed one year earlier, as the Government of India Act had by then rendered it vestigial, powerless, and obsolete. The official government machinery of British India had assumed its governmental functions and absorbed its armies.