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The End of the East Indian Company


Commonly known for its vast interests world-wide, and for being richer than many monarchs, the EIC was formed by English Royal Charter by Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600. Their goal was to favor trade privileges in India, with a 21 year monopoly on all trade in the East Indies. The Company transformed from a commercial trading venture to one that virtually ruled India and other Asian colonies as it acquired auxiliary governmental and military functions. What brought the demise of this company?

The Indian Mutiny of 1857, also known as The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857.

Deprived of its trade monopoly in 1813, the company was now a trading enterprise.
Following the 1857 war/rebellion, the Company was nationalised and lost all administrative functions and all Indian possessions in the Government of India Act 1858. It managed the Britishtea trade until the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act and the Company was dissolved on January 1, 1874. The Times reported, “It accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other company ever attempted and as such is ever likely to attempt in the years to come.”

It’d take a dissertation to really explain the rebellion but suffice it to say that:

  • It started as a mutiny of sepoys of British East India Company’s army on May 10, 1857, in the town of Meerut. It quickly erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India.
  • This uprising posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858.
  • Grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority, as well as the increasing number of European officers in the battalions which made promotion difficult.
  • Controversy over the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. To load the new rifle, the sepoys had to bite the cartridge open. It was believed that the paper cartridges that were standard issue with the rifle were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as sacred to Hindus.

The civilian rebellion where there were three groups: feudal nobility, rural landlords called taluqdars, and the peasants.

  • The nobility, many of whom had lost titles and domains under the Doctrine of Lapse, which refused to recognise adopted children of princes as legal heirs. They felt the Company interfered with their traditional system of inheritance.
  • The taluqdars lost half their landed estates to peasant farmers as a result of the land reforms that came in the wake of annexation of Oudh. As the rebellion gained ground, the taluqdars reoccupied their lands, and, in part due to ties of kinship and feudal loyalty, didn’t experience significant opposition from peasant farmers, many of whom joined the rebellion to the great dismay of the British.
  • Money lenders, as a result of reorganization by the Company of lads caused a great may farmers to go into debt. So they, in addition to the EIC, were particular objects of the rebels’ animosity.

And that’s not all. Areas where the rebellion began stayed calm while other areas where it spread did not. Some landowners stayed loyal, others even prosperous ones, did not.

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  1. Kristin-Marie says:

    Good topic. Perhaps little known, the condition of the East Indian Company at any given time determined the safety — or lack of — of many famed ports-of-call. The details are in the libraries and may be interesting storytelling factors.

  2. Christine Koehler says:

    Perhaps little known, the condition of the East Indian Company at any given time determined the safety — or lack of — of many famed ports-of-call.

    I hadn’t thoght of that but you’re right. Without their protection things for foreign traders would’ve been more difficult.

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