Merchants and maritime marauders: the East India Company and the problem of piracy in the eighteenth century

James Thomas

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Late in 1600 The Honourable East India Company was established in London, with a 15-year monopoly on all maritime trade to the east of the Cape of Good Hope. Over time the venture changed Britain’s commercial, cultural, financial and social faces beyond recognition. With its own army, bureaucracy, maritime service and highly developed social welfare system, which included pensions, housing and, later, crude psychiatric care, it was extremely advanced. By 1780, however, the Company, in control of substantial parts of the Indian sub-continent, was hated and feared by successive English administrations, particularly as it grew larger, richer and seemingly ever-more powerful. Pitt’s India Act (1784) sought to curb the over-mighty venture by establishing a Board of Control in Westminster, staffed partly by Company figures and partly by politicians. The Board would be responsible for policy and appointments with the implicit non-acceptance of blame by politicians when any mistakes were made! Trading with the East, however, was fraught with dangers, not the least of which was caused by pirates, especially during the eighteenth century. Over the years both the East India Company and pirates have been well served by historians as separate subjects. That stated, however, it is at the interface of these two areas of study where more work is needed. While Arne Bialuschewski has made a start, there is still some way to go. This paper, offering a small contribution, attempts to answer three key questions. Firstly, why was the Company targeted by pirates? Secondly, what was the nature and extent of the threat? Lastly, what impact did piracy have upon Company performance?
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)83-107
    Number of pages25
    JournalThe Great Circle
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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