October 31, 2021|Reports

“The East India Company: The corporation that changed the world” – Dr John McAleer

On 26th October Wickham History Society had their second guest speaker of the year: Dr John McAleer of Southampton University. Fifty members heard a fascinating account of a multi-national corporation whose power exceeded anything today’s tech giants have achieved.

It all started with a rather unsuccessful spice trading mission in 1599. Queen Elizabeth I gave the fledgling East India Company a monopoly of all British trade east of the Cape of Good Hope and the first mission limped home after a difficult three year journey with a cargo of pepper only to find James I was now on the throne and that he had already bought all the pepper he wanted from the Dutch.

It ended with an army of around 250,000 troops, possession of most of the Indian sub-continent, control of the tea and opium trade with China as well as trade with Arabia and Indonesia, all controlled from what is now the Lloyds Building in the City of London. This was truly enormous power invested in a private company.

John expertly and entertainingly steered us through the development of the company and its eventual collapse and ‘nationalisation’ in 1858 following the mutiny of its Bengal army.

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