Weird History
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The Worst Things The Honourable East India Company Ever Got Up To

Updated November 16, 2018 11.3k views13 items

The Honourable East India Company (EIC), founded in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I, laid the foundation for future global domination by the British. Over its two-and-a-half-century tenure, the EIC set up shop around the word, establishing trade monopolies and a reputation of ruthlessness. The company carried out some less-than-honorable acts in the process, however, with torture, extortion, bribery, and manipulation being fundamental to its success. For its part, the British government was able to slowly take over the East India Company and piggy-back on its efforts as it established the British Empire. 

  • Photo: Dip Chand / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The EIC Financially Crippled Existing Governments In India

    After the Battle of Buxar on October 22, 1764, the British and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II signed the Treaty of Allabahad. The agreement gave the British rights to collect taxes on behalf of the Mughals - whom they were not protecting, according to the treaty - and basically set up British rule in the eastern province of India. The British paid a small sum to the Mughals but took most of the money for themselves.  

    Another part of the treaty required the Nawab of Awadh to pay millions of rupees in war indemnity, a sum they were unable to maintain, and by 1801, the British took control of the northern part of India as well.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Corruption And Brutality Within The EIC Was So Extensive That Parliament Intervened - Repeatedly

    During the 1770s, the British government became increasingly frustrated with the corruption and mismanagement of the EIC. They implemented laws that gave the company regulated loans in exchange for authority over the EIC's territory. In 1784 and again in 1786, the British government passed additional laws giving themselves control over EIC appointments of officials and personnel. 

    In Parliamentary hearings about the EIC, Major Henry Munro testified about British efforts in India. According to his 1772 statement, conditions in India were tense and rebellions were common. Munro recounted one particular revolt from 1764 when rebellious sepoys, or native troops, were marched out in front of British troops, tied to cannons, and "blown away." 

  • Photo: The British Library / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    The EIC Set Their Officials Up For Some Serious Falls, But They Deserved It

    Robert Clive rose to prominence in the EIC, especially with his successes at the battles of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1765). His first governorship of the company until 1760 was a success in terms of securing land and relations with Indian governments, and he acquired a large amount of wealth for himself while entrenching Britain even further into Indian politics. Clive returned to England until 1765, when he again went to administer India. From 1765-1767, Clive reformed the administration and abuses that plagued the EIC and reestablished order in India, which had waned in his absence.  

    Clive's return to England in 1767, however, was met with resentment and criticism, especially given realizations about corruption and violence in the EIC's lands. When Clive testified in front of Parliament in 1773 to answer charges about the company's corruption, his enemies pounced. He argued that everything done under his watch was in line with company policy and he'd exercised "moderation." Some wanted to censure Clive for his part in the company's actions, but he was ultimately exonerated of any wrongdoing in 1773. Even so, the circumstances left him depressed and he took his own life in 1774.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite Parliamentary Reforms, The EIC Never Really Changed

    In 1773, the British Parliament issued the Regulating Act, which aimed to correct the abuses of the EIC. Because Parliament had greater insight and control of elections and revenue in India, the EIC was, in theory, now held to a higher standard. Given the continued claims of torture and brutality by residents across the EIC strongholds, however, the reforms by Parliament failed to address the day-to-day cruelty committed by the company.