The History of the East India Tea Company

When you ask people today about the most powerful companies that they know, most would probably answer Google, Apple, Walmart, Amazon, and more, which are the most popular companies in the present time. But have you ever heard about the East India Company?

It’s a mighty profit-making company that once ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent. From 1600 to 1874, it was the most powerful corporation the world had ever known. It had its own army, its own territory, and a near-total control on the trade of a product now seen as characteristically British, which is tea.

During the 17th century, the Indian subcontinent was called the “East Indies.” It was home to spices, fabrics, and luxury goods prized by rich Europeans. It was seen as a land of superficially endless potential. The East India Tea Company was formed to share in the East Indian spice trade. If you want to know more about how it started, read on because we are giving you the history of the East India Tea Company.

Origins of the East India Tea Company

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An expedition was set out by Francis Drake in 1577 from England to loot Spanish settlements in South America with the goal of acquiring gold and silver. He achieved this in the Golden Hind, which was the galleon he used in the expedition, but aside from that, he was also lucky to have sailed across the Pacific Ocean in 1579. It’s because it was only then known to the Spanish and Portuguese. He eventually sailed into the East Indies and came across the Moluccas, which was also known as the Spice Islands. There, he met with Sultan Babullah.

In exchange for linen, gold, and silver, a large haul of exotic spices was traded, and this included cloves and nutmeg. During this time, the English did not know about their huge value. In 1580, Drake returned to England, and he became a celebrated hero. It’s because the circumnavigation he did was able to raise an enormous amount of money for the coffers in England. Investors also received about 5000% in returns. This began what was an important element in the eastern design during the late 16th century.

In 1588, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the captured Spanish and Portuguese ships with their cargos allowed English explorers to potentially travel the world in search of riches. With this, a petition was presented by London merchants to Queen Elizabeth I, asking for permission to sail the Indian Ocean. The goal was to deliver a decisive blow to the Spanish and Portuguese monopoly for Far Eastern Trade.

The permission was granted by Queen Elizabeth I. and James Lancaster in the Bonaventure, along with two other ships navigated from Torbay around the Cape of Good Hope, going to the Arabian Sea on April 10, 1591, on one of the earliest English overseas Indian expeditions. After sailing around Cape Comorin to the Malay Peninsula, they preyed on the Spanish and Portuguese galleons there before returning to England in 1594.

The seizure of a large Portuguese carrack named Madre de Deus by Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Cumberland on August 13, 1592, at the Battle of Flores, was the biggest capture that galvanized English trade. She was the largest vessel that was seen in England when she was brought in to Dartmouth. Her cargo includes chests filled with pearls, gold, jewels, silver coins, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, benjamin tree, onions, cinnamon, red dye, cloth, tapestries, cochineal, and ebony. Aside from that, another valuable thing was the ship’s rutter or mariner’s handbook that has all the vital information on India, Japan, and China trades. With these riches, the English were aroused to engage in this luxurious commerce.

Three more English ships navigated east, but all were lost at sea in 1596. After a year, Ralph Fitch arrived. He was an adventurer merchant, who, together with his companions, had made an amazing 15-year-old overland voyage to Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia. He was then consulted on the Indian affairs and gave a lot of valuable information to Lancaster, who commanded the first East India Company Voyage in 1601.

The Formation of the East India Tea Company and Its Expansion

A group of merchants met on September 22, 1959, and stated their intention to venture in the pretended voyage to the East Indies, and the sums that they will adventure, committing to £30,133 which is more than £4,000,000, if converted to today’s money. After two days, they reconvened and resolved to apply to the Queen to support the project. Their first attempt was not successful, but nonetheless, they still sought the Queen’s unofficial approval to continue. With this, they purchased ships for their venture, and they increased their capital to £68,373, and the East India Company was born.

The company relied on a factory system, leaving representatives called “factors” behind to set up trading posts. This allowed them to source and negotiate for food. In 1613, a treaty with the Mughal emperor Jahangir was able to establish the company’s first factory in Surat, which is now known as western India. Over the years, the company changed its focus from pepper and other spices to calico and silk fabric, and finally, tea. It also expanded into China, the Persian Gulf, and other places in Asia.

The royal charter of the East India Company gave it the ability to wage war. It initially used military force to protect itself and fight rival traders. However, it seized control of the whole Mughal state of Bengal in 1757. Robert Clive, who led the 3,000-person army of the company, became the governor of Bengal. He started collecting taxes and customs, which were then used to buy Indian goods and export them to England. The company became successful, and it drove the French and Dutch out of the Indian subcontinent.

In the following years, the East India Company forcibly occupied other regions of the subcontinent and faked associations with leaders of territories that they could not conquer. The East India Tea Company, at its height, had an army of 260,000, which is twice the size of Britain’s standing army. Aside from that, the company was responsible for almost half the trade in Britain. The subcontinent became under the rule of the East India Company’s shareholders, who voted merchant-statesmen each year to command policy within its territory.

The End of the East India Tea Company

However, financial anguishes and a prevalent awareness of the abuses of power by the company eventually led Britain to pursue direct control of the East India Company. After a long rest, the British government finally ended company rule in India in 1858. And by 1874, the company was dissolved.

By then, the East India Tea Company had been involved in a lot of things, including getting China hooked on opium because the company grew opium in India and unlawfully exported it to China in exchange for sought-after Chinese goods. Aside from that, they are also involved in the international slave trade, as it made slave voyages, transported slaves, and used slave labor throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

The East India Tea Company may have since been outshined by modern capitalism, but its heritage is still felt around the world.  Be sure to check out this Historical Tea Timeline Infographic from to see the rich history of Tea!

A Historical Tea Timeline Infographic