This guide is a brief introduction to the Honourable East India Company and material relating to it held by the National Maritime Museum.
The Company’s own records are in the Asia Pacific & Africa Collections, The British Library. However the Museum holds books and manuscripts useful to anyone researching the history of the company or the maritime and commercial history of the period when it flourished. They can be viewed in the Caird Library.
The Honourable East India Company was founded at the end of the 16th century. Its royal charter, granted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, gave it exclusive rights to trade to India and the Far East and its first trading post in India was set up at the city of Surat in 1607. King Charles II extended the company's charter and its influence in India grew until the end of the 18th century when it controlled the whole country.
In 1813, the company lost its monopoly on trade with India and in 1833 the monopoly on trade with China ceased. Trade was then open to private companies, many of whom had chartered their ships to the company. In 1858 the company was dissolved.
East India Company ships, known as East Indiamen, were the largest of their time and were described as 'the aristocrats of the navy'. The company built its own shipyard at Deptford in 1609. After 1649, when the company realised it was more profitable to hire ships than own them, it became the custom to charter shipping. Those who provided and managed ships for the company were known as ships' husbands.
The Bombay Marine was the company's private navy, intended mainly for coastal protection. The service operated from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean and was also responsible for much survey work. In time of war its ships worked alongside the Royal Navy and during its final years, 1830–1863, it was known as the Indian Navy.
Barber, James, The Court of Directors of the East India Company, versus Her Majesty's ministers, the resolutions of the House of Commons, and the public of India and England, as regards a complete plan of steam communication between the two empires (London: Smith, Elder, 1839) 656.614(42:54)@18"
Bruce, John, Annals of the Honourable East-India Company, from their establishment by the charter of Queen Elizabeth, 1600, to the union of the London and English East India Companies 1707–08 (London: Black, Parry and Kingsbury, 1810)
Bruijn, Jaap R & Gaastra, Femme S, Ships, sailors and spices: East India Companies and their shipping in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Amsterdam: Neha, 1993) 347.71
Chaudhuri, K N, The trading world of Asia and the English East India Company 1660-1760 (Cambridge: CUP, 1978) 347.71East India
Chaudhuri, K N, The English East India Company: the study of an early joint-stock company 1600-1640 (London: Frank Cass, 1965) 347.71East India
Cotton, Sir Evan, East Indiamen: the East India Company's maritime service (London: Batchworth, 1949) 347.71East India
East India Company, The Schedules of the East India Dock Rates on goods imported by private merchants from the East Indies (London: East India Company, 1817) 347.71East India:094
Gardner, Brian, The East India Company (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1971) 347.71East India
Great Britain. India Office List of marine records of the late East India Company, and of subsequent date, preserved in the Record department of the India Office, London (London: India Office, 1896)
Great Britain. Laws, statutes, etc The law relating to India and the East-India Company: with notes and an appendix (London: W H Allen, 1842) 342.537
Harding, D F, Smallarms of the East India Company 1600–1856 (Foresight 1997–99) 623.44
Hardy, Charles, A register of ships employed in the service of the Hon the United East India Company, from the year 1760 to the conclusion of the commercial charter...with an appendix and supplement (London: Parbury, Allen, 1835) 347.71East India:629.123.13
Honourable East India Company, Catalogue of the Hon East India Company (London: J & H Cox, 1845) 017.1(421)EIC
Jacobs, Els M, In pursuit of pepper and tea: the story of the Dutch East India Company (Walburg: Netherlands Maritime Museum, 1991) 347.71
Joseph, Vivian, A History of the British East India Company (Cheddar: Tallis, 1987) 347.71East India
Keay, John, The Honourable Company: a history of the English East India Company (London: Harper Collins, 1991) 347.71East India
Khan, Shafaat Ahmad, The East India trade in the XVIIth century: in its political and economic aspects (London: OUP, 1923) 347.71East India
Landwehr, John, VOC: a bibliography of publications relating to the Dutch East India Company 1602–1800 (Utrecht: HES, 1991) 016:347.71Dutch East India
Lawson, Philip, The East India Company: a history (London: Longman, 1993) 341.71East India
Low, Lt. C R, History of the Royal Indian Navy (1877)
Miller, Russell, The East Indiamen (Amsterdam: Time-Life, 1980) 347.71 East India
Misra, B B, The central administration of the East India Company (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1959) 347.71East India
Morris, D B, Mile end old town and the East India Company (1986) 347.792East India
Mukherjee, Ramkrishna, The rise and fall of the East India Company (London: Monthly Review Press, 1974) 347.71East India
Philips, C H, The East India Company 1784–1834 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961) 347.71East India
Philojohannes, A modest defence of the East India Company's management of steam communication with India (London: Wm H Allen, 1839) 656.614(42:54)18"
Reid, C Lestock, Commerce and conquest: the story of the Honourable East India Company (London: Kennikat, 1971) 347.71East India
Stevens, Henry, The dawn of British trade to the East Indies as recorded in the court minutes of the East India Company 1599–1603 (London: Frank Cass, 1967) 347.71East India
Sutton, Jean, Lords of the East: the East India Company and its ships (London: Conway Maritime, 1981) 347.71East India
Thomas, James, Portsmouth and the East India Company in the eighteenth century (Portsmouth: City Council, 1993) 914.227
Thornton, Edward, A summary of the history of the East India Company: from the grant of their first charter by Queen Elizabeth to the present period (London: James Ridgway, 1833) 347.71East India
Wills, John E, Pepper, guns and parley: the Dutch East India Company and China 1622–1681 (Cambridge (Mass): Harvard University Press, 1974) 382(492:51)16"
Winius, George D & Vink, Marcus P M, The merchant-warrior pacified: the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) and its changing political economy in India (Oxford: OUP, 1991) 347.71Dutch East India Company
The most useful sources of information on the company's ships are Charles Hardy's A Register of Ships Employed in the Service of the East India Company and Lloyds Register, which, between 1778 and 1833, includes separate lists of East India Company ships. The movements of the ships are reported in Lloyds List.
Although the company's official logbooks are held by the India Office Library (address above), the NMM collection includes 70 logbooks which were the property of the writer, usually the mate. There are also examples of a commander's log, and one by a purser.
Two logs of particular interest are:
The Dover Castle (LOG/C/18), containing a description of military operations in Penang, when the ship was taken over as a man of war.
Colin Campbell's log of the General Hewitt (LOG/C/19), with a lengthy description of Napoleon during his captivity in St Helena.
A few records of the Bombay Marine have been preserved among the papers of Captain Robert Scott (LOG/C/52). The letterbook of Admiral Sir Charles Malcolm, kept while he was superintendent of the Bombay Marine (1828–38), gives considerable information about it at a time when steamships were introduced and many important surveys were made. (MAL/3-8).
The Museum also holds the records of the Royal Indian Navy Association from 1750–1986 (88/043) but please note that these records are held at an outstation and advance notice is needed to view them.
Paintings, prints and drawings, ship models and ship plans
The Museum holds various images relating to the East India Company and some plans of East Indiamen. East Indiamen are well represented in the Ship Model collection mostly as unrigged models.
For details, please contact the Museum's Picture Library,
Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 6704/6631/6600
Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6533
Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 8600
Fax: +44 (0)20 8317 0263
Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Royal Navy:
- Research guide B3: The Royal Navy: Sources for enquiries
For general research help see:
- Research guide A2: Principal records for maritime research at the National Maritime Museum
- Research guide A3: Tracing family history from maritime records
Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.