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Just over 400 years ago, a group of London merchants arrived here
on the Indian coast, hoping to do some peaceful trading.
Those early pioneers dreamt of making huge profits.
From humble beginnings, this ragtag band of adventurers secured land
from Indian rulers, formed alliances with local craftsmen and built
from scratch a commercial enterprise to export goods to Britain.
The East India Company was part of this tremendous globalisation
of the world which really started in the 17th century
and speeded up in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Over 200 years the Company grew into a commercial titan.
Its wealth rivalled that of the British State.
It had its own army and eventually ruled over 400 million people.
Its trade was vital to Britain's commercial success
and its shares were the centre point of London's financial markets.
It revolutionised the British lifestyle.
The East India Company changed the way we dress,
it changed the way we eat, it changed the way we socialise.
And, by accident, created one of the most powerful empires in history.
They were instrumental in making Britain the maritime superpower,
they helped lay the foundations for our own global trading system
today and they also helped to make English the world's language.
Every step of the Company's rise is recorded in a unique archive.
"What a lucky fellow you are, Charley, going to India.
"You lead such a luxurious life. Why, you dog!
"When you come home you will be a rich man."
But the letters and diaries also chart its fall
into profiteering, nepotism and corruption...
"Every ancient friend of the family
"hoped I should live to be a major general..."
..and eventually a chilling story of drug-running and famine.
"Numbers of famishing wretches followed our army
"for the sole purpose of existing on the offal of the camp."
This is the story of the greatest company the world has ever known.
By 1880 the East India Company had grown from a tiny band of merchants
with a small foothold in India into a colossal trading empire,
pouring wealth into the pockets of its shareholders back in Britain.
They had conquered the wealthy region of Bengal and bled it dry...
..amplifying the effects of a deadly famine,
leading to the deaths of millions of people
in a human tragedy of unprecedented scale.
The British were horrified and the government was forced to step in.
From that point on the state's grip grew ever tighter
as it attempted to control this voracious monster.
A new chapter in its history began.
From now on its affairs in India would be run
by a Board of Control appointed by the British government.
And Parliament would gradually transform
the way that the Company functioned in India.
This new role as ruler of India would herald a new attitude
towards its subjects.
Over time, the British would grow more distant and aloof.
They increasingly see a need to separate themselves from the people
that they're ruling and to create a sense of British prestige around
themselves as the ruling race and the people who are in charge.
Neglecting its relationship with the people of India
- carefully cultivated over the previous centuries -
would prove a terrible mistake
and threaten the Company's very existence.
In the 19th century the biggest risk to the Company
would be the emerging struggle between trade and Empire.
This conflict was intensified by one man when, in 1798,
he was given the top job in India.
Governor-General of the Bengal Presidency, Lord Richard Wellesley.
Wellesley was from a grand, aristocratic family back home
and he took one look at Government House in Calcutta
and decided that something a little more ostentatious was required
to reflect the power of the British in India,
not to mention his own exalted status.
And so he built this, the new Government House.
It's not much, but it's home.
The cost of the project rang alarm bells
back at Company headquarters in Leadenhall Street.
But of more concern were Wellesley's outright imperial ambitions,
which clashed with the Company's stated objectives
to minimise military expenditure.
In London the directors were keen to avoid wars.
Their costs were certain, their outcomes less so.
But Wellesley dismissed the concerns of the people
he described as the cheesemongers of Leadenhall Street.
He was here with a personal agenda,
one supported by the British government,
and it had little to do with the rag trade.
He wanted to smash the vestiges of French power in India,
wipe out local opposition
and extend British rule across the subcontinent.
And from 14,000 miles away,
there was little the directors could do to stop him.
Wellesley had set his sights on a formidable Muslim adversary -
Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore.
The rich, battle-hardened Muslim leader of Mysore
was the East India's Company's most intractable enemy.
Three times in three decades his family had fought the Company.
They were known as the Terrors of Leadenhall Street.
And now Wellesley discovered that on top of it all,
they were in league with the French.
I think he identified quite early on that if he could play the French
and British off against each other he could expand at their expense.
The French were at the time Britain's main global rival
for the status of global superpower and that was being played out
in India as it was in North America and other arenas.
A striking force of around 4,000 East India Company troops
- many of them native soldiers or sepoys -
attacked Tipu's fort in Seringapatam.
Inside with his men, the Tiger was ready to do battle.
A ruler who prided himself on military prowess
had to have an extensive, extravagant,
ornate collection of weapons in his personal arsenal.
And here are some of them.
The sword was the emblem of manhood in this period,
the emblem of a great ruler.
and judging by these swords,
Tipu Sultan was a deeply religious man and a deeply aggressive one.
Look at this fabulous sword here.
The hilt is entirely covered in gold.
Gold tiger clasping a steel blade in its mouth.
This man was absolutely obsessed with the tiger motif.
He lived his life as a tiger.
In fact, his favourite expression was,
"It's better to live one day as a tiger
"than a thousand days as a sheep."
What I love about this particular blade is on the hilt
is written an expression in Persian.
"This blade is the lightning
"that flashes though the lives of infidels."
Probably quite near the end of their lives, I expect.
And on here is the name of Tipu Sultan himself
and Allah and Muhammad his prophet.
This was a man who believed that he was engaged in holy war.
He was God's instrument on Earth and his task was to destroy infidels,
driving them out from the Indian subcontinent.
But this time it wasn't to be.
After a month-long siege, Tipu's stronghold fell
and the tiger was slaughtered.
The significance of the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799
is that it's the beginning of the end of the independence
of the great southern principalities in India.
It meant of course that British paramountcy was beginning
to be established in that region of India
and that the Madras Presidency,
the most southern of the East India Company presidencies,
was increasing, territorially, hugely in size
in this very short five or six years
of Richard Wellesley's time as Governor-General.
Almost immediately after Tipu's death,
his palace of treasures was looted.
The Company's troops could hardly contain themselves
when they came across Tipu's showpiece.
This comes from Tipu Sultan's unbelievably flamboyant throne he had built.
These little tiger heads would have sat atop the edge of the throne,
and like this one here they're all covered in gold,
set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
This would have been so striking that really it sealed its own fate
because as soon as the East India Company's Prize Committee
- the people responsible for giving out rewards to its troops -
set their beady little eyes on this,
they hacked it up and gave it away or sold it off.
Some of those pieces arrived back here in Britain.
It's a tiny glimpse into what must have been one of the most
spectacular objects these people had ever seen.
When news of the Tiger's death reached Britain,
there was jubilation.
It turns out the British people didn't share Tipu Sultan's
opinion of himself as a noble servant of God.
They thought he was an extremist tyrant.
There were parties and balls cross the country,
decorations and medals were struck.
Artists got in on the act and painted depictions of the final battle.
This wasn't being celebrated as a private,
commercial triumph for the East India Company,
but as a moment of national, public achievement.
There was now nothing else standing in the way
of total British domination in the subcontinent.
With the vast, rich kingdom of Mysore now under their dominion,
the Company's power in India was growing.
But territorial growth meant bigger
and more expensive armies to hold it.
The cost of this could ruin the Company but from their offices in London,
the directors were powerless to contain Lord Wellesley.
Wellesley saw himself as a ruler, not a merchant and,
like countless other empire builders,
he developed an insatiable desire for ever-wider expansion.
He spent a vast amount of money that should have been
for commercial purposes on conquest.
He wrote a bragging letter home to Britain, saying that
he was satisfying, "the voracious appetite for lands and fortresses."
He went on to say, "Seringapatam ought, I think, to stay your
"stomach for a while, not to mention Tanjore and the Poliga countries.
"Perhaps I may be able to give you a supper of Oudh
"and the Carnatic, if you should still be hungry."
Against the Company's wishes,
Wellesley annexed more and more Indian territory.
Vast swathes of southern,
western and northern India fell to the British.
One quoted contemporaneous at the time is that he's increased
the population of British India by 40 million.
So this is a massive expansion and it's really the time when the
East India Company moves from paramountcy,
from being the major influential power,
to being the major territorial power.
It's the start, in effect, of the British Empire.
Wellesley had completely transformed the Company's position in India,
even whilst the directors back in Britain were complaining
that his actions were taking them into debt.
By the time he was finished,
Britain controlled an area that was ten times the size of the British Isles,
with a population of 180 million people.
That's one sixth of the entire global population at the time.
An important part of Wellesley's plans
was bringing a little bit of Britishness to India.
When Calcutta all got a bit too much for Wellesley and the greater good
of British society, they would head 16 miles north to Barrackpore.
But they travelled in slightly more refined style.
"Barrackpore is a charming place,
"like a beautiful English villa on the banks of the Thames.
"So green and fresh."
"The Governor General has a country residence with a fine park there.
"During the races the Calcutta world assembles there.
"Lady Amherst rendered Government House gay with quadrilles
"and displays of fireworks."
British officers once lived here
in single-storey buildings known as bungalows
- one of the many Indian words that has permanently entered the English language.
Their decaying remains are still visible today.
These crumbling ruins are now all that remains
of the magnificent British homes.
You can see how well laid out they were.
Nice big gardens, no doubt planted with beautiful beds of flowers,
big airy windows and doors so the breeze,
or what breeze there was, could just flow through the house.
Lots of shade, of course, big trees planted.
It's funny, you look at these houses and they're so confident.
Built in the imperial style.
The people who lived in them would have been certain
that their grasp on India and, in fact, the world, was unshakable.
And yet here, only a couple of hundred years later,
they're shelters for wild dogs.
'In the Company's day, it was British officers
'who sheltered here from the blistering heat of the sun.'
Thank you very much. Good morning.
'It was generally far too hot to do any actual work.'
"My disgraceful laziness is appalling.
"I have hardly opened a book or written a line for the last ten days.
"In fact, I have done absolutely nothing but lounge and saunter about."
Barrackpore was given the stamp of approval
when Wellesley chose it as his summer retreat.
This is how Wellesley would have got to Barrackpore
- the river acting like a private highway,
taking him from his palace in Calcutta
up to the front steps of his palatial residence here,
minimising the time he had to spend in the public space.
I mean, God forbid he would actually have to travel through the country
and look out on the plight of the Indians over whom he ruled.
Wellesley spent £50,000 of Company money
building himself a palatial residence
at the heart of this British haven.
But his burgeoning empire was in direct conflict
with the Company's objectives...
..which were still trade and profit.
Attempting to gain the upper hand,
the Court of Directors came up with a plan.
They would train a new breed of employee
to act on the Company's behalf in India.
The civil servant.
Civil service is a term coined by the East India Company at this time.
It describes a group who had previously been administrators,
known as writers.
But the use of the term marks an important shift
because in the past these writers hadn't been terribly high quality.
As long as they could read and write and do a bit of maths,
they were given the job.
But now there were whole swathes of India to rule over,
they had to know the people.
And they had to know how to govern them.
It was time for an upgrade.
In 1806 the Company opened a new school to train its future
governors and administrators - East India College in Hertfordshire,
known today as Haileybury College.
To educate this new class of servant,
the training was progressive and exacting.
The curriculum was pretty demanding.
Just how demanding became clear
when I had a go at an exam in my own favourite subject.
-Here's a history one.
-OK, here we go.
OK, for 1851.
"Describe the foundations
"and progress of ecclesiastical wealth and power.
"Distinguish between the depositories of that power
"in the ninth century and the 12th..."
"In what manner did the Curia regis of the Conqueror
"create and extend the original jurisdiction?"
OK. I think we'll just leave those actually.
I think we've looked at those enough.
Once every term, the directors would come down.
These were known as dye days, at the end of the term,
and distribute prizes and medals to Haileyburians
or East India men that had done well.
And these are the medals here. Beautiful, aren't they?
-That is a medal for Sanskrit, there.
-It's even got Sanskrit on it.
And the inscription says that the pursuit of knowledge
is better than the pursuit of gold, which is very apt.
Self-enrichment would no longer be the sole ambition
of young men bound for India.
This new college was educating them with new goals
and instilling them with new values.
And would it matter how well they'd done at this college?
Would that affect their careers once they got to India?
If you made it through the rigours of the four terms,
it was indeed a job for life.
The same patronage that helped the pupils through their studies here
at the school would also smooth their paths once they got to India.
And although there were no longer the opportunities to make
vast amounts of money now that private trading had been outlawed,
they were still the highest paid civil servants in the world
and they had generous living allowances
and they even got a commission on tax revenue.
This was still an extremely attractive career
for Britain's most influential classes.
"It is with feelings of both pleasure and pride that we can record
"the fact of you passing through the college at Haileybury
"and that the prize in Hindoostanee has been awarded to you.
"You have passed through the fiery ordeal of college unscathed,
"without being contaminated by its vices."
Soon they would have to resist the vices of India.
Where earlier Company men had embraced local and religious customs,
now people were becoming alarmed by them.
Especially Britain's growing number of Christian missionaries,
who had been arriving in India in small numbers,
against the Company's wishes.
And in the British Library's archives are some persuasive letters
warning of the consequences of allowing them free rein.
One of the loudest voices was General Charles Stuart,
known as Hindoo Stuart because of his profound love of Hindu culture.
Now this culture was under threat
so he published his feelings in an effort to protect it.
So Stuart lays it down on the line.
"Is it wise, is it politic,
"is it even safe to institute a war of sentiment
"against the only friends of any importance that we seem to have left
"in India - our faithful subjects of the Ganges."
By which he means the Hindus and the Muslims.
Hindoo Stuart wasn't the only man to regard missionaries with suspicion.
Stark warnings were issued by the famous tea merchant Thomas Twining.
He's saying that they're facing a danger no less
than the threatened extermination of our Eastern sovereignty
and that danger commands them to step forth
and arrest the progress of such rash and unwarrantable proceedings.
Stop the missionaries now before it's too late.
When men like Twining and Stuart made their feelings public,
the missionaries fought back.
Here is another letter to the poor, long-suffering chairman
of the East India Company, a Court of Directors,
from a member of the British Bible Society.
And he says that Mr Twining's letter is an extraordinary publication
and the plain object is to frighten the Company from imparting
the blessings of Christianity to 50 million people in India,
to represent the circulation of the scriptures amongst them
as a crime of the deepest dye and most dangerous tendency.
Broadly, what was the Company's sort of point of view during this period?
The Company believed that...publicly declared a policy
that they weren't adverse to Christian missionaries
but what they were against
is anything which would disturb the status quo.
Anything which would make the Hindus, particularly,
feel that their religious beliefs were being threatened.
The Company believed that the people of India should be left
to practise their own religions, otherwise they could grow hostile.
And that would jeopardise Britain's position on the subcontinent.
But it wasn't up to the Company any more.
With ultimate control over its activities in India,
the British Government found itself lobbied by some powerful
The most forceful part of this group were a number
of evangelical Christians who lived around Clapham Common, here.
They were known as the Clapham Sect
and they worshipped here at the Holy Trinity Church.
They were led in Parliament by the veteran humanitarian
campaigner William Wilberforce.
Wilberforce is perhaps best known for his successful campaign
for the abolition of the slave trade in the early 19th century.
After that, he turned his attention to India, declaring it...
"The greatest of all causes, for I really place it before Abolition."
Wilberforce, in common with other Clapham Sect members,
saw the propagation of Christianity in India as sort of British duty.
They had a world view that saw everything
that happened as being part of God's plan.
And they saw British imperial expansion in India as being
indicative of God's plan for them to use that platform
to spread the message of Christianity.
These windows are modern but they clearly reflect the great
passions that drove Wilberforce through his life.
On the right you can see the work he did getting the slave trade abolished,
freeing the slaves of the West Indies from their bondage, their servitude.
On the left his other great passion, spreading the Christian message,
evangelizing all over the word.
And you can see the distinctive national dresses
of all the people in the bottom left,
from the native Americans to the Indian there as well.
He believed that everyone was created equal in the eyes of God
and there were many aspects of religion in India
which he heartily disapproved of.
For example the caste system, which seemed to enshrine inequality.
He, and the other influential Christians who worshipped here,
wanted Britain to use its rising power
to civilize and Christianise India.
The British found Hinduism in particular
very difficult to understand.
There were a number of Hindu practices that the
East India Company were concerned about,
in particularly suttee or widow-burning.
Suttee was the Hindu practice of burning widows alive
on the funeral pyres of their husbands.
Because of its sort of sensational and emotive appeal,
it was something that became very prominent
in the way in which Britons imagined India.
"Their Divinities are absolute monsters
"of lust, injustice, wickedness and cruelty.
"In short, their religious system is one of grand abomination."
In 1813 the British government gave way and forced the Company
to give missionaries full access to India,
sending a dangerous message to its people that the British
planned to convert them to Christianity.
Missionaries were just one of the Parliamentary impositions
the Company was forced to accept in order to stay in India.
Just 20 years since Parliament extended its prized Royal Charter,
it was up for renewal again.
Other British merchants took advantage of the deadline.
They wanted a slice of the tea trade
and pressured the British Government to act.
Every time the East India Company's Royal Charter
had come up for renewal there were calls to end
its commercial monopoly on trade with India.
But it had survived intact for more than 200 years.
But this was now the era of free trade
and Parliament decided to end that privileged position.
That meant that the East India Company's servants were no
longer here to trade, to make money through buying and selling,
but as colonial administrators,
running its vast territories on behalf of the British Crown.
The 1813 Charter Act marked a complete shift
in the Company's role.
After some 200 years in India,
they were no longer here as merchants but as rulers.
And this new position would have a tangible
effect on the behaviour of the British in India.
Britain was going through a massive Industrial Revolution.
It was becoming one of the richest, perhaps the richest country in the world,
and the British in India, I think, reflected that change.
They no longer saw themselves as people who'd chosen to live
in India and had to muddle along and just get on with the locals.
They now saw themselves as part of a superior, advanced, progressive civilisation,
and they saw themselves increasingly as detached from India.
The respect for Indian culture that had characterized previous
generations had completely vanished.
It was no longer acceptable for an East India Company servant
to speak like or dress like an Indian.
They had to now wear European dress and the army soon followed suit.
European customs and manners were emphasised.
A huge gulf was opening up between the British governing elite
and the Indian subjects.
By the 19th century you have the British increasingly talking
in terms of a British race, which is somehow different from other races, and embodies different values.
And it wasn't just the British doing it,
this was what was happening in the 19th century.
And so when it comes to India you have a lot of the British saying,
"Really, the Indians are an inferior race,
"they wouldn't be ruled by us if they weren't inferior."
"We should always preserve the European,
"for to adopt their manners is a departure from the very principle
"on which every impression of our superiority is grounded."
As the British entered the new self-assured Victorian age,
their attitude towards the Indians hardened.
They were convinced of their own cultural superiority
and they believed that India needed all the help it could get.
India was a barbaric place and its civilisation was stagnant.
From now on, Company servants and officers who came to India
were influenced by this conviction of moral and racial superiority.
And so were the growing numbers of British women.
To our ears, their views seem shockingly racist.
"There is something in the idea of gentlemen who never wear any clothes
"picking the fruit you eat which is not at all appetizing."
"I take all the naked black creatures
"squatting at the doors of their huts in such aversion,
"and what with the climate and the strange trees and shrubs,
"I feel like Robinson Crusoe.
"I cannot abide India and that is the truth."
The refusal to learn local languages,
dismissing Indians as savage barbarians
incapable of elevated thought.
These were ignorant views, and ones which ironically confined
the British into a narrow life that many of them found so boring.
But perhaps even more than being stupid and racist,
these views were dangerous because if that chasm opens up
between the rulers and the ruled,
then there's fertile ground for conflict.
The blame for this increasingly racist attitude
has often been entirely levelled at Victorian women.
I think to blame the British women in India for the gulf
that grew between the races is really unfair
and I've always felt it to be unfair.
The British women were very much part of their own community
and they were part of a community that didn't want a closer involvement with India.
In fact, the British establishment in India, which was male, of course,
discouraged women from getting too closely involved in India.
I mean there was a real bias now, among the British men in India,
that they wanted their women kept separately.
Few of these Brits had the urge or the need to look outside
the confines of this artificial little bubble.
Often the only natives they did meet were their own servants.
Thy tried to recreate their old British lives, eating British food
three times a day, planting British seeds in their gardens and wearing
ridiculous British clothing as they went out in the hot Indian sun.
It was an obstinate, desperate attempt to keep a little
piece of Britishness alive, here in the heart of India.
"I keep up as much as possible all English customs,
"so that when I come to see you all again I hope you will find me
"just as much of an Englishman as I was before I left."
This determination to Anglicise India was about to gain momentum
with a final shift in the Company's operations and purpose.
The British government closed in on their one remaining,
jealously-guarded trading monopoly.
In the early 1830s the East India Company's charter
came up for renewal once again.
This time its monopoly on trade with China was stripped away
and all commercial operations came to a halt.
The transition from merchant trading house
to imperial administrator was complete.
As administrator of India,
the East India Company was allocated a pot of money by the
British government for "intellectual improvement" of the people.
But no-one could decide how best to use it.
No-one, that is, until the arrival of one man,
Thomas Babington Macaulay,
lawmaker on the newly-created Supreme Council of India.
And his legacy has left a profound mark on the subcontinent.
Macaulay when he arrived in India,
saw it as his role to establish a very Westernising,
Anglicist approach to education and government in India.
He decisively defeated the Orientalist lobby, which had
been in favour of encouraging native Indian classical languages.
Macaulay's approach was that India had to be introduced to modern,
scientific knowledge via the English language.
It couldn't be done through Indian classical languages.
These poor young men have got exam week on at that moment.
It's bringing back all sorts of horrible memories
of my own time at school.
Macaulay, like many other prominent Victorians, assumed that British
culture was basically the highest form of human civilisation.
And he was desperate to try
and bestow some of that on the Indian subjects.
He envisaged an education system that would create,
as he said "Indians in blood and colour but English in tastes,
"Opinions, morals and intellect."
And the first thing to do was teach them all English.
We have traced from the fall of Constantinople,
in 1453 and we had explained to you what Renaissance meant.
Now, tell me one thing, why was this reawakening required?
The spirit of enquiry grows amongst the people
and then they wanted to learn new things and explore new worlds.
Macaulay's Act, The Minute on Education,
was passed in February, 1835.
And almost immediately the children of India's elite began
learning English as their main language.
Macaulay did not intend to educate all the masses.
He talked about educating the cream of society.
And from there his downward filtration
theory, that is going to percolate down to the masses.
In some time, it's going to be like education for all
but it'll take some years to happen.
So, is the fact that this kind of
English, modern education system was introduced,
is that seen as a good thing?
We definitely appreciate the coming of the English
and the English language and everything as our, you know,
the doors opening to enlightenment,
the touch of light, the enlightenment.
Of course, definitely. The doors opening onto the Western world.
And it's still carrying on, the remnants of the Raj is still
there, you and I are speaking the language of the Raj.
Macaulay's educational revolution had far-reaching
consequences for the children of India.
Do you speak English at home, as well?
Yes, all the time, it's the only language I speak,
pretty much, at home.
Do you speak any other languages?
Yeah, I speak Hindi and Bengali
but at home it's only English, as in school.
In fact, we're only allowed to speak English in school.
Really? In the playground here?
Yeah, everywhere except in the Hindi and Bengali classes, where we
have to speak Indian but otherwise it's only English.
It feels like a faintly controversial thing to say but
when you come here and you look at these young men and their uniforms,
their ties, they're speaking their impeccable English, in a lesson
about the Renaissance, discussing which football club they like
best, Chelsea or Man United.
It does seem like, in some ways, Macaulay's
dream of creating Englishmen out here in India, is being realised.
But while Macaulay claimed to be improving the young
minds of India, the Company he served was still prepared to
do anything to increase its wealth.
Including pursuing an immoral, government-backed, trade in drugs.
The Company controlled the opium-growing areas of India.
It operated a brutal monopoly,
it forced peasant farmers to grow opium but then they could
only sell it to the Company, it was then brought here to Calcutta.
Now to get round accusations they were pushing drugs,
the opium was then sold in auction houses here for 1,000% profit,
to independent traders.
They would then ship it off, down the Hooghly,
across the Indian Ocean and into China.
But the Company was not the only guilty party in this illicit trade.
The story of the opium trade is really one of just mass collusion.
It was collusion between the East India Company
and the British Government,
who both benefited immensely from this illegal trade.
And it was collusion between the private traders and many officials
in the Chinese authorities, who with receipt of a bribe, would
quite happily turn their eyes away from this smuggling in of opium.
In 1838 over 35,000 opium chests were shipped from Calcutta to
China and the Chinese Emperor finally snapped.
All in the name of profit, opium was ruining
the lives of over 12 million Chinese people and draining
the country of prosperity.
The Chinese government seized 20,000 chests
of the finest East India Company opium and dumped in the ocean.
Then they banned traders from bringing any more
opium into the country.
But neither the Company nor the British Government was
prepared to let matters end there.
Opium was the Company's most profitable export from India
and funded the lucrative tea trade.
I don't think there's sort of any other way really of viewing
what was going on with the China trade in this period other
than drug pushing. The East India Company and the private
agency houses who worked with them, the opium trade, were aggressively
marketing opium in the coastal towns of China against the wishes
of the Chinese government because it was the one commodity that they
could sell there and the one that allowed them to finance their
trade in tea, which obviously was hugely profitable back in Britain.
This dubious business had to be protected,
whether China wanted it or not.
An Asian state had the nerve to stop the Company trading
and stand in the way of its making money!
The East India Company had been here before, in India,
and its solution was the same...force!
The British Government sent the Royal Navy to batter
the Chinese into submission.
They backed down and even
had to hand over the island of Hong Kong to the British,
which then became the centre of the ongoing opium trade.
But, back in India, a final reckoning was looming.
And it would be sparked from an unexpected quarter.
The Company's own loyal, standing army.
The Indian army had grown to become a bit of a source of worry
for many in the East India Company.
What had begun as a few
security teams guarding the Company's forts around India,
had grown into one of the largest standing armies in the world.
More than 250,000 troops,
larger than most European armies at the time.
And that was 96% composed of native
Indian troops, known as "sepoys".
Keeping these sepoy troops loyal was critical to the Company's survival.
So what would happen if this huge native army turned on them?
But, increasingly, the quality of those few Englishmen was debatable.
The problem with the Indian army at the time is that it's set up
that if you have any ambition, any get up and go, any drive,
you will leave your regiment early on for probably civil employ
or staff employ and the reason you did that is because they were
better paid. So, the residue left in the regiments, the people
who had close daily contact with the Indian soldiers were the refuse,
were the worst of the lot.
And they didn't tend...these men were disgruntled, they were bored
and they didn't tend to treat their Indian soldiers very well.
Just as throughout the rest of British India,
in the Company's three armies, a racial gulf had opened up,
between the officers and their Indian troops.
All of these accounts bear witness to a catastrophic breakdown in the
bond between the officers and men of the East India Company's army.
Now any team, but particularly an army, needs that trust
and respect between those who are giving the orders
and those who are carrying them out.
If you were an East India Company sepoy, why would you follow
an officer into battle who's openly disdainful of you?
In fact, why would you do anything he said at all?
The sepoys no longer trusted their East India Company officers.
They were appalled at their degrading treatment and
they were very suspicious about the future intentions of the Company.
What was needed to turn this very tense situation into a full
blown crisis was a spark.
Appropriately enough that spark was provided by the sepoys' rifles.
In the mid-19th century a sepoy
would have lots of cartridges in his cartridge pouch.
He had to bite off the end, pour it down the barrel of the rifle,
then put the cartridge itself and the bullet into the barrel,
ram it down with a ramrod and then it would fire at the enemy.
The big problem came
when a rumour spread like wildfire throughout the sepoy forces,
that the British were greasing these cartridges with pig of beef fat.
For them it was completely intolerable to insert
anything that had ever been near a pig or a cow into their mouth.
At a stroke, the culturally ignorant,
distant British decision-makers, had managed to alienate not just
the Hindus, but also the Muslims of their vast Indian army.
In fact, realising their error,
the East India Company never issued these cartridges to the sepoys...
but it was too late.
Those soldiers within the army who were disgruntled did not want
to let the issue lie.
In other words they kept it going. Why?
Because something to do with caste
and religion like this was a means of uniting both Muslims and
Hindus, who traditionally, frankly, had not been the closest of allies.
The scene was set for the East India Company's gravest
An episode that's become known to the British as the Indian Mutiny
but to Indians it was the First War of Independence.
The earliest signs of dissent
occurred in one of the Company's oldest military settlements,
the favourite summer hang-out of the British.
In Barrackpore, on 29th of March, 1857,
the peace of an afternoon was shattered.
Sergeant-Major James Hewson was in his bungalow one day when he heard
that one of his sepoys, a man called Mangal Pandey, armed himself with a
loaded musket and was behaving very erratically on the parade ground.
Hewson warned an officer, got dressed picked up his sword
and went to work out what the hell was going on!
The inebriated Pandey was acting in protest against the new gun
cartridges but he failed to incite his fellow soldiers to join him.
The British adjutant arrived to see what all the fuss was about.
Pandey shot at Hewson.
He shot at a British officer who came to help him.
The three of them ended up in a huge sword fight,
the two Brits being wounded before Pandey was arrested.
Then, a week later, having been court-marshalled,
and in front of the assembled garrison of both Indian and
European troops in Barrackpore,
he was hanged.
Allegedly from this banyan tree behind me.
Mangal Pandey's unit was disbanded but the uprising
began for real when troops at Meerut rose up and then headed for Delhi.
On May 11th, 1857, the city fell.
The rebellion is really a mixture of dissatisfied groups in India.
The biggest dissatisfied group are, of course the soldiers and because
they're professionals and they're armed, they are the most dangerous.
You will see in any revolution you've got a problem
if you're army turns on you.
But also they were joined by a lot of disgruntled civilians.
People who, for various reasons, weren't happy with
East India Company rule and, of course,
that included a lot of people whose
principalities had been taken away from them, a lot of people who
felt that they had something to gain by seeing the back of the British.
The East India Company was about to pay a heavy
price for allowing its relationship with India to break down.
Right across northern India native troops rebelled against their
British officers, often killing them and their families.
There were serious disturbances at the strategically placed
towns of Benares, Allahabad and Lucknow.
These were situated between Delhi
and the administrative capital, Calcutta.
If they fell, it would seriously imperil the entire British
position in Northern India.
Even the supposedly reliable garrison of Cawnpore, was in revolt.
After a bloody three week siege,
the British garrison surrendered to save the women and children inside.
They were offered safe conduct
but it became clear that this was a trick.
As the survivors made their way down to boats on the Ganges,
the rebels opened fire.
Most of those who survived the bullets were then bludgeoned
or hacked to death.
180 women and children were taken prisoner and held for three weeks,
until news arrived of an approaching British relief column.
At that point the prisoners were massacred.
Their bodies hacked to pieces
and the dismembered parts thrown down a well.
The first British troops on the scene had trouble dealing
with the shock of seeing the dead bodies of women and children.
Their accounts survive today in the British Library.
No Englishman who saw the sight that beheld them,
can ever forget or forgive it.
The floor was a mass of blood, clots of blood and women's hair,
with pieces of women's apparel lying about in all directions,
cut and torn. Outside of the compound in a dry well was
seen the bodies, apparently not long thrown there.
Could any human being conceive of such horrible slaughter?
Clearly there's going to be an enormous appetite for revenge.
And it was fulfilled.
The officer who commanded, a Colonel Neal, of the First Madras Fusiliers,
by way of retribution,
made every man who was taken under suspicion of having been
implicated in the mutiny at Cawnpore, at first wash up
with his hands portions of the bloodstains in that dreadful room.
"If he was a man of any influence or high caste
"He was made to go down on his knees and lick it up
"And was then hung at the door where a gallows had been erected."
So that fury for revenge, is in the air already.
And we see it in another letter from a Lieutenant Kemp,
who talks about a "fearful vengeance".
"Colonel Havelock's men, 3,000 Europeans,
"have killed every man, woman and child in Cawnpore.
"The men could not be kept back after seeing their countrymen lying
"dead in all directions."
You can really tell it's his emotion at that moment.
It hasn't been edited or printed or anything like that.
It's the emotions of a man straight out of combat.
The East India Company was unable to restore order or
prevent acts of savage retribution.
The situation spiralled out of control.
The amount of execution which is going on across the country
is astonishing. I mean, we have some images here of what was called
"Pandey's Hornpipe", which is hanging mutineers.
And then the East India Company
adopted the practices of the old Mughal Empire
and executed mutineers by blowing them from the mouths of canon.
They used to strap them in front of a canon and then fire it, which
would shatter, throw the remains of the mutineer a fair distance.
The East India Company did a lot to provoke the rebellion and yet
it sounds like their handling of it was very messy as well.
It was a terrible shock to the body politic of the East India Company
and they realised, really, the game was up and I think in a way
they must have smelt the end of the East India Company's reign in India.
The Company had fatally bungled its response to the uprising.
Having been forced, bit-by-bit, to give up its privileges
throughout the previous century, it was finally on its knees.
The mutiny is the beginning of the end for the East India Company
because it shows quite clearly to the British Government that the
East India Company is no longer capable of governing India.
It's quite clearly made mistakes, probably chiefly in the way
it runs its army, but also in its civil administration.
And the amount of lives that have been lost, the amount of treasure
that's been expended, can only mean one thing and that is that the
India has to be formalized, has to become a part of the British Empire.
The government and the British people had had
enough of the rapacious, profiteering East India Company.
On the first of November 1858, British India was finally
and inevitably handed over to the government of Queen Victoria.
The Court of Directors issued a poignant farewell message
to its thousands of servants in India.
The Company has the great privilege of transferring, to the
service of Her Majesty, such a body of civil
and military officers as the world has never seen before.
Let Her Majesty appreciate the gift.
Let her take the vast country
and the teeming millions of India under direct control.
But let her not forget the great
corporation from which she received them.
Over the course of its dramatic rise and fall,
the East India Company made some devastating mistakes that
caused misery and ruin.
But over more than 400 years in India,
it left some enduring legacies.
Probably most importantly, the legal system it puts in place,
so that you get very much the basic infrastructure that is still
being used in modern India today.
The Company was really the model for the multinational
company of today, in terms of the management of long distance
value-chains and so on, and the systems it set out for that really
sort of are the platform for today's international business operations.
One of India's advantages has been that we have a large
population in numbers,
speaking English of at least international standards, as such.
We are talking a population, probably,
almost the size of Britain who could speak English well.
So, this certainly is a legacy and
is an advantage in the international world.
And all of this grew out of a small group of profit-seeking
men and the adventurers and glory-seekers who served them.
It's so hard to generalise about the men of the East India Company.
The system that brought them here was very often cruel,
rapacious and venal.
But those men who risked everything, endured appalling hardships and saw
their friends and loved ones carried away by disease,
they weren't inherently evil.
They lived and worked in a world that was unrecognizable to us
today and in doing so they reshaped it.
Their epitaph lies all around us.
Here in India, Britain and even further afield.
We're all still living with the consequences of what they built
and what they destroyed,
whilst working for history's most influential company.
By 1800 the East India Company had grown from a tiny band of merchants into a colossal trading empire. But scandal and corruption in the 18th century had led to a curtailment of its powers by the British government. The state now controlled the company's affairs in India and, throughout the 19th century, would chip away at its remaining powers and trading privileges.
The company was transformed from a trading enterprise into the rulers of India, and governed vast swathes of the subcontinent on behalf of the British Crown. Its territory expanded enormously and an empire was born.
As the company traded opium to a reluctant Chinese Empire, in India a dangerous chasm opened up between the British rulers and the Indian people. Alienated and disaffected, significant numbers of the company's massive army of Indian soldiers finally revolted and the company's handling of the mutiny was its final undoing. In 1858 British India passed into Queen Victoria's hands and the Raj was born.