In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on British India — modern South Asia — I have expanded the divided the long entry into separate documents, expanded abbreviations for easier reading, and added paragraphing and links to material in the Victorian Web. This discussion of British India has particular importance because it immediately precedes the 1857 Mutiny and the subsequent major shift in its status as it came under the direct control of the British government rather than that of the East India Company, a private company. Although the title-page bears the date 1856, internal evidence shows this material was written four years earlier. — George P. Landow]

Competition with the Portuguese and the Dutch and the East India Company

Following in the wake of the Portuguese and the Dutch, who had already established commercial settlements in India, the English, at the end of the sixteenth century, determined to adventure in the east seas; and, accordingly, in 1600, during the reign of Elizabeth in England, and of Akbar on the royal throne of Hindoostan, a company was formed for this purpose in London, which, in the next year, was enlarged so as to consist of 215 shareholders, headed by George Earl of Cumberland. This association, the nucleus of the present East India Company, had, at its origin, a capital of £70,000: its affairs were under the direction of a committee of 17 directors, the number of whom was afterwards increased to 24.

In the face of numerous obstacles thrown in their way by the Portuguese, the ships of the Company traded at Surat and other places on the west coast of India, and with such success that, after eight merchant squadrons having been sent to India in the space of twelve years, the company had derived an average profit of not less than 171 per cent, on their capital! In 1612, a joint-stock capital of £429,000 was subscribed by the Company, who, early in the succeeding year, obtained leave from the Mogul emperor to erect factories at Surat, Ahmedabad, Cambay, and Gogo. Violent hostilities with the Portuguese and the Dutch subsequently took place, but without much retarding the commercial prospects of the English, who, about 1626, established factories at Masulipatam and Armegon, near Nellore; and in 1634 were allowed by the emperor Shah-Jehan to trade at Pipley in Bengal, which fixes that date as the period when their ships were first permitted to enter the Ganges. In 1639, our countrymen procured from a local rajah the cession of a stripe of land, about 5 miles in length, on the Coromandel coast, where Madras now stands, and where Fort St. George was forthwith erected; this, accordingly, being the first territorial acquisition of the British on the Indian mainland.

Establishment of Factories in Bengal and the Acquisition of Bombay

In 1645, through the influence of Mr. Broughton, a surgeon who had successfully exerted his professional skill on some members of the imperial family at Agra, permission was acquired to erect factories at Balasore and Hooghly in Bengal; to which, as well as to the English establishments at Surat, valuable privileges were, at his instigation, granted. In 1664, the island of Bombay was ceded by Portugal to Charles II. of England, as a part of the dowry of his queen; in 1668 this island was made over in perpetuity to the Company, which was now considerably augmented by the addition to it of other associations; and in 1687 Bombay became the capital of the British settlements in the east Factories had by this time been established in various parts of Bengal, Bahar, and south India: and an expedition was even sent out ostensibly for the purpose of redressing certain injuries, but destined in reality for a service of no less magnitude than that of levying war against the powerful emperor Aureugzebe and the subadar of Bengal.


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive. Inline version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2018.

Last modified 6 December 2018