UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From commerce to conquest : the dynamics of early British imperial expansion into Bengal Berger, Mark Theodore


By the 1740s the English East India Company's trade and its servants' private trade in India were suffering as a result of both the increasing turmoil in the sub-continent, as the Mughal Empire declined, and the growing competition of the French. In response to this situation the Court of Directors and the British government despatched an increasing amount of men, ships and arms to India. Starting on the Coromandel Coast in the mid-1740s the Company's servants were able to use the Company's growing military establishment not only to combat the French threat and protect the Company's trade but also to acquire large presents from grateful princes and to obtain privileges that helped to enhance and improve their private trading activities. The defense and improvement of the Company's position in Bengal was also regarded as important and when Fort William was captured by the Nawab of Bengal in 1756 the Company's servants did not hesitate to intervene militarily in Bengal politics. The Court of Directors countenanced this involvement, albeit with less enthusiasm than the servants on the spot who were as motivated by private greed as they were by corporate interest. The conquest of Bengal, which occurred within an environment of declining Mughal power and accelerating French competition in India, must also be set in an even broader context in which the English and the French were fighting not just for control in India, but for the hegemony of an expanding capitalist world-economy controlled largely by Europe. Against this backdrop Bengal was conquered, between 1757-1765, largely as a result of the sub-imperialism of the Company's servants on the spot who had discovered the personal profit to be had from involving the Company in political and military intervention in Bengal regardless of whether or not the Company's own interests were served by such involvement.

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