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First European contacts.
In 1497, the Portuguese king Manuel I sent the navigator Vasco da Gama to find a sea route to India via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. Da Gama reached the port of Calicut on the Malabar coast on June 18, 1498, and his fleet returned to Lisbon, Portugal, in 1499. The Venetians were Europe's main traders in Asian spices, which they bought in Egypt.The Portuguese set up a trading empire in the Indian Ocean, capturing and fortifying all the leading trading ports. They controlled the major sea routes between India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The Portuguese made Goa their capital in India. The city became an important European settlement.
The Portuguese supremacy in the Indian Ocean lasted for just over a hundred years.
East India companies.
The British East India Company was founded in 1600. The Dutch East India Company was formally incorporated two years later, although the Dutch merchants of Amsterdam had been trading in the Indian Ocean as early as 1595. The arrival of the British and the Dutch in India was unwelcome to the Portuguese, who tried to keep control of the Asian trade.
The British East India Company, by contrast, was much weaker. In the 1600's it acquired three independent sovereign settlements in India, Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Calcutta (now Kolkata), and each grew into substantial trading ports. The ports were all fortified with sea walls and cannon. The British company, like the Dutch, raised a small army of professional soldiers. After 1700, the British East India Company was strong enough to equip a large number of well-armed ships for trading in the Indian Ocean.
Rivalry between Britain and France.
In the 1720's the French government granted a charter to a French East India Company to trade with India. The French made their headquarters at Pondicherry in southern India. Within 20 years or so the French had become very powerful in India and were competing successfully with the British. The commercial competition between the two companies soon led to political quarrels. In the 1740's the French and British supported rival Indian rulers in internal wars.
In 1755 an unexpected blow fell on the British East India Company. The Muslim nawab of Bengal province, Siraj al-Daulah, disagreed with the company over commercial privileges claimed by the British. The nawab led an army against Calcutta, and captured the city. suffocation and heat. The exact number of deaths is disputed, but the so-called Black Hole of Calcutta incident further worsened relations between British and Indians.
When the news of the fall of Calcutta reached Madras, the British sent Colonel Robert Clive to Bengal to regain Calcutta. He was also a skilful politician. Clive not only recovered Calcutta, but also led the company's troops to victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Siraj al-Daulah was replaced by a puppet ruler,
Foundation of the British Empire in India.
Historians regard the year 1757 as the starting point of the British Empire in India, even though large parts of the country remained under the rule of Indian princes.
Growth of the East India Company.
By 1765, the East India Company had decided to set aside the nominal Mughal governor of Bengal province, the nawab. The company itself became the dewan, or financial controller, holding its office under a farman (proclamation) granted by the Mughal emperor in Delhi. Bengal's prosperous rice agriculture yielded enormous tax revenues to the East India Company. This financial advantage helped the company to raise a large army of professional Indian soldiers, trained and commanded by British officers. From 1772, under the company's first governor general of Bengal, Warren Hastings, the British began to expand toward northern India.
Hastings was a skilful diplomat and politician. He contributed much to the success of the East India Company's government in Bengal. But his use of violent methods to suppress Indian opposition, and his treatment of fellow British officials in India, aroused great anger in Britain.
Reform of company administration.
These corrupt administrative practices were ended by Lord Cornwallis, who was appointed governor general of India in 1786. The British Parliament had passed Acts in 1773 and in 1784 to bring the East India Company under the control of a British government minister. Lord Cornwallis was given the task of reforming British administration in India and of establishing good relations with the Indian princes.