The English Gentleman Merchant at Work: Madras and the City of London 1660-1740

Synopsis

This book examines the private trade servants in the English East India Company conducted between Madras on the Coromandel Coast and the City of London in the period from 1660 to 1740. Hitherto, historians have placed English private trade within an Indian context, explaining the success of the private merchants as a consequence of an economic partnership between the English merchants and Indian commercial groups. The aim of this study is to revalue this indocentric interpretation and rather consider this trade as an element of the first British Empire. Thus, the events in Asia are connected with economic, social and cultural developments in the mother country and use the private correspondences and business accounts of Company servants as primary source material. The creation of close commercial ties between Madras and London was also influenced by social and cultural aspects. The private merchants formed a diaspora and Madras was influenced by the prevailing social norms in the English metropolis, particularly by gentlemanly capitalism, which the historians P J Cain and A. G. Hopkins have claimed was central in Britain's overseas expansion. Cultural unity between centre and periphery was maintained through a continuous circulation of persons. The private sector of Madras could develop and expand even though the group of merchants residing in the town was in constant change, since ideological aspects such as mutual trust and the credibility of a gentleman were more important than individual contacts. The British diaspora represented an independent trading structure compared with Indian commercial networks and compared with the EIC. The organisation of private trade resembled the structure of the transatlantic trade and can be compared with the trading networks that connected England with the North American colonies and the Sugar Islands in the Caribbean.