East India Company Ran Half the UK's Trade & Ruled India with Its Own Private Army. and Woe Betide Anyone Who Stood in Its Way; FASCINATING STORY BEHIND TV SERIES TABOO

The Mirror (London, England), February 25, 2017 | Go to article overview

East India Company Ran Half the UK's Trade & Ruled India with Its Own Private Army. and Woe Betide Anyone Who Stood in Its Way; FASCINATING STORY BEHIND TV SERIES TABOO


Byline: RHIAN LUBIN & LAURA CONNOR

TORRID historical drama Taboo reaches its finale tonight.

But while the graphic sex scenes between James Delaney (Tom Hardy) and his half-sister Zilpha, played by Oona Chaplin, aren't based on fact, the same can't be said for the rest of the show.

It is set in 1814 at a time when the all-powerful East India Company ruled an entire subcontinent, generated half England's trade and had a private army of 260,000. Here we reveal the shocking truths about the Monster of Leadenhall, a private company no government dare stand up to.

Taboo, tonight, 9.15pm, BBC1.

rhian.lubin@mirror.co.uk

THE COMPANY

THE East India Company was set up in 1600 to pep up life in Britain.

Until then the Dutch had the monopoly over the hugely profitable spice trade and Queen Elizabeth was keen to get in on the action.

She established the company by royal charter. This meant the government had no shares in it and little control.

Soon the East India was able to seize land, form alliances and exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction over areas it controlled.

In Taboo, Delaney's lawyer tells him: "When you left London the East India was a trading company.

"Now it is God Almighty. The Prince Regent fears it, no government in the world dare stand up to it.

"It owns the land, the ocean, the sky above our heads."

This was not far from the truth. Taboo screenwriter Steven Knight says: "The East India Company was incredibly powerful with its own schools and military academies."

It was so overpowering its London headquarters became known as The Monster of Leadenhall.

Historian William Dalrymple wrote: "We still talk about the British conquering India but that phrase disguises a more sinister reality.

"It was not the British government that seized India at the end of the 18th century but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in London."

Perhaps the most notorious aspect of its incredible power concerns the 1770 famine in its territory of Bengal.

Officials ignored a shortfall in crops followed by a drought and an estimated 10 million died. Historians have called it the Forgotten Holocaust. Economist Amartya Sen describes it as a "man-made famine", saying: "Contemporary estimates suggested that about one-third of the Bengal population died in the famine."

He adds: "This is almost certainly an overestimate but it was clearly a huge catastrophe with massive starvation.

"It happened in a century that had seen no famine in the region before the rule of the East India Company began."

The Company's priority was to maximise profit from land tax and trade tariffs.

It also forbade the "hoarding of rice", preventing millions of starving people from being fed during the crisis.

The company ruled unswayed in India for around 100 years although its powers were drastically curbed in 1773 before it was finally dissolved in 1874.

Screenwriter Steven adds: "In the end the Crown's objection was that the East India had got too powerful.

"I don't think there is a single organisation that has that level of power now. Any multinational has factories around the world but the East India used to run territories - it was halfway between a state and a private company."

But he insists the company was far from the epitome of wickedness.

He adds: "At no point did I want to suggest that the East India was the evil empire. It's like saying contemporary companies such as pharmaceuticals are purely evil. It's just not that simple.

"It was operating a business in a post beyond Britain and exploiting the people that lived there. …

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