Friday, June 29, 2012

East India Company Bonds and Covenants

The huge and powerful British East India Company was originally formed to trade with the East Indies but at different times traded not only in India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), but also in Hong Kong, Burma, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Its main trade was in cotton, dyes, opium, silk, tobacco, salt, saltpetre and tea but it also carried manufactured goods from Britain to sell.

Company employees, soldiers and sailors frequently took (against Company rules) small quantities of goods to trade as well. The Company eventually came to rule large areas of India and other places with its own private army and navy exercising military power and assuming administrative functions which lasted until 1858. It issued coinage in India and Malaysia.

Until 1833, people who wanted to visit India and the Company's other territories were required to observe their rules and to deposit a Bond guaranteeing their good behaviour. Traders had to sign a covenant agreeing not to undertake unapproved business. Bonds were usually to the value of £200 for a visitor and £500 or more for traders.  Each bond applicant had to be recommended by two 'Sureties'  (essentially referees). In the 18th and early 19th centuries, joining the East India Company was a likely route to wealth, if you survived.

The Families In British India Society have indexed the important information in some of the bonds and covenants in the British Library. There are over 3,000 bonds from 1607 to 1770 and 12,500 bonds and other documents from 1814 to 1865. It’s worth looking at this source, if there were members of your family who went to India in these periods. 

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