Sunday, 3 June 2012

British East India Company and the Straits Settlements

What was the main interest of the British East India Company? How well did it compete with its competitor and enemy, the Dutch East India Company (VOC)? Why did we have the Straits Settlements? Were they for the interest of the Malays or who? They were for the interests of the British. Why did they set up the 3 settlements? How did they come to be? Are they any good for the Malays? What is the significance of the Straits Settlements in our history? How were the Straits Settlements monitored administratively? Did the development of the first medical school follow the trade progress of the British East India Company? How did the British East India Company become involved in politics when initially it was set up for trade? What were the weaknesses we had that led to the British becoming involved with local politics? What happened in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s and 1900s? What was Captain Francis Light's purpose in Penang in 1786? What was Stamford Raffles' purpose in Singapore in 1819? Which British man arrived in Malacca in 1795? Do we have the maps and census of the Straits Settlements at these times? Why are early documents and maps of the Straits Settlements important? They are important because they will tell us who were at the 3 settlements during those years. They are also important because a lot of local laws were changed by the British captains and great changes happened to the local communities. I think the British captains had overstepped their limits as trade captains and entered into local politics and changed everything else to their content. Their rules became our rules and we played by their rules. So we came to be under the colonials. Whose fault? We have our own selves to blame for letting go of our homeland, and leaving things to the British captains to do as they pleased. Now we have a lot of problems - land rights is a major problem today - violating local laws and regulations, pressing the Malays to move out where they belong, and taking advantage of their weaknesses, the list is endless while initially there was none. The 3 Straits Settlements are the most worrisome of the Malay lands. We inherit a lot of problems wrt land rights, landing rights and ownership. This is what I see as a result of the trade activities of the British East India Company at the 3 settlements.
Administrative history: The following describes the historical background to the East India Company's factories and their changing function.
1600-1709: The visits to the east of the first Company ships, undertaken in a series of separately funded voyages, were exploratory in nature. Captains were under instructions to seek out those places that offered the best opportunities for trade and to seek permission to trade from local rulers. According to the information received back, Company instructions then became more specific and the captains were advised to visit or revisit particular places to try to establish connections. At these ports. captains tried to obtain permission for a merchant or merchants to settle and, if necessary, to set up factories. A "factory" was a trading post where a number of merchants, or factors, resided. When company ships arrived at the factories, ships' merchants were thus enabled to exchange goods for trading immediately instead of having to wait to make deals with local merchants. Factories were run by a chief factor and a council of factors. In the areas that proved most successful for trading, groups of factories were eventually established. These were known as settlements and were governed by an agent and council. Eventually: certain settlements developed into centres to which all other factories in the region reported. These became known as presidencies and were administered by an agent (first called a president and later a governor) and a large council of senior factors.
Contacts developed only gradually. The Company's first interest lay in the Malay archipelago and the Spice islands, although from the start it faced considerable competition from Dutch merchants. 
In Arabia and the Red Sea, the Company increased its presence as the strategic importance of the region became apparent. The British conflicts with European powers in Africa and the need to protect the route to India were factors in the establishment of political agencies at Bushire (1763) and Bagdhad (1798); the factory at Mocha also took on a new function as a political agency. To the east, the Company's need to protect its trade with China led to the establishment of Penang (1786), Malacca (1795) and Singapore (1819).
Within India, the Company's trading function finally came to an end under the Charter Act of 1813 when its monopoly rights on trade to India were withdrawn. In 1833 the Company's monopoly on the China trade was also abolished. 
Source: Retrieved from The National Archives, UK, 3 June 2012.
Royal Coat of Arms of the British East India Company (Penang Museum)"Honi soit qui mal y pense" is a French phrase meaning: "Shamed be he who thinks evil of it". The royal motto in Norman-French is: "Dieu et mon driot".
Royal motto: Dieu et mon droit has generally been used as the motto of English—and later British (outside of Scotland)—monarchs since being adopted by Edward III. It was first used as a battle cry by King Richard I in 1198 at the Battle of Gisors, when he defeated the forces of Philip II of France and after he made it his motto. The belief in medieval Europe was not that victory automatically went to the side with the better army but that, as with personal trial by combat, to the side that God viewed with favour. Hence Richard wrote after his victory "It is not us who have done it but God and our right through us". So after his victories on the crusades "Richard was speaking what he believed to be the truth when he told the Holy Roman Emperor: 'I am born of a rank which recognises no superior but God'. Source:

Coat of Arms of the British East India Company and a statue of Captain Francis Light.
Photo from Penang Museum.
British East India Company govt office building, corner of Downing Street and Beach Street, Penang circa 1883. An earlier illustration of the building was hand-drawn circa 1850.