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French East India Company

India History Map - 1754 FrenchThe keynote of the eighteenth century was the struggle between France and England for the territories discovered in the sixteenth century. The agents of the respective companies continued the fight unceasingly, even when their mother countries had called a truce. Moreover in the early years of the struggle it appeared likely that the ultimate victory would rest with the French. For the great facts in the history of India are the weakness of the native hordes in the presence of European arms and European discipline, and the possibility of imparting this discipline to the natives themselves. Both these facts were first discovered by the French.

The Marquis Dupleix, Governor-General of French India, conceived the idea of a French Empire in India, and if properly supported at home he might have succeeded. The success of the English encouraged the French to endeavor to secure a footing in India, under the auspices of the French East India French in India. Company, which during the seventeenth century acquired Pondicherry, Chandernagore and Mahé, and organized the two presidencies of Pondicherry and the Isle de France. The Dutch had two posts on the mainland of India, and had exDutch in the clusive possession of most of the island of Ceylon and of the Spice East Islands, Java, Celebes, Borneo, Sumatra and the peninsula of Malaca. Indies. The English gradually absorbed the Dutch and Portuguese possessions in India, so that the French were left as their only European rivals in the East Indies.

“The immense riches," wrote the Abbé Guyon in 1774, "which the Portuguese, the English, and the Dutch had drawn from the East Indies, invited the French to follow them in those remote and unknown countries, in order to partake of the advantages of which commerce was there productive". For many years, indeed, the 'invitation, as the Abbé calls it, had dangled before the French people. For many years they had failed successfully to respond to it. In vain had Francis I in 1537 and 1543, and Henry III in 1578, exhorted their subjects to make long voyages. As these exhortations were unaccompanied by any promise of a State subsidy, as had been similar offers in the three countries which preceded France in the race for the commerce of the East, they produced no effect whatever.

India was only a geographical expression ; there was no Indian nation. When the European settlers first appeared, anarchy prevailed throughout the country. The anarchy was modified to some extent by the Moghul Empire, but even this organising force failed to reach the Deccan, and the existing institutions were only worthy of the name of Government, when contrasted with the absolute anarchy which succeeded the breaking up of the Moghul rule. Such being the case, a group of European settlers, with a rich Company to support them, had a better chance of securing supremacy than any other of the discordant units of which' India was composed. It was therefore no matter for surprise that India became subject to a European power.

The first French East India Company was founded in 1604 as a part of the financial reforms of Henry IV and Sully. This failed through lack of funds, and was succeeded by two other equally transient efforts on the part of the Government to promote a trade with the East. Colbert also attempted to create an East India Company under the direct patronage of the Court, but at the death of Louis XIV its affairs were far from satisfactory. The repeated failures of these early companies are entirely referable to their close connection with the Court and its vacillating policy.

In 1676 a French East India Company was founded, which set up a great station at Pondicherri, not far from Madras, and began to trade all over the south of India. By 1700 the French possessions in India included a small plot of ground, about six acres, at Masulipatam, called the French Pata, acquired by Mercara ; of a decaying establishment of about eight acres at Surat, abandoned in 1714; of the settlement of Chandarnagar on the right bank of the Húglí, twenty-two miles from Calcutta, first occupied by a small body of Frenchmen in 1676, and regularly ceded to them by the Emperor Aurangzib in 1688; and of six small plots of ground, comprising a total of about forty-six acres, at Calicut, Balasor, Dacca, Patná, Kásimbázár, and Jogdiá. France then possessed other territories beyond Europe, besides her small settlements in India. In 1525 she had acquired Canada ; in 1682 she had explored and taken possession of Louisiana.

In 1719 a renewed prosperity was secured by the union of the East and West India Companies under the style of the “COMPANY OF THE INDIES." In the following year the affairs of the united Company were so blended with those of the state, that it was ministerial rather than commercial, and the connection was so intimate that the dividends were paid from the royal treasury without any consideration of the profits or losses of the undertaking.

Consequently when France was fighting England in Europe the French Company, being an agent of the state, was ordered to attack England through her Indian possessions, and the ultimate victory of England in the struggle for India has been ascribed by many writers to the effect of this government control. The English Company was not subjected to the dictation of the home government, so that, when the French attacked the English settlements, the English attacked the French trade.

Joseph-François, Marquis Dupleix (1 January 1697 - 10 November 1763), became Governor-General of French India in October 1741. The first sepoys were organised by Dupleix. And it was this great imperialist who endeavoured to found a French Empire in India, by intervention in the quarrels of the native races. "Nothing great that has ever been done by Englishmen," says Seeley, “was done so unintentionally, so accidentally, as the Conquest of India?" The English Company put trade and dividends first, and unconsciously conquered an Empire, while the French, led by politicians like Dupleix, aimed at Empire, not at commerce, and thereby lost both.

The Governor of the French East India Company was a very clever and ambitious man. Dupleix was not satisfied with trading with India, but wanted to found a great French Empire there as well. At that time the whole country was in a fearful state of confusion. The different princes and peoples of India were fighting with one another, and Dupleix saw what a splendid chance this was for carrying out his plans. So he took advantage of the quarrels of the Indian princes to spread his influence among them, and gradually he came to be one of the most powerful men in the south of India.

Dupleix soon found that before he could build a strong French Empire he must drive the English out of India altogether, and in 1746 a great struggle began between the French and English East India Companies. To begin with neither side had an army, because up to that time their Indian settlements had only been peaceful trading stations, so Dupleix enlisted a lot of natives and put them under European officers, and these Sepoys, as they were called, became excellent soldiers. The English did the same thing, and most of the Indian army was made up of native soldiers.

Gradually this struggle between two private companies came to form part of the larger war between France and England. When the fighting first began, the French had the best of it. They had a very strong fleet in the Indian Ocean, which took Madras in 1746 ; but when, two years later, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle stopped for a few years the war between France and England, they had to hand it back again. The East India Companies, however, took no notice of the treaty, and went on fighting one another for the first place in India.

The English, French, Portuguese, and Danish established trading stations in different parts of India, and as each desired the entire trade of the Empire, the rival factions came into collision in 1746. It is probable that the close connection of the French Company with the French Government gave the verdict to the English. When once the French Ministry took the Company under its protection, it followed that the wars between England and France should be reproduced in India. Dupleix was compelled to attempt the destruction of British settlements, while the armies of the English Company were avowedly for the protection of trade. Consequently, when war was declared with France, the English attacked the trade of the rival Company. The French attacked the English settlements, captured Madras, but were obliged to restore it at the peace of 1748. Their victories bore no lasting fruit, and their trade was utterly destroyed. The French Company, being almost entirely dependent upon the French State, was ruined because the Government at home did not give adequate support, when it was most needed. Clive received assistance from the English Governmen just when the crisis came.

Although peace had been made between Great Britain and France in 1748, the English and French colonists in India continued hostilities; and the French under Dupleis, Governor of Pondicherry, besieged Trichinopoly after obtaining the Coromandel coast from the Viceroy of the Deccan, and were on the point of expelling the English from Hindoostan and founding a Robert French empire in India, when Robert Clive, a poor clerk in the countClive's ing-house of the English East India Company at Madras, pushing Defense of Arcot. forward in the midst of a severe thunder-storm, with only five hundred men, surprised Arcot, the capital of the Nabob of the Carnatic, in 1751, and defended that place against the French and their Hindoo allies, numbering ten thousand men, whom he defeated in two battles, thus establishing the British supremacy in India.

In 1754 the two Companies agreed to stop fighting, and, Dupleix being called back to France soon after. The fact was that, in France, the Company of the Indies and the Ministers of the King had alike been long weary of this distant war which brought them neither glory nor profit, but which interfered greatly with commerce. They did not enter into, they did not comprehend, the vastness of the plans of Dupleix. His mind had penetrated the future: their minds were intent on the present. That present had for them a gloomy aspect. As year after year brought no practical result, the idea stole upon them that the resources of France were being squandered to promote the vanity and the ambition of one individual.

They reckoned not the advantages already acquired -the control of the councils of the Subáhdár of the Deccan, the most powerful ruler in Southern India ; the cession to France in absolute gift of the Northern Sirkars, comprising Gánjám, Vizagapatam, Godávarí, and Krishná, with Rajamahendri and Masulipatam ; the acquisition of important territories round and near to Pondichery; the vast influence exercised by the genius of one man. They were traders, they argued, not soldiers fighting for dominion. They wanted to share peaceably with the English the commerce between Southern India and Europe, not to exterminate rival traders.

For two years there was peace in India between them. But no sooner was a truce arranged with France in the south of India, than the British found that they had to fight a new enemy in the north. The whole of India, except the very south, was at this time supposed to be under the rule of the Mogul Emperors, who lived at Delhi. But the emperors had grown weak and had very little power, and the viziers or rulers of the provinces into which the land was divided, had really become almost independent princes. One of these viziers — Siraj-ud-Daulah - who governed the province of Bengal in the north-east of India, grew jealous of the English and picked a quarrel with them.

In 1756, he made a sudden attack and took their station at Calcutta. He was a cruel man, and allowed his soldiers to shut 148 of his English prisoners in a tiny room, known as the “Black Hole of Calcutta," and leave them there without a drop of water through the hot summer night. All night long they struggled for breath and screamed for water in that dreadful cell. But nobody came, and the cries and sobs gradually died down. When the door was opened in the morning, only twenty-five were found alive; the other 123 had been suffocated or trampled to death.

No sooner did this dreadful news reach Madras than Clive collected all the men he could find and set out to punish Siraj-ud-Daulah. His tiny army of Englishmen and Sepoys met the Indian prince with his 50,000 men at Plassey. Some of Clive's officers thought defeat certain, and tried to persuade him not to fight. But he was determined to avenge the Black Hole of Calcutta, and won a great victory. Siraj-ud-Daulah was driven out, and one of his officers who had helped the English was put in his place.

The battle of Plassey was won by Clive on 23 June 1757. The victory of Plassey left the ruler of the richest province in India dependent upon the English Company. Plassey was a very decisive battle. The effects of it are felt this day by more than two hundred and fifty millions of people. While the empire founded by the Mughuls was rapidly decaying, that victory introduced into their richest province, in a commanding position, another foreign power. This battle has been called the foundation of the British Empire in India. Up to this time the East India Company had only traded with Indians, and had not governed any part of the country. But the attack of Siraj-ud-Daulah forced it to interfere in Indian affairs, so as to protect its officials from attack and make sure that white people could live safely and in peace.

While this war with the Indians had been going on in the north, the Seven Years' War had broken out in Europe and America, as we have seen, and the struggle between French and English for control of the south of India had commenced once more. At first the French gained some success. In 1758 they attacked Madras, and an English fleet only came up just in time to save it. But soon the sea-power of England began to tell, for she was able to send out help to her people as she liked, while the French cried out to their Government in vain. Bit by bit the French were driven back.

In 1760 Sir Eyre Coote defeated the French at Wandiwash, and when their great fortified station at Pondicherri was taken in 1761, all their hopes of creating a French Empire in India disappeared. By Clive's exertions, and through his example, the French were gradually driven from every stronghold; and in six months after the accession of George III not a vestige of the supremacy which Dupleix and Bussy and Lally had won for them, remained in the peninsula. So Chatham's wisdom led England to victory in India as well as in America. In both these countries the fighting was over by 1761, because British sea-power prevented the French from sending reinforcements to their armies when they were in sore need of them. But the war dragged on in Europe for two years longer. At last, in 1763, the Peace of Paris was signed, and the second great struggle between England and France was brought to an end.

Once the British began to try to improve the system of government in India, they could not stop, and so their influence spread farther and farther, and the English dominions in India grew and grew, until at last they covered the whole country. In defending herself against France, England had increased the British Empire all over the world. She had conquered Canada from France, and won Florida from Spain, so that the Union Jack flew proudly over all the east of North America.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:15:58 ZULU