The archives of the English East India Company

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Abstract

Summary. The nine miles of shelving in the India Office Records hold some 11 000 volumes of shipping records. Many records were destroyed in the mid-19th century—21 tons in 1858, 2 tons in 1859, 300 tons in 1860— because the Company had ceased to be a trading company in 1833, and was abolished in 1858. Some of these records found their way into the former Manuscripts Department of the British Museum, but the result of these clearances is that no cargo manifests, no bills of lading, no subsidiary account books or account books from overseas settlements survive. This lack of documentation for the UEIC means that often we do not know what ships specifically carried, and in the absence of cargo details the research potential for archaeological sites is consequently much greater.

The records include 3000 ships’logs. 6300 volumes are devoted to the payment of officers and crew; 900 miscellaneous volumes deal with personnel of the maritime services and services based in the Indies. The 200 listed losses of the EIC account for 4.5% of total voyages. It should be remembered that most ships and much of the cargo did not belong to the Company (due to the private trade privilege), and that the Company concentrated on freight.

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