India was the most prestigious and populous of all Britain’s imperial possessions and was regarded as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the Empire. British rule in India emerged over many decades. British ‘factories’ (trading posts) had been established on the coasts with Indian approval in the eighteenth century, in order to cope with the huge demand for chintzes (washable decorated fabric), indigo, saltpetre, rice and sugar cane. The trading posts in India and Ceylon were important to the British because trade in the East Indies had failed in the face of Dutch competition. The resulting commercial revolution in pre-conquest India exposed the subcontinent to the penetration of British merchants to a far greater degree than in China. The enterprise or aggressive profiteering of individual merchants, the lack of accountability of the men in India, the difficulties in maintaining communications due to the distances between Calcutta and London, and a series of conflicts with the French and the Dutch, as well as the rulers of the Indian states, all served to drive the East India Company from trade to administration.1 Although the process of acquiring intact a lucrative land revenue system was a long one, the defeat of the Marathas in 1817 is regarded as a watershed in the transition from commercial interest to formal rule. By 1834, this fact was recognised when the East India Company’s monopolistic trading functions were abolished in favour of private ownership.
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