Would the East India Company still be around if the Indian Mutiny never happened?

The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To British Imperial History* mentions that is that the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was caused by a myriad of reasons, ranging from mis-management by the East India Company to resentment against the Westernisation of India to the cartridges for the Enfield 1853 rifled muskets being greased with animal fat (abhorrent to both Muslim and Hindu alike); and the edited highlights were that huge numbers of the Indian soldiers of the East India Company mutinied and the whole thing got very unpleasant very quickly, spread to several cities, a lot of people got killed, and when it was all sorted out the next year, the British Government stepped in and relieved the East India Company of the burden of governing India.

What I’ve wondered lately is if the East India Company would still exist today in some form (maybe the world’s largest Tea Merchants or perhaps as a Jardine Matheson-like company that has many interests in many areas) if the Indian Mutiny had never happened, or had been contained quickly?

I can’t help but feel that the dissolution of the EIC (instead of, say, simply removing them from Government but allowing them to maintain a Tea monopoly or something) was based largely on the political need for them to be made an example of (did I mention that a lot of people, both European and Indian, got killed in the Indian Mutiny?) than any particular inability of the EIC to function as a corporate entity.

So, the question I have for my fellow Officer’s Club Historians here on the boards is, basically, had the Indian Mutiny not happened (or been contained quickly), would the East India Company still be with us today?

Personally, I’m inclined to say “Yes”- I suspect they’d have been replaced as Government of India by the 1880s anyway in favour of either Imperial rule from London (or maybe some type of Semi-Autonomous Home Rule)- but probably with some sort of deal that would enable the EIC to continue to be the major trading arm of the British Empire in the region for some time to come. By now, I suspect they’d either be something akin to Jardine Matheson, or possibly something like the Hudson Bay Company in Canada- largely a retail chain, but no doubt with some impressive transport, logistics, and warehousing infrastructure behind them (The Anglo-Indian version of Woolworths, perhaps?)

Anyone else want to indulge in some historical speculation?

*Which doesn’t exist in a cohesive form yet, but will when I get around to writing it :wink:

Well, first of all, the EIC wasn’t dissolved after the mutiny; it was nationalized. It was dissolved years later in 1874 although for all intents and purposes, it was done by then anyway.

The company’s problems didn’t start with the mutiny. Its bad rep went all the way back to 1757 when Robert Clive, took matters into his own hands and defeated native rulers at the Battle of Plassey. Clive, an ordinary worker in the company, was commissioned as an officer for these sorts of military actions, which pretty much came to symbolize the combination of economic and military force of the EIC. It was a powerful combination, and unfortunately, it was misused. Corruption and extortion were rampant among both the company officers, and the natives who carried out collections on its behalf.

Both England’s government and her subjects actually cared a great deal about this. Many felt that the Indians deserved at least some of the privileges afforded to ordinary citizens, and the company’s newfound political power back home worried others in government. A governor-general answerable to the government was set up. (I’m afraid I don’t know the whole inner workings of the set-up enough to comment on this). The get-rich-quick men of the company (“Nabobs”), many of whom got their riches through plunder, were often despised among the gentry. The Nabobs, of course, spent a lot of their riches on representation within government, so it wasn’t as if the queen could just make the EIC disappear. Before the big mutiny, there were several smaller ones, usually confined to killing a few white officers before being suppressed, although I seem to remember one or two that went further.

As for whether the company would be around today, I’m not sure. The thing is that the company relied so much on military force that it would be difficult to imagine it getting power in the first place without it. For the reasons I mentioned above, I believe the 1857 mutiny to be inevitable, but even if it hadn’t happened, sooner or later, the crown would have come up with an excuse to severely curb its powers.

I probably got some of this wrong, and I don’t have the time to research, but I’ll go through what I’ve read on the subject and see what I can’t find.

One of those problems, that many forget, took place in between those years:

The American Revolution was caused in part by the actions of the company:


And the rest is history: taxation without representation, Boston tea party, declaration of independence, etc.

The Hudson Bay Company is still around, which held a comparable position in North America. I was actually a bit surprised when I stumbled across that fact, but there is no real reason why they should not be.

I imagine the East India Company could have survived also. Wikipedia also has a list of the world’s oldest companies. I cannot vouch for its accuracy, but neither HBC or the East India Company if still extant would be near the top of the list, though HBC might hold the record for oldest multinational.

For fun, Beretta is so old… (how old is it?) It’s so old that Leonardo da Vinci made some of their earlier gun mechanisms. Owned by the same family for five hundred years. Well, four and 90ish.

Are you sure of that?

Based on my Minnesota knowledge of the cooking of India (presumably a large part Hindu) and of the Middle East )presumably largely Muslim), they use quite a bit of butter, so it can’t be that abhorrent, right?

Presumably, the animal fat in question was obtained via more violent methods than those used for dairy.

The “animal fat” that the OP referred to was not butter, but the product of rendering after slaughter; either pig fat (abhorrent to Muslims) or beef tallow (abhorrent to Hindus, because one has to kill the cow to get the fat).


Also, the loading drill for the Enfield musket involved biting the end of the (paper) cartridge open- which meant that the offensive matter was not only present, but getting in the loader’s mouth. This was, as you can imagine, entirely unacceptable to the adherents of certain faiths.

FWIW, the EIC soon issued cartridges greased with a combination of vegetable oils and beeswax, and changed the loading drill so that the cartridge was torn open by hand, but by then it was too late to reverse the damage and things just deteriorated from there.

I agree with Linty Fresh that HM Government would have eventually found some way to curb the EIC’s power and remove them from effective control of the Subcontinent at some point not all that long after when the Indian Mutiny historically happened, but I can’t see why that would prevent the company from continuing to operate as a purely commercial or mercantile concern, albeit with a fair amount of internal re-organisation.

Whilst it’s true that the EIC existed on paper until about 1874, the reality is that as a functioning, effective company they ceased to exist in the latter part of 1858 once their concerns in India were nationalised by the Crown. In some ways it’s a shame they couldn’t adapt and carry on as a general commercial business, and I’d be interested to see what they’d have evolved into by now if they were still around.

One suspects that the entire issue was the spark rather than the actual cause of the revolt.

I didn’t think I’d stated otherwise?

This thread caught my eye, because I’m actually a hundred pages into this book. It’s fascinating, but it’s also detailed as all hell, and I’ve only just gotten to the conquest of the Punjab. I figure it’ll be another month or so before I reach the Indian Mutiny; unfortunately, the only thing I really learned about the British Raj in school was Ghandi’s role in bringing it down, so I’m pretty much starting from scratch.

I’ll let you know when I get there. :slight_smile:

OK, so I’ve finished reading about the mutiny. A couple of things:

Interestingly enough, the sources I read said that this was a false rumor.

Some other things:

Yeah, basically, the EIC fucked up. It was too slow to react to the mutiny once it happened, and the government pounced on that. Thousands of British soldiers and innocent civilians were killed in the mutiny, and someone had to fry. The EIC was a convenient target–and not an innocent one by a long shot. Basically, the EIC gambled big, and it wound up losing big, and I believe that’s why it’s gone and the HBC is still around.

Still, the mutiny was not entirely the EIC’s fault. The company’s taxation and monopoly pissed the ryots and disaffected zamindars off, but the actually spark was religious, not economic, and it was let loose by Christian missionaries unaffiliated with the company. In fact, the company was against the missionaries and understandably so; it wanted profit and docile peasants, not religious discord and unrest. From what I’ve read, the kindest name for the English missionaries would have been “busybodies.” Many if not most or all knew diddley-shit about India, denigrated the Muslim and Hindi religion in public, built huge churches wherever they pleased and generally annoyed the living hell out of everyone around them. This combined with economic hardships due to taxation and the rumors about the cartridges enabled the Indian holy men to convince the masses that the Christians were out to destroy their religions and incite them to rebellion.

It should be noted that Indian historians call it the (First) War of Indian Independence and consider the term “mutiny” to have an imperialist bias by belittling the scale of the rebellion, which was widespread throughout the society, much bigger in scale than a mere mutiny in the ranks. Meanwhile, Wikipedia’s main article on it is titled “Indian Rebellion of 1857” maybe intending a more neutral connotation between “mutiny” and “War of Independence.”

I’m an Imperialist, FWIW (An unpopular viewpoint in some circles) so I will admit to a degree of bias in my interpretations of the events involving the 1857 Unpleasantness in India.

Having said that, I think calling it the First War of Indian Independence is a bit of a stretch, and the Indian Rebellion of 1857 is an acceptable “Neutral” term. But the English called it the Indian Mutiny at the time, and I’m not enough of a Revisionist to change my nomenclature for the sake of political neutrality…

The historians are being inaccurate. There was no nationalistic fervour during the mutiny. There was no sense of the Indian territory as one nation. They swore allegiance to one ruler or another, but there’s no indication that anyone would have emerged as ruler of India overall. Had the mutiny succeeded, most likely the nation would have immediately fractured into the nation states that existed before the EIC and the British government conquered them.

I believe that Russian agents were instrumental in spreading the rumour about the animal fat used for cartridges.
The Russians had long had designs on the sub continent and the various strategems going back between the two empires was known as The Great Game.

The forces of the EIC were minute compared to the population of India as were even the British Army numbers after the mutiny.

Ahhh, the Great Game. I’ve been a fan of Great Game history since I read Kim a couple of years ago. I’ve read just about everything Peter Hopkirk has written, and he ranks among my favorite writers.

The thing is that I’m kind of skeptical about the basis of the Great Game, namely that Russia was planning to take over India. I’m no historian, but as far as I could see, Russia was interested in Europe and Turkey. It might have coveted India, but I don’t see how it could have ever invaded. Not across the Pamirs or the Himalayas, certainly. No way could they have gotten their troops and heavy equipment through those passes. The only way to get the Russian army into India would have been through the Khyber Pass, and that would have involved crossing a hostile desert, going through Persia and then getting to Afghanistan, which had recently kicked England’s ass right back into the Punjab. Twice. The Russians would have had to fight the entire way, because I cannot see how they could have convinced all the different tribes that they meant no harm to Afghan sovereignty. And St. Petersburg knew it. Even with the Russian rail system spanning its conquests in Asia, it would be far easier for the czar to set his sights east of the Caspian.

No, the British Raj had much more to fear from internal dissent than external invasion. I believe that what Britain was reacting to during the Great Game period was 75% Russian feints in Central Asia designed to mask its designs in Europe and Turkey to 25% wishful thinking from drunk, bored Russian officers stationed in desolate outposts like Orenberg.

You know, I thought I was having a moment of deja vu :p. An earlier thread asking about the greasing of cartridges where Johanna and I quibbled over whether it was a war of independence or not:

Oh, and I forgot to address this in my last post. I think it’s far more likely that Muslim and Hindi holy men, along with descendants of deposed Mughal emperors started the rumor. I don’t think Russia had enough influence on the continent to spread them.