Andrew Mackillop
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The military
Economies of high- and low-value human capital
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After c.1750 the English East India Company’s military institutions became the fastest growth sector in terms of new employment prospects in Asia. Exploring the ways in which Irish, Scottish and Welsh society engaged with this corporate–military complex provides a case study of the use of different forms of human capital. Commissioned personnel are conceptualised as ‘high-value human capital’, while rank and file recruits are conceived of as ‘low-value’. After c.1750 Irish society became a significant source of both high-value officers, drawn from Protestant families in Ulster and Leinster, and low-value ordinary soldiers. By the early nineteenth century the Irish share of ordinary manpower was regularly between 40 and 55 percent. Wales, by contrast, supplied very few of either type of personnel. Scottish society exported greater numbers of high-value officers, supplying over 2,000 between c.1750 and 1810. A noticeable feature of these different patterns of engagement is that after c.1780, while Irish officer numbers continued to expand, the country’s overall share dropped from around 20 percent to around 13 percent by 1800. By contrast, the profile of Scots officers remained constant between c.1750 and 1813 with around 20 percent of all commissioned personnel. Military service constituted a form of enterprise. Senior Irish officers were especially prominent in the early decades of the Company’s ‘predatory’ expansion (1750s–1780s). Looting, prize money and army contracts enabled fifty such officers to accrue over £1 million. Scottish returns were more broadly distributed with 145 officers securing over £1.7 million.

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Human capital and empire

Scotland, Ireland, Wales and British imperialism in Asia, c.1690–c.1820


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