The free traders
Connecting economies of human and monetary capital
in Human capital and empire
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The commercial activities of traders operating on their own private account under licence from the English East India Company was one of the most dynamic sectors of the emerging colonial economy. While there is some understanding of the prominence of Scots in this ‘country trade’ after 1750, the role of other metropolitan provincials is far less well understood. This chapter surveys and compares trends in Irish, Scottish and Welsh involvement in the private trade sector. As in the civil service, military and medical areas, diversity and divergence marked out the profile of the three national groups. Scots were disproportionately present in the key free merchant and free mariner levels of the country trade. By the early nineteenth century they formed a substantial minority percentage of the overall British and Irish free-trading community. By comparison the Welsh and more especially Irish involvement remained relatively underdeveloped, an outcome that impaired Irish society’s capacity to fully exploit one whole hemisphere of the empire. The chapter considers the tendency for the Welsh and Irish to appear in greater numbers in the administrative and legal services that developed in the main presidency settlements. Also analysed are the international remittance networks that stretched across the whole of Asia and back to Europe. These ephemeral but vitally important connections demonstrate the eclectic, transnational nature of the country trade but also the ongoing importance of kinship, regional and national identities.

Human capital and empire

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

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