The book is a comparative analysis of Scotland, Ireland and Wales’s participation in the English East India Company between c.1690 and c.1820. It explains the increasing involvement of individuals and networks from these societies in the London-based corporation which controlled contact between the early modern British and Irish Isles and one hemisphere of world trade. Scottish, Irish, and Welsh evidence is used to consider wider questions on the origins, nature and consequences of the early modern phase of globalisation, sometimes referred to as ‘proto-globalisation’. The book contributes to such debates by analysing how these supposedly ‘poorer’ regions of Europe relied on migration as an investment strategy to profit from empire in Asia. Using social network theory and concepts of human capital it examines why the Scots, Irish and Welsh developed markedly different profiles in the Company’s service. Chapters on the administrative elite, army officers and soldiers, the medical corps and private traders demonstrate consistent Scottish over-representation, uneven Irish involvement and consistent Welsh under-representation. Taken together they explore a previously underappreciated cycle of human capital that involved departure to Asia, the creation of colonial profits, and the return back of people and their fortunes to Britain and Ireland. By reconceptualising the origins and the consequences of involvement in the Company, the study will be of interest to historians of early modern Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Britain, the East India Company and the early phases of British imperialism in Asia.
By the end of the eighteenth-century number of Welsh families had developed a tradition of service in the corporation, as one generation followed another out to Asia. The apparently marginal role of Welsh mobility within the empire has in turn resulted in a correspondingly greater emphasis upon developments within Wales itself. The Welsh were very well established in the metropole by the second half of the seventeenth century at the latest, with an expatriate community in the 1690s numbering at least 5,000. The Welsh do seem especially 'reticent' if contrasted against the much higher volume of Scots and Irish evident throughout Asia during the second half of the eighteenth and first decade of the nineteenth centuries. The potential hinted by the idea of 'imperial South Wales' underlines the value of applying Welsh evidence to British Empire studies and of exploring the country's domestic history in the context of overseas expansion.
Highland politics and kinship were central to Sir Hector Munro's favourable treatment of Brodie. Munro's nabob reputation and substantial Eastern fortune ensured that he faced particular problems when reintegrating into a Scotland ill at ease with the material and moral effect of Indian profits upon its society. The economic and social dimensions underpinning the hostile critique of nabobs ensured that Novar spent the bulk of his fortune and efforts on agricultural and estate improvements. In India Munro nurtured political networks that stretched back to his home community and which sustained his reputation and profile there. In alliance with Scottish free traders like Hugh Baillie, others monopolized commodities like Bengal salt and opium to corner supplies, inflate prices and generate huge profits, particularly prior to the 1780s.
Complicating the coloniser: Scottish, Irish and Welsh perspectives on British imperialism in Asia
The introduction considers the value of Irish, Scottish and Welsh perspectives on early British imperialism in Asia between c.1690 c.1820. It argues that this framing enables global, East India Company, British, Irish and local histories to be blended in new ways. Decentring metropolitan society in this manner mirrors the historiographic trend towards collapsing boundaries between the ‘overseas’, empire and the ‘domestic core’. Shifting attention towards the less financially affluent areas of the British and Irish Isles allows models of early modern Europe’s expansion to be tested in fresh ways. Defined here as the ‘metropolitan provinces’ of the British and Irish Isles, the chronology and method of Scottish, Irish and Welsh involvement in one hemisphere of British expansion remains understudied. This is especially the case when compared with the Atlantic world. Recovering the extent, timing and consequences of Irish, Scottish and Welsh links to Asia fills a significant lacuna in the early modern histories of all three countries. These societies also provide case studies of ‘semi-peripheries’ associated with World Systems theory or the ‘comparative disadvantaged Europe’ framework used in ‘Great Divergence’ models. They do this by enabling consideration of how ‘poor’ Europe – meaning those societies without large reserves of venture capital – used human and social forms of wealth to access globalising forms of colonialism. Having defined these proxy forms of wealth as ‘human capital’, the final section of the introduction considers the role of oceanic social networks (meso-networks) in mobilising such assets.
London and early links with the English East India companies
The chapter analyses the ways in which individuals and networks of Scots, Irish and Welsh became increasingly involved in the English East India Company after the 1690s. While Scotland and Ireland faced restrictions in contact with the Atlantic colonies until 1707 and 1780 respectively, this hemisphere of the British Empire was always more open than its equivalent in Asia. The monopoly of the various iterations of the English East India Company restricted access to Asia, a situation compounded in the case of Scots by the failure of the Company of Scotland by 1700. The realities of this regulatory framework meant that London ultimately became much more central to Scottish, Welsh, and Irish participation in Asia than was the case in the Atlantic empire. Understanding how the East India Company was accessed involves appreciating how expatriates from provincial backgrounds located in London started to connect networks in their place of origin with the corporation’s directors. This process evolved slowly. Welsh and Irish networks held an initial advantage over those from Scotland as the city played a more significant role in these societies for the purposes of professional training. However, by the 1740s an increasing number of Scots merchant, financiers, professionals and artisans based in London were sponsoring the Asia careers of associates from Scotland. This was not just conventional patronage but can be understood as the brokering of ‘human capital’. This mode of investment constituted a form of provincial ‘gentry capitalism’, which complemented the City of London ‘gentlemanly capitalist’ economy.
The chapter explores the processes by which Scots, Irish and Welsh began to appear as shareholders and directors of the East India Company. The analysis initially considers the relatively marginal Irish, Scots and Welsh presence among the shareholders and directors. It is noticeable that metropolitan provincials tended to secure positions on the directorate after returning from successful careers in Asia. This trajectory of accessing London via the empire explains the careers of a number of important directors. It encompassed figures as diverse as the Irish and Welsh military officers Sweny Toone and William Jones, the Irish free merchant Robert Gregory, the Scots Company civil servant Charles Grant, the free merchant David Scott and the East Indiaman commander William Fullerton-Elphinstone. Despite these similar pathways to involvement at the apex of the Company, the number of Scots acquired directorships was noticeably higher. This had major implications for the sponsorship of clients into the employment in Asia. The chapter conceives of such patronage was a form of ‘brokering human capital’, with local networks connecting to the metropole through the directors. The reconstruction of almost two thousand instances of patronage demonstrates that a conspicuous climate of favouritism towards networks, families and individuals from the director’s place or region of origin. With more directors with Scottish backgrounds able to undertake this function of mobilising human wealth, substantially greater numbers of Scots found their way into the elite sectors of employment compared to the Welsh or Irish.
The chapter surveys the timing and nature of Irish, Scottish and Welsh involvement in the English East India Company’s elite commercial, administrative and merchant shipping sectors. Personnel in these areas of the corporation were never especially numerous, with only 3,393 civil servants securely identified between 1690 and 1813. In this context of elite but limited opportunities, the movement of Irish, Scots and Welsh into corporate employment developed slowly. In both the civil service and among the merchant marine officers of the Company’s fleet, metropolitan provincial numbers remained insignificant until the 1740s and 1750s. During the 1690s and early 1700s, London-based expatriates from Wales were able to sponsor clients into the civil service at a greater per capita rate than their Irish or Scottish equivalents. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, the number of Scots in both the administrative and merchant marine branches had significantly outpaced that of the other two metropolitan provincial groups. The quality of the Company’s archives makes it possible to reconstruct the educational and career backgrounds of many of those joining the Company’s upper echelons. Previously unknown regional patterns, including the prominence of individuals from South Wales, Leinster and east-central Scotland demonstrate the way in which regional connections to London were projected outwards into the eastern half of the empire. In this context Edinburgh and Dublin assume a new importance as key ‘sub-metropoles’, providing investment networks and educational infrastructure that shaped patterns of participation in the Company’s civil service and merchant marine.
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.
The chapter explores the growing participation of Scots, Irish and Welsh in the East India Company’s medical sector. Despite access to similar educational opportunities either in Dublin, Edinburgh and London, Scots significantly outnumbered the other two national groups, both in overall and in per capita terms. With around 20 percent of all such posts throughout the eighteenth century, the acquisition by Scots of medical posts expanded to between 35 percent and 45 percent in the 1790s to 1810s. The chapter explores how patterns of professional mobility and phases of education in the provinces, in London and in Asia enabled surgeons to enhance their human capital. They sought to ‘realise’ this form of wealth through publication strategies and the maintenance of links with institutions such as Trinity College Dublin, Marischal College, Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh. In this way, imperial service in Asia shaped the timing and tone of medical enlightenment in the metropolitan provinces.
Connecting economies of human and monetary capital
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.