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.
‘Poor’ Europe’s pathways to empire and globalisation
The conclusion reflects on the wider lessons to be drawn from the example of Irish, Scottish and Welsh involvement in the English East India Company from c.1690 to c.1820. The emphasis is placed on how these societies, despite forming part of the British Empire’s ‘metropolitan core’, can be seen as exemplars of ‘comparatively disadvantaged’, ‘poor’ Europe. They provide evidence of how areas lacking large reserves of monetary capital sought to exploit early modern globalisation and expansion. In this way their example can contribute to wider debates on the nature of European expansion and colonialism and the basis of proto-globalisation.
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 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.
The chapter analyses the return phase of the cycle of human capital. It charts the arrival back in Britain and Ireland of personnel and capital and what impact these made upon political, economic and social factors across Wales, Ireland and Scotland. In the area of politics, profits made in the eastern half of the Empire began influencing electoral developments by the 1760s. However, overall, the impact was uneven, with only small numbers of Welsh and Irish constituencies affected compared to the more substantial presence of East India Company wealth in politics in Scotland. The scale of overall Scots, Irish and Welsh profits reflected the different profiles inside the Company and its associated free-trade economies. Over £5 million can be traced for 345 Scots, with ninety-two elite Irish sojourners securing over £2.1 million. These amounts demonstrate the effectiveness of human capital in enriching conventionally ‘poor’ societies. The chapter considers the ways in which imperial wealth was reabsorbed into society through processes of estate purchasing, agrarian and manufacturing improvements and lending. With so many more Scots involved in the civil service, merchant marine, military and in private trade, the impact was more intense and regionally dispersed in Scotland. Twenty-one estates have been identified has having been purchased in Wales, sixty-eight in Ireland and 347 in Scotland. These differences partly reflect greater Scottish involvement and the more accessible nature of land records. The chapter concludes with a series of case studies showing the use of Asia-derived wealth in civic and economic improvements.
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.
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.
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.