Bureaucracy: Reports on the State of the East India Company

Reports on the state of the East India Company, 1st-9th reports, Dec. 7, 1772-June 30, 1773


Private companies funded by individual investors who hoped to turn a profit administered large swaths of the global trade, colonization, and imperial ventures undertaken by early modern Europeans. This was certainly so for the English East India Company (EIC), which was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth in 1600. The EIC was extremely successful, and, at its peak, the company maintained a monopoly on half the trade goods in the world. These included cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, salt petre (potassium nitrate), opium, and tea.

The extensiveness of the EIC operations required it to take on and perform many of the roles normally reserved for sovereign nations and political empires. The Company maintained an active military and defended its activities and possession abroad through force and the threat of force. It also maintained a vast administrative framework backed by an equally extensive communication network. The volume and diversity of the Company’s transactions necessitated enormous record-keeping efforts. As a privately owned and operated Company it looked and acted like a government entity. This blurring of boundaries was exacerbated by the fact that the Company’s vast wealth made it a primary source of borrowed money for the government, which repaid these loans in cash and with its continuing legitimation of the Company’s rights and privileges. In effect, the Company acted as a branch of the government in India and elsewhere. By the early 1770s however, questions began to be raised about mismanagement and misrule.

The pages on display here come from a book (printed in 1804) that reprinted nine reports delivered to Britain’s House of Commons in the years 1772 and 1773. These reports consider the appointment of superintending commissioners in the East Indies; the Company’s financial holdings; the distribution of the Company’s profits gained in the East Indies; abuses by Company servants that diminished profits; the use and account of ships employed by the Company; Company profits and oversight in Bengal; the legal structure employed by the Company in Bengal; a shortage of cash experienced by the Company in England as a result of funds drawn by its servants in India;and  the cost of employing Company officers and servants in India. In short, these reports represent a close look into the Company’s financial standing and power structures in an attempt to root out corruption, mismanagement, and an assortment of abuses of power. They also represent a high-profile moment in a series of actions by which the British government sought--and eventually succeeded--to take control of the Company and, in so doing to institute reforms that would address the kinds of problems these reports document. The 1804 date of publication (after the 1787 impeachment of Warren Hastings, the British Governor-General of India and Bengal) attests to the continuing value of these reports as public resources.

Find Reports on the State of the East India Company in the UNT Libraries Catalog.