The Surman Embassy in India

Iris Macfarlane describes how the East India Company in 1714-17 sought to flatter the Mughal Emperor.

Almost the first thing Vasco da Gama did when he arrived in India was to start quarrelling about customs duties, and this battle continued through the next 250 years, every new European on the scene demanding, and through fire-power insisting on, special trading terms. Indeed, it is perhaps not too oversimplified a statement to say that customs were one of the causes of the collapse of the old India.

The new traders were encouraged to settle, because India’s large coastline provided customs revenue; and the traders turned pirate to procure for them selves free trade, and, when they had set up a few strategic strongholds, brought in troops and armament and turned highwayman on land for the same reason.

The tragedy of India lies, perhaps, in the fact that it was the Western merchants who looked at it first; the desire for gain blurs the outlines of a new country. The servants of the East India Company did not see India as a cultural whole, a country inhabited by people who had evolved a style of life suitable to themselves and their hills and rivers.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.