experienced a similar kind of structural change after their adaptation to the
textile trade. But, since the English had no access to the Spice Islands
particularly after their massacre by the Dutch at Amboyna in 1623, they
concentrated on India and on the textile trade to an ever-increasing extent.
Nonetheless, in the 17th century the English were still lagging behind the
Dutch even in this field.
European piracy increased in the Indian Ocean as individual
entrepreneurs were quick to learn their nautical and commercial lessons.
However, not all of the European ‘interlopers’ were pirates. Some of them
simply earned a living in the ‘country trade’, as the intra-Asian trade was
called. The British private traders were very active in this field, and though
the East India Company officially decried the activities of these interlopers
(who crossed the Asian seas without any respect for monopoly rights granted
by royal charter), there emerged a kind of symbiosis between them and the
Company. The Company itself concentrated on intercontinental trade, and the
‘country traders’ made their deals with the servants of the Company and
made use of the infrastructure and the protection network provided by the
Company without contributing to its maintenance. This gave them a
comparative advantage in the intra-Asian trade and the Company did well in
specialising in the intercontinental connection and leaving the ‘country trade’
Another major European power, which was destined to play an important part
in the history of India in the 18th century, was still rather insignificant in the
Indian context of the late 17th century. Colbert organised the French
Company on federal lines. But this was counter-productive, because the
Company was organised by the government and there were no private
capitalists. Colbert had to persuade the big dignitaries to subscribe funds for
this purpose, and whoever contributed did so only in order to please the king.
The commercial success of the Company was more limited than the
imperial vision of some of its great officials, like Governor Dupleix, Admiral
la Bourdonnais and General de Bussy. But after its reorganisation in 1685,
the Company started managing its trade with bureaucratic precision. In peace
time it could even make some profit, although it was debarred from the