Fantastic article from The Guardian about the East India Company. Well worth a read.
As with all such corporations, then as now, the East India Company was answerable only to its shareholders. With no stake in the just governance of the region, or its long-term wellbeing, the company’s rule quickly turned into the straightforward pillage of Bengal, and the rapid transfer westwards of its wealth.
Before long the province, already devastated by war, was struck down by the famine of 1769, then further ruined by high taxation. Company tax collectors were guilty of what today would be described as human rights violations. A senior official of the old Mughal regime in Bengal wrote in his diaries: “Indians were tortured to disclose their treasure; cities, towns and villages ransacked; jaghires and provinces purloined: these were the ‘delights’ and ‘religions’ of the directors and their servants.”
Bengal’s wealth rapidly drained into Britain, while its prosperous weavers and artisans were coerced “like so many slaves” by their new masters, and its markets flooded with British products. A proportion of the loot of Bengal went directly into [Robert] Clive’s pocket. He returned to Britain with a personal fortune – then valued at £234,000 – that made him the richest self-made man in Europe. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, a victory that owed more to treachery, forged contracts, bankers and bribes than military prowess, he transferred to the EIC treasury no less than £2.5m seized from the defeated rulers of Bengal – in today’s currency, around £23m for Clive and £250m for the company.
No great sophistication was required. The entire contents of the Bengal treasury were simply loaded into 100 boats and punted down the Ganges from the Nawab of Bengal’s palace to Fort William, the company’s Calcutta headquarters. A portion of the proceeds was later spent rebuilding Powis [Castle].