June 2024 (498)

Henley Men's Probus Club - Luke S Degan talks about the East India Company. Photo Copyright Henley Men's Probus Club.

Chairman Tony Brown welcomed club members to the 498th meeting of Henley Men’s Probus Club and briefed us on the plans for the celebration of our 500th meeting in August.

This month’s guest speaker, Luke S Degan, gave a very interesting and enlightening illustrated talk on the East India Company – The Greatest Organisation.

Luke explained that the British Empire was the largest in history by some considerable amount. Much larger than the Mughal and Russian empires. He highlighted that the West India Company traded between Europe, Africa and America and was made up of Dutch, French, Danes and Swedes. The East India Company was a maritime powerhouse which at its height accounted for half of all the world’s trade.

It was the earliest joint stock company, the very first to issue shares to private investors. Between 1600 and 1874 it undertook over 5000 sailings. Early expeditions in search of sources of spices were conducted by Vasco de Gama and Sir Francis Drake amongst others. The company was granted a Royal Charter on the last day of 1600 by Queen Elizabeth the First.

Many of the early expeditions went to the far off Spice Islands where the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese had already established themselves. The trade in cloves, nutmeg, mace cinnamon and especially pepper was highly lucrative. Trade with the Mughal Empire, current day India, was centred around Bombay, Madras and Calcutta where the first British outposts were established. Trade was primarily in diamonds, gems, textiles, indigo, pepper and saltpetre.

Henley Men's Probus Club - Luke S Degan talks about the East India Company. Photo Copyright Henley Men's Probus Club.

The company subsequently expanded into both China and Japan trading in porcelain, tea, silk and opium. In monetary terms the East India Company dwarfed today’s most successful multinationals with trade accounting for £45 trillion in present day money. Initial investors realised a 5000% return on their investment!! The company was dissolved in 1858 but left a lasting legacy especially on the Indian sub continent especially with the huge rail network, the legal system, the English language and the love of the game of cricket.

Robin Rippon gave the vote of thanks to Luke and said how much he had brought history to life. Following the talk Luke joined club members for a very enjoyable two course lunch produced and served by the staff at Badgemore Golf Club.

Meeting 498 – Promotion Video: