"East India fleets"
East India House, London (c. 1817)
Public DomainEast India House, London (c. 1817) - Credit: Thomas Hosmer Shepherd
Flag of the British East Indian Company (1801-58)
Public DomainFlag of the British East Indian Company (1801-58) - Credit: FOTW
The iron steam ship HMS Nemesis of the East India Company destroying Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay (1843)
Public DomainThe iron steam ship HMS Nemesis of the East India Company destroying Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay (1843) - Credit: Edward Duncan

The East India Company was granted a Royal Charter by Elizabeth I in 1600 to trade with the East Indies. It ended up trading primarily with the Indian subcontinent and China. Successive British governments granted the Company special rights and privileges, including trade monopolies and exemptions, enabling it to become the world’s most powerful trading empire. At its height it controlled 50% of global trade, with the world’s largest merchant navy at its disposal. The Company functioned as an arm of the British Empire, founding the colonies of Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as effectively ruling India from 1757 to 1858. The British government gradually took steps to rein in the Company’s power, and it lost its trade monopoly in 1833 before being finally dissolved in 1874.

The 'dark interlopers' were independent traders who challenged the East Indian Company’s monopoly in Indian trade – ships that did not belong to companies chartered by the Crown and did not have a licence from such companies, yet which traded with the countries for which the East India Company asserted sole trading rights.