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The East India Company's London Workers

The East India Company's London Workers: Management of the Warehouse Labourers, 1800-1858

Margaret Makepeace
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 254
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt14brt91
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  • Book Info
    The East India Company's London Workers
    Book Description:

    The East India Company, which was by 1800 a commercial organisation of unrivalled size and complexity managing a vast empire in Asia, also played a crucial role in the British economy, particularly in London, where the Company was the largest employer of civilian labour in the early nineteenth century, with thousands of workmen in its metropolitan warehouses. This book provides a detailed examination of the management strategies used by the Company to control its London warehouse labourers and to maintain acceptable levels of commercial and corporate efficiency. It shows how benevolence formed an integral part of the Company's domestic business practices, with discipline, punishment, regulation and restriction counterbalanced by incentives, rewards and paternalistic practices, such as fair and regular wages, pensions, a comprehensive welfare scheme, free medical treatment and an in-house savings bank. The book also outlines how, when the Charter Act of 1833 brought about the closure of the vast majority of the Company's London warehouses, the directors instigated a pioneering redundancy compensation scheme for the labourers. MARGARET MAKEPEACE is a Senior Archivist in the India Office Records at the British Library.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-877-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLES
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. One INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    THE ENGLISH East India Company functioned for more than 250 years, and its complex history is made up of many interwoven strands reflecting the wide scope of its activities: commercial, maritime, military, administrative, political and imperial. It is therefore perhaps inevitable that some aspects of the Company’s history have been overlooked or neglected. This study fills one of the major gaps in the historiography of the East India Company by providing a detailed examination of the strategies used by the Company to manage the thousands of labourers who worked in its London warehouses between 1800 and 1858, and by showing...

  7. Two THE EAST INDIA COMPANY WAREHOUSES
    (pp. 17-39)

    THE MERCHANTS of the East India Company began trading in 1600 from a room at the Nag’s Head Inn in Bishopsgate Street, London.¹ Two hundred years later, the Company’s extensive commercial and imperial functions were managed from a large range of buildings in the City and the surrounding area: administrative and commercial offices, warehouses, almshouses with a chapel, a military recruitment centre, a mint and an inspection room for firearms. The peak period for property accumulation and development was the late eighteenth century, prompted in part by the need to store the greatly increased amount of tea shipped from China....

  8. Three THE WAREHOUSE LABOURERS
    (pp. 40-66)

    AT THE peak of its commercial activities in the early nineteenth century, the East India Company employed more than 3000 labourers in its London warehouses, the largest single body of civilian manual workers in London at that time. This was a marked increase from the establishment maintained in 1785 when the total permanent workforce in the warehouses amounted to 1393, of whom 1252 were labourers and seventy were commodores and writers.¹ By 1793, the number of daily paid workers, comprising the deputy assistant elders, commodores, writers and labourers, had increased to 1800,² and in May 1798, with more warehouses in...

  9. Four MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES: INCENTIVES, REWARDS AND BENEVOLENCE
    (pp. 67-93)

    IN ORDER to manage the very large body of labourers, the East India Company operated a paternalistic ‘carrot and stick’ approach, with the aim of keeping the warehouses functioning at an acceptable level of efficiency and of guarding against transgression. The Company’s management ‘carrots’, which were offset by the ‘sticks’ described in the next chapter, were positive incentives to encourage the formation of a stable and committed workforce in the warehouses. Although Sidney Pollard has written that it was only in about 1830 that ‘common humanity began to combine with self-interest among the larger or more honourable employers’,¹ this chapter...

  10. Five MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES: SYSTEMS OF INTERNAL CONTROL
    (pp. 94-112)

    THE EAST India Company’s ability to manage its warehouse labourers was assessed by Sir John Hall, Secretary to the St Katharine Dock Company, in his evidence to a Select Committee of Parliament in 1832. Hall’s statement makes interesting reading:

    The men of the East India Company are constantly loitering away their time; our officers sometimes take the liberty of pointing this out to the elders, &c. of the East India Company, but they say that they have a dif-ficulty in enforcing discipline. I have seen the East India Company’s labourers at times asleep in the corners of the floors; their...

  11. Six THE ROYAL EAST INDIA VOLUNTEERS: THE ‘UNION OF CIVIL AND MILITARY DEPENDENCE’
    (pp. 113-139)

    THE MILITARY overtones of the warehouse management structure with its discipline and hierarchical organization were strengthened by the existence of the regiments of Royal East India Volunteers which were embodied at two separate periods, from 1796 to 1814 and then from 1820 to 1834. Although the warehouses had always been guarded by watchmen with firearms,¹ the establishment of a Volunteer infantry corps during the French Wars using civilian servants as soldiers was a key development in the East India Company’s management of its London operations, marking a definite shift in the labourers’ duties from commercial activities into a hybrid role...

  12. Seven THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE EAST INDIA COMPANY AND ITS LONDON WAREHOUSE LABOURERS
    (pp. 140-155)

    THE LATE eighteenth-century political economist and reformer Patrick Colquhoun believed that a careful blend of benevolence and coercion could be used to create an authoritarian, but not repressive, framework for social order.¹ The regime established in the microcosm of the East India Company London warehouses was proof that such a concept could be successful, with an intermingling of incentives and constraints used to maintain the organizational hierarchy and to try to create the type of work force wanted by the directors.² In contrast, many industrial employers in the early nineteenth century based their dealings with their workers purely on ‘compulsion,...

  13. Eight THE WAREHOUSE CLOSURES
    (pp. 156-182)

    The Charter Act of 1813 took away the East India Company’s monopoly of trade to India but maintained its exclusive privilege of trade with China. Twenty years later, the Charter Act of 1833 put an end to all the Company’s commercial activities and forced the closure of almost all the London warehouses. The directors had been prepared for change but the scope of the legislation of 1833 took them by surprise. As they commented in 1834:

    the change which has taken place exceeds that upon which the most prudent calculator could have justly reckoned. Not only has the Company’s exclusive...

  14. Nine MANAGEMENT OF THE WAREHOUSE LABOURERS AND PENSIONERS 1838–1858
    (pp. 183-194)

    IN SEPTEMBER 1834 the East India Company London warehouse establishment consisted of 2291 men ranked from keeper to labourer, together with 281 pensioners. By October 1838, the balance of numbers between workers and pensioners had been reversed and there were 2246 men on the warehouse pension list.¹ The Company now had to supervise only a small cohort of labourers but was faced with the task of managing a very large group of warehouse pensioners differing widely in age and scattered throughout the world. Moreover, the Company of-ficials had to administer pensions operating under two different sets of rules: pensioners who...

  15. Ten CONCLUSION: ‘GOOD MASTERS TO THE LOWER CLASS OF THEIR DEPENDENTS’
    (pp. 195-200)

    THE EAST India Company’s treatment of its London labourers was subjected to public scrutiny by contemporaries. After Dr James Mitchell had gathered evidence about the Company’s health policy in the warehouses for submission to the Factories Inquiry Commission in 1833, he commented that the Company’s policy of providing free medical attention to the men was both ‘wise’ and ‘humane’.¹ Yet in April of that year,The Timesreceived a letter of complaint allegedly signed by ‘One of the “Labourers”’, levelling ‘divers charges against the Company, of niggardliness, want of feeling, harshness, injustice, and so forth, manifested towards the men employed...

  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 201-224)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 225-244)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)