Tuesday 19 May 2020

East India Company Charter Renewal Petition of 1813

East India Company flag (1801)
East India Company flag (1801)
On the 8 February 1813, Tiverton presented a petition to Parliament in respect of the renewal of the East India Company's charter. The town made "long ells" - an unusually long cloth with combed wool warps and carded wool wefts in a twill weave - for the East India Company. With the woollen trade struggling, and two-thirds of all production for the East India Company, the town was keen to see the commercial monopoly the East India Company held with China continue. The Charter Act of 1813 passed in July that year, preserving the monopoly. The petition reads as follows (line breaks added for clarity):
A Petition of the inhabitants of Tiverton, Devon, was also presented; setting forth,

"That the renewal of the charter to the E. I. Co. for an exclusive trade to China, and the means of preserving it unmolested, is of vital importance to the interests of the town of Tiverton, which, during some years past, has had very little of other employ for its numerous labourers but the manufacturing an article called long ells for the E. I. Co.;

and that, previous to the war, there was a considerable commerce from that town to different parts of Europe, which consumed the wool grown within many miles of it, and gave full employ to the labourers, but since that time there has been no demand for the usual sorts of woollen goods, and, but for the orders given by the Company for long ells, the labourers, with their families, must have been reduced to depend on parochial relief, and the establishments in the town have remained idle;

and that the E. I. Co. have been long and assiduously endeavouring to establish and increase a permanent system of export in woollens to China; that they have made great sacrifices, and incurred heavy losses, for the attainment of these objects; that they have at length succeeded, and established a system for purchasing, finishing, and exporting their goods, so regular and economical, that it insures to them a constant supply of the best quality on the lowest terms, and to the manufacturers those steady sales which are so essentially necessary for the employment of their labourers;

and that the petitioners are alarmed at the attempts now making to deprive the E. I. Co. of the exclusive trade to China, being convinced that no extension of our exports is to be expected from such a measure, but that, on the contrary, the very existence of the China trade would be endangered thereby, the jealous and peculiar character of the Chinese government requiring all that systematic regularity and caution which the Company and their resident agents are ​ from long habit enabled to practise;

and that, should the trade to China be thrown open, even should this much-to-befeared event not take place, as it is a well-ascertained fact that the company without a competition cannot get a price for the long ells at Canton that will leave a profit, the petitioners cannot expect, when there are rivals in the market, the Chinese will give as much as they do at present, or, even if they did, that individuals would export goods for public benefit only;

the result must therefore be, in either case, the destruction of the almost only remaining woollen trade in the western counties; and that, should it even be proposed to continue with the E. I. Co. the exclusive privilege of trading to and from China, but to permit to the outports a free import trade from India, the petitioners conceive that measure would ultimately, but surely, lead to the destruction of the regular China trade, by opening such extensive channels to smuggling teas, and other articles, as no financial regulations could possibly counteract, the duty of about 95 per cent. on teas, and from 36 to 70 per cent. on manufactured goods, being stimulants to a contraband trade too powerful to be successfully resisted;

and that the petitioners entertain the most serious apprehensions that this measure, if sanctioned by the legislature, will assuredly tend to the destruction of the E. I. Company's China trade, of a most extensive and beneficial branch of the staple manufacture of this kingdom, and to the deterioration of the expensive buildings and machinery erected purposely for its use, thereby occasioning the ruin of very many industrious families, and depriving thousands of labouring poor of their means of subsistence;

and that the petitioners are fully aware of the specious reasoning which has been and will be made use of to induce the legislature to concur in the measure of opening the India trade, but they are convinced that no lasting increase of that trade would be obtained thereby, the Company and the private merchants at present engaged therein being already in the habit of furnishing the Asiatic markets with European goods, and the European market with Asiatic productions, to the full extent of their consumption, a fast which appears sufficiently proved by the very small proportion of the tonnage appropriated to the private trade, which has been taken up by our private merchants;

and that, on the most attentive review of this important subject, the petitioners are fully impressed with the belief that opening the trade to India and China to individual speculation, would not only endanger its prosperity but its existence; and praying the House not to sanction so hazardous an experiment as that of risking a trade the source of such extensive benefits to the agricultural and manufacturing interests of this kingdom, and of a net annual revenue to the state of nearly four millions sterling, and that the trade to China may, on the renewal of their charter, be continued exclusively to the E. I. Company, and that the imports from India may be confined to the port of London."

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