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British History/British Tea Traders with India 1850


QUESTION: Just found your answers to "Voyage times England to India" 2012-11-15 & "sea route between India and England". 3/20/2010. these have been extremely helpful to me too. The questions were concerning passengers but mine is concerning employers.
An ancestor had said: "I made three trips to Calcutta as steward on a sailing vessel. That was in 1848, before the Suez Canal, and a voyage meant four months then. We carried tea principally. It brought 2/ a pound in England then."
My guess is that he must have worked for the East India Co as the three trips would have been between 1848 and 1850.
Would you agree or where there other shipping companies trading in tea to Calcutta from Britain at this time? (He was from Scotland.)
Also, he said they carried tea primarily but was opium traded at this time with India by the East India Co.
Hope you can be of help
All the best.

ANSWER: Hello Corinne.
The East India Co lost its monopoly on the transport of tea to GB in 1834, but it would still have carried large quantities after that date.
The opium trade continued until the 1860s, but it would have been carried from India to China. not the reverse.
If you could find the name of the ship(s) he travelled on that would tell us much more.  

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QUESTION: Thank you so much for your speedy reply. I also wish he had mentioned the ship or the shipping line. I'm going to try you with another shipping question. Even though this is not your area, you give such good answers!
(Since I sent my question I have been sitting here reading nearly all your archived posts. Fascinating and great replies. Especially like the one concerning governesses and their corsets!)
Your reply helps a lot and I'm just about willing to go with The East India Co but one last check to see if you know anything about Finlay Tea Traders. Although I found out about them on a site about tea the text only mentions them trading tea with china. I don't suppose you know if they also traded tea in Calcutta:
"A passionate free trader, Kirkman Finlay used his influence as MP for Glasgow Burghs, as Lord Provost of Glasgow and as chairman of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, to help persuade the British Government to break the East India Company’s monopoly on trade to Asia.
With the East India Company’s historic stranglehold loosened, in 1813 Kirkman and his fellow campaigner, John Gladstone of Liverpool, immediately fitted out ships. Three years later, Finlay’s Earl of Buckinghamshire was the first ship to sail from the Clyde to India. There, the success of the cheap cotton piece goods, packed as cargo makeweights, far outweighed that of the Western luxury items with which the vessel was stowed. With India’s voracious demand for cottons confirmed by the Governor of Madras, a whole new market opened up. Profits from sales in India soon exceeded gross sales in all Finlays’ other outlets in Europe and the Americas. Two young Finlay assistants set up an agency in Bombay in 1816; others soon followed in Calcutta and Colombo and elsewhere. Finlays also traded with China in tea and silks."

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Finlay Tea & Jardines

Kirkman Finlay died in 1842, the tea trade with India only really began a few years before his death, around 1838, indeed China was our main source of tea until 1888 when the export of tea from India and Ceylon finally overtook that from China.

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Mark Smith


I have a good basic knowledge of British political history, but my speciality is the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland from 927 AD. Please no social history questions, it's not my strong point and I'm unlikely to answer them.


No professional experience, but a lifelong interest and access to a variety of sources of information.

"A" level in History.

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