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British History/Trading routes to India of the East India Trading Companies


QUESTION: What trading route did the British East India company use to get to India and Southeast Asia during the 17-18th centuries?
If you know, what route did the French East India Company use to get to India?

ANSWER: Hello Marietta.
The principal route for East India Co ships was non-stop around the Cape of Good Hope and one of two routes north through the Indian Ocean. For vessels sailing to western India they would sail the Mozambique Channel, for those heading to India's east coast and beyond they would sail east of Mozambique. On the return journey they would stop at the small Atlantic island of St Helena, but owing to the winds it was not practical to stop at St Helena on the outward voyage.
The French East India Co followed a similar route, but as their Indian colonies were on the east coast they always sailed east of Mozambique. They would also call at the Indian Ocean island of Reunion when heading for India and later Mauritius when the French took the island from the Dutch.
In emergencies the British and French outposts in west Africa could be used, but they were generally off route and used primarily for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  


I made a slight error with the first message. I should have made it clearer that when British East India Co ships sailed to the west coast on India they took the shortest route through the Mozambique Channel between Mozambique and Madagascar. But when they were heading for India's east coast and beond they would strike out east of Madagascar, this too was the route taken by the French.


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QUESTION: How come the ships sailed down Africa and did not follow the coast of Arabia? I would have thought it was a quicker route.

A straight line is the quickest route, weather conditions permitting. From south Africa to India it was quicker and more direct to sail north-east either side of Madagascar and strike out into the open sea rather than take the longer route hugging the coast. This was especially true for the French who were aiming for the island of Reunion as a stopping off point.

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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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