Family and Empire: Kinship and British Colonialism in the East India Company Era, c. 1750-1850
Speaker: Professor Margot Finn (President of the RHS & Chair in Modern British History at University College London)
Property mattered to Company men and women, as aspiring members of the middling classes and gentry. Prime incentives for Company employment, both capital accumulation and access to desirable Asian luxury goods played central roles in perpetuating the Company’s administrative and military roles long after its original, commercial function as a monopoly had withered. Property relations were also instrumental in melding together the baggy family units that underpinned the Company state on the subcontinent and at home in Britain. Following the money is an essential mechanism for understanding the pattern of British imperialism in India. Sisters, mothers and wives were, moreover, key figures in this colonial calculus: to follow the money, we must cherchez les femmes. The gradual replacement of eighteenth-century private profits with nineteenth-century Company pensions marked an important transition in established British strategies for accumulating and distributing colonial wealth, privileging its orderly transmission to men’s wives and legitimate children. For the defeated or incorporated Indian princely families whose revenues were now also increasingly replaced with Company pensions, the establishment of new British property regimes was also significant, not least in fomenting dissent from British rule.