On This Day: 20 January 1686

On this day in 1686, the council of the East India Company at Fort St George issued a trading pass for one year to Thomas Bowrey’s ship the Borneo Merchant. The Borneo Merchant was a country ship.

During the early East India Company voyages, their ships sailed from London to the East Indies, unloading and selling their outward cargo at Surat before travelling from port to port buying return cargos close to where they were produced. One port sold the finest textiles, another was the best for pepper and so on. In this, they were following long established Asian trading routes but this was a very slow process. Navigation in the region was restricted by the seasons and, especially, the unpredictable monsoon.

Very quickly, this system gave way to the country trade by which smaller country ships carried out regional trade within Asia and ferried goods to one of the major East India Company factories for transhipment to England. Initially, the country ships were operated by, or contracted to, the Company. Over time, increasingly the country ships were privately owned and outside the supervision of the Company. In 1661, the Company withdrew completely from the intra-Asian trade whilst retaining their claim to the monopoly of the English trade. This dichotomy was managed by issuing passes such as today’s to country ships.

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