Under Pitt’s Act the directors of the English Company were allowed to superintend their shipping and matters of commerce as before, yet the Board of Control exercised its influence both in England and India. Each year the Company settled the number167 of ships to be built and their sizes. For instance, in 1784, as they saw that at least four more ships would be required, they ordered six to be built. The keels were to be laid down within six months, and the ships were to be launched within twelve months of the laying of the keel. The following year they decided to have three sets of shipping with about thirty ships in each class, so leave was given for eight ships to be built. Tenders were therefore advertised for in January 1786, much to the indignation of the owners, who complained that this advertisement was directed against their interests. They denied that hitherto their rates for freight had been exorbitant, and protested that they had embarked on immense shipbuilding programmes expressly for the Company’s benefit. The Company therefore replied, inviting them to send in tenders, which was done, the same rate being offered as in the preceding season—viz. ￡26 a ton to China direct, ￡27 for coast and China, Bombay ￡28, coast and bay ￡29. On 9th June of that year a tender was offered the Company to build a 1000-ton ship at ￡22 a ton for the first two voyages, and ￡20 for the third and fourth voyages.
Up till the year 1789 the size of the Company’s recent big ships had been from 750 to 800 tons. But in this year it was decided to build five ships of from 1100 to 1200 tons. The following May the Court resolved that from past experience ships could quite well make three voyages without stripping off their sheathing. And, further, those ships which had been accustomed to make the fourth trip their repairing voyage might with perfect safety perform even six voyages. A by-law of 1773 had restricted the employment of ships for more than four voyages, but168 this was now modified, and instead of four voyages agreements were entered into with the owners for the ships to run six.
It was decided also by the Company in the year 1789 to allow the commanders and officers of their ships to fill, freight free, all such outward tonnage as might be unoccupied by the Company, and to allow the Company’s servants and merchants residing under the Company’s protection in India to fill up such homeward tonnage as might be unoccupied by the Company, at a reasonable freight. When we come to the year 1793 we have to deal with an important Act of the reign of George III., which had far-reaching effects. The Company’s charter was extended until 1814, but provision was made for opening up the Indian trade to private individuals, and thus the long-lived monopoly of the Company was doomed. At length the agitations of the Liverpool and Bristol shipowners to be allowed to participate in the East India trade were to have some sort of effect, though it was far from what was desired. However, one of the conditions of the renewal of the Company’s exclusive privilege under this Act was that any of the Company’s civil servants in India, and the free merchants living in India under the Company’s protection, might be permitted to send to Europe on their own account and risk in the Company’s ships all kinds of Indian goods with the exception of calicoes, dimities, muslins and other piece-goods. And for insuring to private merchants and manufacturers the certain and ample means of exporting their merchandize to the East Indies, and importing the returns for the same, and the other goods, wares and merchandize, allowed by169 this Act, at reasonable rates of freight,” the Company was ordered to set apart at least 3000 tons of shipping every year. The charge was to be ￡5 a ton on the outward voyage in times of peace, and. ￡15 homeward. But in the time of war the rates should be increased if the Board of Control approved. It was further stipulated that his Majesty’s subjects might be allowed to export from England to India any produce or manufactured goods except military stores, ammunition, masts, spars, cordage, pitch, tar and copper. But in all cases of exports and imports in this Anglo-Indian trade the goods must travel in the Company’s ships. These vessels, provided under the Act, thus became known as extra East Indiamen,” and sometimes in reading books of voyages and travel of this period you will find the narrator informing the reader that he travelled to the East on board the extra” East Indiaman so-and-so. It may be stated at once that though the Act was obeyed, it produced little result, for considering that the Company still had such a powerful monopoly of trade in the East, it was quite impossible for home merchants to compete with such a corporation. Most manufacturers and merchants declined to avail themselves of this privilege, full well realising beforehand how useless it would be. However, the Company fulfilled their obligation to provide this additional tonnage, though it entailed a heavy expenditure without much benefit to the public. The people who benefited most were the servants of the Company, who, being homeward bound, were able to bring back to England Indian produce that would find a ready market here.