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Fast and famous

East Indiamen

An East Indiaman was a large ocean-going ship owned by or hired to the Honourable East India Company (HEIC).  Through its royal charter, this company had a virtual monopoly of the lucrative trade with India from 1600 to 1833, and effectively governed the country.  The Dutch and French also had similar companies, trading to their possessions in Asia, with similar ships.  East Indiamen were usually ship rigged, were heavily built and amongst the biggest ships of their day.  They were almost as heavily armed as Royal Naval vessels, as they might expect to encounter pirates, privateers or enemy warships.  The need to fight, or flee from a larger adversary, meant East Indiamen were faster than the normal cargo ship.  They also had large crews to man their guns, and could afford these because their voyages, if slow, were inevitably profitable: the HEIC’s monopoly saw to that!

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