The 350th anniversary of East India Company taking control of Bombay

On 23 June 1661, it was decided that British King Charles II will be married to Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. This was part of the treaty between the two nations. On 31st May 1662, both were married and British Crown received a bunch of islands on Indian west coast as part of dowry. On 23 Mar 1668, East India Company was leased a bunch of islands by the British Crown. The EIC set foot on these islands 6 months later on 23 Sep 1668.

Benita Fernando looks at the 350th anniversary of the event:

It’s 23 September 1668. The British East India Company has set foot on a bunch of islands leased to it by the British Crown. It makes its occupation official by establishing base at a Portuguese manor, and appointing a governor. It also sets into motion one of the most important developments in world history—the birth of the premier city of India, laying the foundations for the megapolis it is today.

Last week marked the 350th anniversary of this occasion, even as the city that the East India Company raised has been rechristened Mumbai. This significant year will tick by without much ado, for which postcolonial city will pay respects to the arrival of a colonizer?

However, history remembers. Commander Mohan Narayan (Retd), the former curator of the Maritime History Society, Mumbai, looks at it this way, “The city did not even exist under the hands of the Portuguese. They only gave it its name, Bombaim, but it was the East India Company that developed it into the modern urban centre it is known as today.” Geography was inverted in those days—Salsette and Bassein, which today form the extensive suburbs of Mumbai, were in fact Portuguese urban centres, while the seven southern islets of Bombay were farms and fishing villages.


Commodore Odakkal Johnson, the current curator of the Maritime History Society, says 1668 is a significant year, but not necessarily the pivotal turning point for Bombay. There is 1534, the year the Gujarat Sultanate signed the Treaty of Bassein with the Portuguese Empire. Or 1612, the year the Company’s galleons conquered the Portuguese in Surat, marking the start of their rise in India. Or, going further back, there was king Bimba, who ruled from Mahim in the 13th century, at a time when Bombay was called Bimbasthan. Johnson, however, concedes that the seeds of Bombay as the premiere city and the commercial capital of India were sown by the East India Company in 1668, as it joined hands with immigrants such as Parsi shipbuilders and Gujarati traders, as well as locals. As Poncha says, this may not be the year for fanfare, but it’s certainly not the time for forgetting, either.

Hmm.. We should be organising atleast a couple of conferences to look at this history. Here is Twitter feed

Nergish Sunavala also has a piece in ToI (23 Mar 2018):

No history tour of the city ever concludes without the participants learning that Bombay was given to the British as part of Catherine of Braganza’s royal dowry when she married King Charles II of England. The Anglo-Portuguese marriage treaty was dated 23rd June, 1661, ratified on 28th August, 1661 and the marriage took place on 31st May, 1662. But none of these dates are quite as significant as 27th March, 1668.

It was on this day, 350 years ago, that King Charles II declared the East India Company (EIC) “the true and absolute Lords and Proprietors of the [Bombay] Port and Island… at the yearly rental of £10, payable to the Crown,” writes Samuel T Sheppard in his book ‘Bombay’. King Charles was happy to hand over the territory which had been the cause of much trouble and expense because of constant friction with the Portuguese over port dues. In return for Bombay, he received a loan of £50,000 at 6% interest from the EIC.

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