East India Company Ships

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    I would be very grateful if any members can suggest books and any literature regarding improvements made to the design and performance of the ships of the East India Company from 1600-1834.

    P.S. B

    The letter of Gabriel Snodgrass to Dundas and others (reproduced in The Naval Chronicle London 1801, vol V (Jan-June 1801), page 129 will provide some information:
    Online version URL:

    Whilst this letter is primarily concerned with recommendations for the ships of Royal Navy, it reflects Snodgrass’ experience as Surveyor of Ships for the HEIC (Honourable East India Company).

    Frank Scott

    Not aware of any book purely on HEIC ships (British). The only one that comes to mind at all is Basil Lubbock’s very old book The Blackwall Frigates, Glasgow 1922, 2nd 1950, which is mainly about the ships that came after the HEIC, but does have quite a lot to say about the old Indiamen.
    In contrast there is much more information on the East Indiamen of other countries.
    Jean Boudriot produced a study of French EIC ships entitled Compagnie des Indes 1720-1770, Paris 1983, 2 vols. He is always wide ranging and will have points to make about different national practices.
    For the Swedish SOIC there is a sailing replica of a 1745 ship, the Göteborg III.
    The Dutch have built a sailing replica of the notorious 1628 VOC ship Batavia, along with a static full-scale reconstruction of the 1748 Amsterdam [temporarily docked at the Science Museum in Amsterdam but to be re-berthed at the Scheepvaart Museum on re-opening c.January 2010, Ed.].
    On an associated note, Anne Bulley produced a fine study of The Bombay Country Ships 1790-1833, Richmond 2000.

    Robert Legge

    The following book can help: Lords Of The East: The East India Company and its Ships, Jean Sutton, Conway Maritime Press 1961, ISBN 0-85177-169-6 has some information, and there is a later edition. Other books which may help are:
    The East Indiamen, The Seafarers, Russell Miller, Time-Life Books 1980, ISBN 7054-0635-0.
    The Great East India Adventure: The Story of the Swedish East India Adventure, Robert Hermansson, Breakwater Publishing 2004, ISBN 91-975200-9-8.
    Ostindief Araren Gotheborg Seglar Igen: The Swedish Ship Gotheborg Sails Again, Ingrid Arensberg, Svenska Ostindiska Companiet AB, 2005, ISBN 91-86425-85-4.
    We were told at a lecture held when the Gotheborg Replica was in Fremantle, W.A. that the vessel had averaged just over 4.5 knots on the leg from South Africa to Fremantle. I think there is more information on the vessel’s website:


    Frank Scott

    Although Goteborg III is a most interesting vessel, care should be taken when interpreting her performance compared to that which might have been achieved by her 18th century predecessor.
    Like all such modern vessels she is for many reasons (not least modern maritime legislation) not a true replica, but rather a good representation. Steel watertight bulkheads, twin screw auxiliary propulsion, wheel steering, modern diet, anti-fouling paint, weather forecasts, satellite navigation system, modern risk assessment, etc., all combine to make shipboard life and operations quite different from that of the original vessel. On the specific issue of average speed for a passage, the impact of modern anti-fouling by itself makes it almost impossible to produce data that can be used by historians.
    Even in my own time at sea (which began in 1966) things have changed almost out of recognition. To take one example – the very idea that even large warships and merchant ships used to operate for long periods – days if the weather was bad – navigating purely by dead reckoning is inconceivable to the modern ship’s officer.

    Andrew P

    I worked as ship’s carver for five years during the building of the Gotheborg and carried out a period of research before that into the decorative work such a ship would have carried. To my knowledge her underwater protection is as used in the 1700’s, the hull being over planked below the waterline with one inch thick sacrificial pine planking.
    Although she has equipment onboard to meet modern-day safety requirements, the sails and entire rig are as used in that period, with no modern additions. As such she remains the most authentic replica able to sail unaided and therefore provides a useful record of how such a ship would have performed.
    If you need more information on her rig contact Bjorn Ahlander via their website; with regard to the hull contact Joakim Severinson.
    During my period of research, I spent some time in Amsterdam, where the Dutch East India company built their own ships (for a long period with English designers). The maritime museum there may be a useful source of enquiry as the Dutch were the only company that built their ships directly, rather than via independent yards.


    This depends on what you mean by ‘EIC Ships’ because the Company was unique in outsourcing its merchant marine.
    If you read some of the factory records you will find letters from captains who complain to the Company that their ship’s owners must be compensated for any dangerous service the Company may have ordered the ship to go on that fell outside the original shipping contract.
    What this of course means is that there was no central institutionalized development of the building of ships for merchant service in the Company, by the Company. However, the Company did build and outfit its own maritime defence forces, such as the Bombay Marine. These were often country-built vessels and I have been looking for more information on them regarding the 1700s. Records though are scant at best.
    From what I can gather for the first half of the 18th century these ships were modelled after country vessels in India such as grabs and gallivats, though of course they carried many more guns.
    Ship building centres for EIC-owned vessels were often located in India as the hard-woods available there were much more suited for tropical climes and were more durable. A useful place to start may be R.K. Kochhar’s article ‘Shipbuilding at Bombay’, Current Science vol. 66 no. 12, 1994, pp. 965-969.
    The author has made it available for free download as a PDF from: http://rajeshkochhar.com/data/publications/ship.pdf%5D

    [Editor’s note: I am grateful to Mr Elliott for locating the online version of this article after a difficult citation check for the original. The article seems to be available from the publishers of Current Science as a PDF for subscribers to Athens or Shibboleth accounts, but is not simple to view as a complete article and I have not been able to print it out even within my university’s subscription system. The author’s digital copy of c.2004, from the URL given above, appears to be unaltered from the original, is easy to locate and download, and is free to read and print.]

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