When English adventurer Francis Drake returned from his circumnavigation of the globe in 1580, people marvelled at the fabulous riches that accompanied him homeward. As the new routes discovered by Drake and his contemporaries opened up the possibilities of seaborne trade with Asia and the East, so dreams of untold wealth fuelled the appetites of European nations. To take full advantage of these opportunities a new form of co-operation arose between governments and entrepreneurs - the merchant company. Soon such companies were set up throughout Europe, perhaps the most well known being The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, known as the East India Company. Merchant companies were vital to the entire commercial and colonial endeavour and in return for bearing the financial risks associated with their trading ventures they were granted extensive privileges, including in some cases the right to establish colonies under charter from the sovereign. Part of the story of Empire lies in the outposts they established. Set up with a view to the nation's interests, the story of these company colonies is often fierce and bloody, for it was national as well as commercial rivalry that drove the companies. The Company's Island focuses upon one such company colony - St Helena. First discovered by the Portuguese on St Helen's Day in 1502, this isolated, uninhabited volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean was later to gain fame as Napoleon Bonaparte's place of exile. But its strategic importance lay in its position, which made it a vital re-fuelling stop for ships returning to Europe from India and the East. Fought over by the English, the French, the Dutch and the Portuguese the island became a British possession when it was annexed for the Crown in 1659 by the East India Company. With no indigenous population on the island, the East India Company had to establish a society from scratch, transferring the morality and manners of seventeenth-century Britain to this new setting. But far from settling 'in love and amity one with another' a repressive and turbulent regime ensued. Tensions between soldiers and settlers, whites and blacks, company interests and the interests of the Crown became unbearable. The civilian population rebelled and the garrison mutinied, assassinating the governor and sailing off with the island's treasure. A rebellion by black slaves was savagely punished while all the time the island was at constant risk from enemy ships. The result is a vivid and compelling tale involving issues of race, morality, gender, trade and defence within the context of Empire. Drawing on a wealth of archival material, the author sheds new light on an important yet little known aspect of the colonial endeavour. The Company's Island provides the first extended account of the role of company colonies and of the difficulties they faced in meeting the requirements of the Crown whilst simultaneously attempting to run a harmonious and successfuly community. The book will appeal to historians and geographers and to all those with an interest in the issues of Empire, travel, trade and globalisation.
St Helena, Company Colonies and the Colonial Endeavour