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Nabobs: Empire and Respectability. Introduction. Introduction: What is a Nabob?. Oxford English Dictionary :

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introduction what is a nabob
Introduction: What is a Nabob?

Oxford English Dictionary:

  • For the first century and a half of the Company’s history and more, nabob was simply an Anglicisationof nawab, “the title of certain Mohammedan officials, who acted as deputy governors of provinces or districts in the Mogul Empire”.
  • In its “transferred sense”: “ a person of great wealth: specifically one who has returned from India with a large fortune acquired there; a very rich and luxurious person.”
introduction what is a nabob1
Introduction: What is a Nabob
  • Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases (1886): “It began to be applied in the Eighteenth Century, when the transaction of Clive made the epithet familiar in England, to Anglo-Indians who returned with fortunes from the East; and Foote’s play of the ‘The Nabob’ (1768) aided in giving general currency to the word in this sense.”

A story of global history:

Empire in Asia

Respectability in Europe

nabobs before they left england
Nabobs before they left England?

Who went to India in the service of the East India Company?

Why did they go?

nabobs before they left england1
Nabobs before they left England?

Where did they go?

What happened to them in Asia?

nabobs and empire in asia
Nabobs and Empire in Asia

The opportunity for Empire

Mughal Empire (1526-1857)

Death of Aurangzeb (1707)

Decline (1707-1857)

nabobs and empire in asia1
Nabobs and Empire in Asia

What Empire?

Seven Years War (1756-1763)

Black hole incident (1756)

Battle of Plassey (1757)

Battle of Bedara (1759)

Clive returns to Bengal, disposes of the Nawab, and takes direct control (Diwany rights) (1765)

nabobs and empire in asia3
Nabobs and Empire in Asia

Who wanted this Empire?

Servants EIC

Army and Royal



Clive, the conqueror of Bengal, after putting an English straw man on the throne of Bengal, received a ‘Jagir’ of £27,000 pound a year from the grateful new Nawab.

A ‘Jagir’ was a reward for his services and later hotly debated in parliament.

The Company obtained a £100,000 a year to pay for its military expenses

  • Pamela Nightingale, Fortune and Integrity, A Study of Moral Attitudes in the Indian Diary of George Paterson, 1769-1774 (Delhi Oxford University press 1985), 96, (…) Pigot, who was governor from 1755 to 1763, laid the foundation of his fortune of pound 300,000 on the Nawab’s gratitude for the restoration of his country, and when Palk succeeded him he demanded from the Nawab 50,000 pagodas on the ground that ‘he understood Mr Pigot had received a Lack, and he could not receive less than his Predecessor. It was sent him: for the Nabob had many favours to ask of the Governor.’ (note) (…) (Similar stories on pages 94-96).
private trade
Private trade

Alternative version:

Fortunes made from trade

As English have been seen as the most successful private traders even before empire, private trade is the foundation of empire

conclusion on nabobs and empire
Conclusion on Nabobs and Empire

Fortunes related to Empire

Often not clear how servants got them

self fashioning in the 18th century
Self-fashioning in the 18th century

The Auriol and Dashwood families by John Zoffany, Calcutta, 1783-7

portraits of nabobs
Portraits of Nabobs

Mr and Mrs Warren Hastings by John Zoffany, Calcutta, 1783-7

Mildred Archer, India and British Portraiture, p.140

modesty displayed

Elizabeth and Mary Davidson

By Tilly Kettle, London, c. 1784

Mr and Mrs Joseph Champion, by Thomas Seton, Calcutta, 1780

social impact of nabobs
Social impact of Nabobs
  • The nabob. A comedy, in three acts. Written by Samuel Foote, esq. As performed at the Theatre Royal Hay-Market
  • The intrigues of a nabob: or, Bengal the fittest soil for the growth of lust, injustice and dishonesty. Dedicated to the Hon. the Court of …
  • The nabob: Or, Asiatic Plunderers. A Satyrical poem, In a Dialogue between a Friend and the Author. To which are annexed, A few fugitive Pieces
  • Caraccioli, Charles, The life of Robert Lord Clive, Baron Plassey (1766)
britannia receiving the riches of the east
‘Britannia receiving the riches of the East‘

Ceiling painting, East India House, London 1878. In: Mildred Archer, India

and British Portraiture, 1770-1825 (London and New York 1979), p. 40.

the problem of east indian fortunes
The problem of East Indian Fortunes

In India, all the vices operate by which sudden fortune is acquired … Arrived in England, the destroyers of the nobility and gentry of a whole kingdom will find the best company in this nation, at a board of elegance and hospitality. Here the manufacturer and the husbandman will bless the just and punctual hand, that in India has torn the cloth from the loom, or wrested the scanty portion of rice and salt from the peasants of Bengal, or wrung from him the very opium in which he forgot his oppressions and his oppressor. They marry into your families; they enter into your estates by loans; they raise their value by demand; they cherish and protect your relations which lie heavy in your patronage.

Edmund Burke (1783) speech in parliament

britannia receiving the riches of the east1
`Britannia receiving the riches of the East‘

Empire not perceived as for the general good:

State has invested heavily in armies and fleets to aid the Company to fight the French in the Seven Years war (1756-1763), but Nabobs exploit the situation

britannia receiving the riches of the east2
`Britannia receiving the riches of the East‘

Problem: Nabobs buy themselves into the company and parliament and try to influence politics on the East India Company

Clive returns to England after Plassey, manipulates the company

nabobs and politics
Nabobs and Politics

Clive before leaving for second time to India bought up 40,000 pounds worth of stock in the Company, split this up for more voting power. Started sending news about attaining the Diwani rights. Forced the directors to raise dividend from 6 per cent to 10 per cent.

The first Parliamentary intervention, 1766-7

nabobs and politics1
Nabobs and politics

Parliament: East India Company becomes a subject of discussion, the states wants a pieces of the territorial revenues. (1767)

nabobs and politics2
Nabobs and politics

The crisis of 1772

  • Famine in Bengal (1769)
  • Trade financed through bills of exchange
  • Financial crisis, debtors want their money quicker
  • The increased dividend is unsustainable and leads to structural debt

Regulation act (1773)

nabobs and politics3
Nabobs and politics

The crisis of 1772

Regulation act (1773)

Company under control of the Crown. Territories under sovereignty of the Crown and leased out to the Company for a fixed rent. Governor-General of Bengal appointed only with the approval of the Crown. Dividend lowered. Loan from the State

nabobs and politics4
Nabobs and politics

The crisis of 1772

Regulation act (1773)

Pitt’s act (1783)

Company possessions in India under state control. Only commercial freedom for the Company

nabobs and politics5
Nabobs and politics

The crisis of 1772

Regulation act (1773)

Pitt’s act (1783)

Charter act (1813)

Company loses monopoly on India, only on China

Slow evolution of Company into Colonial empire

Company servants become civil servants

the nabob controversy debating global imperialism
The nabobcontroversy: debating global imperialism

Nechtman explores the tensions and contradictions inherent in British national identity

He focuses on the controversies surrounding East India Company servants

He sheds new light on the stereotypes of so-called ‘Nabobinas‘ – the wives and daughters of Company servants

nicholas b dirks the scandal of empire 2006
Nicholas B. Dirks: The Scandalof Empire (2006)

Dirks‘ book is decisively anti-imperialist and very political! For him empire is an scandal.

He analysis political debates in the later eighteenth century and the impeachment of the most famous nabob – Warren Hastings

British imperial rule was legitimized through scandalising and denouncing individual cases of corruption. For Dirks: thisis the real Scandal of Empire!

nabobs are un british what is britishness in the 18th century
Nabobs areun-British? WhatisBritishness in the 18th Century?
  • Empire and the British national identity emerged side by side according to Linda Colley
  • This book was published in 1992 and still is hugely influential
  • The British defined themselves against an external ‘other‘ – against Catholic France and the ‘despotic Orient‘
  • Linda Colley‘s work is influenced by Benedict Andersons ‘Imagined Communities‘ (1983)
anglo indian l ives
Anglo-Indian Lives





How did Company servants live in India? How did their attitudes towards Indian society change over time?