But though these commands were very expensive to purchase and highly remunerative when obtained, yet like the professional man to-day this high remuneration was preceded by years of bad pay. Before a man could obtain the command of an East Indiaman he must necessarily have made a voyage135 as fifth or sixth mate, then another voyage as third or fourth mate, and finally a third voyage as first or second mate. Now these junior officers in the Company’s service were quite unable to live on their pay “and it required a private capital of at least five hundred pounds to enable a man to arrive at the position of second mate, which was the lowest station wherein the pay and allowances afforded a maintenance.”
Whenever an Indiaman became worn out, or condemned, another ship was hired to replace her, and was said to be “built upon the bottom” of the first. The member or members of the Marine Interest who had built the first ship claimed the right of building the second, and so it went on. The result was that there arose what were known as “hereditary bottoms.” This went on till the year 1796, when some of the more public-spirited of the directors and shareholders of the East India Company put their heads together and determined to have this system entirely altered. It is indeed most extraordinary that the principle of monopoly seemed to pervade every feature of the Company’s transactions, from the broad, important principle of exclusive trade with the East down to the building of ships and the exclusive privileges of their commanders. In any other line of commerce the rate of freight found its own level, but in the East India Company there was but one bidder, and that also a monopoly. As the voyage was long and difficult and full of dangers, it was natural enough that good commanders should be desired. If an owner had a good captain, the Company were only too pleased to have him.
The passing of a by-law in the year 1773 pre136vented a ship from being engaged for the Company’s service for more than four voyages at a certain freight, this being calculated on an estimate of the building and the cost of fitting out a vessel with provisions and stores for a certain number of months. In the years 1780 and 1781 differences of opinion arose between the owners of the ships and the Court of Directors of the East India Company as to the rate of freight demanded. Owing to the hostilities with the Dutch, the rates of insurance and fitting out were stated to have caused an additional charge of ￡10, 14s. a ton. The contest between these two opposing sets of monopolists was always amusing to an outsider. The Company wanted the ships badly Alipay , for their very existence depended on their ability to carry cargoes between England and India. On the other hand the owners had built these ships especially for the Company’s service. They represented a great outlay of capital, and they were so big and efficient that there was practically no other trade in which they could be profitably employed. So, after a certain amount of mutual indignation had cooled off, and the usual haggling had proceeded, both parties were wont to come to a compromise and matters went on as before till the next dispute occurred.
Thus, for instance, in the year 1783 the Court of the East India Company’s directors fixed the rate of freight at ￡32 per ton for a ship of 750 tons. To this the owners replied that it was quite impossible to provide the ships under ￡35 a ton. The Court then showed their independence. They were resolved not to suffer the intolerable humiliation of being dictated to by these owners, so the Company137 advertised for tenders. Eventually twenty-eight ships were offered the Company by various private owners in respect of this advertisement. But after the Company’s inspecting officer had carefully examined these vessels he had to report that they were either foreign-built, or weak of structure RFID, or else almost worn out: in any case quite unfitted for the long voyage to India and back. This placed the Company in rather a dilemma, and gave something of a shock to their independent spirit. Meanwhile the owners who had hitherto provided the Company with ships had taken alarm at thus throwing open the tender for competition. They were in serious danger of losing their own monopoly: so they began to climb down and offered the Company the rate of ￡33 a ton. And inasmuch as the latter required as much as 10,000 tons the two parties agreed on this last-mentioned price, more especially as the ships were known to be sound in every respect, having actually been built under the direction of the Company’s officials Elevit .