Indian Ocean Trade in 19th C

Dialog on H-World list, December 1995

Date: Tue, 19 Dec 1995 11:13:01 -0800
Sender: H-NET List for World History <>
Subject: Indian Ocean Trade in 19th C:query
From: Brian Begy <>

Hi all!

I am hoping that I can get steered in the proper direction by somebody out there.

I am interested in the trade of the Indian Ocean during the mid nineteenth century. I am especially interested in the impact of British technology (such as steamers) and financial innovations (such as insurance) in changing the trade of that region. Understanding how Arab-owned and/or operated shipping fares between 1850 and 1880 is a central objective.

Most of the literature on the Indian Ocean focuses on an earlier period, 1650–1800, and this means that either I am on to a new area for research, or there is a very good reason why no one has written this history yet. Does anyone have any suggestions?



Brian Begy
1163 E. 54th St. #1
Chicago, IL 60615
The University of Chicago

Date: Wed, 20 Dec 1995 13:01:50 -0800
Sender: H-NET List for World History &
Subject: Re: Indian Ocean Trade in 19th C:query (fwd)
From: William Storey <>

Indian Ocean trade during the nineteenth century is a potentially fascinating topic. Most scholars have neglected it, as far as I can tell.

I wrote my dissertation, now a book manuscript, on agricultural science in Mauritius, 1853–1953. I related the availability of finance capital to new methods of farming. Capital-starved small-scale farmers employed the least “scientific” methods in the eyes of moneylenders and bankers. Battles to create state and private research institutions often hinged on financial arrangements.

I never had the time to do a full-blown study of finance in Mauritius. I kept running into interesting snippets of things in the Mauritius Archives and the Library of the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture. Historians generally portray Mauritius as the classic “dependent” economy, devoting roughly 98% of its GDP to sugar from 1820 to 1980. Interestingly, metropolitan British bankers pulled out of the island during the 1840s and 1850s. The island became the British Empire's most important sugar-producing colony based upon finance from Bombay, which became the most important market for selling Mauritian sugar between roughly the 1870s and 1914. Chinese financiers also involved themselves in Mauritius. Their networks extended from the local village shopkeeper selling goods on credit, to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Port Louis, the capital, all the way back to Guangdong. Large-scale Franco-Mauritian and small-scale Indo-Mauritian producers became largely independent of metropolitan European financiers, and depended instead upon lenders from India and China. They debated finance, insurance, shipping, and communications frequently.

I think you have identified a wonderful and potentially huge topic. Even if you just dealt with finance in Mauritius you would probably have enough data to write a small book.

Bill Storey

Date: Wed, 20 Dec 1995 13:02:58 -0800
Sender: H-NET List for World History <>
Subject: Indian Ocean Trade in 19th C (fwd)
From: Pat Manning
Northeastern University

On the western side of the Indian Ocean in the 19th century, see Abdul Sheriff, Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar (James Currey and Ohio UP, 1987), and works cited therein; and William Gervase Clarence-Smith, ed., The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century, (Frank Cass, 1989). See also Marion Johnson and Jan Hogendorn, Shell Money of the Slave Trade (Cambridge UP).

Date: Wed, 20 Dec 1995 12:59:11 -0800
Sender: H-NET List for World History <>
Subject: Re: Indian Ocean Trade in 19th C:query (fwd)
TO: Brian Begy,

You may want to look at The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century by Daniel Headrick (Oxford U. Press). This may be a good start for the technology related issues in nineteenth century European Imperialism.

Good luck.

david kalivas