Why can't I find a ship?

This website is about ships which were in the East India Company Maritime Service, sometimes called its 'mercantile' service. These were vessels which were primarily engaged in trade, although they were sufficiently armed to defend themselves if necessary (and it often was!).

Be aware that the East India Company operated other sea services. It may be that the ship you are looking for was in one of these other services, for example its Marine or fighting service. The Company had its own Navy, which was quite separate to the Royal Navy.

For many years (until 1813) the Company had a monopoly on trade to the east, but after this date, it also licensed other ships to trade at its ports and make use of certain facilities, under strict rules. Your ship may be one of the Licensed ships.

There were also local ships which operated within Asian waters, rather than going out from England and back again. These were known as the Country ships.

And again, there were ships which disobeyed the rules and tried to trade anyway, with varying degrees of success: these were known as 'interlopers' or 'trespassers'.

The following ships therefore are not routinely covered on this website.

  • Bombay Marine/Indian Navy (1613-1863)
  • Royal Indian Marine/Navy (1877-1947)
  • Pilot Service (harbours, ports and rivers)
  • Country Service (local merchant shipping in Asia)
  • Licensed ships (ships which had permission to trade)
  • Interlopers (ships which 'trespassed' on the EIC trade)

However, you might find on this site a listing for an individual ship on a particular voyage. It is important to understand that ships had different roles at different times, and sometimes moved out of East India Company service and back in again.

A vessel may have traded for its owners or been chartered to others, then re-hired by the EIC again. This is particularly true of Extra ships, Chartered ships, and of course, the Licensed ships.

Note also that the term 'East Indiaman' was used fairly loosely and could refer not only to ships of the English East India Company (EIC) but also to the trading companies of other nations, such as the Dutch, Danish or French companies, and also, more generally to any ship trading to the east.