Explain the following: The port of Surat declined by the end of the eighteenth century

The port of Surat declined by the end of the eighteenth century 

India had a vibrant sea trade. The Port of Surat was an extremely important trading port in India.

  • Surat on the Gujarat coast connected India to the Red Sea and the Gulf.
  • Hooghly in Bengal, Masulipatam on the Coromandel coast had trade links with Southeast Asian ports.
  • Supply merchants linked the port towns to the inland regions. 
  • Merchants procured the woven cloth from weaving villages by giving advances to weavers. 
  • Merchants carried the supply to the ports.
  • At the port, the price negotiation with the supply merchants who were operating inland, were done by the brokers of export merchants and big shippers.
  • A variety of Indian bankers and merchants were involved in the network of export trade – supplying exporters, carrying goods, financing production.
  • Bales of fine textiles were carried on camel backs across the deserts, through mountain passes, via the North-West Frontier.
  • Persian and Armenian merchants took the goods from Punjab to Central Asia, Eastern Persia, and Afghanistan.

Decline of Trade – Surat Port

  • The Indian merchants who were controlling the above mentioned trade, began breaking down by the 1750s.
  • Power was gradually gained by the European companies.
  • Initially the European companies gained a variety of concessions from the local courts.
  • Later on, the European companies gained the monopoly rights to trade.
  • These factors led to the decline of Surat port and Hooghly port which were earlier operated by the local merchants.
  • From the port of Surat, the exports started declining dramatically.
  • Local bankers started going bankrupt.
  • The trade which was financed through earlier credit, started to dry up.
  • To understand the extent of decline in trade at Surat port, by 1740s the value of trade at Surat port had come down to Rs 3 million from Rs 16 million in the last years of the seventeenth century.
  • As the old ports of Surat and Hooghly declined, new ports of Calcutta and Bombay grew, signalling the growth of colonial power in India.
  • Trade through new ports of Bombay and Calcutta was carried by European ships and European companies.

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