A Profit Driven Empire (02:08)
Britain became a global financial power through exploitation of natural resources and human labor in the colonies. Learn how money flowed to London from Hong Kong, India and the Caribbean in this episode.
British Privateering (02:44)
In 1668, a fleet led by Welshman Henry Morgan sailed home to Jamaica after having stolen silver from a Spanish colony in the Americas. The government licensed merchant ships to attack foreign vessels in exchange for a share of appropriated goods—a low risk method of building empire.
From Theft to Trade (03:15)
The British set up Port Royal on Jamaica to launch privateer attacks on Spanish ships. After peace was declared, Henry Morgan retired from piracy and switched to sugar cultivation, relying on African slave labor. Harsh working conditions meant a third of slaves died within three years of arrival.
Growing Rich from Slavery (Graphic language and imagery) (03:44)
By 1775, 1.5 million Africans had been transported to the British West Indies. Plantation owners behaved like dictators—morally justified by the belief that slaves were sub-human. Hear punishments inflicted by English farmer Thomas Thistlewood in 1756.
British West Indies' Legacy of Slavery (02:36)
Michael Grizzle's family was brought to Jamaica from Africa in 1760. He describes the working conditions his ancestors were subjected to on a sugar plantation. Although the trade contributed to building the Empire's wealth, it was abolished in 1807 due to civil pressure in England.
Battle of Plassey (04:56)
18th century British traders were impressed by the wealth of India's monarchs, demonstrated in Delhi's Red Fort Palace. Robert Clive worked as a clerk for the East India Company, using force and politics to secure trade deals. In 1757, he outwitted the ruler of Bengal and seized his fortune for the British government.
Building an Empire on Greed (01:02)
Using wealth plundered from local rulers, the East India Company took control of territory in India. British employees built European style palaces in Calcutta and Bengal, governing as princes.
Britain's Love Affair with Chintz (04:41)
The spice trade brought early British travelers to India and provided a new world of taste and color. Jeremy Paxton visits a Bengali cloth printer recreating designs exported to Europe during the 18th century; the textiles became so popular in England that they were produced domestically after 1720.
Forced Trade in the Colonies (03:19)
Private British companies such as the Hudson Bay Company in Canada and the African Lakes Corporation took over foreign territory and exploited natural resources to build the Empire. From the 17th through the 20th century, London led in global banking, finance and insurance.
A Fortune from Guano (01:57)
By the end of the 19th century, more than half the world's trade was financed in British pounds. Victorian traders grew rich on goods from the colonies, such as the Gibbs Brothers who mined bird manure and bankrolled much of the Peruvian economy.
Hong Kong's Drug Money Origins (05:13)
Learn how 19th century British traders such as William Jardin and Scott Matheson sold opium grown in India to smugglers, circumventing China's trade restrictions to supply British tea demand. They had no moral reservations about profiting from peasant addictions: it was just business.
Opium Wars (02:47)
In 1839, the Chinese Emperor ordered British opium destroyed. The British invoked the principle of free trade and sent military to intervene. China surrendered and opened five ports; Britain took control of Hong Kong and continued importing opium until the 20th century.
A Colony Gains Independence (02:36)
After the Opium Wars, Hong Kong developed into a global financial center. In 1997 it was returned to China after more than 150 years of British rule.
Capitalizing on Latex (04:34)
In 1877, rubber trees from Brazil arrived in Singapore's Botanic Gardens. Recognizing their potential for the British Empire, director Henry Ridley convinced planters in the region to grow the species and developed a new way to tap trees without harming them.
Exchanging Goods with the Colonies (01:58)
British demand for the "plastic" of the 19th century gave rise to the rubber industry. Indian laborers were recruited to work on plantations in Malaysia that produced 75% of the global supply by the 1930s. Items manufactured in England such as teapots, pans and clothing were distributed in return.
Indian Cotton Boycott (05:55)
British factories produced cloth with raw cotton from India, causing India's domestic industry to collapse. Ghandi led a protest against imported textiles, in turn impacting the weaving industry in Lancashire. He visited the unemployed English workers in sympathy; a historic moment calling attention to the flawed system of Empire.
Shifting Imperial Power Relations (04:48)
Ghandi's cotton boycott and others like it inspired Indians to demand independence from Britain in 1947. 50 years later, Jeremy Paxton meets a Kolkata club that has adopted the Enfield Motorcycle—invented in Britain and now manufactured in India—as a symbol of Indian freedom.
Credits: Making a Fortune: Empire—A British Chronicle (00:44)
Credits: Making a Fortune: Empire—A British Chronicle
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