I was looking forward to a continuation of our discussion about the First and Second Afghan Wars. As you should know by now, a discussion with Mrs. Baynes consists mainly of listening. But she had worked hard on the text of her report, forming and reforming her sentences, shaping and reshaping her paragraphs, so I sat back and prepared to listen.
The time for this discussion was ideal. It was a bright Saturday morning, and I was off duty at the constabulary from the Saturday to the Monday, next. The air outside was crisp and brittle, with a touch of frost still in the Spring air. The coals were ablaze in the hearth fire to take the chill off the room, and Mrs. Baynes was settled comfortably in her armchair with her manuscript pad of text before her.
" I think, Inspector," she began, "that if one is to understand the British presence in India, one must begin with an understanding of the East India Company. That was the private, and very profitable, trading company that so greatly influenced the early shaping of the Empire. And to understand the East India Company, one must step backward in history to the Company's origin.
" In 1588 the English defeated the Spanish Armada and gained a control of the sea lanes. In 1600 Queen Elizabeth chartered The East India Company, a small private trading venture, and assigned it the task of establishing a foreign trading presence with the aim of enlarging our presence and working toward trade expansion. A select group of 80 London merchants were assembled and were granted a monopoly of all trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. In return for that grant, they agreed to finance and undertake the risky venture, and to preserve and protect the English interests. This was a private business venture engaged in commerce. It later adopted a military and territorial function.
The East India Company began in this manner: ` ... a small and struggling affair, with a capital of only 72,000 [pounds]. Dazzling dividends were to be won from this investment. The British Empire in India, which was painfully built up in the course of the next three centuries, owes its origins to the charter granted by Queen Elizabeth to a group of London merchants and financiers in the year 1600.’ ” (See Churchill's “History of the English Speaking People,” Cassell and Co. Ltd., London, 1956-58)
I interrupted the discourse. "That's interesting, Mrs. Baynes, but is it relevant?"
"You bet your sweet biffy, it’s relevant," she replied. "As we progress through history, it will become clear that the wound received by Dr. Watson was the result of the confluence of several streams of historical events which were set in motion more than a century before. The wellsprings of these streams are to be found in the activities of the East India Company."
Mrs. Baynes returned to her notes and continued her exposition: " Initially, there was resistance from the Portuguese and the Dutch. But it was during the 1700's and the conflict with the French that events brought the East India Company to a position of power and influence unparalleled in history. This began and gained its greatness through the brilliant leadership of a 25 year old civilian clerk of the East Indian Company. Circumstances had put him in precisely the right place at exactly the right time in history. His name, Robert Clive, became legend.
"The story of Robert Clive is a story of failures and successes, of heroics and disasters, of fame and of shame. And it is a story not entirely unrelated to Dr. Watson's wound. It is the historical prelude to the circumstances leading to both the First and the Second Afghan Wars."
Respectfully, Inspector Baynes
(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)