Portugal Cedes Bombay to the English Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The British crown acquired the island and port of Bombay from Portugal as part of a large dowry. In 1668, the Crown granted the island to the British East India Company, leading to Bombay’s expansion into a great commercial metropolis.

Summary of Event

Estado da India, the name given to Portugal’s Asian empire, grew rapidly in the decades following explorer Vasco da Gama’s landing at Calicut in 1498, an empire that would extend from East Africa to the China seas. From its capital at Goa, forts and factories (from the Portuguese word feitoria, meaning a fortified trading station for European merchants in Asia) were established up and down the west coast of India to trade spices and, increasingly, textiles. Estado da India brought immense wealth to the Portuguese crown, but its Achilles’ heel was an acute and perpetual labor shortage. [kw]Portugal Cedes Bombay to the English (June 23, 1661) [kw]English, Portugal Cedes Bombay to the (June 23, 1661) [kw]Bombay to the English, Portugal Cedes (June 23, 1661) Trade and commerce;June 23, 1661: Portugal Cedes Bombay to the English[2080] Expansion and land acquisition;June 23, 1661: Portugal Cedes Bombay to the English[2080] Government and politics;June 23, 1661: Portugal Cedes Bombay to the English[2080] Colonization;June 23, 1661: Portugal Cedes Bombay to the English[2080] India;June 23, 1661: Portugal Cedes Bombay to the English[2080] Bombay Colonization;England of Bombay

Portugal’s ruling dynasty, the House of Aviz, ended in 1580 with the death of King Henry, leading King Philip II of Spain to annex Portugal to his vast territorial possessions. Portugal remained part of the Spanish Empire until 1640, when a successful revolt led to the establishment of a new Portuguese dynasty, the House of Braganza. Spain, however, did not recognize Portugal’s independence until 1668, with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon Lisbon, Treaty of (1668) . Portugal’s second “new” ruler, Afonso VI Afonso VI (king of Portugal) (r. 1656-1683), seeking international recognition, sought to marry his sister Catherine of Braganza Catherine of Braganza to English king Charles II Charles II (king of England);marriage of , who had been restored to his throne in 1660. There were real advantages in resuscitating the Anglo-Portuguese alliance (which dated back to 1386). Plagued by Dutch dominance in the Indian Ocean, Portugal viewed England as a counterweight to the colonial and commercial ambitions of the Netherlands.

The diplomatic preliminaries involved hard bargaining. Charles was a spendthrift and habitually penniless, while Portugal was no longer the wealthy kingdom it had once been. With difficulty, the Portuguese raised an enormous dowry of 2 million crowns, which Charles soon frittered away, but Portugal also threw in some land: Tangier, on the coast of Morocco, and the island of Bombay. The marriage treaty was signed on June 23, 1661. Catherine landed at Portsmouth on May 13, 1662, and was privately married eight days later. It was an unhappy marriage on account of Charles’s flagrant infidelities, and it produced no heir, indirectly paving the way for the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when William III succeeded James II as king of England.

By the terms of the 1661 treaty, Portugal ceded “the Port and Island of Bombay in the East Indies with all its rights, profits, territories and apportenances whatever thereunto belonging,” a vague definition that the English took to include, in addition, the island of Salsette, to which Bombay was attached, as far as Bassein, the islands of Elephanta and Karanja, and several other locations. On April 2, 1662, King Afonso sent a letter to Goa for the viceroy of Estado da India, Antonio de Mello Castro, Castro, Antonio de Mello ordering him to hand over Bombay immediately to the English. In fact, the viceroy was still en route for Goa, which he reached in September, 1662, only to be greeted by the royal command.

Horrified, Castro wrote back, protesting the order in the strongest possible terms. He refused to cede the island for the following reasons: First, the clause in the Anglo-Portuguese treaty was conditional upon the signing of a heretofore unsigned Dutch-Portuguese treaty. Second, Bombay harbor was the finest in India, superior even to Lisbon itself. Third, to hand over the island would endanger the faith of the Catholic converts already established there. Fourth, if Portugal abandoned this magnificent harbor, its trade on the west coast would inexorably gravitate into English hands.

This defiant letter of December 28, 1662, was carried overland by a young Jesuit, Manuel Godinho Godinho, Manuel (1630-1712), author of one of the classics of seventeenth century travel. Godinho shared the viceroy’s feelings about Bombay, declaring that, in the long run, its cession would benefit the Dutch only. He duly reached Lisbon and delivered the viceregal missive, but King Afonso was adamant: In another letter to Castro, dated February 8, 1664, he unequivocally ordered the island to be handed over.

Meanwhile, Castro had been using delaying tactics. King Charles’s representative, Sir Abraham Shipman, Shipman, Sir Abraham had arrived in India, but Castro had, predictably, challenged his credentials. Shipman’s sudden death encouraged the viceroy to prevaricate further, and on November 3, 1664, he addressed the supreme council at Goa, expressing his opinion that Shipman’s commission had died with him. However, prior to his death, Shipman apparently had designated that his assistant Humphrey Cooke Cooke, Humphrey take over, and the supreme council, perhaps not wanting to further provoke their king’s wrath, sent two commissioners to Bombay to complete the transfer (February 18, 1665). Outraged, Castro shot off two more protests to Lisbon, predicting the worst, and resigned in 1667.

It had taken nearly four years for the Portuguese authorities in India to relinquish Bombay. At this time, ultimate authority for the East India Company’s factories in India was with the president in Surat Surat , the great Mughal port north of Bombay. The current president, Sir George Oxenden Oxenden, Sir George (1620-1669), had ably led the defense of the English factory there when the Marāthā king,Śivājī Śivājī , had sacked the city in 1664. In fact, Surat’s great days as the major west coast emporium were drawing to a close because of the Marāthā-Mughal conflict in the hinterland, so that the emergence of Bombay proved well timed

Meanwhile, King Charles’s new colony was proving a financial drain, so in 1668, he leased it to the British East India Company British East India Company for an annual rent of ten pounds and a large loan, and he thought himself well rid of it on such terms. At first, Oxenden in Surat served also as governor and commander in chief for Bombay, but he died in 1669 and was succeeded by Gerald Aungier Aungier, Gerald . A man of great energy and foresight, Aungier was one of the unsung heroes of the British Empire in India. The experience of a second Marāthā raid on Surat in 1670 probably persuaded him that the future lay in Bombay, a virtual island and easily defensible at a time when the mainland was exposed to continuous Mughal-Marāthā depredations. He urged the company’s court of directors in London to fortify the new settlement and to transfer the company’s operations at Surat to Bombay.

Aungier sought to make the island impregnable. He provided harbor facilities, stabilized the currency, and set up courts of justice (according to contemporaries, somewhat arbitrary and idiosyncratic in their workings). He even created a general assembly of landowners to assess local taxation. From the outset, Aungier insisted upon complete religious toleration, in contrast to the Portuguese in Goa and the rigid enforcement of Islam by the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb Aurangzeb . This, as well as relative security from Marāthā plundering and Mughal exactions, soon led Indian merchants to settle on the island, notably the industrious Parsee community, which laid the foundations of Bombay’s future prosperity.

Aungier also established a militia and, anticipating piracy at sea, a gunboat squadron that would evolve into the formidable Bombay Marine, a fighting navy. He was, however, well aware of the difficulty of maintaining Bombay’s neutrality between the warring Mughals and Marāthās, and so he sought to establish friendly relations with Śivājī. By 1677, the year of Aungier’s death, English trade at Bombay equaled that of Surat, and by 1687 had superseded it.

In 1674, physician and traveler John Fryer Fryer, John visited Bombay, which, he reckoned, had grown from around ten thousand inhabitants in 1665 to some sixty thousand. He describes here a flourishing pioneer settlement, with “English, Portugueze, Topazes [Indo-Portuguese Christians], Hindoos [Hindus], Moors [Muslims], Cooly Christians [low-caste laborers], most fishermen.” As for the governor, Fryer writes, “he has a Council here also, and a guard when he walks or rides abroad, accompanied by a party of horse. . . . He has his chaplains, physician, surgeons, and domesticks; his linguist, and mint-master: At meals he has his trumpets usher in his courses, and soft music at the table.” Fryer continues, “He [the governor] goes sometimes in the coach, . . . sometimes on horseback, other times in palenkeens. . . . Always having a Sumrero [sunshade] of state carried over him.” Fryer also noted how fatal was the climate to the English, who drank to excess, “for all this gallantry, I reckon they walk but in charnel-houses.”


Aungier’s time came to be regarded by later generations as a Golden Age for Bombay. Before the century was out, the settlement suffered major catastrophes—the 1683-1884 revolt of naval commander Richard Keigwin Keigwin, Richard (d. 1690) against the company and the war of the deputy governor of Bombay, Sir John Child Child, Sir John (d. 1690), with the Mughals between 1688 and 1690, resulting in the siege of the town by the Mughal admiral and a humiliating capitulation to Aurangzeb; Child was later dismissed. Compared to Fort Saint George (at Madras) and to Calcutta, Bombay would long languish in obscurity, and it was not until the late eighteenth century, partly as a result of the Marāthā Wars (1775-1818) between the British and the Marāthās, that it was set upon its course to become one of the great cities of the British Empire.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Correia-Afonso, John. Intrepid Itinerant: Manuel Godinho and His Journey from India to Portugal in 1663. Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1990. The author examines Godinho’s involvement in the negotiations that preceded the cession of Bombay.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Foster, William. “The East India Company, 1600-1740.” In The Cambridge History of India, vol. 5. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1929. A detailed narrative of the company’s early history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spear, Percival. The Nabobs. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1968. An excellent account of the early social history of the British in India.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wheeler, James Talboys, ed. Early Records of British India. London: Trubner, 1878. Reprint. Madras: Asian Educational Services, 1994. Wheeler provides useful documentation of British India, including seventeenth century sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woodruff, Philip. The Men Who Ruled India. 2 vols. London: Jonathan Cape, 1953. A vivid narrative of early British contacts with India.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Aurangzeb; Catherine of Braganza; Charles II (of England); Śivājī. Bombay Colonization;England of Bombay

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