The East Indiaman is a cargo ship. It is easily the best ship for cargo because it carries the same amount of cargo as a Treasure Galleon without the slowness and lack of maneuverability. Upgraded with Cotton Sails and Copper Plating and it will rarely fall behind even a Ship of The Line.
East Indiamen were designed to carry both passengers and goods and to defend themselves against piracy, and so constituted a special class of ship. In the period of the Napoleonic Wars they were often painted to resemble warships; an attacker could not be sure if gunports were real or merely paint, and some carried sizeable armaments. A number of these ships were in fact acquired by the Royal Navy, and in some cases they successfully fought off attacks by the French. One of the most celebrated of these incidents occurred in 1804, when a fleet of East Indiamen and other merchant vessels under Commodore Nathaniel Dance successfully fought off a marauding squadron commanded by Admiral Linois in the Indian Ocean in the Battle of Pulo Aura. Patrick O'Brian's novel HMS Surprise features the battle.
East Indiamen were the largest merchant ships regularly built during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, generally measuring between 1100 and 1400 registered tons. Two of the largest were theEarl of Mansfield and Lascelles being built at Deptford in 1795. Both were purchased by the Royal Navy, completed as 56-gun Fourth Rate Ships of the Line, and renamed Weymouth and Madrasrespectively. They measured 1426 tons on dimensions of approximately 175 feet overall length of hull, 144 feet keel, 43 feet beam, 17 feet draft.
East Indiamen in a Gale, by Charles Brooking, c. 1759
According to historian Fernand Braudel, some of the finest and largest Indiamen of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were built in India, making use of Indian shipbuilding techniques and crewed by Indians, their hulls of Indian teak being especially suitable for local waters. These ships were used for the China run. Until the coming of steamships, these Indian-built ships were relied upon almost exclusively by the British in the eastern seas. None sailed to Europe and they were banned from English ports. Many hundreds of Indian-built Indiamen were built for the British, along with other ships, including warships. Notable among them were Surat Castle (1791), a 1,000 ton ship with a crew of 150, Lowjee Family, of 800 tons and a crew of 125, and Shampinder (1802), of 1,300 tons.
Another significant East Indiaman in this period was the 1176-ton Warley that John Perry built at hisBlackwall Yard in 1788, and which the Royal Navy bought in 1795 and renamed HMS Calcutta. In 1803 she was employed as a transport to establish a settlement at Port Phillip in Australia, later shifted to the site of current-day Hobart, Tasmania by an accompanying ship, the Ocean. French forces captured Calcutta in 1805 off the Isles of Scilly. She grounded at the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809 and a British boarding party burned after her French crew had abandoned her.
The full-scale sailing replica of the Swedish East Indiaman Götheborg in 2005
The 1200 ton Arniston was likewise employed by the Royal Navy as a troop transport between England and Ceylon. In 1815, she was wrecked near Cape Agulhas with the loss of 372 lives after a navigation error that was caused by inaccurate dead reckoning and the lack of a marine chronometer with which to calculate her longitude.
Due to the need to carry heavy cannon, the hull of the East Indiamen – in common with most warships of the time – was much wider at the waterline than at the upper deck, so that guns carried on the upper deck were closer to the centre-line to aid stability. This is known astumblehome. The ships normally had two complete decks for accommodation within the hull and a raised poop deck. The poop deck and the deck below it were lit with square-windowed galleries at the stern. To support the weight of the galleries, the hull lines towards the stern were full. Later ships built without this feature tended to sail faster, which put the East Indiamen at a commercial disadvantage once the need for heavy armament passed.
With the progressive restriction of the monopoly of the British East India Company the desire to build such large armed ships for commercial use waned, and during the late 1830s a smaller, faster ship known as a Blackwall Frigate was built for the premium end of the India and China trades.
The word is also used as a translation of the Dutch Oostindiëvaarder of the Dutch East India Company.
The Black Pearl, made famous in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, was an East Indianman ship.