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Admiralty Court At Bombay And Madras

The following is a brief analysis of the topic titled 'Admiralty Court and Mayor Court'. This topic has been read, shortened and examined broadly under the following heads:- European Settlement in India, East India Company and Charters, the legislative power of the Company, King's Commission for Voyages, Admiralty Court at Madras and Bombay. First Admiralty Court was established at Madras under Charter of 1683 issued by King Charles ІІ. This Court was the highest court at Madras. Appeal was allow from Mayor Court. Later, Governor- in- Council ignored the working of Admiralty Court and focus on Mayor Court.

This resulted in the closing of Admiralty Court at Madras in 1726. In 1661, Bombay was get Charles ІІ as a dowry when he married with the daughter of King John ІV (Catherine). Gerald Aungier brought and modernized the old set up of Bombay. Bombay was divided into two parts. Each part had a Court of five judges. All the judges are Englishmen. In 1672, New Judicial Plan was brought which established Court of Judicature.

In 1684, Admiralty Court was established in Bombay similar to Madras. In 1726, Court of Judicature stops working until Mayor Court was established at three Presidency Town Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta under Charter of 1726.

European Settlement in India

After the decline of the Roman Empire's sea- route trade with India, the Portuguese were the next Europeans to navigate there for the purpose of trade[1]. During the 15th Century, some Europeans merchants came to India for trading. In 1498, the passage of Cape of Good Hope was discovered by the Portuguese Vasco de Gama. He landed at the Malabar Coast of Calicut (Kerala).[2] During the late 16th Century, the countries of the Western Europe motivated from the movement of the trading in India. The East and Portugal Countries starting trade in India. The Dutch[3] and English merchants also tracked them. The Danes[4] came next due to their less number French made earlier voyages to India in the middle 17th Century.

At the time of 17th Century, Mughal rule in India. It is the time when first trade center was established by the Europeans in India. In the 18th Century with the weakening of Mughal rule, the Aristocrats and Rulers were establishing separate Kingdom, and the English and French companies initiated to take sides in the battles amongst the native kingdoms of India. The English East India Company finally won battle and developed its area and finally established its kingdom in India.

The English East India Company: Development of Authority under Charter

On 31st December, 1600, Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to the Company with the official title "The Governor of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies" The life period of Company was only of 15 years. If Company does not find any profit then it will be revoked with 2 years notice. The Monopoly of Company lying between the Strait of Magellan and Cape of Good Hope eastwards.

Legislative Power of the Company

No single British subject could carry on the trade without a permission or license from the East India Company. The Charter of 1600 granted the Company to make laws and order for the good governance[5]. Company had no statutory power over any territory. Punishment also given to the violators, they lie from fine, forfeiture and imprisonment. The Charter also provides limited trading rights to Englishmen. The Company consists of Governor, 24 Directors and Shareholders. All the members formed the General Court. General Court elects the board of Directors for one year. The board consists of Governor and 24 Directors.

Charter of 1600

The Charter of 1600 gives some basic power to Company. It provides to carry trade and to maintain discipline. The Englishmen were ruled by English law. These powers become a key factor for germination of Anglo- Indian codes (Ilbert, Government of India).

Charter of 1609

James I granted a new Charter to the Company on 31st May, 1609.
The Charter includes the following points:
  1. Continued the privileges of Company
  2. Now Company can be wound up with 3 years notice. (Increase one year).
  3. The Charter allows the Company to continue enjoy the power and rights which were earlier granted by the Charter of 1600.
The trade of East India Company was developing quickly and effectively and also profitable to the Company.

King's Commission for Voyages

The Company soon found that its legislature power was insufficient for maintain discipline among its servants on long voyages. The Company had limited power. This proved to be a quite not enough to prevent lawlessness. Then the Company requests to the King for the same. On 14th December, 1615, King issued a Royal Grant that allows the Company to grant Commission to Captain. This empowers the Captains to impose punishment for capital offences like Murder or Mutiny. The law put in execution called "Law Martial"

Gregory Lellington Trial - On 28th February, 1616, Gregory Lellington murdered Henry Barton, an Englishman on board ship Charles that was lying at Surat Port. Lellington was punished to death. This was one of the first criminal trials of commission on the Company regime in India.

Charter of 1660
The period from 1660-61 was turning point in the history of the Company. During this period the trading Company changes into territorial power. On 3rd April, 1661, King Charles ІІ provided a new charter to the Company. These charter permits the Company to had territorial line and also restructured the organization of the Company.

The Charter authorizes the Company to appoint Governor and Council. The role of Governor and Council was that to decide all cases of civil and criminal in nature of Englishmen. As per the Law of England, there were two significant changes in the administration of Justice. (1) Judicial power was given to Governor and Council (2) Justice was given according to the Law of England.

Charter of 1668 and 1683
In 1669, King Charles ІІ transferred the Bombay to the East India Company for an annual rent of � 10 which he got dowry from a Portugal. The charter provides the Company to make their laws for the governance of Bombay Island. For the proper structure of Justice the Charter empowered the Company to set up the Court of Judicature like in England.

Charter 1683 was issued by King Charles ІІ on 9th August 1683[6]. Company enjoyed domination of trade but many private merchants and traders were also still carrying unlicensed trade without the consent from Company which found great loss to East India Company. There was a competition among private merchants and Company. To resolve the problem Company requires administrative body of Justice which could end the unauthorized trading.

Then the King granted the charter to the Company to extend the power of the Company in the following ways:
  1. The Company was allowed to establish more than one Court.
  2. This Court could handle the case of Naval and Trade. It also decides the case of offence of High Sea, capture of goods & ship.
  3. This Court deciding case according to the equity, good conscience, justice and duties of Merchants.
  4. The Charter also authorizes the Company to established Admiralty Court according the place of their choice.

Admiralty Court at Madras

The Charter of 1683 marks the starting of third phase of Settlement of Madras. The Charter empowered the Company to establish an Admiralty Court in India. The Charter empowered the Court to hear and determine all cases concerning maritime and mercantile. The Justice was given according to the laws and customs of Merchants and also by the equity and good conscience.

The Charter of 1683 was revised by James ІІ on 12th July, 1686. The Admiralty Court was established at Madras. John Grey was appointed as the First Judge of the Court and appointed two other Englishmen as the assistant of Judge. On 22nd July, 1687, Sir John Biggs appointed as Judge of the Admiralty Court. The Chief Judge of the Admiralty Court was known as the Judge Advocate. John Biggs was learned lawyer in civil law and only the expert of civil law at that time.

The Jurisdiction of Admiralty Court was over mercantile case, Maritime case, Criminal case and civil case. Thus, Admiralty Court decides all cases and became the General Court of Madras. Unfortunately in 1689 John Biggs died. The seat of Judge was empty. In the absence of any suitable person Governor and Council appointed the Governor as the Judge Advocate.

The structure of Admiralty Court changes here. Governor and Council removed the two assistant of Judge Advocate and appointed two new Judges. This judiciary system last still 1692. In 1696, the Company changed the term of Judge and appointed the member of Council as Judge Advocate.

Upto 1704, Admiralty Court worked well. In 1704, Company decided to paid more attention to the Mayor Court and the Admiralty Court stops to have its regular sitting which finally resulted in the disappearance of Admiralty Court. The Governor and Council replaced the Admiralty Court now all the appeal from Mayor Court referred to Governor and Council.

Mayor Court at Madras

The Charter of 1687 allows to established Corporation of Madras and Mayor Court. The Mayor's Court was a part of Corporation of Madras. The Mayor Court plays a judicial function. The Corporation of Madras was inaugurated on 28th September, 1688 by the Company. Corporation of Madras was the oldest Municipalities in Asia after Daman Municipality. It is also known as Chennai Municipal Corporation. The reason for establishing Corporation was to provide public welfare activities, sanitation, and public health. All these services require funds. The Corporation for this purpose collected taxes and raised funds.

Madras Corporation consisted of A Mayor, 12 Aldermen and 60 or more Burgesses. The Mayor would be only Englishmen. The Mayor and two Aldermen formed the quorum of the Court. Mayor and Aldermen were to elect the Burgesses from the Company Servant's. The Mayor's Court exercised its jurisdiction in civil cases up to the three pagodas. The Appeal from Mayor Court allowed to Admiralty Court. Sir John Biggs, the Chief Justice of Admiralty Court was also appointed as the Recorder of the Mayor Court.

Admiralty Court at Bombay

The Admiralty Court of Bombay was established under the Charter of 1683. It is the second phase of the Administration of Justice in Bombay. The Admiralty Court consists of three members one Chief Justice, who had to be practiced in civil law and two other members appointed by the Company[7]. The Admiralty Court was insufficient to decide all the case. So, the Court of Judicature created again. St. John was appointed as the First Chief Justice of Judicature. Dr. John was a very sincere and honest person. He followed the theory of independence of Judiciary. This theory was not revised by the John Child, Surat Governor.

He thought the Chief Justice as lower to him. It raised struggle between the two. In 1685, the John Child interpreted the independence of Judicial of Chief Justice by restricting the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court to hear and decide only maritime and mercantile cases and also the Governor disappoint the Dr. John. Vaxus appointed as the new Chief Judge of the Court. Dr. John opposed the appointment of Vaxus as he had no knowledge of law. This finally resulted in the discharge of Dr. John from the Admiralty Court in 1687.

After this no lawyer member appointed in the Admiralty Court. The Admiralty Court stopped to function independently because of great power of Governor[8]. Later all the Courts stopped working except the Governor and Council after the invasion of Siddi Yakub, Mughal Admiral in 1690[9].

Charter of 1726
The Charter was issued by King George І on 24th September, 1726. The Charter eliminated all Courts in three presidency towns. The Charter authorized the Company to established Mayor Court at each presidency town for the uniformity in the administration of justice. The Charter also permitted the Mayor Court to hear cases against the Company.

The requirement of establishing Mayor's Court
Before Charter 1726 there was an absence of uniformity in the administration of justice. Same crime would carry a different punishment at different settlement. Thus, there was different administration of justice the servants of East India Company were governed by different set of rules at different settlement. Hindu governed by Hindu laws according to Vedas and Muslim governed according to law mentioned in Quran.

Features of the Charter:
  1. Establishment of Corporations
    The Charter of 1726 authorized to establish Corporation at three presidency town at Bombay, Madras and Calcutta[10]. The Corporation consisted of Mayor and nine Aldermen. The Mayor would be elected by the nine Aldermen. An Alderman would be selected either by lifespan or for the time period residence in presidency town. It is said that the Charter of 1726 created a subordinate legislative authority in each of the presidency town.
  2. Mayor's Court
    The Charter of 1726 authorized to establish Mayor Court at three Presidency Town. Mayor Court consisted of Mayor and nine Aldermen[11]. The Mayor with two Aldermen formed the quorum of the Court. The Mayor Court were considered as the Recorder's Court and authorized to decide, try and determine civil actions and the pleas of parties.
  3. Procedure
    The Charter clearly mentions all the processes of the Court. The Sheriff was appointed as the Officer of the Court, who was to serve the processes of the Court. The Sheriff also permits to arrest the defendant, if he failed to appear before the Court.
  4. Right of Appeal
    The Mayor Court was the highest Court in each Presidency Town. The appeal from Mayor Court was allowed to Governor-in-Council. The decision of the Governor-in-Council was final decision which including sums less than 100 pagodas[12]. In case, including 1000 pagodas or more the appeal was further allowed to King-in-Council in England[13].
  5. Justice of Peace
    For the Criminal Jurisdiction the Charter provided in each Presidency Town, the Governor and five senior members of the Council called Justice of Peace. They were empowered to arrest and punish people for petty criminal cases.
  6. Legislation
    The Charter allows the Governor-in-Council to make by-laws, rules and ordinances for the good governance and to give punishments that breach the laws[14].


Administration of Justice at Madras (1639 to 1726)
The History of Madras began when Francis Day, an Englishmen acquired a piece of land in Madraspatnam for Company. With the Charter of 1726 all the Courts stops working in three Presidency Town. The Charter of 1726 established Mayor Court in Presidency Town for the uniformity in administration of justice. Mayor Court working in Madras till the Regulating Act of 1773 passed by British Government.

Administration of Justice at Bombay (1668 to 1726)
In 1661, the history of Bombay began when it became British territory. In 1753, King Charles ІІ issued new charter to the Company for the reorganizing of the Mayor Court. Under the Charter of 1798 the Mayor Court was abolished in the place of Recorder's Court. Regulation Act was passed in 1773 and Act of Parliament authorizes the Crown to setup Supreme Court at Bombay in 1823. The Indian High Court Act of 1861 to establish High Court at Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. The Charter of High Court of Bombay was issued on June 26, 1862. The Bombay High Court was inaugurated on 14th August, 1862.

  1. M.P. Singh, Outlines of Indian Legal & Constitutional History, Universal Law Publishing Co., New Delhi, 2014
  2. V.D. Kulshreshtha's Landmarks in Indian Legal and Constitutional History, EBC, 2011
  3. J.K. Mittal, Indian Legal & Constitutional History, Allahabad Law Agency, 14th ed.,
  1. V.B. Kulkarni, British Dominion in India and After, Vidya Bhavan (Bombay 1964) 1-17
  2. Vol. V, Dr J.B. Trend, The Cambridge History of India, 17(1929).
  3. J.A. Veraat, Holland (MacDonald & Co., 1945) 41-45.
  4. The first Trading Company of the Danes was established at Tranquebar India east coast in 1620.
  5. JW. Kaye, History of Administration of the East India Company (1853) 66.
  6. Keith, Constitutional History of First British Empire, 26-32
  7. M.P. Singh, Outlines of Indian Legal & Constitutional History, 2014, pp- 6
  8. B.M. Gandhi, V.D. Kulshreshtha's Landmarks in Indian Legal and Constitutional History, EBC, 2011, pp-
  9. J.K. Mittal, Indian Legal & Constitutional History, Allahabad Law Agency, 14th ed., pp-21
  10. Vol. V, The Cambridge History of India, 113
  11. Vol. V, M.C. Setalvad, The Common Law in India, 13
  12. A pagoda was a gold coin equal to Rs. 3.
  13. The First Indian appeal to the Privy Council in pursuance of the Charter of 1726 appears to have been made as early as 1732 in a case from Madras.
  14. Auber, Analysis of the Constitution of East India Company, 23, quoted in Jain, Indian Legal History (1972) 48-49. See, Dalton, The Life of Thomas Pitt, 142.

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