An East Indiaman was a trade ship operating under charter or license to the East India Trading Company. British East Indiamen usually ran between England, the Cape of Good Hope and India, often continuing on their voyages to China before returning to England via the Cape of Good Hope.
East Indiamen were designed to carry both passengers and goods and to defend themselves against piracy, and so constituted a special class of ship. Some East Indiamen were often painted to resemble warships, and some carried a sizable armament. A number of these ships were in fact acquired by the British Royal Navy, and in some cases they successfully fought off attacks by the hostile navies and the pirates.
Most East Indiamen, however, relied on naval escorts for protection against pirates and privateers, since they were not designed fully for combat, and did not want their precious cargo to be damaged in combat.