How profitable was India for the British Empire in the 1800s?

How profitable was India for the British Empire in the 1800s?


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I recently read Imperial Twilight, an excellent history of the opium wars. The author claims several times that while the British trade with China was very lucrative, India was by contrast "spectacularly unprofitable" and that the East India Company there would have "quickly gone bankrupt" without the opium money that supplemented their more legitimate ventures.

This caught me by surprise, because my impression was that the British valued their possessions in India as being generally very profitable, and that British nabobs had a reputation for getting rich there long before the opium trade took off. It feels like there's some context or caveat that I'm missing here.

How profitable was India for the British Empire, and what were the most important sources of Indian wealth in the 1800s? (Particularly in the decades leading up to the First Opium War.)


The 18th century saw a rapid decline in India's fortunes. The Mughal dynasty was on its way out which gave the English East India company the opportunity to conquer large parts of the country. These merchants had no loyalty to the local populace and were predominantly interested in profits and how to maximize them. Robert Clive, the governor of Bengal made a personal fortune valued at £234,000 which made him the richest self-made man in Europe. Large famines began to make their presence felt during this time which would continue till the end of British rule. Different taxation policies in the north and the south also lead to disparities in wealth which continue till today. This overall decline or "drain" was accurately summed up by economist William Playfair who wrote in 1805 {159}

In 1707, only ninety-eight years ago, the Great Mogul ruled over a country equal in extent, and little inferior in population, to France, Spain, Germany, and England. His revenues amounted to thirty-two millions sterling, which, at that time, was nearly equal to the whole revenues of all the monarchs of Europe. He is now circumscribed to a territory less than the smallest county in England, and is the vassal at will of a company of English merchants, who, with all their greatness, do not divide profits equal to one week of his former revenues!

This was also a period of great ascendancy in the West due to the Industrial Revolution. The cotton textile industry shifted from East to West which reduced the worth of India as a colony since it could no longer produce high-value manufactures and instead was reduced to exporting low-value raw cotton.

When a country produces the raw material, and labour is cheap, and the art established, we might suppose the superiority secure; but it is not. The cotton trade was first established in the East Indies, where the material grows, where the labour is not a tenth of the price that it is in England, and the quality of the manufactured article is good; yet machinery and capital have transplanted it to England

Similarly the value of silk fell rapidly as more and more Western countries decided to manufacture it. The Italians took the lead but were soon followed by other countries including England.

The people of Asia found silk a natural produce of their country; till the Europeans saw it, they never attempted to produce so rich a material; but no pains has since been spared to try to produce it, in almost every country, where there was the least chance of success. We imitated the silk mills of Italy, and the Italians (as well as many other nations) are now imitating our cotton mills.

In general, the value and profitability of India's goods fell as the centre of production shifted from East to West. Europeans grew rapidly through imitation and innovation and Asiatics could not keep up with them since they did not develop the right institutions to compete economically.


By the 1800s, the trade with India wasn't particularly profitable. In fact, control of India wasn't particularly profitable (for the Empire as a whole, as you note, local 'nabobs' made themselves wealthy). The costs of running a large standing army, and a small local navy, easily balanced out any profit from trade and revenue out of India.

In an exhaustive study of Trade in the Eastern Seas around the year 1800 Professor C.N.Parkinson neatly summaries the particular changes which had overtaken the company. Since it was still officially 'The United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies', 'There would be nothing manifestly reckless', writes Parkinson, 'in concluding that India House sheltered a body of Englishmen trading with India'.

Nonetheless, such a conculsion would be wrong: the men within were not merchants, and they were not trading with India. One might add, a little unkindly, that they were not always united and that they were not all Englishmen.

How was the East India Company controlled [continues Parkinson]? By the Government. What was its object? To collect taxes [i.e. revenue]. How was its object attained? By means of a large standing army. What were its employees? Soldiers, mostly; the rest, Civil Servants. Where did it trade to? China. What did it export from England? Courage. What did it import from China? Tea.

For courage one might substitute 'men and guns'. Otherwise the summary may stand. For as of 1813 all that remained of the Company as a self-governing commercial enterprise was its partial monoploy of the China trade.

The Honourable Company, A history of the English East India Company, J. Keay (HarperCollins, 1993) pg.450


While Britain may not have gained a large profit directly from trading with India, the resources extracted from the colony, particularly silver, allowed for that profitable trade with China which you reference. Later, opium grown in India was used to preserve this economic situation.

Starting in the 18th century after the Ming opened up trade in Canton, "the structure of the Western trade with China was based on silver and colonial products from India and the Malay archipelago, like silver, cotton, pepper, lead." Source These resources acted as bullion in the exchange for prized Chinese products such as tea and fine porcelain.

Due to the immense profit of this trade structure, the British were also keen to protect it when it faltered. As shown in the following table, silver export to China fell dramatically in the last decades of the 18th century.

This effect is commonly ascribed to a saturation of the silver market in China. To alleviate the economic stress, "the Company became involved in a triangular trade by smuggling opium (a highly addictive and illegal drug) from India into China." Source All this opium was grown in India, and came to be an important point of British foreign policy leading up to the Opium wars.
In this way India contributed to the economy of the empire in a less direct manner than indicated in other answers.


Economic Impact of the British Rule in India | Indian History

In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Disruption of the Traditional Economy 2. Ruin of Artisans and Craftsmen 3. Impoverishment of the Peasantry 4. Ruin of Old Zamindars and Rise of New Landlordism 5. Stagnation and Deterioration of Agriculture 6. Development of Modern Industries 7. Poverty and Famines.

  1. Disruption of the Traditional Economy
  2. Ruin of Artisans and Craftsmen
  3. Impoverishment of the Peasantry
  4. Ruin of Old Zamindars and Rise of New Landlordism
  5. Stagnation and Deterioration of Agriculture
  6. Development of Modern Industries
  7. Poverty and Famine

1. Disruption of the Traditional Economy:

The economic policies followed by the British led to the rapid transformation of India’s economy into a colonial economy whose nature and structure were determined by the needs of the British economy. In this respect the British conquest of India differed from all previous foreign conquests.

The previous conquerors had overthrown Indian political powers, but had made no basic changes in the country’s economic structure they had gradually become a part of Indian life, political as well as economic. The peasant, the artisan and the trader had continued to lead the same type of existence as before.

The basic economic pattern that of the self-sufficient rural economy, had been perpetuated. Change of rulers had merely meant change in the personnel of those who appropriated the peasant’s surplus. But the British conquerors were entirely different. They totally disrupted the traditional structure of the Indian economy.

Moreover, they never became an integral part of Indian life. They always remained foreigners in the land, exploiting Indian resources and carrying away India’s wealth as tribute. The results of this subordination of the Indian economy to the interests of British trade and industry were many and varied.

2. Ruin of Artisans and Craftsmen:

There was a sudden and quick collapse of the urban handicrafts industry which had for centuries made India’s name a byword in the markets of the entire civilized world. This collapse was caused largely by competition with the cheaper imported machine made goods from Britain.

We know the British imposed a policy of one­ way free trade on India after 1813 and the invasion of British manufactures, in particular cotton textiles, immediately followed. Indian goods made with primitive techniques could not compete with goods produced on a mass scale by powerful steam-operated machines.

The ruin of Indian industries, particularly rural artisan industries, proceeded even more rapidly once the railways were built. The railways enabled British manufactures to reach and uproot the traditional industries in the remotest villages of the country. As the American writer, D.H. Buchanan, has put it, “The armour of the isolated self-sufficient village was pierced by the steel rail, and its life blood ebbed away.”

The cotton-weaving and spinning industries were the worst hit. Silk and woolen textiles fared no better and a similar fate overtook the iron, pottery, glass, paper, metals, guns, shipping, oil-pressing, tanning and dyeing industries.

Apart from the influx of foreign goods, some other factors arising from British conquest also contributed to the ruin of Indian industries. The oppression practiced by the East India Company and its servants on the craftsmen of Bengal during the second half of the eighteenth century, forcing them to sell their goods below the market price and to hire their services below the prevailing wage, compelled a large number of them to abandon their ancestral professions. In the normal course, Indian handicrafts would have benefited from the encouragement given by the Company to their export, but this oppression had an opposite effect.

The high import duties and other restrictions imposed on the import of Indian goods into Britain and Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, combined with the development of modern manufacturing industries in Britain led to the virtual closing of European markets to Indian manufacturers after 1820.

The gradual disappearance of Indian rulers and their courts who were the main customers of the handicrafts produced also gave a big blow to these industries. “For instance, the Indian states were completely dependent on the British in the production of military weapons.”

The British purchased all their military and other government stores in Britain. Moreover, Indian rulers and nobles were replaced as the ruling class by British officials and military officers who patronized their own home-products almost exclusively. This increased the cost of handicrafts and reduced their capacity to compete with foreign goods.

The ruin of Indian handicrafts was reflected in the ruin of the towns and cities which were famous for their manufacture. Cities which had withstood the ravages of war and plunder failed to survive British conquest. Dhaka, Surat, Murshidabad and many other populous and flourishing industrial centres were depopulated and laid waste.

By the end of the nineteenth century, urban population formed barely 10 per cent of the total population.

William Bentinck, the Governor-General, reported in 1834—5:

“The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.”

The tragedy was heightened by the fact that the decay of the traditional industries was not accompanied by the growth of modern machine industries as was the case in Britain and western Europe. Consequently, the ruined handicraftsmen and artisans failed to find alternative employment. The only choice open to them was to crowd into agriculture.

Moreover, the British rule also upset the balance of economic life in the villages. The gradual destruction of rural crafts broke up the union between agriculture and domestic industry in the countryside and thus contributed to the destruction of the self- sufficient rural economy.

On the one hand, millions of peasants, who had supplemented their income by part-time spinning and weaving, now had to rely overwhelmingly on cultivation on the other, millions of rural artisans lost their traditional livelihood and became agricultural labourers or petty tenants holding tiny plots. They added to the general pressure on land.

Thus British conquest led to the de-industrialisation of the country and increased dependence of the people on agriculture. No figures for the earlier period are available but, according to Census Reports, between 1901 and 1941 alone the percentage of population dependent on agriculture increased from 63.7 per cent to 70 per cent.

This increasing pressure on agriculture was one of the major causes of the extreme poverty in India under British rule.

In fact, India now became an agricultural colony of manufacturing Britain which needed it as a source of raw materials for its industries. Nowhere was the change more glaring than in the cotton textile industry. While India had been for centuries the largest exporter of cotton goods in the world, it was now transformed into an importer of British cotton products and an exporter of raw cotton.

3. Impoverishment of the Peasantry:

The peasant was also progressively impoverished under British rule. Although he was now free from internal wars, his material condition deteriorated and he steadily sank into poverty.

In the very beginning of British rule in Bengal, the policy of Clive and Warren Hastings of extracting the largest possible land revenue had led to such devastation that even Cornwallis complained that one-third of Bengal had been transformed into “a jungle inhabited only by wild beasts”.

Nor did improvement occur later. In both the Permanently and the Temporarily Settled Zamindari areas, the lot of the peasants remained unenviable. They were left to the mercies of the zamindars who raised rents to unbearable limits, compelled them to pay illegal dues and to perform forced labour or beggar and oppressed them in diverse other ways.

The condition of the cultivators in the Ryotwari and Mahalwari areas was no better. Here the government took the place of the zamindars and levied excessive land revenue which was in the beginning fixed as high as one-third to one-half of the produce.

Heavy assessment of land was one of the main causes of the growth of poverty and the deterioration of agriculture in the nineteenth century. Many contemporary writers and officials noted this fact. For instance, Bishop Heber wrote in 1826:

Neither Native nor European agriculturist, I think, can thrive at the present rate of taxation. Half of the gross produce of the soil is demanded by government. … In Hindustan [Northern India] I found a general feeling among the King’s officers… that the peasantry in the Company’s Provinces are on the whole worse off, poorer and more dispirited than the subjects of the Native Provinces and here in Madras, where the soil is, generally speaking, poor, the difference is said to be still more marked. The fact is, no Native Prince demands the rent which we do.

Even though the land revenue demand went on increasing year after year—it increased from Rs. 15.3 crore in 1857—58 to Rs. 35.8 crore in 1936—37—the proportion of the total produce taken as land revenue tended to decline, especially in the twentieth century as the prices rose and production increased.

No proportional increase in land revenue was made, as the disastrous consequences of demanding extortionate revenue became obvious. But by now the population pressure on agriculture had increased to such an extent that the lesser revenue demand of later years weighed on the peasants as heavily as the higher revenue demand of the earlier years of the Company’s administration.

Moreover, by the twentieth century, the agrarian economy had been ruined and the landlords, moneylenders and merchants had made deep inroads into the village. The evil of high revenue demand was made worse because the peasant got little economic return for his labour. The government spent very little on improving agriculture.

It devoted almost its entire income to meeting the needs of the British-Indian administration, making the payments of direct and indirect tribute to England, and serving the interests of British trade and industry. Even the maintenance of law and order tended to benefit the merchant and the moneylender rather than the peasant.

The harmful effects of an excessive land revenue demand were further heightened by the rigid manner of its collection. Land revenue had to be paid promptly on the fixed dates even if the harvest had been below normal or had failed completely. But in bad years the peasant found it difficult to meet the revenue demand even if he had been able to do so in good years.

Whenever the peasant failed to pay land revenue, the government put up his land on sale to collect the arrears of revenue. But in most cases the peasant himself took this step and sold part of his land to meet the government demand. In either case he lost his land.

More often the inability to pay revenue drove the peasant to borrow money at high rates of interest from the moneylender. He preferred getting into debt by mortgaging his land to a moneylender or to a rich peasant neighbour to losing it outright. He was also forced to go to the moneylender whenever he found it impossible to make both ends meet.

But once in debt he found it difficult to get out of it. The moneylender charged high rates of interest and through cunning and deceitful measures, such as false accounting, forged signatures and making the debtor sign for larger amounts than he had borrowed, got the peasant deeper and deeper into debt till he parted with his land.

The moneylender was greatly helped by the new legal system and the new revenue policy. In pre-British times, the moneylender was subordinated to the village community. He could not behave in a manner totally disliked by the rest of the village. For instance, he could not charge usurious rates of interest.

In fact, the rates of interest were fixed by usage and public opinion. Moreover, he could not seize the land of the debtor he could at most take possession of the debtor’s personal effects like jewellery, or part of his standing crop. By introducing transferability of land the British revenue system enabled the moneylender or the rich peasant to take possession of the land.

Even the benefits of peace and security established by the British through their legal system and police were primarily reaped by the moneylender in whose hands the law placed enormous power he also used the power of the purse to turn the expensive process of litigation in his favour and to make the police serve his purposes.

Moreover, the literate and shrewd moneylender could easily take advantage of the ignorance and illiteracy of the peasant to twist the complicated processes of law to get favourable judicial decisions.

Gradually the cultivators in the Ryotwari and Mahalwari areas sank deeper and deeper into debt and more and more land passed into the hands of moneylenders, merchants, rich peasants and other moneyed classes. The process was repeated in the zamindari areas where the tenants lost their tenancy rights and were ejected from the land or became subtenants of the moneylender.

The process of transfer of land from cultivators was intensified during periods of scarcity and famines. The Indian peasant hardly had any savings for critical times and whenever crops failed he fell back upon the moneylender not only to pay land revenue but also to feed himself and his family.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the moneylender had become a major curse of the countryside and an important cause of the growing poverty of the rural people. In 1911 the total rural debt was estimated at Rs 300 crore. By 1937 it amounted to Rs 1800 crore. The entire process became a vicious circle.

The pressure of taxation and growing poverty pushed the cultivators into debt, which in turn increased their poverty. In fact, the cultivators often failed to understand that the moneylender was an inevitable cog in the mechanism of imperialist exploitation and turned their anger against him as he appeared to be the visible cause of their impoverishment.

For instance, during the Revolt of 1857, wherever the peasantry rose in revolt, quite often its first target of attack was the moneylender and his account books. Such peasant actions soon became a common occurrence.

The growing commercialization of agriculture also helped the moneylender-cum-merchant to exploit the cultivator. The poor peasant was forced to sell his produce just after the harvest and at whatever price he could get as he had to meet in time the demands of the government, the landlord and the moneylender.

This placed him at the mercy of the grain merchant, who was in a position to dictate terms and who purchased his produce at much less than the market price. Thus a large share of the benefit of the growing trade in agricultural products was reaped by the merchant, who was very often also the village moneylender.

The loss and overcrowding of land caused by de-industrialisation and lack of modern industry compelled the landless peasants and ruined artisans and handicraftsmen to become either tenants of the moneylenders and zamindars by paying rack-rent or agricultural labourers at starvation wages.

Thus the peasantry was crushed under the triple burden of the government, the zamindar or landlord, and the moneylender.

After these three had taken their share not much was left for the cultivator and his family to subsist on. It has been calculated that in 1950-51 land rent and moneylenders’ interest amounted to Rs 1400 crore or roughly equal to one-third of the total agricultural produce for the year.

The result was that the impoverishment of the peasantry continued along with an increase in the incidence of famines. People died in millions whenever droughts or floods caused failure of crops and scarcity.

4. Ruin of Old Zamindars and Rise of New Landlordism:

The first few decades of British rule witnessed the ruin of most of the old zamindars in Bengal and Madras. This was particularly so with Warren Hastings’ policy of auctioning the rights of revenue collection to the highest bidders. The Permanent Settlement of 1793 also had a similar effect in the beginning.

The heaviness of land revenue—the government claimed ten-elevenths of the rental—and the rigid law of collection, under which the zamindari estates were ruthlessly sold in case of delay in payment of revenue, worked havoc for the first few years. Many of the great zamindars of Bengal were utterly ruined and were forced to sell their zamindari rights.

By 1815 nearly half of the landed property of Bengal had been transferred from the old zamindars, who had resided in the villages and who had traditions of showing some consideration to their tenants, to merchants and other moneyed classes, who usually lived in towns and who were quite ruthless in collecting to the last pie what was due from the tenant irrespective of difficult circumstances.

Being utterly unscrupulous and possessing little sympathy for the tenants, these new landlords began to subject the latter to rack-renting and ejectment.

The Permanent Settlement in north Madras and the Temporary Zamindari Settlement in Uttar Pradesh were equally harsh on the local zamindars. But the condition of the zamindars soon improved radically.

In order to enable the zamindars to pay the land revenue in time, the authorities increased their power over the tenants by extinguishing the traditional rights of the tenants. The zamindars now set out to push up the rents to the utmost limit. Consequently, they rapidly grew in prosperity.

In the Ryotwari areas too the system of landlord-tenant relations spread gradually. As we have seen above, more and more land passed into the hands of moneylenders, merchants and rich peasants who usually got the land cultivated by tenants. One reason why the Indian moneyed classes were keen to buy land and become landlords was the absence of effective outlets for investment of their capital in industry.

Another process through which this landlordism spread was that of subletting. Many owner-cultivators and occupancy tenants, having a permanent right to hold land, found it more convenient to lease out land to land-hungry tenants at exorbitant rent than to cultivate it themselves. In time, landlordism became the main feature of agrarian relations not only in the zamindari areas but also in the Ryotwari ones.

A remarkable feature of the spread of landlordism was the growth of subinfeudation or intermediaries. Since the cultivating tenants were generally unprotected and the overcrowding of land led the tenants to compete with one another to acquire land, the rent of land went on increasing.

The zamindars and the new landlords found it convenient to sublet their right to collect rent to other eager persons on profitable terms. But as rents increased, sub-leasers of land in their turn sublet their rights in land. Thus by a chain-process a large number of rent-receiving intermediaries between the actual cultivator and the government sprang up.

In some cases in Bengal their number went up to as high as fifty! The condition of the helpless cultivating tenants who ultimately had to bear the burden of maintaining this horde of superior landlords was precarious beyond imagination. Many of them were little better than slaves.

An extremely harmful consequence of the rise and growth of zamindars and landlords was the political role they played during India’s struggle for independence. Along with the princes of protected states, many of them became the chief political supporters of the foreign rulers and opposed the rising national movement. Realising that they owed their existence to British rule, they tried hard to maintain and perpetuate it.

5. Stagnation and Deterioration of Agriculture:

As a result of overcrowding in agriculture, excessive land revenue demand, growth of landlordism, increasing indebtedness and the growing impoverishment of cultivators, Indian agriculture began to stagnate and even deteriorate resulting in extremely low yields per acre. Overall agricultural production fell by 14 per cent between 1901 and 1939.

The overcrowding in agriculture and increase in subinfeudation led to subdivision and fragmentation of land into small holdings most of which could not maintain their cultivators. The extreme poverty of the overwhelming majority of peasants left them without any resources with which to improve agriculture by using better cattle and seeds, more manure and fertilisers, and improved techniques of production.

Nor did the cultivator, rack-rented by both the government and the landlord, have any incentive to do so. After all, the land he cultivated was rarely his property and the bulk of the benefit which agricultural improvements would bring was likely to be reaped by the horde of absentee landlords and moneylenders. Subdivision and fragmentation of land also made it difficult to effect improvements.

In England and other European countries, the rich landlords often invested capital in their land to increase its productivity with a view to sharing in the increased income. But in India the absentee landlords, both old and new, performed no useful function.

They were mere rent-receivers who had often no roots in the land and who took no personal interest in it beyond collecting rent. They found it possible and therefore preferred to increase their income by further squeezing their tenants rather than by making productive investments in their lands.

The government could have helped in improving and modernising agriculture. But the government refused to recognise any such responsibility. A characteristic of the financial system of British India was that, while the main burden of taxation fell on the shoulders of the peasant, the government spent only a very small part of it on him.

An example of this neglect of the peasant and agriculture was the step motherly treatment meted out to public works and agricultural improvement.

While the Government of India had spent by 1905 over 360 crore of rupees on the railways which was demanded by British business interests, it spent in the same period less than 50 crores of rupees on irrigation which would have benefited millions of Indian cultivators. Even so, irrigation was the only field in which the government took some steps forward.

At a time when agriculture all over the world was being modernized and revolutionised, Indian agriculture was technologically stagnating hardly any modern machinery was used. What was worse was that even ordinary implements were centuries old. For example, in 1951, there were only 930,000 iron ploughs in use while wooden ploughs numbered 31.8 million.

The use of inorganic fertilisers was virtually unknown, whereas a large part of animal manure, i.e. cow-dung, night-soil and cattle bones, was wasted. In 1922—23, only 1.9 percent of all cropped land was under improved seeds. By 1938-39, this percentage had gone up to only 11 per cent. Furthermore, agricultural education was completely neglected. In 1939 there were only six agricultural colleges with 1306 students.

There was not a single agricultural college in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Sind. Nor could peasants make improvements through self-study. There was hardly any spread of primary education or even literacy in the rural areas.

6. Development of Modern Industries:

An important development in the second half of the nineteenth century was the establishment of large-scale machine-based industries in India. The machine age in India began when cotton textile, jute and coal-mining industries were started in the 1850s. The first textile mill was started in Bombay by Cowasjee Nanabhoy in 1853, and the first jute mill in Rishra (Bengal) in 1855.

These industries expanded slowly but continuously. In 1879 there were 56 cotton textile mills in India employing nearly 43,000 persons. In 1882 there were 20 jute mills, most of them in Bengal, employing nearly 20,000 persons.

By 1905, India had 206 cotton mills employing nearly 196,000 persons. In 1901 there were over 36 jute mills employing nearly 115,000 persons. The coal-mining industry employed nearly one lakh of persons in 1906.

Other mechanical industries which developed during the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries were cotton gins and presses, rice, flour and timber mills, leather tanneries, woolen textiles, sugar mills, iron and steel works, and such mineral industries as salt, mica and saltpeter.

Cement, paper, matches, sugar and glass industries developed during the 1930s. But all these industries had a very stunted growth.

Most of the modern Indian industries were owned or controlled by British capital. Foreign capitalists were attracted to Indian industry by the prospect of high profit. Labour was extremely cheap raw materials were readily and cheaply available and for many goods, India and its neighbours provided a ready market. For many Indian products, such as tea, jute and manganese, there was a ready demand the world over.

On the other hand, profitable investment opportunities at home were getting fewer. At the same time, the colonial government and officials were willing to provide all help and show all favours. Foreign capital easily overwhelmed Indian capital in many of the industries.

Only in the cotton textile industry did Indians have a large share from the beginning, and in the 1930s, the sugar industry was developed by Indians. Indian capitalist also had to struggle from the beginning against the power of British managing agencies and British banks.

To enter a field of enterprise, Indian businessmen had to bend before British managing agencies dominating that field. In many cases even Indian-owned companies were controlled by foreign-owned or controlled managing agencies.

Indians also found it difficult to get credit from banks most of which were dominated by British financiers. Even when they could get loans they had to pay high interest rates while foreigners could borrow on much easier terms.

Of course, gradually Indians began to develop their own banks and insurance companies. In 1914, foreign banks held over 70 per cent of all bank deposits in India by 1937, their share had decreased to 57 per cent.

British enterprises in India also took advantage of their close connection with British suppliers of machinery and equipment, shipping, insurance companies, marketing agencies, government officials and political leaders to maintain their dominant position in Indian economic life. Moreover, the government followed a conscious policy of favouring foreign capital as against Indian capital.

The railway policy of the government also discriminated against Indian enterprise railway freight rates encouraged foreign imports at the cost of trade in domestic products. It was more difficult and costlier to distribute Indian goods than to distribute imported goods.

Another serious weakness of Indian industrial effort was the almost complete absence of heavy or capital goods industries, without which there can be no rapid and independent development of industries. India had no big plants to produce iron and steel, or to manufacture machinery.

A few petty repair workshops represented engineering industries and a few iron and brass foundries represented metallurgical industries. The first steel in India was produced only in 1913. Thus India lacked such basic industries as steel, metallurgy, machine, chemical and oil. India also lagged behind in the develop­ment of electric power.

Apart from machine-based industries, the nineteenth century also witnessed the growth of plantation industries such as indigo, tea and coffee. They were almost exclusively European in ownership. Indigo was used as a dye in textile manufacture. Indigo manufacture was introduced into India at the end of the eighteenth century and flourished in Bengal and Bihar.

Indigo planters gained notoriety for their oppression over the peasants who were compelled by them to cultivate indigo. This oppression was vividly portrayed by the famous Bengali writer Dinbandhu Mitra in his play Neel Darpan in 1860. The invention of a synthetic dye gave a big blow to the indigo industry and it gradually declined.

The tea industry developed in Assam, Bengal, south India and the hills of Himachal Pradesh after 1850. Being foreign-owned, it was helped by the government with grants of rent-free land and other facilities. In time, the use of tea spread all over India and it also became an important item of export. Coffee plantations developed during this period in south India.

The plantation and other foreign-owned industries were of hardly any advantage to the Indian people. Their profits went out of the country. A large part of their salary bill was spent on highly paid foreign staff. They purchased most of their equipment abroad. Most of their technical staff was foreign.

Most of their products were sold in foreign markets and the foreign exchange so earned was utilised by Britain. The only advantage that Indians got out of these industries was the creation of unskilled jobs. Most of the workers in these enter­prises were, however, extremely low paid, and they worked under extremely harsh conditions for very long hours. Moreover, conditions of near-slavery prevailed in the plantations.

On the whole, industrial progress in India was exceedingly slow and painful. It was mostly confined to cotton and jute industries and tea plantations in the nineteenth century, and to sugar and cement in the 1930s.

As late as 1946, cotton and jute textiles accounted for 40 per cent of all workers employed in factories. In terms of production as well as employment, the modern industrial development of India was paltry compared with the economic development of other countries or those with India’s economic needs.

It did not, in fact, compensate even for the displacement of the indigenous handicrafts it had little effect on the problems of poverty and overcrowding of land. The paltriness of Indian industrialization is brought out by the fact that out of a population of 357 million in 1951 only about 2.3 million were employed in modern industrial enterprises.

Furthermore, the decay and decline of the urban and rural handicraft industries continued unabated after 1858. The Indian Planning Commission has calculated that the number of persons engaged in processing and manufacturing fell from 10.3 million in 1901 to 8.8 million in 1951 even though the population increased by nearly 40 per cent.

The government made no effort to protect, rehabilitate, reorganize and modernize these old indigenous industries.

Moreover, even the modern industries had to develop without government help and often in opposition to British policy. British manufacturers looked upon Indian textile and other industries as their rivals and put pressure on the Government of India not to encourage but rather to actively discourage industrial development in India. Thus British policy artificially restricted and slowed down the growth of Indian industries.

Furthermore, Indian industries, still in a period of infancy, needed protection. They developed at a time when Britain, France, Germany and the United States had already established powerful industries and could not therefore compete with them.

In fact, all other countries, including Britain, had protected their infant industries by imposing heavy customs duties on the import of foreign manufacturers. But India was not a free country.

Its policies were determined in Britain and in the interests of British industrialists who forced a policy of Free Trade upon their colony. For the same reason the Government of India refused to give any financial or other help to the newly founded Indian industries as was being done at the time by the governments of Europe and Japan for their own infant industries.

It would not even make adequate arrangements for technical education which remained extremely backward until 1951 and further contri­buted to industrial backwardness. In 1939 there were only 7 engineering colleges with 2217 students in the country.

Many Indian projects, for example, those concerning the construction of ships, locomotives, cars and aero planes, could not get started because of the government’s refusal to give any help.

Finally, in the 1920s and 1930s under the pressure of the rising nationalist movement and the Indian capitalist class, the Government of India was forced to grant some tariff protection to Indian industries. But, once again, the government discriminated against Indian-owned industries.

The Indian-owned industries such as cement, iron and steel, and glass were denied protection or given inadequate protection. On the other hand, foreign dominated industries, such as the match industry, were given the protection they desired. Moreover, British imports were given special privileges under the system of ‘imperial preferences’ even though Indians protested vehemently.

Another feature of Indian industrial development was that it was extremely lopsided regionally. Indian industries were concentrated only in a few regions and cities of the country. Large parts of the country remained totally underdeveloped.

This unequal regional economic development not only led to wide regional disparities in income but also affected the level of national integration. It made the task of creating a unified Indian nation more difficult.

An important social consequence of even the limited industrial development of the country was the birth and growth of two new social classes in Indian society—the industrial capitalist class and the modern working class. These two classes were entirely new in Indian history because modern mines, industries and means of transport were new.

Even though these classes formed a very small part of the Indian population, they represented new technology, a new system of economic organisation, new social relations, new ideas and a new outlook. They were not weighed down by the burden of old traditions, customs and styles of life.

Most of all, they possessed an all-India outlook. Moreover, both of these new classes were vitally interested in the industrial development of the country. Their economic and political importance and roles were, therefore, out of all proportion to their numbers.

A major characteristic of British rule in India, and the net result of British economic policies, was the prevalence of extreme poverty among its people. While historians disagree on the question whether India was getting poorer or not under British rule, there is no disagree­ment on the fact that throughout the period of British rule most Indians always lived on the verge of starvation.

As time passed, they found it more and more difficult to find employment or make a living. British economic exploitation, the decay of indigenous industries, the failure of modern industries to replace them, high taxation, the drain of wealth to Britain and a backward agrarian structure leading to the stagnation of agriculture and the exploitation of the poor peasants by the zamindars, landlords, princes, moneylenders, merchants and the state gradually reduced the Indian people to extreme poverty and prevented them from progressing. India’s colonial economy stagnated at a low economic level.

The poverty of the people found its culmination in a series of famines which ravaged all parts of India in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first of these famines occurred in western Uttar Pradesh in 1860-61 and cost over 2 lakhs of lives. In 1865-66 a famine engulfed Orissa, Bengal, Bihar and Madras and took a toll of nearly 20 lakhs of lives, Orissa alone losing 10 lakh people.

More than 14 lakhs of persons died in the famine of 1868-70 in western Uttar Pradesh, Bombay and Punjab. Many states in Rajputana, another affected area, lost one-fourth to one-third of their population.

Perhaps the worst famine in Indian history till then occurred in 1876—78 in Madras, Mysore, Hyderabad, Maharashtra, western Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab. Maharashtra lost 8 lakh people, Madras nearly 35 lakh. Mysore lost nearly 20 per cent of its population and Uttar Pradesh over 12 lakh.

Drought led to a country-wide famine in 1896-97 which affected over 9.5 crores of people of whom nearly 45 lakh died. The famine of 1899-1900 followed quickly and caused widespread distress. In spite of official efforts to save lives through provision of famine relief, over 25 lakhs of people died.

Apart from these major famines, many other local famines and scarcities occurred. William Digby, a British writer, has calculated that, in all, over 28,825,000 people died during famines from 1854 to 1901. Another famine in 1943 carried away nearly three million people in Bengal. These famines and the high losses of life caused by them indicate the extent to which poverty and starvation had taken root in India.

Many English officials in India recognised the grim reality of India’s poverty during the nineteenth century.

For example, Charles Elliott, a member of the Governor-General’s Council, remarked:

“I do not hesitate to say that half the agricultural population do not know from one year’s end to another what it is to have a full meal.”

William Hunter, the compiler of the Imperial Gazetteer, conceded that “forty million of the people of India habitually go through life on insufficient food.” The situation became still worse in the twentieth century. The quantity of food available to an Indian declined by as much as 29 per cent in the 30 years between 1911 and 1941.

There were many other indications of India’s economic backwardness and impoverishment. Colin Clark, a famous authority on national income, has calculated that during the period 1925-34, India and China had the lowest per capita incomes in the world. The income of an Englishman was five times that of an Indian.

Similarly, the average life expectancy of an Indian during the 1930s was only 32 years in spite of the tremendous progress that modern medical sciences and sanitation had made. In most of the West European and North American countries, the average age was already over 60 years.

India’s economic backwardness and poverty were not due to the niggardliness of nature. They were man-made. The natural resources of India were abundant and capable of yielding, if properly utilised, a high degree of prosperity to the people.

But, as a result of foreign rule and exploitation, and of a backward agrarian and industrial economic structure—in fact as the total outcome of its historical and social development—India presented the paradox of a poor people living in a rich country.

The poverty of India was not a product of its geography or of the lack of natural resources or of some ‘inherent’ defect in the character and capabilities of the people. Nor was it a remnant of the Mughal period or of the pre-British past.

It was mainly a product of the history of the last two centuries. Before that, India was no more backward than the countries of Western Europe. Nor were the differences in standards of living at the time very wide among the countries of the world. Precisely during the period that the countries of the West developed and prospered, India was subjected to modern colonialism and was prevented from developing.

All the developed countries of today developed almost entirely over the period during which India was ruled by Britain, most of them doing so after 1850. Till 1750 the differences in living standards were not wide between the different parts of the world. It is interesting, in this connection, to note that the dates of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the British conquest of Bengal virtually coincide!

The basic fact is that the same social, political and economic processes that produced industrial development and social and cultural progress in Britain also produced and then maintained economic underdevelopment and social and cultural backwardness in India.

The reason for this is obvious. Britain subordinated the Indian economy to its own economy and determined the basic social trends in India according to her own needs.

The result was stagnation of India’s agriculture and industries, exploitation of its peasants and workers by the zamindars, landlords, princes, moneylenders, merchants, capitalists and the foreign government and its officials, and the spread of poverty, disease and semi-starvation.


How profitable was India for the British Empire in the 1800s? - History

The interactive parts of this resource no longer work, but it has been archived so you can continue using the rest of it.

One aspect of the British empire which is sometimes ignored is the vast amount of movement of people which took place. The most obvious is the huge forced migration of millions of Africans as slaves from West Africa to America. It is important not to forget the appalling suffering of these Africans in the slave ships and on the plantations in the West Indies and mainland North America.

There were other migrations as well. The sending of convicts to Australia in the 1700s and 1800s was another form of forced emigration. The British shipped millions of Chinese to various parts of their empire. Chinese labourers played a key role in the building of North America's railways. They also worked in the mines of South Africa. The British moved huge numbers of Indians to North America, Africa and Pacific islands like Fiji. India's vast human resources were exploited by the British to turn unpromising lands into rich opportunities for farming, mining and other commercial enterprises. Around 1.6 million Indians migrated as a result of British rule, often travelling, living and working in conditions that were not much better than that of the African slaves.

Many British people gained as a result of the empire, but huge numbers of British citizens also lived in great poverty, even when the British empire was at its height of power and wealth. As a result, huge numbers of British people emigrated, especially in the later 1800s and early 1900s. It is impossible to lump all of these emigrants into one category.

  • Many were poor and desperate people. One of the solutions to poverty was assisted emigration from Britain's crowded and squalid cities. Local Councils and Poor Law Boards were given money by the government to help them to organise schemes that allowed the poorest to emigrate, usually to Canada. There were also many schemes that took young criminals away from their homes and families and set them up in new lives in Canada or Australia. Other schemes took unmarried women who were pregnant abroad, or took their children and gave them up for adoption. As you can imagine, these schemes were controversial. Some felt that the authorities were helping those being sent abroad. Others felt it was terrible to separate them from their families and homes.
  • Some emigrants were from better-off backgrounds. They generally emigrated to take up jobs and gain new opportunities. Many women became maids or governesses in the empire. Many men found work in building, engineering and farming.

The Welsh, Scots and Irish travelled all over the world as a result of the British empire. Scots were especially closely associated with the empire as military officers, doctors and engineers. However, the Highlands of Scotland suffered from over-population and economic decline in the 19th century and thousands of Scottish families emigrated to Canada to start new lives on new land.

Most people know about the vast scale of emigration from Ireland during and after the disastrous Great Famine of 1845-51. However, there had been a steady stream of emigrants before then. In the 1700s most Irish emigrants were Presbyterian Protestants. They were relatively well-off emigrants. They wanted new land and new opportunities in America. They also wanted to get away from restrictions put on them by Anglican Protestants. From the 1840s the majority of emigrants were poorer Catholic peasants, although there were still large numbers of Protestant Irish emigrants as well. The majority of the emigrants went to the cities of England and Scotland, and millions found work there and made their homes. Millions of others went to Canada and the USA, but huge numbers also went to Australia.

We should not forget that many of the emigrants, whatever their country of origin, suffered death and disease on the journeys they made, and discrimination and poverty when they arrived in their new countries. We can admire the determination and the achievements of the emigrants who survived and prospered and who helped to shape the world as it is today. The multi-cultural make-up of Australia, South Africa, Canada, the USA and many other countries is one of the legacies of the British empire.


Medical Institutions

The first hospital in India was the Madras General Hospital in 1679. The Presidency General Hospital, Calcutta was formed in 1796. About four hospitals were formed in Madras between 1800 to1820. To fulfill the growing need for health professionals, Calcutta Medical College was established by an order in February 1835, which was the first institute of western medicine in Asia. Medical College Hospital, Calcutta was formed in 1852 [ Figure 2 ]. In 1860, Lahore Medical School (later named King Edward Medical College) started in Lahore, Punjab [ Figure 3 ]. Afterwards, a network of hospitals was set up throughout India. In 1854, the government of India agreed to supply medicines and instruments to the growing network of minor hospitals and dispensaries. Government Store Depots were established in Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, Mian Mir, and Rangoon.(1) Lady Reading Health School, Dehli was established in 1918. In 1930, the All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health was established in Calcutta. In 1939, the first Rural Health Training Center was established in Singur near Calcutta.(3)


West India Regiments

Along with a number of colonies in North America, the Caribbean formed the heart of England’s first overseas empire. The region was also known as the ‘West Indies’ because when the explorer Christopher Columbus first arrived there in 1492, he believed that he had sailed to the ‘Indies’, as Asia was then known. At the time, Europeans did not realise that this was a completely new part of the world that we now call the Americas. It is also for this reason that people who lived in this part of the world before the Europeans arrived have been called ‘Indians’.

Columbus claimed many of the Caribbean islands for Spain. For much of the 16th century, Spain had things pretty much its own way in the region. From the early 17th century, however, people from other European powers, including France and England, settled in the region too. (Strictly speaking, it is not correct to talk about ‘Britain’ until after 1707, when England and Scotland formed a union.) The English settled St Kitts in 1624, Barbados, Montserrat and Antigua in 1627 and Nevis in 1628. Around the same time, France established colonies in Martinique and Guadeloupe. In this way, the Caribbean came under the control of a number of competing European countries, joining Spain, which had established its first colonies in the region more than a hundred years before.

A General Chart of the West India Islands, 1796

This is a map published in 1796 of the Caribbean region. It is colour-coded to show which European country controlled which colonies. The British colonies have pink around their borders, the French blue and the Spanish yellow.

Growing sugarcane

The Europeans came to the Caribbean in search of wealth. The Spanish had originally looked for gold and silver, but there was little to be found. Instead, the Europeans tried growing different crops to be sold back home. After unsuccessful experiments with growing tobacco, the English colonists tried growing sugarcane in the Caribbean. This was not a local plant, but it grew well after its introduction. Sugarcane could be used to make various products. There was sugar, of course, which went well with tea, coffee and chocolate. It could also be used to make rum, a strong alcoholic drink. A lot of people in Europe wanted such products, and, as a result, those who grew it &ndash known as &lsquoplanters&rsquo &ndash became very wealthy. This also made the Caribbean colonies valuable &ndash and tempting targets for rival empires. Britain and France were constantly at war in the 18th century and early 19th century, with places such as Martinique changing hands many times.

Prints depicting enslaved people producing sugar in Antigua, 1823

Clark's Ten Views portrays the key steps in the growing, harvesting and processing of sugarcane.

The rise of slavery

The spread of sugar &lsquoplantations&rsquo in the Caribbean created a great need for workers. The planters increasingly turned to buying enslaved men, women and children who were brought from Africa. Some 5 million enslaved Africans were taken to the Caribbean, almost half of whom were brought to the British Caribbean (2.3 million).

As planters became more reliant on enslaved workers, the populations of the Caribbean colonies changed, so that people born in Africa, or their descendants, came to form the majority. Their harsh and inhumane treatment was justified by the idea that they were part of an inferior &lsquorace&rsquo. Indeed, complicated ways of categorising race emerged in the Caribbean colonies that placed &lsquowhite&rsquo people at the top, &lsquoblack&rsquo people at the bottom and different &lsquomixed&rsquo groups in between. Invented by white people, this was a way of trying to excuse the brutality of slavery.

The History, Civil and Commercial, of the West Indies, 1798

Edwards described of the different groups of people to be found in Caribbean societies.

Emancipation and the fight for freedom

Seeking their freedom and to escape their harsh and brutal treatment, some enslaved people rose up against the planters, though only in the French colony of St Domingue did they manage to end slavery. Others ran away from the plantations, and while many were recaptured, others managed to form communities of &lsquoMaroons&rsquo who continued to resist European rule. They tended to occupy land far from plantations, in places that were difficult for the colonial forces to reach. In some places, such as Jamaica, the British were unable to defeat the Maroons and had to reach an agreement with them. The British said that they would not attack the Maroons, so long as they brought back any other enslaved people who tried to join them and would help the British if there was a rebellion or invasion.

The Maroons in Ambush on the Dromilly Estate

Maroons were formerly enslaved people who had managed to escape slavery and form new communities.

The system of slavery began to be dismantled in the early 19th century. The enslaved people were given their freedom &ndash or &lsquoemancipated&rsquo &ndash in the British Caribbean in the 1830s. A system called &lsquoApprenticeship&rsquo was put in place from 1834 to 1838 across most of the Caribbean this was intended to provide a transition to freedom for the former enslaved people and the planters who relied on their labour. Even after Apprenticeship was ended, things remained very unequal.

An account of the period of so-called 'apprenticeship', the transition between slavery to freedom

This proclamation set out the terms of 'apprenticeship'. It explains that the former enslaved people would still have to work for their former owners. They could face punishment if they did not.

David Lambert is Professor of Caribbean History at the University of Warwick and former Director of the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies. He is the author of White Creole Culture, Politics and Identity during the Age of Abolition (2005) and Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen&rsquos African Geography and the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery (2013). His part of the &lsquoAfrica&rsquos Sons under Arms&rsquo AHRC-funded project is entitled &lsquoSlaves to Soldiers: The Image of the West India Regiments in Britain and the Empire, 1795&ndash1914&rsquo.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.


British Imperialism in Asia, to 1900

Europeans had thought India, China and other countries in East Asia were lands of wealth. The Asians were, in fact, close to the Europeans in standards of living. India's textile workers in the 1700s had a standard of living equal to that of British workers. This was due to India's agriculture. Paying less for food raised standards of living.

Asian agriculture was producing harvests twenty times the amount of seed planted, while European harvests were only eight times or less. The Asians were growing rice, and rice took nutrients from water rather than soil. Asians were not leaving land lie fallow as were the Europeans. And farmers in China were impressing visitors from Europe by their ability to get as many as three harvests a year from the same plot of land.

In mechanizing their economy, however, India and China were falling behind. In 1750, hand and arm muscles were still much involved in making and doing things. That year, India was producing 24.5 percent of the world's manufactured goods. China was producing 32.8 percent. In textile manufacturing, particularly cotton, the British had an advantage in steam power. Britain was smaller and had fewer people than India or China. In 1750 Britain was producing only 1.9 percent of the world's share of manufactured goods, but its manufacturing per person was around 140 percent of India's and 125 percent of China's. note37

In manufacturing, Britain was racing ahead. By 1800, India's share had slipped to 19.7 percent, and by 1830 to 17.6 percent. China's share in 1800 was up slightly from 1750, at 33.3 percent, but by 1830 it had fallen to 29.8 percent. Britain's share had risen to 4.3 percent in 1800 and to 9.5 percent in 1830, fives times what it had been in 1750. By the end of the nineteenth century the shift would be more extensive. India would have only a 1.7 percent share of the world's manufacturing, China 6.2 percent. Britain would have 18.5 percent. The United States was also moving ahead. By the end of the century it would have a 23.6 percent share. note38

China had a few problems concerning economic growth. With a growing population, by the year 1800 people in China were moving to lands less suited to high agricultural productivity. Around 80 percent remained in agricultural areas, and more people meant more unemployment. But more important in China not keeping up with the West was its lack of people with both money and interest in investing in technology. In 1800, China had banks in its major cities. It had copper and salt mining and porcelain manufacturing employing millions. Many of China's landlord-aristocrats had money, but they saw themselves as gentlemen and learned gentlemen did not speak of profits. They were imbued with the combination of Confucianism and Taoism. While seeing Europeans pressing upon China with their advanced technology they tended to claim that it was all heaven's doing. They were not interested in imitating Europe. Their major interest was great books and elevation of the spirit. Such intellectuals dominated China's bureaucracy. In China, government was also little concerned with investing in economic development or in change. Bureaucrats made money from taking payment bites from transactions, and they saw change as merely disruption and jeopardy. While landlord and bureaucrat aristocrats believed in intellectuality, the peasants believed in work &ndash to survive. And all they had went into their survival.

India's cotton growers were not as motivated by personal gain as were Southern planters in the US (who were encouraged by financiers in New England who made money shipping cotton abroad). And cotton growing in India was inhibited by the Zamindar land tenure system. A Zamindar was an aristocrat, perhaps with an inflated title like Maharaja, who held a huge tract of land and control over peasants whom he could tax. Local princes and the Brahmans around these princes were little interested in investing in technological change. India did not have as many people as Britain did who were eager for new ways of doing things. In Britain, competition, interest in profit and engineering were inspiring more economic progress.

A question remains whether British imperialism in the form of the East India Company was a drag on India's economy. In the 1780s Edmund Burke claimed that his countrymen were ruining the Indian economy and society. A 21st-century historian in India, Rajat Kanta Ray, has accused the British of depleting food stocks and imposing high taxes that helped cause the famine of 1770, killing a third of the people of Bengal. There are those who point to the British having built railways and having paved roads that helped India's economy. British inspired irrigation works put 30 million acres into cultivation. And Britain linked India to the latest in science. Mohandas Gandhi was to complain that the English did "everything for us" but had committed the crime of giving us "no responsibility for our own government."


Page 1. Expansion of the British Empire

New Zealand became a modern state as a colony within the British Empire. It took its place as an independent actor in world affairs as a dominion in the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Between John Cabot’s first voyage to Newfoundland in 1497 and the early 20th century, the British Empire grew to be the largest and most powerful of all empires, before ending remarkably quickly – and largely peacefully – during the half-century after 1945.

One legacy is the Commonwealth of more than 50 countries. For New Zealand, empire and Commonwealth marked out the path of the country’s evolution and provided its first windows on the wider world.

British Empire

The first British colonies, settled in the 1600s, were in North America, in what would become Canada and the United States of America. In wars between 1740 and 1815, the British lost 13 of their North American colonies, but gained French Quebec (later part of Canada) and held on to 15 Caribbean colonies and four West African settlements. Through the same period de facto control was established in India. Along the sea route to India, Britain occupied various Dutch and French colonies, of which the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius and Ceylon were retained.

A ‘swing to the east’, including the great voyages of Captain James Cook in the Pacific, drew Australia and New Zealand into the system. To fill the place of the lost American colonies, to which convicts had been shipped, New South Wales was settled in 1788. Britain reluctantly annexed New Zealand in 1840. Missionaries led the push, arguing that the increasing numbers of whalers, traders and settlers, their sometimes fractious relationship with Māori, and the possibility of French annexation all demanded British action.

Imperial activities

After Britain withdrew its last active troops at a critical moment in the decade-long New Zealand Wars, the colony’s leaders lobbied in London for empire unity with like-minded Canadians and Australians. This movement gave birth to the new label ‘imperialism’, which later changed in meaning to cover expansion of territory, power and influence.

After a major rebellion in India (the ‘Indian mutiny’) in 1858 the British government took direct control of all British possessions in India. Over time, the empire expanded beyond India’s frontiers – to the west, into the Arabian/Persian Gulf and a swathe of territories across East Africa to the east, into Burma, Malaya, North Borneo, the Straits Settlements, Hong Kong, treaty ports in China – notably Shanghai – and, eventually, a naval base at Wei-hei-Wei in the north.

Local imperialists

British expansion in the South Pacific was in large part ‘sub-imperialism’. By the 1870s the Australian colonies and New Zealand were keen for Britain to acquire these distant dependencies, which were relatively close to Australia and New Zealand, and in an ocean they wanted kept free of foreigners.

Crown colonies were established in Fiji and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (later Kiribati and Tuvalu), as was a protectorate in the Solomon Islands, a protected state in Tonga, and a condominium shared with France in the New Hebrides (later Vanuatu). Australia took over Papua in south-eastern New Guinea and New Zealand took over the Cook Islands and Niue.

New Zealanders were active in other parts of the empire too – they joined in South African gold rushes from the 1870s, fought in the South African War (1899–1902), saw their gold dredges adapted to Malayan tin mining, and sent missionaries to India and China.


Intriguing History

The British Empire and Colonialism historic theme starts with 16th century exploration. Use the timeline to chart the course of British expansion, entwined with the history of overseas trade routes. Use the map to discover the extent of British imperial growth. The timeline will help set the context of this complex historical theme. British Empire and Colonialism Timeline

YEAREVENTNARRATIVE
1497John Cabot's explorationsJohn Cabot reaches Labrador, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from Bristol.
1498John Cabot and his ship are lost during an expedition to look for North West Passage.
1516Ottoman Empire won Egypt in 1516 (Turks)The territorial holding of Eqypt by the Ottomans which is challenged by Britain in the early 20th century had deep roots.
1600East India Company founded.James Lancaster is put in charge of the first fleet.
1601Jamestown Virginia the first British Settlers arrive in Virginia America.How did the Jamestown colony survive?
1602James Lancaster's fleet welcomed as trading alternative to Portuguese.Lancaster is successful setting up trading posts in Java and Sumatra.
1606The Banda Islands just off Java are occupied, meanwhile Plymouth Company ships scout Maine and New England, London Company ships scout VirginiaShips from various trading companies are looking for new trading posts and settlements.
1607The Popham Colony established, named after George Popham. Virginia Colony established, Flight of the Earls from Ireland, Henry Hudson sets out for find NW Passage to ChinaThe Popham colony failed, lack of resources and a failure to establish a mutually beneficial trading partnership with the indigenous people made it certain not to succeed.
1608The Hector is the first East India Company ship to reach India. A trading concession is granted from Mughal EmperorThe beginning of the East India's footprint in India.
1610The Virginia Colony was abandoned but restarted when fresh supplies and settlers meet the fleeing colonists. Hudson's fourth voyage to search for NW Passage - reaches Hudson's BayThe re-establishment of the Virginia colony was critical to sustaining the area as a trading settlement.
1614Bermuda becomes a Colony. John Rolfe marries Pocahontas and Virginia settlers resist French settlement attempts at Maine and Nova ScotiaIn a relatively short time trade has been established between the settlers and the traders. Other countries are trying to establish settlements which
1630sPuritan ‘Great Migration’ of the 1630s to Massachusetts their intention was to establish a theocracy
1773Britain commences highly lucrative Opium export via East India Company from Bengal
1798-1801French Expeditionary force takes Egypt under Napoleon but forced to retreat by BritainNapoleon was forced to retreat following defeat by Britain, the Ottoman and Mamluk forces.
1801-1807Egyptian period of anarchy with British failed attempt to invade in 1807Britain vainly attempted to invade Egypt and defeat the Ottomans in 1807 on behalf of the defeated Mamluks.
1811- Ottomans defeated MamluksOttomans led by Muhammed Ali and continued in the ensuing years with European influence as Archaeology of Egypt thrived. European trained Army unde Ibrahim pasha extends Egyptian rule via Sudan and Middle East
1813Cape of Good Hope becomes a British colony.
1813East India Company loses its monopoly.
1814British sack and burn Washington DC.
1815Battle of Waterloo.
1839-1841 Convention of London 1840 and Treaty of London marks European intervention in Middle EastAll of the Middle East is restored to the Ottomans excluding Egypt and Sudan.
1859-1869Suez Canal Developed as Franco-Turkish ProjectCanal shortened major trading routes on long-hauls to Asia Australia and INDIA from 3 months to 3 weeks as example.)
1875Disraeli and Cabinet make lightening raid to purchase Suez SharesRothschilds secure the loan needed to purchase the shares from heavily indebted Khedive Ismail (the Egyptian Viceroy. Britain secures crtical control of route to India as wella s active interest in Egypt.
1882British Military Intervention in Egypt due to Anti-European Uprising.The British intervention was executed without any other international interference.
1884-1907British advisor to Khedive appoint Eveleyn BARINGBaring was appointed as Consul General in advisory role but securing British hand in government and stability of Egypt.
1900 Australia becomes a dominion
1907 New Zealand becomes A DOMINION
1910Union of South Africa formed includes Swaziland and becomes a dominion.
1920-1922 Gandhi as Nationalist leader launches Civil Disobedience Campaign against British1920-22 - Nationalist figurehead Mahatma Gandhi launches anti-British civil disobedience campaign.
19221st Cairo Conference
1931Statute of Westminster 1931 grants Legislative Autonomy to certain Dominions.Canada Newfoundland South Africa Australia and New Zealand become legislatively autonomous
1932Iraq granted independence 1932.
1936Anglo-Egyptian Treaty 1936 grants independence but Britain retains control of Suez CanalSuez remains critical to Britain and its overseas interests with unrest with Germany building access to oil and the Middle East and colonial forces in India are a high priority.

The colonial period started in the 16th century and is a very important part of modern British history. The Empire began chiefly for the purposes of trade and gradually evolved into a complex web in which new nations were eventually projected out into an independent existence, by the actions of the old nations.

Within a global concept, the British Empire represented a large proportion of European expansion but at what point in history did the Empire turn into the Commonwealth and why does it endure?

In different parts of the world 'Empire' took on a very different meaning and although it is not possible to disinherit the past there must surely be some times, looking back on the British Empire and colonialism, when it would be very nice to be able to do so.

This is an evolving theme that will grow over time. It is easy to use and search, with links and entries being frequently added and updated. A tool to use with our interactive maps and take your own voyage across the history of the British Empire.

Britain's colonial past has in many ways, made us more connected to the present.

We have connections and responsibilities in parts of the world that might otherwise be strangers to. Britain is part of The Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II is head of the Commonwealth and is recognised by the members of the Commonwealth of Nations as the "symbol of their free association" . It is an important part of Britain and as a nation the responsibility towards the Commonwealth is taken very seriously.

We are a nation of migrants and all the richer for it. As long as we face our history we should be brave enough not to deny it and in this theme we hope we can show some of the less known aspects to colonialism that have shaped our past.

Take a look at some of our other themes, migration and Business and Occupations, that connect with Empire and Colonialism


The modest beginnings of the Company

The foundation of EIC was laid in a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600, as a joint stock company of London merchants uniting to fight Dutch competition trade. It had the monopoly of all trade from England to the East, and was permitted to carry bullion out of the country to finance its trade. The mandate for colonisation or conquest was not given to EIC.

In 1608, the company's first ship arrived at Surat. In 1615, Sir Thomas Roe, an English emissary of King James I reached out to the court of the then Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605-1627), in order to get a farman to establish a factory at Surat.

With the farman, the English started the full-fledged trade in India but soon the trading interest clashed with other European countries: the Portuguese, French, Dutch and the Spaniards. This led to some conflicts in order to secure trading monopoly in markets India, China and Southeast Asia among the European trading companies.

In 1623, the EIC found themselves driven out of Indonesia as the Dutch East Indies had gained a strong foothold in the region. Defeated by Dutch and losing hope of trading in Indonesia, the Company moved onto trading with India. Under the Mughal patronage, the British gradually ousted the Portuguese trading venture of Estado da India, which had a massive control of trading in India. This was followed by the setting up of the first factory in Surat by the British, which was then followed by the acquisition of Madras in 1639, Bombay in 1668, and Calcutta in 1690. It is interesting to note that the settlement of Bombay was gained as dowry to Charles II from his bride who received it from the Portuguese crown in 1661 and was handed over to the East India Company. In 1687, Bombay become the headquarters of the west coast, shifting from Surat.

Setting up numerous posts along the eastern and western coast, the most important trading ports were established around Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.

The three ports, allowed the East India Company to have monopoly over the trade routes over the Indian Ocean. Steadily, the company started trade in cotton, silk, indigo, saltpetre, and an array of spices. In 1711, the company established itself in China, and initiated commerce of tea in exchange for silver. By the end of 1715 trading activities of the company established base and expanded trade around the Persian Gulf, Southeast and East Asia.


How profitable was India for the British Empire in the 1800s? - History

INDIA DURING THE RAJ: EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS

Diaries and Related Records Held at the British Library, London

Part 1: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, c.1750-1842

Part 2: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, 1819-1859

&ldquoThe European Manuscripts of the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library are probably the world&rsquos largest collection of private papers relating to India and South Asia. They comprise about three hundred collections of British statesmen, soldiers, administrators, scholars, missionaries, businessmen and others, and some three thousand smaller deposits.&rdquo

David M Blake

Former Curator of European Manuscripts, The British Library

By 1819 British supremacy in India was undisputed and became a source of great patriotic pride in the post-Waterloo years. In part, success in India compensated for the loss of America in 1783. However, it was at this point that changes in British policy and attitudes began to store up major problems for the future. The concept of remodelling the country along Western lines flew directly in the face of native religions and customs and the complex network of local privileges.

By the time of the Mutiny in 1857 almost two-thirds of India was under British control. The remaining provinces were ruled by princes and the East India Company drew up treaties with them, beneficial to both parties. The princes kept their privileges but had to cooperate with the British. The majority of the diaries in this part are concerned with the Mutiny itself and the years either side of the rebellion which had far-reaching consequences. Tapan Raychauduri, Emeritus Fellow, St Antony&rsquos College, Oxford writing in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire (1996 Cambridge University Press), observes:

&ldquoThe Empire was nearly destroyed by the great rebellion of 1857, described inaccurately as the Mutiny. The result of complex and multiple causes, the rising expressed the accumulated anger of many sections of the population in north and central India &ndash dispossessed princes, disgruntled soldiers, and a harassed peasantry from whom the company&rsquos army was largely recruited. The rebels committed acts of great brutality and were suppressed in equally brutal ways. The British in India bayed for even more bloody revenge. The rebellion created a legacy of racial hatred which permeated all aspects of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled&rdquo.

Dr Jane Samson, The British Empire (OUP 2001), comments:

&ldquoWhat began as a mutiny in some regiments of the EIC army quickly escalated to include a number of forms of resistance including renewed loyalty to the Mughal Emperor, or local political manoeuvring designed to restore rights lost to the EIC. Britain&rsquos initial response to the rebellion was savage, especially after stories circulated about the rape and murder of British women and children. By 1858 the official policy had become more conciliatory. In that year the EIC&rsquos political authority was replaced by direct rule from London, and Queen Victoria reassured her Indian subjects about Britain&rsquos benevolent intention to improve and protect India. But despite the government&rsquos promise to separate the state from missionary activities, this imperial benevolence still meant an escalating process of Westernization. By the later nineteenth century, that Westernization had helped to create a new Indian nationalism and increasing demands for independence&rdquo.

The diaries covered here provide good evidence on all of this. They reveal the extent to which the Mutiny shook British power in India, particularly in the north and the centre. Providing insights into the ways in which Britain contributed a more complex conservative system of government with a Civil Service, Viceroy and Governors, aiming to be fair and efficient, these source materials allow scholars to study how this process was received and how successfully it was implemented. Hundreds of millions of pounds were invested in India which continued to be regarded as the &ldquojewel&rdquo in the Empire.

Part 2 comprises around 50 diaries and related records of many different styles, from a wide variety of authors taken from the European Manuscripts Section. These diaries provide us with a vivid insight into life in India during the Raj just prior to the Indian Mutiny of 1857, during the Mutiny and in the years shortly afterwards.

Although there were deeper social, religious and political reasons, it is generally believed that the immediate cause of the Mutiny, which began on 10 May 1857, was the result of the introduction of a new rifle by the British. The cartridge which carried the bullet had to be bitten off and the rumour among the Sepoys (the Indian soldiers) was that the grease covering the base of the bullet was made out of cow or pig fat. The cow is sacred to the Hindu and the pig is an unclean animal to the Muslim. The Sepoy rebellion started at Meerut near Delhi but quickly spread to the garrisons at Lucknow and Cawnpore. Cawnpore saw the slaughter of around 200 women and children by the Sepoys and Lucknow endured a long siege during which 1800 British men, women and children endured months of terrible conditions trapped in the Residency. However by 1858 the Mutiny had been crushed and the Crown had decided to take over the control of India from the East India Company.

Over thirty diaries in this part are concerned with the Mutiny itself and offer researchers first hand accounts of this event which had far reaching consequences for the British in India. Included are military diaries of both low and high ranking officers, diaries of engineers, surveyors and medical staff, of East India Company civil servants, indigo planters, members of the clergy, travellers&rsquo diaries and diaries of wives of East India Company officials and military personnel. In addition to the diaries we also include Urdu Manuscript 132 which is an important contemporary document describing the events of the Mutiny.

Members of the British Army and Navy

We include diaries of rank and file soldiers of the British army in India as well as high ranking officers. Some diaries describe only the everyday routine of the army but many give us detailed accounts of engagements and blow by blow accounts of the events which took place during the Mutiny.

The excellent diaries covering 1852-1858 of Captain William Robert Moorsom (d 1858) cover his journey out to India and his time as aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Sir Henry Havelock, during which time he surveyed Lucknow. He travelled widely in Kashmir and Ceylon and kept detailed diaries with pencil sketches of the animals he saw and local scenes. The following extract dated 28th September 1855 describes a hunting trip and an encounter with a group of nomads:

&ldquo&hellip. Killed a muskdeer in the early morning: saw some female Ibex with young feeding among the rocks, but of course did not follow them, went up a tremendous height, but saw nothing more in coming down fell in with a &lsquonomade&rsquo encampment, consisting of 2,000 sheep, some ponies, 5 or 6 of the finest limbed men I ever saw, 2 women (very pretty &ndash something like Mrs Hamilton) & a lot of boys &ndash most hospitable they were&hellip.&rdquo

He was present at the relief of Lucknow in October 1857 and his letter to his mother telling of the good news was sent by native messenger to Cawnpore and then to England, finally arriving on Christmas Day 1857. It was taken straight to the Queen as it was the first news of the safety of those in the British Residency. He was killed in action at Lucknow in March 1858 and at the end of his diary is a copy of a very sad last letter he wrote to his father telling of his love for the family and for his country.

The diary for 1857 of Captain Edward Montgomery Mason recounts his experiences fighting the rebels in the events leading up to the relief of Lucknow. He vividly conjures up for the reader what life was like for a middle ranking soldier:

&ldquoAugust 1st 1857 Arrived at our camping ground about a mile beyond the village of Shawpore and pitched tents in a mangoe tope. We here found a planter&rsquos bungalow, which had been partially looted by budmarshes, but as they had left a few cases of preserved meat, pickled salmon etc&hellip we made the house headquarters and made a good breakfast, thanks to the poor planter. Having a pucka house over one&rsquos head I slept well until the first bugle&hellip.

September 16th Went to see Wheeler&rsquos entrenchment. It was a wretched position the houses are all knocked to pieces, the ground strewed with skulls, pieces of shell, ladies&rsquo dresses, music, books etc. In the afternoon very heavy rain &ndash our tent full of water &ndash had to dine sitting on our beds with a servant holding an umbrella over one&rsquos head&hellip.&rdquo

There are many other diaries which give details on the Mutiny. Major (later Lt Gen Sir) John Blick Spurgin (1821-1903), who was the military commander of the first armed steamer which ascended the Ganges above Allahabad, describes the siege and relief of Lucknow Lt-Col Chardin Philip Johnson in his diary for 1857-1858 tells of Cawnpore after the massacre Captain (later Major-General) Henry Parlett Bishop
(1828-1908) of the Bengal Artillery gives us full details of the fighting in Ambala, Gungeerie, Puttiali, Mynpoorie, Cawnpore and Lucknow and tells of the moment he first realised that something was amiss:

&ldquo12 May Tuesday 1857 At 8 o&rsquoclock this morning heard that a despatch had been received from Meerut by sunrise, by runner (telegraph wires having been cut) that serious disturbances had taken place, collision between sepoys and European officers, in which several of the latter had been killed&hellip.&rdquo

His diary is accompanied by interesting photographs and postcards.

Included in the journal of Lt (later Lt-General) Octavius Ludlow Smith (1828-1927) is a letter written to his mother with his reactions to the Mutiny:

If my writing is illegible my descriptions wild and the least bit disconnected and my letter otherwise a failure you must attribute it to the &lsquoMutiny&rsquo and its effects&hellip.. News has just come in&hellipthat a plot was overheard concocting in the 13th lines to murder all the officers in the Native Regts tonight&hellip. We all have pistols, some revolvers, others horse pistols&hellip.&rdquo

For the period prior to the Mutiny we include several diaries. Those of Lt George Godfrey Pearse (1827-1905) of the Royal Horse Artillery describe his experiences during the siege of Mooltan, the Punjab War and the fighting on the Afghan Frontier. He travelled all over the country, from Simla to Mooltan, to Bhawalpore and to Dera Ismael Khan. The diaries are extremely clearly written with maps of siege works and newspaper cuttings describing events he had experienced. He also recounts all the rumours and activities of life in camp and reveals details of the different personalities he encountered.

For the same period Lt-Col (later General) David Birrell (1801-1878) of the Bengal Army gives us a vivid insight into a battle in the Sikh War in 1847:

&ldquo&hellip.The next day we halted, making arrangements to attack the enemy in their entrenched camp at Ferozeshah&hellip. It was arranged that the entrenchments should be attacked that afternoon in conjunction with General Littler&rsquos force&hellip. At 3pm our Artillery opened fire upon the enemy, but after an hours work it was clearly seen that they could do little with 9 and 6 pounders against 12, 18 and 24 pounders with which the Sieks batteries were defended inflicting a heavy loss in men and horses upon our Artillery. It was then decided that the Infantry should carry the entrenchment at the point of the bayonet&hellip.&rdquo

East India Company Civil Servants

We include a mix of diaries ranging from those of young civil servants recently arrived in India to those of high ranking members of the East India Company. Some diaries are pragmatic describing the minutiae of daily life while some give vivid details of the busy social lives of a civil servant of the Raj. Many of the diaries also provide wonderful detail and illustrations of the Indian landscape, architecture and local customs.

The diaries and papers of Arthur Herbert Cocks (1819-1881), a member of the Bengal Civil Service from 1837-1863 give us a good idea of the career progress which could be made over fifty years in the Indian civil service. Inserted in his diaries are newspaper cuttings charting his career and also Indian political events. He rose from administrator to judge at Mainpuri during the Indian Mutiny. Particularly interesting are his diaries concerned with the Mutiny in which he describes the movements of the mutineers and the troops. He includes also letters from his brother-in-law, Lt Eckford who describes hearing of the start of the Mutiny:

&ldquo&hellip. About six o&rsquoclock on Sunday afternoon, the 10th of May last, I heard a great uproar in the direction of the Native Infantry and cavalry lines. It increased and I heard shots fired. On enquiring from my servants and Chuprassies, they said the Native Troops had mutinied and were setting fire to their lines and Officers&rsquo houses. I sent a man to find out and he said the Sepoys were murdering their Officers&hellip.&rdquo

Richard Henry Clifford who worked for the Bengal Civil Service from 1853-1878 explains his reaction to the aftermath of a fight between the rebels and the army during the Mutiny:

&ldquoOct 11th 1857 Sunday I rode with Capt Meade to the field. Dead were lying about all along the road and in the fields, the enemy&rsquos camp 5 miles off was burning&hellip. It is strange I thought I could not bear the sight of blood, and passed by all the dead frightfully cut up and felt nothing&hellip&rdquo

The diaries of Henry Gonne (1831-1857) of the Bengal Civil Service give us an insight into, not only the work of a civil servant of this period in Oudh, but also his personal thoughts, particularly on his own personality:

&ldquo&hellip. My temper is certainly better nor have I for a long time been tempted to strike my servants&hellip.&rdquo

Many of his staff were enlisted at the outbreak of the Mutiny:

&ldquoMay 28th 1857 &hellip. Orders for enlisting - discharged retainers 100 and sending in the military police to Lucknow. I am very glad of the movement and shall feel much safer without them. A crisis has indeed come over us in this country, what will India be in the year/57 surely the European forces must be doubled in India&hellip.&rdquo

He died during the Mutiny in September 1857 and ends his diary by indicating that he intended to hand it over to his servant so that it could be passed on to a European and be sent on to England.

John Russell Colvin (1807-1857) was Private Secretary to the Governor-General Lord Auckland from 1836-1842 and Lt-Governor of the North Western Provinces from 1853-1857. His diaries covering 1825-1857 give very exact details on the day to day work of a high ranking civil servant. The following extract dated 15th June 1837 shows that a Private Secretary had a considerable amount of influence on the Governor-General:

&ldquo&hellip. Suggested to Lord Auckland to commence discussion of establishing a contingent of Cavalry in the protected Sikh States. He approves the principle, but would take time, beginning with Pattealah when the question of boundaries may require us to restore something&hellip.&rdquo

The diaries give vivid details on the countryside the army marched through:

Marched about 11 miles to ? The country along the Ganges&hellip.well watered with fine crops, thickly interspersed with Date trees &ndash the road alive with Pilgrims to the Devi Temple&hellipwomen in coloured and chequered and gilt flowered silk&hellipcarrying or leading goats for sacrifice&hellip.&rdquo

Engineers, Travellers, Medical Staff and Members of the Clergy

Assistant Surgeon James Alexander Caldwell Hutchinson (1828-1895) of the Bengal Medical Service describes his experiences during the Mutiny. Included also in his papers are accounts of the adventures of his brother, Robert Faure Hutchinson, also a medical officer at the time of the Mutiny.

Surgeon-General Patrick Gerald Fitzgerald (1820-1910) of the Madras Medical Service recounts his experiences during the fighting at Lucknow in March 1858:

&ldquoLucknow Sunday 14th March 1858

Heavy firing in the town all last night both musketry and large guns &ndash went out after dinner to watch the shells curving over the city. Counted as many as five in the air at one moment. The firing continued until about 10 or 11 this morning. We are to move tomorrow morning to Dilkoosha and the Ghurkas are to come here&hellip.&rdquo

The diaries of James Fenn Clark (b 1823) give fascinating detail on his travels in India on a visit to his father Hezekiah Clark of the Bengal Medical Service. He describes the Moslem festival, Muharum:

&ldquoDec 1846 The Great Mussulman feast called the &lsquoMuharum&rsquo took place about Christmas time, it lasts for 10 days during the whole of which time there is an incessant beating of tum-tums: (an instrument not unlike the kettle drum). On the last day of the feast there are processions, firing of guns, beating of breasts and all the Mussulman world are crying out, some Hassan, others Hassein, the names of the two brothers famous in Mahommedan history, nephews of Mahommed &ndash it is customary during this festival to fast throughout the day and feast at night&hellip.&rdquo

Included with his papers are interesting extracts from the diary and letters of Azubah Clark (his Aunt?) who died in Benares aged 20 in 1826.

Thomas Machell (1824-1862) was a merchant seaman and later an indigo planter. His diaries contain fascinating detail on his time in India as well as beautiful watercolours and pen and ink drawings of animals, plants and local scenes.

The diary of George Latham, an engineer of the Madras Railway Company from 1855-1862 gives us his first impressions of India with details on Indian customs and lovely pencil sketches of local scenes.

Wives of East India Company Officials and Soldiers

Women&rsquos diaries are very important as they give us a completely different perspective on life in India during the Raj. Women reveal personal feelings and emotions when describing their family and social lives and their environment. In Part 2 the women&rsquos diaries also give us an intimate view of how they dealt with the hardships of the Mutiny.

The journal and commonplace book of Grace Maxwell Hardy, wife of Lt-Col Edmund Armitage Hardy of the Bombay Cavalry (1824-1903), describes the mutiny at Nasirabad, one of the first places to take part in the revolt. She was present at the fort at the time of the Mutiny but managed to escape, having to leave all her possessions behind. The journal which covers the period 1857-1871 is continued by her husband who gives details on subsequent events.

We also include the diaries of the couple for the earlier period, 1824-1850. Grace describes the landscape and architectural sights of India in letters to her sister written between 1824 and 1829. A lovely sketchbook of watercolours by Grace of Indian scenes and people is also included.

The diary of Maria Vincent Germon, wife of Captain (later Lt Col) Richard Charles Germon of the Bengal Army gives a detailed description of the siege of Lucknow and their escape to Calcutta.

An excellent diary for a harrowing description of the Lucknow siege is that of Katherine Bartrum, wife of Surgeon Robert Henry Bartrum (1831-1857). After taking refuge at the Residency in Lucknow with other women and children they suffered great deprivation and emotional torment as slowly those around them died of hunger and illness:

&ldquoJune 12th We received letters from our husbands telling of their escape from Gonda. Very grateful were we, to think that they had thus far been preserved, & we began to hope, that ere long we might meet them again&hellip.

July 16th The second of our household taken away &ndash Mrs Thomas died today she leaves one little girl who looks as if she would not long outlive her&hellip.

August 17th &hellip.. Everyone is getting dispirited no news of relief they say we are forgotten & that re-inforcements will never appear&hellip.

Sept 23rd Oh! Such joyfulness! A letter is come from Sir J Outram in which he says we shall be relieved in a few days. Everyone is wild with excitement and joy&hellip.

Sept 25th Firing in the city all day, at 6pm our gates were thrown open for the first time since June 30th. We heard a tremendous cheering, & our relief had arrived&hellip.

Sept 30th to Nov 16th The relief which came was no relief only a re-inforcement but it saved us from destruction&hellip.

Nov 17th Heard we are to leave Lucknow tomorrow night with just what we can carry&hellip.&rdquo

The diary of Maria Amelia Vansittart, wife of Lt (later Major) William Jervis of the Bengal Army, includes notes on family and personal life in Bengal and the Punjab with a fascinating account of her experiences in Agra during the Mutiny:

"June 16th 1857 Reports strong that Delhi has fallen. The whole district around Agra is disorganised, we are living as if in a state of siege. Not a letter from any part of the country comes. No news from Calcutta for 3 weeks&hellip. Yesterday a party of armed Volunteers on horseback went out to Fultiabad to help escort in the ladies who are coming in from Etawah&hellip.&rdquo

The diaries of Mrs Hannah Ellerton detail her social life and good works over a period of thirteen years from 1843-1856 just before the outbreak of the Mutiny. She was the mother-in-law of Bishop Daniel Corrie, Bishop of Madras, the widow of an indigo planter and was instrumental in the establishment and running of schools in Calcutta.

In contrast the diary for 1856-1860 of Maria Adelaide Cust (1833-1864), wife of Robert Needham Cust of the Bengal Civil Service, describes the social life of the wife of a servant of the Raj just after the Mutiny. Life, it appears, continued as normal with a daily round of driving, dining and visiting!

The astonishing range of information found in the diaries in Part 2 will enable scholars to build up a multi-faceted view of life in India during the Raj, particularly around the time of the Mutiny of 1857. Rich in sociological and historical detail the diaries will be invaluable to historians, sociologists, military experts and gender historians. They offer much for the impact of the Raj on Britain and vice versa.

For reference we have also included on the first reel of Part 2 biographical notes on the authors of the diaries.

May we take this opportunity to express our thanks to David Blake, former curator of European Manuscripts in the Oriental and India Office Collections and to Dr Jill Geber, Curator of the India Office Private Papers for all their help and advice in the selection and preparation of this collection of diaries. We would also like to thank the descendants of the diarists who have placed their family papers on permanent loan at the British Library and have very kindly given us permission to reproduce them in this collection.