Lord Dalhousie

Lord Dalhousie (Real name James Andrew Ramsay) served as Governor General of India from 1848 to 1856. During this period, Second Anglo-Sikh War (1849) was fought in which the Sikhs were defeated again and Dalhousie was successful in annexing the whole of Punjab to the British administration. He annexed many states by doctrine of lapse. During his tenure, first railway line between Bombay and Thane was opened in 1853 and in the same year Calcutta and Agra were connected by telegraph. His other reforms include setting up of P.W.D. and passing of the Widow Remarriage Act (1856).

Second Anglo Sikh War

The first major conflict during the early period of Lord Dalhousie was the Second Anglo Sikh war in 1848-49, which ended with annexation of Punjab and end of Sikh Kingdom. After the Treaty of Lahore, Sir Henry Lawrence was appointed at the Lahore Darbar to control the policies. He left England due to some disease, and in his place a lawyer named Sir Frederick Currie was appointed at the Lahore Durbar.

Sir Frederick Currie, was a legalist and a puritan, who asked the somewhat independent Governor of Multan, Diwan Mulraj to pay arrears of the taxes. When the British officers were sent at the Mulraj’s fortress, he revolted, attacked and wounded them. These wounded officers were saved by some people but the angry mob killed them the next day. The small army of Mul Raj was defeated, but again there was a rebellion. The war prolonged for months and Sikhs were defeated. The whole of Punjab was annexed on 29 March 1849.

Rani Jind Kaur was imprisoned and the 11 year old Maharaja Duleep Singh was sent to London to retire on pension. This was a major success under Lord Dalhousie, who not only subdued the rebellions in the region, but also annexed a large territory to the British India.

Second Anglo-Burmese War 1852-53

After the First Anglo-Burmese war, the Treaty of Yandaboo was signed between Burma and East India Company on February 24, 1826. For next 20 years the relations were normal, but the Burma Kings were chaffed of the English merchants who started flocking in the country and got settled over there.

In 1851, these merchants complained their overlords sitting in Calcutta about the oppression of the Burmese officials at Rangoon. The issue was taken seriously by the East India Company and the Lord Dalhousie asked Burma for compensation. No reply was sent from the other end. The idea was to make it a reason for an imposed war on Burma.

Apart from tha, there were minor bilateral issues regarding the Treaty of Yandaboo. However, exactly under which circumstances, this war was fought was not made public. The war started in April 5, 1852 and as soon as the war started the port of Martaban was taken on the same day. On 12th April Rangoon was annexed and in June Pegu was taken. In January 1853, a proclamation of annexation was read out and thus this war ended without any treaty signed. The outcome of this war was that Pegu was annexed to the British Empire and it was renamed Lower Burma. British dominion now was from Chittagong to Singapore in the East.

Doctrine of Lapse

Dalhousie implemented the Doctrine of Lapse whereby in the absence of a natural heir, the sovereignty of Indian states was to lapse to the British and such rulers were not permitted to adopt a son to inherit their kingdoms.

Dalhousie himself was not the author of this doctrine. In 1844, the Directors of the Company had declared that the permission to adopt on the failure of natural heirs “should be the exception not the rule” and should never be granted but as a special mark of favour or approbation”.

As per this doctrine, on the failure of natural heirs, the sovereignty passed on the paramount power. Although it was not a policy of Dalhauise’s predecessors, but he found it convenient way of extending Company’s territories.

We note here that Dalhousie practically applied this doctrine on dependent states only. The dependent states were one of the three categories of states as follows.

  • Those rulers who did not pay any tribute to the British Government and never accepted the paramountcy of the British power in India were under independent States
  • Those States and Rajas who had accepted the paramountcy of the British Government and paid a regular tribute. They were called Protected allies.
  • Those Rajas and Chieftains who had been placed or installed on the throne by the British Government and had been given letter of authority for their re-installation as Rajas; were called dependent States.

The second category mentioned above needed to take necessary permission from the company for adopting son to succeed to throne. The permission was dependent on personal whim and wish of British. It was third category which was not allowed to adopt a son at all.

Application of the Doctrine

Annexation of Satara

The Raja of Satara died in 1848 without leaving any natural heir. However, he had adopted a son before his death. But this adoption was declared invalid on the pretext that he had not taken the sanction for the same. The Court of Directors declared that a dependent principality like that of Satara could not pass on to an adopted son without the consent of the paramount power. Satara was thus annexed to the British Empire. This annexation was unjust because British had entered into a treaty on the basis of equality.

Annexation of Nagpur

Raja of Nagpur had died in 1853 and before his death he had directed his Rani to adopt a son. Rani adopted Yashwant Rao as per Hindu customs and law. But this annexation was not recognized by Dalhousie and Nagpur was annexed.

Annexation of Jhansi

After the death of Rao Ram Chandra in 1835 his adopted son had not been recognised by the British who placed Raghunath Rao on the throne of Jhansi. Raghunath Rao was succeeded by Gangadhar Rao who died in 1853. Before his death he had adopted Anand Rao as his son. Dalhousie refused to recognise him and annexed the State of Jhansi. Laxmi Bai of Jhansi played a very prominent role in the mutiny of 1857 in order to take her revenge.

Annexation of Sambhalpur

In the case of Sambhalpur the deceased Raja had not adopted any son. In 1849 before his death he had expressed the view that his people might obtain the protection of the British after his death. Consequently Dalhousie annexed the State of Sambalpur.

Annexation of Jaitpur

The State of Jaitpur {in Bundelkhand} was also annexed to the British dominion because its ruler died in 1849 without leaving an issue.

Annexation of Bhagat

It was a petty hill State in Punjab and was annexed for want of natural heir to the throne after the death of its ruler in 1850.

Annexation of Udaipur

The State was annexed to the British dominion in 1852 when its ruler did leaving no heir to the throne.

Criticism of the Doctrine of Lapse

The distinction between independent allies, dependent and subordinate states was only an artificial one. Any State could be annexed by merely stating that it was a dependent State. There was not court of appeal to challenge the decision of the Court of Directors of the Company. Lord Dalhousie applied the doctrine to serve the imperial designs. His highhandedness becomes quite evident from the fact that some of his decisions were set aside by the Court of Directors. They did not allow the annexation of State of Kasouli. The States of Bhagat and Udaipur were also restored to their former Rajas by Lord Canning.

Annexation of Oudh 1856

The Punjab and Pegu were the conquests of war. The states of Satara, Jhansi, Nagpur, and Sambhalpur had fallen in by the “Doctrine of Lapse“. The Kingdom of Oudh was the only great Indian state whose ruler Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was dispossessed on the ground of “intolerable misgovernment”. The British alleged that the Nawab who had made a treaty with Lord Wellesley to establish such a system of administration as would be conducive to the “prosperity of the subjects” were entirely and continuously neglected and the whole of Awadh had fallen into the constantly increasing confusion, violent disorders, tumults, brigandage and widespread oppression of the people. Awadh was annexed finally in February 1856 via a proclamation and before the end of this month, the tenure of Lord Dalhousie ended and he was replaced with the Governor Generalship of Lord Canning.

Indian Railway Begins Journey 1853

On April 16, 1853 a train with 14 railway carriages and 400 guests left Bombay’s Bori Bunder for Thane, with a 21-gun salute. The three locomotives were Sindh, Sultan, and Sahib. This 75 minutes journey was the first Journey of Indian Railway that embarked an era of development thereafter.

Telegraph begins in India 1854

The 800-mile telegraph line from Calcutta to Agra was opened in March, 1854, and two years later 4000 miles were in operation, including lines to Bombay and Madras. The telegraph played an important role during those times and is credited to have saved India in mutiny of 1857. Telegraph communication between India and England was opened in 1865 by the Persian Gulf line.

Other notes about Lord Dalhousie

  • During the times of Lord Dalhousie, a separate Lieutenant Governor was appointed for the Presidency of Bengal so that it could immediately relive the Governor General of India from the pressure of local administration. In April 1854. Fredrick J Halliday was appointed the First Lieutenant Governor General of Bengal under the provisions of Charter act of 1853
  • The cool hill town of Shimla was made the summer capital of the British Empire.
  • The Artillery headquarters of the army was moved from Calcutta to Meerut. The army headquarter was shifted to Shimla.
  • It was during Lord Dalhousie’s time that Gurkha regiments came into force.
  • The Postal system was improved and all important towns were linked by the Telegraph lines.
  • The important reform during this period was Wood’s Dispatch of 1854.

Wood’s Despatch of 1854

Charles Wood, a British Liberal politician and Member of Parliament sent the “Wood’s despatch” to the Governor General Lord Dalhousie recommending some important changes in education system. As per this despatch:

  • An education department was to be set in every province.
  • Universities on the model of the London University be established in big cities such as Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
  • At least one government school be opened in every district.
  • Affiliated private schools should be given grant in aid.
  • The Indian natives should be given training in their mother tongue also.
  • Wood’s Despatch is called Magnacarta of English Education in India.

In accordance with Wood’s despatch, Education Departments were established in every province and universities were opened at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1857 on the model of the London University.

Later more universities were opened in Punjab in 1882 and at Allahabad 1887.

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