Arrival of Lord Elgin 1894

Lord Elgin served as the Governor General and Viceroy from 1894 to 1898. During his regime, the boundaries of China and Siam was demarcated, Anglo-Russian convention was signed (1895), Diamond Jublee of Queen Victoria was celebrated (1897), A Famine Commission (Lyall Commission) was appointed in 1897), a plague broke out in Bombay (1896) and the Plague Commissioner Rand was assassinated in Pune by the Chapekar brothers (1897).

Bubonic Plague of Bombay Presidency 1896-97

The last five years of the 19th century were disastrous for India, which brought an array of misfortune and distress.  In October, 1896, the Bubonic plague was detected in India. It was endemic in some localities like Mesopotamia and some Central Asian places but from there it spread to China causing 50 thousand deaths and then in Hong Kong causing 10 thousand deaths.  The plague spread rapidly in Bombay Presidency and people started fleeing from Mumbai, Pune and other places. In 1897, the death started dancing in Pune and the government decided to take drastic steps against the killer disease.

Waldemar Haffkine

The Plague was studied at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the studies were done by a Russian Bacteriologist Waldemar Haffkine. Waldemar Haffkine had also developed an anti-cholera vaccine which he tried out successfully in India.  He was the first microbiologist who developed and used vaccines against cholera and bubonic plague. He tested the vaccines on himself and was acclaimed as “a savoir of humanity”.

Murder of WC Rand and Arrest of Tilak

On the basis of Special Plague Committee’s recommendations, 893 officers and men, both British and native, were placed under the command of Mr. WC Rand and Lieutenant Ayerst. The soldiers approached door to door for measures against plague {such as killing rats etc.}.

However, most people were ignorant and illiterate and they considered the plague as wrath of God. They took the corrective measures of the government as oppression. This led to riots at various location due to opposition to government policy of sanitary measures. At that time, Bal Gangadhar Tilak wrote inflammatory articles in the Kesari newspaper. Amid chaos, WC Rand was murdered by two Pune youngsters {Chapekar brothers}.

This led to a series of arrest and trials. Tilak was sentenced to 18 months rigorous imprison. In this trial, Tilak declared in court: “Swaraj ha maza janmasidha adhikar aahe, ani to mi milavinach” that is “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it. This statement made Tilak a national hero.

Meanwhile, Plague had spread to other parts of India and killed around 10 Lakh people in several parts of the country.

Press Regulation

The government faced heat from the proliferation of Press. To curb the press, it amended Section 124A and Section 153A in IPC which made it a criminal offense for anyone to contempt the Government of India or to create hatred among different classes {English and Indians} in India. There was a nationwide protest against this regulation.


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