History – India Under British Rule

Delhi Law Academy

Portuguese traders were the first to discover a sea-route to India free from Turkish threat in 1498. They were followed by the Dutch in 1595 and the English in 1600 and finally the French in 1664 who also came to India for trade.

Portuguese: In 1498, it was Vasco-da Gama a Portuguese sailor who first discovered a sea-route to India via the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived at Calicut on 27 May 1498. The Portuguese soon established political power along the west coast of India. He was succeeded by Captain General Alfonso de Albuquerque who conquered Goa.

Dutch: The first fleet of the Dutch reached India in 1595 and Dutch East India Company was formed in 1602, but their influence soon vanished. In 1605 they established their first factory in Masulipattam. The Anglo-Dutch rivalry was at its peak during late 17th and early 18th century till the Dutch collapsed with their defeat by the English in the battle of Bedera in 1759.

English: The English East India Company was formed in 1600 through a Charter signed by Queen Elizabeth I granting permission to trade with India. Captain Hawkins paid a visit to the court of Jahangir in 1608 but failed to secure trading rights. However, in 1613, on Sir Thomas Roe’s visit they were permitted to establish their first factory at Surat. Gradually the Company established its trading centres at Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Kalikota and Govindpur were later joined together in to a new city ‘Calcutta’ and the factory at Sutanati was fortified in 1700 and named ‘Fort William’.

In 1691, the English were granted ‘farman’ by Aurangzeb which exempted the British Company from payment of customs duties in Bengal. Faruk Siyar granted British another ‘farman’ in 1717, thus extended the privilege to British in Gujarat and Deccan.

French: The French came to India in 1664 and set up centres near Madras and Chandernagore on the Hooghly, West Bengal, to trade with India. However, during 1742 the French governor Joseph Francois Dupleix started repulsing the English power which resulted in ‘Carnatic Wars’ and finally resulting in French defeat.

East India Company and British Rule

On arriving in India the East India Company had to face Dutch and French opposition as they were the main contestants for political supremacy over India. But the British were successful in destabilizing them and soon the Company’s functions expanded into political ambition.

Robert Clive He led the English forces to capture Arcot and other regions. He was instrumental in laying the foundation of the British empire in India. In the Carnatic Wars between the French and the English the latter finally defeated the French in the Battle of Wandiwash to gain control over South India.

English Conquest of Bengal

Nawab Alivardi Khan was an independent ruler of Bengal between 1740-56. He in fact extended protection to the European merchants in carrying on their trade. Alivardi Khan nominated his grandson (daughter’s son) Siraj-ud-Daula as his heir since he had no son.

Battle of Plassey (1757): Robert Clive led the Company’s forces against Siraj-ud-Daula’s army on 23 June 1757 and defeated them with the help of his conspiracy with Mir Jafar. This proved to be the first step towards territorial supremacy and paved the way for the British conquest of Bengal and eventually the whole country.

The Nawab was captured and executed and Mir Jafar was installed as the Nawab of Bengal. This was the first British acquisition of Indian territory.

Battle of Buxar (1764): At the instigation of Mir Qasim, successor of Mir Zafar, this battle was fought by Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula of Awadh and Shah Alam II (Mughal) on one side and the English forces led by Clive on the other side. Clive’s forces were victorious resulting in the capture of Bihar and Bengal.

The Carnatic Wars

First Carnatic War (1746-48): The French and the British companies clashed at Carnatic. Dupleix was then the chief official of the French Company at Pondicherry. The French opened hostilities by sacking Fort St George and expelled all Englishmen. The Nawab of Carnatic sent an army but was defeated.

Second Carnatic War (1749-54): The British were able to consolidate themselves by taking hold of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The second battle between the French and the British took place in 1760 in which the French were defeated. It ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763 which foiled the dreams of the French to have an empire in India.

War with Marathas

The First Anglo-Maratha war (1775-82) took place during the governor-generalship of Warren Hastings. The war ended with the Treaty of Salbai, 1782 and status quo restored.

Mysore War: Mysore was a powerful state under Haider Ali. In 1769 the first Anglo- Mysore war was fought in which the British forces were defeated. Haider Ali occupied almost the whole of Carnatic. However, in 1781, Haider Ali was defeated at Porto Novo and saved Madras. After Haider Ali, the war was carried on by Tipu Sultan. A peace treaty was then signed. However, in 1789 another war was launched and Tipu Sultan was defeated in 1792.

First Governor: In 1758, Robert Clive was appointed the first Governor of Bengal by the East India Company. Clive remained in England from 1760-65 and on his return in 1765, the emperor ceded to the Company the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

British Rule

Governor-generals of India and Reforms

Warren Hastings (1772-85): Warren Hastings succeeded Clive in 1772 and became the first Governor-General of India.

  • He introduced several reforms, established civil and criminal courts and courts of appeal.
  • He passed The Regulating Act, 1773 giving a legalized working constitution to the Company’s dominion in India. It envisaged a Council of Ministers headed by the Governor-General.

Lord Cornwallis (1786-93):He introduced a new revenue system under the Permanent Settlement of Bengal in 1793 with a view to stabilize land revenue and create a loyal contented class of Zamindars. This abolished periodic auction of Zamindari rights and established permanent Zamindari rights to collect land revenue from the tenants and payment of a fixed amount to the Government treasury every year.

Lord Wellesley (1798-1805): During the governor-generalship of Lord Wellesley, the Fourth Mysore War (1799) was fought in which Tipu Sultan was defeated.
Besides war, Wellesley depended on a systems of Subsidiary Alliances to expand British territories whereby the ruler of an aligning state was compelled to accept permanent stationing of a British force within his territory and pay subsidy for its maintenance.

Lord Hastings (1813-23): Under the governorship of Lord Hastings Nepal, was defeated in 1814, resulting in Nepal ceding Garhwal and Kumaon to the British. In 1818, the Marathas made a last attempt to regain their independence. This led to the Third Anglo-Maratha war in which the Marathas were completely crushed.
During Hastings’ tenure various reforms were initiated such as the Ryotwari settlement according to which direct settlement was made between the government and the Ryots (cultivators). Also special attention was paid to education, building of roads, bridges and canals.

Lord William Bentinck (1828-35): He was famous for the social reforms he introduced, such as abolition of Sati (1829), suppression of Thuggee, suppression of female infanticide   and human sacrifices. English was introduced as a medium of higher education on the advice of his council member, Thomas Macaulay. He also adopted some corrective measures in the civil services. However, it was Cornwallis who founded the British Civil Service in India.

Raja Rammohan Roy: He lived during the period of Lord Bentinck. He was a religious and social reformer who helped Bentinck in the abolition of Sati. In 1829, a new society called Brahmo Samaj was started by Rammohan Roy which discarded idol worship, caste system and several complicated rites and rituals.

 Sir Charles Metacalfe (1836-44): He was notable for removing restrictions on the press and media.

Lord Hardinge (1844-48): During his period the First Sikh War (1845) was fought between the Sikhs and the British. The Sikhs were defeated and were brought under British control.

Lord Dalhousie (1848-56): During his period, the Second Sikh War (1849) was fought, in which the Sikhs were defeated again and the Dalhousie was successful in annexing the whole of Punjab to the British administration.
The Doctrine of Lapse was introduced by Lord Dalhousie, 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.

  • The first railway line between Bombay and Thane was opened in 1853 and in the same year Calcutta and Agra were connected by telegraph.
  • Other reforms include setting up of P.W.D. and passing of the Widow Remarriage Act, (1856).

Ramakrishna and Vivekananda
Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836-86) a priest at a temple in Dakshineshwar near Calcutta emphasized that there are many roads to God and salvation and that service to man was service to God. His great disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) popularized his religious message and founded Ramakrishna Mission in 1896.

Arya Samaj The Arya Samaj was founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in order to reform Hindu religion in North India. Swami Dayanand believed that here was only one God who was to be worshipped in spirit and not in the form of idols and images. He also wrote Satyarth Prakash.


Governor-Generals of India

The Governor-General of India was the head of the British administration in India.

This office was created in 1773, with the title of Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort William. This officer had direct control only over Fort William, but supervised other British East India Company officials in India. Complete authority over whole of British India was granted in 1833, and the official became known as the Governor-General of India.

To reflect the Governor-General’s role as the representative of the monarch to the feudal rulers of princely states, from 1858, the term Viceroy and Governor-General of India (known in short as the Viceroy of India) was applied to him.

The title of Viceroy was abandoned when India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947, but the office of Governor-General continued to exist in both new dominions until they adopted republican constitutions in 1950 and 1956 respectively.

Governors-General of Fort William in Bengal (Regulating Act of 1773)

Term Name
1773 – 1785 Warren Hastings
1786 – 1793 Lord Charles Cornwallis
1793 – 1798 Sir John Shore
1798 – 1805 Lord Arthur Wellesley
1805 – 1807 Sir George Barlow
1807 – 1813 Lord Minto I
1813 – 1823 Lord Hastings
1823 – 1828 Lord Amherst
1828 – 1833 Lord Bentinck


 Governors-General of India, Charter Act of 1833

Term Name
1833 – 1835 Lord William Bentinck
1835 – 1836 Lord Metcalfe
1836 – 1842 Lord Auckland
1842 – 1844 Lord Ellenborough
1844 – 1848 Lord Hardinge I
1848 – 1856 Lord Dalhousie
1856 – 1858 Lord Canning
(on Nov 1 1858 he became the first Viceroy of British India)



From 1858 to 1947 India was informally known as the British Raj

Term Name
1858 – 1862 Lord Canning
1862 – 1863 Lord Elgin I
1864 – 1869 Lord Lawrence
1869 – 1872 Lord Mayo
1872 – 1876 Lord Northbrook
1876 – 1880 Lord Lytton
1880 – 1884 Lord Ripon
1884 – 1888 Lord Dufferin,
1888 – 1894 Lord Lansdowne
1894 – 1899 Lord Elgin II
1899 – 1905 Lord Curzon
1905-1910 Lord Minto II
1910 – 1916 Lord Hardinge II
1916 – 1921 Lord Chelmsford
1921 – 1926 Lord Reading
1926 – 1931 Lord Irwin
1931 – 1936 Lord Willingdon
1936 – 1944 Lord Linlithgow
1944 – 1947 Lord Wavell
1947 – 1948 Lord Mountbatten