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Indirect Rule in the British Empire: The Foundations of the Residency System in India (1764–1858)

  • Michael H. Fisher (a1)

The British Empire established itself and expanded largely through its incorporation of existing indigenous political structures. A single British Resident or Political Agent, controlling a regional state through ‘advice’ given to the local prince or chief, became the norm for much of the Empire. India's princely states, where from the mid-eighteenth century the British first employed and developed this system of indirect rule, stood as the conscious model for later imperial administrators and politicians who wished to extend the Empire without the economic and political costs of direct annexation. In dealing with Malaya, East and West Africa from the mid-nineteenth century onward, officials in the field and notables in London sought to justify imperial expansion and to establish indirect rule efficiently by drawing upon the Indian example.Thus, during a century of empirical learning from relations with India'sprincely states, the British established a body of theory and policies about indirect rule which then spread throughout the rest of the Empire.

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Research for this article was conducted in London and India between 1975 and 1982. Support for this research from the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright-Hays, Western Washington University, and the American Philosophical Society is gratefully acknowledged. I am also grateful to the staffs of the British Museum, Commonwealth Relations Office, and National Archives of India. I would like to thank Evelyn Albrecht for her statistical and technical advice and Joy Dabney for her careful reproduction of my graphs. The statements made and conclusions drawn are of course the responsibility of the author alone.

My statistical analysis employed the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) program. I compiled biographies for 615 British officials, virtually all who held offices defined as part of the ‘political line.’ These biographies include every post each official is known to have had as well as other pertinent data. This information, once coded, has allowed me to perform quantitative analysis of virtually the entire political line from the 1760s until 1857. Among the sources drawn upon were the complete series of ‘Personal Records,’ and ‘The Madras Army Service Lists,’ the annual numbers of the The East-India Register and Directory, Hodson, V. C. P., List of the Officers of the Bengal Army 1758–1834, 4 vols (London: Constable, 1927–1928), Prinsep, Charles C., Record of Services of the Honourable East India Company's Civil Servants in the Madras Presidency from 1J41 to 1858 (London: Trubner, 1885) and numerous other manuscript and published volumes and series.

1 This proclamation sought to stabilize British relations with the princes, it was hoped, permanently. Subsequent to it, policies were formulated to bond the surviving princes of India to the British Queen-Empress, literally the ‘Kaiser of India’. See Bernard S. Cohn, ‘Representing Authority in Victorian England’, read at Symposium on Symbolism, Ritual and Political Power, Princeton University, March 14, 1981.

2 See Low, D. A., Lion Rampant: Essays in the Study of British Imperialism (London: Frank Cass, 1973), pp. 8695.

3 Of the other European powers, only the Dutch in Batavia developed a system of Residents comparable to that of the British and these Residents developed into magistrates rather than into agents for indirect rule. For standard surveys on Africa see Crowder, Michael, West Africa under Colonial Rule (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1968) and Oliver, Roland and Mathew, Gervase, History of East Africa, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963). The relevant areas of Southeast Asia are discussed in Sadka, Emily, The Protected Malay States, 1834–1895 (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1968), Emerson, Rupert, Malaysia: A Study in Direct and Indirect Rule (New York: Macmillan, 1937), and Chew, Earnest, ‘Swettenham and British Residential Rule in West Malaysia’, Journal of South East Asian Studies 5, 2 (09 1974), 166–78.

4 Among the best of the recent works dealing with several princely states are Ramusack, Barbara, The Princes of India in the Twilight of Empire: The Dissolution of a Patron–Client System, 1914–1939 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1978), the several contributors to Jeffrey, Robin (ed.), People, Princes and Paramount Power (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978), and Copland, Ian, The British Raj and the Indian Princes: Paramountcy in Western India, 1857–1930 (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1982).

5 One example of such work, discussing the ‘invisible, but nevertheless real, postwar empire[s]’, is Seidman, Ann and Makgetla, Neva, Outposts of Monopoly Capitalism: Southern Africa in the Changing Global Economy (Westport, Ct: Lawrence Hill, 1980).

6Low, , Lion Rampant, pp. 814.

7Copland, , British Raj and the Indian Princes, pp. 137–9.

8The Politics of “Indirect Rule”: Types of Relationship among Rulers, Ministers and Residents in a “Native State”’, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 13, 3 (11 1975): 261–81.

9Reeves, Peter (ed.), Sleeman in Oudh: An Abridgement of W. H. Sleeman's A Journey through the Kingdom of Oude, 1849–1850 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971), pp. 69.

10‘British Expansion in North India: The Role of the Resident in Awadh’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 18, 1 (0103 1980), 6982. See SafiAhmad's useful pamphlet. British Residents at the Court of Avadh (1764–1856) (Lucknow: Avadh History Research Centre, 1968) for the personalities of some of the Awadh Residents.

11Panikkar, K. N., British Diplomacy in North India: A Study of the Delhi Residency 1803–1857 (New Delhi: Associated Publishing House, 1968).

12Regani, Sarojini, Nizam-British Relations, 1724–1857 (Hyderabad: Booklovers Private Ltd, 1963); Yazdani, Zubaida, Hyderabad During the Residency of Henry Russell, 1811–1820: A Case Study in the Subsidiary Alliance System (Oxford: The Author, 1976); Wood, Peter, ‘A Vassel State in the Shadow of Empire: William Palmer's Bank in Hyderabad, 1810–1824’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1981. See also Khalidi, Omar, The British Residents at the Court of the Nizams of Haydarabad (Wichita, Kansas: Haydarabad Historical Society, n.d.) for a list of the Hyderabad Residents.

13Sutherland, J[ohn], Sketches of the Relations subsisting between the British Government in India and the Different Native States (Calcutta: G. H. Huttmann, 1837); Lee-Warner, William, The Protected Princes of India (London: Macmillan, 1894). Tupper, Charles Lewis, Our Indian Protectorate: An Introduction to the Study of the Relations between the British Government and Its Indian Feudatories (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1893).

14Coen, Terence Creagh, The Indian Political Service: A Study in Indirect Rule (London: Chatto, Windus, 1971).

15Copland, Ian, ‘The Other Guardians: Ideology and Performance in the Indian Political Service’, in Jeffrey, (ed.), People, Princes and Paramount Power, pp. 275305.

16Woodruff, Philip, The Men Who Ruled India, vol. 1 The Founders (Norwich: Jarrold and Sons, 1965 reprint), pp. 204–5.

17 See Robinson, Ronald and Gallagher, John, Africa and the Victorians: The Oficial Mind of Imperialism (London: Macmillan, 1961), for a discussion of the motivation for imperialism.

18 Warren Hastings himself served as a Resident with primarily commercial but some political functions at Murshidabad from 1757 to 1760. See Glieg, George Robert, Memoirs of the Life of the Right Hon. Warren Hastings, 3 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1841), 1: 5178.

19Satow, Ernest, A Guide to Diplomatic Practice, 4th edn, ed. Bland, Nevile (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1961), p. 165.

20 E.g. Jahangir, , Tuzuk-i Jahangiri, trans. Alexander Rogers, ed. Beveridge, Henry (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1968).

21 Letter from Shuja uddaula, Bengal Secret Consultations 30 September 1772; Bombay Government to Lt. Col. Upton, 3 January 1777, Eur Mss. Addl 28987, British Museum; Arzee from Vakeel of Ranna of Gohad, Bengal Secret Consultations 6 December 1779, Commonwealth Relations Office; Governor General to David Anderson, 4 November 1781, Bengal Secret Consultations io December 1781, Eur Ms Addl 13612, British Museum.

22 Browne to Macpherson, 20 April 1785, Bengal Secret Consultations 12 May 1785, No. 2 and Panikkar, p. 4.

23 Lt Col Upton to Governor General 22 January 1777, Bengal Secret Consultations 26 February 1777, Eur Ms Addl 28987, British Museum.

24Metcalf, Thomas, The Aftermath of Revolt: India, 1857–1870 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964).

25 Since not every official held office for a full year, the numbers have been weighted so that they reflect the proportion of the year the office was actually held. An official holding an office for a full year thus counts as one; an official in office for only six months counts only one half, and so on.

26 Personal Records, 15:583, Commonwealth Relations Office.

27 The dual peak results from the summation of distinct patterns of military and civilian officials, to be explained later with reference to Chart 4.

28 See Spangenberg, Bradford, British Bureaucracy in India: Status, Policy and the I.C.S., in the Late 19th Century (Delhi: Manohar, 1976), pp. 5578 for a different approach to the measure of administrative efficiency.

29 Mysore had an infant ruler at the beginning of the century and then was under the temporary administration of British from 1831 to 1864. For an account of one Resident at Mysore see Bell, Evans, Memoir of General John Briggs of the Madras Army (London: Chatto and Windus, 1885) pp. 158ff. See also Copland, British Raj, passim.

30Cohn, Bernard S., ‘Recruitment and Training of British Civil Servants in India, 1600–1860’, in Braibanti, Ralph (ed.), Asian Bureaucratic Systems Emergent from the British Imperial Tradition (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Commonwealth-Studies Center, 1966), p. 103.

31 Pay scales caused major debate throughout the period under study. One of the more drawn out disputes concerned the pay of Major, later General, Walker, Resident at Baroda, which continued for at least nine years. Turning down a 30,000 Rupee settlement offer from the Court of Directors, Walker held out for the additional 1,000 Rupee per month back pay he felt due to him and eventually won his case, including 8% interest on the money. Public Letter to Bombay 17 April 1811, and passim, Eur Ms C.198, Commonwealth Relations Office.

32 Personal Records, 12:479, Commonwealth Relations Office. See also Political Letters to Bombay 31 August 1804 and 29 August 1810, Eur Ms C. 198, Commonwealth Relations Office. The same was true for the other lines, see Court of Directors to Bombay Revenue Department 10 January 1811, Eur Ms C. 198.

33 Even though the total number of military in the service actually declined during his administration, Ellenborough regarded this as the major factor in his quarrel with the Directors, Ellenborough to Wellington 9 June 1842 cited in Broadfoot, W., The Career of Major George Broadfoot (London: John Murray, 1888), p. 195. See Ellenborough's letters to Claud Clerk dated 29 July 1842, 3 May 1843 and 16 April 1843 for n's frequent rewards of political posts for military officers, Claud Clerk Collection, Eur Ms D. 538/39, Commonwealth Relations Office.

34Durand, H. M., Life of Major-General Sir Henry Marion Durand, 2 vols. (London: W. H. Allen, 1883), 1: 80.

35 Governor General to Falkland, 29 May 1851, Frere Collection, F.81, Box 1, Bundle 11, Commonwealth Relations Office.

36Glieg, G. R., The Life of Major-General Sir Thomas Munn, Bart, and K.C.B., etc., Late Governor of Madras with Extracts from his Correspondence and Private Papers, 2 vols (London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1830), 1: 142–3.

37 C. J. Napier to Roberts, 12 October 1844, Sir Henry Gee Roberts Collection, Eur Ms E. 265, Commonwealth Relations Office.

38 Private copy of Lt Col G. Le Grand Jacob's Memorial to the Court of Directors, 17 November 1855, Eur Ms E.304/7, Commonwealth Relations Office.

39 For an analysis of the Indian Civil Service in the late nineteenth century see Spangenberg, British Bureaucracy, Cohn, ‘Recruitment’, and Woodruff, The Men Who Ruled.

40 E.g. Bengal Secret Consultation, 18 April 1781, Eur Ms Addl 13612, Museum, British, and Hunter, William Wilson, Life of Brian Houghton Hodgson, British Resident at the Court of Nepal (London: John Murray, 1896).

41 Henry Torrens was better educated and older than almost all of the other officials at his level in the service. His devotion to poetry apparently further alienated him from his colleagues. After a series of rapid and unhappy postings, he was appointed Resident at Murshidabad. His editor wrote of this as ‘… an appointment in which he had little or nothing to do … an office which the most ordinary person might have filled … Mr Torrens was of the opinion that when he was sent to Murshidabad, it was a distinct declaration of the Government's intention to “shelve” him.’ Hume, James (ed.), A Selection from the Writings, Prose and Poetical, of the late Henry W. Torrens, Esq., B.A., Bengal Civil Service, and of the Inner Temple (Calcutta: R. C. Lepage, 1854), p. ci.

42 Wellesley appointed his protégé Josiah Webbe, to a series of posts in the political line explicitly in order to protect him from dismissal and disgrace at the hands of the next Governor General. Josiah Webbe to Thomas Munro, 9 November 1801 and 27 December 1801, Munro Collection, Eur Ms F. 151, file 5, Commonwealth Relations Office; M. Shawe to Malcolm, 27 February 1804, Eur Ms Addl 13602, British Museum.

43 This story may be colored by the subject's later success in this line. Glieg, John William, The Life and Correspondence of Major-General John Malcolm, G.C.B., Late Envoy to Persia, and Governor of Bombay, 2 vols (London: Smith, Elder, 1854), 1: 23, 63.

44 Interestingly, despite the suggestion that there might be an affinity between the British nobility and the political line, no evidence of a higher proportion of nobility, or sons of the nobility, within the political line can be found during this period.

45 Letters requesting or using influence are found throughout the Residents' correspondence. E.g. David Octerlony, Resident at Delhi to Secretary to Government, 21 December 1804, Bengal Secret and Political Consultations 18 July 1805, Commonwealth Relations Office.

46 Richard Jenkins to Bayley, 10 January 1815, Nagpur Residency Private Letter Book, Eur Ms E. 111, Commonwealth Relations Office.

47 Letter of Ellenborough to Sir William Nott, 21 September 1842, quoted in Stocqueler, J. H. (ed.), Memoirs and Correspondence of Major-General Sir William Nott, GCB, 2 vols (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1854), 2: 169.

48 When the Resident at Gwalior withdrew from his post due to health problems, his younger brother, the commander of the escort, was appointed by the Governor General to act in his place. Minute of the Governor General, 19 September 1783, Eur Ms Addl 29006, British Museum.

49Kaye, , Malcolm, 1: 106.

50 Edward Waring to Barry Close, 10 December 1804, Eur Ms Addl 13599, British Museum.

51 Governor General to Barry Close, 4 September 1799, Mysore Residency Records, In Letter Book, Commonwealth Relations Office.

52 Richard Jenkins, Resident at Nagpur to Sydenham, 12 May 1810, Nagpur Residency Private Letter Book, Eur Ms E. 111, Commonwealth Relations Office.

53 Richard Strachey to Ricketts, 6 June 1816, Richard Strachey Letters, 1813–1817, Eur Ms D. 585, Commonwealth Relations Office. Richard Jenkins describes a career in the political line to an unknown relative who apparently considered pursuing it. Richard Jenkins to [?], 17 September 1815, Nagpur Residency Private Letter Book, Eur Ms E. 111, Commonwealth Relations Office.

54 Governor General to Governor Bombay, 7 January 1773, Bengal Secret Consultations 7 January 1773, No. 2, and Governor General to Resident Poona, 13 October 1773, Bengal Secret Consultations 13 October 1773, No. 9, Commonwealth Relations Office.

55 Governor General to Governor Bombay, 8 February 1779, Bengal Secret Consultations 8 February 1779, Commonwealth Relations Office.

56 Governor General's Minute, 26 November 1784, Bengal Secret Consultations 14 December 1784 and Resident Poona to Boddam, 8 February 1786, Malet Collection, Eur Ms F. 149, Commonwealth Relations Office.

57 Governor General to Select Committee Fort St George, 1 November 1779, Bengal Secret Consultations 1 November 1779, Commonwealth Relations Office.

58 Fort St George to Governor General, 13 March 1780, Bengal Secret Consultations 15 May 1780, Fort St George to Governor General, 19 May 1780, Bengal Secret Consultations 12 June 1780, and Governor General to Fort St George, 29 June 1780, Bengal Secret Consultations, Eur Ms Addl 28994 and Hollond to Governor General, 9 June 1780, Bengal Secret Consultation 17 July 1780, Eur Ms Addl 28995, and James Grant to Governor General, 31 January 1783, Eur Ms Addl 28999, British Museum.

59 Fort St George to Court of Directors, 8 March 1805, Bengal Political Consultations 2 May 1805, No. 5, Commonwealth Relations Office.

60 Governor General to Select Committee Fort St George, 1 November 1779, Bengal Secret Consultations 1 November 1779.

61 Resident Poona to Messrs Porcher, Redhead and Gardiner, 4 September 1789, Malet Collection, Eur Ms F. 149, Commonwealth Relations Office.

62 The full text of the letter, some 500 words, is quoted in full in Tupper, Charles L. (comp), Indian Political Practice: A Collection of the Decisions of the Government of India in Political Cases, 4 vols (Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1974 reprint), 3: 156.

63Tupper, , Indian Political Practice, 3: 156–7.

64 Printed in full in his A Memoir of Central India, 2 vols (London: Kingsbury, Parbury and Allen, 1823), Appendix 18, pp. 433–75.

65 Michael H. Fisher, ‘The Residency System: British Penetration of and Control over Two Indian States’, presented to the Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, Salt Lake City, October 11, 1980.

66 Private letter to Stewart, n.d. quoted in Kaye, , Malcolm, 2: 371.

67 Indeed, the officers of the Madras army comprised the largest group within the political line in India as well, as we have seen. Mills, L. A., British Malaya, 1824–1867 (Singapore: Methodist Publishing House, 1925), p. 95.

68 CO 273/47, Report of the Committee on Native States, 19 May 1871 cited in Cowan, C. D., Nineteenth Century Malaya: The Origins of British Political Control, London Oriental Series Volume 2 (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 81–4.

69 Lt Gov. Penang to Colonial Secretary, Singapore, 6 September and 24 October 1872 in CO 273/61 and ‘Perak and Larut Disturbances’, Archive Room, Raffles Museum, cited in Cowan, p. 126 n. 58.

70 Minute of Kimberley, 31 August 1873, in CO 273/67 cited in Cowan, , Nineteenth Century Malaya, p. 166. Lugard himself was aware of Kimberley's suggestion for Residents ‘on the analogy of the Residents of the Courts of independent Rajas in India’, Lugard, Frederick, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, 5th edn (London: Frank Cass, 1965), pp. 129–30.

71 Proceedings, Political B, February 1875, Nos. 95–6 and Proceedings, Secret I, June 1888, Nos. 74–6 cited in Tupper, , Indian Political Practice, 3: 158.

72Secretary of State dispatch C.1512, pp. 98100, 1 June 1876 cited in Cowan, , Nineteenth Century Malaya, p. 243.

73Sadka, , The Protected Malay States, pp. 214, 255.

74 Lugard to Mgr. Hirth, 17 December 1890 cited in Perham, Margery, Lugard: The Years of Adventure, 1858–1898 (London: Collins, 1956), p. 229.

75 Letter received by Lugard 20 June 1892, Lugard, Frederick, The Diaries of Lord Lugard, ed. Perham, Margery, 3 vols (London: Faber and Faber, 1959), 3: 313–14.

76 Cited in Perham, Margery, Lugard: The Years of Authority 1898–1945 (Hamden, Ct.: Archon Press, 1968), p. 148.

77Lugard, , Dual Mandate, p. 47.

78 Report on the Niger–Sudan Campaign to the Earl of Scarbrough, Deputy Governor, Royal Niger Company, 1897 cited in Perham, , Lugard: The Years of Adventure, p. 625.

79 No less than seven major figures who shaped Britain's indirect administration of Egypt had significant Indian experience. Owen, Roger, ‘The Influence of Lord Cromer's Indian Experience on British Policy in Egypt 1883–1907’, Middle Eastern Affairs, 4, ed.Hourani, Albert, St. Anthony's Papers, 17 (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 109–39.

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