James Andrew Broun-Ramsay

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James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie

James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie, KT, PC (April 22 1812 – December 19 1860) was a British statesman, and a colonial administrator in India.

Born in Dalhousie Castle, Scotland, he crowded into his relatively short life conspicuous public service in the United Kingdom, and established an unrivalled position among the master-builders of the Indian empire. Denounced on the eve of his death and to this day by some as having failed to notice the signs of the First War of Indian Independence of 1857, and even having aggravated the crisis by his overbearing self-confidence, centralising activity, and reckless annexations. His supporters saw him as the far-sighted Governor-General who consolidated British rule in India, laid the foundations of its later administration, and by his sound policy enabled his successors to stem the tide of rebellion. To his critics, he destroyed the British East India Company's financial and military position by his reckless policies, laid the foundations of the First Indian War of Independence, the so-called Indian Mutiny and led the final transformation of money-making commercial operations in India into what became a money-losing colonial administration. His critics also hold him responsible for re-creating the entire system of government in India on a British model. He is accused of transforming earlier open cultural and political attitudes toward India on the part of British Administrators, typified by Warren Hastings, into the closed-minded attitude of superiority of the late Victorian Raj. The earlier idea of partnership gave way to one of domination, even exploitation despite official commitment to the moral and social development of India. The whole of India was annexed following the policies that had been put in place by Dalhousie, and while Indians were employed in the Civil, Judicial and Military Services, they were excluded from the higher ranks of governance. The idea of granting independence to India or even of Indians having a greater say in government, though supported by some eminent British personnel, was resisted. Left to itself, the British argued, India would explode in a blood-bath of inter communal rivalry.

Early life

James Andrew Broun-Ramsay was the third and youngest son of George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie (1770–1838), one of Wellington's generals, who, after being Governor General of Canada, became Commander-in-Chief in India, and of his wife Christina née Broun of Coalstoun, Haddingtonshire, a lady of gentle lineage and distinguished gifts. From his father he inherited a vigorous self-reliance and a family pride which urged him to prove worthy of the Ramsays who had not crawled through seven centuries of their country's history, while to his mother he owed his high-bred courtesy and his deeply seated reverence for religion.

The 9th Earl was in 1815 created Baron Dalhousie of Dalhousie Castle in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, and had three sons, of whom the two elder died young. His youngest son, the subject of this article, was small in stature, but his firm chiseled mouth, high forehead and masterful manner gave him a dignity that none could overlook. Yet his early life gave little promise of the dominating force of his character or of his ability to take full advantage of his splendid opportunities. Nor did those brought into closest intimacy with him, whether at school or at Oxford, suspect the higher qualities of statesmanship which afterwards established his fame on so firm a foundation.

Several years of his early boyhood were spent with his father and mother in Canada, reminiscences of which were still vivid with him when Governor-General of India. Returning to Scotland he was prepared for Harrow, where he entered in 1825. Two years later he was removed from school, his entire education being entrusted to the Rev. Mr Temple, incumbent of a quiet parish in Staffordshire. To this gentleman he referred in later days as having taught him all he knew, and to his training he must have owed those habits of regularity and that indomitable industry which marked his adult life.

In October 1829, he proceeded to Christ Church, University of Oxford, where he worked fairly hard, won some distinction and made many lifelong friends. His studies, however, were so greatly interrupted by the protracted illness and death in 1832 of his only surviving brother, that Lord Ramsay, as he then became, had to content himself with entering for a pass degree, though the examiners marked their appreciation of his work by placing him in the fourth class of honors for Michaelmas 1833. He then travelled in Italy and Switzerland, enriching with copious entries the diary which he religiously kept up through life, and storing his mind with valuable observations.

Early political career

An unsuccessful but courageous contest at the general election in 1835 for one of the seats in parliament for Edinburgh, fought against such veterans as the future speaker, James Abercrombie, afterwards Lord Dunfermline, and John Campbell, future lord chancellor, was followed in 1837 by Ramsay's return to the House of Commons as member for Haddingtonshire. In the previous year he had married Lady Susan Hay, daughter of the marquess of Tweeddale, whose companionship was his chief support in India, and whose death in 1853 left him a heartbroken man. In 1838 his father had died after a long illness, while less than a year later he lost his mother.

Succeeding to the peerage, the new earl soon made his mark in a speech delivered on the June 16, 1840 in support of Lord Aberdeen's Church of Scotland Benefices Bill, a controversy arising out of the Auchterarder case, in which he had already taken part in the general assembly in opposition to Dr Chalmers. In May 1843 he became Vice-President of the Board of Trade, Gladstone being President, and was sworn in as a privy counsellor. Succeeding Gladstone as President of the Board of Trade in 1845, he threw himself into the work during the crisis of the railway mania with such energy that his health partially broke down under the strain. In the struggle over the Corn Laws he ranged himself on the side of Sir Robert Peel, and, after the failure of Lord John Russell to form a ministry he resumed his post at the board of trade, entering the cabinet on the retirement of Lord Stanley. When Peel resigned office in June 1846, Lord John offered Dalhousie a seat in the cabinet, an offer which he declined from a fear that acceptance might involve the loss of public character. Another attempt to secure his services in the appointment of president of the railway board was equally unsuccessful; but in 1847 he accepted the post of Governor-General of India in succession to Lord Hardinge, on the understanding that he was to be left in entire and unquestioned possession of his own personal independence with reference to party politics.

Governor-General of India

Dalhousie assumed charge of his dual duties as Governor-General of India and Governor of Bengal on January 12, 1848, and shortly afterwards he was honored with the green ribbon of the Order of the Thistle, the second highest order of Knighthood (the Order of the Garter takes precedence). In writing to the president of the board of control, Sir John Hobhouse, he was able to assure him that everything was quiet. This statement, however, was to be falsified by events almost before it could reach England. Technically, India was at this time administered on behalf of the British Crown by the East India Company, which was officially a commercial enterprise.

Second Anglo-Sikh War

On April 19 1848 Vans Agnew of the civil service and Lieutenant Anderson of the Bombay European regiment, having been sent to take charge of Multan from Diwan Mulraj, were murdered there, and within a short time the Sikh troops and sardars joined in open rebellion. Dalhousie agreed with Sir Hugh Gough, the commander-in-chief, that the British East India Company's military forces were neither adequately equipped with transport and supplies, nor otherwise prepared to take the field immediately. He afterward decided that the proper response was not merely for the capture of Multan, but also the entire subjugation of the Punjab. He therefore resolutely delayed to strike, organized a strong army for operations in November, and himself proceeded to the Punjab. Despite the successes gained by Herbert Edwardes in the Second Anglo-Sikh War with Mulraj, and Gough's indecisive victories at Ramnagar in November, at Sadulapur in December, and at Chillianwala in the following month, the stubborn resistance at Multan showed that the task required the utmost resources of the government. At length, on January 22, 1849, the Multan fortress was taken by General Whish, who was thus set at liberty to join Gough at Gujrat. Here a complete victory was won on the February 21 at the Battle of Gujrat, the Sikh army surrendered at Rawalpindi, and their Afghan allies were chased out of India. For his services the earl of Dalhousie received the thanks of parliament and a step in the peerage, as marquess.

Following the end of the war, Dalhousie, without specific instructions from his superiors, annexed the Punjab, and made provision for the control and education of the infant maharaja. For the present the province was administered by a triumvirate under the personal supervision of the Governor-General, and later, a place having been found for Henry Lawrence in Rajputana, by John Lawrence as sole commissioner. Dalhousie toured the new province twice during the remainder of his time in India. He had set in place a policy of territorial acquisition that, among other factors, would be a major stimulus behind the First War of Indian Independence, known as the Mutiny of 1857-1858.

Second Burmese War

One further addition to the empire was made by conquest. The Burmese court at Ava was bound by the Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826, to protect British ships in Burmese waters. But there arose a dispute between the Governor of Rangoon and certain British shipping interests (the Monarch and the Champion). While the dispute cannot be considered anything but minor, Dalhousie adopted the maxim of Lord Wellesley that an insult offered to the British flag at the mouth of the Ganges should be resented as promptly and fully as an insult offered at the mouth of the Thames. Attempts were made to solve the dispute by diplomacy. The Burmese eventually removed the Governor of Rangoon but this not considered sufficient. Commidore Lambert, dispatched personally by Dalhousie, deliberately provoked an incident and then announced a war. The Burmese Kingdom offered little in the way of resistance. Martaban was taken on April 5, 1852, and Rangoon and Bassein shortly afterwards. Since, however, the court of Ava was unwilling to surrender half the country in the name of "peace," the second campaign opened in October, and after the capture of Prome and Pegu the annexation of the province of Pegu was declared by a proclamation dated December 20, 1853. To any further invasion of the Burmese empire Dalhousie was firmly opposed, being content to cut off Burma's commercial and political access to the outside world by the annexation. Some strangely spoke of the war as "uniting" territory, but in practice Arakan, Tenasserim and the new territories were still only linked in practical terms by sea.

By what his supporters considered wise policy he attempted to pacify the new province, placing Colonel Arthur Phayre in sole charge of it, personally visiting it, and establishing a system of telegraphs and communications. In practice, the new province was in language and culture very different from India. It could never successfully integrate into the Indian system. The end result of the war was to add an expensive new military and political dependency which did not generate sufficient taxes to pay for itself. British Indian rule of Arakan and Tenasserim had been a financial disaster for the Indian Administration. Multiple times in the 1830s questions were raised about getting rid of these territories altogether. Why Dalhousie was so obsessed with increasing the size of a territory that did not generate sufficient revenue to pay for its own administration has never been explained.

Doctrine of Lapse

Dalhousie, driven by the conviction that all India needed to be brought under British administration, began to apply what was called the doctrine of lapse. Under the doctrine, the British annexed any non-British state where there was a lack of a proper male lineal heir according to British convention which, for example, denied adopted sons the right of succession although Indian practice permitted this. Under the policy he recommended the annexation of Satara in January 1849, of Jaitpur and Sambalpur in the same year, and of Jhansi and Nagpur in 1853. In these cases his action was approved by the home authorities, but his proposal to annex Karauli in 1849 was disallowed, while Baghat and the petty estate of Udaipur, which he had annexed in 1851 and 1852 respectively, were afterwards restored to native rule. These annexations are considered by critics to generally represent an uneconomic drain on the financial resources of the company in India.

Map of Indian Railway system as of 1909, then the fourth largest in the World. Construction began under Dalhousie in 1853.

Other measures with the same object were carried out in the company's own territories. Bengal, too long ruled by the Governor-General or his delegate, was placed under a separate Lieutenant-Governor in May 1854; a department of public works was established in each presidency, and engineering colleges were provided. An imperial system of telegraphs followed; the first link of railway communication was completed in 1855; well-considered plans mapped out the course of other lines and their method of administration; the Ganges canal, which then exceeded all the irrigation lines of Lombardy and Egypt together, was completed; and despite the cost of wars in the Punjab and Burma, liberal provision was made for metalled roads and bridges. The military boards were swept away; selection took the place of seniority in the higher commands; an army clothing and a stud department were created, and the medical service underwent complete reorganization.

Europeanization and consolidation of authority were the keynote of his policy. In nine minutes he suggested means for strengthening the Company's European forces, calling attention to the dangers that threatened the English community, a handful of scattered strangers; but beyond the additional powers of recruitment which at his entreaty were granted in the last charter act of 1853, his proposals were shelved by the home authorities as they represented yet more expense added to the cost of India. In his administration Dalhousie vigorously asserted his control over even minor military affairs, and when Sir Charles Napier ordered certain allowances, given as compensation for the dearness of provisions, to be granted to the sepoys on a system which had not been sanctioned from headquarters, and threatened to repeat the offence, the Governor-General rebuked him to such a degree that Napier resigned his command.

Dalhousie's reforms were not confined to the departments of public works and military affairs. He created an imperial system of post-offices, reducing the rates of carrying letters and introducing postage stamps. He created the department of public instruction; he improved the system of inspection of gaols, abolishing the practice of branding convicts; freed converts to other religions from the loss of their civil rights; inaugurated the system of administrative reports; and enlarged the legislative council of India. His wide interest in everything that concerned the welfare of British economic interests in the country was shown in the encouragement he gave to the culture of tea, in his protection of forests, in the preservation of ancient and historic monuments. With the object of making the civil administration more European, he closed what he considered to be the useless college in Calcutta for the education of young civilians, establishing in its place a European system of training them in mufasal stations, and subjecting them to departmental examinations. He was equally careful of the well-being of the European soldier, providing him with healthy recreations and public gardens.

To the civil service he gave improved leave and pension rules, while he purified its moral by forbidding all share in trading concerns, by vigorously punishing insolvents, and by his personal example of careful selection in the matter of patronage. No Governor-General ever penned a larger number of weighty papers dealing with public affairs in India. Even after laying down office and while on his way home, he forced himself, ill as he was, to review his own administration in a document of such importance that the House of Commons gave orders for its being printed (Blue Book 245 of 1856).

Foreign Policy

His foreign policy was guided by a desire to reduce the nominal independence of the larger native states, and to avoid extending the political relations of his government with foreign powers outside India. Pressed to intervene in Hyderabad, he refused to do so, claiming on this occasion that interference was only justified if the administration of native princes tends unquestionably to the injury of the subjects or of the allies of the British government. He negotiated in 1853 a treaty with the nizam, which provided funds for the maintenance of the contingent kept up by the British in support of that princes authority, by the assignment of the Berars in lieu of annual payments of the cost and large outstanding arrears. The Berar treaty, he told Sir Charles Wood, is more likely to keep the nizam on his throne than anything that has happened for 50 years to him, while at the same time the control thus acquired over a strip of territory intervening between Bombay and Nagpur promoted his policy of consolidation and his schemes of railway extension. The same spirit induced him to tolerate a war of succession in Bahawalpur, so long as the contending candidates did not violate British territory.

He refrained from punishing Dost Mahommed for the part he had taken in the Sikh War, and resolutely to refuse to enter upon any negotiations until the amir himself came forward. Then he steered a middle course between the proposals of his own agent, Herbert Edwardes, who advocated an offensive alliance, and those of John Lawrence, who would have avoided any sort of engagement. He himself drafted the short treaty of peace and friendship which Lawrence signed in 1855, that officer receiving in 1856 the order of K.C.B. in acknowledgement of his services in the matter. While, however, Dalhousie was content with a mutual engagement with the Afghan chief, binding each party to respect the territories of the other, he saw that a larger measure of interference was needed in Baluchistan, and with the Khan of Kalat he authorized Major Jacob to negotiate a treaty of subordinate co-operation on May 14, 1854. The khan was guaranteed an annual subsidy of Rs. 50,000, in return for the treaty which bound him to the British wholly and exclusively. To this the home authorities demurred, but the engagement was duly ratified, and the subsidy was largely increased by Dalhousies successors. On the other hand, he insisted on leaving all matters concerning Persia and Central Asia to the decision of the queens advisers. After the conquest of the Punjab, he began the expensive process of attempting to police and control the Northwest Frontier region. The hillmen, he wrote, regard the plains as their food and prey, and the Afridis, Mohmands, Black Mountain tribes, Waziris and others had to be taught that their new neighbors would not tolerate outrages. But he proclaimed to one and all his desire for peace, and urged upon them the duty of tribal responsibility. Never the less, the military engagement on the northwest frontier of India he began grew yearly in cost and continued without pause until the British left Pakistan.

The annexation of Oudh was reserved to the last. The home authorities had asked Dalhousie to prolong his tenure of office during the Crimean War, but the difficulties of the problem no less than complications elsewhere had induced him to delay operations. In 1854, he appointed Outram as resident at the court of Lucknow, directing him to submit a report on the condition of the province. This was furnished in March 1855. The report provided the British an excuse for action based on "disorder and misrule." Dalhousie, looking at the treaty of 1801, decided that he could do as he wished with Oudh as long as he had the king's consent. He then demanded a transfer to the Company of the entire administration of Oudh, the king merely retaining his royal rank, certain privileges in the courts, and a liberal allowance. If he should refuse this arrangement, a general rising would be arranged, and then the British government would intervene on its own terms. On November 21, 1855 the court of directors instructed Dalhousie to assume the control of Oudh, and to give the king no option unless he was sure that his majesty would surrender the administration rather than risk a revolution. Dalhousie was in bad health and on the eve of retirement when the belated orders reached him; but he at once laid down instructions for Outram in every detail, moved up troops, and elaborated a scheme of government with particular orders as to conciliating local opinion. The king refused to sign the ultimatum (in the form of a "treaty") put before him, and a proclamation annexing the province was therefore issued on February 13, 1856.

In his mind, only one important matter now remained to him before quitting office. The insurrection of the Kolarian Santals of Bengal against the extortions of landlords and moneylenders had been severely repressed, but the causes of the insurrection had still to be reviewed and a remedy provided. By removing the tract of country from local rule, enforcing the residence of British officers there, and employing the Santal headmen in a local police, he created a system of administration which proved successful in maintaining order.

Return to England

At length, after seven years of strenuous labour, Dalhousie, on the March 6, 1856, set sail for England on board the Company's Firoze, an object of general sympathy and not less general respect. At Alexandria he was carried by H.M.S. Caradoc to Malta, and thence by the Tribune to Spithead, which he reached on May 11. His return had been eagerly looked for by statesmen who hoped that he would resume his public career, by the Company which voted him an annual pension of £5,000, by public bodies which showered upon him every mark of respect, and by the queen who earnestly prayed for the blessing of restored health and strength. That blessing was not to be his. He lingered on, seeking sunshine in Malta and medical treatment at Malvern, Edinburgh and other places in vain obedience to his doctors. The outbreak of the mutiny led to bitter attacks at home upon his policy, and to strange misrepresentation of his public acts, while on the other hand John Lawrence invoked his counsel and influence, and those who really knew his work in India cried out, "Oh, for a dictator, and his return for one hour!" To all these cries he turned a deaf ear, refusing to embarrass those who were responsible by any expressions of opinion, declining to undertake his own defence or to assist in his vindication through the public press, and by his last directions sealing up his private journal and papers of personal interest against publication until 50 years after his death. On August 9, 1859 his youngest daughter, Edith, was married at Dalhousie Castle to Sir James Fergusson, Bart. In the same castle Dalhousie died on December 19, 1860; he was buried in the old churchyard of Cockpen.

Dalhousie's family consisted of two daughters, and the marquessate became extinct at his death.


Map of India during War of 1857, indicating pro and anti-British states.

One the one hand, a more efficient Civil Service can be attributed to his legacy in India. Much of the administrative infrastructure remained in place not only until independence but also afterwards. So did the postal and railroad systems, which played a crucial part in knitting India together as a single nation, and which also assisted the independence struggle. Some claim that it was the British who “invented” India, since prior to their imperial enterprise, the whole sub-continent had never been united under a single administrative system. In fact, Britain too did not rule the whole of India directly since Princely states continued to enjoy a large degree of autonomy under British guidance. While it is true that India was united as a political system by the British for the first time, and had previously consisted of many kingdoms, nonetheless the idea or concept of India had existed, just as the concept of Germany and of Italy existed before either “nation” had been unified into a single political entity.

On the other hand, the almost relentless way in which he pursued a policy of territorial acquisition transformed what had been a trading and commercial enterprise in India, regarded by some if not by all involved as more of a partnership between the British and Indians, into an imperial possession. Events and policies from his tenure as Governor-General, especially the policy of lapse, together with other issues, fueled the rebellion that started the year after he left India. It was as a result of the rebellion that the British East India Company was wound-up and the governance of India transferred directly to the British Parliament. There is little doubt that British attitudes towards India and Indians changed after the so-called Mutiny, becoming more imperialistic, less open to the value of Indian culture, less respectful of Indians. After crushing the revolt, they felt that they had now fought for and won India. The possibility of a partnership of equals between Britain and India that some may have contemplated before the rebellion now yielded to the idea that Indians were immature and needed the moral and political guidance of a parent. Although the British had annexed other peoples’ territory and were making a profit from their control of India, Britain claimed to occupy high moral ground on the basis that, in return for this, they were educating and training Indian for eventual self-governance. Earlier respect for Indian culture, however, was replaced by the goal of producing Indians who were apart from the complexion of their skin, English in every respect. Just as the policy of lapse undermined aspects of Indian tradition, so did British neglect of Indian educational institutions. All this can be attributed to the Dalhousie legacy. The idea that the British presence was all that stood between peace and blood-bath was also used to justify the imperial enterprise.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Arnold, Edwin. The Marquis of Dalhousie's Administration of British India. London: Saunders, Otley, and Co, 1862.
  • Dalhousie, James Andrew Broun Ramsay. Private Letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie. Shannon: Irish University Press, 1972. ISBN 9780064902915
  • Ghosh, Suresh Chandra. Birth of a New India: Fresh Light on the Contributions Made by Bentinck, Dalhousie and Curzon in the Nineteenth Century. Delhi: Originals, 2001. ISBN 9788175362215
  • Lee-Warner, William. The Life of the Marquis of Dalhousie. K.T. Shannon: Irish University Press, 1972. ISBN 9780064974585

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


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