Template:Colonial India

A mezzotint engraving of Fort William, Calcutta, the capital of the Bengal Presidency in British India 1735

Provinces of India, earlier Presidencies of British India and still earlier, Presidency towns were the administrative divisions of British governance in India. In one form or other they existed between 1612 and 1947, conventionally divided into three historical periods.

  • During 1612–1757, the East India Company set up factory towns in several locations in coastal India by the consent (and implied non-interference) of India's native states. Its rivals were the merchant trading companies of Holland and France. By the mid-18th century, three "Presidency towns": Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta had grown in size.
  • During Company rule in India, 1757–1858, the Company gradually acquired sovereignty over large parts of India, now called "Presidencies." However, it also increasingly came under British government oversight, in effect sharing sovereignty with the Crown. At the same time it gradually lost its mercantile privileges.
  • Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Company's remaining powers were transferred to the Crown. In the new British Raj (1858–1947), sovereignty extended to a few new regions, such as Upper Burma. Increasingly, however, unwieldy presidencies were broken up into "Provinces".[1]

British India[]

Location of the Indian Empire (i. e. British India and the princely states)

In 1608, the English East India Company established a settlement at Surat (now in the state of Gujarat), and this became the company's first headquarters town. It was followed in 1611 by a permanent factory at Machilipatnam on the Coromandel Coast, and in 1612 the company joined other already established European trading companies in Bengal.[2] However, following the decline of the Mughal Empire in 1707 and after the East India Company's victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and Battle of Buxar, both in Bengal 1764, the Company gradually began to formally expand its dominions and collectively call the area India.[3] By the mid-19th century, the East India Company had become the paramount political and military power in South Asia, its territory held in trust for the British Crown.[4]

Company rule in Bengal, however, ended with the Government of India Act 1858 following the events of the Bengal Rebellion of 1857.[4] From then known as British India, it was thereafter directly ruled by the British Crown as a colonial possession of the United Kingdom, and India was officially known after 1876 as the British Indian Empire.[5] India consisted of regions referred to as British India that were directly administered by the British, with Acts established and passed in the British Parliament, House of Commons.[6] and other regions, the Princely States,[7] that were ruled by local rulers of different ethnic backgrounds. These rulers were allowed a measure of internal autonomy in exchange for British suzerainty. British India constituted a significant portion of India both in area and population; in 1910, for example, it covered approximately 54% of the area and included over 77% of the population.[8] In addition, there were Portuguese and French exclaves in India. Independence from British rule was achieved in 1947 with the formation of two nations, the Dominions of India and Pakistan, the latter also including East Bengal, present-day Bangladesh.

The term British India also applied to Burma for a shorter time period: starting in 1824, a small part of Burma, and by 1886, almost two thirds of Burma had come under British India.[6] This arrangement lasted until 1937, when Burma commenced being administered as a separate British colony. British India did not apply to other countries in the region, such as Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), which was a British Crown colony, or the Maldive Islands, which were a British protectorate. At its greatest extent, in the early 20th-century, the territory of British India extended as far as the frontiers of Persia in the west; Afghanistan in the northwest; Tibet in the northeast; and China, French Indo-China and Siam in the east. It also included the Colony of Aden in the Arabian Peninsula.[9]

Presidency towns (1600–1765)[]

  • Madras Presidency: established 1640.
  • Bombay Presidency: East India Company's headquarters moved from Surat to Bombay (Mumbai) in 1687.
  • Bengal Presidency: established 1690.

The East India Company, which was incorporated on 31 December 1600, established trade relations with Indian rulers in Masulipatam on the east coast in 1611 and Surat on the west coast in 1612.[10] The company rented a trading outpost in Madras in 1639.[10][10] Bombay, which was ceded to the British Crown by Portugal as part of the wedding dowry of Catherine of Braganza in 1661, was in turn granted to the East India Company to be held in trust for the Crown.[10]

Meanwhile, in eastern India, after obtaining permission from the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to trade with Bengal, the Company established its first factory at Hoogly in 1640.[10] Almost a half-century later, after Emperor Aurengzeb forced the Company out of Hooghly, Calcutta was founded by Job Charnock in 1686.[10] By the mid-18th century the three principal trading settlements, now called the Madras Presidency (or the Presidency of Fort St. George), the Bombay Presidency, and the Bengal Presidency (or the Presidency of Fort William) were each administered by a Governor.[11]

Presidencies of British India (1772–1858)[]

After Robert Clive's victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the puppet government of a new Nawab of Bengal, was maintained by the East India Company.[12] However, after the invasion of Bengal by the Nawab of Oudh in 1764 and his subsequent defeat in the Battle of Buxar, the Company obtained the Diwani of Bengal, which included the right to administer and collect land-revenue (land tax) in Bengal, the region of present-day Bangladesh, West Bengal and Bihar.[12] In 1772, the Company also obtained the Nizāmat of Bengal (the "exercise of criminal jurisdiction") and thereby full sovereignty of the expanded Bengal Presidency.[12] During the period, 1773 to 1785, very little changed; the only exceptions were the addition of the dominions of the Raja of Banares to the western boundary of the Bengal Presidency, and the addition of Salsette Island to the Bombay Presidency.[13]

Portions of the Kingdom of Mysore were annexed to the Madras Presidency after the Third Anglo-Mysore War ended in 1792. Next, in 1799, after the defeat of Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War more of his territory was annexed to the Madras Presidency.[13] In 1801, Carnatic, which had been under the suzerainty of the Company, began to be directly administered by it as a part of the Madras Presidency.[14]

  • Madras Presidency: Expanded in the mid-to-late 18th century Carnatic Wars and Anglo-Mysore Wars.
  • Bombay Presidency: expanded after the Anglo-Maratha Wars.
  • Bengal Presidency: Expanded after the battles of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764), and after the Second and Third Anglo-Maratha Wars.
  • Ajmer-Merwara-Kekri: ceded by Sindhia of Gwalior in 1818 at the conclusion of the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
  • Coorg: Annexed in 1834.
  • Ceded and Conquered Provinces: Established in 1802 within the Bengal Presidency. Proposed to be renamed the Presidency of Agra under a Governor in 1835, but proposal not implemented.
  • North-Western Provinces: established as a Lieutenant-Governorship in 1836 from the erstwhile Ceded and Conquered Provinces
  • Sind annexed to the Bombay Presidency in 1843.
  • Punjab: Established in 1849 from territories captured in the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars.
  • Nagpur Province: Created in 1853 from the princely state of Nagpur, seized by the doctrine of lapse. Merged into the Central Provinces in 1861.
  • Oudh annexed in 1856 and governed thereafter until 1905 as a Chief Commissionership, as a part of North-Western Provinces and Oudh.

Provinces of India (1858–1947)[]

  • Central Provinces: Created in 1861 from Nagpur Province and the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories. Berar administered since 1903, renamed the Central Provinces and Berar in 1936.
  • Burma: Lower Burma annexed 1852, established as a province in 1862, Upper Burma incorporated in 1886. Separated from British India in 1937 to become administered independently by the newly established British Government Burma Office.
  • Assam: separated from Bengal in 1874. Incorporated into new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905. Re-established as a province in 1912.
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands: established as a province in 1875.
  • Baluchistan: Organised into a province in 1887.
  • North-West Frontier Province: created in 1901 from the north-western districts of Punjab Province.
  • Eastern Bengal and Assam: created in 1905 upon partition of Bengal, together with the former province of Assam. Re-merged with Bengal in 1912, with north-eastern part re-established as the province of Assam.
  • Bihar and Orissa: separated from Bengal in 1912. Renamed Bihar in 1936 when Orissa became a separate province.
  • Delhi: Separated from Punjab in 1912, when it became the capital of British India.
  • Aden: separated from Bombay Presidency to become province of India in 1932; separated from India and made the Crown Colony of Aden in 1937.
  • Orissa: Separate province by carving out certain portions from the Bihar-Orissa Province and the Madras Province in 1936.
  • Sind: Separated from Bombay in 1936.
  • Panth-Piploda: made a province in 1942, from territories ceded by a native ruler.

Major provinces[]

A map of the British Indian Empire in 1909 during the partition of Bengal (1905–1911), showing British India in two shades of pink (coral and pale) and the princely states in yellow.

At the turn of the 20th century, British India consisted of eight provinces that were administered either by a Governor or a Lieutenant-Governor. The following table lists their areas and populations (but does not include those of the dependent Native States):[15] During the partition of Bengal (1905–1912), a new Lieutenant-Governor's province of Eastern Bengal and Assam existed. In 1912, the partition was partially reversed, with the eastern and western halves of Bengal re-united and the province of Assam re-established; a new Lieutenant-Governor's province of Bihar and Orissa was also created.

Province of British India[15] Area (in thousands of square miles) Population (in millions of inhabitants) Chief Administrative Officer
Burma 170 9 Lieutenant-Governor
Bengal 151 75 Lieutenant-Governor
Madras 142 38 Governor-in-Council
Bombay 123 19 Governor-in-Council
United Provinces 107 48 Lieutenant-Governor
Central Provinces and Berar 104 13 Chief Commissioner
Punjab 97 20 Lieutenant-Governor
Assam 49 6 Chief Commissioner

Minor provinces[]

In addition, there were a few minor provinces that were administered by a Chief Commissioner:[16]

Minor Province[16] Area (in thousands of square miles) Population (in thousands of inhabitants) Chief Administrative Officer
North-West Frontier Province 16 2,125 Chief Commissioner
British Baluchistan 46 308 British Political Agent in Baluchistan served as ex officio Chief Commissioner
Coorg 1.6 181 British Resident in Mysore served as ex officio Chief Commissioner
Ajmer-Merwara 2.7 477 British Political Agent in Rajputana served as ex officio Chief Commissioner
Andaman and Nicobar Islands 3 25 Chief Commissioner

Provinces at independence, 1947[]

At independence in 1947, British India had 17 provinces:

  • Ajmer-Merwara-Kekri
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  • Assam
  • Baluchistan
  • Bengal Province
  • Bihar Province
  • Bombay Province
  • Central Provinces and Berar
  • Coorg
  • Delhi Province
  • Madras Province
  • North-West Frontier Province
  • Panth-Piploda Province
  • Orissa Province
  • Punjab Province
  • Sind Province
  • United Provinces of Agra and Oudh

Upon the Partition of British India into the Union of India and Dominion of Pakistan, 11 provinces (Ajmer-Merwara-Kekri, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bihar, Bombay, Central Provinces and Berar, Coorg, Delhi, Madras, Panth-Piploda, Orissa, and the United Provinces) joined India, 3 (Baluchistan, North-West Frontier and Sindh) joined Pakistan, and 3 (Punjab, Bengal and Assam) were partitioned between India and Pakistan.

In 1950, after the new Indian Constitution was adopted, the provinces in India were replaced by redrawn states and union territories. Pakistan, however, retained its five provinces, one of which, East Bengal, was renamed East Pakistan in 1956 and became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971.

See also[]

  • British Empire in India (for usage)
  • British rule in Burma
  • Indian Princely States annexed by the British
  • Salute state
  • Maratha Empire
  • Rajputana
  • Mughal Empire


  1. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 5 Quote: "The history of British India falls ... into three periods. From the beginning of the 17th to the middle of the 18th century, the East India Company is a trading corporation, existing on the sufferance of the native powers, and in rivalry with the merchant companies of Holland and France. During the next century the Company acquires and consolidates its dominion, shares its sovereignty in increasing proportions with the Crown, and gradually loses its mercantile privileges and functions. After the Mutiny of 1857, the remaining powers of the Company are transferred to the Crown ..." (p. 5)
  2. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. II 1908, pp. 452–472
  3. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. II 1908, pp. 473–487
  4. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. II 1908, pp. 488–514
  5. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. II 1908, pp. 514–530
  6. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, pp. 46–57
  7. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, pp. 58–103
  8. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, pp. 59–61
  9. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, pp. 104–125
  10. ^ a b c d e f Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 6
  11. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 7
  12. ^ a b c Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 9
  13. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 10
  14. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 11
  15. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 46
  16. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1908, p. 56


  • The Imperial Gazetteer of India (26 vol, 1908–31), highly detailed description of all of India in 1901. online edition
  • Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. II (1908), The Indian Empire, Historical, Published under the authority of His Majesty's Secretary of State for India in Council, Oxford at the Clarendon Press. Pp. xxxv, 1 map, 573 
  • Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. III (1908), The Indian Empire, Economic (Chapter X: Famine, pp. 475–502), Published under the authority of His Majesty's Secretary of State for India in Council, Oxford at the Clarendon Press. Pp. xxxvi, 1 map, 520 
  • Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV (1908), The Indian Empire, Administrative, Published under the authority of His Majesty's Secretary of State for India in Council, Oxford at the Clarendon Press. Pp. xxx, 1 map, 552 

Further reading[]

  • Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004). From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India. New Delhi and London: Orient Longmans. Pp. xx, 548.. ISBN 81-250-2596-0. 
  • Brown, Judith M. (1994). Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. xiii, 474. ISBN 0-19-873113-2. 
  • Copland, Ian (2001). India 1885-1947: The Unmaking of an Empire (Seminar Studies in History Series). Harlow and London: Pearson Longmans. Pp. 160. ISBN 0-582-38173-8. 
  • Harrington, Jack (2010). Sir John Malcolm and the Creation of British India. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.. ISBN 978-0-230-10885-1. 
  • Judd, Dennis (2004). The Lion and the Tiger: The Rise and Fall of the British Raj, 1600-1947. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. xiii, 280. ISBN 0-19-280358-1. 
  • Majumdar, R. C.; Raychaudhuri, H. C.; Datta, Kalikinkar (1950). An Advanced History of India. London: Macmillan and Company Limited. 2nd edition. Pp. xiii, 1122, 7 maps, 5 coloured maps.. 
  • Markovits, Claude (ed) (2005). A History of Modern India 1480-1950 (Anthem South Asian Studies). Anthem Press. Pp. 607. ISBN 1-84331-152-6. 
  • Metcalf, Barbara; Metcalf, Thomas R. (2006). A Concise History of Modern India (Cambridge Concise Histories). Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp. xxxiii, 372. ISBN 0-521-68225-8. .
  • Mill, James (1820). The History of British India, in six volumes. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 3rd edition, 1826. 
  • Peers, Douglas M. (2006). India under Colonial Rule 1700-1885. Harlow and London: Pearson Longmans. Pp. xvi, 163. ISBN 058231738. 
  • Riddick, John F. (2006). The history of British India: a chronology. 
  • Riddick, John F. (1998). Who Was Who in British India. 
  • Sarkar, Sumit (1983). Modern India: 1885-1947. Delhi: Macmillan India Ltd. Pp. xiv, 486. ISBN 0-333-90425-7. 
  • Smith, Vincent A. (1921). India in the British Period: Being Part III of the Oxford History of India. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press. 2nd edition. Pp. xxiv, 316 (469-784). 
  • Spear, Percival (1990). A History of India, Volume 2: From the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. New Delhi and London: Penguin Books. Pp. 298. ISBN 0-14-013836-6. 

External links[]

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