Lord Dalhousie

  • Lord Dalhousie was the youngest Governor- General of India when he assumed charge at the age of 36 in 1848.
  • His early career was remarkable.
  • He studied at Christ Church, Oxford.
  • He became Member of Parliament and enjoyed the confidence of Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister of England.
  • He did much for the progress of railway constructing in England as the president of the Board of Trade.
  • In 1847, he was offered the Governor- Generalship of India which he accepted and arrived at Calcutta in January 1848.

Policy of Annexation

  • The most important aspect of Dalhousie’ administration is related to “the great drama of annexation”.
  • His aims for expanding the company’s territories were administrative, imperial, commercial and financial.
  • Although he used different reasons for annexation, his main objective was to end misrule in the annexed states, as in the case of the annexation of Oudh.
  • He aimed at providing the beneficent administration to the people of the annexed states.
  • At the same time he had in his mind the advantages of annexation to the British such as imperial defence, commercial and financial benefits.
  • Though Dalhousie did not come to India to follow a policy of annexation, but he was able to consolidate British rule in India by his policy of annexation.
  • His great annexations include the Punjab, Lower Burma, most of the central provinces and Oudh.

Annexation of Punjab

  • At the end of the second Anglo- Sikh war in 1849, Punjab was annexed by Dalhousie.
  • He organized the administration of Punjab very efficiently.
  • The province was divided into small districts under the control of district officers who were called Deputy commissioners.
  • These commissioners with the help of their assistants came into close contact with people.
  • Revenue and judicial departments were combined to secure concentration of power and responsibility.
  • The laws and procedure were simplified in accordance with the custom of the people.
  • The overall administration of Punjab was entrusted to the chief commissioner.
  • In fact, the Governor- General was the virtual ruler of Punjab.
  • The services of Lawrence brothers in the administration of Punjab were notable.
  • Within three years perfect order was restored in the province.
  • It was efficiently defended from internal and external enemies.
  • In 1859, Sir Joh Lawrence became the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab.

Second Burmese war and the Annexation of lower Burma

  • In 1852, commercial disputes in Rangoon prompted new hostilities between the British and the Burmese.
  • After the end of the second Burmese war (1852), Dalhousie annexed lower Burma with its capital at Pegu.
  • Major Arthur Phayre was appointed the commissioner of the new province.
  • His administration also proved to be efficient.
  • The annexation of lower Burma proved beneficial to Britian.
  • Rangoon, Britian’s most valuable acquisition from the war became one of the biggest ports in Asia.

Doctrine of Lapse

  • Dalhousie also took advantage of every opportunity to acquire territory by peaceful means.
  • The East India company was rapidly becoming the predominant power in India.
  • It had concluded alliances with Indian rulers.
  • It promised to support them and their heirs in return for various concession.
  • Although this type of agreement favoured the British, Dalhousie sought to acquire even more power.
  • According to the Hindu Law, one cam adopt a son in case of no male heir to inherit the property.
  • The question arose whether a Hindu ruler, holding his state subordinate to the paramount power, could adopt a son to succeed his kingdom.
  • It was customary for a ruler without a natural heir to ask the British government whether he could adopt a son to succeed him.
  • According to Dalhousie, if such permission was refused by the British the state would “lapse” and thereby become part of the British India.
  • Dalhousie maintained that there was a difference in principle between the right to inherit private property and the right to govern.
  • This principle was called the Doctrine of lapse.
  • The Doctrine of Lapse was applied by Dalhousie to Satara and was annexed in 1848.
  • Jhansi and Nagpur were annexed in 1854.
  • As a result of these annexations, a large part of the central provinces came under the British rule.
  • The new province was governed by a Chief commissioner from 1861.
  • Although the Doctrine of Lapse cannot be regarded as illegal, its application by Dalhousie was disliked by Indian princes,
  • The advantages of the annexations of Satara, Jhansi and Nagpur were substantial to the British.
  • Dalhousie was blamed for using the doctrine of Lapse as an instrument in pursuing his policy of annexation.
  • After the Mutiny of 1857, the doctrine of lapse was withdrawn.

Annexation of Oudh

  • The British relations with the state of Oudh go back to the Treaty of Allahabad in 1765.
  • Right from Warren Hastings, many Governor- Generals advised the Nawab of Oudh to improve the administration.
  • But, misrule continued there and the Nawab was under the assumption that the British would not annex Oudh because of his loyalty to them.
  • In 1851, William Sleeman, Resident at Lucknow, reported on the “spectacle of human misery and careless misrule”.
  • But Sleeman was against the policy of annexing Oudh.
  • After surveying the situation of Oudh, Dalhousie annexed it in 1856.
  • Nawab Wajid Ali was granted a pension of 12 lakhs of rupees per year.
  • The annexed territory came under the control of a chief commissioner.
  • Dalhousie’s annexation of Oudh, the last one among his annexations, created great political danger.
  • The annexation offended the Muslim elite.
  • More dangerous was the effect on the British army’s Indian troops, many of whom came from Oudh.
  • They had occupied a privileged position before its annexation.
  • Under the British government they were treated as equal with the rest of the population.
  • This is a loss of prestige for them.
  • In these various ways, the annexation of Oud contributed to the Mutiny of 1857.

Domestic reforms of Dalhousie

  • Dalhousie’s territorial acquisition transformed the map of India.
  • He was not only a conqueror but also a great administrator.
  • The appointment of a Lieutenant- Governor to Bengal enabled Dalhousie concentrate on administration.
  • His greatest achievement was the molding of the new provinces into a modern centralized state.
  • For the newly acquired territories, he introduced the centralized control called “Non- Regulation system”.
  • Under this system a commissioner was appointed for a newly acquired territory.
  • Under military reforms, Dalhousie shifted the headquarters of Bengal Artillery from Calcutta to Meerut.
  • Simla was made the permanent headquarters of the army.


  • The introduction railways in India inaugurated a new economic era.
  • There were three major reasons for the British to take interest in its quick development.
  • The first reason was commercial.
  • The second main reason was administrative.
  • The third reason was defense.
  • At the time of revolt and disturbance, movement of the forces was much easier through railways.
  • Lord Dalhousie’s contribution in the development of railways is worth commending.
  • In 1853, he penned his Railway Minute formulating the future policy of railways in India.
  • He started the “guarantee system” by which the railway companies were guaranteed a minimum interest of five percent on their investment.
  • The government retained the right of buying the railways at the end if the period of contract.
  • The first railway line connecting Bombay with Thane was opened in 1853.
  • Railway lines connecting from Calcutta to the Raniganj coal- fields was opened in 1854 and Madras to Arakkonam in 1856.


  • Similarly, the use of Telegraph brought marvelous changes in communication system.
  • In India, Lord Dalhousie’s contribution in this respect is commendable.
  • In 1852, O’Shaughnessy was appointed the superintendent of Telegraph department.
  • Main cities of the country viz., Calcutta, Peshwar, Bombay and Madras were telegraphically connected.
  • About 4000 miles long Telegraph lines were laid before the departure of Dalhousie.
  • During the 1857 Revolt, the system of telegraphic communication proved a boon for the English and the military value of Dalhousie’s creation was much realized at that time.

Postal reform

  • The foundation of modern postal system was laid down by Lord Dalhousie.
  • A new Post office Act was passed in 1854.
  • Consequently, irrespective of the distance over which the letter was sent, a uniform rate of half an anna per post card was charged throughout India.
  • Postage stamps were introduced for the first time.


  • Dalhousie had also evinced in the development of education.
  • The educational Despatch of Sir Charles Wood (1854) was considered the “Intellectual charter of India”.
  • It provided an outline for the comprehensive scheme of education at primary, secondary and collegiate levels.
  • Dalhousie fully accepted the views of Charles Wood and took steps to carry out the new scheme.
  • Departments of public instructions were organized.
  • The Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were founded in 1857.

Public works Department

  • Before the period of Dalhousie, the job of the public works department was done by the Military board.
  • Dalhousie created a separate public works department and allotted more funds for cutting canals and roads.
  • The upper Ganges canal was completed in 1854.
  • Many bridges were constructed.
  • By modernizing the public works department he laid the foundation of the engineering service in India.

Estimate of Dalhousie

  • Dalhousie left India in 1856.
  • The outbreak of Mutiny in the following year led to a severe criticism of his policy of annexation.
  • Exhausted by his years of overwork in India, he fell ill and died in 1860.
  • There is no doubt that Dalhousie was an able administrator and visionary.
  • He increased the extent of British India and consolidated it.
  • He inaugurated an era of progress in many sides.
  • He was the father of Railways and Telegraphs.
  • He introduced the process of modernization of India.
  • Hence, he is hailed as “the maker of modern India”.



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