Part 6 – Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856)

  • Lord Dalhousie was the youngest Governor-General of India when he assumed charge at the age of 36 in 1848.

  • He studied in Christ Church, Oxford

  • He became Member of Parliament and enjoyed the confidence of Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister of England.

  • In 1847, he was offered the Governor-General ship of India which he accepted and arrived at Calcutta in January 1848.

Policy of Annexation

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • In 1859, Sir John 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 Burmawith its capital at Pegu.

  • Annexation of Lower Burma proved beneficial to Britain.

  • Rangoon, Britain’s most valuable acquisition from the war became one of the biggest ports in Asia

Doctrine of Lapse

  • According to the Hindu Law, one can 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 it 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.

  • Although the Doctrine of Lapse cannot be regarded as illegal, its application by Dalhousie was disliked by Indian princes.

  • 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.

  • . After surveying the situation in 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 equals with the rest of the population

  • This is a loss of prestige for them. In these various ways, the annexation of Oudh contributed to the Mutiny of 1857.

Domestic Reforms of Dalhousie

  • The appointment of a Lieutenant-Governor to Bengal enabled Dalhousie concentrate on administration.

  • His greatest achievement was the moulding 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.

  • Shimla was made the permanent headquarters of the army.


  • The introduction railways in India inaugurated a new economic era

  • 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 defence

  • At the time of revolt and disturbance, movement of the forces was much easier through railways.

  • 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 railway at the end of 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

  • From Madras to Arakkonam in 1856

  • His first railway in the world was opened in 1825 in England.


  • Similarly, the use of Telegraph brought marvellous changes in communication system.

  • . In 1852, O’Shaughnessy was appointed the Superintendent of Telegraph Department

  • Main cities of the country viz., Calcutta, Peshawar, 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

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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 foundations 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.

  • He fell ill and died in 1860.

  • There is no doubt that Dalhousie was an able administrator and visionary

  • 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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