Indian Empire

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The British Indian Empire in 1940.
Lahore railway station in the far west, towards the borders with Afghanistan, was in constant fear of attack. It was designed by William Brunton like a mediaeval castle with massive walls, gun-slits, and heavy iron sliding doors.

The Indian Empire (or British India or the British Raj) was a subcontinental empire governed by Great Britain until it was granted independence on 15 August 1947. Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland became Empress of India in 1876; the last King-Emperor was His Majesty George VI.


The Honourable East India Company (HEIC), sometimes known as the East India Trading Company (EIC), or the English East India Company, or after 1707, the British East India Company, and informally known as John Company,[1] Company Bahadur,[2] or simply 'The Company', was an English, and later British, joint-stock company founded in 1600.[3] It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with the East Indies (the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia), and later with all East Asia. The company gained control of large parts of the Indian subcontinent and colonised parts of South-east Asia and Hong Kong. At its peak, the company was the largest corporation in the world and had its own armed forces in the form of the company's three presidency armies, totalling about 260,000 soldiers, twice the size of the British army at the time. It also had its own merchant fleet as well as a company navy to protect them.[4]

The East India Company initially established itself in India by obtaining permission from local authorities to own land, fortify its holdings, and conduct trade duty-free in mutually beneficial relationships. The company’s territorial paramountcy began after it became involved in hostilities, sidelining rival European companies and eventually overthrowing the Nawab of Bengal and installing a puppet in 1757. The company’s control over Bengal was effectively consolidated in the 1770s when Warren Hastings moved the Nawab’s administrative offices to Calcutta under his oversight. About the same time, the British Parliament began regulating the East India Company through successive India Acts, bringing Bengal under the indirect control of the British government. Over the next eight decades, a series of wars, treaties, and annexations extended the dominion of the Company across the subcontinent, subjugating most of India to the determination of their British governors and merchants. However, after the 1857 Sepoy rebellion and the accompanying atrocities against Europeans[5][6] the British Government decided that the EIC was simply unable to carry on with its governing task in India. In 1858 the British Government assumed control of India in the name of the Crown. After consolidating their position in India, The British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his cabinet offered Queen Victoria the title "Empress of India". Victoria accepted the Imperial style on 1 May 1876. India became officially known as the British Indian Empire.

However, taking control had not been an overnight task and the HEIC was not officially dissolved until 1 June 1874.

Area & infrastructure

The total area of the Indian Empire was 1,575,187 square miles and its population, taken from the 1931 census, was 338,178,632. Males exceeded females by over 10 millions. Between the 1921 and 1931 censuses the population had grown by nearly 32.5 millions or 10.6 percent. It was said that "British rule may at least claim the credit of having mastered the terrible famines and epidemics of earlier times."[7][8]

The British constructed in India the world's largest railway network of some 43,000 miles, as well as all its ports, harbours and their infrastructures; the roads, fresh water, electricity (including hydro-electric), sewage, drainage, and all manner of other things necessary for a modern State to function.


The Indian Empire was made up of 16 major provinces and minor areas subject to direct British rule from Calcutta (from 1911, Delhi) under a Viceroy and Indian Government, plus those States governed by Princes (Maharahas, Nawabs, Nizams, Rajas, etc.) but nevertheless subject to overall British sovereignty[9].

Following World War I, Britain no longer appeared to be the great invincible power the natives had believed it was, and nationalist unrest, across religions, began with large periodic demonstrations against British rule, some of them violent, which necessitated armed government troops' intervention and the inevitable deaths. The British Conservative Party was reluctant to even consider independence but the state of British politics after 1919 meant thin parliamentary majorities and sometimes none at all. Inevitably this led to coalition governments which were called the National Government, with the leader of the largest parliamentary party as the Prime Minister. This government produced the Government of India Act, 1935 in a Parliament White Paper (in fact a book of 164 pages) which, had it been placed before parliament for a vote, would have granted the Indian Empire Dominion Status under a Viceroy or Governor-General with a full Legislature, making it semi-independent and as autonomous as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa then were. Despite Committees considering the "White Paper", parliamentary time for its full consideration by both Houses was not forthcoming, doubtless due to internal conservative opposition. The matter was therefore shelved, and four years later the UK started World War II by its declaration of war on Germany.

In 1945, the socialist Labour Party gained an overwhelming victory in the British General Election. and Clement Attlee, the new Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced on 20 February 1947 that the British Government would grant full self-government to British India by 30 June 1948 at the latest, and that the future of the Princely States would be decided [by the Indian Government] after the date of final transfer of power was decided.


  • Grant, James, History of India, 2 vols., 1152 pages, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, n/d but circa 1880.
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey, India Britannica, Book Club Associates, London, 1983.
  • Keay, John, The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company, Harper-Collins, London, 1991, ISBN: 0-00-217515-0
  • James, Lawrence, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India, Little, Brown & Co., London, 1997, ISBN: 0-316-64072-7


  1. (1882) 1882 – The Good Old Days of Honourable John Company. Simla: Argus Press. 
  2. Company Bahadur.
  3. "Not many days ago the House of Commons passed....". Times (London): p. 9. 8 April 1873. 
  4. Roos, Dave (2020-10-23). How the East India Company Became the World's Most Powerful Monopoly. History. Retrieved on 2022-04-29.
  5. Wilson, T.F., The Defence of Lucknow: Memoir of the Indian Mutiny, 1857, originally published in 1858, reprinted by Greenhill Books, London, 2007, ISBN: 978-1-85367-723-6
  6. Fitchett, W.H., B.A., LL.D., The Tale of the Great Mutiny, London, 1911.
  7. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1938 Year Book, London, pps:326-330.
  8. Voelcker, PhD., B.A., B.Sc., F.I.C., John Augustus, The Improvement of Indian Agriculture, 2nd edition, Government of India, Calcutta, 1897.
  9. Forbes, Rosita, India of the Princes, The Right Book Club, London, 1939