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1st Marquess of Dalhousie

1st Marquess of Dalhousie

The British statesman James Andrew Broun Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie (1812-1860), served as governor general of India from 1848 to 1856. He is noted for his vigorous, often ruthless, expansion and westernization of British India.

James Ramsay, the third and youngest son of the 9th Earl of Dalhousie, was born in the ancestral Dalhousie castle in Midlothian, Scotland, on April 22, 1812. He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford, in 1833 and married in 1836. He was elected to Parliament in 1837. As his brothers had both died, he succeeded to the title upon his father's death in 1838 and entered the House of Lords. Dalhousie served as vice president of the Board of Trade in 1843 and as president in 1845 and early 1846. The following year he accepted the governor generalship of India.

Within 3 months of Dalhousie's assuming office in January 1848, the Punjab was aflame with renewed fighting between the British and the Sikhs. This hard-fought second Sikh war did not end until February 1849, when a British victory in Gujarat forced surrender upon the Sikhs. Dalhousie annexed the Punjab and helped make it the example of reformed imperial administration.

Although military conquest also served as a preliminary to the annexation of lower Burma in 1852, most of Dalhousle's extensions of British-controlled territory resulted from his strict application of the doctrine of lapse. Hindu princes under British influence needed British permission to adopt a male heir, and failure to obtain such permission meant forfeiture of the government, though not the private estate, of the ruler. Applying this policy, Dalhousie annexed Satara, Jaitpur, and Sambalpur in 1849, adding Jhansi and the major Maratha state of Nagpur in 1853.

While adding nearly 250,000 square miles to his government, Dalhousie also made important contributions to the integration and economic development of British India. In 1854 he freed himself and his successors from the minutiae of local government in Bengal by creating the post of lieutenant governor there. He gave real impetus to railway and canal construction, initiated telegraph services, and overhauled the postal services to provide a uniform and inexpensive rate of postage within India.

Though in failing health, Dalhousie supervised the annexation of Oudh in February 1856. The following month he returned home to receive the thanks of Queen Victoria and a generous pension from the East India Company. The outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 brought bitter attacks upon him, but he was not well enough to reply to his critics. He died in Dalhousie castle on Dec. 19, 1860.

Further Reading

J. G. A. Baird edited Private Letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie (1910). The standard biography is Sir William Lee-Warner, The Life of the Marquis of Dalhousie (2 vols., 1904). Manindra N. Das, Studies in the Economic and Social Development of Modern India: 1848-56 (1959), is a thorough and favorable investigation of Dalhousie's policies. Aspects of Dalhousie's contribution are also assessed in R. J. Moore, Sir Charles Wood's Indian Policy, 1853-1866 (1966). □

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