Chelmsford, Lord

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CHELMSFORD, LORD (1868–1933), British politician, viceroy of India (1916–1921). Viscount Chelmsford, Frederic John Napier Thesiger, was viceroy of India from 1916 through 1921. Born in London, the eldest of five sons of the second Lord Chelmsford, he was educated at Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford, and was called to the Bar from London's Inner Temple in 1893. A fellow of All Souls College, elected to London's County Council in 1904, Chelmsford was a brilliant student of jurisprudence who served with distinction as governor of Queensland from 1905 to 1909, and of New South Wales from 1909 to 1913.

He returned to England before World War I and joined his 4 th Dorset Territorial Regiment, in which he was a captain, sailing with it to India, where in the spring of 1916 he took over as viceroy from Lord Hardinge, who had been wounded by a bomb thrown earlier into his howdah in Delhi. Chelmsford's name has been historically linked to that of his brilliant Liberal secretary of state, Edwin Montagu, who took Joseph Chamberlain's job at Whitehall in July 1917, promising Indian reforms in his first important speech to Parliament, to which he and Chelmsford agreed in 1918. Those Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, embodied in the Government of India Act of 1919, expanded the Imperial Legislative Council in India, making it more representative, transferring several departments of India's central government to elected Indian members, rather than appointing British officials to run them. Provincial councils of British India would all thereafter have elective majorities, moreover, and elected Indian members were to run their various departments. The separate Muslim electorate formula, however, introduced with the Morley-Minto Reforms (the India Councils Act of 1909), were not only retained, but expanded. Yet British fears of increasingly vocal and violent Indian nationalism led to the extension of the wartime martial law suspension of civil liberties during this postwar period, provoking the boycott of elections by Mahatma Gandhi and his Congress Party followers, thus reducing the value of those "reforms" intended to bring India close to independent Dominion status, leaving it more autocratically ruled and disaffected than ever. Before elections could even be held under the new Government of India Act, Brigadier Dyer's massacre of unarmed peaceful Indians trapped inside Amritsar's Jallianwala Bagh in April 1919 radically changed the nature of Anglo-Indian relations, revolutionizing millions of Congress members and converting thousands of hitherto loyal Anglophile Indian professionals into ardent nationalists demanding swaraj (freedom).

Despite his fine legal training, Lord Chelmsford's martial mentality prevented him from promptly and firmly rebuking Dyer for his brutal action in launching such deadly fire at close range against so many innocents, murdering over 400, wounding some 1,200, leaving them all without medical attention as he marched his troops away from that dreadful Punjab garden, over which India's sun of trust and respect for the British Raj swiftly set. Viscount Chelmsford returned to chair a committee of London's University College in 1921, briefly served as first Lord of the Admiralty in 1924, and died of heart failure on 1 April 1933.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoAmritsar ; Government of India Act: 1919 ; Hardinge, Lord ; Montagu, Edwin S.


Brown, Judith M. Gandhi's Rise to Power: Indian Politics, 1915–1922. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

Ellinwood, DeWitt C., and C. D. Pradhan, eds. India and World War I. New Delhi: Manohar, 1978.

Montagu, Edwin S. An Indian Diary, edited by Venetia Montagu. London: W. Heinemann, 1930.

Sisson, Richard, and Stanley Wolpert, eds. Congress and Indian Nationalism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.