Ellenborough, Earl of

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ELLENBOROUGH, EARL OF (1790–1871), governor-general of India (1842–1844). Edward Law, the earl of Ellenborough, served on the Board of Control of Indian Affairs (1828–1830, 1834–1835, 1841) where he advocated the transfer of the government of India to the Crown and took an interest in Central Asian affairs. He advocated a cautious Indian policy except where Britain's long-term imperial interests were directly threatened. His term as governor-general would, however, be no more quiescent than that of his predecessor, Lord Auckland.

Ellenborough hoped to repair some of the damage done by the loss of the "Army of Indus" in the First Afghan War. At his direction, British Indian forces returned to Kabul, sacked the city, then departed, allowing the return to power of Dost Mohammad, the Afghan amir that the war had been ostensibly fought to unseat. Ellenborough greeted the returning "victorious" troops with sumptuous celebrations and parades designed to revive flagging British prestige.

Ellenborough then completed the other major order of business left unfinished by Auckland: the seizure of Sind. Ellenborough dismissed local warnings that the amirs' sovereignty was protected by iron-clad treaties and that they were amendable to British interests. Unfortunately for the amirs, their domains stood between British territory and the southern strategic gateway to India, the Bolan Pass. They also straddled the River Indus. British leaders had long sought to control the northwestern approaches to India and, declaring that the rivalry "of European manufacturers is fast excluding our productions from the markets of Europe," had identified the Indus one of the most likely "new vents for the produce of our industry" (prime minister Lord Palmerston, quoted in Webster, pp. 750–751). Ellenborough shared these strategic and commercial views. He also knew that the seizure of Sind would secure British control over the Parsi-dominated Malwa opium trade, thus stabilizing the price of Bengal opium and adding to India's revenues. Accordingly, Ellenborough gave Sir Charles Napier, an able and ambitious general, leeway to provoke the amirs into rebellion, thereby justifying the annexation of the region, which was brutally accomplished in 1843.

Ellenborough then aggressively dealt with a crisis in the domains of the late Maratha leader Daulat Rao Scindhia of Gwalior, which were then roiled by an internal succession dispute that held the potential of creating a linkage between Scindhia's disaffected forty-thousand-man army and the Sikhs, who could together threaten nearby Agra and key lines of British communications in the north. Having already ignored and violated a series of treaties with the amirs of Sind, Ellenborough now punctiliously evoked long-dead provisions of an 1804 treaty with Scindhia to justify intervening in the succession dispute. Scindhia's forces were crushed, and a young Maratha puppet was placed on the state's throne under a council of regency supervised by a British Resident.

Ellenborough then contemplated moving against the Sikhs, but the Court of Directors, alarmed by the cost of Ellenborough's militarism, exercised their constitutional right of recall, summoning him home in 1844. The British government was more generous, granting him an earldom for his work in ending the Afghan conflict. He was later reappointed as president of the Board of Control. He continued to take an active interest in Indian affairs until he was forced to resign from that post in 1858 for impulsively allowing the publication of a private letter critical of Lord Charles Canning's settlement of the War of 1857.

Marc Jason Gilbert

See alsoAnglo-Afghan Wars: War One (1838–1842) ; Auckland, Lord ; British East India Company Raj


Huttenback, Robert A. British Relations with Sind, 17991834: An Anatomy of Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.

Imlah, Albert Henry. Lord Ellenborough: A Biography of Edward Law, Governor General of India. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939.

Webster, Charles. The Foreign Policy of Palmerston, 1830–1831. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1951.

Wong, J. Y. "British Annexation of Sind in 1843: An Economic Perspective." Modern Asian Studies 31 (1997), part 2: 225–244.