Lansdowne, Lord

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LANSDOWNE, LORD (1845–1927), fifth marquis of Lansdowne, viceroy of India (1888–1894) Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, the fifth marquis of Lansdowne, was born into a powerful Anglo-Irish family closely associated with progressive Indian policy. His predecessors had sponsored Sanskrit and English education on the subcontinent. The "father of modern India," Ram Mohan Roy, was once a guest in the home in which Lansdowne was born. Charles "Clemency" Canning (viceroy, 1858–1862) was a close family friend. As a result, Lansdowne came to view his service as undersecretary for India (1880) and his assumption of Canning's former office as a family obligation.

Upon his arrival on the subcontinent, Lansdowne found that his predecessor Lord Dufferin had left him with an empty treasury, a constrained scheme for political reform, and a more active policy on India's northwestern frontier that had alienated the amir of Afghanistan and had unsettled relations with the peoples of that borderland. He soon encountered several new problems, including a bloody revolt in Manipur (1890–1891), an attempt by Parliament to slow the growth of indigenous Indian industry (1891) and a series of political debacles that he largely attributed to the Indian Civil Service's "lack of sympathy for those they ruled."

Believing that the rise of Indian nationalism was an inevitable by-product of British administration, Lansdowne legitimized the work of the Indian National Congress in an official circular (1890). His relations with Congress leaders were not always smooth, but Lansdowne never strayed far from his faith in India's political advancement. He overcame harsh Indian Civil Service opposition to his own expanded and more liberal version of Dufferin's Provincial Councils plan, which was passed into law as the Indian Councils Act of 1892. This act, a pale reflection of the more democratic legislation Lansdowne would have preferred, was cropped by the home government, and the viceroy had to settle for an indirect, rather than explicit mention of the right of Indians to elect their representatives. The act nonetheless became the foundation for India's further political development. As leader of the House of Lords in 1909, Lansdowne silenced opposition to the expansion of the 1892 legislation (the Morley-Minto Reforms) by George Curzon and other Tory officials. He also secured their acceptance of the appointment of an Indian to both the Council of India and the viceroy's Supreme Council.

Lansdowne was less fortunate in sustaining what was then thought to have been his greatest triumph in India: the making of the Durand Line (1893–1894). This demarcation of the Indo-Afghan border divided several indigenous communities between British India and Afghanistan, but was designed to both amicably settle a host of disputes with Afghan amir Abdor Rahman and provide a new footing for the defense of British India's northwestern borderlands. Immediately upon his return to England, Lansdowne urged home officials to create a North-West Frontier province that would be managed so as to secure the amir's good will and also win the support of the Pathans along the frontier by offering the latter the benefits of closer relations with the British, without threatening the political autonomy they cherished. Lansdowne was convinced that unless this change was made immediately, the frontier would soon erupt with catastrophic results. His concerns and advice were ignored, however, and the British military debacles in Chitral and the Tirah followed shortly thereafter.

Lansdowne deeply regretted the cost to India of these "little wars" for empire. This may explain his interest in India during his later service as secretary of war (1895–1900) and foreign secretary (1900–1906). While at the War Office, he testified before the Welby Commission in support of Gopal Krishna Gokhale's contention that India had long been wrongly charged for military expenditures made in defense of imperial, rather than Indian, interests.

Marc Jason Gilbert

See alsoBritish Crown Raj


Gilbert, Marc Jason. "Lord Lansdowne in India." Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 1978.

——. "Lord Lansdowne and the Indian Factory Act of 1891: A Study in Indian Economic Nationalism and Pro-consular Power." Journal of Developing Areas 16, no. 3: 357–372.

——. "The Manipur Disaster of 1891." In Research on Bengal, edited by Ray Langsten. East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1983.

Newton, Lord. Lord Lansdowne. London: John Murray, 1929.

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