The British Empire

The Impact of the the Indian Rebellion

Racial attitudes hardened

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 (click here) for details elsewhere on this site of the main causes and events) had a huge impact on the way India was henceforth governed by Britain and on the way the Indian people, and indeed native peoples generally were perceived. Racial attitudes hardened towards Indians with Hindus increasingly regarded as untrustworthy and cruel. There was criticism of the way India had been run by the East India Company and a softer approach to the government of India was adopted. Talk though of Indian independence which had been mooted by the likes of Elphinstone, Trevelyan and Macauley was barely hear for the rest of the century.

The end of the East India Company

In 1858 the India Act swept away the rule of the East India Company which was assumed by the government. Henceforth a Secretary of State for India who would sit in the Cabinet would be responsible for India with his representative, the Viceroy becoming the governments man on the spot. A council of 15 was set up to advice the Secretary with a Central Legislative Council set up to advise the Viceroy. The army in India was reconstructed to prevent a recurrence of what had happened in 1857. The proportion of native soldiers to European soldiers was reduced to 2:1 and no Indian troops were to handle artillery. There was to be an increased reliance on those troops who had remained loyal: Sikhs, Gurkhas and the tribes from the north west. The position of the Indian Princes was strengthened providing they were loyal and they would govern their territories in partnership with the British.

A curbing of missionary activity

Religious and social reform, responsible for much of the grievances, was to stop. Missionary activity was curbed and the religious teaching in schools was restricted with bible classes stopped and grants to the missionary societies halted. Agricultural, economic and transport improvements were to continue to aid trade between Britain and India as Britain became increasingly dependent on India.

More trade with India

From 1870, the growing power of the USA and European countries like France, Germany and Italy meant a reduction of exports from Britain to these countries. Britain no longer ruled the economic world and needed to create new markets. India was to become that market and one industry, textiles, was almost totally dependent on the Indian market. The opening up of the Suez Canal aided the increased dependence on India. In 1855 the value of exports to India was £23 million. This increased to £137 million by 1910 whilst the value of Britain's imports from India increased from £13.5 million to £86 million in the same period. Even the trade in tea was transformed with most tea now being imported from India rather than China.

More Europeans in India leading separate lives from Indians

The increased numbers of soldiers, administrators and merchants meant that there were many more European in India in the period after the Rebellion. Numbers had been increasing before 1857 but accelerated afterwards with communications to India improving. One increase was in the number of women who were now travelling to India who went to join husbands or to search for them. Divisions between the races increased as European lived in their own separated areas with communication limited to those who worked for the Europeans, usually the servants who looked after the children of Europeans and the bungalows they rented.

A legacy of betrayal

Europeans who lived in the areas affected by rebellion in 1857 felt betrayed. Former servants and once loyal sepoys turned on them and in places like Delhi and Cawnpore murdered men, women and children. Stories of rape and torture of women abounded (mostly untrue) which led to a sense of defilement which had to be avenged and the retribution taken by British soldiers was severe with arbitrary executions, rebels shot from canons and groups of rebels hunted down. Such a breakdown in trust would never quite be repaired and Indians were looked on with suspicion.  Those Indians who acquired an education and worked for the Raj were looked down on in a society not just divided by caste but also by class. Lord Canning, the first post mutiny Viceroy wrote about the atmosphere in India, 'You can have little idea how India has altered...We have changed from an aggressive  and advancing power to a stationary one...the sympathy which Englishmen..felt for the natives has changed to a general feeling of repugnance....'

But….India remained a source of pride

The very idea that India could be changed was now questioned by some but India remained a source of pride, particularly for those living there as part of the Raj. It continued to be regarded as justification for Britain's philanthropic enterprise and evidence that the mission to civilise was making progress. The reality was that India was making progress in those area that benefited Britain. The scale of poverty in India remained much the same as it was and continued to do so until independence in 1947. At the end of the c19th there were a number of famines in which millions died, unaffected by the British improvements in irrigation, and the increased provision of roads and railways.

The Suez Canal opened in 1869

The British community at Cawnpore was being evacuated under an agreement with Nana Sahib when they were fired on and the 125 women and children  taken prisoner were executed.

British society after the Rebellion of 1857 kept its distance and set up a separate and segregated society of its own.

Lord Canning

Victoria became Empress of India in 1876

Britain improved the transport infrastructure in India but to serve her own trading interests.