2nd August 1858: Parliament Passes a Bill to Take Over the Administration of India from the East India Company by the British Crown


On 2nd August 1858 the Parliament passed a bill to take over the administration of India from the East Indian Company by the British Crown. The title of Viceroy was introduced for the supreme representation of the British Government in India.


The provision of this bill called for the dissolution of the British East India Company that was ruling India under the patronage of the Parliament and transfer of that power to the British Crown. The then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Lord Palmerston, introduced this bill, which would transfer power from the East India Company to the Crown, citing shortcomings in their administration of India.


This bill was passed in 1858, the year following the first war of Independence in India (or what the British referred to as the Indian Rebellion) to calm down the after effects of the uprising.


Right till the nineteenth century nothing threatened the rule of the British in the Indian sub-continent, until the first Indian war of Independence in 1857. The British East India Company which was essentially a British Joint Stock Company established to engage in trade with the Indian sub-continent and the North-West Frontier Provinces and Balochistan, was completely unprepared for this sudden and violent uprising, which caused large scale devastation in India. The East India Company was condemned by the British Government for their lack of control and allowing this event to take place. To further avoid such a disaster, The East India Company had to surrender all their power to the British Crown. Eventually, the East India Company was nationalized and lost all its administrative powers to the Crown, which ushered in a new age of the British Raj.


The uprising of 1857 was absolutely unexpected and shook the foundation of British rule in India. British newspapers carried gruesome reports of the ghastly atrocities of the Indians upon the British, drastically changing the impression the British had of Indians. Native Indians, who were earlier thought of being simple minded people, now appeared as bloodthirsty and capable of killing the British who ruled them. This worried the British immensely, though they were still not willing to give up India that easily. Reason being that India was an important colony for the British Empire, being a source of notable wealth. Also, unlike other British dependents, India did not require any subsidies from London, because of the land taxes.


Following the uprising of 1857, the British Government realized that their rule in India wasn’t flawless, something which needed immediate rectification. Realising how vulnerable they were in India at that point, the British began working on some major reforms. This began with the reorganizing of the army. It was recommended that the number of European troops necessary for the security of the British Empire in India would be 80,000. It was also decided that the number of native troops would be reduced. Apart from this it was also decided that the sepoy troops would be recruited from different parts of the country, especially areas which were neutral to the British and spoke different languages, to prevent sepoy unity, leading to another uprising. The power of the commanding officer in the military to punish was also increased.


Apart from military reforms, the British took other steps for their security in India. This was seen in the passing of the Indian Police Act, which called for uniform police service across the Indian sub- continent. The act also required that each Indian district should have a British Superintendent, who would be assisted by a Deputy Superintendent and an inspector (who could be a native).


Another critical step taken by the British to ensure their safety in India was the passing of an Act in 1859 to disarm the local population. This act gave the local magistrate the power to enter homes and search for arms and if there was a suspicion that arms were hidden in a village, a person’s personal possessions were confiscated until the arms were handed over. Those found in the possession of arms without a license would be fined Rs. 500 and could additionally also be sentenced to seven years on prison or corporal punishment.


Since the uprising of 1857 came as a shock to the British, they took to maintaining a safe distance from Indians. The British began by moving out into new suburbs constructed on the outskirts of towns and cities which were all white neighbourhoods, with minimal contact with the natives, whom they had begun to view with suspicion.


Another target of British mistrust was the Muslim community, whom the British believed were the ones solely responsible for the 1857 uprising. The British had come to believe that the Muslim community was the only community which would have benefited from the 1857 uprising. Elsewhere in India political changes were occurring. The last of the Mughal Empire was wrapped up by the British who captured Delhi and arrested the last Mughal Bahadur Shah II and his two sons. The Emperor’s sons were found guilty of murder and were executed and the aged Bahadur Shah was sent to exile in Burma, where he later died in 1862.


A little after the British were declared victors, the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act on 2nd August 1858 transferring power from the British East India Company to the British Crown. The image of the East India Company was so terribly blemished because of the events of 1857 that they lost the right to rule the Indian sub-continent forever.


It is interesting to note that the uprising of 1857 was not the only reason why the East India Company lost their power. Prior to 1857 there was simmering fury in Britain against the misrule of the Company which upset the British Government greatly. The British Government was looking for ways through which they could take away India from the hands of what they called a “trading company”. An opportunity presented itself in the form of the uprising of 1857 which allowed authorities in London to take appropriate action against the East India Company.


After the rule of the Company in India came to an end, the British Government set up a new system of rule in India. A position of “Secretary of State for India” was created which was responsible for managing Indian affairs from London. Also, the Governor-General of India in Kolkata (then Calcutta) was given the new title of Viceroy of India, who would be the personal representative of the Monarch. The position of the Viceroy was so critical that by the end of the 19th Century it was held by some of the most prominent leaders in Britain; a reflection of how important India was to London.


Also on This Day:


1763: After the capture of Murshidabad, the British troops fought with Mir Kasim at Giria. Mir Kasim was defeated again.


1970: India’s first woman career diplomat, Muthamma Chohivia Beliappa was appointed the Ambassador to Hungary.


1999: The Brahmaputra Mail collided head-on with Awadh-Assam Express at full speed at Ghaisal while running on the same line in the opposite direction.


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