In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on British India — modern South Asia — I have expanded the divided the long entry into separate documents, expanded abbreviations for easier reading, and added paragraphing and links to material in the Victorian Web. The charts are in the original. This discussion of British India has particular importance because it immediately precedes the 1857 Mutiny and the subsequent major shift in its status as it came under the direct control of the British government rather than that of the East India Company, a private company.— George P. Landow]

Food Grains

The vegetable products of this wide empire have been already enumerated under the article on Hindoostan. Amongst the cereals cultivated during the wet season are millets, jowaree (Holcus sorghum), bajree Holcus spicatus), and other kinds of holcus; maize, which is not popularly used as a bread-corn, but cooked and eaten as a green vegetable; and rice, in localities favourable for its culture. The grains cultivated during the dry season, from October to June, are bearded wheats, barley of several kinds, and various pulses.

Male miller with two oxen, seated man in the background. 1780-1858. Watercolor gouache on mica, 105 x 151 mm. New York Public Library Digital Collections NYPL catalog ID: b13976376. Click on image to enlarge it.

Contrary to generally-received notions in this country, neither rice nor wheat form the chief nutriment of the natives of India; the former is raised only on alluvial soils, and is often twice as dear as wheat, which succeeds it, as a grain for exportation, in the upper part of the valley of the Ganges, and on the table-lands; the bulk of the food of from 70 to 80 millions of the population, consists of grains the names of which are scarcely known in Europe, rice is principally produced in the vast plains of Bengal, on those of Tanjore, south Arcot, &c., in the Madras presidency, in the Concan and lower parts of the territories of Bombay, and commonly around the banks of rivers, near their mouths, where the climate is hottest, and the annual inundation most extensive. In the delta of the Ganges, rice yields two crops annually, in August and December. In the year 1841-42, the total export of rice and other grain was valued at £648,804, of which the export to the United Kingdom amounted in value to £129,688. In 1849, the imports into Great Britain of rice from India amounted to 875,510 cwts.


By far the greater proportion of the indigo consumed in Europe is produced in India. It is raised extensively from Dacca to Delhi; there are reported to be upwards of 470 indigo factories in the Bengal and Agra presidencies, which are conducted by English capitalists, and the value of the annual produce is calculated at from £2,000,000 to £3,000,000 sterling. Its culture extends over upwards of 1,000,000 acres in the Gangetic region; and, it is stated, that where it prevails the rural population are uniformly in the best circumstances. It is also raised extensively in Candeish, in the Bombay presidency, and in other parts of British India. In 1842, indigo to the value of £2,397,162 was exported from Bengal, the total export from India being valued at £2,730,560; and, in 1849, 75,982 hundredweights were imported into Great Britain and Ireland.


The trade in opium is a Government monopoly; the article is raised, in the British territories, only in Bahar and Benares, and under very strict limitations; but, in the Indore territories, and other parts of the province of Malwa, in Central India, it is also grown, and is purchased or sold on commission by the British Government, for exportation to China, the Indian Archipelago, and other parts of southeast Asia. In 1833, the ex port consisted of 9534 chests of Patna and Benares opium from Calcutta, and 11,715 chests of Malwa opium from the Bombay presidency; the whole valued at 3,151,486. In 1839-10, the revenue derived from the sale of opium had decreased to 784,267; but, in 1843-44, it had again risen to 2,551,017; and, in 1849, the sale of opium raised in the British territory realized to the Bengal Government the sum of 3,015,000, exclusive of the receipts from the sale of Malwa opium, and opium passes in Bombay, amounting to 898,093.


Cotton is a most important staple of Indian produce. All the plants yielding it thrive more or less in different portions of the territory, especially the Oossi/pium herbaceum, which is supposed to be indigenous in India. It is raised chiefly in peninsular India, especially in the uplands of the south and west., in which latter quarter are the principal ports of shipment. Baroach, Kattywar, and other districts in Gujerat, and Dar- war in the Bombay presidency, Coimbatoor in the Madras presidency, and the table-land of Mysore, are the portions of India most famous for their cotton crops.

Two women spinning white threads. 1780-1858. Watercolor gouache on mica, 97 x 149 mm. New York Public Library Digital Collections NYPL catalog I2: b13976376. Click on image to enlarge it.

The indigenous cotton succeeds only on what is called the black cotton soil, which is estimated to extend over about 200,000 sq. miles of country; but, in addition, there is a red cotton soil, formed of the debris of silicious rocks, extending over from 200,000 to 300,000 sq. miles, on which alone the cotton of America suc ceeds, and for the culture of which it is well adapted. The detritus at the river mouths in Bengal has been found, on analysis, apparently well suited for the growth of the sea- island cotton of the United States; but little cotton is raised in the Bengal presidency, its production being chiefly limited to the regions not producing the other great staples indigo, sugar, silk, and opiumiles The consumption of cotton in India has been very vaguely and variously estimated at from 375,000,000 to 3,000,000,000 pounds per annumiles It is cer tainly used to an enormous extent, nearly every article of clothing, or woven or padded furniture, for which wool, linen, &c., are employed in other countries, being in India made of that material. The Indian cotton is naturally of good quality; it takes dyes well and readily, and its fibre swells in bleach ing; but, being raised generally by cultivators with little capital, and being badly cleaned, and liable to dirt and injury from defective modes of conveyance, it can seldom compete in price with other cottons brought to the British markets. In 184041, however, some experimental farms, under the superintendence of American planters, were established in the chief cotton districts; the cleaning of cotton by American machinery was also introduced, and some cotton, equal to any from America, has been imported at Liverpool. In 1841, 280,000 bales of cotton were exported from India. In 1845- 46, of the total exports, amounting to 143,252,960 pounds, valued at 1,531,734, and chiefly sent to China and the United King dom, 128,820,270 pounds were shipped from Bombay. In 1849, the import of cotton-wool from British India into Great Britain amounted to 70,838,515 pounds, being considerably more than double the quantity received from Brazil, and somewhat more than one-tenth of the entire quantity imported and retained for consumption in the United Kingdomiles In 1850, the total import amounted to 118,665,380 pounds; of which 112,408,140 pounds were from the Bombay, 5,571,450 pounds from the Madras, and 85,790 pounds from the Bengal presidency. (Parl. Report, May, 1851, &c.)


For a long period, the east India sugar was greatly inferior to the sugar of the West Indies, and a heavy obstacle to its introduction into the British markets existed in the shape of discriminating duties, unfavourable to the east Indian produce. But, since these have been removed, the export of sugar from India has rapidly extended, and the manufacture of the article has of late years improved so much, as to make it bear a very favourable contrast for purity, as well as sac charine quality, with the sugar from other quarters. In 1833, the whole import of sugar from India into the United King dom amounted to only 111,731 cwts., but it thenceforward steadily increased, and, in 1848, amounted to 1,360,417 cwts., or somewhat more than half as much as that received from the west. Indies. In the same year, the imports into Great Britain and Ireland from India comprised 19,853 cwts. of molasses, and 908,876 gallons of rumiles In 1849, the import into the United Kingdom of sugar, from British India and the contiguous islands, amounted to 1,538,000 cwts. In 1850, of 1,375,315 pounds similarly imported, 1,146,460 pounds were from the Bengal presidency. The coffee imported in the same year from British India amounted to 3,845,357 pounds, of which 3,333,000 pounds were from the presidency of Bombay.


Pepper is an important product of the Malabar coast, and the import into the United Kingdom from British India, in 1849, amounted to 3,913,611 pounds. Silk is produced chiefly in Bengal and in Assam; the silk of which latter province is of the first quality, and is yielded by several different worms. The mulberry thrives so freely in India that its culture might be extended greatly beyond its present amount; the import of its raw silk from India into Great Britain, in 1849, is set down at 1,804,327 pounds, or nearly as much as that sent by China; in addition to which, upwards of 500,000 pieces of India silk manufactures were in the same year received in the United Kingdom.

India is not a country eminently adapted for sheep-farming, and the wool of the native breeds is coarse and dark-coloured. The better sheep are met with on the uplands of Mysore, Coimbatoor, and the Deccan, also at Jeypoor, in Kajpootana; and, of late years, attention has been paid to their improve ment, by crossing the breeds, and with so much success, that the export of wool to Great Britain had increased from 37] pounds in 1833, to 3,975,866 pounds in 1845; and, in 1849, it amounted to 4,182,853 pounds.


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive. Inline version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2018.

Last modified 5 December 2018