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. 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. Although the title-page bears the date 1856, internal evidence shows this material was written four years earlier. — George P. Landow]

The East India Company’s Policy of Independence and Conquest

In 1689, as Mr. [James] Mill observes, it was laid down as a determinate object of policy (by the ll) that independence was to be established in India, and dominion acquired. At that date they wrote to their agents: the increase of our revenue is the subject of our care as much as our trade. In 1700 the Company had obtained, from the subadar of Bengal, the grant of a small zemindary on the Hooghly, comprising the towns of Calcutta, Govindpore, and Chuttanuttee; but it was not until 1713 that Mr. Hamilton, an English surgeon, who had successfully operated on the emperor Ferokhehere treading in the steps of Mr. Broughton procured from the emperor the confirmation of the grant, and thus established in the possession of his countrymen the locality whence extended the dominion forming the third and principal of the three great presidencies into which, until our day, British India has remained divided.

War with the French and the Battle of Plassy (1757)

The French had already become possessed of settlements on the Coromandel coast, and territory in the Carnatic, and on the breaking out of the war between them and the English in 1745, India was made a theatre for their hostilities. In these, several native powers soon became involved; but, after various success on the part of the belligerents, the French, by 1763, were completely worsted by the superior resources and strength of their antagonists. From the period of the war declared against the French in 1756, the ascendency of the English in India proceeded with rapid strides.

India in 1795. This map comes from Joppen’s Historical Atlas of India (1914). Click on image to enlarge it.

The battle of Plassey in 1757, in which a few forces under Clive routed a Mogul army of 18,000 cavalry and 50,000 infantry, opened Bengal to the British; the district of the twenty-four pergunnahs was acquired in the same year, and Burdwan, Midnapoor, and Chittagong in 1760. In 1765 the collection of the revenues of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa was yielded by the emperor to the company; the north Circars were acquired in the following year, and the zemindary of Benares in 1775.

In the last-named year a war broke out between the British and Hyder Ali, who had seated himself on the throne of Mysore; and it was continued by his successor Tippoo, with short intervals, down to the death of the latter, and the capture of Seringapatam in 1799; since that period nearly all the territory comprising the sovereignty of Tippoo, except the table land of Mysore, has passed under the direct rule of the East India Company, and been annexed to the presidency of Madras. The events which determined the progress of British ascendency in India were now transferred from the east and south to the central and west. parts of the same region.


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.

Joppen, Charles. Historical Atlas of India. London: Longsmans, Green, 1914. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 1 October 2014.

Last modified 6 December 2018