- India Act
- (1858)An act of the British parliament abolishing the East India Company, which had conquered a large Indian empire, and replaced its rule with that of a viceroy directly responsible to the British government. The East India Company, originally formed in 1600, had acquired, often through force of circumstance rather than policy, a large territorial empire, an empire that had the not unintended effect of enriching many of its owners and employees. Indian government became controversial in the eighteenth century more because of the feared influence of its wealth upon Parliament than because of concerns about the government of India itself. William Pitt ’s India Bills of 1784 and 1793 established a board of control, whose name made it clear that the object was to control the company rather than to govern India. Throughout the early nineteenth century, successive India bills renewed the company’s charter on a 20-year basis, the final one being in 1853. Each bill reduced the company’s powers and patronage under the vague idea that it ought eventually to be abolished entirely and under the influence of those like Thomas Babington Macaulay who held to the then relatively novel doctrine that English government in India could be justified only if it served the good of India. The systematizing and progressive Victorian mind felt it increasingly anomalous that a commercial organization should simultaneously exercise sovereign powers.The Indian sepoy mutiny of 1857–1858, perceived to have been the result of company misgovernment, crystallized support for this view. An India bill introduced by Lord Palmerston commanded such bipartisan support that when his government fell on an unrelated matter, it was reintroduced in much the same form by Benjamin Disraeli, acting for the new administration of Lord Derby. The Government of India Act established the post of secretary of state for India, who sat in the cabinet, advised by an Indian council, and communicated with a viceroy at Calcutta. It brought the company’s armies under crown control and paid off its owners and creditors. Lord Stanley, later the fifteenth Earl of Derby, became the first Indian secretary of state, and Lord Canning the first viceroy.See also <
>.FURTHER READING:Dodwell, H. H., ed. The Cambridge History of the British Empire, Vol. 5, India, 1858–1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932;Metcalf, T. R. The Aftermath of Revolt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.