Colonial India: Wikis


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Colonial India
Portuguese India 1510–1961
Dutch India 1605–1825
Danish India 1696–1869
French India 1759–1954
British India 1612–1948
East India Company 1612–1757
Company rule in India 1757–1857
British Raj 1858–1947
British rule in Burma 1826–1948
Princely states 1765–1947
Partition of India 1947

Colonial India refers to areas of the Indian Subcontinent under the rule of European colonial powers.

The Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was the first European to arrive in India. Having arrived in Calicut he obtained from Samutiri Manavikraman Rajah permission to trade in the city.

Rivalry between European powers saw the entry of the Dutch, British, and French among others from the beginning of the 17th century. Following the decline of the Mughal Empire in the early 18th century, the fractured, debilitated kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent were gradually taken over by Europeans or indirectly controlled by puppet rulers. By the 19th century, the British had assumed direct and indirect control over most of India.



European settlements in India (1501-1739).

The Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was the first European to arrive in India. Having arrived in Calicut he obtained from Samutiri Manavikraman Rajah permission to trade in the city.

Pedro Álvares Cabral was commissioned in 1500 by king Manuel I of Portugal as ambassador to India and on the way to India he discovered Brazil.

The colonial era in India began in 1502, when the Portuguese established the first European trading centre at Kollam, Kerala. In 1505 the king of Portugal appoints Dom Francisco de Almeida as the first vice-Roy of India followed in 1509 by Dom Afonso de Albuquerque. In 1510 Afonso de Albuquerque established an important trading presence in Goa, by conquering the city, unitil then dominated by Muslims. Albuquerque inaugurated the policy of marrying Portuguese soldiers and sailors with local Indian girls, which had as consequence a great miscegenation in Goa and other Portuguese territories in Asia, reason why still nowadays Portuguese family names such as Silva, Sousa, Pereira, Noronha, etc. are so common in India.

Another feature of the Portuguese presence in India was the will to evangelize and promote Catholicism. In this the Jesuits played a fundamental role. Still nowadays the Jesuit Missionary Saint Francis Xavier is deeply revered among the Catholics of India.

In 1498 the Portuguese set foot in India, landing near the city of Calicut in the present-day state of Kerala in South India. The pursuit of trade and competition between European powers saw the entry of the British and French, among others, into India. After the decline of the Mughal Empire in the early 18th century, several fractured Indian kingdoms were eventually taken over by Europeans, who indirectly assumed control by subjugating rulers.

In 1661 Portugal was at war against Spain and needed support from England which led to the signing of the agreement of marriage between Princess Catherine of Portugal and Charles II of England with a most generous dowry that included the city of Bombay. This was the beginning of the British in India.

In 1757, Mir Jafar, the commander in chief of the army of the Nawab of Bengal, along with Jagat Seth, Maharaja Krishna Nath, Umi Chand and some others, secretly connived with the British, asking logistic support to overthrow the Nawab in return for trade grants. The British forces, whose sole duty until then was guarding their British East India Company property, were numerically inferior to the Bengali armed forces. At the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757, fought between the British under the command of Robert Clive and the Nawab, Mir Jafar's forces betrayed the Nawab and helped defeat him. Jafar was installed on the throne as a British subservient ruler.[1] The battle transformed British perspective as they realized their strength and potential to conquer smaller Indian kingdoms, and marked the beginning of the imperial or colonial era.

The British had direct or indirect control over all of present-day India by the early 19th century. In 1857, a local rebellion by an army of sepoys snowballed into the Rebellion of 1857. This resistance, although short-lived, was triggered by widespread resentment against certain discriminatory policies of the British. As a result of this, the British East India Company was abolished and India formally became a crown colony. The slow but momentous reform movement, perhaps influenced in India by contact with European ideas and institutions, developed gradually into the Indian Independence Movement. During the years of World War I, the hitherto bourgeois "home-rule" movement was transformed into a popular mass movement by Mahatma Gandhi, a pacifist. Apart from Gandhi, other revolutionaries such as Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekar Azad and Subhash Chandra Bose, were not against use of violence to oppose the British rule. The independence movement attained its objective with the independence of Pakistan and India on 14 August and 15 August 1947 respectively.


Evolution of Portuguese possessions in India

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in India in 1498. The closing of traditional trade routes in western Asia by the Ottomans and rivalry with the Italian states, set Portugal in search of an alternate sea route to India. The first successful voyage to India was by Vasco da Gama in 1498, when he arrived in Calicut, now in Kerala. The Portuguese established a chain of outposts along India's west coast and on the island of Ceylon in the early 16th century. They built the St.Angelo Fort at Kannur to guard their possessions in North Malabar.[2] Goa was their prized possession and, the seat of Portugal's viceroy who governed Portugal's empire in Asia. Portugal's northern province included settlements at Daman, Diu, Chaul, Baçaim, Salsette, and Mumbai. Bombay (Mumbai) was given to the British crown in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. The rest of the northern province, with the exception of Daman and Diu, was lost to the Marathas in the early 18th century. Dadra and Nagar Haveli was acquired by the Portuguese in 1779. Dadra and Nagar Haveli was occupied by the Republic of India in 1954, and Goa, Daman, and Diu were annexed to India in 1961


Rivalry with the Netherlands in Asia

At the end of the 16th century, England and the Netherlands began to challenge Portugal's monopoly of trade with Asia, forming private joint-stock companies to finance the voyages—the English, later British, and Dutch East India Companies, chartered in 1600 and 1602 respectively. The primary aim of these companies was to tap into the lucrative spice trade, and they focused their efforts on the source, the Indonesian archipelago, and an important hub in the trade network, India. The close proximity of London and Amsterdam across the North Sea and intense rivalry between England and the Netherlands inevitably led to conflict between the two companies, with the Dutch gaining the upper hand in the Moluccas (previously a Portuguese stronghold) after the withdrawal of the English in 1622, and the English enjoying more success in India, at Surat, after the establishment of a factory in 1613.

Fort St. George was founded at Madras in 1639

Although England would ultimately eclipse the Netherlands as a colonial power, in the short term the Netherlands' more advanced financial system[3] and the three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century left it with a stronger position in Asia. Hostilities ceased after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the Dutch William of Orange ascended the English throne, bringing peace between the Netherlands and England. A deal between the two nations left the spice trade of the Indonesian archipelago to the Netherlands and the textiles industry of India to England, but textiles soon overtook spices in terms of profitability, and by 1720, in terms of sales, the English company had overtaken the Dutch.[3] The English East India Company shifted its focus from Surat—a hub of the spice trade network—to Fort St George (later to become Madras), Bombay (ceded by the Portuguese to Charles II of England in 1661 as dowry for Catherine de Braganza) and Sutanuti (which would merge with two other villages to form Calcutta).

East India Company in Asia

An 1876 political cartoon of Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) making Queen Victoria Empress of India. The caption was "New crowns for old ones!"

British policy in Asia during the 19th century was chiefly concerned with protecting and expanding India, viewed as its most important colony and the key to the rest of Asia.[4] The East India Company drove the expansion of the British Empire in Asia. The Company's army had first joined forces with the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War, and the two continued to cooperate in arenas outside India: the eviction of Napoleon from Egypt (1799), the capture of Java from the Netherlands (1811), the acquisition of Singapore (1819) and Malacca (1824) and the defeat of Burma (1826).[5 ]

From its base in India, the Company had also been engaged in an increasingly profitable opium export trade to China since the 1730s. This trade, illegal since it was outlawed by the Qing dynasty in 1729, helped reverse the trade imbalances resulting from the British imports of tea, which saw large outflows of silver from Britain to China. In 1839, the confiscation by the Chinese authorities at Canton of 20,000 chests of opium led Britain to attack China in the First Opium War, and the seizure by Britain of the island of Hong Kong, at that time a minor settlement.[6]

The end of the Company was precipitated by a mutiny of sepoys against their British commanders, due in part to the tensions caused by British attempts to Westernise India.[7] The Indian Rebellion took six months to suppress, with heavy loss of life on both sides. Afterwards the British government assumed direct control over India, ushering in the period known as the British Raj, where an appointed governor-general administered India and Queen Victoria was crowned the Empress of India. The East India Company was dissolved the following year, in 1858.[8]

India suffered a series of serious crop failures in the late-19th century, leading to widespread famines in which at least 10 million people died. The East India Company had failed to implement any coordinated policy to deal with the famines during its period of rule. This changed during the Raj, in which commissions were set up after each famine to investigate the causes and implement new policies, which took until the early 1900s to have an effect.[9]


The Dutch East India Company established trading posts on different parts along the Indian coast. For some while, they controlled the Malabar southwest coast (Cranganore/Cranganor/Kodungallor, Cochin de Cima/Pallipuram, Cochin, Cochin de Baixo/Santa Cruz, Quilon (Coylan), Cannanore, Kundapura, Kayankulam, Ponnani) and the Coromandel southeastern coast (Golkonda, Bimilipatnam, Jaggernaikpoeram/Kakinada, Palikol, Pulicat, Porto Novo/Parangippettai, Negapatnam) and Surat (1616-1795). They conquered Ceylon, nowadays Sri Lanka (1658 - 1796), from the Portuguese. The Dutch also established trading stations in Travancore and coastal Tamil Nadu as well as at Rajshahi in present-day Bangladesh, Pipely, Hugli-Chinsura, and Murshidabad in present-day West Bengal, Balasore (Baleshwar or Bellasoor) in Orissa, and Ava, Arakan, and Syriam in present-day Myanmar (Burma). Ceylon was lost at the Congress of Vienna in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, where the Dutch having fallen subject to France, saw their colonies raided by Britain. The Dutch later became less involved in India, as they had the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) as their prized possession.


Following the Portuguese, British, and Dutch, the French also established trading bases in India. Their first establishment is in Pondicherry on the Coromandel Coast in southeastern India, in 1674. Subsequent French settlements are Chandernagore in Bengal, northeastern India in 1688, Yanam in Andhra Pradesh in 1723, Mahe in 1725, and Karaikal in 1739. The French were constantly in conflict with the Dutch, and later on mainly with the British in India. At the height of French power in the mid-18th century, the French occupied most of southern India and the area lying in today's northern Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Between 1744 and 1761, the British and the French repeatedly attacked and conquered each others forts and towns, in southeastern India, and in Bengal in the northeast. After some initial French successes, the British decisively defeated the French in Bengal in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and in the southeast in 1761 in the Battle of Wandiwash, after which the British East India Company was the supreme military and political power in Southern India as well as in Bengal. In the following decades it gradually increased the size of the territories under its control. The enclaves of Pondicherry, Karaikal, Yanam, Mahé and Chandernagore were returned to France in 1816, and were integrated with the Republic of India after its independence in 1947.


Denmark was a minor colonial power to set foot in India. It established trading outposts in Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu (1620), Serampore, West Bengal (1755) and the Nicobar Islands (1750s). At one time, the main Danish and Swedish East Asia companies together imported more tea to Europe than the British did. Their outposts lost economic and strategic importance, and Tranquebar, the last Danish outpost, was sold to the British in 1845.

Other external powers

Other colonial nations such as Belgium, Italy and Germany did not set foot in India. The Spanish were briefly given territorial rights to India by Pope Alexander VI on September 25, 1493 by the bull Dudum siquidem before these rights were removed by the Treaty of Tordesillas less than one year later. The Japanese briefly occupied the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during World War II.

Sovereign Indian states in the colonial era

Sovereign Indian kingdoms and other states that ruled during the colonial era included:


The sequence of events that took place during the Colonial era:


The wars that took place involving the British East India Company or British India during the Colonial era:

See also



  1. ^ Wolpert, Stanley (1989). A New History of India (3rd ed.), p. 180. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Nandakumar Koroth, History of Forts in North Malabar.
  3. ^ a b Ferguson 2004, p. 19.
  4. ^ Olson, p. 478.
  5. ^ Porter, p. 401.
  6. ^ Olson, p. 293.
  7. ^ Olson, p. 567.
  8. ^ Olson, p. 568.
  9. ^ Marshall, pp. 133–34.


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