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Madras Army: Wikis


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The Madras Army was the army of the Presidency of Madras, one of the three presidencies of the British India within the British Empire. The presidency armies, like the presidencies themselves, belonged to the East India Company until the Indian Rebellion of 1857, when the British Crown took over all three presidencies. Eventually all three armies were merged into the Indian Army.


Establishment and early history

Left to right, the Madras Horse Artillery, the Madras Light Cavalry, the Madras Rifle Corps, the Madras Pioneers, the Madras Native Infantry, and the Madras Foot Artillery, c. 1830

The Madras Army of the Honourable East India Company came into being through the need to protect the Company's commercial interests. These were mostly untrained guards, with only some bearing arms. The French attack and capture of Madras in 1746 forced the British hand. In 1757, a hundred years before Mangal Pandey came on the scene, the British decided to raise well-trained military units to conduct operations, conquer territory, and force allegiance from local rulers.

The loosely organised military units were later combined into battalions with Indian officers commanding local troops. One of the first major actions fought by these troops was in the battle of Wandiwash in 1760. The troops were highly praised for their steadiness under fire. Earlier a good part of the force was sent to Bengal under young Clive, who made history and a personal fortune after the Battle of Plassey.

The Queen's Own Madras Sappers and Miners, 1896

The Madras Army officers were in the early years very conscious of the soldiers' local customs, caste rituals, dress, and social hierarchy. Some leading landowners joined the Madras Army, one of whom is recorded as Mootoo (Muthu) Nayak from the nobility in Madura. As the army expanded and new officers came in, mostly from Company sources, the leadership style and care of the men changed for the worse. The most famous incident in the Madras Army was the Vellore mutiny. Looting was an organised activity among the East India Company officers. Lord Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, was in the Seringapatnam battle. In keeping with the times, he laid down the share of every officer and sepoy from the loot that was organised after Tipu was killed. The defeat of Hyder Ali and the death of Tipu with the most widespread looting of Seringapatnam rankled with Indians at all levels. After Tipu Sultan was killed, his two sons were held in British custody in Vellore Fort.

The Madras Army in the 1830's was a professional military force whose use in internal security campaigns was a routine part of the Madras Presidency Government's operations. The Madras Army was a large, modern (for the 1830's), military force organized to defend the state against external and internal enemies. The British officers were aware of the strengths and weaknesses inherent in a multi-ethnic army which could not appeal to patriotism. The Madras Army deliberately attempted to overcome the weaknesses through such programs as encouraging the study of Asian languages by the British officers and providing paternalistic care for the sepoys and their families. The Madras Army was organized to support the civil administration in securing the revenue and maintaining tranquillity. The 1832-1833 campaign in the Vishakhapatnam District included from four to eight hundred troops in the field pursuing two rebel factions, the largest reported group of which numbered seven to eight hundred. Any time the troops brought the rebels to battle, the superior discipline and training of the Madras Army produced a victory.

Under the British Raj


Post-Mutiny history

The Army of the Madras Presidency remained almost unaffected by the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858. By contrast with the larger Bengal Army where all but twelve (out of eighty-four) infantry and cavalry regiments either mutinied or were disbanded, all fifty-two regiments of Madras Native Infantry remained loyal and passed into the new Indian Army when direct British Crown rule replaced that of the Honourable East India Company[1]. Four regiments of Madras Light Cavalry and the Madras Artillery batteries did however disappear in the post-Mutiny reorganisation of all three of the Presidency Armies. The Madras Fusiliers (a regiment of European infantry recruited by the East India Company for service in India) was transferred to the regular British Army[2].

Madras units subsequently saw active service in the 2nd China War 1857-60, the 3rd Burma War 1885-87, Egypt 1882 and the 1st Sudan War 1884-85.

End of the separate Madras Army

In 1895 the three separate Presidency Armies were abolished and the Army of India was divided into four commands, each commanded by a lieutenant-general. These comprised Madras (including Burma), Punjab (including the North West Frontier), Bengal and Bombay (including Aden).

Disbanding of Madras infantry regiments

While the Madras Army remained in existance as a separate entity until 1895, twelve of the Madras Native Infantry regiments were disbanded between 1862 and 1864. A further eight went in 1882, three between 1902 and 1904, two in 1907 and four in 1922. The remainder were disbanded between 1923 and 1933, leaving the highly regarded Madras Sappers and Miners as the only Madrasi unit in the Indian Army until a new Madras Regiment was raised in 1942, during World War II. Both of these regiments continue to exist in the modern Indian Army[3].

The gradual phasing out of Madrasi recruitment for the Indian Army in the late 19th century, in favour of Sikhs, Rajputs, Dogras and Punjabi Mussalmans, was justified by General Sir Frederick Roberts on the grounds that long periods of peace and inactivity in Southern India had rendered the Madras infantry soldier inferior to the Martial Races of the North. The military historians John Keegan and Philip Mason have however pointed out that under the "watertight" Presidency Army system, Madras regiments had little opportunity of active service on the North-West Frontier. Accordingly the more ambitious and capable British officers of the Indian Army opted for service with Punjabi and other northern units and the overall efficiency of the Madras Army suffered accordingly.


  1. ^ Philip Mason, page 349 A Matter of Honour - an Account of the Indian Army, ISBN 0-333-41837-9
  2. ^ Boris Mollo, The Indian Army, ISBN 0 7137 1074 8
  3. ^ John Keegan, page 310 World Armies, ISBN 0-333-17236-1

See also

The 1st Madras Pioneers, c. 1890


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