Born in Dalhousie Castle, Scotland, he crowded into his relatively short life conspicuous public service in the United Kingdom, and established an unrivalled position among the master-builders of the Indian empire. Denounced on the eve of his death and to this day by some as having failed to notice the signs of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and even having aggravated the crisis by his overbearing self-confidence, centralising activity, and reckless annexations.
To his supporters he stands out in the clear light of history as the far-sighted Governor-General who consolidated British rule in India, laid the foundations of its later administration, and by his sound policy enabled his successors to stem the tide of rebellion.
To his critics, he stands out as the destroyer of both the East India Company's financial and military position by his reckless policies. He laid the foundations of the Indian Mutiny and led the final transformation of money-making commercial operations in India into a money-losing colonial administration. His critics also hold him responsible for re-creating the entire system of government in India on a British model. He is also accused of transforming earlier open cultural and political attitudes toward India on the part of British Administrators into the closed-minded Europeans-only isolation of the late Victorian Raj.
James Andrew Broun-Ramsay was the third and youngest son of George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie (1770 – 1838), one of Wellington's generals, who, after being Governor General of Canada, became Commander-in-Chief in India, and of his wife Christina née Broun of Coalstoun, Haddingtonshire (East Lothian), a lady of gentle lineage and distinguished gifts. From his father he inherited a vigorous self-reliance and a family pride which urged him to prove worthy of the Ramsays who had not crawled through seven centuries of their country's history, while to his mother he owed his high-bred courtesy and his deeply seated reverence for religion.
The 9th Earl was in 1815 created Baron Dalhousie of Dalhousie Castle in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, and had three sons, of whom the two elder died young. His youngest son, the subject of this article, was small in stature, but his firm chiselled mouth, high forehead and masterful manner gave him a dignity that none could overlook. Yet his early life gave little promise of the dominating force of his character or of his ability to take full advantage of his splendid opportunities. Nor did those brought into closest intimacy with him, whether at school or at Oxford, suspect the higher qualities of statesmanship which afterwards established his fame on so firm a foundation.
Several years of his early boyhood were spent with his father and mother in Canada, reminiscences of which were still vivid with him when Governor-General of India. Returning to Scotland he was prepared for Harrow, where he entered in 1825. Two years later he was removed from school, his entire education being entrusted to the Rev. Mr Temple, incumbent of a quiet parish in Staffordshire. To this gentleman he referred in later days as having taught him all he knew, and to his training he must have owed those habits of regularity and that indomitable industry which marked his adult life.
In October 1829 he passed on to Christ Church, Oxford, where he worked fairly hard, won some distinction, and made many lifelong friends. His studies, however, were so greatly interrupted by the protracted illness and death in 1832 of his only surviving brother, that Lord Ramsay, as he then became, had to content himself with entering for a pass degree, though the examiners marked their appreciation of his work by placing him in the fourth class of honours for Michaelmas 1833. He then travelled in Italy and Switzerland, enriching with copious entries the diary which he religiously kept up through life, and storing his mind with valuable observations.
Succeeding to the peerage, the new earl soon made his mark in a speech delivered on the June 16, 1840 in support of Lord Aberdeen's Church of Scotland Benefices Bill, a controversy arising out of the Auchterarder case, in which he had already taken part in the General Assembly in opposition to Dr Chalmers. In May 1843 he became Vice-President of the Board of Trade, Gladstone being President, and was sworn in as a privy counsellor. Succeeding Gladstone as President of the Board of Trade in 1845, he threw himself into the work during the crisis of the railway mania with such energy that his health partially broke down under the strain. In the struggle over the Corn Laws he ranged himself on the side of Sir Robert Peel, and, after the failure of Lord John Russell to form a ministry he resumed his post at the board of trade, entering the cabinet on the retirement of Lord Stanley. When Peel resigned office in June 1846, Lord John offered Dalhousie a seat in the cabinet, an offer which he declined from a fear that acceptance might involve the loss of public character. Another attempt to secure his services in the appointment of president of the railway board was equally unsuccessful; but in 1847 he accepted the post of Governor-General of India in succession to Lord Hardinge, on the understanding that he was to be left in entire and unquestioned possession of his own personal independence with reference to party politics.
The war being now over, Dalhousie, without specific instructions from his superiors, annexed the Punjab, and made provision for the control and education of the infant maharaja. For the present the province was administered by a triumvirate under the personal supervision of the Governor-General, and later, a place having been found for Henry Lawrence in Rajputana, by John Lawrence as sole commissioner. Dalhousie toured the new province twice during the remainder of his time in India.Ava was bound by the Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826, to protect British ships in Burmese waters. But there arose a dispute between the Governor of Rangoon and certain British shipping interests (the Monarch and the Champion). While the dispute cannot be considered anything but minor, Dalhousie adopted the maxim of Lord Wellesley that an insult offered to the British flag at the mouth of the Ganges should be resented as promptly and fully as an insult offered at the mouth of the Thames. Attempts were made to solve the dispute by diplomacy. The Burmese eventually removed the Governor of Rangoon but this not considered sufficient. Commodore Lambert, despatched personally by Dalhousie, deliberately provoked an incident and then announced a war. The Burmese Kingdom offered little in the way of resistance. Martaban was taken on April 5, 1852, and Rangoon and Bassein shortly afterwards. Since, however, the court of Ava was unwilling to surrender half the country in the name of "peace", the second campaign opened in October, and after the capture of Prome and Pegu the annexation of the province of Pegu was declared by a proclamation dated December 20, 1853. To any further invasion of the Burmese empire Dalhousie was firmly opposed, being content to cut off Burma's commercial and political access to the outside world by the annexation. Some strangely spoke of the war as "uniting" territory, but in practice Arakan, Tenasserim and the new territories were still only linked in practical terms by sea.
By what his supporters considered wise policy he attempted to pacify the new province, placing Colonel Arthur Phayre in sole charge of it, personally visiting it, and establishing a system of telegraphs and communications. In practice, the new province was in language and culture very different from India. It could never successfully integrate into the Indian system. The end result of the war was to add an expensive new military and political dependency which did not generate sufficient taxes to pay for itself. British Indian rule of Arakan and Tenasserim had been a financial disaster for the Indian Administration. Multiple times in the 1830s questions were raised about getting rid of these territories altogether. Why Dalhousie was so obsessed with increasing the size of a territory that did not generate sufficient revenue to pay for its own administration has never been explained.
Other measures with the same object were carried out in the Company's own territories. Bengal, too long ruled by the Governor-General or his delegate, was placed under a separate Lieutenant-Governor in May 1854; a department of public works was established in each presidency, and engineering colleges were provided. An imperial system of telegraphs followed; the first link of railway communication was completed in 1855; well-considered plans mapped out the course of other lines and their method of administration; the Ganges canal, which then exceeded all the irrigation lines of Lombardy and Egypt together, was completed; and despite the cost of wars in the Punjab and Burma, liberal provision was made for metalled roads and bridges. The military boards were swept away; selection took the place of seniority in the higher commands; an army clothing and a stud department were created, and the medical service underwent complete reorganization.
Europeanization and consolidation of authority were the keynote of his policy. In nine minutes he suggested means for strengthening the Company's European forces, calling attention to the dangers that threatened the English community, a handful of scattered strangers ; but beyond the additional powers of recruitment which at his entreaty were granted in the last charter act of 1853, his proposals were shelved by the home authorities as they represented yet more expense added to the cost of India. In his administration Dalhousie vigorously asserted his control over even minor military affairs, and when Sir Charles Napier ordered certain allowances, given as compensation for the dearness of provisions, to be granted to the sepoys on a system which had not been sanctioned from headquarters, and threatened to repeat the offence, the Governor-General rebuked him to such a degree that Napier resigned his command.
Dalhousie's reforms were not confined to the departments of public works and military affairs. He created an imperial system of post-offices, reducing the rates of carrying letters and introducing postage stamps. He created the department of public instruction; he improved the system of inspection of gaols, abolishing the practice of branding convicts; freed converts to other religions from the loss of their civil rights; inaugurated the system of administrative reports; and enlarged the Legislative Council of India. His wide interest in everything that concerned the welfare of British economic interests in the country was shown in the encouragement he gave to the culture of tea, in his protection of forests, in the preservation of ancient and historic monuments. With the object of making the civil administration more European, he closed what he considered to be the useless college in Calcutta for the education of young civilians, establishing in its place a European system of training them in mufasal stations, and subjecting them to departmental examinations. He was equally careful of the well-being of the European soldier, providing him with healthy recreations and public gardens.
To the civil service he gave improved leave and pension rules, while he purified its moral by forbidding all share in trading concerns, by vigorously punishing insolvents, and by his personal example of careful selection in the matter of patronage. No Governor-General ever penned a larger number of weighty papers dealing with public affairs in India. Even after laying down office and while on his way home, he forced himself, ill as he was, to review his own administration in a document of such importance that the House of Commons gave orders for its being printed (Blue Book 245 of 1856).
He refrained from punishing Dost Mohammad for the part he had taken in the Sikh War, and resolutely to refuse to enter upon any negotiations until the amir himself came forward. Then he steered a middle course between the proposals of his own agent, Herbert Edwardes, who advocated an offensive alliance, and those of John Lawrence, who would have avoided any sort of engagement. He himself drafted the short treaty of peace and friendship which Lawrence signed in 1855, that officer receiving in 1856 the order of K.C.B. in acknowledgement of his services in the matter. While, however, Dalhousie was content with a mutual engagement with the Afghan chief, binding each party to respect the territories of the other, he saw that a larger measure of interference was needed in Baluchistan, and with the Khan of Kalat he authorized Major Jacob to negotiate a treaty of subordinate co-operation on May 14, 1854. The khan was guaranteed an annual subsidy of Rs. 50,000, in return for the treaty which bound him to the British wholly and exclusively. To this the home authorities demurred, but the engagement was duly ratified, and the subsidy was largely increased by Dalhousies successors. On the other hand, he insisted on leaving all matters concerning Persia and Central Asia to the decision of the queens advisers. After the conquest of the Punjab, he began the expensive process of attempting to police and control the Northwest Frontier region. The hillmen, he wrote, regard the plains as their food and prey, and the Afridis, Mohmands, Black Mountain tribes, Waziris and others had to be taught that their new neighbours would not tolerate outrages. But he proclaimed to one and all his desire for peace, and urged upon them the duty of tribal responsibility. Nevertheless, the military engagement on the northwest frontier of India he began grew yearly in cost and continued without pause until the British left Pakistan.
The annexation of Oudh was reserved to the last. The home authorities had asked Dalhousie to prolong his tenure of office during the Crimean War, but the difficulties of the problem no less than complications elsewhere had induced him to delay operations. In 1854 he appointed Outram as resident at the court of Lucknow, directing him to submit a report on the condition of the province. This was furnished in March 1855. The report provided the British an excuse for action based on "disorder and misrule". Dalhousie, looking at the treaty of 1801, decided that he could do as he wished with Oudh as long as he had the king's consent. He then demanded a transfer to the Company of the entire administration of Oudh, the king merely retaining his royal rank, certain privileges in the courts, and a liberal allowance. If he should refuse this arrangement, a general rising would be arranged, and then the British government would intervene on its own terms. On November 21, 1855 the court of directors instructed Dalhousie to assume the control of Oudh, and to give the king no option unless he was sure that his majesty would surrender the administration rather than risk a revolution. Dalhousie was in bad health and on the eve of retirement when the belated orders reached him; but he at once laid down instructions for Outram in every detail, moved up troops, and elaborated a scheme of government with particular orders as to conciliating local opinion. The king refused to sign the ultimatum (in the form of a "treaty") put before him, and a proclamation annexing the province was therefore issued on February 13, 1856.
In his mind, only one important matter now remained to him before quitting office. The insurrection of the Kolarian Santals of Bengal against the extortions of landlords and moneylenders had been severely repressed, but the causes of the insurrection had still to be reviewed and a remedy provided. By removing the tract of country from local rule, enforcing the residence of British officers there, and employing the Santal headmen in a local police, he created a system of administration which proved successful in maintaining order.
Dalhousie's family consisted of two daughters, and the marquessate became extinct at his death.
The detailed events of the period will be found in: