Concession & Repression: British Rule in India 1857-1919

Robert Carr assesses the nature of British rule in India during a key, transitional phase.

In 1882 Britain occupied and administered Egypt. In 1898 the British effectively did the same with the Sudan. Such colonialism was not so much a positive ‘Scramble for Africa’ but a means of protecting the Suez canal and the Nile, as these waterways were thought crucial in securing access to, and control of, the Jewel in the Crown. Above all, it was the Indian Empire – the Raj – which captured the British imagination. 

India had long excited both exotic and romantic notions of the Orient – evidenced, not least, by Coleridge’s famed poem Kubla Khan. Tales of tigers and elephants and the works of Rudyard Kipling ensured the Raj had a special place in the British psyche. More than that, however, India offered valuable raw materials to newly industrialised Britain and was a lucrative export market. Besides its economic significance, India was of profound military importance. Indeed Lord Salisbury termed India ‘an English barracks in the Oriental seas’. The sub-continent was a great source of manpower for wider British foreign policy.

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