Governors-General of India, Part II: Dalhousie

S. Gopal describes how, in the course of eight years, Dalhousie greatly extended the territories of the East India Company. Today his memory is respected by Indians not as one of the builders of the British Empire but as one of the architects of the Indian Republic.

A revealing, and in a sense the ultimate, test of the work of a proconsul is the memory that lingers in the country where he once ruled. In India it is now also a fair test, for her people, since they attained freedom, have begun to assess the British Governors-General by standards unswayed by crude emotion or bitter prejudice.

One curious reflection of such judgments is to be seen in the fate of the various avenues and works named after these men. Clive Road in Calcutta, for example, has been re-named to commemorate an Indian nationalist leader, and the great bridge thrown across the Ganges at Benares no longer bears the name of Dufferin. But the heart of Calcutta is still Dalhousie Square.

At first sight it seems odd that Indians should still cherish the memory of Dalhousie, the young Scottish nobleman who came out as Governor-General in 1848 and, during the next eight years, extended the empire of the East India Company and stabilized its authority. But their devotion is not undiscerning. For Dalhousie is great not as an imperialist but as an administrator, and is remembered not as one of the builders of the British Empire but as one of the architects of modern India.

James Andrew Ramsay, tenth earl of Dalhousie, was only thirty-five when he was handed a task that he described as “too heavy for the shoulders of Atlas.” But he did not have even the usual advantages of youth; he left England broken in health and was a sick man throughout his years in India. He himself felt that, although his doctors had allowed him to take up the appointment, he should never have accepted. His ailment at the time was diagnosed as a tick in the leg; although at first his health seemed to improve in India, it soon broke down again, and he suffered constantly not merely from the old complaint but also from throat trouble and severe ulceration.

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