30 May 2010

Map of the Month May 10 - Indian Empire 1914

Dating from immediately before the outbreak of the First World War, this map graphically illustrates the reach of British imperial power on the Indian subcontinent.

Extending far beyond the political borders of modern India, the writ of the King Emperor George V ran across a territory that also encompassed the present-day states of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). Although not officially recognised as part of British India, the strategically vital Crown colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the northern kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan also fell under its influence.

Click on the map to enlarge

The map also demonstrates the complex interplay of direct rule and local autonomy that was essential to the smooth administration of such a vast and diverse territory. Britain’s occupation of and rule in India had begun early in the 17th century through the activities of the commercial trading company, the Honourable East India Company. Having monopolised trade with the East Indies, the Company subsequently acquired military and administrative responsibilities in the region until it had become the de facto ruler. By means of diplomacy and military activity, it brought many of the hundreds of independent native states into the British sphere of colonial influence.

Areas marked in pink represent those administered directly by London though its principal representative, the Governor-General, the head of the British Administration in India based in Calcutta. Known collectively as the British Provinces of India, these areas included the United Provinces in the north, the Central Provinces, Madras in the south, Bombay in the west and Bengal in the east.

By contrast, those areas in yellow mark out the clusters of Princely States, those nominally sovereign territories outside the direct control of the British Government who had entered into personal treaties with the Crown. These treaties allowed each state a degree of local autonomy and freedom to issue its own laws and set its own government. However, each was essentially a vassal state under British protection. As the monarch’s personal representative to these Princely States, the Governor-General was also known as the Viceroy.

Also evident from the map is the extent of India’s rail network. It was begun in 1853 under private enterprise and by 1907 when all rail companies were brought under government control, the network extended over 9,000 miles, mostly spreading inland from the major ports and termini of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.

The historical snapshot presented here represents the high-water mark of Britain’s imperial control in the region. As with many other states, the political, cultural and social consequences of the First World War in India would lead to greater calls for self-government and begin the process that would eventually lead to independence.

: A conference is held at Simla between Britain, Tibet and China attempting to settle boundary disputes and sovereignty issues
January – October: The Ghadar Party, mainly Punjabi Sikhs of North America, send adherents back to India to lead a revolt against British rule, with help from Irish Republicans and the German Foreign Office
31 October: Sepoy Khudadad Khan becomes the first Indian to be awarded the Victoria Cross, for his actions at Hollebeke, Belgium
1915: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returns to live in India from South Africa

15 May
: Tenzing Norgay, with Edmund Hillary the first men to reach the summit of Mt Everest, 1953 (d. 1986)
15 July: Akhtar Hameed Khan, development activist and social scientist, pioneer of microcredit in the developing world (d. 1999)

14 November: Frederick Roberts, Anglo-Irish soldier made Field Marshal in 1895, awarded Victoria Cross for actions at Khudaganj, India 1858, also served in Abyssinia, Afghanistan and India (b. 1832)

This map was originally included in the International Reference Atlas of the World (1914), cartography by J. G. Bartholomew LL.D., F.R.G.S., Cartographer to the King. The text above is taken from a description about the map in the Historical Mapping section of
The Times Universal Atlas of the World (1st edition 2008).

A reproduction of the Indian Empire 1914 map can be purchased from the Collins Bartholomew Historic Map Archive Collection available through Mapseeker - Historical Maps Online.

See the recent post The Commodities of India on the NLS Batholomew Archive blog.

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