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Indian History

East India Company (Before 1857)

 Arrival of European traders

 Battle of Plassey

Battle of Wandiwash

Battle of Buxar

The First Anglo-Mysore War

Second Mysore war

Third Mysore War

Fourth Mysore War

First Anglo Maratha war

Second Anglo-Maratha war

Third Marataha War

Anglo - Sikh wars



Arrival of European traders

Indian trade links with Europe started in through sea route only after the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Calicut, India on May 20, 1498. The Portuguese had traded in Goa as early as 1510, and later founded three other colonies on the west coast in Diu, Bassein, and Mangalore. In 1601 the East India Company was chartered, and the English began their first inroads into the Indian Ocean. At first they were little interested in India, but rather, like the Portuguese and Dutch before them, with the Spice Islands. But the English were unable to dislodge the Dutch from Spice Islands. In 1610, the British chased away a Portuguese naval squadron, and the East India Company created its own outpost at Surat. This small outpost marked the beginning of a remarkable presence that would last over 300 years and eventually dominate the entire subcontinent. In 1612 British established a trading post in Gujarat. As a result of English disappointments with dislodging the Dutch from the Spice Islands, they turned instead to India. In 1614 Sir Thomas Roe was instructed by James I to visit the court of Jahangir, the Mughal emperor of Hindustan. Sir Thomas was to arrange a commercial treaty and to secure for the East India Company sites for commercial agencies, -"factories" as they were called. Sir Thomas was successful in getting permission from Jahangir for setting up factories. East India Company set up factories at Ahmedabad, Broach and Agra. In 1640 East India Company established an outpost at Madras. In 1661 the company obtained Bombay from Charles II and converted it to a flourishing center of trade by 1668. English settlements rose in Orissa and Bengal. In 1633, in the Mahanadi delta of Hariharpur at Balasore in Orissa, factories were set up. In 1650 Gabriel Boughton an employee of the Company obtained a license for trade in Bengal. An English factory was set up in 1651 at Hugli.  In 1690 Job Charnock established a factory. In 1698 the factory was fortified and called Fort William. The villages of Sutanati, Kalikata and Gobindpore were developed into a single area called Calcutta. Calcutta became a trading center for East India Company. Once in India, the British began to compete with the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the French. Through a combination of outright combat and deft alliances with local princes, the East India Company gained control of all European trade in India by 1769. In 1672 the French established themselves at Pondicherry and stage was set for a rivalry between the British and French for control of Indian trade.

Battle of Plassey - On June 23rd, 1757 at Plassey, between Calcutta and Murshidabad, the forces of the East India Company under Robert Clive met the army of Siraj-ud-Doula, the Nawab of Bengal. Clive had 800 Europeans and 2200 Indians whereas Siraj-ud-doula in his entrenched camp at Plassey was said to have about 50,000 men with a train of heavy artillery. The aspirant to the Nawab's throne, Mir Jafar, was induced to throw in his lot with Clive, and by far the greater number of the Nawab's soldiers were bribed to throw away their weapons, surrender prematurely, and even turn their arms against their own army. Siraj-ud-Doula was defeated. Battle of Plassey marked the first major military success for British East India Company.

Battle of Wandiwash 1760:  From 1744, the French and English fought a series of battles for supremacy in the Carnatic region. In the third Carnatic war, the British East India Company defeated the French forces at the battle of Wandiwash ending almost a century of conflict over supremacy in India. This battle gave the British trading company a far superior position in India compared to the other Europeans.

Battle of Buxar:  In June 1763 under Major Adams British army defeated Mir Kasim the Nawab of Bengal. Though they with a smaller army against Mir Kasim, the English had victories at Katwah, Giria, Sooty, Udaynala and Monghyr. Mir Kasim fled to Patna and took help from Nawab Shujauddaulah and the Emperor Shah Alam II.  But the English under the General Major Hector Munro at Buxar defeated the confederate army on 22 October, 1764. Mir Kasim fled again fled and died in 1777.  After winning the Battle of Buxar, the British had earned the right to collect land revenue in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. This development set the foundations of British political rule in India. After the victory of the English in Buxar Robert Clive was appointed the governor and commander in chief of the English army in Bengal in 1765. He is claimed as the founder of the British political dominion in India. Robert Clive also brought reforms in the administration of the company and the organization of the army.

Warren Hastings was appointed the Governor of Bengal in 1772. Under the Regulating Act of 1773 passed by British parliament, a Council of four members was appointed, and Warren Hastings (Governor-General 1774-85) was empowered to conduct the Company's affairs with the Council's advice. His task was to consolidate the Company's rule in Bengal. He brought about several administrative and judicial changes. Warren Hasting faced an uphill task in dealing with the Indian rulers. He faced stiff resistance from the Marathas in the north and Hyder Ali in the south. In 1773 he concluded the treaty of Banaras with the Nawab of Avadh appeasing the emperor and getting financial gains thus blocking alliances between the Marathas and the Nawab of Avadh. Under Warren Hastings English army took part in the Rohilla War in 1774 that brought Rohilkhand in the company's jurisdiction.

The First Anglo-Mysore War (1767-69)

After the death of the Raja of Mysore in 1760, Hyder Ali, became the ruler of Mysore. He extended his territories by conquering Bednore, Sundra, Sera, Canara and Guti and subjugated the poligars of south India. With easy success in Bengal, the English concluded a treaty with Nizam Ali of Hyderabad and committed the Company to help the Nizam with the troops in his war against Hyder Ali. In 1767, - the Nizam, the Marathas and the English made an alliance against Hyder. But Hyder was brave and diplomatic. He beat the English at their own game by making peace with the Marathas and alluring the Nizam with territorial gains and together with the latter launched an attack on Arcot. The fight continued for a year and half and the British suffered heavy losses. The panic-stricken British had to sue for peace. A treaty was signed on April 4, 1769, on the basis of restitution of each other's territories. 

1769–70 there was ‘Great famine in Bengal’ in which nearly 10 million people perished. Later several other famines hit different parts of Indian killing millions of people during East India companies rule. During the period 1772-1785 the territory of the East India Company included Bengal. Bihar, Orissa, Banaras and Ghazipur. It also included the Northern Sarkars, port of Salsette and the harbours of Madras, Bombay and other minor ports. The Mughal territory included Delhi and other surrounding areas. The territory of Avadh, which was autonomous, was bound in an offensive-defensive alliance with the East India Company since 1765. The North Western part of India was under the Sikh clans, who controlled region around the Sultej. The Muslim chiefs ruled in North western Punjab, Multan, Sindh and Kashmir. The Marathas dominated over western India, parts of Central India from Delhi to Hyderabad and Gujarat to Cuttak. The Deccan was ruled by Nizam of  Hyderabad. Hyder Ali ruled over Mysore. Tanjore and Travancore were under the Hindu rulers.

British and Marathas  

First Anglo Maratha war (1775 –1782): Narayan Rao became the fifth Peshwa of the Marathas. Narayan Rao killed by his uncle Raghunath Rao, who declared himself as the Peshwa. The Maratha chieftains under the leadership of Nana Phadnis opposed him. Raghunath Rao sought help from the English. The English agreed to help him and concluded with him the Treaty of Surat on March 7, 1775. According to the treaty the English were to provide 2,500 men and Raghunath was to cede Salsette and Bassein to the English with part of the revenues from Broach and Surat districts.

Maratha army and chiefs proclaimed Madhav Rao Narayan as the Peshwa and on January 9 1779, the British troops met a large Maratha army at Talegon and were defeated. This shattered the prestige of the British so low that they had to enter into a humiliating Treaty of Wadgaon. British had to surrender all the territories acquired by the Company since 1773.

Warren Hastings, the Governor-General, sent a strong force under Colonel Goddard who took possession of Ahmedabad on February 15 and captured Bassein on December 11, 1780. Warren Hastings sent another force against Mahadaji Sindhia. Captain Popham captured Gwalior on August 3 1780 and on February 16, 1781, General Camac defeated Sindhia at Sipri. These victories increased the prestige of the English, who gained Sindhia as an ally to conclude the the Treaty of Salbai on 17 May 1782. As per this treaty Company recognised Madhav Rao Narayan as the Peshwa and returned to the Sindhia all his territories west of Yamuna. The treaty of Salbai assured mutual restitution of each other's territories and guaranteed peace for twenty years.

Second Mysore war

In 1780 when the English wanted to attack the French at Mahe, situated on the west coast of Mysore, Hyder Ali did not permit it. Therefore the English declared war against Hyder Ali. Hyder Ali arranged a joint front with the Nizam and the Marathas. In July 1780, Hyder Ali with 80,000 men and 100 guns attacked Carnatic. In October 1780 he captured Arcot, defeating an English army under Colonel Braille. Meanwhile British managed to break the alliance between the Raja of Berar, Mahadji Sindhia,  Nizam and Hyder Ali.

Hyder Ali continued the war with the British. But in November 1781, Sir Eyre Coote defeated Hyder Ali at Porto Nova. In January 1782, English captured Trincomali. In 1782, Hyder Ali inflicted a humiliating defeat on the British troops under Colonel Braithwaite. On December 7, 1782, Hyder Ali died. His son Tipu Sultan bravely fought against Britishers. Tipu captured brigadier Mathews, in 1783. Then in November 1783, Colonel Fullarton captured Coimbatore. Tired of the war, the two sides concluded the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784. According to the treaty, both the parties decided to restore each other's conquered territories and free all the prisoners.

Pitt's India Act - 1784 - British Parliament under Pitt’s India Bill of 1784 appointed a Board of Control. It provided for a joint government of the Company (represented by the Directors), and the Crown (represented by the Board of Control). In 1786, trough a supplementary bill, Lord Cornwallis was appointed as the first Governor-General, and he became the effective ruler of British India under the authority of the Board of Control and the Court of Directors.

Third Mysore War - The immediate cause of the war was Tipu's attack on Travancore on December 29, 1789 over aq dispute over Cochin. The Raja of Travancore was entitled to the protection of the English. Thus taking advantage of the situation, the English, making a triple alliance with the Nizams and the Marathas, attacked Tipu Sultan.

The war between Tipu and the alliance lasted for nearly two years. British under Major-General Medows, could not win against Tipu. On January 29, 1791, Cornwallis himself took over the command of the British troops. He captured Bangalore in 1791 and approached Seringapatnam, Tipu's capital. Tipu displayed great skill in defending and his tactics forced Cornwallis to retreat.  Tipu captured Coimbatore on November 3. Lord Cornwallis soon returned and occupied all the forts in his path to Seringapatnam. On February 5, 1792 Cornwallis arrived at Serinapatnam. Tipu had to sue for peace and the Treaty of Seringapatnam concluded in March 1792. The treaty resulted in the surrender of nearly half of the Mysorean territory to the victorious allies. Tipu also had to pay a huge war indemnity of and his two sons were taken as hostages.

Fourth Mysore war - Lord Wellesley became the governor general of India in 1798.  Tipu Sultan tried to secure an alliance with the French against the English in India. Wellesley questioned Tipu’s relationship with the French and attacked Mysore in 1799. The fourth Anglo-Mysore War was of short duration and decisive and ended with Tipu’s death on May 4, 1799  who was killed fighting to save his capital.

Second Anglo-Maratha war, 1803:  

After death of Nana Phadnavis in 1800, there was infighting between Holkar and Sindhia chiefs. The new Peshwa Baji Rao murdered Vithuji Holkar, brother of Jaswant Rao Holkar in April 1801. Holkar defeated the combined armies of Sindhias and the Peshwas at Poona and captured the city. The new Peshwa Baji Rao II,  was weak and sought the protection of British through treaty of Bassein in 1802. Baji Rao II was restored to Peshwarship under the protection of the East India Company. However, the treaty was not acceptable to both the Marathas chieftains - the Shindia and Bhosales. This directly resulted in the Second Anglo-Maratha war in 1803.

Sindhia and Bhosale tried to win over Holkar but he did not join them and retired to Malwa and Gaekwad chose to remain neutral. Even at this point of time, the Marathas chiefs were not able to unify themselves and thus the challenge to the authority of the Company brought disasters for both the Sindhias and Bhosales. The war began in August 1803. British under General Wellesley  (brother of Lord Wellesley) defeated Bhosales at Argain on November 29 and the British captured the strong fortress of Gawilgrah on December 15, 1803. In the north, General Lake captured Delhi and Agra. The army of Sindhia was completely destroyed at the battle of Delhi in September and at Laswari in Alwar State in November. The British further won in Gujarat, Budelkhand and Orissa.

By the Treaty of Deogaon signed on December 17, 1803, the Bhosale surrendered to the Company the province of Cuttack and the entire region in the west of the rivers Wards.

Similarly, the Sindhia signed the Treaty of Surji-Arjanaon on December 30, 1803 and ceded to the Company all their territories between the Ganga and the Yamuna. British forces were stationed in the territories of the Sindhia and Bhosale. With these victories Britishers became the dominant power in India.

In 1804 Holkar army successfully defeated British army in Kota and forced them out from Agra. British somehow managed to defend Delhi. However in November 1804 British army managed to defeat a contingent of Holkar army but Holkar again defeated British in Bharatpur in 1805. Ultimately Treaty of Rajpurghat" was signed on December 25, 1805 between Holkar and British.

Third Marataha War (1817-1818):  Marathas were ultimately defeated and Maratha power destroyed by British in several wars during 1817- 1818. Holkar's forces were routed at Mahidpur December 21, 1817 and Baji Rao II, who was trying to consolidate Marathas, finally surrendered in June 1818. British abolished the position of Peshwa and Marathas were limited to the small kingdom of Satara. Thus ended the mighty Maratha power.

Between 1814 to 1826 British had to fight many wars against Gurkhas in the North and Burmese in the North East. After several losses and some gains British signed peace treaties with Gurkhas of Nepal and Burmese. During the period of 1817-1818 British had to fight against non-traditional armies of Pindaris, who used to plunder British territory. British finally managed to crush Pindaris.

During this period in the North West region of Punjab the Sikh power was growing and Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) of Punjab became very powerful. British already had their hands full with problems in different part of India. They were afraid of Ranjit Singh’s power. So in 1838 they made a peace treaty with Ranjit Singh. During the same year there was a big famine in north-west India that killed nearly a million people. But after Ranjit Singh’s death there was infighting amongst Sikhs. British tried to take advantage of this and First Anglo - Sikh war started in 1845. Battle of Mudki and Ferozshah (1845) saw heavy fighting between British and Sikhs. Sikhs were defeated due to the treachery of their generals. The final battle of Sobraon on February 10, 1846 proved decisive where Sikhs again lost due to the betrayal of their generals. The British were able to capture most of India after defeating Sikhs in 1849 in Second Anglo - Sikh War.

The year 1853 stands out to be a landmark year in modern Indian history as the first Railway opened from Bombay to Thane and first Telegraph line from Calcutta to Agra was started. This was one of the first major positive contributions that British made in India. Although the initial purpose of these was to improve the mobility and communication of the British troops but much later they became very useful for common people. 

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