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British Military Presence in India 1612 to 1947

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  • Col William Ashburner (1819 - 1888)
    Profile picture depicts Indian NCOs of the (l to r); 33rd, 34th and 32nd Lancers, so named in 1903 When the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry became the - 33rd Queen Victoria's Own Lancers. The 1st became the -...
  • Harley Wentworth Ashburner, DSO (1875 - 1947)
    Lt. Colonel First Name: Harley Wentworth Initials: H Surname: Ashburner Nationality: Indian Rank: Major Rank (2nd): Acting Lieutenant Colonel Gallantry Awards: Distinguished Service O...
  • Major General Charles Frederick Hughes, CB (1844 - 1932)
    Major General Charles Frederick Hughes CB Late Indian Staff Corps died at Church Stretton, Shropshire aged 88. He was educated at Cheltenham College and Royal Military College, Addiscombe; commissi...
  • Brig. Gen. Lionel Forbes Ashburner, DSO, MVO (1874 - 1923)
    Lionel Forbes Ashburner Brig-general Lionel Forbes Ashburner From: (1874-1923) Brigadier-General DSO, MVO. GOC Infantry Brigade Cheltenham College RMC Sandhurst psc Royal Fusiliers ...

British Military Presence in India 1600 to 1947

This project is to include the GENi profiles of British officers and men who served in India before 1947, employed either directly by the British Government or the East india Company.

Please add any suitable profiles to this project, regardless of rank.

See also

Related GENi projects or of Interest

India - British Colonial times
Governors General of India
Rao Bahadur
Sellers & Sailors: The East India Companies
East India Company College
World War One: Armed Forces India


Background

1612–1757, the East India Company set up "factories" (trading posts) in several locations in India, with the consent of the Moghul emperors or local rulers. Its rivals were the merchant trading companies of Holland and France. By the mid-18th century, three "Presidency towns": Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta had grown in size.

1757–1858 - was the period of Company rule in India. The Company gradually acquired sovereignty over large parts of India, now called "Presidencies." However, it also increasingly came under British government oversight, in effect sharing sovereignty with the Crown. At the same time it gradually lost its mercantile privileges.

1857 - Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Company's remaining powers were transferred to the Crown.

1858–1947 The new British Raj - sovereignty extended to a few new regions, such as Upper Burma. Larger presidencies were broken up into "Provinces".


The Honourable East India Company ([H]EIC) held the Charter to represent the British Crown's merchant interests and to establish trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. They were granted this Charter from about 1612 until shortly after the Indian Mutiny when the EIC was dissolved. The HEIC's ships and trading posts (often referred to as "factories") needed to defend themselves against the pirates, marauders and forces of hostile powers - both European and Eastern.

From 1700 for the next 160 years or so, the Honourable East India Company raised its own armed forces. The three administrative areas of India, the Presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Bengal, each maintained their own army with its own commander-in-chief.

The commander-in-chief Bengal was regarded as the senior officer of the three. These armies were paid for entirely out of the East India Company's Indian revenues and together were larger than the British Army itself.

All the officers were British and trained at the Company's military academy in England. There were a number of regiments of European infantry but the vast majority of the Company's soldiers were native troops. These Sepoys, as they were called, were mostly high caste Hindus and a great many of them, especially in the Bengal army, came from Oudh in what is now Uttar Pradesh state in northern India.

They were organized in numbered regiments and drilled in the British style. The Sepoy regiments were officered by Europeans, with a stiffening of European NCO's.

Attached to this force were regiments of the Crown, units of the British Army lent by the Crown to the HEIC in times of need. By 1857 the total number of soldiers in India was 34,000 Europeans of all ranks and 257,000 Sepoys.

Sir Thomas Smythe - 1558-1625, was first Governor of the East India Company. The HEIC troops fought many minor skirmishes and major battles to protect the assets of the East India Company. It was not until late 1756 that the Bengal Regiment emerged after reforms by Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, KB.

A few events in the early history of the East India Company are listed below.

1613 - Early in the year the Mogul Emperor issued a Firman to the HEIC for the establishment of a factory at Surat near Bombay, this was the first settlement of the British on the continent of India. The HEIC prospered and expanded.

1625 - Factory was established at Masulipatam.

1634 - February 2nd, a Firman issued to HEIC by the Shah Jehan Emperor of India for establishment of factories in Bengal.

1640 - Concession obtained for establishment in Madras.

1645 - An unexpected extension of the Company's power in Bengal was obtained. The Emperor Shah Jehan had a favourite daughter who had been seriously burnt, the Surgeon of one of the HEIC ships Gabriel Broughton, was sent to attend her, his treatment so successful the Emperor was overcome with gratitude, said he would grant Broughton anything he might ask for. Broughton's request was that permission should be given to the HEIC establish a factory at Hoogli (Calcutta), this was granted and a prosperous trade sprang up.

1652 - It was necessary from the first to have some form of guards at these factories, about this time an officer and thirty European soldiers were employed by the Company to protect it's factory near Calcutta, and by all accounts they were a mixed bunch, mercenaries, adventurers and deserters from foreign armies, however they were melded into an efficient professional military unit.

History claims the 1st and 2nd battalions, The Royal Munster Fusiliers Regiment, designated by Lord Cardwell's British Army reorganisation on July 1st 1881, can trace their regimental roots to this small band of military men.

1668 - March - Island of Bombay granted to the HEIC by King Charles II. A detachment of the Kings troops was offered and accepted military service under the HEIC.

1680's - The expansion and increased trade of the HEIC required additional recruits for the HEIC private Army. Recruiting took place in England and James II gave permission to raise small numbers of troops in Ireland.

1685 - Six companies of infantry sent from England and Ireland, and a detachment from Madras for the purpose of establishing the position of the Company in Bengal.

1689 - Settlements in Bengal given up, the whole military force returned to Madras.

1690 - Settlements were re-established in Bengal by year-end, the force amounted to a company of 100 men under a Captain Hill.

1692 - Captain John Goldesborough arrived Madras to command all the HEIC's forces in India.

1694 - Goldesborough when on a tour of inspection in Bengal ordered the establishment to be reduced to 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, and 20 privates.

1697 - Dangerous revolt breaks out in Bengal, led by Rajah Subah Sing, against the Emperor's authority. The HEIC's agent, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Charles Eyre, applied to the local Nawab for permission to fortify the factory at Chattanuttee, the modern Calcutta. This being given, it was decided to erect a fort, which was to be named Fort William, in honour of King William III, and at the same time Bengal was declared a separate presidency.

1707 - Fort William works reasonably completed, with a number of guns, and 125 soldiers, of whom half were Europeans.

1710 - Strength and constitution of the military forces in the three Presidencies, Bombay, Bengal and Madras had gone through many changes, each had more or less the organization and disposal of their own forces. The white portion of the armies was composed of detachments sent out from England and Ireland.

1743 - Robert Clive arrives in India, civil servant of the HEIC, later he transfers to the military service with the HEIC, distinguished himself as a soldier.

1753 - Clive returns to England after accumulating wealth.

1756 - June - Robert Clive returned to Madras from England, appointed Governor of Fort St David with a commission as Lieutenant Colonel. He is also attributed with forming the Army in India into an orderly military force.

1756 - 5th August - News received in Madras, capture of Calcutta by Surajah Dowlah, the new Nawab of Bengal, the imprisonment of Europeans in a dungeon named Black Hole. Clive was commanded to secure Calcutta and release the prisoners.

1756 - 16th December - Independent companies and detachments formed into a Regiment by Clive, placed under command of Major Kilpatrick under the designation of - The Bengal European Regiment.


References and Sources


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