The accession of Lord Dalhousieinaugurated a new chapter in the history of British India. He functioned as the Governor-General of India from 1848-1856.

He belonged to an aristocratic family of Scotland. Earlier he had served as the President of the Board of Trade. He is regarded as one of the greatest Governor-General of India.

His eight years rules are full of important events in every sphere.

Lord Dalhousie : John Singer Sargent : Art Scans : Scanopia

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He was great both in war and peace. He introduced a number of reforms which paved the way for the modernisation of India and also earned the title, “Maker of the Modern India”. He believed that, “the promotion of civilization meant the promotion of western reforms, that western administration and western institutions were as superior to Indian as Western arms had proved more potent.”

Administrative Reforms:

Dalhousie’s chief aim was the consolidation of British rule in India. So he adopted the principle of centralization. For the newly acquired territories he devised the ‘Non-Regulation System” under which commissioners were appointed to deal with the administrative problems.

They were made responsible to the Governor-General in the Council. He handed over all other powers relating to justice, police, and land revenue to the District Magistrates. Dalhousie also made provision for the appointment of a Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. By the Parliamentary Act of 1853, the Governor-General was relieved of his functions as the governor of Bengal.

Military Reforms:

After the conquest of Punjab, Sindh and Avadh, the frontiers of the company were extended and the military interest of India was transferred to the North. Thus Dalhousie shifted the headquarters of the Bengal Artillery from Calcutta to Meerut. The army head-quarter was also transferred to Shimla so that the army could remain is touch with Governor-General who resided is Shimla.


Dalhousie also ordered for the general movement of troops from around Calcutta and from the lower provinces of Bengal towards the west. He could clearly foresee that the future safety of India depended upon the numerical strength of the army and on the maintenance of balance between British and Indian forces.

After some reduction in the strength of the Indian element the army stood at 2, 23,000 men in 1856, as against 45,000 Europeans. As he had no confidence in the Indians, a new Gurkha regiment was created. A new “Irregular Force” was also formed and posted in Punjab. These regiments proved to be of great assistance to the British during the revolt of 1857-58.

Railway Reforms:

Dalhousie introduced a new system of internal communication in India. He was the father of Indian Railways. Dalhousies’ famous Railway Minute of 1853 convinced the home authorities of the need of the railways and laid down the main lines of their development.

He envisaged a network of railways connecting the main places with the ports and providing both for strategically needs and commercial development. The first railway line connecting Bombay with Thane was laid down in 1853. It covered a distance of twenty-six miles.


The following year a railway line was constructed from Calcutta to Raniganj coal-fields. Gradually all important cities and towns were linked up with railway lines. The railway lines were not built out of the Indian Exchequer but by private English Companies under a system of “Government Guarantee”. Besides facilitating trade and commerce, minimizing distances the railways have gone a long way in uniting India.

The Electric Telegraph:

In 1852 Dalhousie introduced the Electric Telegraph System in India. The first telegraph line from Calcutta to Agra was opened in 1854, covering a distance of 800 miles. By 1857, it was extended to Lahore and Peshawar. In Burma a line was laid down from Rangoon to Mandalay. People could send message from one place to another place very easily by this telegraph system.

Postal Reforms:

The credit of establishing Postal Department also goes to Lord Dalhousie. In 1854 a new Post Office Act was passed. Under this system, a Director-General was appointed to supervise the work of Post Offices in all the Presidencies; a uniform rate of half-anna per letter was introduced and for the first time postage stamps were issued.

A postal Department was established for the whole country. As a result of these reforms the post offices became the sources of revenue of the government. The people were benefited by the modern postal system.

Public Works Department:

Before Lord Dalhousie, military boards were in charge of the construction of Public Works. Hence Civilian works were completely neglected by the military board. A separate Public Works Department was established by Lord Dalhousie. The Chief Works of this department was to construct roads, bridges and government buildings. The chief Engineer, other highly trained engineers were brought from England to supervise the work of construction. Irrigational works were undertaken on an extensive scale.

The construction of Ganges Canal was completed and was inaugurated on April 8, 1854. Many bridges and canals were constructed and also the construction of Grand Trunk Road was taken up. Dalhousie’s special contribution was the construction of an engineering college at Roorkee and in other presidencies. He thus ranks as the father of technical education as distinct from professional education in India.

Social Reforms:

Dalhousie abolished female infanticide which was prevalent among the Rajputs of higher castes. He also abolished the practice of human sacrifice practiced by the khonds of Orissa, Madras and Central Provinces who had blind belief that the fertility of the soil would be increased by sacrificing human beings. By that time it was in practice that if any person became a convert, he was deprived of his ancestral property.

This system checked the speed of conversions in India. But Dalhousie passed the Religious Disability Act in 1850 which enabled the Hindu convert to inherit his ancestral property. Moreover, he also passed the Widow Remarriage Act in 1855 which legalized the marriage of Hindu widows. However, these reforms annoyed the people of India and became one of the reasons of the revolt of 1857.

Commercial Reforms:

Dalhousie followed the policy of free trade. Dr. Ishwari Prasad writes, “Dalhousie’s commercial reforms were designed to throw open the produce and market of India to the exploitation of English Capital.” All ports of India were declared free. The harbours of Karachi, Bombay and Calcutta were developed and light houses were also constructed. All the sea-trade was captured by the English merchants who had power and resources. The commercial reforms of Dalhousie spoiled the Indian trade and economic conditions of Indians became miserable.

Educational Reforms:

Lord Dalhousie had introduced a number of reforms in the field of education. The Government did not take any step for the promotion of vernacular education. In 1854 Sir Charles Wood, the President of the Board of Control sent his recommendations known as “Wood’s Despatch of 1854” to India reorganizing the whole structure of education.

The wood’s dispatch laid the foundations of modern education system. It recommended Anglo Vernacular Schools throughout the districts, Government Colleges in important towns and a University in each of the three Presidencies in India.

In each province a separate department of education was to be established and it was to be placed under a Director General of Public Instruction. The government should encourage private enterprise by providing grants-in-aid to the educational institutions opened by private bodies. Dalhousie completely reorganized the department of education on the basis of Wood’s recommendations.

In 1857 examining universities on the model of London University were established at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. These universities were to hold examinations and award degrees. Vernacular Schools were opened in the villages and education was imparted to the children through vernacular or regional language of the province in the Lower Classes.

Lord Dalhousie had introduced several reforms touching all most every department. Unfortunately after one year of the departure of Dalhousie from India, the revolt of 1857 broke out. Some of the Social reforms of Dalhousie were responsible to some extent for the outbreak of the revolt. But most of the reforms of Dalhousie took India to the path of modernization.