East Indies  


Wei Hai Wei

When the Netherlands came under French occupation (1793-1815) the East India Company took the opportunity to occupy parts of the East Indies, such as Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) annexed to the East India Company in 1796. In 1819, Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles, an official with the British East India Company, established Singapore as a trading post and settlement. In 1818, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of the British colony at Bencoolen. He was determined that British should replace the Dutch as the dominant power in the archipelago, since the trade route between China and British India, which had become vitally important with the institution of the opium trade with China, passed through the archipelago. The Dutch had been stifling British trade in the region by prohibiting the British from operating in Dutch-controlled ports or by subjecting them with high tariff. Raffles hoped to challenge the Dutch by establishing a new port along the Straits of Malacca, the main ship passageway for the India-China trade. He convinced Lord Hastings, the Governor-General of India and his superior at the British East India Company, to fund an expedition to seek a new British base in the region. The British briefly ruled the island of Java from 1811-1816. Bencoolen and Java were recognised as Dutch in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Britain concentrated on establishing itself further north in Borneo and Malaya.  Raffles arrived in Singapore on 29 January 1819 and soon recognised the island as a natural choice for the new port. It lay at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, near the Straits of Malacca, and possessed a natural deep harbour, fresh water supplies, and timber for repairing ships. Raffles found a small Malay settlement, with a population of a few hundreds, at the mouth of the Singapore River, headed by Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman. The island was nominally ruled by the Sultan of JohorTengku Rahman, who was controlled by the Dutch and the Bugis. However, the Sultanate was weakened by factional division and Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman and his officials were loyal to Tengku Rahman's elder brother Tengku Hussein (or Tengku Long) who was living in exile in Riau. With the Temenggong's help, Raffles managed to smuggle Hussein back into Singapore. He offered to recognise Hussein as the rightful Sultan of Johor and provide him with a yearly payment; in return, Hussein would grant the British the right to establish a trading post on Singapore. 

A formal treaty was signed on 6 February 1819 and modern Singapore was born. When the British government took over from the company, it also acquired the Straits Settlements by 1826, and by 1914, all of Malaya was under British control. Britain gained Hong Kong as a result of the Opium Wars (1839-42) and Kowloon was added to the colony after a second Opium War (1856-58). The surrounding New Territories were added to Hong Kong in a 99-Year lease in 1898. In the same year, Wei Hai Wei, on the northeastern coast of China, was leased by Britain for 25 years. It was returned to China in 1930.



Indian Empire

India was at the heart of the British Empire but it was initially controlled, not directly by the British government, but through the East India Company. This huge company, chartered in 1600, set up a number of factories, as their trading posts were called, and steadily increased its possessions and the territories over which it held treaty rights until its power extended from Aden in Arabia to Penang in Malaya, both vital ports of call for company vessels plying between Britain, India, and China. Robert Clive, the first British Governor of Bengal, established the Company’s great military power. The East India Company was the most powerful private company in history, controlling India partly by direct rule and partly by a system of alliances with Indian princes, maintained by the Company's powerful army. The company's political power was ended by the Indian War of Independence (referred to by the ruling British as the ‘Indian Mutiny’) in 1857. 

The rebellion began with mutinies by sepoys of the Bengal Presidency army; in 1857 the presidency consisted of present-day Bangladesh, and the Indian states of West BengalBihar and UP. However, most rebel soldiers were from the UP region, and, in particular, from Northwest Provinces (especially, Ganga-Jumna Doab) and Oudh, and many came from landowning families. Within weeks of the initial mutinies—as the rebel soldiers wrested control of many urban garrisons from the British—the rebellion was joined by various discontented groups in the hinterlands, in both farmed areas and the backwoods. The latter group, forming the civilian rebellion, consisted of feudal nobility, landlords, peasants, rural merchants, and some tribal groups

Although this revolt was put down, it resulted in the Crown taking over the government of India in 1858; Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India on 1 Jan 1877. India then became known as the Indian Empire and the vice-regal representative was called a Viceroy. The British army fought two wars withAfghanistan (1839-41 and 1878-80) to protect India's northwest frontier and invaded Tibet in 1904. A semi-protectorate existed in Afghanistan from 1880 to 1919 with Britain controlling the country’s foreign affairs.Afghanistan declared full independence during the Third Afghan War (1919-1921). British influence in Nepalbegan in 1857 with the country having a very pro-British king. Nepal’s independence was recognised by a Treaty of Friendship with Britain in 1923. Burma was part of India until 1937. In that year it became a separate British colony.

Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Act for the Better Government of India (1858) made changes in the governance of India at three levels: in the imperial government in London, in the central government in Calcutta, and in the provincial governments in the presidencies (and later in the provinces).

In London, it provided for a cabinet-level Secretary of State for India and a fifteen-member Council of India, whose members were required, as one prerequisite of membership, to have spent at least ten years in Indiaand to have done so no more than ten years before. Although the Secretary of State formulated the policy instructions to be communicated to India, he was required in most instances to consult the Council, but especially so in matters relating to spending of Indian revenues. The Act envisaged a system of "double government" in which the Council ideally served both as a check on excesses in imperial policy-making and as a body of up-to-date expertise on India. However, the Secretary of State also had special emergency powers that allowed him to make unilateral decisions, and, in reality, the Council's expertise was sometimes outdated. 

Suzerainty over 175 Princely States, including some of the largest and most important, was exercised (in the name of the British Crown) by central government of British India under the Viceroy; the remaining, approximately 500, states were dependents of the provincial governments of British India under a Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, or Chief Commissioner (as the case might have been). A clear distinction between "dominion" and "suzerainty" was supplied by the jurisdiction of the courts of law: the law of British India rested upon the laws passed by the British Parliament and the legislative powers those laws vested in the various governments of British India, both central and local; in contrast, the courts of the Princely States existed under the authority of the respective rulers of those states.

In Calcutta, the Governor-General remained head of the Government of India and now was more commonly called the Viceroy on account of his secondary role as the Crown's representative to the nominally sovereign princely states; he was, however, now responsible to the Secretary of State in London and through him to British Parliament. A system of "double government" had already been in place in the East India Company rule in India from the time of Pitt's India Act of 1784. The Governor-General in the capital, Calcutta, and the Governor in a subordinate presidency (Madras or Bombay) was each required to consult his advisory council; executive orders in Calcutta, for example, were issued in the name of "Governor-General-in-Council" (i.e.the Governor-General with the advice of the Council). The Company's system of "double government" had its critics, since, from the time of the system's inception, there had been been intermittent feuding between the Governor-General and his Council; still, the Act of 1858 made no major changes in governance. However, in the years immediately thereafter, which were also the years of post-rebellion reconstruction, the Viceroy Lord Canning found the collective decision-making of the Council to be too time-consuming for the pressing tasks ahead. He therefore requested the "portfolio system" of an Executive Council in which the business of each government department (the "portfolio") was assigned to and became the responsibility of a single Council member. Routine departmental decisions were made exclusively by the member, however, important decisions required the consent of the Governor-General and, in the absence such consent, required discussion by the entire Executive Council. This innovation in Indian governance was promulgated in the Indian Councils Act of 1861.

From 1877 until Indian independence in 1947, the British Monarch was known as Queen-Empress or King-Emperor. The Monarch was represented by a Viceroy in India because he or she was an Emperor or Empress in India and was represented by a Governor or Governor-General in the rest of the Empire because there the Monarch was King or Queen. There was also a distinctive India Office and a Secretary of State for India in the British Government. The British colony of Aden on the Arabian Peninsula was also governed by the India Office. The Monarch also had a distinctive crown of India which was worn by King-Emperor George V at his Delhi Durbar in 1911. It was kept with the other British crown jewels at the Tower of London and remains there to this day.

The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 to push for greater self-government for India. The first steps were taken toward self-government in British India in the late 19th century with the appointment of Indian counsellors to advise the British viceroy and the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in legislative councils with the Indian Councils Act of 1892Municipal Corporations and District Boards were created for local administration; they included elected Indian members.

The Government of India Act of 1909 — also known as the Morley-Minto Reforms (John Morley was the secretary of state for India, and Gilbert Elliot, fourth earl of Minto, was viceroy) — gave Indians limited roles in the central and provincial legislatures, known as legislative councils. Indians had previously been appointed to legislative councils, but after the reforms some were elected to them. At the centre, the majority of council members continued to be government-appointed officials, and the viceroy was in no way responsible to the legislature. At the provincial level, the elected members, together with unofficial appointees, outnumbered the appointed officials, but responsibility of the governor to the legislature was not contemplated. Morley made it clear in introducing the legislation to the British Parliament that parliamentary self-government was not the goal of the British government. The Government of India Act of 1919 set up further reforms. In the 1920’s, the capital and government of the Indian Empire was moved to a new city called New Delhi. The Government of India Act of 1935 set up the Indian Empire as an autonomous federation with its own parliament, almost as a Dominion. Burma was separated from the Indian Empire in that year and became a separate colony. Aden, near the Persian Gulf, was also governed by the India Office in London.

The Victoria Memorial Hall, is a memorial building dedicated to VictoriaQueen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, which is located in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India - the capital of West Bengal and a former capital of British India

At the turn of the 20th century, British India consisted of eight provinces that were administered either by a Governor or a Lieutenant-Governor. The following table lists their areas and populations (but does not include those of the dependent Native States): During the partition of Bengal (1905–1911), a new province,Assam and East Bengal was created as a Lieutenant-Governorship. In 1911, East Bengal was reunited with Bengal, and the new provinces in the east became: Assam, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

Click on the gallery of maps below of the British Empire in Asia to enlarge them.
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Largest Expansion Of Empire

The British Empire underwent several growth ‘spurts’. Its largest expansion was during the Victorian era (1837 to 1901). During the first half of the nineteenth century, expansion of the Empire was mostly in Asia with the creation of the Indian Empire by 1877 and the annexation of Burma in the 1880’s. Aden was annexed in 1839 and an invasion of Afghanistan was launched during the same year. Britain also established a presence in Malaya and annexed Hong Kong by 1842. The surrounding New Territories were added to Hong Kong by a 99-year lease in 1898. Additions were also made to British possessions in Canada, Australia and India. New Zealand was annexed in the 1840’s and many islands in the Pacific were added to the Empire after the annexation of the Fiji Islands in 1870.

Empire in Asia and the Middle East

Straits Settlements

Burma (now Myanmar) became a province of British India in 1886 after a series of Anglo-Burmese Wars from 1824. In Borneo, Sarawak was ruled as a personal possession by James Brooke, a former soldier of the East India Company, and the British North Borneo Company acquired Sabah in 1888. The sultanate ofBrunei, which had formerly possessed Sarawak and Sabah (British North Borneo), itself came under British protection in the same year. Labuan, Malacca, Penang, Singapore and the Straits Settlements on and near theMalay peninsula formed the Federated Malay States.

Hong Kong

Middle East

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1919, assisted by Arab tribesmen led by British Colonel T.E. Lawrence, Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq (Mesopotamia) were mandated by the League of Nations to Britain. Colonel Lawrence had promised the Arabs their independence after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, so the Arabs felt betrayed by the British after they found themselves mandated to British rule after the First World War. At that time, many British statesmen believed in creating a vast new British Dominion across the Middle East, however, this proved to be not possible. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised the Jews a home in Palestine. This also infuriated the Arabs. 

The Treaty of Darin, or the Darin Pact, of 1915 was between the United Kingdom and Abdul-Aziz Al Saud (sometimes called Ibn Saud) ruler of Nejd, who would go on to found the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. The Treaty was signed on the island of Darin (also known as Tarout Island) in the Persian Gulf, on 26 December 1915 by Abdul-Aziz and Sir Percy Cox on behalf of the British Government. The Treaty made the lands of the House of Saud a British protectorate and attempted to define its boundaries. The British aim of the treaty was to guarantee the sovereignty of Kuwait, Qatar and the Trucial States. Abdul-Aziz agreed not to attack British protectorates, but gave no undertaking that he would not attack the Sharif of Mecca. Also, he agreed to enter the war against the Ottoman Empire (the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I) as an ally of Britain. The Treaty was the first to give international recognition to the fledgling Saudi state. Also, for the first time in Nejdi history the concept of negotiated borders had been introduced. Additionally, the British aim was to secure its Persian Gulf protectorates, but the treaty had the unintended consequence of legitimising Saudi control in the adjacent areas. The Treaty was superseded by the Treaty of Jeddah (1927).

By the Treaty of Jeddah, signed on 20 May 1927, the United Kingdom recognised the independence of the kingdoms of Hejaz and Nejd. In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A semi-Protectorate existed in Iran (Persia) from 1919 to 1921 with an offer of British military and financial assistance; abandoned after being rejected by Iranians. The British mandate in Iraq was terminated in 1932 and the country became an independent kingdom. However, it was re-occupied by the British from 1941 until 1947. Transjordan gained independence as Jordan in 1946 and the State of Israel was declared in a partitioned Palestine in 1948. Aden joined with other British protectorates as the Federation of South Arabia in 1962.