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      The Age of Reform 1820-1856

stacking opium in patna
Stacking opium balls
From: The Graphic 1882

1828 has traditionally been regarded as demarcating the beginning of a new era in the history of British India.

Up to this time attitudes concerning the governance of an alien society varied and were mostly discordant.

But the dominant ethos was ' reformist' and it grew in strength and stridency.

Initially held at bay, it captured the mind of Parliament first, indoctrinated the bureaucratic class that was trained at Haileybury to run the new empire, and overwhelmed the objections of orientalists and pragmatists.

By 1828 liberals like Macauley and Utilitarians like Mill, Bentinck and Trevelyan had the field to themselves and immediately instituted reformist programmes.

The tutorial will examine those programmes, evaluate the impulses and motives that informed them, and measure their impact on Indian society.

Whether the changes foreshadowed or legislated for between 1828-56 deserve to entitle this 30 year period as 'The Age of Reform', however, remains a moot point.

Synoptic Lecture Notes


THE AGE OF REFORM? (1828-1856)


missionary preaching on indian street
Missionary preaching c1850
From: Atkinson (1911)

Up to 1828 we have the development of a reforming ethos

After 1828 we reputedly have application of a reforming program.

This reforming program had at its heart the Doctrine of Improvement.

India seen as a 'laboratory of experiment' in social and political engineering.

But improvement of what kind?

Improvement could take different forms and reflect different inputs.

To liberals : improvement = Western education

To utilitarian : improvement = good laws

To evangelicals : improvement = Christianity and conversion

In historiography the period 1828-1856 has been labelled 'The Age of Reform'

* Is this merited?

* If not, why not?

Possible explanation :

Age of Reform is a concept needed to explain the Mutiny which followed it?

Thus British meddling/interference provides an ideal backdrop for Indian reaction and resistance in 1856-8.

But J. Nehru disputes the point that the British were reforming zealots, who went too far too quickly, in a 'cultural blitzkrieg'. Instead, he argues, the British remained, from first to last, lilly-hearted bureaucrats - who contemplated change only if it were safe.

V.G Kiernan ['The Lords of Human Kind'] draws our attention not to what the British actually did, but to how they did it.

That is, it was not British reforms that were the problem so much as British methods.

The Coming of Bentinck [Gov.-General 1828-1835]

What sort of man was he?

Relied on advice from strong-willed advisers.

Therefore susceptibility to instigate change in line with current reformist views.

His "Reforms" fall into 3 categories

1. Social : Do they amount to much? Negative in character

2. Legal : Macaulay's New Legal Code 1834 (Mill's influence)

= Western, uniform, far-reaching.

3. Educative : Macaulay's Reform Minute of 1835

= considered the Key Measure of this period.

1835 Education Minute - Features. ['Filtration' theory; Education filters down from elite to masses; Brown Englishmen created]

- Motivations:

- Racial - administrative - commercial

Results: - Growth of nationalist sentiment Both unexpected

- Hindu/Muslim rivalry exacerbated by-products

Dalhousie and Economic 'Improvement'

- Infrastructure of modern state put in place

(a) railways (b) telegraph (c) universities

- Emphasis on both shovel and pen

Dalhousie [Gov.General 1852-56] an interventionist

Able to execute utilitarian policy; not simply make policy statements.

Conclusion: Do the above 'Reforms' constitute a full-scale-assault on Indian Custom? If not, how do we explain the Mutiny?

Tutorial Questions to Address

1. What did Utilitarianism, as outlined by James Mill and applied by its apologists for generations, consist of in the Indian context?

2. T. B. Macauley's Minute of Education (1838) is always depicted as the centrepiece of British 'reformism'. Why was it important?

3. In what ways was Dalhousie's approach to the improvement of Indian society different from either Mill's or Macauley's?

Core Reading

Brown, (Ch II)

Hutchins, (Chs. 1-3)

Woodruff, (Vol 1, Part III, ChVI)

Additional Reading

G.D. Bearce, British Attitudes Towards India. (Ch. 6.)

J. Clive, Thomas Babington Macaulay.

S.C. Ghose, Dalhousie in India, 1848-56.

K. Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance. (Part 5 on the victory of Macaulayism)

B. Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill.

T.R. Metcalf, Modern India: an Interpretive Anthology. (Ch. 12.)

R. Iyer, 'Utilitarianism and Empire in India'. (Ch. 13.)

P. Spear, 'Bentinck and Education'

C.H. Philips (ed.), Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. (Ch. 17 on Mill; Ch.18 on Macaulay.)

J. Rosselli, Lord William Bentinck: the Making of a Liberal Imperialist 1774-1839.

E. Stokes, The English Utilitarians and India. (esp. Ch. 111 and Ch. IV, pts. 1-2)


K.A. Ballhatchet, 'The Home Government and British Educational Policy', Cambridge Historical Journal, 10, 1951

Special Issue of Indo-British Review: 'The East India Company Raj', Vol. XXI, no. 2 (1996)

G.D. Bearce, 'Lord William Bentinck: The Application of Liberalism to India', Journal of Modern History. 28, 1956

S. Gopal, 'Dalhousie', History Today, 9, 1959

G & N Sirkin, 'Battle of Indian Education: Macaulay's Opening Salvo Newly Discovered', Victorian Studies, 14, 1971

E. Stokes, 'Macaulay: the Indian Years 1834-38', Review of English Literature, 1, 1960

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