Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-56f9d74cfd-fpcrz Total loading time: 0.277 Render date: 2022-06-27T10:16:38.788Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Indians and the Indian Civil Service, 1853–1879: A Study in National Agitation and Imperial Embarrassment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 March 2011


The question of the admission of Indians to the Covenanted Civil Service was perhaps the most important single issue connected with the British empire in India during the 19th century. The administration and the political security of the raj both depended very largely on this civil service. It was for this reason that, in 1793, important administrative positions were restricted to Europeans. Natives were thought to lack political reliability and personal morality; an additional disqualification was their lack of familiarity with Western principles of judicial administration. The objectionable legal statement of discrimination was later replaced by an admirable series of pronouncements of equality. Nevertheless, the Indian Civil Service was still, in the middle of the 19th century, a European elite body both in composition and function. There thus existed a conflict between professed intentions and practical reality. This antithesis underlay the development of the issue from the committee-room cliché that it was in 1853 to the crucial political problem that it had become by 1879.

Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 1967

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 3 and 4 Will. IV, c. 85 sect. lxxxvii.

2 Ballhatchet, K. A., “Raja Ram Roy's Visit to England”, BSOAS, XIX, 1957, 6971CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Friend of India, 3rd June, 1876.

3 There are recent surveys of this problem in Symonds, R., The British and their successors, 1966, 2541, 79–85Google Scholar; and in Metcalf, T. R., The aftermath of revolt, Princeton/London, 1965, 269288CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Hansard, 3rd series, cxxviii, 758.

5 Wood to Dalhousie, 24th November, 1853 (India Office Library, London: Wood Papers, MSS. Eur. F.78, India Board letter book IV).

6 The text of the Proclamation is in Ilbert, C., The government of India, Oxford, 1898, 572Google Scholar.

7 Ludlow, J. M., Thoughts on the policy of the Crown to India, 1859, 204–5Google Scholar.

8 Lahore Chronicle, 28th December, 1864.

9 Friend of India, 3rd September, 1863; Christian Intelligencer, quoted in Friend of India, 15th October, 1863.

10 Parl. Papers, 1859, viii (2511), 286302 (226–242)Google Scholar.

11 For educated Indian reaction to this change see Ghose, M., The Open Competition for the Civil Service of India, 1866, 911Google Scholar; Proceedings of the London Indian Society, 19th December, 1865.

12 Merivale to Wood, n.d. (Home Public Correspondence, 3/36); Wood to Merivale, 4th November, 1863 (ibid.); Merivale to de Grey, 5th May, 1866 (ibid., 3/117). Sir Edward Ryan, the First Civil Sevrice Commissioner and a former Chief Justice of Bengal, appears to have instigated this alteration in the marks. Moore, R. J., Sir Charles Wood's Indian policy, 1853–1866, Manchester, 1966, 103Google Scholar, on the basis of material in the Hickleton Papers corroborates Ryan's responsibility.

13 Northcote to Napier, 25th August, 1867 (British Museum, Iddesleigh Papers, Add. MSS. 50048).

14 Northcote to Lawrence, 24th June and 15th August, 1867 (Iddesleigh Papers, Add. MSS. 50047).

15 Northcote to the Earl of Kellie (a vice-president of the E.I. Association), 9th September, 1867 (Iddesleigh Papers, Add. MSS. 50048).

16 An amendment to the 1853 Government of India Bill, proposing to allocate up to one-third of annual appointments to Indians, was soundly defeated: Hansard, 3rd series, cxxix, 777–788.

17 Second Report of the Special Committee on Civil Salaries, 20th January, 1860; see especially paragraphs 2–6, 14.

18 Proceedings of the East India Association, vol. I, 216–218.

19 These disadvantages were obvious enough and were generally recognized, e.g. Times of India, 28th September, 1867, and 3rd February, 1868.

20 This point was reiterated by Naoroji in 1868 (Proceedings of the East India Association, vol. III, 126–7). Educated Indian opinion was not unanimous: K. M. Banerjea repudiated the scheme at a meeting of the Bethune Society (Englishman, 16th December, 1869).

21 e.g. Friend of India, 9th January, 1868.

22 Bombay Gazette Overland Summary, 20th February, 1869.

23 Hansard, 3rd series, cxci, 18381857Google Scholar.

24 ibid., 1846.

25 ibid., 1853–6.

26 ibid., 1857.

27 See below, p. 111.

28 Bagal, J. C., History of the Indian Association, 1876–1951, Calcutta, 1953, 1819, 42–5, 56, 65Google Scholar.

29 Report of the First Indian National Congress, 35.

30 Report of the Public Service Commission, 1886–7, Calcutta, 1888, 48–52.

31 For the later history of this issue see Banerjea, S., A nation in making, 1925, 132–4, 152, 167–8Google Scholar; Singh, H. L., Problems and policies of the British in India, 1885–1898, 1963, 6471Google Scholar.

32 India Home (Educational) Proceedings, Resolution 360, 30th June, 1868.

33 Of the nine 1869 scholars, one competed successfully and two unsuccessfully for the I.C.S., and seven were called to the Bar (one of whom had been an unsuccessful competitioner) (Home Public Correspondence, vols. 36–7).

34 These were the Gilchrist scholarships. They were open to competition in the three Presidency towns and were worth £100 a year for five years. The Government of India paid scholars' passages (Home Public Correspondence, 5/36).

35 Proceedings of the East India Association, vol. I, 219–220, 253–4.

36 India Foreign Revenue Letter, No. 10 of 1867, 8th February (with enclosures); India Foreign Revenue Despatch, No. 33 of 1867, 31st May; India Foreign Proceedings, No. 1415, 19th August, 1867; India Public Proceedings, No. 87 of September, 1867, Nos. 40 & 105, October, 1867, No. 177, December, 1867, No. 67 of June, 1868; India Foreign Revenue Letter, No. 38 of 1867, 13th September; India Foreign Revenue Despatch, No. 10 of 1868, 8th February.

37 For Frere's attitude see below, p. 106.

38 Northcote to Lawrence, 8th May, 1868 (India Office Library, London: Lawrence Papers, MSS. Eur. F.90, vol. 29); Northcote to Lawrence, 13th August, 1868 (ibid., vol. 29); Lawrence to Northcote, 15th September, 1868 (ibid., vol. 33).

39 India Educational Despatch, No. 3 of 1869, 8th April; India Educational Letter, No. 7 of 1869, 19th May; India Educational Despatch, No. 10 of 1869, 15th July; India Educational Despatch, No. 16 of 1869, 18th November; India Educational Letter, No. 1 of 1870, 25th January; India Educational Despatch, No. 4 of 1870, 31st March.

40 Hansard, 3rd series, cxci, 1858Google Scholar.

41 ibid., cxciv, 1061.

42 ibid., cxciv, 1062.

43 Proceedings of the East India Association, vol. III, 88–96.

44 S. Banerjea, op. cit., 12–16.

45 Hindoo Patriot, quoted in Friend of India, 11th May, 1871; Friend of India, 30th March, 1871. 48 Friend of India, 27th April, 1871.

48 Friend of India Overland, 23rd September, 1873. In 1870 another successful Indian competitor, Anunda Ram Borooah, was accused of fraud and questions were asked in the House (Hansard, 3rd series, cciii, 252, 793–801).

49 Surendranath's own retrospective account of this appears in A nation in making, 27–30. All the official papers are in Collection to Public Despatch No. 47 of 1874, 31st March. Surendranath's appeal and petition are in Home Public Correspondence, 3/204.

50 India Public Letter, No. 9 of 1874, 6th February.

51 Northbrook to Argyll, 6th February, 1874 (India Office Library, London: Northbrook Papers, MSS. Eur. C.144, vol. 9).

52 Government of Bengal to Government of India, 29th July, 1873 (Collection to Despatch No. 47).

53 Government of Bengal to Government of India, 20th December, 1873, ibid.

54 Note by Anderson prefacing Despatch No. 47 (Public Despatches to India, Original Drafts, vol. 17).

55 Note by Salisbury, ibid.

56 India Public Despatch No. 34 of 1872, 18th April.

57 India Public Despatch No. 113 of 1872, 22nd October.

58 Northbrook to Argyll, 6th December, 1872 (Northbrook Papers, vol. 9).

59 Argyll to Northbrook, 7th January, 1873 (Northbrook Papers, vol. 9).

60 Note by T. J. Chichele Plowden, 17th August, 1876 (India Office Library, London: Lytton Papers, MSS. Eur. E.218, vol. 23/1).

61 Parl. Papers, 18671868, 1 (178), 293–4 (3–4)Google Scholar: Dissent by Frere to Revenue Despatch No. 10 of 1868, 8th February.

62 Parl. Papers, 1876, lv (c. 1446), 280–2 (4–6)Google Scholar.

63 ibid., 599–602 (323–6), India Public Despatch, No. 19 of 1876, 24th February.

64 H. L. Singh, op. cit., 26.

65 ibid., 28–9.

66 Spear, P., A history of India, 1965, Vol. 2, 172–3Google Scholar.

67 For an examination of this measure with regard to the English candidates see my “Open Competition and the Civil Service of India, 1853–1876” (Library of the Royal Commonwealth Society, London; unpublished essay awarded the Walter Frewen Lord Prize, 1966)Google Scholar.

68 Hansard, 3rd series, ccxxxv, 454. Significantly, not one member of Parliament criticized the lower age limit as unfair to Indians.

69 Parl. Papers, 1876, lv (c. 1446), 283–4 (7–8)Google Scholar, Liddell to Salisbury, 17th November, 1874; 284–5 (8–9), Phear to Salisbury, 15th December, 1874.

70 Edinburgh Review, cxxxix (Autumn, 1874)Google Scholar, “Competitive Examinations”. The author may have been the eminently respectable Chesney, Colonel G. T., author of Indian polity, as alleged in The Bengal Civil Service; a chapter of Indian experiences, by An Outcast, 1875, 20Google Scholar.

71 Pioneer, 17th May, 1876.

72 Home Public Correspondence, 3/206.

73 ibid., Minute Paper of Home Department, Nov./Dec, 1874.

74 A distaste which was perhaps never more strongly expressed than in the description of “the cowardly, effeminate, corrupt, oppressive, selfish, half-educated Calcutta baboos” by the Lahore Chronicle, 13th June, 1868.

75 Wood's Act, 24 and 25 Vic. c. 54; Argyll's Act, 33 Vic. c. 3.

76 The papers relevant to the formation of the Statutory Service have been collected in two volumes of the Lytton Papers, 23/1 and 23/2.

77 Northbrook to Salisbury, 30th September, 1875; Salisbury to Northbrook, 28th October, 1875 (Northbrook Papers, vol. 12).

78 For an example of the currency given to Northbrook's minute see the Hindoo Patriot, 17th April, 1876.

79 In this interchange of letters, cited in n. 77 above, Salisbury replied rather ambiguously, apparently agreeing with Northbrook. There is a pencilled note by Northbrook in the margin stating “He did not ultimately agree but took the contrary view to mine on the age”.

80 Salisbury to Lytton, 13th April, 1877 (Lytton Papers, vol. 516/2).

81 This table and subsequent figures are based on information contained in a table drawn up by the Civil Service Commissioners, India Public Proceedings, No. 131, January, 1887. It may not be entirely accurate, since another Civil Service source, for 1872 only, names an additional two unsuccessful Indian competitors. These have been included in the total for 1872 (Home Public Correspondence, 3/187).

82 Dislike of the Indian competitioner should, of course, be considered alongside the distaste with which the English competitioner was often regarded. The babu had his counterpart in the wallah. For contemporary views on the wallah, see my “Open Competition and the Civil Service of India”, 17–24, 32–3, 50–4, 61–7; R. J. Moore, op. cit., 101–2.

83 Bengal Native Newspapers Reports, No. 25 of 1875, Bharat Sangskarak, 4th June.

84 Hindoo Patriot, 17th April, 8th May, 12th June, 1876.

85 Compare the Education Gazette, 21st April, and the Dacca Prakash, 30th April, with the Sadharani, 14th May, and the Grambarta Prakashika, 11th June (Bengal Native Newspapers Reports, Nos. 18, 19, 22, and 25 of 1876).

86 Letter of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha to the East India Association, Friend of India, 1st July, 1876; Memorial of the British Indian Association, India Public Proceedings, No. 6, February, 1877; Som Prakash, 19th March, 1877 (Bengal Native Newspapers Reports, No. 12 of 1877).

87 See below, p. 111.

88 Lytton to Salisbury, 28th September, 1876 (Lytton Papers, vol. 518/1).

89 Englishman, 2nd September and 23rd December, 1876, 17th January, 1877; Indian Daily News, 7th March, 1877; Hindoo Patriot, 21st August, 1876; Bengalee, 30th December, 1876.

90 Friend of India, 19th August, 1876.

91 Lytton to Salisbury, 10th May, 1877 (Lytton Papers, vol. 518/2).

92 Minute by Lytton, 30th May, 1877 (Lytton Papers, vol. 23/2).

93 S. Banerjea, op. cit., 40–1.

94 Hindoo Patriot, 26th March, 1877; S. Banerjea, op. cit., 44.

95 S. Banerjea, op. cit., 44–54.

96 Indian Daily News, 29th March, 1877.

97 Bengal Native Newspapers Reports, No. 7 of 1877, Bharat Mihir, 9th February.

98 As influential a man as Sir John Strachey was prepared to advocate an open declaration of the ineligibility of Indians to important administrative posts for reasons of “political expediency” (Lytton Papers, vol. 23/1, Minute by Strachey, 21st October, 1872). Strachey probably typified Anglo-Indian opinion in his readiness to deny the absolute legal equality of Indians provided that there was a relative improvement in their standing.

99 India Public Letter No. 35 of 1878, 2nd May, paragraph 19.

100 Cranbrook to Lytton, 28th July, 1879 (Lytton Papers, vol. 516/4); S. Banerjea, op. cit., 54.

101 S. Banerjea, op. cit., 54.

102 Cranbrook to Lytton, 28th July, 1879 (loc. cit.).

103 Stanhope to Lytton, 24th July, 1879 (Lytton Papers, vol. 517/8).

104 Strachey to Lytton, 1st August, 1879 (Lytton Papers, vol. 517/8).

105 ibid.

106 For the Cooper's Hill speech see Friend of India, 19th August, 1876; for the Fuller case see Gopal, S., British policy in India, 1858–1905 (Cambridge, 1965), 116CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

107 S. Banerjea, op. cit., 51.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Indians and the Indian Civil Service, 1853–1879: A Study in National Agitation and Imperial Embarrassment
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Indians and the Indian Civil Service, 1853–1879: A Study in National Agitation and Imperial Embarrassment
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Indians and the Indian Civil Service, 1853–1879: A Study in National Agitation and Imperial Embarrassment
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *