India Office

India Office

The India Office was the British government department responsible for the direct administration of India during the British Raj. It was headed by the Secretary of State for India, who was a member of the British Prime Minister's Cabinet.


The India Office was established under the provisions of the Government of India Act 1858. This act transferred the powers and functions of the British East India Company to the Crown, which continued to function as the ultimate ruler of India until 1947, when British India was partitioned into the independent states of India and Pakistan.

History and description

The India Office was unique among the departments of the British government in that it was largely funded out of Indian revenues until the entry into force of Government of India Act 1935.

The India Office was intimately involved in the formation of Indian and Imperial policy throughout its existence. It worked behind the scenes, forming the nexus between the British political, bureaucratic and commercial reality and the Government of India.

The Office was described thus by Lord George Hamilton -

:"The India Office is a miniature Government in itself. There is not a branch of administrative or executive work connected with the big Government which is not represented inside the Office, and the great bulk of the questions that come on from the Government of India are not trivial or prosaic details of administration, but questions either of importance, or matters upon which there is difference of opinion or controversy, or connected with change or reforms." Lord George Hamilton, Parliamentary Reminiscences, 1868-1885, p. 68.

The Viceroy of India was the head of the British administration in India. However, he reported directly to the Secretary of State for India, a British government minister, and through him to the Cabinet.

One major institutional reform - the British Government's takeover of the responsibilities of the East India Company (1858) - and three technical advances - the opening of the London-India telegraph (1865), the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) and the related replacement of sailing ships by faster steam vessels - allowed the British Government, through the Secretary of State for India, to effectively control the Viceroy. In turn, the spread of the Indian railway and telegraph system allowed the Viceroy and his secretariat to fully subordinate the Government of India machine. During this process, the India Office provided the bureaucratic and policy ammunition that the Secretaries of State of the late 19th century used to convert the Viceroy and Government of India into little more than the agents of the Government of the United Kingdom.

During the period 1910–1947, successive political reforms led to ever greater decentralization of power within India and the devolution of increased authority to both British Indian officials and Indian politicians. The India Office was intimately involved in this process, at times resisting these changes.

The India Office proper existed until 1947, when India was granted independence and the state of Pakistan was created.

In spite of its manifest importance in understanding the history of pre-1947 India, no analytical investigation of the structure and function of the India Office exists for the period beyond 1924.

Burma Office

As part of the provisions of the Government of India Act 1935, the Burma Office was created to govern the new Crown colony of Burma. However, it was immediately merged with the India Office, with the Secretary of State for India assuming the responsibilities for Burma as well; he thus became designated as the Secretary of State for India and Burma.

After Indian partition and independence in 1947, the India Office was converted into the Burma Office, which oversaw Burma until the colony's own independence the next year. The department was then abolished completely.

India Office Records

Unlike all other British Government records, the records from the India Office (and its predecessor The East India Company) are not in The National Archives at Kew, London, but are deposited in the British Library in London and as such, form part of the Oriental and India Office collection. The catalogue is searchable online in the [ Access to Archives] catalogues. Many of The India office records are freely available online under an agreement that FIBIS have with the British Library.

See also

* Secretary of State for India
* Under-Secretary of State for India
* British Raj
* Governor-General of India

External links

* [ Bibliography]


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