Agra famine of 1837–38

The Agra famine of 1837–1838[2] was a famine in the newly established North-Western Provinces (formerly Ceded and Conquered Provinces) of Company-ruled India that affected an area of 25,000 square miles (65,000 km2) and a population of 8 million people.[3] The central Doab in present-day Uttar Pradesh—the region of the districts of Kanpur, Etawah, Mainpuri, Agra and Kalpi—was the hardest hit; the trans-Jumna districts of Jalaun, Hamirpur, and Banda also suffered extreme distress.[3]

By the end of 1838, approximately 800,000 people had died of starvation, as had an even larger number of livestock.[3] The famine came to be known in folk memory as chauranvee, (Hindi, literally, "of ninety four,") for the year 1894 in the Samvat calendar corresponding to the year 1838 CE.[4]

Map of the North-Western Provinces showing the region severely afflicted by the famine (in blue).[1]

Onset of the famine

There had been a number of droughts and near-famines in the region in the first third of the nineteenth century.[5] The years of scarcity included: 1803–1804, 1813–14, 1819, 1825–26, 1827–28, and 1832–33.[5] Especially in the 1830s, a number of factors—which included a decade long economic depression, ecological changes in the region, and likely El Niño events—conspired to create a succession of scarcities, of which the Agra famine of 1837–38 was the last.[6]

The 1837 summer monsoon rains failed almost entirely in the region of the Doab lying between Delhi and Allahabad as well in the trans-Jumna districts.[7] During August and September 1837, reports of both severe drought and the failure of the kharif (or autumn) harvest rushed in from different parts of the region.[7] By the time the Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, assumed charge of the administration of the North-Western Provinces on 1 January 1838, the winter monsoon rains had failed as well, and no rabi (or spring) harvest was expected.[7] A famine was, consequently, declared and Auckland commenced a tour of the famine-afflicted regions.[7] In his report to the Court of Directors of the East India Company dated 13 February 1838, Auckland wrote not only about human distress, but also about the impact of the famine on livestock:[7]

"... harrowing accounts of famine and distress pour in from Calpee, Agra, Etawah and Mynpoorie ... not only has the khareef crop in these districts entirely failed but the grass and fodder were also lost. This has led to extensive mortality amongst the cattle, and in some districts nearly all those which have not perished on the spot, have been driven off to other parts of the country in order that they might be saved. It has thus happened that great difficulty has been experienced in irrigating the land for the rubbee crops, and much land which would otherwise have been cultivated has lain waste from this want of means of irrigation."[8]

Other nineteenth-century accounts also spoke of distress, chaos, and migration southwards:

"Grain merchants closed their shops, the peasantry took to plunder; cattle starved and died; in the part of the Mathura district west of the Jumna, the village thatches were torn down to feed the starving beasts. There was a general move of the people in the direction of Mâlwa, that Cathay or land of plenty, where, in the imagination of the North Indian rustic, the fields always smile with golden grain and poverty is unknown."[9]

Auckland found the conditions in these districts to be so distressing that, in his words, "the largest expenditure" was required "in order to palliate the evil, and prevent the total depopulation of the country by starvation and emigration."[8]


Although some relief was provided in the last few months of 1837, famine relief on a large scale did not begin until February 1838.[10] In his report to the Governor-General of February 1838, Mr. Rose, the Deputy-Collector of Cawnpore observed that while the relief was still insufficient, it had nonetheless lessened the distress somewhat, and had, according to him, stemmed the tide of emigration to other regions.[10] It had also served, in his view, as an exemplar in encouraging others to organize their own relief efforts.[10] Rose wrote:

"... the relief afforded, in its present state, is inadequate to the wants of the people, but it must not on that account be considered valueless. Thousands have by it been saved from death by starvation, and the flood of emigration has been checked. The aid afforded ... will ... evince to the people that the Government are anxious to relieve their present unparalleled suffering, and the example thus set forth has ... been an inducement to hundreds to bestir themselves, on behalf of the starving poor, who never before thought of lending their aid in relieving the distress."[11]

From the onset of the scarcity, the Government provided only "work-relief" for able bodied persons.[12] "Charitable relief," or relief for the old and indigent, was left to private efforts.[12] At first, local grain merchants were drafted in the relief effort: the laborers in the relief works received ration tickets which they then exchanged for grain at the grain merchant's; the merchant, in turn, recovered the cost of the grain plus his profit by presenting the tickets to the government.[13] Soon, however, it was discovered that the merchants were adulterating the grain rations to fully half their weight with "sand or powdered bones."[13] In April 1838, therefore, the Government took over the distribution of the rations.[13] The table below gives the expenditure in the relief works in one district, Farrukhabad, for the duration of the scarcity.[13]

Famine relief and expenditure in Farrukhabad district from August 1837 to August 1838[13]
Year/Month Total expenditure in Rupees (Rs.) Number of persons relieved
August 494 9,848
September 1,825 35,568
October 1,884 36,990
November 1,375 21,965
December 1,553 25,632
January 6,845 138,778
February 13,884 273,468
March 27,595 476,346
April 20,591 359,041
May 25,913 459,045
June 33,609 530,621
July 21,392 350,532
August 6,046 106,493
Total Rs. 163,006 2,824,397

According to Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. III 1907, p. 484, a total of Rs. 2,300,000 was spent on relief throughout the famine-afflicted region.


Merchants as a class were variably affected by the famine, with some wealthier merchants, who had sufficient capital to diversify their holdings, profiteering, even as the poorer ones suffered much distress.[14] At the onset of the famine, the rich salt merchants of the middle Doab were immediately able to switch from salt to grain and make windfall profits.[14] The small salt merchants, especially the itinerant merchants, however, did not have such flexibility.[14] According to Bayly 2002, p. 293, a British military officer observed Banjara merchants—who had traditionally traded salt from their region in Rajputana for grain from Rohilkhand to the north-east—returning "from the northern markets of Farrukabad and Shahjahanpur" with no loads of grain on their cattle; the price of grain had been too high for them to turn a profit.[14] Similarly, the intermediate salt merchants, who had traditionally bought salt in bulk from the big merchants and offered it on credit to the small ones, now found themselves with nothing to buy or sell.[14]

The Agra region, had in fact had a serious economic downturn in the decade before, as bullion had become scarce.[14] The smaller merchants, such as those selling "brass vessels, low grade cloths and liquor" had already been in considerable distress, since their patrons, the small farmers, had no surplus income to buy their goods with.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Adaptation of Siddiqi 1973, p. 200; see also Sharma 1993, p. 340
  2. ^ The famine is often referred to as the Agra famine because, just before it began, the North-Western Provinces, then the Ceded and Conquered Provinces, were to have become the Presidency of Agra; later, in 1904, the region again became the Agra Province of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (U.P.)
  3. ^ a b c Sharma 1993, p. 341
  4. ^ Sharma 1993, p. 370
  5. ^ a b Sharma 1993, p. 337
  6. ^ Sharma 1993, pp. 338–339
  7. ^ a b c d e Sharma 1993, p. 339
  8. ^ a b Auckland to the Court of Directors, British East India Company, 13 February 1838, quoted in Sharma 1993, p. 339
  9. ^ Crooke 1897, pp. 170–171
  10. ^ a b c Girdlestone 1868, p. 48
  11. ^ Quoted in Girdlestone 1868, p. 48
  12. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. III 1907, p. 484
  13. ^ a b c d e Girdlestone 1868, p. 55
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Bayly 2002, p. 293


  • Bayly, C. A. (2002), Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion 1770–1870, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pp. 530, ISBN 0-19-566345-4
  • Crooke, William (1897), The North-Western Provinces of India: their history, ethnology and administration, London: Methuen and Company. Pp. x, 361. (facsimile reprint: Asian Educational Services), ISBN 81-206-1067-9
  • Girdlestone, C. E. R. (1868), Report on Past Famines in the North-Western Provinces, Allahabad: Government Press, North-Western Provinces. Pp. iv, 110, IX appendices xliii
  • Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. III (1907), The Indian Empire, Economic (Chapter X: Famine, pp. 475–502, Published under the authority of His Majesty's Secretary of State for India in Council, Oxford at the Clarendon Press. Pp. xxx, 1 map, 552.
  • Sharma, Sanjay (1993), "The 1837–38 famine in U.P.: Some dimensions of popular action", Indian Economic and Social History Review, 30 (3): 337–372, doi:10.1177/001946469303000304
  • Siddiqi, Asiya (1973), Agrarian Change in a Northern Indian State: Uttar Pradesh, 1819–1833, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 222, ISBN 0-19-821553-3

Further reading

  • Commander, Simon (1989), "The Mechanics of Demographic and Economic Growth in Uttar Pradesh, 1800–1900", in Dyson, Tim, India's Historical Demography: Studies in Famine, Disease and Society, London: Routledge Curzon. Pp. 308, ISBN 0-7007-0206-7
1838 in India

This list details events in the year 1838 in India. Major events include the Agra famine of 1837-38, and the founding of the Times of India on 3 November.


Agra ( (listen)) is a city on the banks of the river Yamuna in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. It is 378 kilometres (235 mi) west of the state capital, Lucknow, 206 kilometres (128 mi) south of the national capital New Delhi, 58 kilometres (31 mi) south of Mathura and 125 kilometres (78 mi) north of Gwalior. Agra is one of the most populous cities in Uttar Pradesh, and the 24th most populous in India.Agra is a major tourist destination because of its many Mughal-era buildings, most notably the Tāj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpūr Sikrī, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Agra is included on the Golden Triangle tourist circuit, along with Delhi and Jaipur; and the Uttar Pradesh Heritage Arc, tourist circuit of UP state, along Lucknow and Varanasi. Agra falls within the Braj cultural region.

The region around the modern city was first mentioned in the epic Mahābhārata, where it was called Agrevaṇa (derived from Sanskrit (अग्रेवण) meaning "the border of the forest").However, the 11th-century Persian poet Mas'ūd Sa'd Salmān writes of a desperate assault on the fortress of Agra, then held by the Shāhī King Jayapala, by Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. It was mentioned for the first time in 1080 AD when a Ghaznavide force captured it. Sultan Sikandar Lodī (1488–1517) was the first to move his capital from Delhi to Agra in 1506. He governed the country from here and Agra assumed the importance of the second capital. He died in 1517 and his son, Ibrāhīm Lodī, remained in power there for nine more years and several palaces, wells and a mosque were built by him in the fort during his period, finally being defeated at the Battle of Panipat in 1526. Between 1540 and 1556, Afghans, beginning with Sher Shah Suri ruled the area. It was the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1648.

British Raj

The British Raj (; from rāj, literally, "rule" in Hindustani) was the rule by the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. The rule is also called Crown rule in India, or direct rule in India. The region under British control was commonly called British India or simply India in contemporaneous usage, and included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom, which were collectively called British India, and those ruled by indigenous rulers, but under British tutelage or paramountcy, and called the princely states. The whole was also informally called the Indian Empire.

As India, it was a founding member of the League of Nations, a participating nation in the Summer Olympics in 1900, 1920, 1928, 1932, and 1936, and a founding member of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.This system of governance was instituted on 28 June 1858, when, after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the rule of the British East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria (who, in 1876, was proclaimed Empress of India). It lasted until 1947, when it was partitioned into two sovereign dominion states: the Dominion of India (later the Republic of India) and the Dominion of Pakistan (later the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the eastern part of which, still later, became the People's Republic of Bangladesh). At the inception of the Raj in 1858, Lower Burma was already a part of British India; Upper Burma was added in 1886, and the resulting union, Burma, was administered as an autonomous province until 1937, when it became a separate British colony, gaining its own independence in 1948.

Company rule in India

Company rule in India (sometimes, Company Raj, "raj", lit. "rule" in Hindustani) refers to the rule or dominion of the British East India Company over parts of the Indian subcontinent. This is variously taken to have commenced in 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, when Mir Jafar, the new Nawab of Bengal enthroned by Robert Clive, became a puppet in the Company's hands; in 1765, when the Company was granted the diwani, or the right to collect revenue, in Bengal and Bihar; or in 1773, when the Company established a capital in Calcutta, appointed its first Governor-General, Warren Hastings, and became directly involved in governance. By 1818, with the defeat of the Marathas, followed by the pensioning of the Peshwa and the annexation of his territories, British supremacy in India was complete.The East India Company was a private company owned by stockholders and reporting to a board of directors in London. Originally formed as a monopoly on trade, it increasingly took on governmental powers with its own army and judiciary. It seldom turned a profit, as employees diverted funds into their own pockets. The British government had little control, and there was increasing anger at the corruption and irresponsibility of Company officials or "nabobs" who made vast fortunes in a few years. Pitt's India Act of 1784 gave the British government effective control of the private company for the first time. The new policies were designed for an elite civil service career that minimized temptations for corruption. Increasingly Company officials lived in separate compounds according to British standards. The Company's rule lasted until 1858, when, after the Indian rebellion of 1857, it was abolished. With the Government of India Act 1858, the British government assumed the task of directly administering India in the new British Raj.


The Ganges ( GAN-jeez), or Ganga (Hindustani: [ˈɡəŋɡaː]), is a trans-boundary river of the Indian subcontinent which flows through the nations of India and Bangladesh. The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India. After entering West Bengal, it divides into two rivers: the Hooghly and the Padma River. The Hooghly, or Adi Ganga, flows through several districts of West Bengal and into the Bay of Bengal near Sagar Island. The other, the Padma, also flows into and through Bangladesh, and joins the Meghna river which ultimately empties into the Bay of Bengal.

The Ganges is one of the most sacred rivers to Hindus. It is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. It is worshipped in Hinduism and personified as the goddess Gaṅgā. It has also been important historically, with many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Kannauj, Kampilya, Kara, Prayag or Allahabad, Kashi, Pataliputra or Patna, Hajipur, Munger, Bhagalpur, Baranagar, Murshidabad, Baharampur, Nabadwip, Saptagram and Kolkata) located on its banks.

The Ganges is highly polluted. Pollution threatens not only humans, but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin. The Ganges is a major source of global ocean plastic pollution. The levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the waters of the river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government's official limit. The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far, due to rampant corruption, lack of will on behalf of the government and its bureaucracy, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental planning, and lack of support from religious authorities.

Ganges Canal

The Ganges or Ganga Canal is a canal system that irrigates the Doab region between the Ganges River and the Yamuna River in India.

The canal is primarily an irrigation canal, although parts of it were also used for navigation, primarily for its construction materials. Separate navigation channels with lock gates were provided on this system for boats to negotiate falls. Originally constructed from 1842 to 1854, for an original head discharge of 6000 ft³/s. The Upper Ganges Canal has since been enlarged gradually for the present head discharge of 10,500 ft³/s (295 m³/s). The system consists of main canal of 272 miles and about 4000 miles long distribution channels. The canal system irrigates nearly 9,000 km² of fertile agricultural land in ten districts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Today the canal is the source of agricultural prosperity in much of these states, and the irrigation departments of these states actively maintain the canal against a fee system charged from users.

There are some small hydroelectric plants on the canal capable of generating about 33MW if running at full capacity these are at

Nirgajini, Chitaura, Salawa, Bhola, Jani, Jauli and Dasna .

List of famines

This is a list of famines.

Timeline of major famines in India during British rule

This is a timeline of major famines on the Indian subcontinent during British rule from 1765 to 1947. The famines included here occurred both in the princely states (regions administered by Indian rulers), British India (regions administered either by the British East India Company from 1765 to 1857; or by the British Crown, in the British Raj, from 1858 to 1947) and Indian territories independent of British rule such as the Maratha Empire. At least 35 million people may have died in famines caused by droughts and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon during the British rule.

The year 1765 is chosen as the start year because that year the British East India Company, after its victory in the Battle of Buxar, was granted the Diwani (rights to land revenue) in the region of Bengal (although it would not directly administer Bengal until 1784 when it was granted the Nizamat, or control of law and order.) The year 1947 is the year in which the British Raj was dissolved and the new successor states of Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan were established.

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