The Bengal Presidency (1757–1912), later reorganized as the Bengal Province (1912–1947), was once the largest subdivision (presidency) of British India, with its seat in Calcutta (now Kolkata). It was primarily centred in the Bengal region. At its territorial peak in the 19th century, the presidency extended from the present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan in the west to Burma, Singapore and Penang in the east. The Governor of Bengal was concurrently the Viceroy of India for many years. Most of the presidency's territories were eventually incorporated into other British Indian provinces and crown colonies. In 1905, Bengal proper was partitioned, with Eastern Bengal and Assam headquartered in Dacca and Shillong (summer capital). British India was reorganised in 1912 and the presidency was reunited into a single Bengali-speaking province.
The Bengal Presidency was established in 1765, following the defeat of the last independent Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 23 June 1757, and the Battle of Buxar in 22 October 1764. Bengal was the economic, cultural and educational hub of the British Raj. It was the centre of the late 19th and early 20th century Bengali Renaissance and a hotbed of the Indian Independence Movement.
The Partition of British India in 1947 resulted in Bengal's division on religious grounds, between the Indian state of West Bengal and the Pakistanian province of East Bengal, which first became East Pakistan in 1955 under Pakistanian rule and finally the nation of Bangladesh in 1971.
|Bengal Presidency (1757–1912)|
Bengal Province (1912–47)
|Presidency & province of British India|
The presidency at its greatest extent
|Historical era||New Imperialism|
|•||Treaty of Allahabad (Battle of Buxar)||1765|
|•||Partition of Bengal (1905)||1905–11|
|•||Formation of Bengal Province (separation of Bihar and Orissa)||1912|
|•||Partition of Bengal (1947)||1947|
|•||Partition of India||1947|
|Today part of||Bangladesh|
Under Warren Hastings (British Governorships 1772–1785) the consolidation of British imperial rule over Bengal was solidified, with the conversion of a trade area into an occupied territory under a military-civil government, while the formation of a regularised system of legislation was brought in under John Shore. Acting through Lord Cornwallis, then Governor-General, he ascertained and defined the rights of the landholders over the soil. These landholders under the previous system had started, for the most part, as collectors of the revenues, and gradually acquired certain prescriptive rights as quasi-proprietors of the estates entrusted to them by the government. In 1793 Lord Cornwallis declared their rights perpetual, and gave over the land of Bengal to the previous quasi-proprietors or zamindars, on condition of the payment of a fixed land tax. This piece of legislation is known as the Permanent Settlement of the Land Revenue. It was designed to "introduce" ideas of property rights to India, and stimulate a market in land. The former aim misunderstood the nature of landholding in India, and the latter was an abject failure.
The Cornwallis Code, while defining the rights of the proprietors, failed to give adequate recognition to the rights of the under-tenants and the cultivators. This remained a serious problem for the duration of British Rule, as throughout the Bengal Presidency ryots (peasants) found themselves oppressed by rack-renting landlords, who knew that every rupee they could squeeze from their tenants over and above the fixed revenue demanded from the Government represented pure profit. Furthermore, the Permanent Settlement took no account of inflation, meaning that the value of the revenue to Government declined year by year, whilst the heavy burden on the peasantry grew no less. This was compounded in the early 19th century by compulsory schemes for the cultivation of opium and indigo, the former by the state, and the latter by British planters (most especially in Tirhut District in Bihar). Peasants were forced to grow a certain area of these crops, which were then purchased at below market rates for export. This added greatly to rural poverty.
So unsuccessful was the Permanent Settlement that it was not introduced in the North-Western Provinces (taken from the Marathas during the campaigns of Lord Lake and Arthur Wellesley) after 1831, in Punjab after its conquest in 1849, or in Oudh which was annexed in 1856. These regions were nominally part of the Bengal Presidency, but remained administratively distinct. The area of the Presidency under direct administration was sometimes referred to as Lower Bengal to distinguish it from the Presidency as a whole. Officially Punjab, Agra and Allahabad had Lieutenant-Governors subject to the authority of the Governor of Bengal in Calcutta, but in practice they were more or less independent. The only all-Presidency institutions which remained were the Bengal Army and the Civil Service. The Bengal Army was finally amalgamated into the new British-Indian Army in 1904–5, after a lengthy struggle over its reform between Lord Kitchener, the Commander-in-Chief, and Lord Curzon, the Viceroy.
The partition of the large province of Bengal, which was decided upon by Lord Curzon, and Cayan Uddin Ahmet, the Chief Secretary of Bengal carried into execution in October 1905. The Chittagong, Dhaka and Rajshahi divisions, the Malda District and the States of Hill Tripura, Sylhet and Comilla were transferred from Bengal to a new province, Eastern Bengal and Assam; the five Hindi-speaking states of Chota Nagpur, namely Changbhakar, Korea, Surguja, Udaipur and Jashpur State, were transferred from Bengal to the Central Provinces; and Sambalpur State and the five Oriya states of Bamra, Rairakhol, Sonepur, Patna and Kalahandi were transferred from the Central Provinces to Bengal.
The province of West Bengal then consisted of the thirty-three districts of Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura, Midnapur, Hughli, Howrah, Twenty-four Parganas, Calcutta, Nadia, Murshidabad, Jessore, Khulna, Patna, Gaya, Shahabad, Saran, Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Monghyr, Bhagalpur, Purnea, Santhal Parganas, Cuttack, Balasore, Angul and Kandhmal, Puri, Sambalpur, Singhbhum, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Palamau, and Manbhum. The princely states of Sikkim and the tributary states of Odisha and Chhota Nagpur were not part of Bengal, but British relations with them were managed by its government.
The Indian Councils Act 1909 expanded the legislative councils of Bengal and Eastern Bengal and Assam provinces to include up to 50 nominated and elected members, in addition to three ex officio members from the executive council.
Bengal's legislative council included 22 nominated members, of which not more than 17 could be officials, and two nominated experts. Of the 26 elected members, one was elected by the Corporation of Calcutta, six by municipalities, six by district boards, one by the University of Calcutta, five by landholders, four by Muslims, two by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, and one by the Calcutta Trades Association. Eastern Bengal and Assam's legislative council included 22 nominated members, of which not more than 17 be officials and one representing Indian commerce, and two nominated experts. Of the 18 elected members, three were elected by municipalities, five by district and local boards, two by landowners, four by Muslims, two by the tea interest, one by the jute interest, and one by the Commissioners of the Port of Chittagong.
The partition of Bengal proved highly controversial, as it resulted in a largely Hindu West Bengal and a largely Muslim East. Serious popular agitation followed the step, partly on the grounds that this was part of a cynical policy of divide and rule, and partly that the Bengali population, the centre of whose interests and prosperity was Calcutta, would now be divided under two governments, instead of being concentrated and numerically dominant under the one, while the bulk would be in the new division. In 1906–1909 the unrest developed to a considerable extent, requiring special attention from the Indian and Home governments, and this led to the decision being reversed in 1911.
At the Delhi Durbar on 12 December 1911, King George V announced the transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to Delhi, the reunification of the five predominantly Bengali-speaking divisions into a Presidency (or province) of Bengal under a Governor, the creation of a new province of Bihar and Orissa under a lieutenant-governor, and that Assam Province would be reconstituted under a chief commissioner. On 21 March 1912 Thomas Gibson-Carmichael was appointed Governor of Bengal; prior to that date the Governor-General of India had also served as governor of Bengal Presidency. On 22 March the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and Assam were constituted.
British India's Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919, enacted in 1921, expanded the Bengal Legislative Council to 140 members to include more elected Indian members. The reforms also introduced the principle of dyarchy, whereby certain responsibilities such as agriculture, health, education, and local government, were transferred to elected ministers. However, the important portfolios like finance, police and irrigation were reserved with members of the Governor's Executive Council. Some of the prominent ministers were Surendranath Banerjee (Local Self-government and Public Health 1921-1923), Sir Provash Chunder Mitter (Education 1921–1924, Local Self-government, Public Health, Agriculture and Public Works 1927–1928), Nawab Saiyid Nawab Ali Chaudhuri (Agriculture and Public Works) and A. K. Fazlul Huq (Education 1924). Bhupendra Nath Bose and Sir Abdur Rahim were Executive Members in the Governor's Council.
The Government of India Act 1935 made the Bengal Presidency into a regular province, enlarged the elected provincial legislature and expanded provincial autonomy vis a vis the central government. In the elections held in 1937, the Indian National Congress won a maximum of 54 seats but declined to form the government. The Krishak Praja Party of A. K. Fazlul Huq (with 36 seats) was able to form a coalition government along with the All-India Muslim League.
|A. K. Fazlul Huq||Prime Minister of Bengal, Education|
|Nalini Ranjan Sarkar||Finance|
|Bijoy Prasad Singh Roy||Revenue|
|Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy||Commerce and Labour|
|Khwaja Habibullah||Agriculture and Industry|
|Srish Chandra Nandy||Irrigation, Communications and Works|
|Prasanna Deb Raikut||Forest and Excise|
|Mukunda Behari Mallick||Cooperative, Credit and Rural Indebtedness|
|Nawab Musharraf Hussain||Judicial and Legislature|
|Syed Nausher Ali||Public Health and Local Self Government|
Huq's government fell in 1943 and a Muslim League government under Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin as Prime Minister was formed. After the end of World War II, elections were held in 1946 where the Muslim League won a majority of 113 seats out of 250 in the assembly and a government under Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was formed.
|Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy||Prime Minister of Bengal, Home|
|Mohammad Ali Bogra||Finance, Health, Local Self-government|
|Syed Muazzemuddin Hosain||Education|
|Ahmed Hossain||Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries|
|Nagendra Nath Ray||Judicial and Legislative Department|
|Abul Fazal Muhammad Abdur Rahman||Cooperatives and Irrigation|
|Shamsuddin Ahmed||Commerce, Labour and Industries|
|Abdul Gofran||Civil Supplies|
|Tarak Nath Mukherjee||Irrigation and Waterways|
|Fazlur Rahman||Land, Land Revenue and Jails|
|Dwarka Nath Barury||Works and Building|
The 101st Regiment of Foot (Royal Bengal Fusiliers) was a regiment of the British Army raised by the Honourable East India Company in 1652. It transferred to the command of the British Army in 1862. Under the Childers Reforms it amalgamated with the 104th Regiment of Foot (Bengal Fusiliers) to form the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1881.36th Sikhs
The 36th Sikhs was an infantry regiment in the British Indian Army. They could trace their origins to 1887, when they were the 36th (Sikh) Bengal Infantry. Composed of Jat Sikhs, it was created by Colonel Jim Cooke and Captain H. R. Holmes. They had one other change in title in 1901, when they became the 36th Sikh Infantry. They finally became the 36th Sikhs in 1903, after the Kitchener reforms of the Indian Army. During this time they fought an action in 1897, in defence of the Samana Ridge against a huge army of Pathans in the Battle of Saragarhi. To honour the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Indian they took part in the Rawalpindi Parade 1905.
During World War I they were stationed as part of the Garrison of Tianjin in China and took part in the Siege of Tsingtao.
After World War I the Indian government reformed the army again moving from single battalion regiment to multi battalion regiments. The 36th Sikhs now became the 4th Battalion 11th Sikh Regiment. After independence this was one of the regiments allocated to the new Indian Army.Assam Province
Assam Province was a province of British India, created in 1912 by the partition of the Eastern Bengal and Assam Province.
Its capital was in Shillong.
The Assam territory was first separated from Bengal in 1874 as the 'North-East Frontier' non-regulation province. It was incorporated into the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905 and re-established as a province in 1912.Bengal Army
The Bengal Army was the army of the Bengal Presidency, one of the three presidencies of British India within the British Empire.
The Presidency armies, like the presidencies themselves, belonged to the East India Company (EIC) until the Government of India Act 1858 (passed in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857) transferred all three presidencies to the direct authority of the British Crown.
In 1895 all three presidency armies were merged into the Indian Army.Bengal Engineer Group
The Bengal Engineer Group (BEG) or the Bengal Sappers or Bengal Engineers as they are informally known, are remnants of British Indian Army's Bengal Army of the Bengal Presidency in British India; now a regiment of the Corps of Engineers in the Indian Army. The Bengal Sappers have their regimental centre at Roorkee Cantonment in Roorkee city, Uttarakhand. The Bengal Sappers are one of the few remaining regiments of the erstwhile Bengal Presidency Army and survived the Rebellion of 1857 due to their sterling work in the recapture of Delhi and other operations in 1857–58. The troops of the Bengal Sappers have been a familiar sight for over 200 years in the battlefields of British India with their never-say-die attitude of Chak De and brandishing their favourite tool the hamber.Over the years the Bengal Sappers have won many battle and theatre honours, 11 Victoria Cross, 116 Indian Order of Merit, 17 Shaurya Chakra, 93 Sena Medals and 11 Arjun Awards, the highest number of won by any single organization in the country. Lt Gen Joginder Singh Dhillon, commissioned into Bengal Engineer Group in 1936, who commanded the First Republic Day Parade in Delhi, became the first Army Officer to be awarded the Padma Bhushan, in November 1965. Among the three Sappers of Indian Army, Bengal Sappers was the first Engineer Group to receive the 'President Colours' in recognition of its service to the nation, on 12 January 1989, by R Venkataraman, the then President of India, who presented the Regimental Colours to Bengal Engineer Group at Roorkee.Besides service on the battlefield, the Bengal Engineers also rendered valuable peacetime contributions. The military engineer, Lt. James Agg, designed St John's Church in Calcutta. It was based on James Gibbs's St Martin-in-the-Fields in London and was consecrated in 1787.Bihar and Orissa Province
Bihar and Orissa was a province of British India which included the present-day Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and a part of Odisha. The territories were conquered by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries, and were part of the Bengal Presidency, the largest British province in India.
On 22 March 1912 both Bihar and Orissa division were separated from the Bengal Presidency as Bihar and Orissa Province. On 1 April 1936 Bihar and Orissa became separate provinces.Birendra Narayan Chakraborty
Birendra Narayan Chakraborty OBE, ICS (बीरेंद्र नारायण चक्रवर्ती, also Birendra Narayan Chakravarty) (20 December 1904 – 26 March 1976) was an Indian civil servant, politician and the second governor of Haryana.He attended Kolkata's Scottish Church College, and continued his education at the University of Calcutta. He joined University College London for a BSc in chemistry in 1926. After further studies for the Indian Civil Service examinations at the School of Oriental Studies, London, he passed the examinations in 1928 and joined the ICS in October 1929 as an assistant collector and magistrate in the Bengal Presidency. He was promoted to joint magistrate and deputy collector in July 1930 and to additional district and sessions judge (officiating) in June 1935. In February 1936, he was promoted to full magistrate and collector, and was appointed a joint secretary with the Finance Department of the Government of Bengal in April 1944. As an acting secretary, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1945 Birthday Honours list.After Indian independence, he served as Governor of Haryana from 15 September 1967 until his death in office on 26 March 1976, aged 71.British Bencoolen
British Bencoolen was a British possession in Sumatra based in the area of what is now Bengkulu City. The British East India Company (EIC) established a presence there in 1685, and in 1714 the EIC built Fort Marlborough there.
Originally a Presidency within British India, in 1785 it was downgraded to Bencoolen Residency and placed under the Bengal Presidency.On 15 October 1817, Stamford Raffles was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen. During his time as Lieutenant-Governor, Raffles enacted major reforms, including the abolition of slavery, as well as creating Singapore to provide a new trading port in the region.
In 1823, Singapore was removed from the control of Bencoolen. The British ceded Bencoolen to the Netherlands in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.Chota Nagpur Tributary States
The Chota Nagpur Tributary States or Chota Nagpur States were a group of non-salute states (minor princely states) at the time of British Raj, located on the Chhota Nagpur Plateau. British suzerainty over the states was exercised through the government of the Bengal Presidency.
These states were nine in number and they became part of the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa following Indian Independence.Districts of British India
The Districts of British India were administrative units of the Government of the British Raj or Indian Empire. Districts were generally subdivisions of the provinces and divisions of British IndiaEastern Bengal and Assam
Eastern Bengal and Assam was an administrative subdivision (province) of the British Raj between 1905 and 1912. Headquartered in the city of Dacca, it covered territories in what are now Bangladesh, Northeast India and Northern West Bengal.Eastern States Agency
The Eastern States Agency was a grouping of princely states in eastern India, during the latter years of Britain's Indian Empire. It was created in 1933, by the unification of the former Chhattisgarh States Agency and the Orissa States Agency; the agencies remained intact within the grouping. In 1936, the Bengal States Agency was added.Mayurbhanj State
Mayurbhanj State (or Morbhanj)(Odia: ମୟୁରଭଞ୍ଜ ରାଜ୍ୟ) was one of the princely states of India during the period of the British Raj. It was one of the largest states of the Eastern States Agency and one of the three states of the Bengal States Agency. The emblem of the state were two peacocks for according to legend the ancestors of the ancient rulers originated from a peafowl's eyes.The state included a vast mountainous area inhabited by many different people groups such as the Santal,Munda, Ho and Kisan people. Its former territory lies in the present-day state of Odisha, bordering West Bengal. The capital of the state was the town of Baripada since the 15th century and Daspur was another important town. Large tracts of Mayurbhanj State were covered with forest.Orissa Province
Orissa Province was a province of British India created in April 1936 by partition of the Bihar and Orissa Province. It is now the State of Odisha.
On 1 April 1912 Bihar and Orissa were separated from Bengal to form the Bihar and Orissa Province. On 1 April 1936, Bihar and Orissa Province was split to form Bihar Province and Orissa Province. Parts of the Ganjam District and the Vizagapatam District of Madras Presidency were transferred to Orissa Province along with portions of the Vizagapatam Hill Tracts Agency and Ganjam Hill Tracts Agency.Orissa Tributary States
The Orissa Tributary States, also known as the Garhjats and as the Orissa Feudatory States, were a group of princely states of British India now part of the present-day Indian state of Odisha.
The Orissa Tributary States were located in the Garhjat Hills, the hilly and former heavily forested region of eastern Orissa, on the border with present-day Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states.Presidencies and provinces of British India
The Provinces of India, earlier Presidencies of British India and still earlier, Presidency towns, were the administrative divisions of British governance in India. Collectively, they were called British India. In one form or another, they existed between 1612 and 1947, conventionally divided into three historical periods:
Between 1612 and 1757 the East India Company set up "factories" (trading posts) in several locations, mostly in coastal India, with the consent of the Mughal emperors or local rulers. Its rivals were the merchant trading companies of Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. By the mid-18th century three Presidency towns: Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, had grown in size.
During the period of Company rule in India, 1757–1858, the Company gradually acquired sovereignty over large parts of India, now called "Presidencies". However, it also increasingly came under British government oversight, in effect sharing sovereignty with the Crown. At the same time it gradually lost its mercantile privileges.
Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 the Company's remaining powers were transferred to the Crown. In the new British Raj (1858–1947), sovereignty extended to a few new regions, such as Upper Burma. Increasingly, however, unwieldy presidencies were broken up into "Provinces".Singhbhum district
Singhbhum was a district of India during the British Raj, part of the Chota Nagpur Division of the Bengal Presidency. It was located in the present-day Indian state of Jharkhand. Chaibasa was the district headquarters. Located in the southern limit of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau, Singhbhum included the Kolhan estate located in its southeastern part. The district has been divided into three smaller districts, being East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Saraikela Kharsawan all are present in Jharkhand state of India.Tripura (princely state)
Tripura State, also known as Hill Tipperah, was a princely state in India during the period of the British Raj and for some two years after the departure of the British. Its rulers belonged to the Manikya dynasty and until August 1947 the state was in a subsidiary alliance, from which it was released by the Indian Independence Act 1947. The state acceded to the newly-independent Indian Union on 13 August 1947, and subsequently merged into the Indian Union in October 1949.The princely state was located in the present-day Indian state of Tripura. The state included one town, Agartala, as well as a total of 1,463 villages. It had an area of 10,660 km² and a population of 513,000 inhabitants in 1941.William Wilberforce Bird (governor)
William Wilberforce Bird (1784–1857) was a British colonial administrator who served as Deputy-Governor of Bengal Presidency and, in 1844, as the acting Governor General of India.
William Wilberforce Bird had the same name as his father, who was Member of Parliament for Coventry. He was born in 1784 and educated in Warwick and Geneva before being nominated to join the British East India Company in 1802. After training, he arrived in Calcutta in 1803, where he undertook further training at the Fort William College and was then posted to Benares.Bird conducted himself well in Benares, including on occasions when he had to deal with civil disturbances involving local people. He was involved in both financial and judicial work before being appointed to the Supreme Council of India, of which in due course he became president when the then Governor-General of India was absent. He served as Deputy-Governor of Bengal Presidency throughout the period when Lord Ellenborough was Governor, standing in for him while Ellenborough was engaged in the North-Western Provinces. Bird then replaced Ellenborough as Governor-General of India, acting in that capacity until the arrival of Sir Henry Hardinge from England in 1844. Hardinge reappointed Bird as Deputy-Governor of Bengal Presidency but Bird had retired from service and returned to England by the end of that year. In the same year, until October, he was President of The Asiatic Society.Bird married Hannah Elizabeth Brown, second daughter of David Brown, in Benares on 11 August 1818. He died at home on 1 June 1857.In the long-running debate concerning education in India, Bird favoured the secular cause, along with people such as Thomas Macaulay, as opposed to one that desired further to promote a Christian basis for schooling. He said in 1835 that secular education was having good results in India and raised concerns that a Christian approach might upset the native people, potentially leading to what he described as "catastrophes of a very serious description".
Italics = outside present Indian & Pakistan