Three Pivotal Events During the Tenure of Viceroy Sir John Lawrence



Give an account of three important events of Viceroy Sir John Lawrence period. (HPAS Mains Question Paper 2022 – GS 1, Q.1)

Lord John Lawrence served as Governor General and Viceroy of India from 1864 to 1869. The important aspects of his tenure include the Great famines of Odisha, Rajputana, and Bundelkhand, the Famine Commissions, the Opening of telegraphic lines between Europe and India, the enactment of the Punjab Tenancy Act, the War with Bhutan, the Policy of “masterly inactivity” etc.

Previous Records in Punjab

Lord John Lawrence was not a new face in India. He had brilliantly organized the supply of the British army in Punjab during the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-1846 and was made the commissioner of the Jalandhar. In the second Anglo-Sikh War, he was appointed as a member of the Punjab Board of Administration under his elder brother, Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence. Some reforms such as the abolition of internal duties, establishment of a common currency and postal system, and development of Punjabi infrastructure made him popular, and he was ‘by some’ people called “the Saviour of Punjab”. He was partially able to prevent the Sikhs from entering into mutiny due to his popular image and a general Sikh detest towards the Mughals.

While appointed at Punjab, Lawrence had made an agreement with the Afghan leader Dost Muhammad Khan. Still, during his tenure as Viceroy, he adopted a cautious policy and avoided conflicts with the Afghans and Persians.

Policy Towards Afghanistan: The Policy of Masterly Inactivity

Lord Lawrence was cautious in dealing with Afghanistan and Persia. On the death of Dost Mohammed, on 9 June 1863, Sher Ali, the third son and acknowledged heir of the Dost, was recognized as Amir of Afghanistan by Lawrence, and his son, Mohammed Ali, as heir apparent. But then there was a long civil war in Afghanistan in which two older sons of the Dost, Afzal, and Azum, obtained possession of most of Afghanistan and were partially recognized as de facto rulers by Lawrence, who at the same time refused to withdraw his recognition from Sher Ali. The latter soon won his way back to power and, in 1869, was able to notify Lawrence that he was once more in complete control. Lawrence’s Policy had been ” that we will leave the Afghans to settle their quarrels, and that we are willing to be on terms of amity and goodwill with the nation and with their rulers de facto,’‘ This is known as the Policy of masterly inactivity.

[[Kindly note here that the policies of Lord Elgin (1862-63), Lord Lawrence (1864-69), Lord Mayo (1869-72) and Lord Northbrook (1872-76) are collectively called the period of Policy of masterly inactivity. The main object of the British Policy during this period was to let things go quietly to give the land rest. It was opposite to the “Forward Policy” of Lord Lytton.]]

Bhutan War 1864-65

The British had established relations with Bhutan in 1826. The British wanted to occupy hilly routes because the Bhutanis were raiding Bengal and Assam through these routes. To start the negotiations, Lord Elgin had sent Ashley, but the Bhutanese forced him to sign a humiliating treaty whereby the British were to surrender Duars to Bhutan. When this was known to the British Government, it immediately repudiated the treaty and sent an army against Bhutan. The British army received some setbacks in the beginning, but later, this Bhutan War or Duar War ended in the defeat of the Bhutanese army. The peace was brought by the “Treaty of Sinchula”, signed on 11 November 1865. Bhutan ceded territories in the Assam Duars and Bengal Duars, as well as around 80,000 kilometers of Dewangiri (Deothang), to the British in return for an annual subsidy of 50,000 rupees.

Orissa Famine 1866

The Orissa famine of 1866 followed a severe drought and destruction of the Rice Crop. The government imported rice, but it reached only when millions of people starved to death. This exposed the inability of the government to deal with the famine situation in Orissa, resulting in a fearful loss of life. Devastating floods followed the famine. The famine and floods claimed the lives of around 40-50 Lakh people in 2 years, mainly due to outbreaks of cholera and malaria. A similar kind of famine affected Bundelkhand and Rajputana. The government established the Famine Commission under Henery Kempbell. Emphasis was laid down on infrastructure development so that the relief reaches in time.

Other events during Lord Lawrence’s time

The submarine telegraph system started in 1865 between India and Europe via the Persian Gulf. The Punjab and Oudh Tenancy Acts were passed in 1868. Sir John Lawrence retired in January 1869. Lord Mayo succeeded Lord Lawrence in 1869.

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