Lord Canning: First Viceroy of India, Life, Works

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Lord Canning was the first Viceroy of India after the Crown of Queen Victoria took over the East India Company in 1858. During the reign of the British Empire over the Indian subcontinent, there were numerous prominent governors and rulers who worked in the favor of poor and oppressed people. Among these, Lord Canning, a British statesman, was one of the most prominent people. In this blog, we will explore his background, important events during his tenure, laws introduced, and more.

Who was Lord Canning?

Lord Canning was born on December 14, 1812, at Brompton, near London. He was the son of George Canning and Joan, Viscountess Canning who was also the daughter of Major-General John Scott. Canning received his education at Christ Church, Oxford. He completed a Bachelor’s with Honors in Classics and Mathematics. 

In 1836, Canning was elected to Parliament with the Conservatives in the House of Commons. He was elected to the House of Lords in the following year. Among other administrative roles, Canning also served as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and First Commissioner of Woods and Forests. 

During the resignation of Lord Dalhousie from the governor-general of India, Canning was serving as Postmaster-General. He was then appointed as the Governor-General of India on February 28, 1856.

What was his role as Viceroy of India? 

Unlike other British rulers, Canning’s rule in India is associated with effective diplomacy, political reforms, and stability. However, the tensions that brewed during Lord Dalhousie and his unjust reforms caused resentment among the citizens. It became visible in the form of numerous revolts and uprisings.

The Revolt of 1857 is one of the most popular examples of the result of long-simmering tensions caused by the presence and policies of the East India Company. Despite being new in a foreign country, Canning rose to the occasion and calmed the furious storm with a swift hand. Upon suppressing the 1857 mutiny, Canning adopted the policy of Clemency. Rather than punishing the sepoys who went against the government, he adopted a more tolerant attitude towards Indians. Accordingly, he was given the name Clemency Canning because of his gentleness towards the oppressed section of society. 

Also Read: Maratha Empire (1674-1818): History, Wars, Important Leaders

What were the significant events under Lord Canning?

Some of the most important and popular events took place under the leadership of the Lord. They are as mentioned below-

The Proclamation of Queen Victoria (November 1, 1858)

Lord Canning issued the Proclamation of Queen Victoria in a Darbar at Allahabad. According to this, India would be governed by and in the name of Queen Victoria. It was later recognized as the Magna Carta of the People of India. Moreover, it also outlined certain principles according to which the nation would be governed hereafter. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • East India Company’s treaties and agreements with princely nations of India would be upheld.
  • The boundaries formed by the East India Company will no longer be extended.
  • The government will maintain native princes’ rights and honor.
  • Eligible Indians would be granted jobs in government services and offices without considering their race or faith.

Apart from this, after the declaration of the Proclamation, the East India Company’s army forces ceased to exit. While the Indian sepoys were included in the British army’s service, other soldiers of the country came under the British army. 

Government of India Act, 1858

The Government of India Act was passed on August 2, 1858, and came into force on November 1, 1858. It transferred the power of the government into the hands of the British Crown as well as provided for its liquidation. Here are the key points to remember:

  • The Secretary of State for India was to exercise the powers and functions of the Board of Control and the Court of Directors. 
  • A council of 15 members must assist the Secretary of State for India out of which 50% of the members must have lived in India for a tenure of 10 years.
  • It required a new office of Viceroy who would negotiate with Princely states.

Indian Councils Act, 1861

The Indian Councils Act was passed by the Parliament in 1861. It gave new powers to the Governor-General. Here are the key provisions:

  • A fifth member was added to the council in 1861 followed by the sixth member in 1874. 
  • It introduced the concept of decentralization of powers.
  • Lord Canning nominated non-official Indian members to expand the Council. He also recommended the Raja of Banaras, the Maharaja of Patiala, and Sir Dinkar Rao to the Legislative Council. 
  • Lord Canning introduced a portfolio system in the Indian government which made the Council members responsible for one or more government departments. 

Also Read: Bardoli Satyagraha- A Historic Struggle for Justice

Indian Civil Services Act 1861

  • It stated that any European or Indian person is eligible to be designated to the offices listed in the schedule of the act if he had lived in India for at least seven years.
  • The eligible candidates had to pass a test in the district’s vernacular language.
  • It reserved India’s prominent government jobs for the British only.

Indian High Courts Act 1861

  • This act merged the Supreme Courts, Sadar Diwani Adalats, and Sadar Fauzdari Adalats.
  • The queen released patents to establish high courts in Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay.
  • Each high court consisted of one chief justice and a maximum of 15 justices.
  • On July 1, 1862, the High Court of Judicature of Fort Williams was established. This court was later known as the Calcutta High Court of India. 
  • On August 14, 1862, the Bombay High Court was finally built.  

Other Important Events

Here are a bunch of other important events which happened under Lord Canning’s rule in India: 

  • He introduced the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act in 1856 which was earlier drafted by Lord Dalhousie.
  • Lord Canning established three universities including the University of Calcutta, the University of Bombay, and the University of Madras.
  • The Indigo Revolt occurred between 1859 and 1860 which caused the formation of a new commission to look into the matter.
  • Lord Canning abolished the Doctrine of Lapse.
  • He liberalized the Wasteland Settlement Policy and allowed planters to buy land for as less as Rs 2.8 to 5 rs 5 per acre. This resulted in the famous Tea Mania phase of India.
  • Lord Canning also introduced the Bengal Rent Act of 1859 to improve peasants’ position against landlords.

Also Read: Pallava Dynasty: Origin, Achievements, and Legacy

Lord Canning’s Later Life

Lord Canning received appreciation from the Houses of Parliament for his unending dedication and endeavors. In the year 1859, he was raised to the position of an Earl. However, continuous years of hard work, consistent anxieties around uprisings, and the untimely death of his wife made his health worse than ever. Hoping to restore his health, he left India in April 1862 and died a month later in London on 17 June. 

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