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The Irish in Punjab, 1881–1921

The British empire was actually an amalgam of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English empires. Punjab, 'the pride of British India', attracted the cream of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), many of the most influential of whom were Irish. Some of these men, along with Irish viceroys, were inspired by their Irish backgrounds to ensure security of tenure for the Punjabi peasant, besides developing vast irrigation schemes which resulted in the province becoming India's most affluent. This book aims to ascertain whether backgrounds of Irish public servants in Punjab, and that of Irish viceroys in dealing with Punjab affairs, engendered attitudes which were so different. The nub of the matter is whether an Irish background influenced public servants in their duties, whether or not they thought themselves primarily as British or Irish. The first part of the book deals with three Indian public services: the ICS, the Indian Medical Service (IMS) and the Indian Public Works Department (PWD). The social, religious, ethnic and educational backgrounds of Irish recruits these services and the reasons behind the remarkable increase in Irish recruitment are then discussed. British and Irish public servants influenced domestic Indian politics, especially in the admission of Indians to the very services dominated by the British. Perhaps the long-term but impermanent commitment of Irish people to the furtherance of British colonial aims merits a more apt designation, one perhaps less pejorative than 'collaborator'. Twentieth-century contemporaries made connections between north-west India and Northern Ireland by dubbing Punjab the 'Ulster of India'.

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Conciliation and provocation
Patrick O’Leary

The Morley-Minto reforms of 1909 led to greater Indian participation in provincial councils. In Punjab, the first such enlarged council, presided over by Louis Dane, sat in January 1910. In 1912 Dane handed over the Delhi district to the Indian government as the enclave of its new capital. Sir Michael O'Dwyer succeeded Dane in May 1913. His term of office, which had been extended to allow him to deal with the disorders, expired in May and he left Punjab on 29 May 1919. The Tribune said of him that he was a man who never lost an opportunity of insulting and humiliating their Punjabis' leaders. He remained interested in India until 1940, when he was assassinated at a meeting of the Royal Central Asian Society by Udham Singh who has been described by General Menezes as a probable survivor of Jallianwallabagh.

in Servants of the empire
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Patrick O’Leary

Irish recruits to the Indian Medical Services (IMS) accounted for as much as 38 per cent of new entrants in the 1870s, and many of these worked in Punjab until the 1890s and beyond. A total of 149 Irishmen served in the British Medical Service (BMS)/ Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in Punjab during the period 1881-1921. Following the annexation of Punjab in 1849, and increasingly when the Crown superseded the East India Company in the aftermath of the 1857 mutiny, a series of public works were undertaken in Punjab. Punjab was the preferred posting for brighter Civilians, who regarded themselves, on appointment to that province, as a corps d'elite, somewhat to the chagrin of Civilians in other provinces. In truth, Civilians who served in Punjab were picked men, or self-selected ones as those highest placed in the entrance examination chose their own postings.

in Servants of the empire
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The Irish dimension
Patrick O’Leary

This chapter examines the identity and influence of individual Irishmen. The questions of land tenure, rural poverty, agrarian unrest, the development of strong links between such matters and political power and nationalism, were common to both Ireland and India during the period 1881-1921. Agriculture was the main means of subsistence for 50 per cent of Punjab's population, and the province was essentially a country of peasant proprietors. When the British in their turn took over from the Sikhs, they had already learned much about revenue collection, sometimes from mistakes made in other provinces. The collection of revenue had become more peremptory over the years since the days in which John Lawrence and his several Irish subordinates had actively defended indigenous institutions and the rights of the landholder. Moneylenders now increasingly demanded agricultural property as collateral and tried to confiscate or buy peasants' fields.

in Servants of the empire
Patrick O’Leary

Irishmen played significant, indeed vital, roles in implementing government policy on the frontier and in relation to Afghanistan. Early in 1901 three experienced civil servants were appointed to work out the details of the boundaries of the new north-west frontier provinces (NWFP). Michael O'Dwyer states in his autobiography that they strove to retain or attract some of the pick of the younger officers of the Punjab Commission and largely succeeded. Lord Curzon's scheme for the NWFP worked reasonably well up to and including the First World War, although not so well as he was won't to trumpet. In his official report dated 15 April 1905, Louis William Dane says that the Amir had given verbal assurances in regard to the demarcation of a particular section of the frontier. In May 1908 Dane was made lieut.-governor of Punjab.

in Servants of the empire
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Patrick O’Leary

During the political debates connected with consideration of the 1900 Land Alienation Bill, Viceroy Curzon, and the Punjab governor of the time, Sir Charles Rivaz, defended the government decision. Indeed land revenue matters relating to Punjab were often treated as 'Simla affairs', as they were usually considered at summer and autumn sessions of the Viceroy's Council. The year of the 1887 act saw the start of construction of the Chenab canal headworks which was a major Productive work. The Chenab canal supplied water to colonies which were to extend to 2,859 square miles by 1906. Works on other canal colonies were underway towards the end of that century, particularly the Jhelum irrigation canal, a project on much the same model as the Chenab. Famine was racking large parts of India but Punjab, through good management, managed to avoid the worst effects.

in Servants of the empire
Patrick O’Leary

John Lawrence, that Irish founder of the Punjab administration, was responsible for designating Simla as the summer capital of the British empire in India. Life in Punjab, as in India as a whole, was precarious for indigenes and Europeans alike. On arrival in Simla the Punjab lieut.-governor's carriage, in later years his car was one of only three allowed use of the main street and certain other roads. Dennis Fitzpatrick was lieut.-governor, Lansdowne was viceroy and the army chief was Antrim man Sir George White. At Kulu, in the village of Manali, Louis Dane would have encountered an interesting case of an Irish contribution to the growth of the fruit industry. Fruit industry is an important part of the economy of the state of Himachal Pradesh, of which Simla is the capital.

in Servants of the empire
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Patrick O’Leary

To a public servant, Punjab was an exciting and challenging place to be during the period 1881-1921. Even a fairly cursory examination of the doings of the Punjab Commission would reveal that many talented Irishmen had important roles to play in the first seventy years of British rule in Punjab. There were less significant contributions by Irishmen to the history of the area such as King's delineation and surveying of the Durand Line and Robert Warburton's peacekeeping on the Khyber Pass. With regard to India's internal politics at a crucial time of transition, all the Irishmen were prominent and the actions of some, particularly Michel O'Dwyer, were to have profound effects on Indian and Punjabi history. Irishmen made contributions to varied aspects of culture and society in Punjab, from Bruce's authorship of a Baluchi dictionary to Max Macauliffe's work on the sacred books of the Sikhs.

in Servants of the empire
Patrick O’Leary

This chapter examines the interaction between Dennis Fitzpatrick and Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy. Lord Lansdowne, immediately on his arrival in Calcutta to succeed Lord Dufferin, took up this suggestion and in a series of communications with London argued strongly in its favour. In 1889 Fitzpatrick was appointed as Resident at Hyderabad, one of the most important political appointments in the Indian Civil Services (ICS). In August 1893 Fitzpatrick wrote to Lansdowne about a case which neatly illustrates the interplay between the lieut.-governor and the newspaper. He believed to be the voice of the educated native and the mouthpiece of Congress. A radical wing of the movement, which focused on cow protection, gave doctrinal justification, intentional or not, to violent opposition to cow-killing, leading to bloody communal rioting in the major towns of Punjab.

in Servants of the empire
Patrick O’Leary

Various factors had interfered with the smooth running of the Chenab colony and with the even tenor of provincial agriculture in general. Provisions of the proposed new bill, the Punjab Land Colonisation Bill, 1907, included a prohibition on the cutting down of trees without permission. In his private papers and in contributions to the Asiatic Review, Louis Dane demonstrates that his knowledge of Ireland influenced or confirmed his view of what should be done in Punjab. Dane found abundant scope in the canal colonies and the various irrigation schemes which presented themselves to his agile mind. There were more Irish civilian engineers working in Punjab in 1921 than there had been at any time since 1881. Irishmen such as Michael O'Dwyer, Dane and Edmund O'Brien were prominent in advancing government policy through their work as settlement officers, and the two first-named developed long-lasting relationships with Punjabi agriculturalists.

in Servants of the empire