“No longer Merchants, but Sovereigns of a vast Empire”: the writings of Sir John Malcolm and British India, 1810 to 1833
Harrington, Jack Henry Lewis
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This thesis analyses the works of Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) as key texts in the intellectual history of the formation of British India. It is concerned less with Malcolm's widely acknowledged role as a leading East India Company administrator and more with the unparalleled range of influential books that he wrote on imperial and Asian topics between 1810 and his death in 1833. Through the publication of nine major works, numerous pamphlets and articles and a few volumes of poetry, Malcolm established his reputation as an authority in three major areas. Firstly, the Sketch of the Political History of India (1811) and the posthumously published Life of Robert Lord Clive (1836) remained major sources on the history of the founding of the British empire in India for much of the nineteenth century. Through these histories, he wove the anxieties of the Company's solider-diplomats of the early nineteenth into the narrative of the Company's rise as an imperial power. With the History of the Sikhs (1810) and, to a far greater extent, the History of Persia (1815), Malcolm sealed his reputation as a path-finding orientalist making an early contribution to European knowledge of India's north-west frontier. Lastly, Malcolm's Memoir of Central India (1823), which analysed the history of the region from the rise of the Marathas to the British conquest in 1818, is one of the most sophisticated and politically significant examples of British efforts to construct an Indian past that accounted for British imperial control in the present. This study's detailed examination of his works provides an invaluable insight into how British imperial mentalities in the period before 1857 were shaped by the interplay between trends and events in India and Britain on the one hand and the competing historiographical and political traditions current among British imperial administrators on the other. It demonstrates that British thinking on India was far from unified and was often characterised less by a desire to formulate an ideology for rule – even if this was its eventual effect – and more by bitter divisions between imperial administrators. Malcolm's need to counter the arguments of his opponents among the Court of Directors in the decade after Governor General Wellesley's departure in 1806 and his resistance to more radical commentators on India like James Mill in the 1820s, shaped his writing. Malcolm's influence and the range of topics he wrote about make him an ideologue of empire and a pioneer of British orientalism and the historiography of British India. Malcolm's body of works is the most comprehensive and prominent example of how the British responded intellectually to their empire in India in the generation after the Trial of Warren Hastings and before the first Anglo-Afghan war.