The Awadh Annexation and how far was it justified?

Sansar LochanModern1 Comment

The English came into contact with the state of Awadh first during the course of the battle of Buxar. Awadh was defeated and Clive made a settlement with it some time after. It surrendered Allahabad and Kara to the Mughul emperor and paid rupees fifty lacs to the Company. In 1773, Warren Hastings restored Allahabad and Kara to Awadh after payment of rupees fifty lacs. The English also helped it in conquering Ruhelkhand. By a treaty in 1775, Awadh handed over Banaras and Ghazipur to the English. The Nawab of Awadh extracted the wealth of his father from the Begums with the support of the English. He also agreed to pay a fixed annual amount for the expenses of the English army. When Cornwallis came as the governor-general, the finances of Awadh were in a bad shape. Cornwallis criticised the administration in a serious tone. Yet, by that time, the English desired to keep Awadh as a buffer state between their territories and the Marathas. Therefore, they did not want to weaken it. Cornwallis, therefore, reduced the annual amount which the Nawab used to pay to the Company. In 1797, Nawab Asaf-ud-daula died and the gaddi was claimed both by his brother Sadat Ali and son Vazir Ali. Sir John Shore, the then governor-general, interfered in this disputed succession, placed Sadat Ali on the gaddi and made a fresh treaty with him. The terms of the treaty put additional financial burden on Awadh which adversely affected its administration. When Wellesley came to India, he put additional pressure on Awadh. The Nawab was forced to accept the subsidiary alliance as imposed by Wellesley which made him an entirely dependent ally of the English. He also surrendered Ruhelkhand and lower Doab to the English. The financial burden which the English put on Awadh, the interference of the English Resident in the internal administration of the state and the incompetency of the Nawab resulted in maladministration of the state. The English threatened to annex it several times on that ground. But it was not done simply because every Nawab of Awadh had remained perfectly loyal to the British. But, the English taxed Awadh financially as much as they could and did nothing  which would have helped its Nawabs in improving their administration. In 1847, Lord Hardinge, met the then Nawab Wazid Ali Shah and warned him that if he failed in improving his administration within two years, Awadh would be taken over by the English. The Nawab brought about no improvement in the administration. Yet, as the English engaged themselves in the second Sikh War, Awadh was saved.

Annexation of Awadh

Dalhousie came to India in 1848. He attempted to find pretexts for the annexation of Awadh from the very beginning. The Nawabs of Awadh had never either conspired or revolted against the English. Therefore, the only pretext could be the maladministration of Awadh by its Nawab. The previous governor-generals had threatened different Nawabs several times on this account. Dalhousie chose the same course and directed the English Resident, Sir W. H. Sleeman to prepare a report on the administration of Awadh. After the resignation of Mr. Sleeman, the next Resident, General Outram was directed to do likewise.

Different opinions

The English, however, were divided over the issue of the annexation of Awadh. There were some among them who pleaded that there was no necessity to remove the Nawab. They preferred only to take over the administration of the state and pay the Nawab an annual amount after deducting the expenditure out of its revenues. Even Mr. Sleeman was against its complete annexation. Sleeman was against the annexation not only of Awadh but also of any other state on grounds of political expediency. He observed : “The native states, I consider to be break- waters, and when they are all swept away, we shall be left to the mercy of the native army which may not always be sufficiently under our control.” Many more Englishmen upheld this view. Sir Henry Lawrence was opposed to the annexation of Awadh on moral grounds. Thus many Englishmen opposed the annexation of Awadh. They preferred to take over only its administration. But, there were certain other Englishmen who pleaded for the complete annexation of Awadh. They supported imperial design of Dalhousie. Therefore it was decided to annex Awadh to the British territories.

The English Resident met Nawab Wazid Ali Shah on February 4, 1856 and asked him to sign a treaty accepting his abdication from the gaddi. The nawab refused to sign the treaty. He said: “Treaties were only between equals; that there was no need for him to sign it.” He handed over his turban to the English Resident and, thus, relinquished his gaddi. He refused to accept the pension of rupees twelve lacs a year offered by the English. He said : “The British had taken his honour and his country and he would not ask them for the means of maintaining his life.” The English, then, declared the annexation of Awadh.

No moral justification to annex Awadh

The English had no moral justification to annex Awadh. It also brought no immediate advantage to them. The English annexed Awadh on grounds of its maladministration by the Nawab. Sleeman had reported about the misrule of Awadh. The report of Sleeman, however, cannot be accepted as complete truth. Dalhousie had offered the temptation of appointing him as the first governor of Awadh. Sleeman knew the intentions of Dalhousie regarding Awadh. Therefore, he brought to light only those facts in his report which went against the administration of the Nawab in order to please Dalhousie. Yet Sleeman himself was not in favour of annexation of Awadh. He desired that only its administration should be taken over by the English. Sleeman, resigned in 1854 due to his ill-health. He had not completed his report by that time. General Outram was, then, appointed as the Resident. He was also asked to prepare a report regarding the administration of Awadh. He prepared his report on the basis of the records collected by Sleeman. Therefore, the report of General Outram also cannot be accepted as unbiased. We have controversial records concerning the administration of Awadh. Many contemporary and later English records decry the administration of Awadh. But, we find reports in its favour also. Lord Hastings himself had congratulated the then Nawab because of growing population, increased  agricultural produce and prosperous condition of Awadh. Bishop Heber who travelled widely in Awadh during the year 1824-25 gave a favourable account of the condition of Awadh. Thus, we can safely say that Awadh was not so maladministered as would have justified its annexation by the English.

Dalhousie and his supporters justified the annexation of Awadh on the ground that repeated warnings of different governor-generals to Nawabs had failed to bring about any good result. Therefore, Dalhousie was left with no alternative except to annex it. But this contention is also not justified. Lord Auckland had praised the administration of Nawab Nasiruddin in 1839. Besides, the attempts of different Nawabs to improve the administration were not supported by the English while improvement in the administration was not possible without the assistance of the English who virtually enjoyed de facto power in Awadh and were largely responsible for the financial difficulties of Nawabs. Therefore, it was clear that the English were not interested in improving the administration of Awadh. On the contrary, they wanted to annex it on the pretext of its maladministration because Awadh was important for them strategically and economically.


We can consider one fact more concerning the annexation of Awadh. Were the people of Awadh benefited by its annexation to the British territories? The immediate, results were certainly negative. Kaye reported that the English officers were charged with plundering the palace and treasury of the Nawab, of dishonouring women and of selling the goods of the palace in public markets. Besides, all those people who were, in any Way, connected with the court also suffered badly. The revenue policy of the English harmed the interests of both the landlords and the peasants. And, from among the sixty thousand soldiers of the Nawab, nearly fifty thousand were dismissed from service and left with no means of livelihood. Thus, the immediate consequences of the annexation of Awadh went against the interests of its people. That was one reason for their active support to the leaders of the rebellion of 1857.


Thus, the annexation of Awadh by the English was primarily b of their imperial designs and its immediate results were not good either to its people or to the British.

Points to remember

  1. The Nawab of Awadh was defeated by the English at the battle of Buxar in 1764 and, from that time onwards, Awadh remained a dependent state of the English till its annexation by Dalhousie in 1856.
  2. Clive had restored Awadh to the Nawab; Hastings helped the Nawab in conquering Ruhelkhand, took over Banaras and Ghazipur from him and extracted a fixed annual amount from him for the expenses of the English army ; Cornwallis criticized the administration of the Nawab; Sir John Shore interfered in the disputed succession of the gaddi; Wellesley took over Ruhelkhand and lower Doab from the Nawab and forced on him the Subsidiary alliance; other governor-generals threatened to annex Awadh repeatedly; and Lord Hardinge gave the Nawab the warning to annex his state if he failed to improve his administration within two years.
  3. But Awadh remained safe because it served the purpose of a buffer state between the territories of the English and the Marathas for a long time, the English remained busy elsewhere and every Nawab of Awadh remained loyal to the English.
  4. When Dalhousie came to India, he decided to annex Awadh and made its maladministration as a pretext for doing so.
  5. Sleeman and Outram, the successive Residents prepared reports on the maladministration of Awadh and then Dalhousie forced the then Nawab Wazid Ali Shah to abdicate the gaddi in 1856.
  6. Dalhousie had no justification to annex Awadh because the pretext of its annexation, viz., maladministration was controversial and many people including Lord Hastings and Lord Auckland had expressed that Awadh was being well ruled.
  7. Awadh was annexed by Dalhousie because it was strategically and economically important to the Company.
  8. The annexation of Awadh put the people of Awadh to misery and annoyed their sentiments because of which they actively participated in the revolt of 1857.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on the Annexation of Awadh. Its outcome and result. Oudh State.

Questions for UPSC mains :

How was Awadh annexed by the British ?


How far the annexation of Awadh by the English was justified ?

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