Annexation of Sindh by the British – 1843

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Three factors influenced the policy of the English towards Sindh. One was that they could have facility for trade with Punjab and north-west India through the river Indus. The second was that Sindh could be occupied by Ranjit Singh which they never desired. The third was the fear of Russian attack on India. That induced the English to extend their frontiers in the north-west up to the natural boundary of India. Thus, occupation of Sindh became a part of their policy. Let’s read how annexation of Sindh became possible for Britishers. 

Story of the Sindh Annexation by the English

At that time, Sindh was not a united state. It was under the control of three Amirs, viz, the Amir of Khairpur, the Amir of Hyderabad and the Amir of Mirpur. Therefore, it was not in a position to put up a united front against the English.

The English had established their trading centres at various places in Sindh much earlier. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, they started putting political pressure on it. In 1820, the Amirs were forced to agree that they would not permit any European to settle in Sindh. By that time, danger for Sindh emerged from another direction. Ranjit Singh had comp. -ted his conquest of Punjab. During the period 1823-25, he planned to conquer Sindh. But, the English made it clear that they would not permit Ranjit Singh to interfere in Sindh. It became further clear to the English after the first Afghan War that Sindh was important for them politically because the passage to India through the Bolan pass lay through the territories of the Amirs.  

However, the English attempted to involve Sindh, politically by sending a mission under Alexander Burnes to Ranjit Singh in 1831. William IV, the King of Britain, sent some horses as present to Ranjit Singh. The English desired to send them through the water-route of me river Indus. The purpose was to probe the route and ascertain its commercial importance. It was objected to by the Amirs. But, when Ranjit Singh threatened them, they allowed passage to the English. AlexanderBurnes reached Lahore through the route of the Indus river. The mission of Burnes convinced the English of the commercial importance of Sindh. They opened negotiations with the Amirs for a treaty. In 1832, the Amirs of Khairpur and Hyderabad were forced to permit the English to use roads in Sindh and the Indus river provided that no military equipment would be carried through them, no armed vessel shall pass through them, and no English trader would settle permanently in Sindh.

The English therefore went on increasing their influence in Sindh while they did not allow any other power to interfere in its affairs. In 1835 taking advantage of the Amirs’ fear of Ranjit Singh the English forced the Amiirs to sign another treaty. By its terms the English promised the Amir; that they would attempt to improve their relations with Ranjit Singh and a Resident was stationed at the court of the Amir of Hyderabad. This treaty brought Sindh further under the influence of the English. Yet, the English were not satisfied. When the English entered into a tripartite treaty with Shah Shuja and Ranjit Singh, the Amirs of Sindh were also included in it. The Amirs were forced to agree to pay rupees twenty five lakhs to Shah Shuja. Besides, the English themselves took money from the Amirs and also told them that the English force would advance to Afghanistan through their territories. Yet further, the Amir of Khairpur  was forced to sign another treaty on December 24, 1838 by which he accepted the English as his suzerain power; he agreed to help the English with supplies in the ensuing Afghan War, and he surrendered the fort of Bakhar to the English. The Amir of Hyderabad protested against this treaty. The English, therefore, occupied Karachi. He, then, also entered into a treaty with the English in March 1839 by which he surrendered Karachi to the English and also agreed to keep a subsidiary force. In July 1841, the Amir of Mirpur also entered into a like treaty with the English. By these treaties, Sindh virtually passed into the hands of the English.  

The Amirs served the English loyally during the course of the first Afghan war. Yet, their services were not recognised by the English. Instead, attempts were made to find pretexts for the annexation of Sindh just after the end of the war. R. C. Majumdar writes: “The conquest of Sindh was not merely a sequence but a consequence of the Afghan War.” Lord Ellenborough who replaced Lord Auckland as the governor general of the Company felt the desirability of annexing Sindh with a view to boost the morale of the English and impressing the natives of the superiority of the British arms. Mr. Outram, the Resident, was asked to frame charges against the Amirs which duty he loyally performed. Then in 1842, Sir Charles Napier was deputed to Sindh with complete civil and military authority. Napier not only concurred with the charges framed by Outram against the Amirs but also blamed them for disloyalty against the English. He demanded from the Amirs that :-

  1. They had to hand over the right to mint coins to the English.
  2. They had to supply coal to the English ships passing through the river Indus.
  3. They had to surrender Karachi, Thatta, Sakhar, Bakhar, Robri and all the territories adjoining these places to the English.

The Amirs were left with no alternative but to accept these demands. Napier further interfered in the succession issue of the gaddi of the Amir of Khairpur. Rustam Khan, the Amir nominated Mir Mohammad as his successor. But, one of his brothers, Ali Murad Khan conspired with Napier to get the gaddi for himself. He compelled Rustam Khan to flee from Khairpur and Napier accepted Ali Murad Khan as the Amir. Napier then reached Khairpur with the English army and asked all the three Amirs to reach there on January 20, 1843 to accept a fresh treaty. All the three Amirs agreed to sign the new treaty and, in fact, signed it before Outram in Hyderabad excepting the Amir of Khairpur. The Amir of Khairpur could not reach Hyderabad in time though he had assured Outram through a message that he would sign the treaty. Outram conveyed this to Napier and requested him not to proceed to Hyderabad with the army. Napier, however, neglected his advice and advanced towards Hyderabad with the army.

The advance of Napier towards Hyderabad with a threatening posture resulted in the revolt of the Baluchi soldiers. They attacked the Residency. Outram, however, could save himself and fled. But, this became the cause of war. The Baluchis were defeated by Napier in the battle of Miani on February 17, 1843. After that all the Amirs surrendered to the English and Napier informed Ellenborough on June 14 : “Paccavi I have (Sindh) sinned.” In 1843, Sindh was annexed to the British territories.

Was the annexation of Sindh has been regarded as unreasonable and unjust?

The annexation of Sindh by the English has been regarded as unjust by the majority of the historians. The English blamed the Amirs for attacking the Residency which resulted in the war and annexation of Sindh by the English. But Outram had himself written that the Amirs were not responsible for the revolt of the Baluchi soldiers. On the contrary, the Amirs had informed Outram about the impending attack of the soldiers on the Residency and, thus, had attempted to save his life. Outram had also warned Napier in advance that the Amirs would not be able to check the Baluchi soldiers from revolting if he proceeded towards Hyderabad with the army. Therefore, the primary cause of the war was the advance of Napier with the army towards Hyderabad. The Baluchi chiefs felt that even after agreeing to the treaties imposed by the English on them which amounted to their complete surrender without any resistance, the English were determined to finish them forever. So, if they revolted, they revolted in utter despair.

Conclusion

Therefore, the annexation of Sindh was purely the result of British imperialism. It was criticised even by Englishmen. Innes wrote : “If the Afghan episode is the most disastrous in our Indian annals, that of Sindh is morally even less excusable.” Even the Court of Directors described it “unjust and impolitic” and even threatened Ellenborough to call him back from India. However, they failed to rectify the injustice already done. Sindh became a part of the English empire in India.

Points to remember

  1. The prospect of trade with Punjab and North-West India through the Indus, possibility of Sindh being annexed by Ranjit Singh and fear of Russian invasion induced the English to annex Sindh.
  2. Sindh was ruled by Amirs ot Khairpur, Hyderabad and Mirpur who were not in position to put up a united front against the English.
  3. The first Afghan War made clear to the English the political importance of Sindh.
  4. The English did not permit Ranjit Singh to interfere in the affairs of Sindh while they themselves strengthened their hold on it gradually.
  5. In 1820, the Amirs agreed that they would not permit any European to settle in Sindh; in 1831 the mission under Alexander Burns to Ranjit Singh was sent through the Indus; in 1832, the Amirs of Khairapur and Hyderabad were forced to permit the English to use roads in Sindh and the river Indus for peaceful purpose in 1838, a Resident was stationed at the court of the Amir of Hyderabad; the Amirs were forced to pay large amount of money to the English and Shah prior to the beginning of the first Afghan War; in 1838, the Amir of Khairpur was forced to accept the English as his suzerain power and surrender the fort of Bakhar; in 1839, the Amir of Hyderabad was forced to surrender Karachi to the English and accept a subsidiary force; and, in 1841, the Amir of Mirpur was forced to accept a like treaty with the English.
  6. During the course of the Afghan War the Amirs permitted Passage to the English army and provided them necessary supplies.
  7. Yet, Ellenborough felt the desirability of annexing Sindh with a view to boosting the morale of the English.
  8. The Resident, Mr. Outram, therefore, was asked to frame charges against the Amirs.
  9. In 1842, Charles Napier was deputed to Sindh who forced the grant the English further rights in Sindh and surrender important ports and their adjoining territories, interfered in the succession issue of the Amir of Khaipur, asked the Amirs to sign fresh treaties with the English and proceeded to Hyderabad with his army to force the issue which provoked the Baluchi soldiers to revolt,
  10. The Baluchis were defeated at the battle of Miani in February, 1843 and Sindh was annexed to the British empire in India.
  11. The annexation of Sindh was described as ‘unjust and impolitic’ even by the Court of Directors, yet, it was taken over by the English to safeguard their imperial interests.

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

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on annexation of Sindh and consequence of the Afghan war.

Questions for UPSC mains :

Critically trace British relations with Sindh leading to its annexation.

Or

The annexation of Sindh was “not merely a sequence but a consequence of the Afghan War.” Comment.

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