Presidencies and provinces of British India

The provinces of India, earlier presidencies of British India and still earlier, presidency towns, were the administrative divisions of British governance in the Indian subcontinent. Collectively, they have been called British India. In one form or another, they existed between 1612 and 1947, conventionally divided into three historical periods:

  • Between 1612 and 1757 the East India Company set up "factories" (trading posts) in several locations, mostly in coastal India, with the consent of the Mughal emperors, Maratha empire or local rulers. Its rivals were the merchant trading companies of Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, and France. By the mid-18th century three Presidency towns: Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, had grown in size.
  • During the period of Company rule in India, 1757–1858, the Company gradually acquired sovereignty over large parts of India, now called "Presidencies". However, it also increasingly came under British government oversight, in effect sharing sovereignty with the Crown. At the same time, it gradually lost its mercantile privileges.
  • Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 the company's remaining powers were transferred to the Crown. Under the British Raj (1858–1947), administrative boundaries were extended to include a few other British-administered regions, such as Upper Burma. Increasingly, however, the unwieldy presidencies were broken up into "Provinces".[1]

A mezzotint engraving of Fort William, Calcutta, the capital of the Bengal Presidency in British India 1735.

In this sense, "British India" did not include the princely states directly ruled by Indian princes, though under a close eye from the British authorities.[2] At Indian Independence in 1947 there were over 500 of these (most extremely small, but with a few very large ones), making up 40% of the area and 23% of the population of the whole British Raj.[3]