Modern Asian Studies


Indirect Rule in the British Empire: The Foundations of the Residency System in India (1764–1858)

Michael H. Fishera1

a1 Western Washington University

The British Empire established itself and expanded largely through its incorporation of existing indigenous political structures. A single British Resident or Political Agent, controlling a regional state through ‘advice’ given to the local prince or chief, became the norm for much of the Empire. India's princely states, where from the mid-eighteenth century the British first employed and developed this system of indirect rule, stood as the conscious model for later imperial administrators and politicians who wished to extend the Empire without the economic and political costs of direct annexation. In dealing with Malaya, East and West Africa from the mid-nineteenth century onward, officials in the field and notables in London sought to justify imperial expansion and to establish indirect rule efficiently by drawing upon the Indian example.Thus, during a century of empirical learning from relations with India'sprincely states, the British established a body of theory and policies about indirect rule which then spread throughout the rest of the Empire.