Disciplining the Madras Army During the Early Years of the English East India Company’s Dominance in South India

Manas Dutta


In recent years, there has been a proliferation of research on the history of the colonial armies in South Asia. In fact, the very concept of the army underwent a change in the eighteenth century, when the East India Company tried to raise its own army battalions based on fixed wages and other financial entitlements. The Company’s troops were no longer under the intermediary military-landed elites, as was in the Mughal period, but were placed under the direct command of European professionals, with a greater deal of expertise in modern war science. The Madras Army, for a fairly long period of time was blessed with encomiums on the part of the colonial bosses for being loyal servants of the company’s administration in South India. However, it would be argued that despite retaining its docility, the Madras army revolted on many occasions in the eighteenth century, which reached a point of fruition during the Vellore Mutiny of 1805–1806. The differences in wages, social prestige, race and religion might have accentuated the acts of rebelliousness and indiscipline in the army. These stories of local mutinies often do challenge the long standing historical discourse on the Madras army, which was always looked upon as the epitome of a disciplined military tradition in the sub-continent. In this paper, it would be argued, that despite these rebellious outbursts, which were by no means a temporary phenomenon, the Madras Army remained far more loyal as compared to the other presidency armies in the nineteenth century. Possibly, this is vindicated in the behaviour of the Madras Army during the Great Revolt of 1857.


English East India Company; discipline; Madras Army; offences; commanding officer; article of war; Panchayat System; sepoy

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"Societal studies" ISSN online 2029-2244 / ISSN print 2029-2236