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Presidency armies

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Subject: East India Company, British Indian Army, Douglas Hamilton, Indian Armed Forces, Royal Indian Artillery
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Presidency armies

Presidency armies
Active 1774–1858
Country India
Allegiance East India Company
Branch Army
Headquarters GHQ India
Motto Auspicio Regis et Senatus Angliae
"By command of the King and Parliament of England"
Engagements Battle of Plassey
Battle of Buxar
Carnatic Wars
Anglo-Mysore Wars
Anglo-Maratha Wars
Vellore Mutiny
Anglo-Nepalese War
Anglo-Burmese wars
First Anglo-Afghan War
Anglo-Sikh wars
Anglo-Persian War
Indian Rebellion of 1857
Eyre Coote
Robert Clive
Charles Napier
Charles Cornwallis
Arthur Wellesley
Archibald Campbell
Gerard Lake
James Outram
Hugh Gough
Subedar of the 21st Bengal Native Infantry (1819)

The presidency armies were the armies of the three presidencies of the East India Company's rule in India, later the forces of the British Crown in India. The presidency armies were named after the presidencies: the Bengal Army, the Madras Army and the Bombay Army. Initially, only Europeans served as commissioned or non-commissioned officers. In time, Indian Army units were garrisoned from Peshawar in the north, to Sind in the west, and to Rangoon in the east. The army was engaged in the wars to extend British control in India (the Mysore, Maratha and Sikh wars) and beyond (the Burma, Afghan, First and Second Opium Wars, and the Expedition to Abyssinia).

The presidency armies, like the presidencies themselves, belonged to the Company until the Indian Rebellion of 1857, when the Crown took over the Company and its three armies. In 1895 the three presidency armies were merged into a united Indian Army.


The origin of the British Indian Army and subsequently the army of independent India lies in the origins of the Presidency Armies which preceded them. The first purely Indian troops employed by the British were watchmen employed in each of the Presidencies of the British East India Company to protect their trading stations. These were all placed in 1748 under one Commander-in-Chief, Major-General Stringer Lawrence who is regarded as the "Father of the Indian Army".[1]

From the mid-eighteenth century, the East India Company began to maintain armies at each of its three main stations, or Presidencies of British India, at Calcutta (Bengal), Madras and Bombay. The Bengal Army, Madras Army, and Bombay Army were quite distinct, each with its own Regiments and cadre of European officers. All three armies contained European regiments in which both the officers and men were Europeans, as well as a larger number of ‘Native’ regiments, in which the officers were Europeans and the other ranks were Indians. They included Artillery, Cavalry and Infantry regiments, so historical sources refer to the Bengal/Madras/Bombay Artillery/Cavalry/Infantry (the latter often termed ‘Native Infantry’ or ‘N.I.’). From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, the Crown began to dispatch regiments of the regular British Army to India, to reinforce the Company’s armies. These troops are often referred to as ‘H.M.’s Regiments’ or ‘Royal regiments’.

By 1824, the size of the combined armies of Bengal, Madras, and Bombay was about 200,000 and had at least 170 sepoy and 16 European regiments.[2]

Regimental organisation

In 1757, Robert Clive came up with the idea of sepoy battalions for the Bengal Presidency, which were to be armed, dressed and trained as the red coats and commanded by a nucleus of British officers. The Madras Army followed suit with six battalions in 1759 followed by the Bombay Army in 1767. Recruitment in all cases was done locally amongst single castes, from specific communities, villages and families.[1] Regular cavalry regiments were raised in 1784 of which only three survived the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Irregular cavalry were raised based on the indigenous system of raising cavalry by rulers of Indian states called the "silladar" system.[3] Irregular cavalry regiments had very few British officers. In addition, native artillery and pioneers (referred to later as sappers and miners) were also raised.[1] Between 1796 and 1804, a regimental system on two battalion basis was introduced. The battalions were only theoretically linked together and shared no esprit-de-corps. The number of British officers went up to 22 per battalion which led to the diminished importance of native officers. The control by the Regimental commander was excessive and exasperating to its battalions and the system was reverted in 1824 with units being formed into single battalion regiments with numbering as per their seniority of raising.[1]

After 1857

Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the consequent abolition of the East India Company, its European regiments were amalgamated in 1860 with the British Army, but its ‘Native’ regiments were not. The three separate Presidency Armies therefore continued to exist, and their European officers continued to be listed as members of the Bengal, Madras or Bombay Army rather than the British Army. However, the Presidency Armies began to be described collectively as the Indian Army. Another change resulting from the Indian Rebellion of 1857 was that henceforward artillery was confined to the British Army.

In 1895, the separate Presidency Armies were at last abolished and a fully unified Indian Army came into being. As before, its British officers were not members of the British Army, though as young subalterns they did serve for a year with a British Army regiment as part of their training before taking up permanent commissions with their Indian Army regiment.

Operational history of the Presidency armies

Mysore wars

Mahratta wars

Burmese wars

Afghan wars

See also: The Great Game and European influence in Afghanistan for a more detailed description.

Opium wars

Sikh wars


List of presidencies and armies


  1. ^ a b c d Jackson, Major Donovan (1940). India's Army. London: Low, Marston. pp. 1–8. 
  2. ^  
  3. ^ In the "silladar" system, the soldier provided his own horse, weapons and such military attire as prescribed for which he received in exchange from the state a lump sum grant and maintenance grants from time to time.

Further reading

  • Barua, Pradeep. "Military developments in India, 1750-1850," Journal of Military History, (Oct 1994) 58#4 pp 599-616 in JSTOR
  • Bryant, G. J. "Asymmetric Warfare: The British Experience in Eighteenth-Century India," Journal of Military History (2004) 68#2 pp. 431-469 in JSTOR
  • Gilbert, Arthur N. "Recruitment and Reform in the East India Company Army, 1760-1800," Journal of British Studies (1975) 15#1 pp. 89-111 in JSTOR
  • Heathcote, T. A. The Military in British India: The Development of British Land Forces in South Asia, 1600–1947 (Manchester University Press, 1995)
  • Lawford, James P. Britain's Army in India: From its Origins to the Conquest of Bengal (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978)
  • Menezes, S. L. Fidelity & Honour: The Indian Army from the Seventeenth to the Twenty-First Century (New Delhi: Viking, 1993)
  • Longer, V. Red Coats to Olive Green: A History of the Indian Army, 1600–1947 (Bombay: Allied, 1974)
  • Roy, Kaushik. "The hybrid military establishment of the East India Company in South Asia: 1750–1849," Journal of Global History, (July 2011) 6#2 00 195-218
  • Roy, Kaushik. "Military Synthesis in South Asia: Armies, Warfare, and Indian Society, c. 1740--1849," Journal of Military History, (2005) 69#3 pp 651-690, online
  • Roy, Kaushik. From Hydaspes to Kargil: A History of Warfare in India from 326 BC to AD 1999 (2004)
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