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INDIA – MAHARASHTRA / KARNATAKA LAW AND POLITICS / THIRD ANGLO-MARATHA WAR: Report on the Territories, conquered from the Paishwa. Submitted to the Supreme Government of British India by The Hon’ble Mountstuart Elphinstone, Commissioner.




A highly important work with an enduring influence – Bombay Governor and celebrated historian Mountstuart Elphinstone’s detailed proposals for administering the enormous territories in today’s Maharashtra and Karnataka newly conquered by Britain upon the fall of Maratha Confederacy, a watershed moment in Indian history; in this sophisticated and exceedingly well-informed treatise Elphinstone proposes to largely preserve the traditional Maratha systems of revenue collection, justice and village-level governance, yet with some measured safeguards; critically these proposals formed the basis for the administration of the region for the next 130 years; the extremely rare first edition of the work, printed in Calcutta in 1821.


4° (25.8 x 19.2 cm): [1], 112 pp., lxx, bound in modern chestnut quarter morocco and marbled boards with gilt title to spine, with contemporary handstamp of ‘Ahmednuggur Court of Adawlat’ and related manuscript ink inscriptions to title, old bookseller’s handstamp of ‘R. Cambray & Co. Ltd. Calcutta’ to lower margin of title, plus old manuscript accession numbers to margins of pp. 101, 112 and lxx (Good, save for a pronounced stain to middle of title and following 4 leaves, otherwise some variable spotting and toning).



The present work appeared in the wake of one of the watershed events of Indian history.  The British East India Company (EIC), ever since it took control of Bengal in 1757, embarked upon an aggressive policy of expansion with the view to controlling and governing large expanses of territory, as opposed to merely running a chain of commercial outposts.  Britain went on to vanquish many of India’s great powers (albeit with difficulty), including Oudh, the Nawabs of the Carnatic, and Mysore, while containing Hyderabad and the ailing Mughal Empire.

However, the Maratha Confederacy (or ‘Empire’), proved to be the EIC’s most intractable foe, and the last major obstacle to the complete British domination of Peninsular India.  The Hindu-led state was founded in 1674 in today’s western Maharashtra, and during the 18th century it expanded to rule much of western and central India, at its height extending its power to the north beyond Delhi, and as far east as Orissa.  Ruled by the holders of the hereditary office of the Peshwa, for most of the Confederacy’s history they provided bold and clever leadership that made the Marathas the most powerful entity in India.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before British and Maratha interests collided.  A key problem for Britain was that its great and vibrant port of Bombay had no hinterland, it was an enclave with all the territory beyond controlled by the Marathas.  While Calcutta and Madras benefitted from controlling vast territories extending far inland, the development of the EIC’s Bombay Presidency was severely limited by geopolitical reality.

The EIC and the Marathas initially came to blows during the Frist Anglo-Maratha War (1775-82), during which the Peshwa’s forces bettered the British.  While the conflict was settled on the status quo ante bellum, the defeat came as a shock to Britain, which realized that the Marathas were an exceptionally strong and intelligent adversary.

During the rematch, the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1802-3), the British allied with some of the Peshwa’s local rivals and bettered the Marathas.  Yet, while the Marathas lost some territory, the British failed to strike a knockout blow and the Peshwa’s forces remained an ever-present danger to Bombay.

In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, the British Empire faced no major opposition anywhere in the world – other than the Marathas.  Free to direct its best energies against the Peshwa’s forces, during the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-8), the British utterly vanquished the Maratha Confederacy, toppling the Peshwa and annexing all of its lands.

The British acquisition of the Maratha lands represented a spectacular windfall and opportunity for the EIC, yet also saddled it with enormous responsibilities and risks.  To better manage the situation, the British divided the Maratha territories into different administrative zones.  The present work concerns the most important of these zones, being the territory that comprises most of today’s western Maharashtra and far northern Karnataka, comprising over 50,000 square miles of land, home to an estimated 4 million residents.  This included the entire Konkan Coast (beyond Bombay and the other British coastal enclaves, of course); as well as the districts of Khandesh; Ahmednagar; Satara; and Poona, the former Maratha capital; as well as Kittur.  Critically, these territories would provide Bombay with its much longed-for hinterland and promised the British regime vast revenues from taxes and trade.

However, the acquisition of this zone ensured that the EIC would hitherto be responsible for overseeing the revenue, security, education, agriculture and infrastructure systems for a vast realm that was considered to be potentially volatile, as its people might not readily accept British rule after almost 150 year of proud Maratha hegemony.


Enter Mountstuart Elphinstone

The British appointed Mountstuart Elphinstone (1759 – 1859) to be the ‘Commissioner’ to investigate and devise a system for the governance of the critical zone of the former Martha lands in what is today western Maharashtra and northern Karnataka.  Elphinstone was one of the giant, transformative figures in the history of British India, famous as an administrator, diplomat, the father of public education in India (famously the founder of Bombay’s Elphinstone College), and a famous author.

Elphinstone had served in the EIC bureaucracy since 1796 and was perhaps the foremost British expert on the Marathas.  He served as the British Resident to the Peshwa’s Court on the eve of the Second Anglo-Maratha War, and during the conflict itself he acted as General Sir Arthur Wellesley’s aide-de-camp.  The future ‘Iron Duke’ benefitted from his masterly understanding of the enemy, and commended his innate skill as military strategist, even as Elphinstone had no martial training.  In the wake of the war, Elphinstone gained further relevant experience as the British Resident at Nagpur and Gwailor, before leading an important diplomatic mission to the Afghan court in Kabul.

During the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-8), Elphinstone played a key role, even serving as a successful field commander, proving that Wellesley’s assessment to have been correct.  Upon his appointment as the Commissioner for the newly conquered lands, it could easily be said that nobody was more qualified that Elphinstone for such a mandate.

Elphinstone’s challenge was to devise a system for governing the newly annexed lands that placated the people, while still ensuring that the colonial regime could maintain basic order and extract the desired revenues from taxation.


The Present Work in Focus

The present work is highly important as it the first printing of Elphinstone’s official report outlining the governance system he proposed for the annexed territories.  In essence, although Elphinstone was paternalistic and patronizing towards the Indian people (as was common amongst EIC officials), he nevertheless showed remarkable knowledge, and in many ways respect, for Maratha customs and systems, as well as possessing a great deference to the Hindu faith that was practiced by the overwhelming majority of the region’s people.  Realizing that revolutionary changes would alienate the people from the new regime, Elphinstone decided upon a conservative course, electing to essentially preserve the traditional Maratha ways, while implementing only modest changes so as to limit what he considered the excesses of the indigenous systems.  He summed up his approach as, “The principle I adopted for the Civil Administration, being to preserve the practice which I found established…” (p. 20).

In the present work, Elphinstone analyses and opines on a number of critical issues in great detail, including the raising of revenues; agriculture and the economy; structures of local governance; and the justice system (both criminal and civil); as well as creating a state education system which Elphinstone recognized was essential to maintaining civil order.

The present work commences with a ‘Description of the Country’ (pp. 1-10), describing the attributes of the different districts of the annexed lands, along with, at times colourful, portrayals of their inhabitants.  This makes for a fascinating read, as while Elphinstone can be a touch too judgmental at times, he possessed a magnificent knowledge of the subjects covered.  This is followed by an informative ‘Sketch of Marratta History’ (pp. 11- 20), written by man who would come to be considered one of the foremost contemporary chroniclers of India.

Governing the annexed territories was expected to be enormously expensive, and the colonial regime hoped to be able to extract sufficient revenues from land taxes and customs duties in order to make the venture economically viable.  This seemed quite achievable, as the districts in question were traditionally quite affluent, even if they had experienced recessionary pressures in recent years.

In Elphinstone’s section on ‘Revenue’ (pp. 20 – 46), he notes that in the Maratha tradition, matters of revenue collection and justice were usually administered by the same officials, with major decisions generally made at the local level.  In this respect, the patails, or village community leaders, “are the most important functionaries in the villages and perhaps the most important class in the country” (p. 21), while above them were the mamlutars, district officers, who only involved themselves in the more important cases.  Elphinstone proposes to leave the practical matters of revenue collection in the hands of the patails, and that most taxes and other levees should continue to follow the established system.  The only major change he proses is to taxation on farmland, which was tradtionally fixed at high rates regardless of crop yields; conversely, Elphinstone proposes to “to levy the Revenue according to the actual cultivation” (p. 42).

In the section on ‘Police & Criminal Justice’ (pp. 47-76), Elphinstone remarks that the Maratha system is similar to the practice throughout the Deccan, and that judgment is administered by the patails, as opposed to a formal court system.  Traditionally, this arrangement generally produced just outcomes; however, the recent downturn in the regional economy during the twilight days of Martha rule resulted in abuses due to corruption and a lack of adequate official compensation for the patails and their associates.  Elphinstone proposed maintaining the established system, while ensuring that abuses were curbed due to reliable provision of  “good pay, personal attention, and occasional commendations and awards” (p. 61).  While most cases could be handed at the village level, matters that required appeal or were too grand to be handled locally would be submitted to a newly formed British-style court system.  However, the British judges would be formally advised by local officials who would guide them to be sensitive to local conventions.

Importantly, Elphinstone addresses the matter of education, a sphere that was dear to his heart (pp. 74-5).  He believed that education cold instill morality, which, in turn, could assure civil order.  He was well versed on Hinduism and its epic literature, and he recommended that the British regime should pay for the publication and free dissemination of traditional Hindu religious texts to “cultivate sound morals”.  He was clear that the local people should continue to be guided by their own customs and that no foreign religious elements be introduced, as that would be both unnecessary and offensive.  Elphinstone also recommended that the government establish two colleges in the region.

On matters of ‘Civil Justice’ (pp. 76-112), Elphinstone discusses how cases were traditionally decided by the punchayet, or village tribunal (p. 78), and that he was hesitant to alter that system.   While he opined that the Maratha government “did little to obtain justice for the people, it left them the means to obtain it for themselves” by allowing the punchayet tribunals to operate with little interference (p. 91).  Elphinstone proposed to preserve the tribunals, while respecting traditional Hindu law, and that the British should act only to prevent any local abuses or eccentricities.  This course had the “advantage, that it leaves unimpaired the institutions, the opinions, and the feelings, that have hitherto kept the community together; and, that as its fault is meddling too little, it may be gradually remedied by interfering when urgently required.” (p. 109).

The work concludes with a lengthy ‘Appendix’ (placed following p. 112, paginated pp. i – 1xx) that includes valuable primary sources, including translations of Maratha legal documents and records (used for understanding the Maratha legal tradition), as well as the texts of recent letters written by British political and revenue agents working in the newly conquered lands, addressed to Elphinstone (used to understand what is going on the ground in almost real time).  The section features a chart of revenues figures from 1819 (p. xxxiv).



Elphinstone’s Report was very well received by both the EIC hierarchy in Calcutta and by Westminster, and his recommendations became the basis for collecting revenue, regulating agriculture, administering justice and providing public education in what was one of the most important parts of India.  As the Governor of Bombay, Elphinstone had the chance to implement his own programme, and by the end of his eight years in office, the British had successfully adopted the former Maratha system in what is today Western Maharashtra.  Elphinstone’s efforts were largely responsible for the fact that the region became quite prosperous and, against the expectation of some, relatively peaceful, contributing mightily to Bombay’s rise as one of the world’s great commercial centres.

The Report was reprinted in 1838 in Bombay by the Government Press and was frequently referenced in official and academic documents for generations thereafter.  Today it is one of the seminal texts of the political and economic history of Western India.


A Note on Rarity

The present first edition is very rare.  We can trace examples held by 6 libraries, all in the United Kingdom, including the British Library (holding 4 examples), National Library of Scotland, University of Edinburgh, University of Cambridge, University of St. Andrews and the University of Newcastle.

Moreover, we cannot trace any other examples as appearing on the market during the last 25 years.


References: British Library: General Reference Collection I.S.1/6.; OCLC: 1018382259; HOUSE of COMMONS (GREAT BRITAIN), Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords, Appointed to Inquire into the Operation of the Act 3 & 4 Will. 4, C. 85, for the Better Government of Her Majesty’s Indian Territories (London, 1852), p. 317; James JAFFE, Ironies of Colonial Governance: Law, Custom and Justice in Colonial India (Cambridge University Press, 2015), passim; Lynn ZASTOUPIL, John Stuart Mill and India (Stanford, 1994), p. 234.

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