Development Of Posts And Telegraph During The British Rule

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Development of Posts and Telegraph:-



Britain’s involvement in the postal services of India began in the eighteenth century. Initially the service was administered by the East India Company who established post offices in Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta (now Kolkata) between 1764 and 1766.

East India Company and the British Post Office in India:-

Warren Hastings (Governor General of British India from 1773-1784) opened the posts to the public in March 1774. Prior to this the main purpose of the postal system had been to serve the commercial interests of the East India Company. Serving economic and political needs of the ruling authority remained a driving force in the development of the postal service.

Post Office Act (1837) reserved the government the exclusive right to convey letters in the territories of the East India Company.

In 1850 a report was commissioned into the working of the Post Office in India. This report introduced uniform postage rates dependent on weight alone (previously charges had been calculated on weight and distance). It recommended that a Manual of Instructions be supplied to postmasters to encourage uniformity of practice. The recommendations of this report led to the introduction of Act XVII in 1854. However the reforms had a mixed success with some areas persisting in old practices.

From the late eighteenth century political power began to slip away from the East India Company. The Company was finally abolished in 1858 and India became a Crown colony ruled directly by Parliament.


The first postal stamp in India was introduced on 1 July 1852 in the Scinde district. In 1854 the introduction of uniform postage rates led to the development of the first postage stamps valid for use throughout India. As with the introduction of uniform postage in Britain this led to a rapid increase in use of the postal system. The volume of mail doubled between 1854 and 1866, and again between 1866 and 1871.

The first pictorial stamps were issued in 1931. There was a victory issue in 1946, followed shortly by a first Dominion issue. The three stamps in the Dominion issue depicted the Ashoka Pillar, the new flag of India, and an aeroplane.



Mail Communications with England:-

In addition to the managing the postal services of British India, the Post Office was involved in the transmission of correspondence between England and India.

In the 1820s Thomas Waghorn began investigations into improving mail routes between England and India. This led to the establishment of the overland route between Alexandria and Suez. Mails had previously taken three months to reach England, but Waghorn’s letters accomplished the same journey in just 35 days. Letters conveyed by Waghorn carried their own cachet ‘Care of Mr Waghorn’. After ten years of Waghorn’s efforts the British Government and the East India Company were convinced of the viability of this route and took it over.

The India Mail Service carried diplomatic mail between the two countries. This service involved specially appointed Post Office staff of higher grades accompanying the mail from London to Marseilles where responsibility would be transferred to the P&O purser of the ship bound for India. These staff was referred to as India Mail Officers.




Already in 1849 the East India Company had decided to construct a telegraph system along the railway lines. The telegraph became an urgent necessity on account of the Afghan war and the impending war with Burma. The first line, between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour, opened in 1851 and was used to send shipping news from the coasts to Calcutta. The major lines were completed before 1855. This remarkable speed of construction resulted from both strategic needs and Lord Dalhousie's personal interest in the plan. The telegraph was a private enterprise in England and the United States and a state enterprise in continental Europe. In India it turned out to be a state enterprise for military reasons, despite Dalhousie's general aversion to state monopolies. 

Development in Telegraph system took place in the mid nineteenth century. Telegraph communication was essential for effective and safe railway signalling. In 1851 telegraphs had been extended over 4,250 miles of India. This linked forty-six receiving stations. They were from Calcutta to Agra and the northwest. It connected Bombay, Madras and Ootacamund. There were around 17,500 miles of telegraph lines by 1865. By the end of the century it reached 52,900 miles. India's 100,000 lines carried 17 million telegraphic messages a year by the early twentieth century.

The telegraph rose directly from political imperatives. Telegraph system was basically a response to the need for a rapid and reliable system of information. These telegraph lines demonstrated their importance by carrying their authority's early intimations of the up-country revolt in May 1857. In India it turned out to be a state enterprise for military reasons, despite Dalhousie's general aversion to state monopolies. By 1857 the telegraph had proved itself a critical military tool. Not surprisingly, it symbolized evil for the mutineers. With vengeance, they destroyed telegraph establishments wherever they could (and never used it to their advantage). With this lesson behind itself, the Crown rule saw massive expansion of the telegraph system within the country and between India and Europe. From then onward, the commercial uses of the telegraphs began to overwhelm strategic needs, leading to extremely rapid growth in the use of the system.

This system was also adopted by Indian and European businessmen. By the early twentieth century the government officials and nationalist politicians was unable to function without telegrams. The telegraph system incorporated India into administrative and commercial network once submarine cables were completed between India and Britain in 1870.

There was also a personal interest involved in the rapid construction of the telegraph system in India in the 1850s. O'Shaughnessy had built a 21 mile long experimental line near Kolkata. This was protected from the effects of tropical heat and humidity by using thicker cables. He showed how electrical signals could be sent over long distances in India. The telegraph system was basically an imported technology. Local expertise and the political patronage that this imported technology had received speeded its adoption and adaptation to the local conditions. 


Impact of Modern Communication and Transport

Negative Impact

  • The colonial exploitation of India got accelerated and India was quickly turned into an exporter of raw materials to feed the British industries and as a market for their finished goods. In a way, they had hampered the growth of indigenous industries in India.
  • Investment of British capital in this sector, amounted to a sizable drain of wealth in the form of interest payments
  • The efficient network of railways and telegraphs had helped the British to easily suppress many internal rebellions, including the Revolt of 1857, and strengthen the imperial control.

Positive Impact

  • The railway network had increased the contact among people at an unprecedented level.
  • Posts and telegraph network were useful for spreading patriotic ideas.
  • The growth of Indian nationalism was attributed to the advent of a modern network of communications and transport.
  • Indian agriculture witnessed a structural transformation with an increase in the cultivation of cash crops such as cotton, jute, tea etc.
  • It also gave rise to a new class – the working class or the proletariat which in later years played a significant role in freedom struggle.


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