East India Company Army

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The East India Company maintained a formidable army in each of its three Presidencies. Although there was a military presence in each Presidency beforehand, the Company established formal armies following the French capture of Fort St George (Madras) during the War of Austrian Succession in 1746. These armies grew over the next hundred years until the renowned ‘Indian Mutiny’ (1857-59). After the Mutiny, the India Act of 1858 of the English parliament, decreed the dissolution of these armies. Its European soldiers were given the option either of transferring to the British Army or of discharge with a bounty and shipment back to Europe. About 50 percent selected each option. The mutinous native regiments were disbanded but those few, who remained loyal to the British, plus loyal native irregular units, formed the basis of the new ‘Indian Army’, which continued until Independence

The three Presidency armies were quite distinct from each other and operated independently. More information can be found on their respective articles:

Recruitment and conditions

According to statistical analysis of the Depot Lists and Embarkation Lists of recruits going to India by FIBIS Chairman, Peter Bailey, six percent of soldiers were consistently recruited as married. One of his ancestors joined the EIC Army at nearly the same time that his daughter was born and was sent to India several weeks later with his wife and new-born baby c mid 1820s. Although the East India Company provided a passage back to Britain for soldiers at the expiration of their term of service it appears that very few elected to return.[1] Samuel Hickson, who was in India 1777-1785, lists the reasons for this in his Diary as disease, the good provisions made by the Company relating to age and incapacity, the bounty paid on renewal of service and family ties.[2]

Europeans in Native Regiments

The officers of Native Regiments were European

Mostly a European soldier would be in a European Regiment. However at times a European soldier could be in a role such as Quartermaster Sergeant in a Native Infantry Regiment. [3]

FIBIS resources


FIBIS Research Guide


Researching ancestors in the East India Company's Armies by Peter Bailey Families in British India Society, 2006. (FIBIS research guide; 1)

This is the essential handbook for anyone researching ancestors who were connected to the HEIC Armies of Bengal, Bombay, and Madras. It covers records from the armies' origins until their assimilation into the British Army in 1860. Laid out in a clear and accessible manner, the book directs searchers to records on all available stages of a man's career, whether officer or soldier, including sources which may provide details on his wife and children. For those researchers not fortunate enough to have access to the India Office Records at the British Library, the LDS film numbers are included. A full review by Richard Scott Morel, Archivist of Pre-1858 India Office Records, is available on pp. 45-46 of the FIBIS Journal 17 (Spring 2007)

Purchase a copy from the FIBIS Online Shop

India Office records at the British Library

Also see the individual pages for the three Presidency Armies, mentioned above

The British Library’s "Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts" Search by name.

British Library’s Help for Researchers: European Officers

Records include Cadet Papers IOR/L/MIL/9/107-253 1789-1860. Cadet Papers up to about c 1805, may comprise nothing more than a baptism certificate or father's declaration of date of birth. Many of these records have now been digitised and held on the findmypast websiteunder the heading of British India Office Records births and baptisms.

Embarkation records

Books and Articles

"Irishmen in the East-India Company Army" by Peter Bailey in Irish Family History-Journal of the Irish Family History Society Volume 17, 2001 page 84


The National Army Museum, London has a card index, mainly in respect of East India Company Army Officers

The difference between rank in the Regiment and rank in the Army

All officers held dual rank, that is, rank in their regiment and rank in the Army. Their rank in their regiment dictated what they did on a day-to-day basis. The HEIC regiments did not have the purchase system [for rank in the regiment] but based promotions on seniority within the regiment which was one reason why the timing of an officer's rank within the regiment was important. When an officer held a rank in the Army for a period longer than his rank in his regiment this was probably due to him not having actually been posted to his regiment for a period when he was first commissioned. [4]

Although there was no official purchase system, there was an informal system within the HEIC Army whereby the lower rank officers provided a monetary incentive for a senior officer to retire so that all junior officers could move up a step, but it was not an actual purchase of rank. [5]

Advantages of joining an EIC Army compared with the British Army

For a soldier

The army took responsibility for many civil and social activities in the country, particularly in the vicinity of the cantonments. These responsibilities were undertaken by Warrant Officers generally acting through Sergeants of differing titles. These were positions of significant importance and standing and the chance to attain them was one of the attractions of joining the Company's army rather than the King's/Queen's army. [6] Many NCOs were able to take on other work and attract an extra income. By doing so, they could frequently buy themselves out of their units, could earn more money and qualify for a pension much sooner. [7]

Wives and children

Marriages between EIC soldiers and Anglo Indians or Native women, the allowances paid to wives and the army records kept regarding these wives are discussed in "Haemoglobin D (B Punjab) in an East Anglian Family", The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 95, No. 2 (Jul. - Dec., 1965), pp. 295-306. .[8]. The 2nd Madras (European) Light Infantry is particularly mentioned as marriage registers were (in 1965) available for the period 1840-1863 showing the race of the bride. The article may be read online on the subscription website JSTOR for free, but first you must register. Some card holders of participating libraries may also have access, refer Miscellaneous tips for more about both options. Also available at the British Library

See also

External Links

Historical books on-line

  • Also see Directories online and Military periodicals online for online Army Lists
  • "Indian Army" page 352 Considerations on the state of British India, embracing the subjects of colonization; missionaries; the state of the press; the Nepaul and Mahrattah wars; the civil government; and Indian Army by Lieutenant A. White, of the Bengal Native Infantry. 1822 Hathi Trust Digital Library
  • The East India Military Calendar: Containing the Services of General and Field Officers of the Indian Army by John Philippart. Contain the biographies of many officers. Google Books:


  1. Email from Peter Bailey to Maureen Evers dated 10 April 2014
  2. Calcutta Historical Society Bengal Past and Present, Volume 49, Part 1 "Diary of Samuel Hickson 1777-1785" pages 28-30. Published 1935.
  3. Cutts, Melanie. Siege of Cawnpore 1857, Rootsweb India Mailing List, 17 May 2014. Retrieved on 18 May 2014.
  4. Christie, Thomas. "Rank in regiment; rank in army.", Rootsweb India Mailing List, 30 Aug 2009. Retrieved on 14 April 2014.
  5. Bender, Tim. "East India Company Army Purchase of Commissions.", Rootsweb India Mailing List, 2 Dec 2009. Retrieved on 14 April 2014.
  6. Bailey, Peter "Bazaar Sergeant.", Rootsweb India Mailing List, 2 Apr 2000. Retrieved on 14 April 2014.
  7. Fuller, Tony. "Prisons", Rootsweb India Mailing List, 12 Dec 1998. Retrieved on 14 April 2014.
  8. Macdonnell, Ian. "MORE HELPFUL INFORMATION ...Allowance for Eurasianwives.", Rootsweb India Mailing List, 21 Jan 2010. Retrieved on 11 April 2014.