Armies in India

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An overview of the armies in British India.

Presidency armies

Main article: East India Company Army

From the mid-eighteenth century, the East India Company began to maintain armies at each of its three main stations, or ‘Presidencies’, in India at Calcutta (Bengal), Madras and Bombay. The Bengal Army, Madras Army, and Bombay Army were quite distinct, each with its own list of regiments and cadre of European officers. All three armies contained both European regiments in which both the officers and men were Europeans, and a larger number of ‘Native’ regiments in which the officers were Europeans and the rank and file were Indians. They included Artillery, Cavalry and Infantry regiments, so you will come across references to the Bengal/Madras/Bombay Artillery/Cavalry/Infantry (the latter often termed ‘Native Infantry’ or ‘N.I.’).

British Army

Main article: British Army. This article includes details of the many records now available online, particularly on the pay website findmypast.

From the mid-eighteenth century the Crown began to despatch regiments of the regular British Army to India to reinforce the Company’s armies. These troops are often referred to as "HM’s Regiments" or "Royal regiments". The Crown continued to station British Army regiments in India right up to independence in 1947.


Following the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 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 Mutiny was that henceforward artillery was confined to the British Army.

Indian Army

Main article: Indian Army

In the 1890s, the separate Presidency Armies were at last abolished and a fully unified Indian Army came into being, but 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 their permanent commissions with their Indian Army regiment.

India Office Records at the British Library

Records of the Military Department IOR/059/IOR/L/MIL 1708-1957

External Links

South Asian Armies