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British Rule in India

Last modified: 2000-04-14 by jonathan dixon
Keywords: india | britain | colony | heavens light our guide | ensign | star of india | star | red ensign | blue ensign |
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British Rule in India

India didn't conform to any of the rules, not being a Dominion, but having some Dominion-like status (it was a member of the League of Nations) and not really being a colony either. Its flag was the Union Jack bearing the insignia of the Order of the Star of India. It had a Blue and Red Ensign, too.
Roy Stilling, 6 February 1996

Until 1858 the British possesions in India were fiefdoms of the East India Company. In that year those territories passed to the Crown, who nevertheless continued to appoint a Governor-General of the whole as the EIC had done. In 1876, at Disraeli's behest, Queen Victoria adopted the title of Empress of India, and henceforth India became known offically as the "Indian Empire" with a Viceroy instead of a Governor-General.

In theory, the large numbers of "Princely States" which made up 2/5 of the territory and 1/5 of the population (source: Whitaker's Almanac 1945) of the Indian Empire (the term "British India" was properly reserved for the territories under the British Crown) were indepndent, sovereign states. However, they all had treaties with the Crown that effectively made them protectorates, and events like the Delhi Durbar of 1910 emphasised the idea that the King-Emperor was suzerain over the whole sub-continent. As a digression, until just a few years ago it was possible to find 1948 shillings in one's change - the last British coins to have "IND. IMP." among the royal titles.

That the Princely States had no real freedom was made plain at independence in 1947 when they were ordered to chose absorption into either India or Pakistan (the choice of the Hindu Ruler of mainly-Muslim Kashmir to opt for India is the cause of the tensions there that persist to this day). Only Hyderbad, the largest and most populous State, atempted to re-assert its independence and if I recall correctly it bowed to the inevitable and joined India in 1948. I beleive all the States had flags, but don't know of any.

Finally, India's special status was recognised within the British governmentt too - from 1858 to 1947 India had its own its own department, the India Office, and Secretary of State, quite separate from the Colonial Office.
Roy Stilling, 8 February 1996

Star of India

[Star of India: line diagram] Ed Haynes, 28 July 1996

The star of the GSCI (Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Star of India), the highest class of the Star of India and the star that appears all over the place on British "colonial" flags in India. What I have given is just a line image.

Ed Haynes, 28 July 1996

The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India was an Order of Chivalry instituted in 1861 and discontinued in 1947.
David Prothero, 8 July 1998

My "Wonder Book of Empire" of 1920 has a colour plate of the arms. [The star of India] consist of a golden sunburst, on which is a light blue garter with the motto "Heaven's Light Our Guide", on which is a silver five-pointed star. These where the insignia and motto of the Order of the Star of India (inaugurated in 1861) and were chosen as being acceptable to all religious groups in India. I guess that the crown is the Tudor crown, which cropped up quite regularly surmounting or within the arms/disks on various flags.

Paul Adams, 22 October 1995

"The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India...The circlet of the of light blue inscribed with the motto, "Heaven's light our guide." This in its turn is surrounded by the collar of the order, which is composed of alternate links of the Indian Lotus flower, crossed palm-branches, and the united red and white rose of England. In the centre of the collar is an Imperial crown from which depends the badge of the order, this being an onyx comeo of the effigy of her late Majesty Queen Victoria within the motto of the order, and surmounted by a star, the whole being richly jewelled. The surrounding of the shield by the circle of the order doubtless is a consequence and follows upon the original custom of the armorial use of the garter..."

This is all from [fox]

Dipesh Navsaria, 27 July 1996

The Star of India and is a combination of a sun and a star and a garter (I think that's the correct term).

The centre is a 5 pointed star, one point at 12 o'clock, with lines from the centre to each point and from the centre to the indentation between each point, thus giving the star a three-dimensional appearance.

Around the star is a circular band, tied at the bottom with a small tidy knot that projects only a little beyond the circumference of the band. The points of the star overlap the inner edge of the band by about one third of its width, and on the band is written in capital letters with a dot at half height between each word, 'HEAVENS LIGHT OUR GUIDE', starting at the 7o'clock point of the star and finishing at the 5o'clock point.

Projecting beyond the band are 16 slightly wavy sun's rays, alternating with 16 slightly smaller wavy rays. The proportions are:

centre to a point of the star 8.5 units
band 5 units
long ray 10 units
short ray 8 units.
total radius 22 units (the star overlaps the band)
Some versions have 26+26 rays with a greater difference between the length of the long and short rays so that the short rays have in total, a more circular outline with the long rays appearing to project out from the circumference of a circle.

The rays and the star are yellow (gold?), and the band and background to the star is pale blue (silver?). On the star there's a certain amount of irregular shading which tends to be concentrated to the left of the lines running from the centre to the points and to the right of the lines running from the centre to the indentations.

David Prothero, 26 May 1997

Flags and Ensigns with the Star of India

The badge of the Order was used on three flags:

[Star of India] by Dave Martucci 23 July 1998

Union Flag defaced in the centre with the badge surmounted by a crown, no white disc, no garland:

  • Viceroy and Governor General afloat in Indian Waters c1885 to 1947. Hoisted at mainmasthead.
  • Hoisted at the foremasthead it indicated the presence of a subordinate Governor, Lieutenant- Governor, Chief Commissioner or Political Officer.
  • Also hoisted at the fore by Political Resident Persian Gulf, or subordinate Political Officer within the limits of his jurisdiction, or on duty elsewhere.

[Star of India Blue Ensign] by Dave Martucci 23 July 1998

Blue Ensign with the badge in the centre of the fly:

  • Ensign of Indian Marine 1879 to 1891.
  • Ensign of Royal Indian Marine 1891 to 11 November 1928.
  • Jack of Royal Indian Marine 1 November 1928 to 1934 (see previous jack.
  • Jack of Royal Indian Navy 1934 to 1947.

Between 1928 and independence in 1947, the Royal Indian Marine was allowed to fly the White Ensign of the Royal Navy (i.e. British White Ensign). The former Ensign was retained, but was then flown, when appropriate, as a Jack at the bow. In 1934 the Royal Indian Marine was re-named the Royal Indian Navy.

[Star of India Red Ensign] by Dave Martucci 23 July 1998

Red Ensign with the badge in the centre of the fly:

No Admiralty Warrant was issued for this ensign which was an unofficial, or semi-official land flag. It was used between 1945 and 1947 in the context of India's membership of the United Nations, and possibly used earlier to denote India's membership of the League of Nations.

Jack of Royal Indian Marine before 1928

The Star of India Blue Ensign did not become the Jack of the Royal Indian Marine until 11th November 1928. Before that date it had been the Ensign, and the Jack had been a Union Jack with a blue border one fifth the width of the flag. Since the whole flag was 1:2, the UJ presumably had proportions of 3:8.
David Prothero, 8 May 1999

Sources: Admiralty Flags of All Nations; Navies of the Empire, F.E.Mcmurtrie; Naval and Maritime Flags of British India, A.Rowand; Colours of the Fleet, M.Farrow; Public Records Office document ADM 1/8726/128.

David Prothero, 18 February 1998

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