British Empire
Living in the British empire - India
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Map from a British book showing areas of India affected by famine in 1900
(By permission of The British Library, T4765)
  • This image comes from a book called 'Prosperous British India' by William Digby, published in 1901. The map shows the areas affected by famine in 1900.
  • Digby was a British writer who loved India. He approved of the idea of the British ruling India. He also thought that British rule, on the whole, was good for India.
  • However, he was appalled by the famines which took place in 1876-77 and 1899-1900. He felt that the British government did not do anything like enough to help.
  • Around 5 million people died in the famine of 1899-1900. This was partly the result of weather. It was also partly because Indians were growing cash crops to sell to Britain - rather than food.
  • The British did try to relieve the suffering of the famine. Sadly, British relief efforts ended up failing because of economic beliefs. The British Viceroy, Lord Lytton, saw that food prices were going up during the famine. He thought that Indian farmers could take advantage of this and make a profit. As a result, he was reluctant to give free food away. Lord Lytton totally failed to understand the scale of the problem. His intention was to help Indian farmers to get back on their feet, but in many cases it was the farmers who were starving. A small number made a profit, but millions more suffered and died.
  • A British programme of irrigation did bring more land into use in India. The British also tried to give relief to famine victims and to move supplies of food by rail, but their efforts were simply not enough to stop the terrible suffering and starvation.
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