Vestry politics and the emergence of a reform ‘public’ in Calcutta, 1813–36


  • Joseph Hardwick

    1. University of Warwick
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    • The author would like to thank David Arnold, Miles Taylor, Gordon Pentland and the anonymous referees for this journal for their invaluable comments on earlier versions of this article.


This article deals with a moment in the eighteen-twenties when, it has been argued, British expatriates and middle-class Indians in Calcutta came together to form a multi-ethnic reform public. It is often assumed that this public emerged as a result of the introduction of press censorship in 1823. This article, by contrast, argues that the origins of the reform movement should be traced to the unlikely surroundings of the vestry of one of Calcutta's Anglican churches. The article gives us a new perspective on India's ‘age of reform’, and shows how municipal reform, often considered to be a metropolitan phenomenon, not only surfaced in the colonial world but also prepared the ground for later campaigns for free trade, judicial reform and a representative legislature.