Wednesday, March 6, 2013


The Great Indian Hedge - Shame of the British Empire, page 1

The Great Indian Hedge - Shame of the British Empire

From my searches carried out in ATS, I believe this is the first time the following remarkable event in recent history has been mentioned here in ATS.

What was 2,504 miles (4,030 km) long, was comprised of 411.5 miles (662.2 km) of "perfect" and "good" living hedges and 1,109.5 miles (1,785.6 km) of inferior hedge, dry hedge or stone wall and was built and maintained by the British Empire from 1803 to 1st April 1879.?

Answer: The Inland Customs Line which incorporated the Great Hedge of India (or Indian Salt Hedge).

The Inland Customs Line which incorporated the Great Hedge of India (or Indian Salt Hedge[1]) was a customs barrier built by the British across India primarily to collect the salt tax. The customs line was begun whilst India was under the control of the East India Company but continued into the period of direct British rule. The line had its beginnings in a series of customs houses that were established in Bengal in 1803 to prevent the smuggling of salt to avoid the tax. These customs houses were eventually formed into a contiguous barrier that was brought under the control of the Inland Customs Department in 1843.

The line was gradually expanded as more territory was brought under British control until it covered a distance of more than 2,500 miles (4,000 km), often running alongside rivers and other natural barriers. At its greatest extent it ran from the Punjab in the Northwest until it reached the princely state of Orissa, near to the Bay of Bengal, in the southeast. The line was initially made of dead, thorny material such as the Indian Plum but eventually evolved into a living hedge that grew up to 12 feet (3.7 m) high and was compared to the Great Wall of China. The Inland Customs Department employed customs officers, Jemadars and men to patrol the line and apprehend smugglers, reaching a peak of more than 14,000 staff in 1872. The line and hedge were considered to be an infringement on the freedom of Indians and in opposition to free trade policies and were eventually abandoned in 1879 when the tax was applied at point of manufacture. The salt tax itself would remain in place until 1946.

The scale of this man made barrier and its impact on the lives of millions of people is further compounded when you realise that it was not a barrier to protect the inhabitants from outside invaders as was in the case of the Great Wall of China, or to prevent the 'emigration and defection' from East Germany to East Germany as was the case with the Berlin wall, but was created and maintained to extract high taxes on SALT from the inhabitants of India!

For comparisons in size..

The Great Wall of China - built between 5th Century BC to the 16th Century. - 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi) long

Hadrian's Wall - Built by the Romans in AD 122 - (73.5 statute miles or 117 kilometres) long.

Berlin Wall - Built August 13, 1961 - 140 kilometres (87 mi) long


Despite its scale, the customs line and associated hedge were not widely known in either Britain or India, the standard histories of the period neglecting to mention them. Roy Moxham, a conservator at the University of London library, wrote a book on the customs line and his search for its remains that was published in 2001. This followed his finding, in 1995, of a passing mention of the hedge in Major-General Sir W.H. Sleeman's 1893 work Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official. Moxham looked up the hedge in the India Office Records of the British Library and determined to locate its remnants.[67]

Moxham conducted extensive research in London before making three trips to India to look for any remains of the line. In 1998 he located a small raised embankment in the Etawah district in Uttar Pradesh which may be all that remains of the Great Hedge of India. Moxham's book, which he claims to be the first on the subject, details the history of the line and his attempts to locate its modern remains.


Brief Background History..

In order to properly explain the reasons why a civilised super-power at that time (The British Empire) would bring into existence, a monstrous 'wall' that served just one purpose, to tax millions of people on the salt they used/consumed we must go back in time and look at influences of a little known English company called 'East India Trading Company'..

Not long after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, a group of London merchants presented a petition to Queen Elizabeth I for permission to sail to the Indian Ocean seeking new trade routes. Dec 31st 1600 Queen Elizabeth I grants a Royal Charter to George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses" under the name, Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies. After the Battle of Swally in 1612 (where four English East India Company galleons won a victory over four Portuguese naus galleons), the East India Trading Company with the help and support of the British Empire gained exclusive trading rights in Surat and other areas with Mughal Emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir. This was the turning point of the decline of the Portuguese influence in India and the build up of Military power of the East India Trading Company who's navy would later be the basis of the Indian Navy as we know it today.

In 1634, the Mughal emperor extended his hospitality to the English traders to the region of Bengal, and in 1717 completely waived customs duties for the trade. The company's mainstay businesses were by then in cotton, silk, indigo dye, saltpetre and tea. All the while in 1650-56, it was making inroads into the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade in the Malaccan straits, which the Dutch had acquired by ousting the Portuguese in 1640-41. In 1657, Oliver Cromwell renewed the charter of 1609, and brought about minor changes in the holding of the Company. The status of the Company was further enhanced by the restoration of monarchy in England. By a series of five acts around 1670, King Charles II provisioned it with the rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions, to mint money, to command fortresses and troops and form alliances, to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas. In 1711, the Company established a trading post in Canton (Guangzhou), China, to trade tea for silver.


What we see at this point is that in just 70 years, a small Joint Stock Company with the help and support from the imperial patronage, is granted almost full autonomy to conduct its business anyway it chooses and to install law & order using civil or military means just as would an invading army, only this would be conducted under the guise of trading, profits of which, would further help support the British Government at that time.

At this point in the story lets look at the situation that existed for the production of salt in India..

Salt has been produced all along the Rann of Kutch in the west coast of India for the past 5,000 years. The Rann of Kutch is an extensive marshland which is cut off from the rest of the Indian subcontinent during monsoons when the seas inundate the low-lying areas. However, when the sea water evaporates during summer, it leaves behind a crust of salt which accumulate as salt pans. This salt is collected by labourers called malangis.

In the eastern coast, salt could be obtained extensively along the coast of Orissa. The salt produced by the salt pans called khalaris in Oriya is of the finest quality in all India. There has always been a demand for Orissa salt in Bengal. When the British took over the administration of Bengal, they too felt its need and traded for salt. Gradually they monopolized Orissa salt all over Bengal. To check smuggling and illegal transportation, they sent armies into Orissa resulting in the conquest of Orissa in 1803

The Seven Years' War between the British Empire and France (1756–1763) resulted in the defeat of the French forces, limited French imperial ambitions, and stunting the influence of the industrial revolution in French territories. Robert Clive, the Governor General, led the British East India Company to a victory against Joseph Fran├žois Dupleix, the commander of the French forces in India, and recaptured Fort St George from the French. The British East India Company took this respite to seize Manila in 1762. By the Treaty of Paris (1763), the French were allowed to maintain their trade posts only in small enclaves in Pondicherry, Mahe, Karikal, Yanam, and Chandernagar without any military presence. Although these small outposts remained French possessions for the next two hundred years, French ambitions on Indian territories were effectively laid to rest, thus eliminating a major source of economic competition for the British East India Company. In contrast, the British East India Company, fresh from a colossal victory, and with the backing of a disciplined and experienced army, was able to assert its interests in the Carnatic region from its base at Madras and in Bengal from Calcutta, without facing any further obstacles from other colonial powers

During this seven year war In 1759 the British East India Company came into possession of land near Calcutta where there were salt works. Taking the opportunity to make money, they doubled the land rent and imposed transit charges on the transportation of salt. It took the British East India Company 89 years from when it was first given the rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions by King Charles II in 1670 to gaining a major hold in this highly lucrative Salt industry. The war with France was costly and the British Empire needed funds to sustain its fight with France and further push the French out of India.

In 1764, following the victory at the Battle of Buxar, the British East India Company began to control all the revenues of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

From 1788 onwards, the Company took to selling to wholesalers by auction. Due to this move by the British East India Company, the tax increased to 3.25 rupees a maund. The wholesale price of salt increased from 1.25 rupees to about 4 rupees a maund. This was an exorbitant rate and few could afford the privilege of having their food with salt.

On 1 November 1804, the British monopolized salt in newly conquered Orissa. In return, they advanced money to the malangis against further salt production. As a result, the malangis eventually became debtors of the British and were virtually brought down to the level of slaves. The Orissa Zamindars who earlier controlled salt trade were alarmed at the monopolization which resulted in a sudden loss of income and tried to bear upon the malangi not to work for the British but to no avail.

The conception of The Inland Customs line (1823-1879)

In order to enforce its high taxes on its customers and to prevent the smuggling of salt (to avoid paying the salt tax the people would make it illegally in salt pans, stealing it from warehouses or smuggling salt from the princely states which remained outside of direct British rule) the British East India Company in Bengal 1803 initially setup a series of Customs Houses and barriers across major roads and rivers in Bengal to collect the tax on traded salt as well as duties on tobacco and other imports. These customs houses were backed up by "preventative customs houses" located near to salt works and the coast in Bengal to collect the tax at source. It became apparent quite quickly that this measure was not enough, corruption and lack of a contiguous barrier and the westward expansion of Bengal towards salt-rich states all contributed towards the loss of further revenue.

A cheap, yet effective measure was needed to combat smuggling and illegal salt production. In 1823 the Commissioner of Customs for Agra, George Saunders, installed a line of customs posts along the Ganges and Yamuna rivers from Mirzapur to Allahabad that would eventually evolve into the Inland Customs Line. The main aim was to prevent salt from being smuggled from the south and west but there was also a secondary line running from Allahabad to Nepal to prevent smuggling from the Northwest frontier. The annexation of Sindh and the Punjab allowed the line to be extended north-west by G. H. Smith, who had become Commissioner of Customs in 1834. Smith also exempted items such as tobacco and iron from taxation to concentrate on salt. He was responsible for expanding and improving the line, increasing its budget to 790,000 rupees per year and the staff to 6,600 men.

Commissioner of Customs G. H. Smith new Inland Customs Line was first concentrated between Agra and Delhi and consisted of a series of customs posts at one mile intervals, linked by a raised path with gateways (known as "chokis") to allow people to cross the line every four miles. The barrier and surrounding land, to a distance of 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km), was the responsibility of the Inland Customs Department, headed by a Commissioner of Inland Customs. The department staffed each post with an Indian Jemadar (approximately equivalent to a British Warrant Officer) and ten men, backed up by additional patrols operating 2-3 miles behind the line. The line was mainly concerned with the collection of the salt tax but also functioned as a deterrent against Opium smuggling and collected tax on sugar being exported from Bengal.

How the Great Hedge of India became to be..

In order to 'fill-in' the gaps between these customs houses anything that could be moved and form a barrier was used, stones, wood and.... bushes that were in plentiful supply.. Initially this proved quite successful and cheap to implement but this barrier suffered from fires (arson and natural) white ants, rats, storms, locusts, parasitic creepers, natural decay and strong winds which could destroy furlongs at a time and necessitated constant maintenance. However, sometime in the early 1840's it was noticed that when thorn bushes, cut and laid along the line as a barrier (known as the "dry hedge"), took root in many places and quickly formed a large living barrier that survived better than the dead parts of the line and therefore required much less maintenance. By 1868 it had become 180 miles (290 km) of "thoroughly impenetrable" hedge.

A pivotal episode in India's history happened in 1857 (Indian Rebellion of 1857) that would result a year later, in the dissolution of the British East India Company, only to be replaced by the Crown in the new British Raj in 1858. While this did appear to improve many aspects of the way India was governed, trade, taxes etc were now under the direct control of the British government, with no middle man ( the British East India Company) to share the profits with. During the subsequent 10 years after the 1857 Rebellion the British Raj repaired the sections of the hedge/line that were destroyed during the rebellion and then carried out maintaining the old Inland Customs Line along with enforcing the taxes set by the British East India company but did little to further expand the line. Until that is, in 1867..

Allan Octavian Hume, Commissioner of Inland Customs from 1867-70, estimated that each mile of dry hedge required 250 tons of material to construct and that this material had to be carried to the line from between 0.25 and 6 miles (0.40 and 9.7 km) away. The amount of labour involved in such a task was one of the reasons that a live hedge was encouraged, particularly when damage required the replacement of around half of the dry hedge each year.

The Great living Hedge[WALL] of India.



In 1869 Hume, in preparation for a rapid expansion of the live hedge, began trials of various indigenous thorny shrubs to see which would be suited to different soil and rainfall conditions. The result was that the main body of the hedge was composed of Indian Plum, Babool, Karonda and several species of Euphorbia.[27] The Prickly Pear was used where conditions meant that nothing else could grow, as was found in parts of the Hisar district, and in other places bamboo was planted.

Hume was responsible for transforming the hedge from "a mere line of persistently dwarf seedlings, or of irregularly scattered, disconnected bushes" into a formidable barrier that, by the end of his tenure as commissioner, contained 448.75 miles (722.19 km) of "perfect" hedge and 233.5 miles (375.8 km) of "strong and good", but not impenetrable hedge. The hedge was nowhere less than 8 feet (2.4 m) high and 4 feet (1.2 m) thick and in some places was 12 feet (3.7 m) high and 14 feet (4.3 m) thick. in 1869 alone the customs men carried out 18 million miles of patrols, dug 2 million cubic feet of earth and carried over 150,000 tons of thorny material for the building and maintenance of the 'hedge'.

Hume was replaced as Commissioner of Customs in 1870 by G. H. M. Batten who in turn was replaced in 1876 by W. S. Halsey, who would be the last of the 'hedge' keepers. Under Halsey's control the hedge grew to its greatest extent, reaching a peak of 411.5 miles (662.2 km) of "perfect" and "good" live hedge by 1878 with a further 1,109.5 miles (1,785.6 km) of inferior hedge, dry hedge or stone wall. In just 56 years The Inland Customs line grew to monstrous proportions, far exceeding anything before it.. This was truly greed at its finest, the effects of which on the population (numbered in millions) would be both crippling and deadly at that time..

Maintaining the customs line and hedge required a large number of staff to patrol and maintain it. The majority of the staff were Indian, with their officers coming mainly from the British. In 1869 the Inland Customs Department employed 136 officers, 2499 petty officers and 11,288 men on the line, reaching a peak of 14,188 men of all ranks in 1872.

While the line served to bring in a lot of money for the British Empire (Sources indicate that by 1858, British India derived 10% of the revenues from its monopoly of salt. However, by the end of the century, the tax on salt had been considerably reduced. In 1880, income from salt amounted to 7 million pounds). it never-the-less attracted a lot of unwelcomed attention from Several British viceroys who wanted to dismantle the line, sighting it as a major barrier against free travel and trade across the subcontinent. The obstacle that prevented this from happening was the sudden huge loss of revenue that the line was currently generating, unless that is, they could take control of all the salt production in India, so that tax could then be applied at the point of manufacture.

The Viceroy from 1869 to 1872, Lord Mayo, took the first steps towards abolition of the line, instructing British officials to negotiate agreements with the rulers of princely states to take control of salt production. The process was speeded up by Mayo's successor, Lord Northbrook, and by the loss of revenue caused by the famine of 1876-8 that reduced the land tax and killed 6.5 million people. British India's Finance Minister, Sir John Strachey, subsequently led a review of the tax system and his recommendations, implemented by Lord Lytton, resulted in the increase of the salt tax in Madras, Bombay and northern India to 2.5 rupees per maund and a reduction in Bengal to 2.9 rupees. The small difference between the tax bands made smuggling uneconomical, and allowed for the abandonment of the Inland Customs Line on 1 April 1879. Strachey's tax reforms continued and he brought an end to import duties and almost complete free trade to India by 1880.[48] In 1882 Viceroy Lord Ripon finally standardised the salt tax across most of India at a rate of two rupees per maund. Although the trans-Indus districts of India continued to be taxed at eight annas per maund until 23 July 1896 and Burma maintained its reduced rate of just three annas. The equalisation of tax cost the government 1.2 million rupees of lost revenue.

At the time of writing this, I have found no direct statistics on the human cost this salt tax had inflicted, lack of salt does effect the human body to a point where it is then unable to fight off the effects brought on by diseases, such as cholera which was prevalent in India at that time..

1816-1826 - First cholera pandemic: Previously restricted, the pandemic began in Bengal, and then spread across India by 1820. 10,000 British troops and countless Indians died during this pandemic. Deaths in India between 1817 and 1860 are estimated to have exceeded 15 million persons. Another 23 million died between 1865 and 1917 and this is just from cholera!

Side note: In most cases cholera can be successfully treated with oral rehydration therapy (ORT). ORT is highly effective, safe, and simple to administer: prompt replacement of water and electrolytes is the principal treatment for cholera, as dehydration and electrolyte depletion occur rapidly. In situations where commercially produced ORT sachets are too expensive or difficult to obtain, alternative homemade solutions using various formulas of water, sugar, table salt, baking soda, and fruit offer less expensive methods of electrolyte repletion

I now close with the following quote from Dadabhai Naoroji On August 14, 1894 in the House of Commons:

Then the Salt Tax, the most cruel Revenue imposed in any civilised country provided Rs. 8,600,000/- and that with the opium 'formed the bulk of the revenue of India, which was drawn from the wretchedness of the people.... It mattered not what the State received was called - tax, rent, revenue, or by any other name they liked - the simple fact of the matter was, that out of a certain annual national production the State took a certain portion. Now it would not also matter much about the portion taken by the State if that portion, as in this country, returned to people themselves, from whom it was raised. But the misfortune and the evil was that much of this portion did not return to the people, and that the whole system of Revenue and the economic condition of the people became unnatural and oppressive, with dangers to the rulers. So long as the system went on, so long must the people go on, living wretched lives. There was a constant draining away of India's resources, and she could never therefore, be a prosperous country. Not only that, but in time India must perish, and with it perish the British Empire

Thank you for reading - Freelancer

reply posted on 25-9-2010 @ 11:13 PM by Freelancer
Im shamelessly bumping this thread ONLY because it deserves to be read. The event described (the building of this massive 2,500 mile barrier) really did happen. It directly effected the lives of millions of people yet conveniently for the British Empire, we are lead to believe the local people of India never bothered to record this event. News of this barrier was also very heavily surpressed in the tabloids of the British press at that time, not to mention in the House of Commons.

There is only one book written on this subject by Moxham, Roy (2001). The Great Hedge of India. London: Constable & Robinson. ISBN 1-84119-467-0. and googling about this barrier/line brings up extracts / references from Moxham's book since he is the main source of this story.

The 'conspiracy' starts with the begining of the East India Company (also the East India Trading Company, English East India Company, and then the British East India Company)[ yes this 'company' changed its name three times to reflect its growing importance to the British Empire. Detailing this company's rise to power was outside the OP, hence it only briefly mentions their involvement, but for those wishing to know more, google is your friend.
  Poverty and un-British rule in India by Naoroji, Dadabhai
 Published 1901 by S. Sonnenschein in London




 British Prime Minister David Cameron lays a wreath in tribute to the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs at the memorial in Amritsar. A

A sorry apology: David Cameron at Jallianwala Bagh
David Cameron might be the first sitting British prime minister to feel "shame" about Jallianwalah Bagh. But his condolence message is really more about making a sales pitch for the basic goodness of Britain despite that 1919 blot.

 David Cameron thinks what happened at Jallianwala Bagh was a "deeply shameful event in British history."

In my condolence book, that's as close to a ringing apology as you can expect from a sitting British Prime Minister for the massacre of 1919.

Certainly Cameron sounds a lot more diplomatic than Prince Philip who claimed that he'd heard the death toll had been exaggerated. 
 And he even sounds a little more contrite than Queen Elizabeth who called it a "difficult episode" but then briskly moved on saying "history cannot be rewritten".

File:Jallianwala Bagh sign2.jpg