Imperial Conference

19 Oct 1926
End date: 
22 Nov 1926
Event location: 



The Imperial Conference of 1926 was the sixth in a series of increasingly formal meetings of the Prime Ministers of the Dominions of the British Empire, which usually took place in London. The 1926 Conference met shortly after the League of Nations’ General Assembly in 1926.

The most influential conclusion made at the 1926 Imperial Conference was the Balfour Formula or Balfour Declaration (this should not be confused with the 1917 Balfour Declaration which declared British support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine). Arthur Balfour, who had been Prime Minister from 1902-5, and Foreign Secretary from 1916-19, was in 1926 Lord President of the Council, and thus responsible for presiding over meetings of the Privy Council. At the Imperial Conference Balfour chaired the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee, who were appointed on the 25 October 1926 'to investigate all the questions on the Agenda affecting Inter-Imperial Relations.' This Committee was comprised of Prime Ministers and Heads of Delegations. The central conclusion that the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee drew was that the Dominions were, 'autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations'. The statement was ratified by the Conference on 19 November 1926.

Notably, this was not a constitution for the British empire, for which some, including Jan Smuts of South Africa, had campaigned. Furthermore, while the report called for an equality of status of the Dominions, it did not suggest that their functions were anything but different. A tension existed between the self-governing Dominions of the British Commonwealth, whose status was addressed at the Imperial Conference, and the non-self-governing elements of the British empire. The unique status of India in terms of self-determination and continuing inclusion in the British empire in some ways set it apart from the Dominions discussed at the Conference. The Maharaja of Burdwan, the representative for India, gave a lengthy opening speech which addressed India’s loyalty to the British empire and her recent economic developments. The discussions were relevant, however, in terms of the continuing evolution of the British empire and Commonwealth. The Formula was enshrined in law only in 1931, under The Statute of Westminster.

Leopold Amery, First Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
People involved: 

Arthur Balfour, Earl of Birkenhead (Secretary of State for India and Head of the Indian Delegation) [Frederick Edwin Smith], Maharaja of Burdwan (representative for India), The Maharaj Kumar of Burdwan (Private Secretary to the Maharaja of Burdwan), Earl Winterton, MP (Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for India) [Edward Turnour]


The Sunday Observer, The Times and The Sunday Times, The Manchester Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph, compiled in The Imperial Conference, 1926: Report of the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee on Dominions’ Status… together with newspaper editorials, etc. (Wigan, 1926)

The Times, 22 May 1926

Secondary works: 

Young, Kenneth, Arthur James Balfour: The happy life of the politician, Prime Minister, statesman and philosopher, 1848-1930 (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1963)

Amery, Leopold, My Political Life (London: Hutchinson, 1953)

Marshall, Peter, 'Shaping the New Commonwealth, 1949', The Round Table 350 (1999), pp. 185-197

Marshall, Peter, 'The Balfour Formula and the Evolution of the Commonwealth', The Round Table 90.361 (2001), pp. 541-553


Imperial Conference, 1926. Inter-Imperial Relations Committee Report, appendices, p.28


The Maharaja of Burdwan's speech


Position of India: …The basis of our presence here today is special because India herself occupies a special, and, indeed, unique position in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Though her status in many respects is different from that of a Dominion, she looks forward to the progressive realisation of responsible Government as an integral part of the Empire and has already reached a stage of individual development, as an important part of that Empire, through which alone it has been possible for her to be admitted to your counsels and also to take a place, side by side with the Dominions, as a Member of the League of Nations.

Archive source: 

B.P.13/38 (13), Report, Balfour Papers, Miscellaneous Reports, 1892-1926, British Library, St Pancras

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Lawrence John Lumley Dundas


Lawrence John Lumley Dundas, second Marquess of Zetland, was an administrator in India, politician, and author. Zetland was educated at Harrow School and at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1900, he became aide-de camp to Lord Curzon, who was viceroy of India at the time. While in India, Zetland travelled widely through Asia. His experiences would later become the inspiration for a number of fictional and non-fictional works. From 1917 to 1922 he was appointed Governor of Bengal. He held the post at one of the most critical times, having to deal with the fall-out from the partition (1905) and re-unification (1911) of Bengal and rising political activism and unrest in the province. While his appointment initially provoked protests from Bengali nationalists because of his close association with Curzon, by the end of his governorship, he was widely respected even among initially critical nationalist politicians.

Zetland returned to Britain in 1922 and changed careers to become a writer. He was an active member of the Royal Central Asian, the India, and the Royal Asiatic societies. He was elected President of the Royal Geographical Society in 1922. He published a travel book, Lands of the Thunderbolt: Sikhim, Chumbi and Bhutan (1923), followed by The Heart of Aryavarta (1925), for which he was elected to the British Academy in 1929. In the book Zetland explores Indian religion and philosophy, which he saw as closely connected to an understanding of Indian nationalism. Zetland admired many of Gandhi's ideas, but differed with him on the point of his rejection of Western civilization and British rule. In 1928 Zetland published the three-volume official biography of Lord Curzon to critical acclaim. 

During the 1930s, Zetland played an important role in the ongoing constitutional reform process of the Government of India. He was present at the Round Table conferences in the early 1930s and also served on the joint select committees of the House of Lords and House of Commons. Prime Minister Baldwin invited him to join his government in 1935 as Secretary of State for India, to help guide the 1935 Government of India Act through parliament. With his political skills he was able to by-pass conservative opposition and implement further steps towards future dominion status for India and a devolution of power, by granting complete provincial responsibility which he saw part of a new conceptualization of ‘cooperative imperialism’.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Zetland had to deal with the fall-out from the constitutional crisis triggered by Linlithgow’s unilateral declaration of war, without consulting Indian representatives. This led to Congress’s non-cooperation in the war effort. In March 1940, Zetland survived Udham Singh’s assassination of Michael O’Dwyer at Caxton Hall. Zetland was present at the lecture, when Singh shot at the podium from close range. Zetland was only grazed by a bullet, receiving bruises to his ribs. After Neville Chamberlain’s resignation as Prime Minister, Zetland also resigned from office, conscious that his approach to Indian affairs differed markedly with Winston Churchill, who succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister.

After leaving office, Zetland pursued his other interests. He was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter. He served as Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding, devoted more time to his long-standing role as provincial grand master of the freemasons of the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire and was Governor of the Bank of Scotland.

Published works: 

Sports and Politics under an Eastern Sky (Blackwood, 1902)

A Wandering Student in the Far East (Blackwood, 1908)

India: An Eastern Miscellany (Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood, 1911)

Tour of his Excellency The Right Honourable Lawrence John Lumley Dundas, Earl of Ronaldshay, Governor of Bengal (Dacca, 1917-1919)

Speeches Delivered by His Excellency the Right Honourable Lawrence John Lumley Dundas, Earl of Ronaldshay Governor of Bengal during 1919-20 (Calcutta: Private Secretary Press, 1920)

Lands of the Thunderbolt: Sikhim, Chimbi and Buthan (Constable & Co., 1923)

India: A Bird's Eye View (London: Constable and Co., 1924)

The Heart of Aryavarta: A study of the psychology of Indian Unrest (London: Constable & Co., 1925)

The Life of Lord Curzon: Being the Authorized Biography of George Nathaniel Marquess Curzon of Kedlestone KG, 3 Vols. (London: Ernest Benn, 1928)

Great Britain and India (Birmingham and Midland Institute: Presdiential Addresses, 1930)

Lord Cromer: Being the Authorized Life of Evelyn Baring First Earl of Cromer (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1932)

Steps towards Indian Home Rule (London: Hutchinson, 1935)

India: Retrospect and Prospect (Nottingham, 1935)

'Essayez': The Memoires of Lawrence, Second Marquess of Zetland (London: John Murray, 1956)

Date of birth: 
11 Jun 1876

Stanley Baldwin, Albion Rajkumar Banerji, Surendranath Banerjea, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Maharaja of Cooch Behar, Stafford Cripps, George Curzon, Bhalabhai Desai, Samuel Hoare, M. K. Gandhi, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Chaudry Khaliquzzaman, Lord Linlithgow, Jawaharlal Nehru, Firoz Khan Noon, Mr Siddiqi, Lord Templewood.

British Academy, India Office, Royal Asiatic Society, Royal Central Asian Society, Royal Geographical Society (President).

Secondary works: 

Laithwaite, Gilbert, The Marquess of Zetland, 1876-1961 (London: Oxford University Press)

Rizvi, Gowher, Linlithgow and India: A Study of British Policy and the Political Impasse in India, 1936-1943 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1978)

‘Lord Zetland’, Obituary, The Guardian (7 February 1961), p. 13

Obituary of Marquess of Zetland, The Times (7 February 1961), p. 13
Archive source: 

Mss Eur D 609, Indian correspondence and papers, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Involved in events: 

Partition of Bengal, 1905

Round Table Conferences, 1930-2

Government of India Bill, 1935

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Second Marquess of Zetland and Earl of Zetland, Earl of Ronaldshay in the county of Orkney

Date of death: 
06 Feb 1961
Location of death: 
Aske, Yorkshire

1947 Independence and Partition

15 Aug 1947

On 14 August 1947, Pakistan was made an independent country, and on 15 August 1947 India was made independent as the British transferred their power over at midnight. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who had trained as a barrister in London and lived in London again in the 1930s, was sworn in as Governor-General of Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India who had overseen this transfer of power, became Governor-General of India for the interim. Jawaharlal Nehru, who had studied at Harrow School, Cambridge, and as a barrister in London, took up the position of Prime Minister of India.

Independence was celebrated in Britain by South Asians. At 11am on 15 August 1947, Indians gathered at India House in Aldwych to salute the flag. Pakistanis gathered in celebration at Lancaster House. In the afternoon, the Indian Conciliation Group held a celebration at Friends House in London where High Commissioners for India and Pakistan were present. They were both new in that position from 15 August: Habib Ibrahim Rahimtoolah for Pakistan, and V. K. Krishna Menon for India. A celebration was also held at the International Club in Croydon for students where the Dean of Canterbury blessed the Indian and Pakistani flags.

Despite the celebrations in London, the partition of the Indian sub-continent was not a peaceful process. With the migration of millions of refugees across the borders in Bengal and Punjab, rioting continued in India and Pakistan for many months with cases of horrific violence. The estimates of people killed vary, but there were probably over a million killed.

Secondary works: 

Chatterji, Joya, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Chopra, P. N. (ed.), Towards Freedom: Documents on the Movement for Independence in India, 1937 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986)

Gupta, P. S. (ed.), Towards Freedom: Documents on the Movement for Independence in India, 1942-1944 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Hasan, Mushirul (ed.), India’s Partition: Process, Strategy and Mobilization (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993)

Jalal, Ayesha, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)

Khan, Yasmin, The Great Partition. The Making of India and Pakistan (London: Yale University Press, 2007)

Mansergh, N., Lumby, E. W. R., and Moon, Penderel (eds.), India: The Transfer of Power 1942-1947. 12 vols. (London: H.M.S.O., 1970-1983)

Menon, V. P., The Transfer of Power in India (Bombay: Orient Longman, 1957)

Moore, R. J., Escape from Empire: The Atlee Government and the Indian Problem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982)

The Partition of Punjab: A Compilation of Official Documents (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel, 1993)

Philips, C. H. and Wainwright, M. D. (eds), The Partition of India: Policies and Perspectives 1935-47 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1970)

Talbot, Ian, Freedom’s Cry: The Popular Dimension in the Pakistan Movement and Partition Experience in Northwest India (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1996)

Tinker, Hugh, Experiment with Freedom, India and Pakistan 1947 (London: Oxford University Press, 1967)


The Times, 15 August 1947


Indian Independence Day

The High Commissioner for India cordially invites all Indian nationals in the United Kingdom to India House to-day, at 11am, to participate in the celebration of Indian independence.

The High Commissioner regrets that it has not been possible to send individual invitations to all Indians in this country, as there is no record of their addresses at India House, but hopes that those who see this announcement will take it as an invitation.

Archive source: 

National Archives of India, Delhi

Nehru Memorial Library, Delhi

India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras. [See]

Mountbatten Papers, University of Southampton, Southampton

Various political and personal papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge

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21 Cromwell Road


Following recommendations from the Lee-Warner Committee that met in 1907 to inquire into the position of Indian students in the UK, the Secretary of State decided to find a building that would house various organizations concerned with Indian students to provide a focal point for visitors to London.

A detached corner house was found at 21 Cromwell Road, opposite the Natural History Museum and near to the Imperial Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was rented by the India Office. The National Indian Association, the Northbrook Society and a newly-created Bureau of Information for Indian Students were all housed in this building in August 1910. However, the costs of renting rooms in the building soon became high. This was regarded as one of the reasons for the financial decline of the National Indian Association by the end of the decade.

The building was used for 'at homes', lectures, meetings and soirees by the National Indian Association. It provided newspapers and recreational activities such as billiards for British and Indian visitors to the Northbrook Society. A number of rooms were provided by the Northbrook Society for short-term lodging by Indian students - primarily for Indians when they first arrived in the country, before they were able to make other arrangements. The Educational Advisor met Indian students and provided them with advice about courses, degrees and lodgings in the UK.

Date began: 
01 Aug 1910
Key Individuals' Details: 

Thomas Arnold (Educational Advisor), E. J. Beck (Honorary Secretary of NIA).

Archive source: 

Indian Magazine and Review 476 (August 1910); 477 (September 1910)

The Times, 2 June and 27 September 1910, 21 January 1911

NIA minutes, Mss Eur F147/10-11, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras 

See references to 21 Cromwell Road in 'Passage to Oxford', K. P. S. Menon papers, Nehru Memorial Library, New Delhi


South Kensington
London, SW5 0SD
United Kingdom

India House (Offices of the Indian Embassy)


The India House in Aldwych was set up as a building for the offices of the Indian High Commissioner and Embassy and should not be confused with the hostel in Highgate. The building was conceived by Sir Atul Chatterjee, the first High Commissioner for India in London, and Herbert Baker. It was designed by Herbert Baker and Gilbert Scott. The building was completed in 1930 and opened by King George V with a solid gold key.

Chatterjee decided to set up a scholarship scheme to decorate the new India House and with the help of William Rothenstein, four Indian art students (chosen by competition) arrived in September 1929. Samuel Fyzee-Rahamin applied to be involved in the painting, but was rejected because he was too ‘senior’. The Indian artists commenced work at India House in April 1931. The artists were unable to complete the work, having only painted the dome when Atul Chatterjee was replaced by Sir Bhupendranath Mitra and financial constraints intervened.

Upon independence in 1947, the building was transferred to the Indian Government. The first High Commissioner to preside in it was V. K. Krishna Menon. The building is still used by the Indian High Commission today.

Published works: 

See Deb Barman, D. K., ‘Londone India Houser Deyal Chitra’, Prabasi 31. 7 (Kartik, 1339) (in Bengali)

Baker, Herbert, Architecture and Personalities (London, 1944)

Secondary works: 

Mitter, Partha, The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-Garde 1922-1947 (London: Reaktion Books, 2007)

Date began: 
01 Jan 1928
Precise date began unknown: 

Laurence Binyon, E. Michael Dinkel, Samuel Fyzee-Rahamin, Abanindranath Tagore, Francis Younghusband.

The four artists were Dhirendra Krishna Deb Barman, Sudhansu Sekhar Chaudhury, Ranada Uki and Lalit Mohan Sen.

Archive source: 

MS Eng 1148.1, Rothenstein Archive, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Mss Eur F147/74, India Society Archive, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras


United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Exhibition of Modern Art at Burlington Galleries, 1934

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