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Sir T. Madhava Rao
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Sir T. Madhava Rao (1828 – 1891)

Served as the Diwan of Travancore from 1857 to 1872, Indore from 1873 to 1875 and Baroda from 1875 to 1882.


This wood engraving was prepared in connection with the visit of HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales to India in 1875-76 and visit to Baroda on 19th November 1875.

Published by London news, wood engraving, after a sketch by William Simpson (1823 – 1899)

From a collection of Indian Portraits. Size: 15.75 x 11.75 in. (40 x 29.8 cms.) Date of printing – 1875

Sir T. Madhava Rao 

(Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911)

Sir T. Madhava Rao (1828-1891), Indian statesman, was born at Combaconum in Madras in 1828. Madhava Rao created a new type of minister adapted to the modern requirements of a progressive native state, and he grafted it upon the old stock. He linked the past with the present, using the advantages of heredity, tradition and conservatism to effect reforms in the public administration and in Indian society. Sprung from a Mahratta Brahmin stock long settled at Tanjore, the son of a dewan of Travancore, he was educated in the strictest tenets of his sacred caste. But he readily imbibed the new spirit of the age. To mathematics, science and astronomy he added a study of English philosophy and international law, and a taste for art xxri. 2g FIG. io. - Petal of Crowfoot (Ranunculus), bearing at the base a honey gland protected by a scale, s. and pictures. Although a devout student of the Shastras, he advocated female education and social reform. Refusing to cross the sea and so break caste by appearing before a parliamentary commission, he yet preached religious toleration. A patron of the Indian Congress, he borrowed from the armoury of British administration every reform which he introduced into the native states. He was respected alike by Europeans and natives, and received titles and honours from the British government. As tutor of the maharaja of Travancore, and then as revenue officer in that state, he showed firmness and ability, and became diwan or prime minister in 1857. He found the finances disorganized, and trade cramped by monopolies and oppressive duties. He co-operated with the Madras government in carrying out reforms, and when his measures led to misunderstandings with the maharaja, he preferred honourable resignation to retention of a lucrative office in which he was powerless for good. In 1872 he was engaged at Indore in laying down a plan of reform and of public works which he bequeathed to his successor, when a grave crisis at Baroda demanded his talents there. The Gaekwar had been deposed for scandalous misrule, and an entire reorganization was needed. Aided by Sir Philip Melvill, Madhava Rao swept away the corrupt officials, privileged sirdars and grasping contractors who had long ruined Baroda. He wrote able minutes defending the rights and privileges of the Gaekwar from fancied encroachment, and justifying the internal reforms which he introduced. He resigned office in 1882, and in his retirement devoted his leisure to reading and writing upon political and social questions. He died on the 4th of April 1891.


Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao

(by Mahatma Gandhi

from  Gujarati, Indian Opinion, 21.10.1905) 

Sir T. Madhav Rao was born in 1828 in the city of Kumbakonam. His father, Shri R. Ranga Rao, had been the Dewan of Travancore, and his uncle, Rai R. Venkat Rao, had been the Dewan as well as Revenue Commissioner of Travancore. Sir Madhav Rao had spent his childhood and received his education in Madras. He studied at Presidency College [Madras] under Mr. Powell. Madhav Rao was a hard-working student, and was proficient in Mathematics and Science. He had learnt astronomy while sitting on the stairs of Mr. Powell’s house, and he made a microscope and a telescope from bamboo with his own hands.

Unwilling to part with such an intelligent student, Mr. Powell appointed him Professor of -Mathematics and Physics under himself. Later, Madhav Rao got a good post in the office of the Accountant General, and after some time, on being invited to work as a tutor to the princes of Travancore, he accepted the offer. This was how he entered, for the first time, the service of a Native State. The princes in his charge became good students, and their career as rulers also proved to be very successful. After working as a tutor for four years, he was given the responsible post of an assistant to the Dewan. He was later appointed Deputy Dewan, in which post he earned a good name. The State had been in a very bad condition. The late Mr. J. Bruce Norton has said of him : “He was a great scholar and a political administrator. In the short space of a year he established peace in the land. To everyone he meted out justice without fear or favour. He greatly reduced theft, treachery and deceit”.


The Dewan of Travancore was a very weak man, and the Maharaja too was ill-informed. He did not know how the administration was going on, and the officers of the State too had become debased and corrupt. Their salary, moreover, was very low and sometimes fell into arrears for months. The loan advanced by the British Government had not yet been repaid, and the treasury was empty. The taxes being heavy, trade was in a very bad state and the people were reduced to utter poverty. This caught the attention of Lord Dalhousie who resolved  to take over the administration of the State on behalf of the British Government and proceeded to Octacamund with a view to annexing the State to Madras Presidency. At this time, the Maharaja appointed Madhav Rao to the post of Dewan and he successfully pleaded with the British Government to give him seven years time to improve the State administration. In this way, at the early age of 30, by dint of personal effort and honesty. Madhav Rao attained a distinguished position. The notable event of his career as Dewan pertained to the State revenues. The State finances were in a bad way when he took charge as Dewan. He abolished the excessive land revenue and other taxes imposed in the past  as they were harmful to the prosperity of the people. He also abolished the system of  monopoly for revenue collection. He met the deficit in the annual revenues by levying an export duty of 15 per cent on all goods. As the State went on prospering, he gradually reduced the rate of this duty and brought  it down to 5 per cent. Next he abolished the monopoly in tobacco also and permitted State subjects to buy it directly from outside, replacing the former system of Government first buying it at its own risk from the contractors and then selling it to the people. The tariff burden being thus made light, imports received much encouragement. He then removed many other petty taxes and cesses as they did not yield much revenue and were also harmful to the prosperity of the merchants. He reduced, at one stroke, the very heavy land tax in a certain village. In 1865, on behalf of Travancore, he entered into a trade agreement with the British Government and the Government of Cochin, as a result of which the customs duty on goods imported from British Indian and Cochin territories was abolished for the most part.

In appreciation of his able administration the British Government conferred upon him the title of K.C.S.I. When this title was ceremoniously conferred upon him before a large gathering in Madras, Lord Napier spoke highly of him. In 1872, Madhav Rao resigned his post. During his tenure he established an orderly government in place of misrule, and thereby ensured  security of life and property for the subjects. He constructed huge and massive buildings, thus giving encouragement to the artisans. He had many works of public utility executed and promoted agriculture by reducing land revenue. But for Madhav Rao, the State of Travancore would have been lost to the Maharaja. Madhav Rao did for Travancore what Pericles did for Athens and Oliver Cromwell for England. He was offered a seat in the Imperial Legislative Council, but did not accept it.

A little later Maharaja Tukojirao Holkar of Indore requested the British Government to give him an able Dewan. When the Government offered the services of Madhav Rao, the Maharaja accepted them for a period of two years. The most noteworthy work he did there was the formulation of the Indore Penal Code. During the two years he held office, he did many  good things for the people and raised the State to prosperity.

About this time Malhar Rao Gaekwar of Baroda had been deposed for maladministration of the State, and the offer was made to Madhav Rao of the post of Administrator of the State, which he accepted. Baroda was then in a very perilous condition. Treachery, murder and rioting were rampant everywhere. There was discord among the people, life and property were unsafe, and a strong man was needed to restore peace and order. The monopoly of collecting State revenues was vested in big Sardars. Money-lenders tyrannized over the people with the aid of the police. The State was brimming over with intrigue and conspiracy, and there was no end of lawlessness. But Sir Madhav Rao was not discouraged. He conducted the administration ably. Troublesome intriguers were banished from the State. The Sardars and the Sahukars were deprived of their monopolies, and the State revenue was placed on a sound footing. The land revenue sepoys were withdrawn and assigned civil duties. The courts of law were reorganized to ensure justice. Libraries were opened. Efficient men were called in from Bombay and Madras and the standards of the services raised. The narrow lanes in Baroda were demolished and burnt  down so that beautiful buildings could take their place. Gardens were laid out and a museum was constructed. In this way, he went on for years without any respite, introducing one reform after another. In 1882 the British Government conferred upon him the title of Raja. In appreciation of his services the Maharaja Gaekwar gave him a gift of three lakhs of rupees. From then on he lived in retirement as a private citizen. Even during his retirement he did public work whenever the occasion demanded. He devoted a great deal of attention to education and pleaded for women’s education. He was in correspondence with Prince Bismarck of Germany. His career was considered illustrious not only in India, but in Europe also. India has known few such administrators. This illustrious son of India breathed his last on April 4, 1891, at the age of 62.

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