Thomas Munro

Munro one of the administrators under the British Crown who left his foot prints and legacy, not only by working hard but also by introducing innovative reforms and methodology in the areas of revenue collection and administration, taking into considerations the local people’s aspirations.. Such reforms and new changes in administration had a grip on the revenue and kept the overall management of the government under check. One such highly talented administrator was Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras Presidency on whose strong recommendation a Committee of public instruction was formed in 1826, which eventually led to the formation of Presidency College in Chennai that produced a galaxy of great men – administrators and scientists who served our country well.
Early life

Major-general Sir Thomas Munro, 1st Baronet KCB ( May 1761 – July 1827), son of Tobacco merchant Alexander Munro was a soldier and later a well-known colonial administrator of Scottish decent in the employ of East India Company.

Born in Glasgow on 27 May, 1761 and educated at the University of Glasgow, Munro had developed in the early stages of his life with character and generous mind, besides athletics skill that stood him in good stead in the later years of his career in colonial India. While with his family’s thriving Tobacco business, because of the inevitable American Revolutionary War (1775–1783 ; armed conflict between Great Britain and thirteen of its North American colonies, which had declared themselves the independent United States of America) and consequent collapse of the tobacco trade, his dad closed the business for good. In 1789 at the age of 18, Munro arrived in Madras (now Chennai), India and joined the East India Company as a cadet in an infantry.

Munro and Tipu Sultan
In the southern part of India, Hyder Ali and later his son Tipu Sultan gave heart burns to the English and literally blockaded them from expansion down south. Thomas Munro proved his ability and tactics during the battles against Haidar Ali (1780–1783), under the command of his older and distant relation Major Sir Hector Munro. Later he was with the regiment that for the first time fought against Tipu Sultan (1790–1792) of Mysore. It was at this juncture he got an opportunity to administer some territories acquired from Tipu. Cornwallis, the Governor-General gave the responsibility of administering the new territory of Baramahal (present day Salem and its surroundings) to Captain Alexander Read and his lieutenant, Thomas Munro. During this military tenure, he learned the essential principles of revenue survey and assessment which he later applied throughout the presidency of Madras. From his seven year work he learned that villagers were too poor to pay taxes. He and his colleague recommended the higher ups to reduce the taxes to a large extent and the loss of income could be made up by many ways one being better revenue collection system.

After the death of Tipu in 1799 in the final Angelo-Mysore war at Srirangapatna, he took the duty of restoring law and order in some parts of Kanara (now Karnataka) and later for long consecutive years he administered (1800–1807) the northern districts (Northern Circars) ceded by the Nizam of Hyderabad. It was here he introduced the ryotwari system of land revenue as against Zamindari system; earlier the landlords fleeced the cultivators. During his long stay in Britain 1807, before the EIC directors and House of commons he successfully argued about the new revenue collection methods and the difficulty faced by the cultivators with whom the government had to deal directly without interference from the greedy landlords. Upon EIC’ s approval in 1814, he was back at Madras with the sole purpose of reforming the revenue, judicial and police systems to keep the administration in good nick.

It was Munro who introduced the district administration with the Collector being the head of the district and besides his fundamental responsibility of revenue, he had to manage the police and was vested with magisterial powers. Under him worked a large number of tahsildars. They, besides revenue collection, also had quasi-judicial powers in their sub-districts. Munro’s simple system of administration became popular and is still being followed. This method allowed good contacts between the government and the people. In time, Munro’s methods became an absolute success and were extended all over South India.

Yet another fact that many people are not aware of is Munro strongly recommended the use of local language in the administration and recommended Indians to the judicial posts. Without proper knowledge of the local language, justice system can not be run efficiently. Munro was against racial superiority among the British. He wrote: “Foreign conquerors have treated the natives with violence and often with great cruelty, but none has treated them with so much scorn as we ….. It seems to be not only ungenerous, but impolitic to debase the character of a people fallen under our dominion”.

As for independence of India Munro felt that British rule over India could only be transient. ….”You are not here to turn India into England or Scotland”.

In recognition of his success in the Pindari War in 1817, he was appointed as brigadier-general to command the reserve division formed to reduce the southern territories of the Peshwa and in 1819 he became a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB).
He captured nine ports with a small army of five to six hundred men with some Europeans. Considering the powerful army of the Peshwas, it was a great feat on the part of Munro whose right military strategy proved effective.

His appointment in 1819, as the governor of Madras Presidency, again gave him an excellent opportunity to implement his grasp of efficient revenue assessment and general administration methods which substantially followed into the twentieth century. He is regarded as the father of the ‘Ryotwari system’. His official minutes were so good and effective.

Munro was made a baronet in 1825, taking on the name of Sir Thomas Munro of Lindertis from then on. He died of cholera at Pattikonda, 30 km from Gooty on 6th July 1827. while on official duty – touring the Northern Districts The epidemic was raging in the area; his name is preserved by more than one memorial. Munro was buried in Gooty, but four years later his remains were shifted to to Madras and interred in historical St. Mary’s Church in Fort St. George.

Munro, the British gentleman who really cared for the poor farmers of India, never failed to do his duties with a spirit of dedication and emulation, thus in letter and spirit he was a true Christian. That is the reason why in places where he worked more than 180 years ago, people still remember him and his deeds with gratitude.
Defender of the natives
As to the commonly felt perception that Indians in administration were corrupt. Munro also strongly deplored any attitudes of racial superiority among the British.
“Your rule is alien and it can never be popular. You have much to give your subjects, but you cannot look for more than passive gratitude. You are not here to turn India into England or Scotland. Work through, not in spite of, native systems and native ways, with a prejudice in their favour rather than against them; and when in the fullness of time your subjects can frame and maintain a worthy Government for themselves, get out and take the glory of achievement and the sense of having done your duty as the chief reward for your exertions.”

Munro became Governor of Madras Presidency from (1761-1827). Sometime during his wanderings he heard of the temple to Sri Venkateswara in Tirumala and instituted the offering of pongal each day to the deity in a vessel known as the Munro Gangalam. He assigned the revenues from a village in Chittoor District for the continuance of this offering. The temple authorities have ensured that the tradition is maintained. He is also credited with waiving all taxes from the Raghavendra Swami Mutt in Mantralayam.


The admirers and friends of Munro both in India and England, with the assistance of Munro’s wife, raised funds through public contributions in 1831 and decided to perpetuate the memory of Thomas Munro by erecting his statue in Madras. Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841), an outstanding, self-taught English sculptor, was commissioned. He was a painter as well; his canvases are at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Munro Statue
On seeing the imposing completed statue of Munro, Lord Wellington, a friend of his, is reported to have exclaimed: “A very fine horse; a very fine statue, and a very extraordinary man.” The bronze statue weighed six tonnes and was in three parts — the man, the horse and the base. These were separately packed to be reassembled in Madras, and sent by the ship The Asia in 1839. In Madras it was erected on a granite pedestal built to specifications laid down by Chantrey. His assistant, Allan Cunningham, supervised the installation. It was unveiled on October 23, 1839.

Death of Munro

After serving as Governor for about seven years, Munro wanted to return to England for a while. In June 1827 he went on a farewell tour to Rayalaseema, where he had worked as Collector. Unfortunately, there he passed away on July 6, 1827 of cholera, at Pattikonda, 30 km from Gooty. The epidemic was raging in the area.
Munro was buried in Gooty, but four years later his remains were removed to Madras and interred in St. Mary’s Church in Fort St. George. At Pattikonda a mango grove was planted and a step-well built. At Gooty a choultry was constructed; here, for many years food was distributed free for the poor in the name of Munro. Newly married Christian couples visit Munro Choultry to invoke his blessings.

Keywords: Thomas Munro, Munro Statue, Sri Venkateswara in Tirumala, St. Mary’s Church in Fort St. George, ‘Ryotwari system’, Tipu Sultan, Zamindari system