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In 1831 the Corporation of the newly-established King’s College London helped bring to life the Kensington Proprietary Grammar School, an institution dedicated to imparting “modern” and “useful” knowledge. In 1836, the most academically gifted of student of the school, Eyre Burton Powell, received an ‘exhibition’ from the Corporation that sent him to Cambridge. Through an astonishing series of events, in 1840 Powell was appointed the Headmaster of the Madras High School (which then became Presidency College).

His impact over the next five decades was immeasurable: his doting students went on to occupy the most “important situations” in British India, becoming the pioneering collectors, judges, journalists, and doctors that revolutionized Southern India. Perhaps none had greater impact that “Mr. Powell’s boys”, the pioneering batch of Madras High School that served not in British India but in the Native States. The most famous of these was Raja Sir Madhava Rao, the Dewan who earned fame for transforming Travancore, Indore, and Baroda into “model states”. Drawing on his recent book, The Progressive Maharaja, this talk by Rahul Sagar will trace how “Mr. Powell’s boys” built careers that reshaped the destinies of millions and set India on the path to a distinctive form of modernity.


Rahul Sagar is Global Network Associate Professor of Political Science at NYU Abu Dhabi. His recent books include The Progressive Maharaja: Sir Madhava Rao’s Hints on the Art and Science of Government and To Raise A Fallen People: How Nineteenth Century Indians Saw Their World and Shaped Ours. He has taught at Princeton and Yale-NUS College and was educated at Oxford and Harvard.


Professor Niraja Gopal Jayal joined King’s India Institute as Avantha Chair in October 2021. She was formerly Professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and also Centennial Professor (2019-23) at The London School of Economics, in the Department of Gender Studies. Her book Citizenship and Its Discontents (Harvard University Press and Permanent Black, 2013) won the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Prize of the Association of Asian Studies in 2015. Professor Jayal undertakes research in the fields of citizenship, democracy and welfare in India.

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Event details

BH SE 1.02
Bush House South East Wing
Strand, London WC2R 1AE