Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Philip V. Girard


Between 1868 and 1875, several land tenure laws (Punjab Tenancy Act of 1868; Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act of 1870; and Prince Edward Island Tenants Compensation Act, 1872 and Land Purchase Act, 1875) were enacted across the British Empire. These laws established some form of security of tenure for the actual cultivators of land by recognizing co-proprietorship of tenants and landlords and/or by transferring proprietorship from landlords to tenants. This study examines how proponents of the rights of cultivators overcame long-standing resistance to any encroachment of landlords property rights in these socio-politically diverse and geographically dispersed colonies. Comparative analyses of the historical land tenure arrangements in the three colonies and the contestations around the specific laws reveal two crucial mechanisms which facilitated the institutionalization of peasant-proprietorship. First, there was a fortuitous ideological alignment between important governing agents in the three colonies. Sympathy for the peasants of John Lawrence (Governor-General of India) and his followers in Punjab after the 1857 Rebellion, the desire of William Gladstone and his Liberal government to pacify Ireland in 1868 through a resolution of the centuries-old land question, and the singular focus of the Prince Edward Island legislature by the late 1860s to establish the rights of tenants and convert the leasehold to freehold tenures on the island, reinforced each other in promoting the rights of tenants. Second, these efforts were crucially augmented by the redirection of the debate about how far land tenures being considered across the Empire would impact the sanctity of English principles to one where these existing principles were deemed to be anomalous and thus not applicable to the colonies. The extrication of land tenure considerations in the colonies from the institutionalized practices in England allowed for inter-colony analogies and precedents to support the proprietary rights of the peasant cultivators. The use of inter-colony analogies not only overcame resistance from the influential aristocratic classes and their supporters across the Empire during the period of the current study but also became the normative tool in expanding peasant-proprietorship well into the twentieth century for successive British governments of all political stripes.


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