Balliol educated hundreds of men who would go on to play central roles in the development and administration of empire in the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, as Professor Judith Brown (Emeritus Fellow, Beit Professor of Commonwealth History 1990–2011) has shown in Windows into the Past (Universiy of Notre Dame Press, 2009), this is especially true of colonial India. Utilising matriculation records as a point of departure, Brown identifies 345 Balliol graduates who went out to work in India between 1853 and 1947, including 273 who found employment in the Indian Civil Service (ICS). Over the same period, 88 Indian students came to study at Balliol, of whom 31 were employed by the ICS, including several who would go on to hold important offices in the post-1947 Indian government.
The enthusiasm of Benjamin Jowett (Master 1870–1893) was largely responsible for the opening up of the ICS entry to University students, and subsequently the admission of as many as ten ICS probationers to Balliol every year. As Jowett wrote to his former pupil Lord Lansdowne on becoming Viceroy of India in 1888, ‘There is more great and permanent good to be done in India than in any department of administration in England.’ Among his correspondence with his friend Florence Nightingale were detailed discussions of Indian irrigation, agriculture, land tenure, sanitation and economics. Richard Symonds’ Oxford and Empire (Macmillan, 1986) provides a fuller discussion of Jowett’s views on Empire.
Balliol played a central role in the creation and running of the Indian Institute, where subjects pertaining to India were taught. The Indian Institute was the brainchild of Sir M. Monier-Williams (Boden Professor of Sanskrit 1862–1899 and Fellow of Balliol 1882–1899), whose professorship Jowett ‘captured’ for Balliol in 1882, as part of bringing all things Indian in Oxford into the College. Jowett took a special interest in the Indian Institute, which also served as a home from home for Indian students in Oxford, and a destination for those who had worked in India and had returned to Oxford in retirement. Most prominent of these were Sir William Markby, Reader in Indian Law in the University (1878−1900), dedicated tutor for Balliol’s ICS probationers, and Senior Bursar of the College, and the Revd George Uglow Pope, Lecturer in Telugu and Tamil, and Chaplain of Balliol (1884−1907).
Three Balliol graduates, the Marquis of Lansdowne (1888−1894), the Earl of Elgin (1894−1899) and Lord Curzon (1899−1905), were successively Viceroys of India. Lord Curzon, who went on to become Foreign Secretary between 1919 and 1924, has been the object of extensive study by historians of colonialism, including Sir David Gilmour (Balliol 1971) (Curzon, John Murray, 1994). Curzon provoked equally strong views for and against among his contemporaries as he does now, with praise for some of the administrative reforms he introduced as Viceroy, but particular admonition for his handling of the 1899–1900 Indian Famine. He has a number of other links to the University, including as a Prize Fellow of All Souls and as Chancellor.
Equally controversial a figure is Alfred Milner (1872), a Balliol Scholar in Classics. His public career was long and he held a number of key Cabinet positions, but it was as Commissioner for South Africa, and in particular for his views on race and his conduct of the 2nd Boer War (1899−1902), that he is now most heavily criticised (see ODNB entry).