Under the governance of Lord Lawrence, the British government had been primarily concerned with the development of the indigenous resources of India and execution of efficient internal administration. The obvious challenging task that befell Lord Mayo upon his appointment was to ensure smooth diplomatic relations with the external frontier provinces, especially Afghanistan which had been ravaged by continuous internal strife and wars of succession. In 1869, Lord Mayo invited the Ameer of Afghanistan, Sher Ali Khan in Ambala. In accordance with the policy of Non-intervention propounded by his precursors, Lord Mayo was able to establish an alliance of amity with the Ameer. This apart, he was also apprehensive of the threat exposed by the possibility of the effect of a conflict between Afghanistan and Persia upon the British Indian territories and advocated certain regulatory measures prior to his death. The retaliatory missions against the indigenous tribes that inhabited the frontiers of Indian Territory were also a constant cause of worry to the Viceroy. He loathed such expeditions unless unavoidable and necessary. Lord Mayo effectively attempted to ensure that the British government practiced cordial relations with the individual ruling powers of the various Indian provinces. The administrative policies of Lord Mayo have further received prominence with regards to the first ever Census that was conducted in India in 1871 under his patronage. He was also instrumental in arranging a Statistical Survey of India during his tenure.
Lord Mayo’s significant contribution however pertains to his fiscal reforms. These reforms were extremely necessary to stabilise the crumbling financial administration preceding his governorship. Lord Mayo was instrumental in ensuring the extension of the railways with the aid of government funds instead of privatization, a move suggested by his predecessor Lord John Lawrence. The Resolution of 1870 or the policy of financial decentralization promulgated by Lord Mayo is a glorious example of his proficiency in the execution of economic reforms. The purpose of this Resolution was to delineate certain administrative duties to the provincial governments by the supreme imperial authority. By means of this resolution, he bestowed the responsibility of allocation of funds in the sphere of public works, medical facilities and education to the local or provincial governments who in their turn were expected to rely on local taxation. Such localisation of funds, he believed would aid in the growth of self-government and at the same time facilitate a pleasant association between the citizens of the Indian provinces and the British. Various regions like those on the north-west, Punjab, West Bengal and Madras introduced municipal taxes to implement this policy. Lord Mayo greatly reduced military expenditure and other expenses pertaining to civil administration, implemented salt duty and increased income tax. These policies ensured a more systematic execution of financial administration. He himself supervised the efficient functioning of the Public Works Department pertaining to irrigation, forestry and other services. Agricultural reforms also comprised an important aspect of his financial reforms. The Department of Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce was established by Lord Mayo on June 9th, 1871 and he also initiated the Land-improvement Act. Lord Mayo called for certain alterations in the Permanent Settlement introduced by Lord Cornwallis as well. He advocated that land revenues should be based upon an assessment of the amount of produce and the fertility of the land rather than the payment of uniform revenue across different provinces. While the finances had suffered arrears under the supervision of his antecedents, Lord Mayo’s fiscal policies recorded a surplus of over five millions during his tenure.
The educational reforms pioneered by Lord Mayo are of immense importance in the history of Indian culture. He vigorously advocated the importance of primary education among the Indian citizens. Special stress was given to ensure the introduction and propagation of education among the Muslim populace. He was the primary benefactor of the Rajkumar College in Kathiawar and prominently, the Mayo College of Ajmer which are stalwarts in the field of education even to this day.
Lord Mayo is also known for the disciplinary guidelines he propounded for the convicts who were imprisoned in the Cellular Jail located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. He laid down a set of codified laws to be effectively put into practice for the betterment of the prisoners. While he was anxious about providing adequate security measures for the English troops deployed for guarding the prisoners, he was equally concerned about ensuring a better life prospect for the prisoners. Lord Mayo wanted to develop the Andaman Islands into an independent self-sufficient colony for the prisoners. He believed that it was necessary to have the prisoners involved in productive pursuits to make themselves self-reliant. For this purpose, Lord Mayo desired the introduction of agricultural activities like breeding of cattle, budding of cotton for making cloth, which was to be taught to the convicts. The high mortality rate in the Andaman Islands in those days could also be restricted to a great extent owing to the measures implemented by Lord Mayo and his predecessor Lord Lawrence.
It was for the purpose of reviewing the implementation of these reforms that Lord Mayo undertook a visit to the Andaman Islands in 1872, a journey that cost him his life. On 8th February, 1872, Lord Mayo was brutally assassinated by a convict named Sher Ali. He was buried at the County Kildare in his native soil, Ireland. His untimely death marked the end of an era of administrative excellence in British India.