Hyder-ali Et Alia

A.D. 1767 TO A.D. 1773

While Clive was laying the foundation-stones both of the Indian Empire

and the Indian Civil Service in Bengal, Madras had had its share of

wars and rumours of wars. It will be impossible, however, to treat of

them in detail. All that can be done is to pick out of the seething

mass of intrigue, of incident, those things which are necessary

to be known, in order that fut
re events shall find their proper


The Peace of Paris, signed in 1763, gave back to France her

possessions on the Coromandel Coast, and further stipulated that the

English nominee, Mahomed-Ali, Nawab of Arcot, should be recognised by

both parties as lawful Nawab of the Carnatic, and Salabut-Jung, the

French nominee, as Nizam of the Dekkan.

Regarding the latter, there is grim humour in the fact, that three

years before the Peace was signed poor Salabut had been ousted and

imprisoned by his brother Nizam-Ali, and that he was promptly murdered

by him the moment news of the treaty reached India! It is not always

safe to have the support of the ignorant!

But the Treaty of Paris did more mischief than the murder of the poor

prince. It put wind into Mahomed-Ali's head, embroiled him with the

Nizam, led to complications with the Madras Company, which in the year

1765 found itself in the unenviable position of having to pay L900,000

to the Nizam as tribute for the Northern Circars, instead of holding

them rent free from the Great Moghul, as arranged for by Lord Clive.

It was a gross piece of mismanagement, and carried with it the

perfectly monstrous provision that the Company should furnish troops

ready to "settle, in everything right and proper, the affairs of His

Highness's government." That is to say, the Nizam had the right to

call the tune without paying the piper!

[Map: India to A.D. 1757]

The very first thing he did was to involve England in a war with

Hyder-Ali, an adventurer pur et simple who, beginning by being an

uncontrolled youth divided between licentious pleasure and life in the

woods, free, untamed as any wild creature, forced himself up from one

position to another till he held half the territories of the Rajah of

Mysore, and had usurped the whole government of that country. Lawless,

fierce, without any scruples of any kind, he sided first with one ally

then with another, until finally, in 1766, he found himself faced with

the fact that Mahdu Rao the Mahratta, the Nizam, and the Company, were

leagued together for his destruction. The latter had, some time

previously, tried to bribe him to proper behaviour, but had failed;

for he was, briefly, quite untamable.

Hyder-Ali set to work with his usual fierce energy. He first

deliberately bought off the Mahratta mercenaries by parting with

certain outlying portions of his stolen territories, and the gift of

L350,000 out of his bursting treasures. It was a big bribe, but

Hyder-Ali's finances could stand it; for he was a super-excellent

robber, with a well-organised army of free-lances for backers.

Meanwhile, the Nizam's forces and those of the Company under Colonel

Smith were approaching Mysore from different sides. It was agreed,

however, that the two armies should, when they reached fighting

distance, join forces in one camp, so as to show their inviolable

unity. But alas! when this happy consummation was reached, the English

troops had the mortification of seeing the Nizam's troops march out as

they marched in!

Hyder had been successful with his money-bags once more, and after an

absurd and futile farce of palavering on the part of the Company,

Colonel Smith prepared to face the enemy's seventy thousand men and

one hundred and nine guns with his own meagre seven thousand and

sixteen guns. It is astonishing to think how he won his battle and

managed to retreat in safety, though he had against his poor thousand

of cavalry over forty-two thousand of mounted men, pure freebooters by

trade. He seems to have had mettle, this almost unheard-of Colonel

Smith, for immediately he received reinforcements he resumed the

offensive, and after a time completely defeated Hyder and the Nizam at

Trincomalee. Concerning this battle a nice little story is told. The

Nizam, as is the custom of Eastern potentates, had taken his favourite

women with him to the fight mounted on elephants, which stood in line

at the rear. The Nizam, seeing the tide of war going against him, gave

orders for the elephants to turn and retire, when from one howdah

arose a clear, scornful, feminine voice: "This elephant has not been

taught so to turn; he follows the standard of Empire."

And follow it he did, standing alone amid shot and shell, till the

royal standards, flying in hot haste, gave him the lead.

But not even this sort of thing could avail. And Hyder's money-bags

failed him also in an attempt to suborn an English commandant, who

replied to the second flag of truce sent in with a bribe, that if

Hyder-Ali wished to spare the lives of his ambassadors, he had better

refrain from sending more, as they would be hanged in his sight.

Still, bursting money-bags do much, and ever since the sacking of

Bednore, an ancient Hindu city where he had found treasures worth over

L12,000,000, Hyder had never been crippled by any lack of gold.

Nothing held him. He was here, there, everywhere. Recovering lost

territory one day, losing it the next, fighting everybody, even the

Mahrattas, like a wild cat, and inwardly raging at his failure to

crush the English, who had just entered into a new treaty with his

former ally the Nizam, by which the latter again acknowledged the

rights of the Company to the Northern Circars, and further ceded to

it, for the annual payment of L700,000, the whole district of Mysore.

Thus Madras gained its diwani as well as Bengal.

There is something almost ludicrous in the ease with which territory

changed hands in those days, and we are left with the picture in our

mind's eye of a be-jewelled potentate and a be-stocked officer

hobnobbing over bags of rupees, silk-paper documents, and large seals.

This treaty was a bitter pill to Hyder, who retaliated in every

possible way, until one day, by deft stratagem, he took his enemies in

the rear, appeared by forced marches before the very walls of Madras,

so, with the pleasure-gardens and houses of the councillors at his

mercy, almost compelled a treaty of mutual aid and defence.

A volte face indeed! Small wonder that the Directors at home, who

had been complaining ineffectively of the expenses of the war, became

bewildered by the sudden change of venue. The general public also,

seeing the price of East India stock go down 60 per cent., became

uneasy; there is nothing like a drop in Trust-Securities for rousing

the national conscience! Dividends were declining, debts were

increasing, the glorious hopes of unbounded riches from India had

faded; actuaries, nicely balancing debit and credit against the

Company, discovered that no less than one and a quarter million of the

original stock of four and a quarter of millions had gone,


Fateful disclosures these! Public outcry rose loud; voices that had

kept discreet silence while profit seemed the certain result of wars,

and treaties, and giftings, were now uplifted against rapacity,

misconduct, corruption; in the midst of which the alarming discovery

was made that the Company required a loan of L1,000,000 from this same

public in order to carry on the business. Yet, unless the business was

carried on, how could the yearly payments of L400,000 to the royal

exchequer, on which the public had insisted, be continued?

Could mismanagement further go?

So three supervisors, vested with full powers, were appointed, and set

sail for India in one of His Majesty's frigates. But Fate intervened.

They passed the Cape in safety, but were never heard of again.

This was too much. A victim must be found. Therefore Clive was

arraigned. That story has already been told, so we can pass on to the

mutual recriminations in Parliament, the growing determination on the

part of John Bull, honest and dishonest, that something must be done,

which found fruit in the first Regulating Act "for the better

management of the affairs of the East India Company as well in India

as in Europe." By this Act a governor-generalship with a salary of

L25,000 was created, together with four councillorships of L8,000.

Bombay and Madras were made subordinate to Calcutta, and a Supreme

Court of Judicature, appointed by the Crown, was established at the

latter place. All the other appointments were to be subject to the

confirmation of Parliament, and all the holders of these offices were

excluded from commercial pursuits.

The scheme sounded well, but it provided very little aid in reforming

the abuses which undoubtedly existed.

It increased the charges upon revenues already overburdened, and the

attempt to introduce English ideas of law was calculated to produce

more injustice, more oppression, and rouse more alarm and distrust

than the previous absence of it had done.

But the dividend for the year 1773 had sunk to 6 per cent.

It was manifestly time to be up and doing--something!