The Board Of Control
A.D. 1786 TO A.D. 1811
The heroic age of the history of British India is now past. Forced by
Fate and by the strong right hand of two strong men, England, with one
eye still fixed on gold, had had to turn the other on the duties of
empire. So the Company was, as it were, split in twain. The old
commercial interests were dealt with, as heretofore, by the Board of
Directors, but the control "o
all acts, operations, or concerns,
which in any wise relate to the civil or military government or
revenues of the British possessions of the East Indies," was vested in
a Board of six members, all appointed by the Crown.
The word "British" is noteworthy in conjunction with possessions, and
shows the ease with which the English nation, while still loudly
condemning the action of the East India Company, availed itself of the
result of such actions. The chief point of interest in the New Act was
the power given to Parliament to pay the salaries, charges, and
expenses of the Board of Control out of the revenues of India,
provided this charge did not exceed L16,000. This was the nucleus of
the present payment of L144,000 in the India Office alone.
As regards the Constitution in India few changes were made, and, after
a brief tenure of office on the part of Mr Macpherson, Lord Cornwallis
went out to India as Governor-General. He had served successfully in
Ireland, but with disaster in America. Considering his entire
ignorance of even the first conditions of Eastern life, his
Governor-Generalship was much less disastrous than it might have been,
though it was marred by the crystallisation of the Great Mistake which
Mr Francis had first presented in nebulous form; that is to say, the
engrafting on India of the Western idea that the land cannot possibly
belong to the State, but that some proprietor most be found for it.
But ere this was embodied in the Permanent Settlement of Bengal, Lord
Cornwallis found his hands full of minor diplomacies. Tippoo-Sultan
was at war with the Mahrattas, and the latter had foolishly been given
promise of assistance by the British.
"An awkward, foolish scrape," writes the Governor-General. "How we
shall get out of it with honour, God knows; but out of it we must get
somehow, and give no troops."
That, practically, was the first charge on his administration. How to
get out of minor squabbles, and leave the prime movers to fight it out
amongst themselves. Hitherto the British troops had been mercenaries.
As such they had made their influence felt in every corner of India.
Now all was changed. England was a power in the East, hostile or
friendly as she chose, not to be bribed to the support of any one. His
next task was to interview the Nawab of Oude on the subject of the
protection of his state, and in so doing rather to sidewalk round
this firm non-mercenary position adopted by the Board of Control. For
L500,000 was taken yearly as payment for two brigades which were to
bring "the blessings of peace" under the aegis "of the most formidable
power in Hindustan." Asaf-daula, however, was hardly worth protecting.
He extorted every penny he could get from everybody in order to spend
it on debauchery, and allowed his ministers to cheat and plunder both
him and his country.
Another and a more worthy visitor pleaded for an interview, and was
refused the favour. This was Jiwan Bakht, the heir-apparent to the
Emperor Shah-Alam. He had been received by Warren Hastings, who,
possibly because he saw in him a promise not often to be found in the
Indian potentates of those days, allowed him L40,000 a year as
maintenance. "Gentle, lively, possessed of a high sense of honour, of
a sound judgment, an uncommon quick penetration, a well-cultivated
understanding, with a spirit of resignation and an equanimity almost
exceeding any within reach of knowledge or recollection."
Such was the character given by the great Proconsul after six months
of daily intercourse; but caution was now the order of the day.
"The whole political use that may be derived" (from an interview) "is
at present uncertain, but there may arise some future advantage if
we can gain his affection and attachment ... but I have already
prepared his mind not to expect many of the outward ceremonials
usually paid in this country to the princes of the House of Timur, as
they would not only be extremely irksome to me personally, but also,
in my opinion, improper to be submitted to by the Governor-General at
the seat of your Government."
So wrote Lord Cornwallis, and Jiwan Bakht, with spirit and
resignation, contented himself finally with a request that he might be
allowed at least asylum under British protection. He died of fever
shortly after at Benares. Poor, proud prince of the blood royal! Was
he really next-of-kin, as it were, to the Great Moghuls? If we had
given him a chance, as we gave it to the monster Tippoo, to
half-a-hundred scoundrels all over India, would he have regained the
empire of Akbar? Who knows? He vanishes into the "might-have-been"
with his high sense of honour, his spirit, and his resignation.
After this, Lord Cornwallis with a light heart took in hand the abuses
of both the civil and the military services, and managed, by "making
it a complete opposition question" which "brought forth all the secret
foes and lukewarm friends of Government," to obtain higher salaries
and better positions for both soldiers and civilians.
So far well. Then once more Tippoo-Sultan intervened, and in a trice
India was back in the old days of intrigue, secret treaties, allies,
and war. Even Lord Cornwallis, the Liberal pillar of upright,
straightforward policy, fell before the peculiar temptations of
Oriental diplomacy. There is much to be said for him. Tippoo was an
unwarrantable survival. He ought long before to have been hanged,
drawn, and quartered. As it was, he burst in upon the coming
civilisation and culture, as Mr Burke's 'meteor' burst upon the
It would take too long to tell the tale of the four years' war during
which the Mahrattas, the Dekkanites, and the English, hunted Tippoo
ineffectively from pillar to post, and he retaliated in kind. Finally,
in 1792, he was cornered at Seringapatam, and once more peace was
concluded with a man who deserved nothing but the death of a mad dog.
Then ensued a partition of spoil after the old style; each ally
receiving so many lakhs of money, so much territory. After which Lord
Cornwallis, covered with glory, found leisure to address himself
towards crystallising into our rule for ever--unless some Government
arises strong enough to put the wheel back and start afresh--the
Fundamental Error, the Great Mistake of the British Empire in India.
In 1793 Mr Dundas and Mr Pitt, neither of them possessing a scrap of
first-hand knowledge of their subject, "shut themselves up for ten
days at Wimbledon" (Heaven save the mark!) and evolved out of their
inner consciousness the Permanent Settlement; thus once and for
ever--unless for the forlorn hope of a strong Government--alienating
from the Sovereign power of India a possession which had been the
Crown's by right beyond the memory of man--in all probability for over
five thousand years.
As usual with all overwhelming errors, it was done from the purest
motives of truth and honour, mercy and judgment; that is to say, from
the Western definitions of these virtues. As Lord Cornwallis writes,
he was restoring the rightful landowners
"to such circumstances as to enable them to support their families
with decency and give a liberal education to their children according
to the customs of their respective castes and religions," thus
securing "a regular gradation of ranks ... nowhere more necessary than
in this country for preserving order in civil society."
It sounds quite unassailable to Western ears; but the results opened
Western eyes. The measure was passed in 1794; in 1796 one-tenth of the
land in Bengal, Behar, and Orissa was on sale. The ancient order of
zemindars, so far from giving a liberal education to its children,
was fast disappearing, glad to accept the small amount of hard cash,
if any, which remained over after settling up ancestral debts. A new
race of proprietors was as rapidly taking the place of the old, to the
disadvantage of the peasant. For as Sir Henry Strachey writes:--
"The zemindar used formerly, like his ancestors, to reside on his
estate. He was regarded as the chief and father of his tenants. At
present the estates are often possessed by Calcutta purchasers who
never see them."
Nor were the judicial reforms of Lord Cornwallis much more happy.
"Since the year 1793," says Sir Henry Strachey, "crimes of all kinds
have increased, and I think most crimes are still increasing."
This was a natural result, first of the attempt to graft English law
with all its legalities on Eastern equity, but mostly of the crass
ignorance of native life everywhere displayed. Mr Shore, afterwards
Lord Teignmouth, expresses this well when he says:--
"What judge can distinguish the exact truth among the numerous
inconsistencies of the natives he examines? How often do those
inconsistencies proceed from causes very different from those
suspected by us? How often from simplicity, fear, embarrassment in the
witness? How often from our own ignorance and impatience? We cannot
study the genius of the people in its own sphere of action. We know
little of their domestic life; their knowledge, conversations,
amusements; their trades and castes, or any of those national and
individual characteristics which are essential to a complete
knowledge. Every day affords us examples of something new and
surprising, and we have no principle to guide us in the investigation
of facts except an extreme diffidence of our opinion, a consciousness
of inability to judge of what is probable or improbable.... The evil I
complain of is extensive, and, I fear, irreparable. The difficulty we
experience in discerning truth and falsehood among the natives may be
ascribed, I think ... to their excessive ignorance of our characters
and our almost equal ignorance of theirs."
The last sentence is perhaps scarcely strong enough, for Lord
Cornwallis failed to find one civil servant of the Company in Madras
who was "tolerably acquainted with the language and manners of the
Meanwhile, war had once more broken out between France and England,
and though it had not yet disturbed India, Tippoo-Sultan, with his
usual hardihood, bragged of the marvels of the French Revolution to
the English officer charged, now that the ransom had been paid, with
the duty of restoring the Sultan's sons, who had been kept as
hostages. A trifle, which yet showed the way the wind was blowing. The
Nizam of the Dekkan, also, irritated by the tepid neutrality of Lord
Cornwallis, had fled for help to French arms. Nor was Scindiah better
pleased. Though of low caste, being sprung from the slipper-bearer of
Bala-ji, the first Peishwa, no Mahratta house claimed higher honours.
Practically, it was master of half Hindustan, and it had been greatly
offended by the refusal of Lord Cornwallis to accept its offer of help
against Tippoo in consideration of a like number of troops to those
promised to the Nizam. So on all sides there was hostility--a
hostility increased by Sir John Shore's policy (he succeeded Lord
Cornwallis as Governor-General) "to adhere as literally as possible to
the strictest possible interpretation of the restrictive clause in the
Act of Parliament against entering into war."
Naturally, the fat was soon in the fire. The Mahrattas, always eager
for a fray, fell upon the wretched Nizam, who, fortunately for him,
failing British aid, had that of France; but so had Scindiah.
Therefore Monsieur Raymond and Monsieur de Boigne crossed swords;
until the death of Ragoba the Peishwa turned all Mahratta thought to
the choice of a new ruler.
English thought, also, was at this time (1798) engaged in a question
of succession. Asaf-daula, the Nawab of Oude, had died, acknowledging
a certain Wazeer-Ali as his son and successor. So the dissolute,
disreputable lad of seventeen was promptly placed by the British
Government on the throne with all honour: it did not do to divert the
weather eye, which was always open for "future advantage," to such
trivialities as kingly qualities. But alas and alack for the British
Government, its choice was instantly challenged by Sa'adut-Ali, the
late Nawab's brother, who brought proof that not only Wazeer-Ali, but
all Asaf-daula's reputed children, were spurious.
At first England hesitated at deposing her Nawab. Then? Then it is
extremely difficult to know what the real motive underlying the action
was, but in 1798 we find Sa'adut-Ali on the throne of Oude, no longer
an independent ruler, but a mere vassal of the British Crown. The plea
of adoption raised by Wazeer-Ali had been dismissed, and in honest
truth, not absolutely without cause. For the Mahomedan law does not
specifically recognise it, especially when near blood-relations exist.
These events, together with the death of old Mahomed Ali, Nawab of
Arcot, aspirant to the Nawabship of the Carnatic--whose debts had been
a veritable millstone round the neck of his consistent backer, the
East India Company--saw Lord Cornwallis and Sir John Shore through
their term of office, and Earl Mornington, afterwards Marquis
Wellesley, reigned in their stead. He landed in April 1798 and found
himself instantly confronted with the results of the non-interference
policy; that is to say, with renewed war with Tippoo-Sultan, who--the
remark has been made before--ought long ago to have been hanged.
It is somewhat refreshing to find that immediate negotiations were
carried on both with the Nizam and the Mahrattas in absolute defiance
of Mr Pitt's famous minute against diplomacy! But nothing restrained
Tippoo, not even considerations of personal safety. He was well backed
by the French, with whom the English were still at war. So he tried
conclusions with splendid audacity. And failed. Seringapatam was once
more taken, and this time Tippoo was found dead under a heaped mass of
suffocated, trodden-down corpses in the north gate. But he,
apparently, had died a soldier's death, for the flickering light of
the torches by which the search was made showed that a musket ball had
crashed into his skull above the right ear.
It was a better death than he deserved, for though his territories
were well administered, and though Seringapatam was found to be
fortified, garrisoned, provisioned, better than many a modern fort,
and though in every way his vitality was superhuman, it was the
vitality of a devil, and not of a man. Hyder-Ali, his father, had been
wild, untamable, given to long solitudes in the jungles, remote from
all save savage beasts. Let the only excuse, therefore, which can be
made from Tippoo-Sultan be given him--he was born with insanity in his
Relieved from the Tiger-cub--the golden Tiger-head footstool of the
throne found in the royal audience chamber at Seringapatam is now at
Windsor--who had kept Madras in a constant state of alarm for close on
half a century, the Board of Control settled down to various pieces of
policy, for it must not be forgotten that all political work had been
taken out of the hands of the East India Company. This is a point
frequently overlooked, so it must be borne in mind that for all
actions after 1784, the Board of Control, that is, a body of unbiassed
English politicians appointed by the Crown, are entirely responsible.
They settled a disputed succession in Tanjore, they ousted the Nawab
of Arcot, and by putting a nominee of their own on the throne with a
pension of one-fifth of the revenue only, became vested with the whole
of the rest of the Carnatic. They then turned their attention to Oude,
where the Government of Sa'adut-Ali was in a shocking state of
disorder. Reformation being urged upon him, he wilily announced his
intention of abdicating, and thus gained some delay. Rather to his
disadvantage than otherwise, since Lord Mornington was not long in
producing a cut-and-dried scheme by which the Company should "acquire
the exclusive authority, civil and military, over the dominions of
Oude"; and also that by "secret treaty, not by formal abdication," the
Nawab, in consideration of receiving a liberal pension, the family
treasure and jewels, should agree to his sons' names being "no further
mentioned than may be necessary for the purpose of securing to them a
It was a big order, and to it the Nawab naturally objected. But the
screw was too tight. He had yielded himself vassal in order to gain
the throne. His government was atrocious. It was practically
impossible for the New Code of Western Ethics, which was everywhere
raising its head in menace to the iniquities of the East, to look on
such things and live. So in the end the treaty was signed; and
whatever else the result might be, one thing is certain, the
inhabitants of Oude were none the worse for the change of rulers.
A trivial detail in the confused complication of this transaction
deserves unstinted blame, and that was Lord Mornington's acceptance of
the offer made by one of the Begums of Oude to constitute the Company
her heir. This was openly avowed to be a means of escaping from the
extortions of her grandson the Nawab, but though it seems equitable
enough to Western ears, it must not be forgotten that the India law of
inheritance of those days allowed no right of will, neither did it
sanction the possession by any widow of wealth beyond a certain small
proportion of her husband's real and personal property, which in this
case could not have included anything but personal effects, the rest
belonging to the Crown.
Volumes might be written on this question of the English action in
regard to Oude, but practically there are but one or two facts, one or
two admissions, to be made on both sides.
First, it is at best doubtful if we had any right to depose Wazeer-Ali
in favour of his uncle. True, the right of adoption does not hold good
in Mahomedan Common Law, but Indian history gives countless examples
of Mahomedan sovereigns nominating their own successor, though it must
be admitted that this nearly always only held good where there was no
collateral heir. Second, this deposition was undoubtedly in our
favour. By elevating Sa'adut-Ali, a small pensioner to the throne, we
gained a hold on him which enabled us to dictate our own terms at the
time, and, by the mere fact of the vassalage to which we reduced him,
to enhance these terms at our convenience.
On the other hand, none can deny that the state of affairs in Oude
strained patience to the uttermost; nor that in essence, the throne of
Oude was of our own creation. It had only a history of a hundred
years, and owned its very existence to the protection of England.
The year 1800 showed the outlook all over India more than usually
threatening; so lowering indeed, that Lord Mornington, now the Marquis
Wellesley, consented to prolong his service in India in order to tide
affairs over the crisis which seemed about to come.
The chief factor in the unrest was Mahratta jealousy. The Nizam of the
Dekkan, their hereditary enemy, had just been granted a new treaty.
Under it he had been promised a definite protection of troops in
consideration of his ceding territory to the revenue amount of the
subsidy which he would otherwise have had to pay--and, no doubt, would
have paid irregularly.
It may here be remarked that this desire to secure regular payment for
the mercenary troops necessary to maintain prestige and power, was
nearly always the cause of English aggression and annexation in India.
This treaty affronted the Mahrattas, but ere they could formulate
their grievances, internecine war broke out amongst them, consequent
on the death of Nana Furnavese, the Peishwa who had for so long
opposed Ragoba. Over this Holkar and Scindiah, who for some time past
had been at each other's throats, fought furiously, and the new
Peishwa, Baji-Rao, feeling himself in danger of falling between the
two stools of his unruly vassals, applied to England for the
protection of six battalions of British-trained sepoys, and promised
in return to cede territory of the annual value of L225,000.
It was granted to him, but the treaty contained other stipulations
regarding future relations which practically reduced the Peishwa to a
state of dependence.
Holkar and Scindiah, on the part of their sections of the Mahrattas,
resented this fiercely. As usual, they refused to be bound by the
Peishwa's pusillanimity. So war was declared; a war which for the time
taxed even Sir Arthur Wellesley's military genius to the uttermost,
for the Mahrattas were born fighters. But the battle of Assaye, fought
on the 23rd of September 1803, broke their power in Central India.
They had over ten thousand disciplined troops commanded by Europeans,
chiefly French officers, and a train of one hundred guns, in addition
to nearly forty thousand irregular infantry and cavalry. Against these
Arthur Wellesley had but a total of four thousand five hundred men,
but they included the 78th Highlanders, the 74th Regiment, and the
It was a fine fight; a double fight, for when, overwhelmed by a real
bayonet charge--the first, possibly, they had ever seen--the Mahrattas
fell back on, and passed, their guns, the artillery men, feigning
death, flung themselves in heaps on the ground. So, ridden over by the
pursuing cavalry, treated as dead, spurned as things of no account,
they remained until, the tyranny overpast, they were up and at their
guns again, bringing volte face destruction to their enemy's rear.
It needed a desperate charge of the Highlanders, with Arthur Wellesley
himself at its head, to retrieve the day.
The number of British killed was one thousand five hundred and
sixty-six, more than one-third of their total force.
England, however, was now finally on the war-path; hesitation was
over, the Mahratta power all over India had to be crushed. No less
than fifty-five thousand British troops of all arms were gathered
together in India, and these were divided out between the Dekkan,
Guzerat, Orissa, and Hindustan proper. Of the foremost of these
divisions the record has just been given; the two next, though
successful, were in all ways of minor importance. The last, under
General Lake, was the largest, and consisted of nearly fourteen
thousand men all told. He advanced up the Gangetic plain, and the
battle of Alighur was fought before that of Assaye. It was practically
fought against Scindiah's forces under General Perron, the celebrated
French commander, who, with De Boigne and Raymond, had been for many
years the backbone of resistance against England. But it was fought in
the name of the blind Shah-Alam, puppet-emperor of India; for the
Mahrattas, always good fighters, had sent round the fiery cross on
every possible pretext of personal and national loyalty, of tribal
faith and racial adherence.
But on the 16th of September, after a pitched battle before Delhi in
the low-lying land across the river Jumna--the country sacred now to
pig-sticking!--General Lake rode with his staff to the palace which
Shahjahan in all his glory had built, there to have the first
interview which a conquering Englishman had ever had with the Great
It was a fateful interview. In the palace, glorious still in its lines
of beauty, an old man, blind, decrepid, seated under a tattered
canopy, poverty-stricken, miserable. By his side, soon to be Akbar
II., was his son, and his grandson, the man who afterwards, as
Bahadur-Shah, served out the measure of his crimes in the Andaman
It reads like some bad nightmare, does that circumstantial description
given by Lake of his ride through the thronged city at sunset-time,
when the people, wide-eyed, curious, expectant, crowded so close that
the little cavalcade could scarce make a way for itself.
Of what were they thinking, those poor Delhi folk who had suffered so
often at the hands of so many men? Were they still faithful to the
memory of the Moghuls, or did their eyes seek wistfully in the faces
of the newcomers for a new master?
Certainly on that 16th of September at sunset-time, after the
interview had fizzled out with the exchange of empty titles, and as
"Sword of the State," "Hero of the Land," "Lord of the Age," and
"Victorious in War," Lake and his staff left the old palace to
nightfall, and the old king to dreams, a pale ghost may well have
walked through the halls of audience beneath the reiterated pride of
that legend: "If there be a Paradise upon Earth, it is this, it is
this, it is this," and asked itself what might have been it instead of
a fever-stricken grave at Benares, it had found help to recover
Poor Jiwan Bukht! Had you, indeed, as your name implies, the Gift of
Perhaps you had--and we squashed it!
But there was more to be done by Lake's force ere on the 27th February
1804 Scindiah, who was in reality the man behind the gun, gave in, and
a treaty was signed which enabled the Governor-General to give vent to
his feelings in the following bombast:--
"The foundations of our empire in Asia are now laid in the
tranquillity of surrounding nations, and in the happiness and welfare
of the people of India. In addition to the augmentation of our
territories and resources, the peace manifested exemplary faith and
equity towards our allies, moderation and unity towards our enemies,
and a sincere desire to promote the general prosperity of this quarter
of the globe. The position in which we are now placed is such as suits
the character of the British nation, the principles of our laws, the
spirit of our constitutions, and that liberal policy which becomes the
dignity of a great and powerful empire. My public duty is discharged
to the satisfaction of my conscience by the prosperous establishment
of a system of policy which promises to improve the general condition
of the people in India, and to unite the principal native states in
the bond of peace under the protection of the British power."
After which there was naturally nothing to be done save to whack
Holkar also; for he had kept out of the scrimmage discreetly. This
campaign was not so successful. The fort of Bhurtpore withstood four
assaults, and might have withstood four more, had not peace with
honour and a donation of L200,000 intervened.
This--for the Rajah of Bhurtpore was an independent ally of the
Mahrattas--rather upset Scindiah's calculations, for he was on the
point of rejoining Holkar in defiance of all treaties. So the ultimate
issue stood deferred when the Marquis of Wellesley ceased to be
He had deviated horribly from the "restrictive policy," and had
consistently acted in the way which Parliament had pronounced to be
"repugnant to the wish, the honour, and the policy of our nation."
But that policy had been a broken reed. It was virtually the policy of
folding the arms, and awaiting the blow in the face that was bound to
come sooner or later.
Nevertheless, the expense of Marquis Wellesley's wars told against his
reputation; he went home obscured by a cloud of deferred dividends,
and Lord Cornwallis returned for a second attempt at Indian
administration. Age had undoubtedly cooled the ardour of his blood,
for he immediately made most pusillanimous concessions to Scindiah for
the sake of peace, passing over flagrant breaches of treaty with an
easy diplomacy, and might have done infinite harm had he lived longer.
But he died at Buxar within two months of his arrival in India.
Sir George Barlow took his place, but thereon arose a fine dispute
between the Directors of the India House and the Ministers of the
Crown concerning the patronage of this appointment.
Perhaps this was the reason why England failed to learn a lesson which
would have been of use to her fifty years afterwards; for the little
mutiny at Vellore occurred in 1806, and the Great Mutiny in 1857.
Yet the causes were identical. In 1857 it was a greased cartridge, in
1807 it was a cap; but beneath both lay unreasoning fear of forcible
conversion to Christianity. A fear which grew to bloodshed, and which
found the Europeans, as ever, totally unprepared. Nearly one hundred
of them lost their lives, and but for Colonel Gillespie's swift ride
from Arcot, and the wisdom of the officers in command at Hyderabad,
the mutiny might have spread, as did the one at Meerut in May 1857.
And it must be admitted that those sepoys of Vellore had greater cause
of offence than they of later years; for they were asked to shave to
European pattern, to wear a hat-shaped turban, and appear on parade
minus their caste marks.
All this, including Sir William Bentinck's recall (he was Governor of
Madras at the time), went on while the India House and the Crown were
at daggers drawn over the Appointments question.
The latter meant to nominate the Earl of Lauderdale, who, as a
pronounced free-trader, threatened to break up the Indian monopoly.
The fight ended by the Earl of Minto, President of the Board of
Control, taking up the appointment in 1807, which he held till 1811.
It was an uneventful administration, the extinction of the Company's
monopoly, which marked its close, being the only feature in it which
claims a place in this modest outline of history; this, and perhaps
the fact that owing to greater facilities of borrowing the Company was
enabled to pay off its old debts which it had contracted when the rate
of interest was 12 per cent., and renew them at 6 per cent.; thus
effecting a reduction of half a million in expenditure.
As an instance of how little the Board of Control and the policy of
inaction had benefited the finances of the Company, it may be
mentioned that whereas its debt was in 1793 but L7,000,000, in 1811 it
But the world was beginning now to count it as a gift--as the cost of