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

'peaceful fields.'

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

suitable provision."

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

19th Dragoons.

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

Moghul himself.

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

was L27,000,000.

But the world was beginning now to count it as a gift--as the cost of