Warren Hastings

A.D. 1773 TO A.D. 1784

It will be remembered that Warren Hastings was the only Member of

Council who supported Clive in his decision that all servants of the

Company engaging in private trade were bound to pay duty.

Thus, undoubtedly, Clive's enemies must have been his enemies. He had,

however, risen with reputation through the various stages of his

Indian career; in 1772 he wa
made President-of-the-Council in Bengal,

and immediately set to work to remedy the existing abuses in the

collection of the revenue and the whole general administration;

a task which was not likely to bring him an addition of friends.

While this great revolution in system, which involved the letting of

land by public auction, was in full swing, the native potentates

beyond Bengal were as usual in a seething state of intrigue. The

Prince-Royal-Emperor Shah-Alam had at last succeeded in getting the

Mahrattas to aid him in recovering Delhi, though he had had to pay a

huge price for their help, amongst other things the cession to them of

his grant from the English of Allahabad. Consequently, the rich

country of the Rohillas (an Afghan race who had settled in India),

which reached up from the Delhi plains to the Sivalik hills, attracted

him as a means of again filling his treasury. The Mahrattas were,

naturally, nothing loth; so the combined forces marched on Rohilkund,

despite the fact that its people were friendly. In the general

catch-who-catch-can of India in these days, friendship, honour, truth,

counted for nothing it is to be feared, neither with East nor West.

For the tall price of L400,000 the Nawab of Oude promised to rid the

Rohillas of the Mahratta hordes; but being recalled southward by

internal dissensions, the Mahrattas, it is said, left of their own

accord, and the Rohillas repudiated the bargain. Nothing had been

done, they averred, therefore nothing was to be paid.

This gave the Nawab Sujah-ud-daula an excellent pretext for war. He

had long been anxious to annex Rohilkund, but he needed help to cope

with its warlike race. He naturally turned to the English, who had

come to aid him (for they were--and small wonder--incensed at the

thought of a Mahratta garrison at Allahabad) in repelling a threatened

invasion of the Emperor and his allies. So the Treaty of Benares came

to be signed, in which, for a payment of L500,000 yearly, Allahabad

was once more ceded by the Company (who had promptly repudiated its

cession to the Mahrattas) to its original and rightful owner, the

Nawab of Oude. It was also agreed that for a sum of L21,000 a month

the said Nawab should have the right to the services of a British


So much is certain. Beyond this, unreliability invades the whole

business of the Rohilla war. It has been so distorted, by both sides,

in the controversy which arose out of the famous impeachment of Warren

Hastings, that the truth is now beyond reach.

Undoubtedly, the British troops were mercenaries; but so they had been

from the very beginning, and the exchequer of the Company was at the

time very low, whilst behind everything was the great company of

British shareholders clamouring for a dividend. Blame may be poured as

vitriol on the reputations of many men, but the great offender was the

general greed of gold in England.

Hastings, however, was already on his defence for this apparently

unnecessary war (which yet brought in grist to the mill) when he was

appointed the first Governor-General of India under the New Act.

This same Act, however, brought out from England his and Clive's

bitterest enemy, Philip, afterwards Sir Philip Francis, as one of the

four councillors.

So, from the very beginning, Hastings' hands were tied, for General

Clavering and Mr Monson had come out in the same ship with Mr Francis,

and were led by the nose by him, leaving only Mr Barwell to form an

ineffectual minority with the Governor-General.

It was as if the desire at home had been to stultify reform, since

quarrel began at once. Warren Hastings declined even to consider the

recall of the Resident in Oude, who had been appointed by him under

the old rules. The Triumvirate not only recalled him--a man of whom

they knew nothing good, bad, or indifferent--by their majority of one,

but appointed in his stead a Colonel Champion of whom they knew less,

save that he was the author of various highly-coloured, sensational,

almost hysterical letters on the iniquities of the Rohilla war; the

appointment, therefore, tells its own tale of bias. The instructions

given to the Colonel were incredibly foolish. He was to call for

instant payment (within fourteen days) of the L400,000 the Nawab had

promised to pay on the conclusion of the war, failing which he was to

withdraw the brigade at all costs. Anything more unscrupulous than

this demand for what the Triumvirate was pleased to call "blood

money," while appearances were to be saved by, possibly, withdrawing

aid at a critical moment, could not be imagined. But despite Warren

Hastings' vehement opposition, the instructions were issued, though

Fate intervened in the cause of common-sense ere they could be carried

out, by the news that the war was over!

The dissensions in the Council soon became notorious; the

natives--time-servers by nature, and quick to seize on any opportunity

of ingratiating themselves with those who have the whiphand--lost no

time in trumping up charges against Warren Hastings. These, even one

which alleged that out of a bribe of L90,000, only L1,500 fell to the

Governor-General's share--a charge which refutes itself by sheer

absurdity--were enquired into with reckless, indecent animosity.

Finally, the complaint of one Rajah Nuncomar brought matters to a

crisis. In this matter it is almost impossible to blame sufficiently

the conduct of the Triumvirate, who used their wretched majority of

one, not for any public purpose, but simply to gratify private spite.

Small wonder was it that, confronted with such absolutely unscrupulous

animosity, Warren Hastings took up the glove and fought fairly enough,

but with every weapon he could lay his hands upon.

There was a Supreme Court in Calcutta, and Nuncomar had, amongst other

and many villainies (for he was known to be a desperate and

unprincipled intriguer), a bad habit of forgery.

He had been on trial for this once before, and Hastings had interfered

for his release. Now he let the law take its course, and Rajah

Nuncomar, duly tried and sentenced, suffered the extreme penalty, for

forgery was then in England a hanging matter.

The execution had immediate effect. The crowd of native informers

ready to pour their lies into the ears of the Triumvirate disappeared

as if by magic, but the animosity remained; and in the years to come

the death of Nuncomar was used with immense effect in the great


Meanwhile, the Nawab of Oude had died, and his son reigned in his

stead. Out of this arose fresh disputes on the Council. The

Triumvirate being all for imposing exceedingly harsh terms on the new

Nawab, Asaf-daula; Mr Hastings refusing to sanction what was "no

equitable construction of the treaty with the late Nawab," and was

indeed an extortion which the new ruler had "no power to fulfil."

The Directors at home, however, continuing their career of persistent

greed, after first refusing to agree with the Triumvirate on the

ground that "their treaties with Oude did not expire with the death of

Sujah-daula," suddenly changed their opinion when they realised the

immense pecuniary advantage to be derived from the new arrangement.

The extortion, therefore, was carried out, Mr Hastings protesting. And

now two new problems arose: one in Madras, one in Bombay, both

presidencies being subordinate to that of Calcutta. The first

concerned the re-installing of the Rajah of Tanjore, which country had

been made over to the Nawab of the Carnatic. This was a quarrel which,

like a snowball, grew as it went along, and ended in most

extraordinary fashion, by the arrest and imprisonment of Lord Pigot,

the Governor of Madras, at the hands of a vice-admiral of the Fleet!

The bewildering complexity of complication in the whole case would

take pages to unravel, and the result--the death of one poor old man

(for Lord Pigot succumbed to the ignominious treatment meted out to

him)--would no doubt, in the opinion of the Directors, scarcely

justify the expenditure of so much pen and paper.

The trouble in Bombay arose out of the taking of Salsette, and

involved conflict with the Mahrattas, who had persisted in refusing

possession of it to the English.

The state of affairs amongst the Mahrattas was at this time confusion

itself. Ragonath-Rao had been made regent by Baji-Rao, who, it will be

remembered, had died during his son's minority of grief, after the

fatal day of Panipat. The boy Peishwa had since been murdered;

conspirators had declared that his wife had borne a son; claims and

counterclaims, intrigue and counter-intrigue, had reduced the Mahratta

Government to an invertebrate condition, which the Bombay Council

considered favourable to their earnest desire to keep the Portuguese

from again acquiring the peninsula (or island) of Salsette, which

virtually commands the harbour at Bombay. They therefore temporarily

annexed Salsette, and made its cession the foundation of an offer to

aid Ragonath-Rao (commonly called Ragoba), who was then in very low

water, against the opposite faction. The temptation was great; a

treaty was signed, by which the East India Company, in addition to

gaining Salsette and Bassein, were to be paid L225,000.

But here the Supreme Council at Calcutta intervened--why, it is

impossible to say--declared in one breath that the treaty with Ragoba

was "unpolitic, unreasonable, unjust, and unauthorised," and advised

one with the opposite faction.

The quarrel, as usual, becomes complicated in the extreme, and is

rendered more confused than it need have been, even in those days of

bewilderment, by the double interference from Calcutta and from

England. Considering that about six months was necessary to secure a

reply from the former place, and about two years from the latter, it

is marvellous how any action at all could be decided upon. In the end,

however, a treaty was signed with Ragoba's enemies, which raised great

indignation in Bombay, not because it involved any breach of honour,

but because it brought in less to the Treasury.

Warren Hastings, however, was now busy over financial reforms, and

despite the quibbling and captious criticism of the Triumvirate,

evolved a scheme which showed real grip of the problem at issue, as

indeed might have been expected from a man of his intelligence and

vast Indian experience. It was, however, rejected by the Three, who at

the same time excused themselves from suggesting any other scheme,

because they were not "sufficiently qualified by local observation and

experience to undertake so difficult a task."

Surely fatuousness could no farther go? We have here men who consider

themselves qualified to criticise, while they admit total ignorance of

the subject criticised!

Stung, no doubt, by this obvious retort, Mr Francis finally produced a

scheme--a scheme which, containing as it does the very first inception

of the "Great Mistake" which has dogged the footsteps of England in

her dealings with India, had better have been hanged like a millstone

round its promulgator's neck, and he drowned in the sea, than that it

should ever have seen the light.

For amid quotations, no doubt, from Adam Smith and Mirabeau--the

latter in French, after his usual wont--Philip Francis, mastertype of

the self-satisfied Western mind--the mind which degenerates so easily

into that of the crank, the faddist--started the cardinal error of all

errors in India; that is, the statement that the property of the land

is not vested in the Sovereign power, but belonged to the people.

Looking down the years, seeing the manifold evils which this

pernicious engrafting of Western ideals on Eastern actions has

produced; the alienation of the land, the hopeless slavery of the

cultivator to the money-lender, the harsh evictions rendered necessary

by the loss of the tenant's credit (which had ever been due to his

unalterable hold on the land, combined with his inability to sell

it), one can but wish that the millstone had done its work!

The evil, however, was scotched for the moment. Colonel Monson died,

and Warren Hastings, by his casting vote as Governor, now ceased to be

in the minority.

He immediately used his newly-acquired ascendency to appoint what was

practically the first Settlement Commission in India. That is to say,

a body of tried and experienced officers, who should "furnish accurate

statements of the values of lands, uniform in design, and of authority

in the execution," which should serve as a basis for revenue, and

would also "assure the ryots (peasants) against arbitrary exactions,"

and "give them perpetual and undisturbed possessions of their lands."

"This," he goes on to say in his Minute, "is not to be done by

proclamations and edicts, nor by indulgences to zemindars (large

proprietors) or farmers. The former will not be obeyed unless enforced

by regulations so framed as to produce their own effect without

requiring the hand of Government to interpose its support; and the

latter, though they may feed the luxury of the zemindars or the

rapacity of the farmers, will prove no relief to the cultivator,

whose welfare ought to be the immediate and primary care of


Bravo, Warren Hastings! If there was anything to forgive, one would

forgive much for the sake of such a creed.

His success spread consternation amongst his enemies. Something must

be done, and done quickly.

One Colonel Macleane had gone home, arriving in February 1776. In a

moment of great depression in the previous year, Warren Hastings had

entrusted him with a letter of instruction to be conveyed to the

Directors, in which he declared that he "would not continue in the

Government of Bengal unless certain conditions" were accepted.

No use was made of this letter till the 10th October, when, after a

stormy attempt on the part of the Company to oust Warren Hastings,

Colonel Macleane wrote announcing that he held the Governor-General's


These are the bald facts. Eager to catch at any excuse for the removal

of an opponent, the resignation, absolutely unauthorised, wholly

tentative, was accepted without any discussion of the conditions, and

a Mr Wheler appointed as successor.

The English mail of the 19th of June 1777 which conveyed this

astounding piece of news to Calcutta took almost every one by

surprise; except, apparently, General Clavering and Mr Francis. At any

rate, on the very next day the former boldly issued orders signed

"Clavering, Governor-General," and requested delivery from Mr Hastings

of the keys.

A free fight indeed! That day two councils were held: one by General

Clavering, with Mr Francis as sole supporter; one by Warren Hastings

and the ever faithful Mr Barwell.

Could animosity, pitiful squabbling, disreputable intrigue, further


Luckily, there was another power in Calcutta capable of deciding the

rival claims, and to it Mr Hastings, ever inclined to toleration,


The Supreme Court decided unanimously in favour of Warren Hastings,

and so the matter ended for a time; Mr Wheler, who had come out to be

Governor-General, taking Colonel Monson's place, and, naturally,

restoring the Triumvirate, which, however, after a brief interval,

dwindled again by the death of General Clavering.

All this is very petty, very uninteresting, in the face of the vast

questions which were surging up for settlement all over India, but it

is instructive as showing the absolute futility of the India House in

its attempts at control, in its inept shilly-shallying between greed

of gold and its desire to implant Western ethics on the East. So the

quarrel went on, involving amongst other things a duel between Warren

Hastings and Mr Francis, in which the latter was badly wounded and had

to go home!

Meanwhile, the Mahrattas were more than ever at loggerheads amongst

themselves. Ragoba's claims were readmitted by a large number of the

faction who had formerly been against him, and with whom a treaty had

been made. They applied for help under that treaty (to reinstate

Ragoba this time!) and received it; no doubt all the more readily

because that gentleman had been the Bombay Council's original nominee.

Also because, about this time, the arrival of a French ship at Bombay

with a mission purporting to be from Louis XVI. to the Mahratta Court

at Poona caused some alarm. For hostilities seemed not far off in

Europe between France and England, and the chief member of the

so-called embassy was one Chevalier St Lubin, who was known to have

previously been with the Mahratta forces.

And here followeth a welter of confused incidents, claims, and

counterclaims, which pages would not suffice to unravel.

The Triumvirate, reduced to two, opposed help. Warren Hastings with

his casting vote carried it, but ere the brigade sent from Calcutta

arrived at the seat of war, Ragoba's half of the Poona court had

whacked the other half, and having gained ascendency, proposed to do

without their candidate!

Here was an impasse for people whose Western minds could not follow

such mental somersaults. To add to their confusion, war had been again

declared between France and England, and before the Council had had

time to recover from their surprise, the victorious Poona party had

been again overthrown, and the now ascendant one of Nuna Furnavese was

known to harbour Chevalier St Lubin, and to have French proclivities!

There seemed to be nothing for it now save once more to make Ragoba a


In truth, as one follows in the maelstrom of Indian intrigue, even as

briefly as is possible here, the efforts of these harassed, distracted

Western diplomatists to keep their honour above water, one is filled

with pity for them. It would have been better not to fight at all, if

their code of ethics forbade them the full use of the weapons used

against them.

So the weary Mahratta war dragged on and on, backed at first by the

hearty approval of the Court of Directors, who pointed out "the

necessity of counteracting the views of the French at Poona."

This same war was full of incident. Scindiah and Holkar flash over its

horizon, now in alliance, now in defiance; territories and towns were

taken, and lost, and retaken; the whole wide, central plain of India

and all the western coast-line was perambulated by soldiery; and in

the end, in 1782, a treaty was entered into at Salbai which was

utterly disadvantageous to the English, and which wrung from the

Bombay presidency the despairing cry that it must "henceforward

require from the Bengal treasury a large and annual supply of money"

to carry on the concern.

Meanwhile, in Madras, affairs had not been much more happy. During the

war with France, Pondicherry had been assaulted and had capitulated

with the honours of war, but in all other ways success was absent.

Friction arose between the presidency and the Nizam over the question

of a French garrison, and though the matter was outwardly smoothed

over and friendly alliance continued, it formed the basis of a

confederation between the Mahrattas, Hyder-Ali, and the Nizam, having

for object the total expulsion of the English from India.

Hyder-Ali, whose sword had been rusting in its scabbard since the

Peace of 1763, had his own private grievance of help promised by

treaty and withheld, because the object for which it was asked was

deemed unworthy. This was a constant cause of the endless dissensions

between the British and the native princes, and shows clearly the

absolute folly of attempting, as the Company did, to run with the hare

and hunt with the hounds; that is to say, to compound a treaty on one

ethical basis, and carry it out on another.

He instantly commenced operations in the Carnatic, and, though the

Nizam was bought off by the conciliatory measures of the Bengal

Council, continued his attack with unhesitating ferocity. He was,

frankly, a murderous madman, who, as the phrase runs, "saw red" on the

slightest provocation. But even his excesses were no warrant for

Edmund Burke's blatant rhetoric in his celebrated impeachment, where

"menacing meteors blacken horizons," and "burst to pour down contents

(?) on peaceful plains" (?). Where "storms of universal fire blast

every field," and "fleeing from their flaming villages, miserable

inhabitants are swept by whirlwinds of cavalry into captivity in

unknown and hostile lands."

What dictionary did Burke use, one wonders, and how comes it that his

cheap rhodomontade passes for eloquence?

Hyder-Ali, however, made himself very disagreeable, and in the short

space of twenty-nine days brought one disaster after another to the

British arms. They began to look on defeat as their portion.

Madras being, apparently, unable to grapple with its enemy, Sir Eyre

Coote was sent from Bengal to take command. But he found every

military equipment faulty. The commissariat was beneath contempt, and

for months the British force was kept stationary, unable to close with

Hyder, who, aided by French officers, flashed here and there at his

pleasure. But the day of reckoning came on the 1st July 1781, when

Hyder-Ali lost ten thousand men, and the English but three hundred and


Though fortune continued to waver between the combatants, this was

practically the turning-point in the war. France, it is true, sent a

fleet to interfere on the native side; England sent one to checkmate

it; but it was death which finally intervened--death who conquered

wild, untamable, almost irresponsible Hyder. He died suddenly, at the

age of eighty, from a carbuncle on the neck.

He left a worthy tiger cub behind him, and Tippoo-Sultan continued his

father's fierce fighting with unvarying ferocity and varying success,

helped in all ways by the French, so long as that nation continued at

war with England. When that ended, he fought still, off his own bat,

and the war, which completely crippled Madras, dragged on with

markedly increasing arrogance on the one side, and increasing

submission on the other, until in 1784, in spite of Tippoo-Sultan's

many vile crimes, his shameless murderings of English officers, his

still more terrible offences towards women and children, peace was

concluded with him; a peace, certainly, without honour. To the minds

of some it may seem the most indelible stain on the reputation of the

British in India.

Warren Hastings, at the time the treaty was signed by the other

members of the Supreme Council, was in Lucknow, whither he had gone by

way of Benares.

The Rajah of this place had in 1775, it will be remembered, found

British protection by the treaty with Asaf-daula, Nawab of Oude, which

Warren Hastings had condemned as unfair, and of which one of the

articles was the cession of Benares. As usual, an immediate dispute

arose as to what revenue and charges were to be paid; a dispute which

waxed and waned until 1781. There can be no doubt but that on the

English side increasing impecuniosity prompted growing demands, while

on the Rajah's side was as constant a desire for the evasion even of

just claims.

That Warren Hastings considered his position unassailable is evidenced

by the fact that, when, in 1781, on his way to Oude he paused at

Benares, he placed the Rajah (who, it may be said, was a man of no

family whatever) under arrest in his palace to await further

explanations, in the charge of some companies of sepoys who did not

even carry ball-cartridge. Palpably, therefore, no violence was

intended. It could not have been, since Hastings had but a small

escort. Rescue, however, was immediately resolved on by the populace;

a general rush was made for the palace, the sepoys were cut to pieces,

and the Rajah made good his escape. Almost immediately afterwards, in

consequence of the annihilation of a small British relief force from

Mirzapore, the whole countryside rose in the Rajah's interest, and

some time elapsed ere a force sufficient to cope with the insurrection

could be gathered together. Finally, the Rajah (who had throughout

protested his desire for peace, even while preparing at all points for

war) fled to a fort, whither he had previously conveyed most of his

treasures. Warren Hastings, therefore, at once began to form a new

Government. A grandson was selected as successor, the tribute payable

was increased, and the whole criminal jurisdiction of the province

(which had been wretchedly administered) vested in Bengal. After this

the late Rajah was pursued to his fort, whence he fled, leaving his

women behind. His mother attempted defence, but finally capitulated on

the promise of personal safety and freedom from search; the latter

stipulation was, however, undoubtedly violated, as the payment of "10

rupees each to the four female searchers" occurs in the accounts of

the incident. But this in no way implicates Warren Hastings, who

asserts his great regret that the breach of faith should have

occurred. It may be mentioned that some L300,000 was found in the

fort, which, with the amount that the Rajah had, doubtless, carried

away with him, effectually disposes of a poverty which prevented a

payment of L50,000. (These details are necessary because of the great

stress laid by Mr Burke in the impeachment on this Benares incident.)

The Governor-General had intended passing on to Lucknow, but the Nawab

Asaf-daula, put out by the delay at Benares, was in a hurry, and met

Warren Hastings at Chunar.

Here a new treaty was signed. It will be remembered that when the last

one was entered into on the occasion of Asaf-daula's accession, Warren

Hastings had protested against it as unfair. He now, therefore,

exempted the Nawab from all expenses of the English army quartered on

him, with the exception of the single brigade arranged for by his

father, Sujah-daula, and from all other expenses to English gentlemen

excepting the charges of the Resident and his office.

As a set-off to this nothing was exacted; but leave was given to the

Nawab to resume certain jagkirs, on condition that in all cases

where such grants were guaranteed by the Company, equivalent value to

the annual revenue should be given yearly. Not an unfair arrangement,

since a fixed revenue, though uncertain through the mutability of the

person who has to pay it, is less uncertain than one dependent on

fluctuating crops.

But there were two jaghirs which, so to speak, filled the Nawab's

eye: they were those held, and illegally held, by his mother and his

grandmother. In addition to the vast stretches of land, the revenues

of which made these two princesses not only independent, but as

possessors of small armies, dangerous factors for strife in internal

politics, they were known to possess, and wrongfully possess, the

treasure, estimated at L3,000,000, of the late Nawab. To all this they

had no possible claim. Under Mahomedan law the widow takes one-eighth

only of her husband's personal possessions, the mother nothing. There

is no possibility of will, no possible over-riding of the law. They

were, therefore, robbers, and that the Nawab should have refrained

from violence for so long is to his credit. This, however, was due to

an unwarrantable interference on the part of the British. Mr Bristow,

the Resident appointed by the Triumvirate, had, with their consent,

and despite Hastings' dissent, guaranteed immunity to Asaf-daula's

mother. As a matter of fact, no foreign power was admissible in a

family dispute; in addition, the Begum was in the wrong.

There can be no doubt that Warren Hastings knew the justice of

Asaf-daula's claim to the treasure, or that English troops accompanied

the Nawab to Fyzabad, where the Begum resided.

Beyond this, we have "diabolical expedients," "torturing processes,"

"works of spoliation," besides a variety of rhetorical and eloquent

abuse, on the one side; on the other, unconvincing affidavits of the

Begum's complicity in the Benares insurrection and a matter-of-fact

and apparently credible denial in toto of diabolical expedients et

hoc genus omne.

And behind all we have a very virtuous, very greedy British public,

which insisted on being paid L400,000 a year by a bankrupt and

overburdened concern.

For that was now the condition of the Honourable East India Company.

It had attempted too much, or rather its servants had done these

things which ought to have been done, without regard to dividends. At

the close of Warren Hastings' administration--he resigned his office

on the 8th February 1785, practically compelled thereto by the action

of the Board of Directors--the revenues of India were not equal to the

ordinary expense of Government.

A terrible indictment, truly! For which, however, some excuse may be

found in the following short chapter on administrations and