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
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
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
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
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
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