The rich trade which the Portuguese had established in the East during the sixteenth century served to quicken the spirit of enterprise which Queen Elizabeth laboured to foster in England, and her subjects were impatient to share in its profits. The splendid and
successful voyages of Drake, Cavendish, and other English navigators to the eastern hemisphere tended to augment the national ardour. In 1583, Fitch and three other adventurers started on a commercial expedition to India, by way of Aleppo and Bagdad. They carried letters of introduction from the queen to the emperor Akbar, soliciting his kind offices to her subjects who were proceeding from a far country to trade in his dominions, and offering the same kindness in return to any of his subjects who might visit England. Fitch travelled through the length and breadth of Hindostan, and was struck with the splendour of the court, the grandeur of the nobility, and the magnitude and opulence of the cities. The information which he collected regarding the commodities of the country, and the industry and wealth of the people, opened up visions of a lucrative commerce to his fellow-countrymen. A petition was accordingly presented to the Queen for permission to send three vessels to India, but the political caution of her ministers rendered it fruitless.
An association, was at length formed in London, in 1599, consisting of merchants, ironmongers, clothiers, and other men of substance, who subscribed the sum of £30,133 for the purpose of opening a trade with the East. In the following year they obtained a charter of incorporation from Queen Elizabeth, which granted them the exclusive privilege of this traffic for fifteen years, if it proved advantageous to the nation; if otherwise, it was liable to be annulled on two years’ notice. Such was the origin of the East India Company, which confined itself to commerce for a hundred and fifty years, and then took up arms in defence of its factories, and in less than a century established British sovereignty from the Himalayu to Cape Comorin, and from Peshawur to the borders of Siam.
The first adventure of the Company was placed under the command of Captain Lancaster, and consisted of five vessels freighted with iron, tin, lead, cloth, cutlery, glass, quicksilver, and Muscovy hides, of the value of 68,000 rupees, and 287,420
rupees in bullion. It sailed from Torbay on the 2nd of May, 1601, with letters of introduction from the Queen to the princes to whose kingdoms it might resort. The new Company had no distinct knowledge of any part of India, and the fleet sailed to Acheen, in the island of Sumatra, where a cargo of pepper was obtained, and a treaty concluded with the Malay chiefs.. In the Straits of Malacca, Captain Lancaster captured a Portuguese vessel of 900 tons, richly laden with calicoes and spices, and then steered for Bantam, the most flourishing port in the island of Java, where he erected a factory and left agents. The expedition returned to England in September, 1603, with a satisfactory profit to the adventurers. During the following ten years eight voyages were undertaken, which gave a return of from one to two hundred per cent. In 1608 the factors at Bantam represented that the calicoes of India were in great request in the islands of the Archipelago, and a fleet was therefore despatched, for the first time, to the coast of India; but the object was defeated by the jealousy of the Portuguese.
The Portuguese at this period enjoyed a commercial supremacy in the eastern hemisphere, and were anxious to prevent the intrusion of rivals. They held little territory on the continent of India, but they completely monopolised its foreign trade. By the possession of Aden and Ormuz they entirely commanded the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. They occupied the coasts of Ceylon, and had no rival on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts. They were paramount on the Malay seaboard, and held possession of the Moluccas, or spice islands. They had erected a factory at Macao, and enjoyed the exclusive trade of China. Their well-fortified settlement at Hooghly, second only to that of Goa, rendered them a most formidable power in Bengal. It was with this great mercantile monopoly that the English had now to enter into competition. In 1611 the East India Company sent two vessels to Surat, and the Portuguese prepared to resist their advance with four ships, the largest
of which carried thirty-eight guns. In the several encounters which took place between them, the Portuguese were discomfited and disgraced in the eyes of the natives. The Mogul governor of Surat and his officers spent an evening on board the vessel of the commander, and was the first native chief who ever partook of the hospitality of the English. As the Portuguese power was an object of dread along the Coast, the reputation of the East India Company was relatively exalted, and they obtained authority to establish factories at Surat, Ahmedabad, and other towns. These privileges were confirmed by an imperial firman granted by Jehangeer on the 11th of January, 1613, and Surat became the chief seat of English commerce on the western coast of India.
To improve the footing which had been obtained in India, the Company prevailed on King James to send an embassy to the great Mogul. Sir Thomas Roe was appointed envoy, and proved to be admirably adapted for so delicate and difficult a mission. He sailed from England in January, 1615, and landed at Surat with great pomp, attended by a brilliant suite and eighteen men-at-arms, and proceeded to the imperial Court, where he was received with greater distinction than had been accorded to any Persian or Turkish ambassador. Having stated the chief object of his embassy, he was assured that the grievances of which he complained should be redressed. But he found himself thwarted by the influence of the Portuguese, as well as by the vizier and Shah Jehan, who subsequently succeeded to the empire. His talent and address enabled him to overcome these obstacles, and he obtained some valuable privileges for the Company, on whom, after his return, he bestowed the salutary advice which they did not forget for more than sixty years, “to seek their profit at sea and in quiet trade, and not to affect garrisons and land wars in India.”
It does not lie within the scope of this work to dwell on the long-continued struggle of the East India Company with
the Dutch for a share in the spice trade of the eastern islands, or on the massacre at Amboyna, which continued for thirty years to rankle in the minds of Englishmen, till Cromwell compelled the Dutch to make satisfaction for it. In like manner we pass over the contests with the Portuguese for the possession of Ormuz and the trade with Persia, which. when obtained, was not found worth retaining. We move on to the establishment of the Company in Bengal. In 1620 two of their factors visited Patna, but met with little encouragement.
In 1634 a firman appears to have been obtained from the emperor, Shah Jehan, for the establishment of a factory in Bengal; but the resistance of Rodrigues at Hooghly was yet fresh, and the residence of their agents was restricted to the port of Pipley, near Balasore. Two years after, the daughter of the emperor, who was then encamped in the Deccan, having fallen ill, the vizier dispatched an express to the English factory at Surat to request the services of a surgeon. Mr. Boughton, attached to one of the ships, was accordingly sent to the imperial camp, and having succeeded in restoring the princess to health, was desired to name his own reward. In a spirit of the noblest patriotism, he stated that the only remuneration he would accept was an order granting his countrymen the privilege of trading in Bengal free of duty, and planting factories in the interior of the country. The request was at once granted, and he proceeded across the Deccan to Bengal at the charge of the emperor, Soon after his arrival at Pipley, the first English vessel which had ever visited Bengal entered the port, and he was enabled to negotiate the sale and purchase of the investment without being subject to extortion. Two years after, the emperor’s second son, prince Soojah, who had been appointed viceroy of Bengal, established his court at Rajmahal. Mr. Boughton proceeded to pay his respects to the prince, and was requested to prescribe for one of the ladies of the seraglio. He was again successful, and enjoyed a
second opportunity of promoting the interests of his country. At his request the prince granted letters patent to the English to establish factories at Balasore and Hooghly.
The first factory of the Company on the Coromandel coast was opened at Masulipatam, from whence it was removed, in 1625, to Armegan. The trade was not however found to be remunerative, and Mr. Day, the superintendent, accepted the invitation of the raja of Chundergiree, the last representative of the great Hindoo dynasty of Beejuynugur, to remove the establishment to his territories. In a small village on the coast a plot of ground was marked out, on which, in 1639, he erected the factory which afterwards expanded into the great city of Madras. To give confidence to the native merchants, it was surrounded by a fortification, with twelve guns, and in honour of the champion of England was called Fort St. George.
For fifteen years after this period there is no event in the transactions of the Company worthy of attention. The unsettled state of England during the civil wars was not favourable to the interests of commerce, and the trade of the Company languished. The investments were small, and the profits smaller; but as soon as domestic tranquillity was restored under the Protector, an attempt was made by a body of men, calling themselves the “Merchant Adventurers,” to break up the exclusive privileges of the East India Company. The arguments they employed for free trade appear at the present day to be unanswerable, but their validity was not likely to be admitted by those who had devised the Navigation Act. Cromwell referred the question to the Council of State, who recommended him to confirm the privileges of the Company, and a new charter was accordingly granted to that body. There can be little doubt that, in the circumstances of the times, the decision of Cromwell was sound, and that the power of a corporation was essential to the maintenance of a trade exposed to the caprice and the hostility of the native powers of the East. The Merchant Adventurers were therefore incorporated
with the old Company, and the two bodies united in soliciting a confirmation of their privileges from Charles the Second at the Restoration. A charter was granted on the 3rd of April, 1661, which, in addition to the usual commercial privileges, conferred the right to make peace and to wage war with any people in India not Christians, to seize and deport to England all unlicensed Englishmen, and to administer justice. The Company, which existed only for trade, was thus invested with the most essential attributes of government.
In the succeeding year Charles II. married the daughter of the king of Portugal, and received the island and dependencies of Bombay as part of her dower. A grand expedition was dispatched to India by the Crown, under the Earl of Marlborough, to receive possession of the settlements; but after having held it for six years, the ministers of the Crown found that it cost more than it yielded, and ceded it to the Company, under whose fostering care the population has increased from 10,000 to 500,000, and the trade has risen from a few lacs of rupees to thirty crores.
The year, in which the Company acquired the island of Bombay, is also memorable as that in which the first order for the purchase of tea was sent out by them to the East. Tea had been used at the period of the civil war as a “regalia in high treatments and entertainments, and presents to princes and grandees,” and was sold as high as 100 shillings the pound weight, or 100 rupees the seer. But in 1657, Thomas Garraway, the founder of Garraway’s coffee-house, which still exists in London, was the first to sell it “in drink made according to the directions of the most knowing merchants and travellers into the eastern countries, and many noblemen, merchants, and physicians resorted to his house in Change Alley to drink the drink thereof.” He sold it at a rate varying from 16s. to 50s. the pound. But it was not till ten years after that the Company issued an order for “100 lbs. weight of the best tey they could gett to be sent home by their ships.” The consumption
in England has increased from one hundred pounds weight to more than eighty millions of pounds.
Turning now to the progress of events in Bengal. With the exception of two brief intervals, the administration of the province was, during thirty-two years, in the hands of two princes of the imperial family, Soojah Khan and Shaista Khan, under whose mild and beneficent rule it enjoyed repose and increased in prosperity. Shaista Khan is charged by the factors of the Company with insatiable rapacity; but they winced under every demand, however petty, and they did not deny that he fostered their commerce and obtained many favours for them from Delhi. In 1664, the French, under the auspices of the great minister Colbert, established an East India Company, in the hope of participating in the trade which had enriched England and Holland. Soon after, a large French fleet sailed up the Hooghly and formed a settlement at Chandernagore. Three years after, the Dutch, whose trade had been confined to Balasore, were permitted to establish a factory at Hooghly, but eventually fixed on Chinsurah, two miles distant, as the seat of their traffic, and erected a fortification capable of resisting the native powers, which they named Fort Augustus. About the same period the Danes entered the river, and embarked in the trade of the country. Bengal, thus blessed with tranquillity, and enriched by foreign commerce, became the most flourishing province in the empire. The general trade of the Company, which had been drooping for many years, received a new impulse from the rapid increase of prosperity in England after the Restoration, and their exports rose from 10 lacs in 1666, to 100 lacs of rupees in 1682. The ambitious fortunes to which this trade gave birth in England created a brood of interlopers, and gave rise to disputes which at one time threatened to embroil the two Houses of Parliament.
Shaista Khan had been relieved from the government of Bengal at his own request, and the Company’s agents in Calcutta took advantage of his return to the
court to solicit a perpetual firman to exonerate them from the necessity of taking out a fresh firman on the arrival of every new governor, for which they were required to pay most heavily. It was granted through his intercession, and received in Calcutta with a salute of 300 guns. The trade of Bengal had moreover acquired such importance that the Court of Directors who managed the affairs of the Company raised it to the dignity of a separate and independent Presidency, and Mr. Hedges, the first governor, entered Hooghly with a bodyguard of a corporal and twenty European soldiers. But these prospects were soon to be darkened by the wild ambition of the Court of Directors and the folly of their officers. Mr. Peacock, the chief of the factory at Patna, had remained neutral during a local émeute, and was charged by the Mogul governor with complicity, and placed in confinement, from which he was not released without much difficulty. The Company’s lucrative trade in saltpetre was stopped at the same time. A rival East India Company had been formed in London under high auspices, and great efforts were made to obtain a charter for it; but the old Company was still patronized by the Court, and was endowed with the additional powers of admiralty jurisdiction, which authorized them to seize and confiscate the property of their rivals abroad. They now solicited the permission of the viceroy to erect a fort at the mouth of the Hooghly, or on its banks, that they might more effectually intercept the vessels of interlopers. The representative of the Mogul had a horror of European fortifications, and, if he took any interest in the question of rival companies, must naturally have desired that the number of investments on which he could levy contributions, should be increased. The request was therefore refused, and not without reason, for such a fortification would have given the Company the absolute control of the port and of the commerce of the province. But the viceroy went further, and imposed a duty of 3½ per cent. on their goods, notwithstanding the exemption acquired by the imperial firman,
Such demands had been often made before, and as often eluded by a liberal donative; but the East India Company had become inflated with an idea of their own power and importance, and determined to extort redress by going to war with the Mogul empire. They applied to James II. for permission to retaliate the injuries of which they complained, and fitted out the largest armament which had ever been dispatched from England to the East. Admiral Nicholson was sent out with twelve ships of war, carrying 200 pieces of cannon and a body of 600 men, to be reinforced by 400 from Madras. His instructions were to seize and fortify Chittagong, for which purpose 200 additional guns were placed on board, to demand the cession of the surrounding territory, to conciliate the zemindars, to establish a mint, and to enter into a treaty with the raja of Arracan – in short, to found a kingdom. But these ambitious projects were destined to a severe disappointment. The fleet was dispersed during the voyage, and several of the vessels, instead of steering for Chittagong, entered the Hooghly, and being joined by the Madras troops, anchored off the Company’s factory. The arrival of so formidable an expedition alarmed the viceroy, and he offered to compromise his differences with the English; but an unforeseen event brought the negotiation to an abrupt close. Three English soldiers, strolling through the marketplace of Hooghly, quarrelled with some of the government policemen, and were severely beaten. Both parties were reinforced, and a regular engagement ensued, in which the natives were completely discomfited. At the same time the admiral opened fire on the town and burnt down 500 houses, as well as property belonging to the Company to the extent of thirty lacs of rupees.
The Mogul commandant hastened to solicit a suspension of arms, and assisted in conveying the remainder of the saltpetre on board the ships. Job Charnock, the English chief, considering Hooghly no longer safe, retired on the 20th December, 1686, to the little
hamlet of Chuttanutty, about twenty-six miles down the river, on the site of which subsequently arose the magnificent capital of British India. There the viceroy renewed and spun out the negotiations till his troops could be assembled, when he marched down to attack the English encampment, and Job Charnock retired with his soldiers and establishments to the island of Ingelee, at the mouth of the river. It was a low and deadly swamp, covered with long grass, and destitute of any fresh water. It appears incredible that a man of Charnock’s experience, who had been thirty years in India, and who must have known the nature of that jungle, should have selected the most unhealthy spot in Bengal for an entrenched camp. The Mogul general allowed him to remain there without molestation, well knowing that disease would spare his soldiers the use of their swords. In three months one half of the troops were dead, and the other half fit only for hospital.
At this juncture, when the prospects of the English were reduced to the lowest ebb, the viceroy made unexpected overtures to Charnock. It appears that simultaneously with the dispatch of Admiral Nicholson’s expedition from England, the Court of Directors instructed Sir John Child to withdraw their establishments from Surat and the neighbouring ports, and to commence hostilities on the western coast. An English fleet was therefore employed in blockading the Mogul harbours, and the pilgrim ships were captured. The bigoted Aurungzebe hastened to seek a reconciliation with those who commanded the highway to Mecca, and orders were issued to the governors of provinces to make terms with them. Charnock returned to Chuttanutty, and the pacification was on the mint of being completed when the appearance of Captain Heath rekindled the flame. The Court of Directors, on hearing of the failure of Admiral Nicholson’s expedition, instead of folding up their ambitious project, determined to prosecute it with increased vigour, and sent out reinforcements under Captain Heath. Immediately on his arrival he disallowed the treaty then pending, and having embarked
on board the ships under his command, lying off Chuttanutty, the whole of the company’s officers, civil and military, proceeded to Balasore, which he bombarded and burnt. He then sailed to Chittagong; but finding the fortifications stronger than be had anticipated, crossed the bay, and landed the whole of the company’s establishments at Madras; and not a vestige was left of the commercial fabric which had been reared in Bengal by fifty years of painful exertion.
This fresh insult exasperated the haughty spirit of the emperor, and he issued orders for the extirpation of the English, and the confiscation of their property. His orders were literally obeyed, and the English possessions were reduced to the fortified towns of Madras and Bombay. Sir John Child sent two gentlemen from Bombay to the emperor’s encampment at Beejapore to propose terms of accommodation. Aurungzebe never allowed his passions to interfere with his interests. He was aware that his dominions benefited greatly by the commerce of the English, the value of which exceeded a crore of rupees a year; that their ships of war could sweep his coasts and extinguish his navy; and, above all, that it was in their power to prevent the resort of pilgrims to the tomb of the Prophet. He was therefore induced to accept the proposition of the commissioners, and directed the viceroy of Bengal to invite Mr. Charnock back to the province.
Shaista Khan, who had now governed Bengal for twenty years, solicited permission to retire, and quitted Dacca in 1689. On his departure he closed one of the gates of the city, and placed an inscription over it to commemorate the fact that the price of rice had been reduced during his administration to 320 seers the rupee, and he interdicted any future governor from opening it till rice was again sold at the same rate. It consequently continued closed for thirty-six years.
Shaista Khan was succeeded by Ibrahim Khan, the son of Ali Merdan, whose name is perpetuated
by his canals. The new viceroy, who was partial to the English, lost no time in inviting Charnock to re-establish the Company’s factories in Bengal. Charnock, however, resented the humiliating as well as vague terms in which Aurungzebe had conceded the restoration of the settlements of the English, in consequence, – so ran the proclamation, – of their having “made a most humble and submissive petition that the crimes they had committed should be forgiven.” He replied that he could not accept the proposal unless the emperor granted a specific firman for Bengal, setting forth the precise terms on which they were to carry on their trade in future. The viceroy sent him a second communication, stating that several months must elapse before the firman could be received from the imperial Court, and importuned him to return without delay, offering a compensation of 80,000 rupees for the goods which had been plundered. Charnock could not resist this friendly appeal, and embarked for Bengal with the commercial establishments of the Company, and on the 24th of August, 1690, hoisted the standard of England on the banks of the Hooghly, and laid the foundation of the city of Calcutta. But he did not survive this memorable event more than two years. His name is perpetuated at Barrackpore, which the natives still continue to designate Achanuk, and a simple monument in the churchyard of St. John’s, in Calcutta, marks the grave of the man who founded the “city of palaces.” It was not, however, till eight years after that the agent of the Company was enabled to obtain permission, by a present of 16,000 rupees to the viceroy, to purchase the three villages of Calcutta, Chuttanutty, and Govindpore, on which the city stands; though the Court of Directors did not fall to remark that “they considered the price very high.”
The sudden spasm of ambition which seized the Court of Directors, in 1685, and induced them to fit out this grand armament to establish a political power in India, did not, however, last more than five years. The dying indication of it appears in their despatch of 1689: “The
increase of our revenue is the subject of our care as much as our trade; ’tis that must maintain our force when twenty accidents may interrupt our trade; ’tis that must make us a nation in India; without that we are but as a great number of interlopers, united by his Majesty’s charter, fit only to trade where nobody of power thinks it their interest to oppose us; and upon this account it is that the wise Dutch, in all their general advices that we have seen, write ten paragraphs concerning their government, their civil and military policy, warfare, and the increase of their revenue, for one paragraph they write concerning their trade.” But adversity was not lost upon the Court of Directors; from this time forward, and for more than fifty years, their views were confined so exclusively to the pursuits of commerce that in the year 1754, only three years before the battle of Plassy, which laid the foundation of their magnificent empire, they continued to inculcate on their servants, the necessity of “avoiding an expensive manner of living, and of considering themselves the representatives of a body of merchants, for which a decent frugality would be much more in character.”
After the establishment of the factory at Calcutta, the Court of Directors were anxious to place it in a state of defence. They felt that their existence in India during the recent convulsion had been owing solely to the fortresses of Madras and Bombay, which were impregnable to the assaults of any native force. Those forts had been erected before the Mogul authority was extended over the territory in which they were situated; but any increase of such defences was prohibited by the policy of the empire. Ibrahim Khan, the viceroy of Bengal, resisted all the importunities of the Company’s chief to fortify Calcutta, though it was backed by an offer of 40,000 rupees. But five years after that settlement had been established an unexpected event led to the gratification of this wish. Sobha Sing, a landed proprietor of Burdwan, irritated by the proceedings of his superior, created a rebellion, and invited Ruhim Khan, the
leader of the remnant of the Orissa Afghans, who had not been heard of for seventy years, to join his standard. Their united force defeated the raja Krishnu Ram, plundered the town of Hooghly, and took possession of the district. The English at Calcutta, the French at Chandernagore, and the Dutch at Chinsuran, with a ferocious enemy at their gate, asked permission to put their settlements in a state of defence. The pacific and irresolute viceroy, who was unequal to the crisis of a rebellion, desired them in general terms to provide for their own security. Immediately every hand was employed day and night in erecting fortifications. The fort, built with lime brought up from Madras, was so substantial, that the demolition of it a hundred and twenty years after was supposed to have cost more labour than its erection. In compliment to the reigning monarch, it was named Fort William. Meanwhile the rebellion made head, and the Afghans became masters of the whole country on the right bank of the river, from Orissa to Rajmahal; but they were at length completely defeated and dispersed by Zuberdust Khan, the valiant son of the feeble viceroy. But both father and son were soon after superseded by the emperor, who dreaded the success of his generals only less than that of his enemies, and sent his grandson, Azim, to take charge of the province. The character of this prince encouraged the rebels to reassemble their forces; the royal encampment was furiously assaulted, and the viceroy himself was saved from an ignominious defeat only by the death of Ruhim Khan. He fell in single combat, with one of his officers, who announced himself to be the prince, and thus saved his master’s life. On the death of their leader, the Afghans made their submission to the government, the revolt died out, and the Orissa Afghans disappear from the page of history.
Scarcely had the Company surmounted their difficulties in India, than they were threatened with a new and more appalling danger in England. The dazzling profits of the Indian trade had drawn forth a multitude
of competitors; but the Company were enabled to obtain a confirmation of their exclusive privileges from the Crown in 1693. A few months after this event the House of Commons passed a resolution to the effect “that it is the right of all Englishmen to trade to the East Indies, or any part of the world, unless prohibited by Act of Parliament.” This gave fresh animation to the interlopers, and many of them turned pirates, attacking the Mogul ships and plundering the Mecca pilgrims. In revenge for these injuries, the Mogul governor of Surat arrested fifty-three of the Company’s servants, and put them in irons, and they were not liberated without the payment of heavy contributions. In 1698 the interlopers, and others who were eager to participate in the trade of the East, presented a petition to Parliament for a charter, and accompanied it with the tempting offer of accommodating the treasury with a loan of two millions sterling, at eight per cent. Their exertions were successful, and the old Company, who had established British interests in India by a century of labour and expense, being unable to offer more than £700,000, were ordered to wind-up their affairs and expire in three years. But the rivalry of the two bodies was found, even in the first year, to inflict the most serious injury-on the national interests in India. At Surat the gentlemen on the staff of the old Company were seized by the agents of the new body, and conveyed through the streets like malefactors, with their hands bound behind them, and delivered as prisoners into the custody of the Mogul governor. In every market the competition of the two bodies created a scarcity, and enhanced the price of goods. The officers of the native government, courted by two parties, received bribes from each, and oppressed both. “Two East India Companies,” exclaimed the old Court of Directors, “can no more subsist without destroying each other than two kings regnant at the same time in the same kingdom; that now a civil battle was to be fought between them, and two or three years must end this war, as the old or the new must give way.”
On the establishment of the new Company, Sir William Norris was sent at their expense as ambassador from the court of England to the court of the Mogul, to obtain firmans for the establishment of factories. His difficulties began before he entered the port. The Mogul governor of Surat exacted 15,000 gold mohurs for granting him permission to make a public entry into the city. The vizier at Boorhanpore refused him an audience unless he came without drums and trumpets; and he therefore turned off to the imperial encampment at Panalla, which he reached in April, 1701. Three weeks after, he proceeded to the durbar with a splendid cortege, and preceded by magnificent presents. The aged emperor, then in his 88th year, but in the fullest enjoyment of his faculties, received him with great courtesy, and ordered the grants which he solicited to be prepared. But the Armenian agents of the old Company were present to thwart Sir William. Both parties were offering bribes and lavishing money, and decrying each other as impostors. With these conflicting claims before him, the emperor ordered a reference to be made to one Syud Sedoolla, a “holy priest of Surat,” who was to determine by examination which was “the real English Company.” The holy priest put his award up to sale, and knocked it down for 10,000 rupees; but the governor of Surat refused to report it without a donative of more than two lacs and a half of rupees.
Before the terms could be settled, it was reported at the Court that three Mogul ships coming from Mocha had been captured by English pirates. These pirates, of whom Captain Kidd was now the chief, had long been the terror of India. Their vessels were fitted out at New York and in the West Indies, and they possessed several fortified stations on the island of Madagascar. With a fleet of ten ships, some carrying fifty guns, and divided into squadrons, they kept possession of the Indian seas. Two of the Company’s vessels, which were sent against them, were seized by the crews, after the massacre of the officers, and added to the pirate
fleet. A squadron of four ships of war was sent against them under Commodore Warren, but one of his vessels was wrecked, and so lax was the naval discipline of the period, that the other three, instead of going in pursuit of the pirates, returned to England laden with cargoes of private merchandize. The emperor, on hearing of these renewed piracies, ordered the ambassador to furnish security for the restoration of the captured vessels, and to enter into an engagement to prevent all piracies in future. With this unreasonable request he of course, refused to comply, on which he was informed that he knew his way back to England. He left the camp after seven months of fruitless negotiation, with a letter and a sword from Aurungzebe to the King of England; and thus ended a mission which had cost the new Company nearly seven lacs of rupees. The embassy itself was a mistake. One of Cromwell’s ambassadors – a sixty-four gun ship, which spoke all languages, and never took a refusal – would have been far more efficacious with this unprincipled court. Sir John Gayer and the other servants of the new Company at Surat would not then have been consigned to a jail as a retaliation for piracies they had no means of preventing.
The King, the Parliament, and the nation became at length sensible of the fatal results of the rivalry they had created, and the two Companies were amalgamated by universal consent, under the title of the “United Company of Merchants trading to the East,” the indenture of which passed the Great Seal on the 22nd of July, 1702. On the completion of this union the Court of Directors, formed by the selection of an equal number from each Company, wrote to their representative at Calcutta, that “now they were established by a Parliamentary authority they deemed it a duty incumbent on them to England and their posterity to propagate the future interests of the nation in India with vigour.” They directed their attention to the building of the town of Calcutta, and gave minute directions regarding its streets and houses. They completed the fort, surrounded it with an
entrenchment, and mounted it with cannon. The military commandant of Hooghly was, on the occasion of a dispute with the Company’s chief, deterred by its strength from attacking it, and the native merchants who resorted to it in large numbers were inspired with increased confidence. The Court of Directors then remodelled their Indian establishment, fixing the salary of the President at £300, of the eight members of council at £40, of the junior merchants at £30, the factors at £15, and the writers at £5; but these inadequate salaries were eked out by the addition of commons, an annual supply of madeira, and the privilege of private trade. The trade proved so lucrative that we find the Directors soon after this period, complain that even the junior servants sat down to dinner with a band of music, and rode out in a coach and four.
From this time forward to the battle of Plassey the history of Calcutta is little else but a chronicle of the exactions of the native government and the resistance, alternately bold and feeble, of the Company’s agents. On one occasion the Directors complain that the extortions by the Fouzdar of Hooghly, who “was merely the jackal of the prince and the dewan to discover the prey, had made a great hole in their cash.” Then, again, they remonstrate against the exorbitant demand of 30,000 rupees by the nabob – that is, the viceroy – and recommend greater discretion to their agents. Two years after, the nabob makes a new demand of 60,000 rupees, but is pacified with half that sum. The year after, the sum of 22,000 rupees is “squeezed out of them by the Patna king.” Again, in 1717, they complain that “the horse-leeches of Moorshedabad had been practising on their servants.” “It was actual war which made Aurungzebe restore their privileges.” Their servants are therefore ordered to stop, but not to seize, the vessels of the Mogul, “for reprisals, like extreme unction, must never be used except in the last extremity.” “They never thought of carrying their contests so far as an open rupture with the viceroy of the whole country, though it might be expedient to
speak and look big with the under-governors.” But this brought them no respite. Soon after, their native agent was “chabooked,” or flagellated at Moorshedabad to extort a bond of 45,000 rupees from him, which was commuted to 20,000 rupees. Even so late as 1750, the President, having seized and confiscated the vessel of an Armenian interloper, was fined a lac and a half of rupees to compensate the merchant, of which, however, he never received more than 20,000 rupees. It was amidst the constant recurrence of these outrageous demands that the President and council in Calcutta contrived to carry on the trade of the Company till the young nabob of Moorshedabad filled up the measure of iniquity by the sack of Calcutta and the atrocity of the Black Hole, and Clive marched up to Moorshedabad and seated a nabob of his own on the throne of the three provinces.
In the year 1702 Meer Jaffer was appointed dewan of Bengal, and eventually viceroy of the three soubahs of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa. He was the son of a poor brahmin in the Deccan, and was purchased and circumcised by a Persian merchant of Ispahan, on whose death he was manumitted. He then entered the public service, where his talents attracted the notice of Aurungzebe and led eventually to his being intrusted with the finances of Bengal. At the same time he was dignified with the title of Moorshed Koolee Khan, which was perpetuated in the new capital which he founded, Moorshedabad.
He manifested no little jealousy of the growing power of the Company, and interfered to such an extent with their trade that the President was induced to send an embassy to Delhi to seek a redress of grievances. Two of the senior officers in the service were selected for this office; but their appeal was thwarted at every point by the agents of the Bengal viceroy, and not less by the profligate courtiers of Ferokshere. At length, however, their mission was unexpectedly crowned with success when they were on the eve of abandoning it. The emperor, as stated in a former
chapter, was betrothed to the daughter of Ajeet Sing, the raja of Joudhpore, whom Hussein Ali had brought with him to the court. But the marriage was interrupted by a disease from which the imperial physicians were unable to relieve Ferokshere. The surgeon of the embassy, Mr. Hamilton, was called in and effected a complete cure. He was desired to name his own recompense, and, with the same feeling of patriotism which had distinguished Mr. Boughton, he asked only for the concessions which the British envoys had hitherto solicited in vain. His request was granted, and thirty-four patents embracing the different objects of the memorial were issued in the Emperor’s name and authenticated by the imperial seal. The privileges now obtained were, that a dustuck, or pass, signed by the President should exempt the goods it covered from examination by the native officers of government; that the mint at Moorshedabad should be employed three days in the week in coining money for the Company; that all persons, European or native, indebted to the Company, should be made over to the President; and that the English should be at liberty to purchase the lordship of thirty-eight towns in the vicinity of Calcutta. The embassy returned in triumph to Calcutta; but the viceroy did not fail to perceive that this accession of territory would give them the complete command of the port and make their power formidable, and he determined to defeat the grant. He sternly prohibited the zemindars to grant a foot of land to the Company on pain of his severe displeasure. But though the hope of enlarging their settlement was thus frustrated, the minor privileges they had acquired gave a new impulse to the prosperity of Calcutta, and the port was often crowded during the year with 10,000 tons of shipping.
Moorshed Koolee Khan was the greatest and the most energetic ruler Bengal had enjoyed since the days of Shere Shah. A hundred and fifty years before this period the great financier of Akbar, raja Toder Mull, had formed a settlement of the land rent of Bengal and Behar
with the ryots, to the exclusion of all middlemen. To facilitate the collection of the public revenue Moorshed Koolee modified this system and divided the province into chuklas, over each of which he appointed an officer to collect the rents and remit them to the treasury at Moorshedabad. It was these officers, who, in process of time, claimed zemindary rights, imperceptibly enlarged their power, and having assumed the title of raja, made their office hereditary. The viceroy, who considered a Mahomedan a sieve, which retained nothing, and a Hindoo a sponge, which might be squeezed at pleasure, employed none but Hindoos in these financial duties. This will account for the singular fact that, at the period of the battle of Plassy, all the zemindary rajas of Bengal were Hindoos, while the government itself was Mahomedan. The viceroy was stern and oppressive in matters of revenue. Defaulting zemindars were subject to torture, and some were dragged through a pond filled with insufferable ordure, which was called, in derision, bykoont, or paradise. Before appointing these fiscal officers he caused the lands to be surveyed, and fixed the assessment at 142,00,000 rupees, of which sum 109,00,000 rupees were punctually remitted to Delhi year by year. The viceroy himself accompanied this convoy of treasure the first stage out of Moorshedabad. The whole expenditure of government was covered by the remaining 33,00,000 rupees; but so tranquil was the province that 2,000 cavalry and 4,000 infantry were found sufficient to maintain the public authority.
Moorshed Koolee died in 1725, and was succeeded by his son-in-law Soojah-ood-deen, a Turkoman, who was confirmed by the emperor in the government of Bengal and Orissa, while that of Behar was conferred on another. He administered the government for fourteen years, and punctually remitted the annual tribute to Delhi. During these two reigns the sum abstracted from the resources of this flourishing province and squandered at the capital exceeded thirty crores of rupees. Soojah augmented his army to 25,000, and adopted a more magnificent style at his court than his frugal father-in-law. The only event of any
note during his reign was the destruction of the Ostend East India Company established by the emperor of Germany at the factory of Banky-bazar, on the Hooghly, opposite Chandernagore. The settlement of these interlopers was regarded with feelings of intense jealousy by the Dutch, and more particularly by the English, who declared their intention to “cut up the Ostender’s trade by the roots and not simply to lop off the branches.” One of their ships was captured by an English vessel which blockaded the Hooghly. The emperor of Germany was induced, by powerful remonstrances, to withdraw the charter, and a bribe of 320,000 rupees from the English and Dutch induced the viceroy to send a force against Banky-bazar, which fell after a gallant defence, and the Ostenders were chased out of Bengal.
Soojah-ood-deen died at the period of Nadir Shah’s invasion, and his son Serferaj Khan took possession of the government, and ordered the coin to be struck and prayers to be read in the name of the Persian. But on his departure, Ali verdy Khan, the governor of Behar, who owed his fortunes entirely to the deceased viceroy, conspired against his son, and, by large douceurs and larger promises to the profligate ministers of Mohamed Shah, the emperor of Delhi, obtained a sunnud appointing him soobadar of the three provinces. With the army he had been for some time engaged in training, he marched against Serferaj, who was killed by a musket-ball in the battle which ensued, and Ali verdy mounted the throne, for which, however, he was eminently fitted by his great talents and experience. The promises he had made were faithfully performed, and he remitted to Delhi a crore of rupees in money and seventy lacs in jewels, obtained from the estate of the deceased nabob – a most welcome supply after the imperial treasury had been drained by Nadir Shah. The presence of the new viceroy was required, soon after his accession, in Orissa, where the brother-in-law of Serferaj refused obedience; but he was speedily defeated and fled to Masulipatam. Having settled the province, Ali verdy disbanded his new levies, and was
marching back at his leisure to Moorshedabad with a small body of troops, when he received intelligence that the Mahrattas were rapidly advancing with 12,000 predatory horse to levy contributions in Bengal; and the difficulties of his reign began.
We turn now to the proceedings of the Mahrattas after the departure of Nadir Shah. It was a fortunate circumstance for India that Bajee Rao was prevented from taking advantage of the confusion of the times by the necessity of watching the movements of his formidable rivals, the Guickwar of Guzerat and the Bhonslay of Berar. Parsojee Bhonslay was originally a private horseman of Satara, who raised himself to notice in that age of adventure, and was entrusted with the charge of collecting the Mahratta dues in the province of Berar, where he founded the Mahratta state of Nagpore. At the period when Holkar and Sindia were only commanders in the service of the Peshwa, Roghoojee Bhonslay, who had succeeded his cousin Parsojee, was in command of a powerful force of his own, with large independent resources for its support. While the Nizam was besieged, as already stated, at Bhopal, he resisted the orders of the Peshwa to join the Mahratta standard, and proceeded on a plundering expedition to the province of Allahabad. Bajee Rao resented this intrusion into his own exclusive quarry, and sent an army to ravage Berar, but it was defeated by Roghoojee. That leader was now sufficiently strong to entertain a jealousy of the ascendancy which the Peshwa had acquired in the Mahratta councils, and was intriguing to supplant him; in which design he was eagerly seconded by the Guickwar. The difficulties of Bajee Rao’s position were relieved by his own tact. Roghoojee was persuaded to take the command of an expedition to the Carnatic, consisting of more than 50,000 troops. During his absence Bajee Rao attacked Nazir Jung the second son of the Nizam, but was repulsed with great vigour. The war was protracted for many months, chiefly to the disadvantage of the Peshwa, and both parties, wearied
with a fruitless struggle, at length agreed to an accommodation.
The Peshwa, dispirited by his ill-success and overwhelmed by his debts, started for the north, but expired on the banks of the Nerbudda on the 28th of April, 1740. During the twenty years in which he wielded the power of the Mahratta confederacy he raised it to the highest position in India, and his power was equally felt on the banks of the Coleroon and of the Jumna. The impulse and the confidence he gave to the ambition of his countrymen continued to animate them after his decease to fresh conquests, and in the course of twenty years rendered them supreme throughout India. He left three sons – Balajee Rao, Roghoonath Rao, afterwards the notorious Raghoba, and the illegitimate Shumshere Bahadoor to whom he bequeathed his possessions in Bundlecund.
Balajee Rao was placed in his father’s seat, notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of the Bhonslay, and obtained, from his feeble sovereign, a grant of Salsette, Bassein, and the districts recently wrested from the Portuguese in the Concan, as well as the exclusive right of levying contributions to the north of the Nerbudda, with the exception of Guzerat, and this brought him into direct collision with Roghoojee. While that chieftain was engaged in the Carnatic, Bhaskur pundit, who had been left to manage his principality, entered Behar with a body of 12,000 horse, and, emerging from the Ramghur hills, spread desolation over the western districts of Bengal. Ali verdy was returning from Cuttack with a slender force when the Mahratta commander encountered him, and demanded the immediate payment of ten lacs of rupees; and, on its being indignantly refused, enveloped the Mogul army with his horse, capturing its tents, baggage, and artillery, and reduced the viceroy to the humiliation of offering the payment he had previously refused.
But the Mahratta now raised his demand to a hundred lacs, and Ali verdy resolved to run every risk rather than submit to the exaction. With great gallantry he
fought his way to Cutwa, where he considered himself secure from any farther attacks. The rains had by this time commenced in Bengal and the Mahratta army prepared to return to Berar; but this resolution was opposed by Meer Hubeeb, who represented the folly of throwing away so rich a prize as Bengal without an effort. Hubeeb was a native of Sheraz, in Persia, and had been a broker at Hooghly, though unable to read and write. He entered the service of the viceroy, and by his distinguished talents and spirit of enterprize rose high in his estimation; but having been taken prisoner by Bhaskur pundit was induced to accept service with the Mahrattas, and for eight years was the soul of their expeditions and the cause of incalculable misery to Bengal. On the present occasion he obtained a large force from Bhaskur and advancing against Moorshedabad, before Ali verdy could come to the rescue, plundered the suburbs and despoiled the banking-house of Jugut Sett of two crores and a half of rupees. On the appearance of Ali verdy, Meer Hubeeb recrossed the river, and laid waste the country from Balasore to Rajmahal. He got possession of Hooghly by a stratagem. The wretched inhabitants crowded into the foreign factories, and more especially to Calcutta, for protection from this storm, and the President sought permission of the nabob to surround the Company’s territory with an intrenchment.
It was readily conceded, and the work was commenced and prosecuted with vigour, but suspended on the retirement of the enemy. This was the celebrated Mahratta ditch, which, though it has disappeared, like the old walls of London, still continues to mark the municipal boundaries of the city, and has fixed on its citizens the sobriquet of the Inhabitants of the Ditch.
Before the close of the rains, Ali verdy crossed the river with the army he had recruited, and the Mahratta general was eventually defeated, and obliged to evacuate the province. Roghoojee, who had returned from the Carnatic expedition, determined to support his pretensions
in Bengal, and entered the province with a large army. On the first appearance of the Mahrattas, Ali verdy had applied for aid to the court of Delhi, and the emperor invoked the succour of the Peshwa, offering him an assignment on the Bengal treasury, and a confirmation of the grant of Malwa. Balajee Rao, with his old grudge against Roghoojee, readily accepted the offer, and marched with a large force through Allahabad and Behar to the gates of Moorshedabad, where he is said to have exacted a crore of rupees from Ali verdy as the price of his services, after which he marched against Roghoojee, defeated his army, and despoiled him of the plunder he had acquired. Soon after, the two Mahratta chiefs found that their views would be most effectually promoted by coming to an understanding. The Peshwa agreed to assign the right to levy contributions from Oude, Behar, Bengal, and Orissa, to Roghoojee, who agreed, on his part, not to interfere with any of the plans or acquisitions of the Peshwa. The next year, 1744, Roghoojee sent Bhaskur pundit to renew his ravages in Bengal, when Ali verdy inveigled him to an interview, and by an act of the basest treachery caused him to be assassinated, upon which his army dispersed.
This crime did not long remain unavenged. The next year witnessed the revolt of his great general, Mustapha Khan, who had been employed to decoy the Mahratta general to the fatal conference. Mustapha was the head of the Afghan troops who formed the strength of the Bengal army, and it was chiefly to his talents and valour that Ali verdy was indebted for his elevation. The government of Behar, which had been promised him, was refused by the viceroy, and he marched into that province with an army of 8,000 horse and a large body of infantry, and, at the same time, invited the Mahrattas to invade Bengal anew. The viceroy, menaced by this double attack, manifested the utmost vigour, though then verging on seventy, and took the field with the Afghan generals who still remained faithful to him. Mustapha was at length defeated near Jugudeshpore and slain, and his body was quartered and exposed on the
walls of Patna. The Mahrattas who were advancing to his aid, retreated on hearing of his death, but they returned the next year, and, for four successive seasons, ravaged all the districts on the right bank of the river The recollection of these devastations was not effaced for generations, and to a late period in the present century the dread of the Burgees, by which name the Mahrattas were designated, continued to haunt the natives from Balasore to Rajmahal.
The viceroy, worn out by the inroads which had for ten years harassed his wretched subjects and exhausted his own treasury, was compelled, in 1751, to purchase peace by agreeing to an annual payment of twelve lacs of rupees as the chout of Bengal, and the cession of the province of Orissa. The chout ceased, as a matter of course, seven years after, when British authority became paramount in Bengal; but the province continued in the possession of the Nagpore family for half a century.
The Carnatic was now to become the theatre of great events, which exercised an important influence on the destinies of India. This extensive province on the Coromandel coast, on the seaboard of which lay the English and French settlements, extended about five hundred miles from north to south, and about a hundred miles inland. After the conquest of the southern provinces by the Moguls under Aurungzebe, it was included in the soubah of the Deccan. Zulfikar Khan, with whose name the reader is familiar, when recalled from his government by the emperor, transferred his authority to Daood Khan, who drank “cordial waters and French brandy” with the governor of Madras, and Daood Khan, when summoned to take a command in the imperial army in 1710, appointed Sadutoolla to act as his deputy, and he continued to administer the government of the Carnatic for twenty-two years, to the great benefit of the people. His nephew, Dost Ali, assumed the office on his death in 1732, without seeking the sanction of his superior. the Nizam, who was, however, too deeply embroiled in his contest with Bajee Rao to resent this assumption. Dost Ali
had two daughters; one married to his nephew, Mortiz Ali, the most truculent and unprincipled prince in the Deccan, the other to Chunda Sahib, distinguished equally by his talents and his liberality. In 1736 he obtained possession of the impregnable fortress of Trichinopoly by treachery, seized the surrounding country, and extinguished the independence of the reigning family. Soon after came the great Mahratta invasion, under Roghoojee Bhonslay. Dost Ali advanced to meet him, but was defeated and slain. The Mahrattas then proceeded to levy contributions in every direction, until they were bought off with the promise of a crore of rupees, to be paid by instalments by Sufdur Ali, the son of Dost Ali, who now assumed the title of nabob of the Carnatic. During this irruption Chunda Sahib placed his family, for greater security, under the protection of the French at Pondicherry, which led to important results.
The popularity of Chunda Sahib had, however, excited apprehensions in the mind of Sufdur Ali, and it was a part of his compact with the Mahrattas that they should return the next year and extinguish his power; retaining the principality of Trichinopoly for themselves. They came down, accordingly, in 1741 and laid siege to that fort, which Chunda Sahib defended with great skill and valour for three months, but was eventually constrained to capitulate; and as he was considered the ablest and most formidable soldier in the south, he was conveyed to Satara and placed in strict confinement. Morari Rao, the Mahratta chief of Gooty, with 14,000 men, kept possession of the fort and territory of Trichinopoly. A year after, Sufdur Ali was assassinated by Mortiz Ali, who proclaimed himself nabob; but the friends and relatives of the murdered prince withdrew his infant son from Madras, where he had obtained shelter, and raised him to the throne. Meanwhile the Nizam, who had returned from Delhi to the Deccan, resolved to put an end to the anarchy of the Carnatic, and moved down with an army little short of 60,000 horse and 200,000 foot. All parties hastened to make
their submission to this overwhelming force, and the Nizam placed the administration of the province in the hands of one of his old and faithful servants, Anwar-ood-deen, as the guardian of the youthful son of Sufdur Ali, on whom he engaged to confer the nabobship when he came of age.
The youth was soon afterwards assassinated, but Anwar-ood-deen is not chargeable with complicity in this crime, though he obtained the benefit of it. He was placed in the vacant post, and founded the family of the nabobs of Arcot, or of the Carnatic, subsequently so notorious in the history of British India. Sadutoollah and his son, Dost Ali, had governed the Carnatic for thirty years with great moderation and no little advantage to the people. To them are apparently due the merit of constructing those works of irrigation which diffused fertility through the district. During their reigns the country enjoyed a respite from desolation, and begun to flourish. The people, grateful for so unusual a blessing, had contracted a warm attachment to the family, while the nabob of the Nizam was considered an interloper and regarded with a proportionate feeling of antipathy.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage