The government of Lord William Bentinck stands forth in high relief in the history of British India as the era of progression. It derives its lustre from his enlightened views of domestic policy, his vigorous administrative reforms, his intrepid philanthropy, and his spirited efforts to promote the material interests of the empire. Lord Cornwallis had given form and consistence to our institutions in 1793, but there had been little attention to their improvement
since the days of Lord Wellesley, and they were daily becoming more and more effete. Great changes had taken place in the European service, and in the native community, and the whole system of judicial administration required to be recast and adapted to the progress of circumstances. For this task Lord William Bentinck was particularly adapted by the clearness of his perceptions, his freedom from traditional prejudices, and his inflexible resolution; and he was happily aided by the counsels and co-operation of three of the ablest men whose services the Company had ever enjoyed, Mr. Butterworth Bayley, Sir Charles Metcalfe, and Mr. Holt Mackenzie. He found the course of civil justice blocked up by the lumbering wagon of the provincial courts, which he justly characterized as “resting places for those members of the service who were deemed unfit for higher responsibilities.” The judicial character of the judges was, with some exceptions, the object of general contempt, and their decisions in appeal, only served to bewilder the judges of the courts subordinate to them, and to disgust the community. In regard to criminal justice their agency was simply a national grievance. They proceeded on circuit to hold the sessions twice in the year, and prisoners were kept in confinement for months before they were brought to trial. The prosecutors and witnesses were detained all this time at their own expense, and subjected to such intolerable inconvenience, while awaiting the arrival of the judges, that the concealment of crime became an object of universal solicitude throughout the country. Lord William Bentinck earned the gratitude of the public by sweeping away a class of tribunals, which combined the three great evils of delay, expense, and uncertainty. The duties of the session were, at first, entrusted to the officers he appointed Commissioners of Revenue, but finding the functions of tax-gatherer incompatible with those of a criminal judge, he transferred the duty to the judge of the district, with instructions to hold a monthly jail delivery. He entirely remodelled the system of civil judicature. A separate sudder or chief court was likewise established in
the north-west provinces, and the natives of Delhi were no longer constrained to travel a thousand miles to Calcutta to prosecute an appeal. A similar boon was likewise conferred on those provinces by the erection of a separate Board of Revenue at Allahabad, and the control of the fiscal interests of twenty-five millions of people was established in the most central position. The value of these and all the other judicial reforms of Lord William Bentinck was indefinitely enhanced by restoring to the people the inestimable boon of the use of their own vernacular language in all the courts, civil, criminal, and fiscal, to which they were amenable. The Mohamedans had imposed their own court language, the Persian, on the conquered people of India in every transaction with the state. The Company’s functionaries, who had from the first manifested a strong predilection for everything that was Mussulman, retained this language in the courts, although the anomaly and the incongruity was thereby increased, inasmuch as justice was now dispensed in a language foreign not only to the parties and the witnesses, but also to the judge himself. Lord William Bentinck substituted the vernacular for the Persian in all tribunals, though not without a strenuous opposition from the conservatism of the civilians.
The merit of the settlement in the north-west provinces belongs to Lord William Bentinck’s administration. On the acquisition of those provinces, consisting of the districts in Oude ceded by the Nabob Vizier, and the districts in the Dooab conquered from Sindia, Lord Wellesley pledged himself to grant them a permanent settlement of the land revenue, but it was repudiated by the Court of Directors, who ordered it to be limited to five years. This was a death blow to all agricultural improvement. Any attempt by the landlord to improve his estates only exposed him to the risk of an increased assessment, and as the period of revision approached he felt it to be his interest to fill up wells, and to neglect cultivation. An effort was at length made by Mr. Holt Mackenzie, the secretary to the Government
in the territorial department, a man of broad and liberal views and great earnestness, to grapple with this large question, and he produced the celebrated Regulation VII, of 1822, a monument of skill and industry, of which any statesman might justly be proud. It was based on mature knowledge and sound and equitable principles, but it was unfortunately too complicated in its details to work well, and it imposed unlimited duties on a limited agency. The collectors disrelished the laborious task imposed on them, and performed it in a perfunctory manner. Some of them affirmed that a period of twenty years, and others that a whole century would be necessary to complete the settlement in the mode required. The Board of Revenue when asked what progress had been made in it, replied that they knew nothing about the matter. At the end of ten years it was found that the work chalked out by the Regulation was scarcely begun. Lord William Bentinck was resolved to remove the opprobrium of this neglect from our administration, and after a residence of two years in Calcutta, made a tour of the north-west provinces, and during his progress invited the revenue officers of the various districts to his tents to discuss the question of the settlement. After obtaining all the information within his reach, he examined the subject in all its bearings during his residence at Simla, and on his return to Calcutta held a meeting at Allahabad of the Revenue Board and the most eminent officers in the department, when the question was fully discussed and finally settled, and the Regulation which resulted from these consultations was passed in Council, after his arrival in Calcutta, in March, 1833.
The new settlement possessed the great merit of simplicity. It dispensed with many of the elaborate enquiries of the former Regulation, which, however useful, were not deemed essential to a fair adjustment of the claims of the state. The area of each village was to be surveyed by European officers and recorded in a map, while each individual field was measured by native officers and entered in the village register. Without a minute
classification of soils, the proportion of cultivated, culturable, and waste lands, together with every circumstance which could affect the cultivation, was duly recorded. The Collector was required to decide all questions of disputed boundaries on the spot, with the aid of native assessors, and the most prolific source of litigation and misery in India was thus dammed up. All judicial questions which might arise in the course of his proceedings were determined with the aid of the punchayet, the ancient and time-honoured jury of five, in which the natives reposed such unbounded confidence as to believe that “where the punj is, there is God.” The assessment was fixed by the Collector, after an impartial investigation, and a free and friendly communication with the people, and the settlement was then made for a period of thirty years, either with the ryots individually, or with the landholder, or with the village community, as the case might be. The Collector was assisted by a body of uncovenanted deputies with liberal allowances, and their office was thrown open to the natives of the country, without reference to caste or creed. The general control of these operations was committed to Mr. Robert Bird, the ablest financial officer in the service since the days of Sir John Shore. He possessed a large grasp of mind, and combined an intimate knowledge of the system of land tenures in the north-west, with indomitable energy, and that sternness of purpose which is indispensable in any great and difficult undertaking. He was allowed to select his own subordinates, and the zeal and ability they displayed did no little credit to his discernment, while the honour of having served under him was considered a distinction for life. Under such auspices, and with such instruments, the settlement was brought to a termination within ten years. It embraced an area of 72,000 square miles, and a population of 23,000,000. It was the greatest fiscal achievement of the Company’s Government. The first settlement had ruined those for whose benefit it was devised, the last saved millions of much enduring men from misery and ruin. The labours of the renowned Toder Mull, under the
illustrious Akbar, in the department of revenue settlements which historians have never ceased to applaud, were rivalled, if not eclipsed by those of Robert Bird; but there was no public recognition of the services of one who had conferred such inestimable blessings on a country as large and populous as Great Britain. He was only a Company’s servant, and the scene of his duties lay in India, and he was allowed to pass into obscurity on his return to his native land, and sink into the grave without the slightest mark of distinction.
But the measure which above all others has endeared the memory of Lord William Bentinck to the natives of India, is that which he inaugurated of introducing them to honourable employment in the public service. Allusion has been made in a former chapter to the cardinal error of Lord Cornwallis’s policy, that of excluding them from every office except the lowest and the worst paid. This exclusion was fortified by the peculiar constitution of the Company, which remunerated the Court of Directors for their labours in the government of India by patronage, and not by money, and thus created a strong tendency to secure the monopoly of offices to their nominees. It would be difficult to discover in history another instance of this ostracism of a whole people. The grandsons of the Gauls who resisted Caesar became Roman senators. The grandsons of the Rajpoots who opposed Baber in his attempt to establish the Mogul power, and at the battle of Biana all but nipped his enterprise in the bud, were employed by his grandson Akbar in the government of provinces and the command of armies, and they fought valiantly for him on the shores of the bay of Bengal and on the banks of the Oxus. They rewarded his confidence by unshaken loyalty to his throne, even when it was endangered by the conspiracies of his own Mohamedan satraps. But wherever our sovereignty was established in India, the path of honourable ambition and every prospect of fame, wealth, and power was at once closed on the natives of the country. This proscription was rendered the more galling by comparison with the practice of the native
courts around, where the highest prizes of power were open to universal competition. The contrast was, moreover, aggravated by the fact that the native princes themselves, the Nizam and Tippoo, Sindia and Holkar, and Runjeet Sing, adopted a more liberal policy, and freely entrusted offices of the highest responsibility, both military and political, to European foreigners. No benefit which we might confer on the country could be deemed an, adequate compensation for the loss of all share in the government, one of the highest and most honourable aspirations of humanity. It was vain to expect any attachment to our rule when even the best affected of our native subjects could see no remedy for this degradation but in the subversion of our government. The enlargement of the native mind by education only served to augment the evil, by sharpening expectations which could not be gratified. The argument for this policy was based on a notion of the administrative superiority of Englishmen, and a persuasion of the utter unfitness of the natives for any of the functions of government, mingled with a dread that their venality would be injurious to the administration. It seemed to be forgotten that it was idle to hope for any improvement in the character of the natives while they were excluded from all places of trust and influence, and left without any object of pursuit but the gratification of their own passions. Some feeble attempts had been made in preceding administrations to modify the system, but they were not based on any broad and generous principle, and were intended simply to relieve the labours of the Company’s favourite officers of the civil service. Lord William Bentinck brought with him to India a deep conviction of the viciousness of this policy, and a determination “to throw open the doors of distinction to the natives, and grant them a full participation in all the honours and emoluments of the state.” As far back as 1824, the Court of Directors had expressed their conviction that to secure promptitude in the administration of justice, native functionaries must be employed to dispose of all suits, of whatever description and amount.
The leading members of Government were fully prepared to abandon the Cornwallis doctrine, and to give the natives an interest in the stability of our government by giving them a share in the management of it. But it required an intrepid reformer like Lord William Bentinck at the head of the government, to carry out these large views. This liberal policy was inaugurated, by the Regulations of 1831, which completely reconstructed the legal establishments of the Bengal Presidency, and entrusted the primary jurisdiction of all suits, of whatever character or amount, not excluding those instituted against Government, to native agency. The new system provided for three grades of native judges, the highest that of Principal Sudder Ameen, on 500 rupees a-month, subsequently raised to 750, which is still egregiously inadequate to the position and responsibilities of the office. The principle of employing natives in important offices was gradually extended to other departments, and it has resulted in imparting a degree of vigour and popularity to the British administration which it never enjoyed before. So greatly indeed has this privilege been appreciated by the natives, that there is some risk of their losing the manly feeling of independence in their great eagerness for public employ. The policy introduced by Lord William Bentinck has been zealously and nobly followed up by his successors. New paths of distinction have been opened to native ambition, and a native judge now sits on the bench of the highest court in Calcutta, and natives of rank and influence occupy seats in the Legislative Council.
The most benignant and memorable act of Lord William Bentinck’s administration was the abolition of Suttees. Some have questioned whether this atrocious rite could be traced to a religious origin, but it was always consecrated by the solemnities of religion, and it has been practised for twenty centuries, in a greater or less degree, wherever Hindooism has been professed. Even in Bali, one of the remote islands of the Eastern Archipelago, where the Hindoo faith still lingers, no fewer than seventy widows were burnt alive
towards the close of the last century, with the body of one of the rajas. It was discouraged and sometimes prohibited by the Mohamedans, and Akbar himself on one occasion, issued from his palace on horseback and rescued a victim from the pile. The first effort to interfere with it under the Company’s Government was made by Mr. George Udny, the friend and associate of Sir John Shore, and by Dr. Carey. Lord Wellesley to whom they presented an address, was then on the eve of quitting the Government, but he recorded a minute in favour of abolishing the rite, stating “that it was one of the fundamental maxims of the British Government to consult the opinions, customs, and prejudices of the natives, but only when they were consistent with the principles of humanity, morality and reason.” The Sudder Court, however, put back the cause of abolition in 1810, by issuing a Circular Order setting forth the circumstances in which the act was to be considered illegal, on which Mr. Courtenay Smith, one of the greatest men who ever adorned the bench of that court, asserted that “these orders had only served to spread and confirm this execrable usage.” On this and every subsequent attempt to lessen the evil by regulating it, the Court of Directors justly remarked that such measures tended rather to increase than to diminish the practice, and that, by prohibiting it in certain cases, the Government appeared to sanction it in all others, and was thus made an ostensible party to the sacrifice. The Bombay Government committed a still more fatal error in employing one of its European officers to construct the pile in order to give the unhappy victim an opportunity of escape, if she was unable to sustain the torture of the flames. Subsequent to 1820 the question was discussed with increasing earnestness in England and in India, but some of the most distinguished of the public officers, Mr. Colebrooke, Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone, and Colonel Sutherland, shrunk from the bold proposal of a direct prohibition, and some went so far as to assert that it would violate the rule of toleration to which our Government owed its stability. In 1823, the Court of Directors sent a
despatch to India, in which all the arguments which had been adduced against the abolition were earnestly and sincerely combated, and the question was referred to the consideration of the local Government, with an implied expression of the gratification it would afford them to learn that the rite could be safely abolished. Lord Amherst consulted the most eminent of the Government servants, but the diversity of the opinions they expressed only served to increase his embarrassment. Mr. Courtenay Smith and Mr. Alexander Ross boldly urged the immediate and peremptory prohibition of the rite. Mr. Harington, who had been for a quarter of a century a great authority on all local questions, and who was withal a man of strong religious feelings, considered that the rite could be extinguished only by a gradual improvement among the people through the dissemination of moral instruction. Lord Amherst was obliged to inform the Court that he could not, in such circumstances, recommend the absolute interdiction of it under legal penalties, but he trusted to the diffusion of knowledge then in progress for the eventual suppression of “this detestable superstition.” In July, 1827, the Court placed the question in the hands of the Governor-General, requesting him, after serious deliberation, to determine in what degree the ordinary course of civilization could be accelerated by a judicious and seasonable interposition of authority.
Such was the position of this question when Lord William Bentinck landed in Calcutta, feeling, as he said, the dreadful responsibility hanging over his head, in this world and the next, if, as the Governor-General of India, he was to consent to the continuation of this practice one moment longer, not than our security, but than the real happiness and permanent welfare of the native population rendered indispensable. He resolved to take up the question without any delay, and “come to as early a determination as a mature consideration would allow,” and “having made that determination, to stand by it, yea or no, and set his conscience at rest.” Immediately after his arrival, he
circulated a confidential communication among fifty or sixty of the chief military and civil officers of Government, repining their opinion as to the effect which the abolition of “this impious and inhuman sacrifice not of one but of thousands of victims,” was likely to produce in the native community generally, and on the minds of the sepoys in particular. The majority of the officers in the army asserted that the immediate and peremptory abolition of the practice would create no alarm among the native troops. Of the civil functionaries, three fourths advocated its positive prohibition. The most strenuous advocate for non-interference was the eminent orientalist, Dr. Horace Wilson, whose literary pursuits had imparted a strong oriental bias to his sympathies, and who was the great patron, and the idol, of pundits and brahmins. He affirmed that the practice could not be abolished without doing violence to the conscientious belief of every order of Hindoos; that it would be a direct interference with their religion, and an infringement of the pledge we had given them to support it; that it would diffuse a detestation of British authority, create extensive dissatisfaction and distrust, and alienate the affections of the people. The warmest advocate of abolition was Mr. – afterwards Sir William – Macnaghten, second, as an orientalist, only to Dr. Wilson. He admitted that, according to the notions of the Hindoos, the sacrifice of suttee was a religious act of the highest merit, and that it was unjust as well as unwise to interfere with religious creeds, however absurd. “Let the Hindoo,” he said, “believe in his three hundred and thirty millions of gods until it may please the Almighty to reclaim him from his idolatry; but let him not immolate thousands of helpless females on the altar of fanaticism, in defiance of the eternal laws of nature and the immutable principles of justice.” He ridiculed the phantom of danger: “Under the Mohamedans, the Hindoos tamely endured all sorts of insults to their religion and violation of their prejudices. Their temples were polluted and destroyed, and many were constrained to become Mussulmans, yet there
was no general organized disaffection. The rite was not respected by the hardy and warlike Hindoos of the north-west, but by the sleek and timid inhabitants of Bengal, the fat and greasy citizens of Calcutta, whose very existence depended on the prosperity of the British Government.”
Fortified by the opinion of the most experienced and the most liberal minded men in the service, and confident of the support of the Court of Directors, Lord William Bentinck and his two counsellors, Mr. Butterworth Bayley and Sir Charles Metcalfe, on the 14th of December, 1829, passed that celebrated Regulation which “declared the practice of Suttee illegal and punishable by the criminal courts as culpable homicide.” Thus by one bold and resolute effort, practice which had polluted India from the remotest antiquity, was extinguished under the flag of England, and for the first time since the introduction of Hindooism, “the Ganges flowed unblooded to the sea.” Twenty-five attempts at suttee were made after the passing of the Regulation, but they were prevented by the simple interposition of the police. Not the slightest feeling of alarm, still less of resentment, was exhibited in the army, or in the country. In the course of a few years, the practice became a matter of history like the sacrifice of children at Saugor, and the enlightened Hindoo of the present day looks back on this barbarous custom with the same feelings with which Englishmen look back on the human sacrifices of the Druids. Lord William Bentinck was enabled within a twelvemonth to assure the Directors that there never was a greater bugbear than the fear of revolt. The only circle in which the abolition created any sensation was that of the rich and orthodox baboos of Calcutta, who resented the decision of Government, and more especially the promptitude with which it had been carried into execution, as it deprived them of the gratification of obstructing it. They drew up a petition to the Government in which the fine Roman hand of their European counsellor was distinctly visible, demanding the restoration of the rite as part and parcel
of Hindooism, with which Parliament had pledged itself not to interfere. The native organ of the party in his weekly journal affirmed that the signatories to the petition for restoring the “sacred rite of Suttee” included “the learned, the wealthy, the virtuous, the noble, the polite, and the mild.” But Lord William Bentinck turned a deaf ear to every remonstrance, and refused to suspend the Regulation for a moment.
A memorial was then drawn up to the Privy Council in England, appealing against the proceedings of the Government of India, because they contravened the Act of Parliament which ordained that “nothing done in consequence of the rule of the caste should be held to be a crime though not justifiable by the laws of England.” The appeal was taken into consideration in June 1832, and the venerable Lord Wellesley, the first Governor-General who had recorded his condemnation of the rite, had the high gratification of assisting in dismissing the petition, and in giving to this sublime act of humanity the sanction of the highest tribunal in the British empire.
To Lord William Bentinck is also due the merit of having established the rights of conscience in India. To prevent defections from Hindooism, the Hindoo legislators had enacted that ancestral property should descend only to those who performed the funeral obsequies of a deceased parent or relative, according to the rule of the shasters, and the man who renounced the Hindoo creed, was thus consigned to poverty. The Mohamedans, who were enjoined to propagate their religion by the sword, treated this injunction with profound contempt. No Hindoo was ever permitted to occupy a seat on the bench during their supremacy, and the Mohamedan judges, who rejected Hindoo law, were not likely to deprive a proselyte to their own creed of his patrimony. Mr. Hastings, in a spirit of liberality, guaranteed to the Hindoos and Mussulmans the enjoyment of their own laws of inheritance in his first code of 1772. This equitable rule was subsequently re-enacted both in England and in India, by those who were as ignorant as Mr. Hastings was of the intolerant
character of the Hindoo law of property to which they were giving a British sanction. Lord William Bentinck resolved to relieve the Government from the odium of countenancing this illiberal law and, to avoid a fanatical opposition, took advantage of the occasion of remodelling and re-enacting several existing regulations, quietly to introduce a clause which provided that “the Hindoo and Mohamedan law of inheritance should apply only to those who were bond fide professors of those religions at the time of its application.” The law was passed without observation, and the tendency of it to restore liberty of conscience was not discovered by the bigoted Hindoos till it came into operation, when it was found to be too late to demand its repeal. In the same spirit of liberality he abrogated another rule, equally unjust, but of our own creation.
The Mohamedans had encouraged proselytism by the bestowal of honours and estates to office, 1831. and titles, and some of the most eminent of their provincial governors – among others the great Moorshed-kooly-khan, the founder of Moorshedabad – were converts from Hindooism. The Company and their servants in India, from that dread of offending native prejudices, which, though in some cases judicious and prudent, too often led to the toleration of evil, had run into the opposite extreme, and expressly debarred native converts to Christianity from holding any post, however humble, under their government. Lord William Bentinck was determined to extinguish this disreputable anomaly, and in the same Regulation which threw open the public service to the natives of the country, ordained that there should be no exclusion from office on account of caste, creed, or nation. The publication of this enactment demonstrated the egregious error into which the Government had fallen by supposing that the unnatural stigma they had cast on their own creed, would tend to conciliate and gratify the Hindoos. Those who had been most clamorous for the restoration of suttee were the first to come forward and applaud this act of liberality and justice.
It was during the administration of Lord William Bentinck that the first energetic measures were adopted to extirpate the Thugs, a fraternity of hereditary assassins, who subsisted on the plunder of the victims they strangled. Few districts were without resident Thugs, but they generally adopted the occupation of agriculturists to conceal their nefarious profession, and no district was free from their depredations. They were in the habit of quitting their homes in a body, leaving their wives and their children in the village. They generally attached themselves, as if by accident, to the travellers they met, from whom they obtained such information as they required, by a free and cheerful intercourse. On reaching some spot suited to their purpose, a strip of cloth, or an unfolded turban, was suddenly thrown around the neck of the victim, the ends of which were crossed and drawn tight till he ceased to breathe. His body was then rifled and thrown into a pit hastily dug with a pickaxe which had been consecrated by religious ceremonies. The Thugs were bound to secrecy by solemn oaths, and recognized each other by peculiar signs and a slang vocabulary. They considered themselves as acting under the immediate auspices of the deity, and had a special veneration for Doorga, the tutelary goddess of vagabonds, thieves, and murderers. They observed her festivals with superstitious punctuality, and presented offerings at her most celebrated shrines in various parts of the country. They had a firm confidence in signs and omens, and endeavoured through them to ascertain her pleasure regarding their expeditions, and considered themselves as acting under a divine commission when they were favourable. The gangs were recruited with juvenile apprentices, who were gradually and cautiously initiated into the mysteries of the profession by one of the elders, who was ever after regarded in the light of a spiritual guide. The number of their victims in the year was counted by thousands. The subordinate native chiefs and officers in Central India, as well as the zemindars and policemen in our own provinces, to whom they were well
known, connived at their practices on the condition of sharing their plunder. The establishment of British functionaries in the native states first brought this atrocious system to light, and some feeble and ineffectual efforts were made to eradicate it. Lord William Bentinck was resolved to spare no exertion to deliver India from this scourge. With this view, he created a special department for the suppression of Thuggee, and placed it under the direction of Major – afterwards Sir William – Sleeman, whose name is inseparably associated in the annals of British India with this mission of humanity. He threw his whole soul into the work, and organized a comprehensive system of operations, which embraced every province; by means of approvers who turned king’s evidence, he obtained a complete clue to the proceedings and movements of the whole fraternity, as well as the means of identifying its members, and was thus enabled, with the efficient staff of officers whom he had the discernment to select, to take the field simultaneously against the various gangs in every direction. It was not among the least important results of the establishment of one paramount authority throughout the continent of India, that the officers in this department were enabled to hunt the Thugs without impediment from province to province, whether under British or native rule, and to leave them no prospect of shelter in any district. In the course of six years, two thousand of these miscreants were arrested and tried, and three fourths of them sentenced to imprisonment, transportation, or death. The confederacy was effectually broken up, and travelling in India ceased to be dangerous. These efforts were crowned by the establishment of a school of industry at Jubbulpore, for the Thugs who had turned approvers, and for the children of convicted offenders. The men were ignorant of any trade save robbery and murder, but in the factory they were instructed in every branch of manufacture, and became skilled artisans, capable of earning an honest livelihood by their labour. The children, instead of being trained to crime, were taught the rudiments of learning
and trade, and fitted to become useful members of society. The scene of cheerful and industrious activity which the institution exhibited, viewed in contrast with the former occupation of its inmates, was calculated to afford the most grateful reflections to the mind of the philanthropist.
The attention of Lord William Bentinck immediately after his arrival was devoted to the establishment of steam communication on the Ganges, and between India and England. Under his directions two vessels were built in Calcutta and fitted up with engines imported from England, and they performed in the brief period of three weeks the distance of eight hundred miles between Calcutta and Allahabad, which had ordinarily occupied three months. The success of this experiment induced him to press the completion of a steam fleet on the Court of Directors, and they responded to his wishes with a laudable alacrity. The system of steam navigation on the rivers in Hindostan was thus fully established under the auspices of Government, and eventually transferred to private enterprise. A still more important object with the Governor-General was the abridgment of the voyage between England and India, which he endeavoured to promote with untiring ardour. A considerable fund had been raised for this object in Calcutta as early as 1823, and a premium was offered for any steamer which should perform the voyage between the two countries within seventy days. The “Enterprise,” commanded by Captain Johnson, was the first to compete for the premium, but she was a hundred and thirteen days in reaching Calcutta from Falmouth. The route by the Cape was consequently considered unsuited to the object. An attempt was then made by the King’s Government, under the direction of Colonel Chesney, to open a communication by way of the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf, but the obstacles were found to be insuperable. It remained therefore to make an experiment by the Red Sea, and Lord William Bentinck directed the “Hugh Lindsay,” a small steamer of four hundred tons, built for Government at
Bombay, to be despatched from that port on the 20th March, 1830, to Suez which she reached in a month. Three other voyages were subsequently performed by that vessel, and it was clearly demonstrated that, with suitable arrangements in the Mediterranean, the voyage from Bombay to England might be accomplished with ease in fifty-five days. But the Court of Directors raised an objection to these experiments on the score of the great expense they entailed. Lord William Bentinck replied that the revenues of India could not, in his estimation, be appropriated to any object more conducive to the good of both countries than that of bringing them into close communication with each other. The Chairman of the Court, however, questioned whether the end in view would be worth the probable expenditure, and the India House at length positively prohibited any further employment of the “Hugh Lindsay” for the conveyance of mails. The subject was soon after brought before the House of Commons, and the committee appointed to investigate it reported that a regular and expeditious communication by steam between England and India was an object of national importance, and that measures ought to be immediately adopted to establish it by way of the Red Sea, at the joint expense of the Company and the Crown. The indifference of the India House was overruled by the higher authority of Parliament, and the “Hugh Lindsay” was again put in requisition and despatched with the mails to Suez, but the Court of Directors were lukewarm on the subject, and the enterprise, conducted without spirit, fell again into abeyance. A subscription was likewise raised at the three Presidencies to the extent of three lacs of rupees for the promotion of this object, but the plans which were devised proved abortive.
It was reserved for the Peninsular and Oriental Company to carry to a successful issue the comprehensive views to which Lord William Bentinck had devoted his attention, both in India and after his return to England. This Company, which was originally established for service to the ports in the Peninsula, was encouraged by a
Royal charter to extend its labours to India. Commencing with a small capital and a limited object, it has gradually grown up, by a rare combination of enterprise, prudence, and perseverance, into a great national undertaking. During the quarter of a century which has elapsed since its first vessel was despatched to Calcutta in 1843, the sphere of its operations has been expanded till it embraces the whole of the eastern hemisphere. Its fleet, second only to the navies of England, France, and America, now comprises more than sixty steamers, aggregating 100,000 tons, with 20,000 horse-power. By these powerful vessels passengers, letters, books, and merchandise are conveyed, week after week, over 11,000 miles of sea to the extreme points of Sydney in Australia, and Yokohama in Japan; and the voyages are performed with a degree of speed and punctuality which would have appeared fabulous half a century ago. Mails starting from different and distant extremities have traversed half the globe and reached their destination in England, simultaneously, within an hour and a half of their appointed time. The importance of this enterprise of a private company to the interests of the mother country, and her eastern dependencies, it would be difficult to overrate. It has given a character of solidity and compactness to the British empire in the Eastern world, which enables us to contemplate its expansion without any feeling of apprehension. It has linked the most distant countries of the east with the European world, and for the first time after the lapse of more than twenty centuries, given full effect to the views of Alexander the Great when he founded Alexandria, and destined it to be the highway between Europe and Asia. It has covered the Red Sea with steamers, and converted it into an English lake. It has given a political importance to the land of the Pharaohs, which constrains England to consider the maintenance of its independence, even at the hazard of war, an indispensable article of national policy. The empire of India belongs to the nearest European power, and it is the enterprise of this Company which has conferred the advantage of this position on
England. Our base of operations in Asia is the sea, but while transports were four or five months going round the Cape, our interests were always exposed to adverse contingencies. It is the spirited exertions of this Company which have brought the ports of India within four weeks’ reach of the resources of England, and completed our ascendency in the east.
The cause of education received a fresh impulse as well as a beneficial direction during Lord William Bentinck’s administration. The earliest movement of Government towards the intellectual improvement of India dates from the year 1813, when on the motion of Mr. Robert Percy Smith, who had been Advocate-General in Calcutta, and, as usual, obtained a seat in Parliament on his return, a rider was added to the India Bill, directing that a lac of rupees should be appropriated “to the revival and promotion of literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories out of any surplus which might remain of the rents, revenues, and profits of our territorial acquisitions.” This vote was interpreted both in Leadenhall Street and in Calcutta to apply chiefly to the revival and encouragement of Hindoo and Mohamedan literature; and, considering the brahminised feelings of the period of Mr. Smith’s residence in Calcutta, there can be little doubt that the grant was intended primarily, though not exclusively, for that object. During Lord Minto’s administration, the only public money expended in education was devoted to the establishment of Hindoo colleges, with the view, as the Government stated, of giving the people the benefit of the beautiful morality embodied in the shasters. Mr. Dowdeswell, the superintendent of police in the lower provinces, had stated in his report, that he could not expect to obtain credit for his narrative of a thousandth part of the atrocities of the dacoits, but the only remedy he could propose was that the institutions of Mohamedanism and Hindooism should be revived, and gradually moulded into a system of
instruction for these banditti. The fund voted by Parliament was allowed to accumulate for ten years, when Mr. Adam distinguished his brief tenure of office in 1823 by appointing a Committee of public instruction to suggest measures for the better education of the people in useful knowledge, and the arts and sciences of Europe, and for the improvement of public morals. This enlightened movement was soon after strengthened by the receipt of an unexpected despatch from Leadenhall Street. Seven years before this period, Lord Hastings had suggested to Mr. Charles Grant the propriety of appropriating the Parliamentary grant to the support of schools rather than of Hindoo colleges. Mr. Grant replied that there had always been in the Direction men of influence opposed to the intellectual improvement of the natives; they were gradually dying out, but it would still be premature to urge the course which the Governor-General proposed. But Mr. James Mill, the historian, the advocate of all liberal principles, now occupied an important position in the India office, where he had acquired that influence which is naturally exercised by a great mind. A proposal had been received from the Government of India to improve the Hindoo college at Benares, and the Mohamedan college in Calcutta, and to add to them a Hindoo college in the metropolis. It fell to Mr. Mill to draft the reply to this despatch, and he stated that “in professing to establish seminaries for the purpose of teaching mere Hindoo or mere Mohamedan literature, the Government bound itself to teach a great deal of what was frivolous, not a little of what was purely mischievous, and a small remainder indeed in which utility was in any way concerned. The great end of Government should be, not to teach Hindoo or Mohamedan learning, but useful learning.” But Orientalism was still supreme in Calcutta. High attainments in Sanscrit and Arabic formed the surest road to promotion and honour in the public service, and the leading members of Government were naturally partial to the cultivation of those studies which had raised them to distinction. The education department, moreover,
was under the absolute control of Dr. Horace Wilson, the great champion of native literature and institutions. The Parliamentary grant was accordingly – with some trifling exceptions to save appearances – devoted for ten years longer to the promotion of studies, of which the mode, the medium, and the scope were altogether oriental in their character, and designed to conciliate old prejudices, and to perpetuate old ideas.
Meanwhile, a predilection for English was rapidly spreading among the natives in and around the metropolis, and a demand for instruction in that language, and the acquisition of European science, was pressed with increased earnestness on the attention of the Board of Education. The Board itself was divided into two hostile parties; the Orientalists, headed by Dr. Wilson, who deprecated any interference with the patronage of Hindoo literature, and the Anglicists, as they were termed, the advocates of a European education through the medium of English, who were animated by the energy and the counsels of Mr. – now Sir Charles – Trevelyan, to whom the country is under lasting obligations for his untiring zeal at this critical period in the cause of sound and liberal education. The division in the Board brought its operations to a dead lock, and an appeal was made to Government. Mr. Macaulay, the greatest English classic of the age, was now a member of the Supreme Council, as well as President of the Board of Education, and he denounced with irresistible force the continued promotion of Orientalism, as tending, not to support the progress of truth but to delay the death of expiring error. “We are at present,” he said, “a Board for printing books which are of less value than the paper on which they are printed was when it was blank, and for giving artificial encouragement to absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, and absurd theology.” The question was brought to an issue on the 7th March, 1835, by the resolution of the Governor-General in Council, that “the great object of the British Government
ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India, and that the funds appropriated to education would be best employed on English education alone.” No college or school of oriental learning was, however, to be abolished, while the natives were inclined to avail themselves of it; the stipends to the teachers and students were to be continued, but not renewed; and the publication of oriental works and of translations of medical and mathematical works into Arabic, which neither the teachers nor pupils could comprehend, was at once discontinued.
This resolution encountered a stern opposition, and the Asiatic Societies in Calcutta and in London, as well as on the Continent. came forward to deprecate it as a severe discouragement of the cultivation of oriental literature. The design of these associations was to prosecute researches into the history, antiquities, and literature of the east, and to unfold the ancient records of Asia to the European world. It was the unquestionable duty of a liberal Government to patronize such labours, and to make suitable provision from the public funds for the preservation of the ancient monuments of Indian civilization, whether in stone or manuscript; but it was a dereliction of duty to divert to the promotion of this object the scanty funds allotted to the education and improvement of the people. Nor was the patronage of the state necessary to the maintenance of Hindoo learning. It had continued to flourish for centuries without any succour from the Mohamedan princes, and there were ample funds in the country for its support, apart from those of the Treasury. To prevent the settlement of the interlopers whom the Directors could not entirely exclude from the country, they had adopted and rigidly enforced the principle, altogether novel in the history of conquest, of prohibiting their own countrymen from acquiring an interest of any description in the soil. With the exception of the estates held by Mohamedans, which were comparatively few, the whole rental of the Gangetic valley was in the hands of Hindoos, and available for the
encouragement of their institutions. The celebrity of all religious, social, and family festivals, in popular estimation, depended on the entertainment of brahmins, and the gifts bestowed on them were proportioned to their literary reputation. Hence it was impossible to discover how the withdrawal of Government aid from the two or three colleges it had established could affect in any perceptible degree the cultivation of the sacred language of the Vedas. The encouragement of English was, on the other hand, one of the highest blessings which could be conferred on the country. It unlocked to the natives all the stores of European knowledge and science, and brought them into association with the highest civilization in the world. It shook the fabric of error and the empire of superstition which had survived the lapse of twenty-five centuries. It introduced a flood of light into the minds of the natives upon every object of human enquiry, and communicated to them the secret of our own greatness. The judicious resolution of Lord William Bentinck has been followed by a degree of success which exceeds the most sanguine expectations, and the language and literature of England have now become as familiar to the upper ten thousand, as ever the language of Rome was within the sphere of her conquests. The only drawback connected with it has been the neglect of vernacular education, through which alone the great body of the people can receive the elements of mental improvement. But public measures in every department in India depend so greatly on the idiosyncrasies of those who happen, for the time, to be in power, that there is no reason to despair of seeing this error remedied at some future time, and the million rescued from the barbarism of ignorance.
The cause of sound and enlightened education was materially promoted during this period by the efforts of the General Assembly, under the superintendence of the Rev. Dr. Duff. He proceeded to India in 1830, with the view of establishing an institution which should combine secular instruction of the highest order, through
the medium of English, with an unreserved communication of the doctrines and morals of Christianity, which were altogether, excluded from the Government colleges. The tuition imparted in the institution he founded embraced every branch of a liberal education, and was in no respect inferior to that which the colleges supported by the state professed to bestow. He and his colleagues made no secret of the fact that their system of education was inseparably associated with Christian instruction, but their rooms were soon crowded with twelve hundred scholars, and the teachers were regarded with feelings of distinguished confidence. The eminent success of this institution is to be traced to the sturdy energy, and the classical endowments of its conductors, who are entitled to public gratitude for their exertions to elevate the native character, and to give the country the benefit of a complete education, in every department of human pursuit.
No attempt worthy of the Government had been made before the time of Lord William Bentinck to supersede native quackery by the cultivation of medical science. In the Sanscrit and Arabic colleges the systems of Galen and Hippocrates were taught in combination with a smattering of European ideas; and a public institution existed, though of a very inferior description, for training native doctors, as they were called, but they never rose above the dignity of apothecaries. As the crowning act of his administration, the Governor-General founded a medical college in Calcutta in the month of March, 1835, to afford, through the medium of English treatises and English lectures, a professional education to the natives in every branch of the science, as cultivated in Europe. The most eminent medical officers in the service were placed in the professors’ chairs; a library and a museum were established, and every appliance necessary to place it on the same footing of efficiency as European colleges was furnished with a bountiful hand. Sage men of long experience and reputed wisdom confidently predicted the failure of the experiment. Contact with a dead body had for twenty centuries
been considered a mortal pollution by the Hindoos, and it was traditionally affirmed that native prejudices were invincible. But these anticipations, when brought to the test of actual practice, proved, as usual, to be the phantoms of a morbid imagination. Natives of high caste were found to resort freely to the dissecting room, and to handle the scalpel with as much indifference as European students. In the first year they assisted in dissecting sixty subjects, and the feeling of ardour with which they entered on these studies, and the aptitude for acquiring knowledge which they exhibited created a universal feeling of surprise. The downfall of one prejudice paved the way for the removal of others. In 1844, Dwarkenath Tagore, one of the most liberal and enlightened native gentlemen of the time, offered to take two of the students with him to England, and complete their professional education at his own expense. His views were cordially seconded by Dr. Mouat, the secretary of the college, to whose ability and energy the infant institution was indebted in no small measure for its efficiency, and he persuaded two of the most advanced pupils to accept the offer and cross the “black water,” though at the risk of forfeiting the privileges of their caste. They entered the medical schools in London, and successfully competed with the best scientific students in England.
The eminent services of Sir John Malcolm during a career of forty years in India, were tardily rewarded in the year 1827 with the Government of Bombay. His political opinions carry little weight in comparison with those of Munro, Elphinstone, Metcalfe, and others, but no officer of the Company ever possessed in a higher degree the happy art of conciliating the attachment of the people. He did not, like too many of his countrymen, keep himself aloof from the natives, but associated with them with all that freedom and ease, and that genial humour for which the French in India have always been more distinguished than the English. In the provinces of Central India he was
remembered with the same feelings of affectionate veneration which Bussy had excited in the Deccan, of whom it was remarked, that fifty years after he had left Hyderabad, the highest honour which the common people could pay to a European was to address him as Mons. Bussy. In the peaceful condition of Western India at the period of Sir John’s appointment there was little scope for the exercise of his political or diplomatic talents, and his administration might have passed almost without observation, but for the collision which took place between the Supreme Court and his Government.
For a quarter of a century Bombay had been content with the court of a Recorder for the administration of English law, and the bench had been adorned with the genius of Sir James Mackintosh. In 1823, the growing importance of the town and port rendered it advisable to establish a Supreme Court of Judicature, with three judges, as at Calcutta and Madras. The recollection of the unseemly and perilous struggle between the Court in Calcutta and the Government, in the days of Hastings and Impey, might have suggested the necessity of preventing a similar conflict by a clear definition of the powers and jurisdiction of the new court. But the same error was repeated, and with the same mischievous results. The new judges gave the utmost latitude of construction to the indefinite powers conferred on them by their charter, and manifested the same disposition to treat the Government of the Company with contempt, and to encroach on its authority, which had been exhibited in Calcutta fifty years before. In their “thirst for jurisdiction,” as the great historian of India remarked of the Supreme Court of Bengal, “they availed themselves of the hooks and handles which the ensnaring system of law administered by them afforded in abundance, to draw within their pale the whole transactions of the country.” It was in reference to these remarks of Mr. Mill, that the Bombay Chief Justice went out of his way to assert that “if the whole of what
Mr. Mill had said about judges and law had been inserted in the Bombay Courier, he knew where the editor of that paper would be now, or in a day or two.” The conflict between the two powers was brought to an issue in 1829. A Mahratta youth of fourteen, Moro Roghoonath, was left at the decease of his parents under the guardianship of his uncle, Pandoorang, a man of the highest family connections, and a kinsman of the late Peshwa. A near relative of the girl to whom Moro had been affianced, was anxious to obtain the wardship of the wealthy minor, and was advised by the lawyers to prefer his suit to the Supreme Court. He accordingly proceeded to Bombay, and under their directions made affidavit that the youth was compulsorily detained by Pandoorang at the risk of his life, and a writ of habeas corpus was immediately granted to bring him up to the Presidency. Under the instructions of Government, the Magistrate resisted the execution of the writ, alleging that neither the uncle nor the nephew had ever resided, or been possessed of property, within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and were not therefore amenable to its process. The judges maintained on the contrary, that their Court had been invested with all the powers of the Court of King’s Bench, and was bound to watch over the liberty of the King’s subjects to the farthest limits of the Presidency. Sir John Malcolm addressed a temperate and conciliatory letter to them, pointing out the injurious consequences of a contest between the Royal Court and the Company’s Government, and proposing the suspension of all proceedings pending a reference to England. This communication was treated as an unconstitutional and a criminal proceeding, and denounced as an insult to the majesty of British law. During these discussions two of the judges died, but Sir John Grant, who was left alone on the bench, continued to multiply the issue of writs. A criminal, who had been sentenced to imprisonment for two years by the Sessions Judge of one of the districts in the interior, was released by order of the Supreme Court. The Guickwar
refused the payment of a loan due to the Company, under the impression that the Supreme Court had power to release him from the obligation. The authority of Government was shaken to its foundation, and it became necessary to vindicate it in the eyes of the natives. Sir John Malcolm deemed it his duty to resist the encroachments of the Court with the same vigour which Warren Hastings had exhibited under similar circumstances in Calcutta. He placed a guard at the door of Pandoorang’s residence to prevent the entrance of the constable, and he issued a circular to all the Company’s Judges and Magistrates directing them to make no return to any of the writs of the Court. Sir John Grant, finding the Government immoveable, closed the doors of the Court, and they remained shut for two months. The question was referred to the Privy Council in England, and his proceedings were pronounced to be utterly repugnant to law. Lord Ellenborough, the President of the Board of Control, in his private letter to Sir John Malcolm, also expressed his strong disapprobation of the measures of the Court, and informed him that he had appointed .two other judges, one of whom was the Advocate-General at Bombay, and that no further mischief was to be apprehended, as “Sir John Grant would be like a wild elephant led away between two tame ones.” Elated with this communication, Sir John Malcolm read it aloud at his own breakfast table, amidst the acclamation of thirty or forty guests. A copy of it found its way – it was said mysteriously – into the Calcutta newspapers, and created a profound sensation throughout the country. The Governor was chagrined at the position in which he was placed by this disclosure of a private communication, but instead of ascribing his mortification to his own indiscretion, attributed it to the liberty which Lord William Bentinck bad given to the press, which was to him an object of abhorrence. Sir John Grant immediately retired from the Bombay bench.
The current of Indian affairs in England at this period, presented some singular exhibitions, both
at the Board of Control and in Parliament. It has been already noticed that the debt due by the Nizam to the banking house of Palmer & Co. was liquidated in 1823, and that they became insolvent within a twelvemonth, when their affairs were placed in the hands of trustees. During the discussions on this subject at the India House, the Court of Directors had solicited the opinion of three of the most eminent counsel in England whether British subjects in India were not debarred by Act of Parliament from enforcing claims for interest beyond twelve per cent., and they affirmed that such claims could not be sustained. Soon after, Lord Hastings brought the question forward in the House of Lords and it was referred to the decision of the twelve judges, who decided that the limitation of the rate of interest by Parliament did not apply to loans made to the subjects of independent princes by British subjects residing in their dominions. The opinion of counsel was sent out, forthwith, to India from the India House with alacrity, and the Resident at Hyderabad was directed to give it all due publicity. This notification ought, in all fairness, to have been withdrawn as soon as the judges had pronounced that opinion illegal, but it was allowed to continue in force, and the trustees of Palmer & Co. complained, not without reason, that under these circumstances they found it impossible to realize the debts due to the estate. The chief debtor was Moneer-ool-moolk a near relative of the Nizam, and the ostensible prime minister He had made over some of his jageers to Palmer & Co., and the rents had been duly collected and regularly applied to the liquidation of his debts, which had been fully effected, together with interest, at the rate of twelve per cent. The remainder of their demand consisted simply of a balance of interest beyond that rate. Decrees had been obtained for this claim in the local courts, but it was difficult to execute them against one who occupied so high a position in the state without strong external pressure. Application was accordingly made on the subject to the Court of Directors, who drafted a reply in July, 1830, in which the
Resident was forbidden to interfere in the matter. But the President of the Board of Control took a different view of the case, and returned the draft with this material modification, that the Resident was directed not only to inform the Nizam that the Government would hear with much satisfaction that the house had recovered their just claims from their private debtors, but also to adopt measures to promote this object. The Court remonstrated against these alterations, which reversed the policy they had resolutely maintained for ten years, of refusing the influence of their Government in reference to the private debts of the firm. They justly argued that the exorbitant interest which constituted the present claim arose from the risk with which the transaction was originally attended, and from the uncertainty of payment, both of which ceased to exist with the interposition of Government. The remonstrance was not without effect, and the despatch was withheld.
The question slumbered till the beginning of 1832, when the Whigs being in office, the Court of Directors were desired by the Board to prepare a despatch in the room of that to which they had formerly raised objections. But when it arrived in Cannon Row, the President of the Board drew his fatal pen across thirty-three out of its thirty-seven paragraphs, and substituted ten of his own. In this amended despatch the Court were required to declare their conviction that the joint interposition of our Government and that of the Nizam would be requisite to bring the matter in dispute to a final settlement. The Nizam was to be allowed the alternative of an arbitration, with an umpire nominated by Government, or a commission appointed by the Governor-General. The Court declined to sanction the authoritative interference of their Government in the adjustment of a debt which they considered unjust, and they refused to adopt the amendments. The President disclaimed any idea of bringing the authority of Government to bear on the case, and made some trivial alterations in the despatch; but the Court justly remarked that in the relative position of the
parties at Hyderabad, no interference of the head of the Government of India could be divested of the character of authority; and they proceeded to cancel both the amended and the original despatch. The correspondence on this subject was extended over eight months, but nothing could shake the resolution of the Directors. They persisted in refusing to sign and transmit the despatch, and at length informed the President that “they had nothing to do but to leave the law to take its course.” He immediately applied to the Court of King’s Bench for a writ of mandamus to compel the Directors to adopt the despatch as dictated by the Board, and they were constrained to yield to this irresistible argument; but at the same time they recorded their solemn protest against the orders which they had been compelled to sign as their own act and deed. The debt of the minister was settled by Mr. Macleod, the umpire appointed by Government, but upon the preposterous principle of allowing interest against the debtor to the utmost farthing, and refusing interest on the payments which had been successively made by him; and the transaction ended with the same disregard of justice with which it had been commenced and carried on.
During these transactions, a still more objectionable case was brought under discussion in England. Between the years 1792 and 1797 the Nabob of Oude had borrowed large sums of money from Europeans and natives for his voluptuous pleasures. The chances of repayment were very remote, and altogether uncertain; and the charge for interest was proportionately high. He was at length awakened to a sense of his increasing embarrassments by the representations of the Resident, and began in earnest to compound with his creditors. The Europeans were offered better terms than the natives; but all parties were prevailed on to accept the composition, with the exception of the eminent banking firm of Monohur Doss, from whom he had borrowed about eleven lacs of rupees for the support of his wild beasts, and for the “cattle department.” Soon after
the king died, and his successor repudiated the debt. The bankers eventually engaged the services of a Mr. Prendergast who had amassed a fortune as a trader at Lucknow, and, like Mr. Paull, obtained a seat in Parliament on his return to England. He brought the claims of his clients before the House for the first time in 1811, but though he met with no success, he continued for twenty years to make the most strenuous efforts in a spirit of indomitable perseverance to promote their suit, both in Parliament and in the courts of law. But the Court of Directors invariably refused to enforce an unacknowledged and unproved claim against one who had not contracted the debt, and whom they recognized and treated as a sovereign prince. In this equitable decision they were fully supported by Lord Hastings, who, though he had on one occasion directed the Resident to mention the claim to the Nabob, yet, finding him determined to resist it, at once decided that it was not a case in which the British Government would be warranted in affording any official support. Mr. Canning went still further, and directed the Court to inform the Governor-General that they were so clearly aware of the difficulty of divesting a friendly communication to a weaker power of the character of authority, that they positively forbade the subject to be brought again before the Nabob by any of the officers of Government. But in 1830 the President of the Board of Control was persuaded to lend a favourable ear to the demands of Mr. Prendergast’s clients, now swelled, by the accumulation of interest, to a crore of rupees. He affirmed, that while he duly honoured the principle of non-interference, he considered the present an exceptional case, and that it was his determination to make our representations to the king of Oude, “direct and formal.” It was the day after the Court had refused to adopt the obnoxious despatch to Hyderabad, regarding the claims of Palmer and Co., that they were desired by the Board to prepare a despatch to the Governor-General directing him to use his utmost efforts to procure the payment of the alleged debt from the king of Oude. The Court felt that any expression
of the wishes of Government could only signify compulsion, either by intimidation or by force, and, instead of drawing up a despatch, prepared a vigorous remonstrance, in which they pointed out the impolicy and the injustice of a course which would open the door to endless claims, not only at Lucknow, but at every din-bar in India, and beggar half its princes. A despatch was then drawn up in the office of the Board of Control, and transmitted for the acceptance of the Directors, but they passed a resolution, without a single dissenting voice, that this interference with the king of Oude was unjust, inconsistent, and mischievous, and they refused to act, though only ministerially, on the orders of the Board, until compelled to do so by process of law. Mr. Tucker, the deputy chairman, and five of his colleagues, went so far as to declare that even under the pressure of a mandamus they would not consent to affix their signature to an order which was nothing less than “an act of spoliation towards an ancient and prostrate ally.” They felt that in India, where the intricate machinery of the home Government was not understood, the act would be regarded as emanating from them, and that the odium of it would be attached to their administration. The steady resistance of the India House produced the happy effect of inducing the President to pause on the threshold of a conflict, which must have been damaging alike to the Ministry and to the Government in India, and the question was allowed to die out.
The anomalous proceedings of the two Houses at this period in what was termed the “Nozeed affair,” exhibited a very disreputable abuse of Parliamentary influence. In 1776, Mr. Hodges, a member of the council at Masulipatam, lent money to the zemindar of Nozeed without the knowledge of the government of Madras, and in direct contravention of the orders of the Court of Directors. In June, 1777, in a communication to Madras, the Court renewed in more peremptory language their former injunction that none of their servants should advance loans on mortgage of lands. Two years after, Mr. Hodges presumed to take a mortgage
of a portion of the zemindar’s estate for his debt, and the transaction received the support of the Governor and Council of Madras. The whole zemindaree was soon after taken over by Government for arrears of revenue, and an application was made in 1784 to Lord Macartney, then Governor of the Presidency, on the subject of these loans. He considered that the whole transaction was in every respect unwarranted in principle and pernicious in its tendency; but out of delicacy to the preceding Government, which had sanctioned this infraction of the Company’s rules, recorded his opinion that the creditors were entitled to some consideration on resigning the district they had so long and so irregularly held on pledge. The Court of Directors, however, resisted every solicitation to entertain the claim. A permanent settlement of the estate was made in 1803, when it was restored to the zemindaree family, leaving them to make any settlement they could effect with the creditors. Nothing further was heard of the claim for nearly thirty years, till the grandson of Mr. Hodges, having some influential friends in Parliament, induced them to bring in a bill to compel the Company to make good the whole demand, which was stated to amount to two lacs of rupees. It will be remembered that when the claims of the nabob of Arcot were introduced to the House, fifty years before, a commission was appointed to investigate their validity, and that ninety per cent. of the amount turned out to be fictitious; but in the present instance, the House passed the bill enjoining the Court of Directors to pay the full amount of this private and illegal claim, without enquiry, from the revenues of India. In the House of Lords it encountered the most strenuous opposition from Lord Ellenborough, and from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, who deprecated the interference of the Legislature to enforce a claim, “contaminated in its origin, and illegal in its prosecution; “but it passed with a majority of two to one.
With the exception of the Coorg campaign, which was concluded in ten days, the administration of
Lord William Bentinck was a reign of peace, and it produced the usual result on the finances of India. The reductions which he effected in the various departments of expenditure, combined with an improvement of the sources of revenue, extinguished the deficit of a crore of rupees which he found on his arrival, and enabled him to leave a surplus of a crore and a half on his departure in 1835. The magnificent expectations with which the trade of India had been thrown open to the nation in 1813, were but partially realized in the following twenty years, and the returns during Lord William Bentinck’s administration exhibited a decrease both of exports and imports.
This was to be attributed, in a large measure, to the great crisis of 1833, which brought down the whole commercial fabric of Calcutta. During the administration of Warren Hastings some free mariners, as the licensed interlopers were designated, opened houses of business in Calcutta on a humble scale, and gathered up the fragments of the trade to England, which dropped from the great monopoly of Leadenhall street. They embarked, moreover, in the country trade, as it was called, from one Indian port to another, and from Calcutta to the eastward, as well as in the internal traffic of the country. The famine on the Coast occasioned by Ryder Ali’s irruption into the Carnatic in 1780, created a large demand for freight and the new houses commenced shipbuilding, first at Sylhet and Chittagong, and eventually in Calcutta. They established indigo factories in the interior of the country and drove the drug which had hitherto been furnished from other countries out of the European markets. Their transactions expanded and their prosperity increased with the growth of British power. They acquired the confidence of the native and the European community, and became the bankers of the civil, military, and medical services, whose savings were transferred, month by month, to their coffers, and whose balances were annually augmented, through the process of compound interest. A desk at one of those firms was considered more
valuable than a seat in Council, and the retiring partners drew out colossal fortunes, with which, on their return to England, they bought boroughs, and seated themselves in Parliament. The opening of the trade in 1813, brought out to Calcutta a bevy of new adventurers, who were regarded at first with a feeling of contemptuous indifference by the stately old houses. But they were animated with the vigour of youthful enterprise, and gradually undermined the established firms, drawing away the most profitable branches of their business, and leaving them saddled with their old factories and ships which were not worth a fourth of their original cost. The confidence of the public, which had continued unshaken for half a century, received a rude shock in 1830 by the unexpected collapse of the great firm of John Palmer & Co., usually styled the prince of merchants. The other houses, five in number, continued to struggle with increasing embarrassments, and were enabled to remain afloat as long as the credulity of their constituents provided them with deposits sufficient to meet the withdrawal of funds. But the candle at length burnt down into the socket, and they went one by one into the Insolvent Court, which engulfed sixteen crores of rupees. A large portion of this sum consisted of the savings of the services, and the extent of the calamity may be estimated from the remark of Lord William Bentinck, who had heard, he said, to his utter surprise, that a civilian, when pressed to make a purchase after the failures, had actually replied that he could not afford it.
Lord William Bentinck was residing at the sanitarium of Ootacamund, in the Neelgeree hills, when the new charter reached India, but his health had been so seriously impaired by a constitutional malady, that his physicians considered it unsafe for him to descend into the plains till the cold weather had set in. Sir Frederick Adam, the governor of Madras, and Mr. Macaulay and Colonel Morrison, who had been appointed members of the Supreme Council, were accordingly summoned to join him in the hills, where the first Council under the new Act was
held, and the new Government constituted. These proceedings were unavoidably deficient in legal form, but the defect was covered the next year by an Act of indemnity. Lord William Bentinck returned to Calcutta in November, and embarked for his native land in March, 1835, after having held the reins of Government for nearly eight years. His administration marks the most memorable period of improvement between the days of Lord Cornwallis and Lord Dalhousie, and forms a salient point in the history of Indian reform. He repudiated the stationary policy of the Government, and introduced a more liberal and progressive spirit into every department of the state. With the intuition of a great mind, he discovered the weak points of our system of administration, which was becoming effete under the withering influence of routine, and the remedies he applied went to the root of the disease. He infused new blood into our institutions, and started them upon a new career of vigour and efficiency. The marked difference which they presented in the thirty years succeeding his Government, as compared with the thirty years which preceded it, was due entirely to the impulse of his genius, which became the main spring of a long succession of improvements. He was not less bold in the conception of his plans than resolute in the execution of them, to which he was sometimes obliged to sacrifice the amenities of life. He earned the gratitude of the natives by opening an honourable career to them in the government of their own country, and he was rewarded with the gratitude of Christendom for the moral courage he evinced in putting down Suttees. He has been charged with a love of innovation; but, even if the imputation be correct, such an error is far less injurious to the interests of society than the dull stagnation into which the Government was sinking, and which was an unerring symptom of decay. The great defect of his administration was the fluctuation of his political policy; but, the renewal of the non-intercourse system was ordered from England, and though at first supported by his own views, it was gradually modified, as the exigency of circum-
stances appeared to demand the adoption of another course for the protection of the people, as in the cases of Coorg and Mysore. The natives vied with the European community in commemorating the blessings of his administration, and united in raising a subscription for the erection of his statue in Calcutta. The pedestal was enriched with groups representing the great and good features of his government, and bore an inscription from the classic pen of Mr. Macaulay:”This statue is erected to William Cavendish Bentinck, who during seven years ruled India with eminent prudence, integrity, and benevolence; who, placed at the head of a great empire, never laid aside the simplicity and moderation of a private citizen; who infused into Oriental despotism the spirit of British freedom; who never forgot that the end of government is the welfare of the governed; who abolished cruel rites; who effaced humiliating distinctions; who allowed liberty to the expression of public opinion; whose constant study it was to elevate the moral and intellectual character of the Government committed to his charge; – this monument was erected by men who, differing from each other in race, in manners, in language, and in religion, cherish, with equal veneration and gratitude, the memory of his wise, upright, and paternal administration.”
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage