I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.
This article was written by Henry George Keene and was published in 1891
Warren Hastings, governor-general of India, was born at Churchill, Oxfordshire on 6 December (18 December n.s.) 1732. He was son of Pynaston (or Penyston) Hastings (b. 1708), by Hester Warren, his wife. His grandfather, also Penyston Hastings, was rector of Daylesford in Worcestershire; the manor-house and land had also belonged to his family, but had been sold in 1715 by reason of embarrassments arising out of the civil war of the preceding century.
Hastings passed his earlier years at Daylesford in the rectory, and used afterwards to relate that even at that early age he had already begun to dream of repurchasing the estate. In 1740 his education was undertaken by his father's elder brother, Howard Hastings, a clerk in the London customs, who sent him to school, first at Newington Butts, and afterwards to Westminster. Here he won the favour of Dr. Nicoll, the head-master, and became popular among his schoolfellows. In 1747 he was admitted to the foundation as first king's scholar of his year.
On the death of his uncle Howard, the charge of the boy devolved on a guardian who had some interest at the India office, and resolved on sending him out in the civil service of the company. Nicoll protested in vain against the removal of so promising a scholar, and Hastings was sent to a private tutor's to be qualified for his position. In October 1750 he landed at Calcutta. His duties were at first connected solely with mercantile business. In 1753 he was sent up to Kásim Bazár, then the commercial suburb of Murshídábád, the seat of the native government, which had already difficulties with the Calcutta factory. Within two years Hastings became a member of the Kásim Bazár council, but in 1756 the nawáb marched against Calcutta, which he took, and Hastings was thrown into prison at Murshídábád. He does not appear to have been ill-treated, and was soon set at liberty. Meanwhile his Calcutta colleagues had taken refuge in a fort belonging to the nawáb's people at Falta, a few miles below Calcutta, on the Hughli river, and here provisions failed until Hastings joined them and succeeded by his influence with the natives in furnishing them with supplies. Here, in the beginning of 1757, he married his first wife, widow of Captain John Buchanan of Calcutta, apparently daughter of Colonel C. F. Scott, commanding at Fort William. She died a few years later, as did both the children that she bore him. After the reconquest of Calcutta Hastings was sent to Murshídábád as resident at the court of the new nawáb. He kept up a regular correspondence with Clive, now governor in Calcutta, and his earlier letters show inexperience and credulity, against which Clive was obliged to warn him. He also came into conflict with Rája Nand Kumar (the nawáb's deputy) as to their respective functions and jurisdiction, but Clive with considerate firmness adjusted the difficulty.
Early in 1760 Clive left the country, and his successor, Holwell, determined to depose the nawáb, Mír Jaffier, and to replace him by Mír Kásim, his minister and son-in-law. Hastings bore a subordinate part in this revolution, but had no share in the gifts that were distributed on that occasion among the members of council. He continued for some months at his post of resident, but in 1761 was summoned to council in Calcutta, where the government had been assumed by Vansittart. The new nawáb, Mír Kásim, showed great annoyance at the conduct of the British officials, who were passing their own private consignments free of transit duty, and lending their flag to pass consignments that belonged to others. The most active of these officials was Ellis, head of the factory at Patna, and thither Hastings proceeded, on the request of Vansittart, in order to effect a reform in the transit system and an agreement between Ellis and the nawáb. He arrived at Patna in April 1762, but found himself unable to conciliate Ellis. His despatches, however, attracted the attention of Vansittart to the abuses and oppressions under which the people were suffering, and Hastings drew up a paper in which he aimed at such a regulation of the traffic as should protect the nawáb and his subjects without prejudice to the company's rights. The present state of things, as he truly observed, ‘boded no good, either to the nawáb's revenue or to the quiet of the country, or the honour of our nation.’ Articles were accordingly framed by the governor on the basis recommended by Hastings, which the nawáb readily adopted and immediately promulgated. The majority of the Calcutta council indignantly repudiated the arrangement, and the nawáb at once declared the duties entirely abrogated and the whole trade free.
Hastings, who had rejoined his post in Calcutta, was now in a trying position. While the nawáb denounced him as a traitor, his colleagues in council abused him for partiality to the nawáb; and one of them named Batson, in the heat of debate, struck Hastings in open council, an act for which, however, he had to make an ample apology. Both the nawáb and the British now prepared for war, Patna was taken and retaken, Ellis and all his followers were killed by the nawáb's orders; but the British force from Calcutta soon exacted a stern retribution. The nawáb was defeated and driven into exile, and Mír Jaffier restored.
In December 1764 Hastings returned to England in his majesty's ship Medway. While his colleagues had been making their fortunes by corruption and private trade, he had continued honourably poor. He was, however, able to buy an annuity of £200 for the widow of his uncle Howard, who was left in poverty, and to pass some years in London, keeping himself before the India House with a view to speedy re-employment. In the meantime his active mind had struck out the project for the improvement of the minds and habits of Indian civilians, afterwards realised by the East India College at Haileybury; and he (also without immediate success) endeavoured to bring about the foundation of a professorship of Persian at the university of Oxford. He occupied his leisure in study and literary society, and made the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson, with whom he afterwards occasionally corresponded. In sending Johnson's letters to Boswell, Hastings speaks of his ‘veneration for your great and good friend. The first of these, dated 30 March 1774, is to introduce ‘my dear Mr. Chambers,’ then going to Calcutta as a puisne judge of the newly constituted supreme court. In 1766 Hastings appeared as a witness before a committee of the House of Commons, and gave evidence on Indian affairs, which appears to have attracted the favourable notice of the court of directors. Early in 1769 he was sent out to Madras as second in council, but so low were his resources that he had to borrow the money required for his passage and outfit.
Among his fellow-passengers on board the Duke of Grafton were the Baron and Baroness von Imhoff. The baron, who had been an officer in the army of a minor German state, had obtained the recommendation of Queen Charlotte, and was proceeding to Madras, ostensibly to seek employment in the local army, but with some view to portrait-painting. An intimacy sprang up between Hastings and the baroness, favoured by the husband's neglect, and also by a severe illness, through which Hastings was nursed by the wife. Next year Imhoff went on to Calcutta, leaving the lady at Madras. At the end of 1771 Hastings was appointed governor of Bengal, in the room of Mr. Cartier, who was retiring, and in February 1772 he arrived in Calcutta. Baroness Imhoff had preceded him in October 1771.
Great changes had taken place in Bengal. Nand Kumar had been discovered in a treasonable correspondence, had been deprived of his post at Murshídábád, and sent in a kind of open arrest to Calcutta. Clive had returned to the government and command of the army; the unmanageable council had been superseded in practical concerns by a committee of three; there had come an end to the corruption, spoliation, waste of public money, and abuse of private trade. The relations of the presidency with the emperor and the Nawáb Vazir of Oudh had been settled, the emperor having been provided for, and an alliance made with the nawáb; no restraint was imposed on his independence, and a defensive alliance was agreed on between him and the East India Company, on the condition that whenever he should require the aid of the company's troops he should pay their expenses while so employed. Vested with the beneficiary collection of the revenues of the three provinces, the British rulers had found it necessary to make the collections themselves instead of merely accounting with the nawáb's officials, although they did not clearly perceive how this was to be done. Meanwhile the entire administration was in confusion. In 1770 the country had been scourged by famine. It was about the time of Hastings's first appointment as governor that the company at last determined to ‘stand forth as diwán,’ in other words to sweep away all native agency in the control of revenue and finance administration. The deputy diwáns of Bengal and Bihar were to be dismissed and brought to trial for malversation, Rája Nand Kumar being employed in the prosecution. The revenue appeared incapable of increase, but the debt was growing. The company was threatened with insolvency, while the ministers of the crown were looking to it for loans and testing its right to exist by its financial prosperity. Such were some of the problems which were to occupy Hastings and trouble the remainder of his life.
One of the first matters which the directors commended to the attention of the new governor was the inquiry into the conduct of Shatáb Rai and Muhamad Raza Khán the two deputy-governors, by whose agency the collections and fiscal administration had been formerly carried out. Rája Nand Kumar was engaged in the preparation of the evidence against them, and possibly expected to be put into the place of one or both of them on their conviction. The directors never contemplated this. The court took care to remind Hastings of Nand Kumar's character as a reason for excluding him from power. Indeed from the facts given by Elphinstone, who refers especially to the House of Commons' 3rd Report, it is abundantly clear that during Hastings's absence the rája had been constantly condemned by Clive, by Vansittart, and by Colonel John Carnac. In the end the rája was unable to bring forward any good evidence; the deputies were acquitted, and Nand Kumar got nothing. Hastings thus disappointed this unscrupulous native statesman, and increased the feeling of hostility which the rája entertained for him, while he was unable under his orders from home to conciliate the others by restoring them to their posts.
The three provinces of Bengal, Orissa, and Bihár being now an integral part of the company's territories to be administered by the company's agents, it became doubly necessary that the European officials should obtain a knowledge of the estates which formed the main assets of the government. Expenses were at once reduced; but until there was a correct notion of the value of the revenue-paying properties, mere economy could be of little avail. It was an essential part of the new system of ‘standing forth as diwán’ that malversation in collecting the revenue and concealment of liability to contribute should be equally suppressed. Hastings clearly perceived and gave effect to this principle. Undeterred by the season he sent out a commission of survey in June 1772, and accompanied it in person for a few marches so as to start the work. At the same time he attacked monopolists and began to make provision for judicial and administrative reform. All these exertions, he observed in a letter written at the time, not only overburdened him with work and discomposed his temper, but they tended to destroy all his other powers ‘by arming my hand against every man, and every man's, of course, against me.’ He would not, however, give way to his difficulties. ‘My whole time,’ he wrote to another correspondent, ‘and all my thoughts, I may add all my passions, are devoted to the service of the company.’
So passed the year 1773, not without tokens of approval and assurance of support from the India House in London. Early in the year Baron Imhoff went to Germany, where he instituted a suit for divorce from his wife. In the following year a further change was found advisable in the machinery of the land revenue. The English collectors were found inadequate and inexperienced, while the people suffered under their ‘heavy rule.’ They were therefore removed to make room for native revenue officers, whose ability and knowledge could be guaranteed, and whose honesty was to be watched by the best European agency at the command of government. Six divisions were created by grouping the districts, and put under provincial councils, for the formation of which competent European officers were apparently thought more easily obtainable. This idea of native agency under competent European control was, like most of Hastings's ideas, destined to take deep root in Anglo-Indian affairs.
In regard to the administration of justice his measures were no less far-seeing. He put the native courts in the interior entirely under the control of the head revenue officers, with a chief court for criminal appeals at the seat of government under a native chief justice. A court of civil appeal sat also in Calcutta, the whole being controlled in the last resort by the governor in council. Where both parties were European British subjects, English law was administered in the ‘mayor's court,’ and there was also a court of small causes for Calcutta.
In all these reforms lurked elements of provocation to class prejudices and even to vested interests. Muhamad Raza and Shatáb Rai were indignant at having been tried, Nand Kumar was vexed at their acquittal, while the young civilians were sore at the employment of natives and the valuation of the estates; foremost in their ranks being John Shore, afterwards Lord Teignmouth, and one of Hastings's successors and admirers.
While these cares were occupying Hastings he was suddenly involved in external affairs. The province of Katahr had been conquered some fifty years before by a band of Afghan adventurers called Rohillas, from whom it had received the name of Rohilkand. Lying between the eastern frontier of the Oudh dominions and the special domain of the emperor, and constantly liable to Mahratta invasion from the southward, it was becoming a kind of chronic sore in the bosom of Hindustan. Though impotent against the Mahrattas, the Rohillas fought bitterly among themselves, while the original population was rack-rented and left without protection to life and property. So we are informed by a contemporaneous Rohilla writer.
In 1772 the nawáb of Oudh, who was also hereditary vazir of the empire, made a treaty with the Rohillas, by which he covenanted to expel the Mahrattas from their country on consideration of a payment of money. He executed his part of the engagement, expelling the Mahrattas by the middle of the ensuing year. He then called on the Rohilla sirdars to pay the sum promised; though many of them were willing, the ‘protector’ of the state — a sort of regent for the minor chieftain — refused. Then the nawáb, having obtained sanction from the emperor, prepared to foreclose, by occupying the province, and called upon the British government of Calcutta to supply a brigade, as required by the treaty of alliance of 1764. Hastings at once complied. The Rohillas were overthrown after a sharp engagement; some severities were used, and the fighting men were deported across the Ganges. Hastings immediately wrote to the British resident at the nawáb's camp, urging him to use his influence to mitigate all harshness, and to impress on the nawáb that Englishmen disapproved ‘with abhorrence of every species of inhumanity and oppression.’ Mill rightly condemns the home authorities, who found fault with the action of Hastings and yet made no amends to the Rohillas. ‘They were so much the less excusable than the Vazir and Mr. Hastings that these actors in the scene denied its injustice’.
In 1773 Hastings recorded on the minutes of council a paper on the principles of criminal justice, as applied to the offence of dacoity or gang robbery, then and long after prevalent in Bengal. In 1774 the same subject again attracted Hastings's attention, and the employment of special native magistrates was the plan which commended itself to him. He made the complaint, often repeated since his time, that one cause of the evil was ‘the regularity and precision which has been introduced in our courts of justice.’ He desired to revert to the old summary process of native governments, who were wont to trace the landholders by whom the dacoits were maintained, and to proceed against them. He was thus for introducing the non-regulation system even before the regulations themselves.
Before these matters had been finally disposed of, a great change took place in Bengal politics. Up to that time the council in Calcutta had consisted of a large number of officials holding other posts, and the executive power had been absorbed by a committee of three, of which the governor was president with a casting vote. It was thus that Clive had been able to carry out the unpalatable reforms of his second administration. But now, in virtue of the ‘Regulating Act,’ a new council of five was created, three being sent out from home. Hastings was declared governor-general with a magnificent salary, but with only a single vote in the council. At the same time a supreme court of justice was established with vague general powers; and the four judges sent out to hold that court, whose chief was Hastings's old schoolfellow Impey, were, like the new councillors, entire strangers to India. The court, being composed of professed lawyers, did its duty in a technical and jealous spirit. The councillors, biassed against Anglo-Indians, acted as if bound by a mutual pledge to oppose Hastings and Richard Barwell, his old colleague and present supporter. Muhamad Raza and Nand Kumar and some of the civil servants were ready to supply information. From secret hints the new councillors evolved an imputed fabric of corruption. Specific charges of corruption were sent in by Nand Kumar to the council on 11 March. Hastings and Barwell withdrew from the council, where their honour was being discussed, and in April 1775 brought a case of conspiracy against the rája and two Englishmen named Fowke; Hastings having already written home threatening to resign if not supported by the directors. But before the conspiracy case could ripen for decision Nand Kumar was suddenly arrested (6 May 1775) on a charge of forgery instituted by a native, with some appearance of assistance from Durham, the advocate-general.
Whether Durham was really the instigator, and, if so, was acting under instructions from Hastings, or whether he was prompted to assist the complainant by a desire to extort money out of a rich man whom he knew to be in trouble, is among the unsearchable secrets of history. The quarrel between the rája and the ostensible complainant was, in any case, one of several years' standing, and an action had been twice part heard — in which the alleged forgery had been used — before the establishment of the supreme court. Nand Kumar was committed by two justices on the day of his arrest; the grand jury found a true bill, and the trial commenced on 8 June and lasted more than a week. On the morning of 16 June the rája was found guilty and sentenced to death, all the judges concurring. The sheriff fixed 5 August for the execution, which took place accordingly. The conduct of the chief justice, Sir Elijah Impey, was afterwards impugned by the House of Commons, and he was threatened with an impeachment for his share in these proceedings, but he defended himself with success. In the subsequent impeachment of Hastings the matter was revived by Burke, but was held irrelevant, and Burke had to submit to a public reprimand from the house, 4 May 1789.
Macaulay's famous account of these proceedings is that of a reckless advocate, not of a judicial critic. There is no attempt at serious demonstration either that Hastings believed Nand Kumar innocent, or that he inspired the prosecution for forgery. An attentive examination of the facts will show that the chief justice was only one of a number of persons who were satisfied that Nand Kumar deserved his fate. Among those persons was the native historian of the time. There is no evidence that Hastings thought otherwise, or that he had any ground for interfering to prevent the law from taking its course, if indeed he had the requisite power. It is true that Hastings, against his own judgment, and under protest, had lately employed Nand Kumar. He had also provided for the son. But he had never concealed the distrust of Nand Kumar which he shared with most Anglo-Indian statesmen of the period. He had lately declared his enmity openly, and instituted a charge of conspiracy in which Nand Kumar was included. Immediately upon the opening of the new supreme court, and before the institution of the conspiracy charge, a solicitor named Driver had renewed an application, made in the mayor's court, praying for the delivery of papers, among which was an instrument on which his client proposed to prosecute Nand Kumar. (The petition is dated in January 1775, and refers to a former petition of March 1774.) About the same time Hastings finally broke with Nand Kumar, and forbade his appearance at Government House. On 11 March Nand Kumar preferred to the council his charges of corruption against Hastings, who was called upon to answer to the charges, and refused to appear at the bar of his own council. In April Nand Kumar and his associates were committed for conspiracy, avowedly on the motion of the governor-general. Meanwhile the proceedings of Driver's client had been instituted, and Nand Kumar was, in May, committed on a charge of forgery by two magistrates, who have never been shown to have been creatures of Hastings. These facts are compatible with the very simple supposition that the prosecution was undertaken on private grounds, though not without knowledge that the state of public affairs was opportune.
Meanwhile Hastings was busy with Indian law. The peculiar code of the Sunnites or orthodox Muslims had already been made into a digest under the Emperor Aurungzeb. But the Hindu law was only to be found scattered over a number of Sanscrit text-books of various date and authority. Hastings therefore invited the best known experts to Calcutta, and charged them with the compilation of a volume of which he afterwards caused an English translation to be made by Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, sending advanced sheets to Lord Mansfield in England.
In 1775 Hastings began a further attempt to make gang-robbery the subject of special legislation. But the opposition in his council objected to the punishment of the harbourers, and the scheme collapsed. Nor did he neglect any fair opportunity of extending the influence of his employers, or of adding to the knowledge of neighbouring nations — meagre enough — which Englishmen then possessed. A small war with hill tribes on his northern frontier opened communications with the Teshu lama of Thibet, and a diplomatic mission was sent into that remote and still mysterious region. It was headed by George Bogle, and a detailed account of the proceedings and results will be found in Markham's ‘Narratives,’ London, 1876.
Meanwhile the revenue raised for the company in Calcutta showed but little improvement. Hastings had stopped some of the drains on it; the tribute to the emperor ceased when he threw aside British protection, and the districts which had been assigned to him were transferred, for a consideration, to the nawáb of Oudh. Some military reductions were effected, not without friction, and the allowance to the titular ruler of Bengal was also diminished. An attempt was made to swell the receipts by giving the company a beneficial interest in the sale of opium to the Chinese. The production and distribution of this drug had been held as a perquisite by the members of the Patna council; it was now farmed for a term of years, and the proceeds credited in the public accounts. The conduct of Hastings in this matter became the subject of one of the charges afterwards brought against him; but it at once appeared that he had suppressed an abuse to the advantage of the state. Moreover, the court of directors had covered his act by their express approbation.
In spite of all efforts the finances continued to ebb. The court made urgent demands for remittances; the exchequer in Calcutta was so drained that the governor-general could not cash his own salary bills, and had to borrow money for his personal expenses. The minor presidencies were equally destitute. At Surat the Bombay government endeavoured to raise money by lending troops to Ragoba, a claimant to the office of peshwa. The majority in the Calcutta council cancelled the arrangement, and although Ragoba's cause was espoused by the court of directors, Hastings was unable to enforce the policy of his employers. In September 1776, however, Monson, one of the hostile members of council, died, and Hastings obtained temporary power, of which he resolved to take advantage. He began by removing the jobbing provincial councils, and putting the internal administration under agents who might be trusted to do their best for the land revenue. Early in 1777 he proceeded to record his intention to ‘make the British nation paramount in India, and to accept of the allegiance of such of our neighbours as shall sue to be enlisted among the friends and allies of the king of Great Britain’.
Amidst these acts of state a despatch suddenly reached him whereby he learned that the resignation conditionally tendered in 1775 had been handed in by his agents in London, and accepted there. On hearing of this General Clavering, the commander-in-chief, instantly assumed the office of governor-general, and demanded the keys of Fort William. Hastings refused to yield, and a dead-lock ensued which might have led to civil war but for the public spirit shown on all sides. Both claimants agreed to abide by the arbitration of the supreme court, and the judges decided in favour of Hastings, thereby — as Hastings afterwards acknowledged — saving his honour, safety, and reputation. Clavering soon afterwards died of dysentery, and Hastings was left for the time with but one opponent in council. But that opponent was Philip Francis (1740-1818).
On 8 August 1777 Hastings married his baroness, a divorce having been at last obtained by Imhoff in the German courts. The lady was by this time thirty years of age, and is described by ladies of the time as elegant and graceful, dressing with taste rather than fashion, and wearing a profusion of beautiful auburn curls. She had been living in good repute under the protection of her mother since her arrival in Calcutta, and the marriage does not seem to have caused any scandal. Nothing can be more characteristic than the quiet tenacity with which Hastings carried on this strange and protracted love affair; indeed it only ceased with his long life.
Being now in a position to realise his own plans, Hastings gave up all thoughts of retiring; Francis found, indeed, an ally in Wheler, the new councillor sent out from home; but the commander-in-chief, Sir Eyre Coote, was usually amenable to reason, and Barwell continued to vote with the governor-general. In 1778 Hastings was able to resume the support of Ragoba's cause, and also to operate against the French settlements in India. His measures were not at first successful. The Bombay government was disunited and inefficient, and no aid could be obtained from Madras. Colonel Leslie, who commanded the expeditionary force, died before anything could be done. His successor, Colonel Thomas Goddard, however, soon showed himself worthy of the occasion, defeating the armies of Sindhia and Holkar, and occupying the capital of Gujrat. Francis in vain opposed the governor-general's measures, and complaints were raised at home against the war. But it was easily shown that Hastings had not been the aggressor, but was acting on the defensive with his usual far-sighted resolution. From the evidence recorded by Grant Duff, it is clear that the confederacy between the Mahrattas and Haidar, which Hastings checked, had for its object the expulsion of British power from the whole of Asia.
A French officer was with the enemy at Poona; a French contingent accompanied Haidar in his simultaneous attack on the Carnatic, and took part in the defeat and capture of Colonel Baillie's force. The nizam's army was officered by Frenchmen, and Louis XVI had been persuaded to league himself against England with the king of Spain and the revolted colonies in North America. In India the struggle was almost desperate. Limited as were his resources, Hastings struck in all directions, and struck hard. Sindhia's fortified capital, Gwalior, was taken by escalade in August 1780, and the subsequent successes of Colonel Carnac dissolved the confederacy. Hastings took the daring step of suspending the governor of Madras, by which he strained the constitution, but saved the presidency; at the same time he reinforced it with money and with men under Coote. The nizam was pacified, vacillation on the part of the Bhonsla of Berar was arrested, and that wavering chief converted into a staunch friend. Hastings laid down the maxim, never to be overlooked in Eastern affairs, that ‘acts which proclaim confidence and a determined spirit in the hour of adversity are the surest means of retrieving it.’ By pushing in every direction what his opponents called ‘frantic military exploits’ (but in which really very little blood was spilt), he kept his own provinces free from war, and in the remaining possessions of the company restored a falling cause. In spite of some misfortunes on land, and some trouble at sea arising from the ability of the Bailli de Suffren, the French admiral, Hastings drove Haidar out of the Carnatic. In 1782 Haidar died; and the treaty of Salbai, concluded early next year with his son, Tippu Sultan, laid the foundation of British supremacy in India, and defined the position of other states.
The British governor-general was already taking the place of the effete Delhi empire in regard to all those states which depended upon British protection. Even the princes of the Rajputs, the most ancient ruling houses in the world, had always paid tribute to that empire. The Mahrattas similarly held to ransom their own tributary and protected states. It was in accordance with native practice and opinion that the British government in Calcutta should do likewise. The paramount power protected the minor states, and the minor states compensated for the protection by contributions of money and men. Among the feudatories of Bengal none was more protected, or paid less for his protection, than Rája Chait Singh, zemindár of Benares. A demand was made upon him for a war-contribution of five lakhs of rupees. The rája failed to comply, nor did he send the two thousand horsemen called for at a later moment at the instance of General Coote.
While matters were in this condition about the middle of 1780, a very important change took place. Barwell, whose support in council was necessary to Hastings's supremacy, became anxious to return to England. Francis was accordingly asked to agree to ‘pair’ with him, and agreed not to oppose the governor-general in the conduct of the Mahratta war. Barwell on this went home. After he was gone, Hastings proposed to send a mission to the court of Delhi, and to check Mahratta preponderance by action in Hindustan. To this Francis objected, alleging that his agreement had been misconstrued, and related only to operations pending in the Deccan when the agreement was made. Hastings, tired of being hampered, determined to risk his life in removing the obstruction. He provoked Francis, so as to make a duel necessary. They met at Alipore, a southern suburb of Calcutta, at 6 a.m. on 17 Aug. 1780. Deliberately choosing a place full of light, and making the seconds measure the shortest distance they could be induced to adopt, Hastings received his adversary's fire, which he instantly returned with such effect that Francis fell dangerously wounded. Had Francis been killed, Hastings must have been tried for murder. Had Hastings fallen, Francis would, at least till another man could come out from home, or say for eighteen months, have had all the powers and patronage of governor-general. As it was, the baffled man had to go back to England with a wounded body, and a mind full of revenge.
On being left supreme in council, Hastings pressed his demands on the Rája Chait Singh, founding them on the cession of the sovereignty of Benares to the company by the nawáb of Oudh, to whom it had pertained, and on cogent military reasons. In July 1781 he proceeded to Benares to enforce his orders, but the rája resisted, some of Hastings's sepoys were cut up in the street, and he himself had to make his retreat to the neighbouring fort of Chunár. Chait Singh called on the mother of the nawáb of Oudh, with whom he had an understanding, to send men to his aid, and broke into open revolt. But his revolt was soon quelled. At one time indeed his forces were within a few miles of Chunár; but they effected nothing, and before the end of September they had been routed and their leader had fallen back on his last stronghold. Here he was captured on 10 November 1781, his treasure being distributed among the company's troops. Chait Singh was deposed, and his zemindári bestowed upon his nephew.
The nawáb-vazir was in debt to the company, and Hastings, while yet at Chunár, proposed an interview on the subject. The nawáb came to see him there, and doubtless the conversation included some mention of the support which the nawáb's mother had given to Chait Singh. The nawáb declared that he could not meet his engagements to the company; his mother and his grandmother had appropriated a large estate in land; they had also converted to their own use a large accumulation of treasure left by the late nawáb. These acts of spoliation had been sanctioned by the majority of the Calcutta council. It was now proposed, whether by the nawáb or by Hastings has never been determined, that partly to raise money and partly by way of punishment, the fiefs should be resumed, and the treasure applied to the exigencies of the Oudh state agreeably to the law of Islám. The dowagers replied with shrill refusal, on which the nawáb surrounded their house with a guard, put some of their servants into light irons, and, by a duress which has been much exaggerated, enforced his demand. Hastings had returned to Calcutta, but he intimated his disapproval of all severity as soon as the resident reported what had been done. This was the great case of the ‘robbery of the Oudh begums,’ which, indeed, was no robbery at all. But Hastings is not altogether free of responsibility for anything that may have been done amiss in this matter. The land and money which were taken from the dowagers had been held by them for some time, although perhaps without any legal right; their possession, too, had been guaranteed by the British government, though against the opinion of the out-voted governor. From the conditions of the case Hastings must have been aware that the dowagers and their men would not disgorge without resistance. He was, however, ill-served by the resident, an official who had been forced upon him and in whom he never confided.
During that year (1782) Hastings had been severely taken to task by the court of directors for the affair of Chait Singh, and he had replied in a tone of dignified remonstrance to the effect that sooner than consent to the rája's pardon he would give up his station. In modest, but self-reliant words, he added that his administration would perhaps hereafter be looked on as having conduced to the interests of the company and to the honour of the British name. The court of proprietors reversed the adverse vote of the directors, and Henry Dundas (afterwards Viscount Melville) declared the conduct of Hastings deserving of every kind of approval and support.
In 1783 Hastings, having sent his wife to England, proceeded to Lucknow, where (under orders from home) he restored some of the dowagers' landed possessions. Here also he met the Delhi crown prince, a fugitive from court, whom he persuaded to return to his father, with an escort and assurances of sympathy. In November 1784 he returned to Calcutta, and soon after laid down his office. Previously he held a general parade of the Bengal army, just returned from the southern war. Swords of honour were bestowed on the chief officers, and every soldier, British or native, received a medal and an increase of pay. Nor had Hastings been neglectful of the arts of peace. He caused great progress to be made in the topographical survey . In the last year of his administration he founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Sir W. Jones being the first president. For the extension of Muslim culture, Hastings founded, partly at his own charge, the Calcutta Madrisa, still existing and carrying out its founder's design. The last days of his residence in India were devoted to schemes of financial reform, to the receipt of farewell addresses, and the winding up of private concerns; letters of farewell had also to be sent to the native chiefs. On 3 February 1785 he dined at the Powder Works, in company with a large number of his friends, and in the afternoon stepped on board his barge in order to embark on board the Barrington, which awaited him off Garden Reach.
Hastings's ‘Review of the State of Bengal,’ London, 1786, written at sea in 1785, deals primarily with finance, showing that the debt of 1772 had been cleared in two years, and explains the opium system and the nature of the resources of Bengal. He gives his views on land revenue, and questions the proprietary rights of zemindárs. He points out that he had been charged with too much responsibility, and protests against the injustice of the accusations imputed. His maxim, as he declares, has been ‘to do what he knew was requisite to the public safety, though he should doom his life to legal forfeiture or his name to infamy.’
Hastings landed in England on 13 June 1785, and attended the next drawing-room with his wife. His friends, privately and publicly, were numerous and influential. In company with Mrs. Hastings he visited some of the English watering-places, and looked about for a country residence. He had saved £80,000, no exorbitant fortune after a distinguished service of thirty-five years in India, and his first thought was to realise his old dream of investing some of his money in the purchase of the old family manor and house at Daylesford. But the then possessor was not disposed to sell. Hastings therefore settled for the time at Windsor, with a town house in Wimpole Street.
Meanwhile Francis, ever since his return, had been inflaming the vivid imagination of Burke, not at its most temperate stage just then, and always ready to take fire at the thought of wrong done to ancient social fabrics. Burke was in no mood for impartiality. His conduct excited the opposition of Lord Teignmouth, who was not by any means a wholesale supporter of Hastings. As Macaulay remarked, whatever Burke's ‘sagacity described was refracted and discoloured by his passions and his imagination’. Nor was Burke likely to forget the fate of the India Bill of 1783, which caused the fall of the coalition ministry. To crown all came the malignant promptings of Francis. It was hopeless to attempt to convince Burke that in India the social fabric had been ruined by the most complete and sanguinary anarchy. India was coming within the range of party politics. After the failure of the India Bill of Burke and Fox in 1783, Pitt in 1784 passed an act which was in force for nearly three-quarters of a century. But he was obliged to conciliate the country by the profession of an anxious desire to restrain and punish offences committed in the administration of Indian affairs. Englishmen were anxious to apply a remedy after the disorder had ceased.
The really abominable time in India had been from about 1757 to 1767, the close of Clive's second administration, and the establishment of the new system had made it most unlikely ever to return. But the court of directors and its servants were unpopular, and Burke's attacks on Hastings met with sympathy among the whigs, while they encountered but faint resistance from the tories. The first attack, on the ground of the Rohilla war, was, indeed, defeated by the government. In regard to Chait Singh also, Pitt and Dundas held that Hastings was justified in his first demands. But the defence was insincere, and was abandoned on the frivolous pretence that Hastings's subsequent treatment of the rája showed too much severity. Lord Thurlow only anticipated the judgment of subsequent critics in expressing his surprise at this inconsistency.
The next two years were passed by Hastings at Windsor, while the debate on his case dragged its way through rare evenings in the House of Commons. He made experiments in farming and gardening, and worked on the materials for his defence with his friend David Anderson and other volunteer assistants. At length, on 3 April 1787, the impeachment was voted by a majority of nearly three to one, in which were included Pitt himself and most of his supporters. Macaulay attributes the surrender of Hastings by Pitt to the young minister's fear of Hastings's rivalry. The trial before the House of Lords opened in Westminster Hall on 13 February 1788, foremost among the managers for the commons being Burke, Sheridan, and Gilbert Elliot (afterwards first Lord Minto). Fox and Windham were also among the number. Francis, though not a manager, continued to assist the prosecution. Such was the fervour of Burke's denunciations that Hastings's staunchest admirers — nay, even himself — were carried away for the moment. But Hastings bore the storm bravely, and it was in this very period that the purchase of Daylesford was at last negotiated. For the old house and 650 acres of land he paid £11,424; but its restoration cost him far more.
Hastings always had supporters. Fanny Burney and Hannah More were on his side. John Nicholls, author of the ‘Parliamentary Recollections,’ said that he ‘thought of him with the highest veneration.’ Lord Teignmouth, once an opponent, could only account for what was going on by denying Burke's sanity. The trial occupied the court for thirty-five days in 1788; it was resumed in April of the following year. In June 1790 a dissolution took place, and was pleaded in bar of further proceedings, but the plea was overruled. In 1791 the court investigated the charges of personal corruption, and then Hastings made his final defence. The next two years were given to the arguments of counsel; in 1794 the managers replied to the defence. Numberless addresses and testimonials were laid before the court from various communities in India, both native and European, at which Burke sneered, but which were genuine, spontaneous, and highly relevant.
The second Benares address, of 1788, declared that Hastings, by appointing the most distinguished of the Brahmans and Musalmans to preside over their affairs, had ‘rendered the inhabitants much happier than they were during the administration of Chait Singh.’ From Rajmahal came an address which, after testifying to the consideration that he always showed to the heads of native society, added that ‘he was not covetous of other men's money, and was not open to corruption. No war arose in his time’ (they were only thinking of their own province); ‘he was not haughty, or proud of pomp and luxury; he did not seek his own ease.’ Similar addresses came from Lucknow, Farukhabad, and other places nearer Calcutta. These testimonials were given spontaneously, and long after their recipient had ceased to hold either power or the prospect of power. In reference to one passage in the Rajmahal address may be noticed a description of the private habits of Hastings as governor-general, which occurs in a note by the translator of the ‘Siyar-ul-mutakharin,’ who had served under Hastings in his secretary's office. ‘Governor Hastings,’ he said, ‘always wore a plain coat of English broadcloth ... his throne a plain chair of mahogany ... his table sometimes neglected, his diet sparing and abstemious; his address and deportment very distant from pride, and still more from familiarity.’
The House of Lords proceeded to debate on their judgment in 1795. Of personal corruption Hastings was unanimously acquitted; his manner of life, and what Macaulay justly calls ‘his honourable poverty,’ left his judges no alternative. As to the charges arising out of the Benares affair, it was found by a large majority that he was not only justified by the circumstances in claiming aid from a feudatory, but that the punishment of that feudatory's contumacy was neither excessive nor vindictive. In the case of the Oudh dowagers it was held that there was no evidence either of greed or of malignity, and that the treatment of the ladies was partly due to their own conduct, and was excused by the exigencies of the time. Thurlow and Bishop Horsley were strongly in Hastings's favour. The chief of the hostile judges was Lord Loughborough, the chancellor, who had to pronounce the acquittal of the accused on 23 April 1795.
The trial, which occupied 145 days, extending over seven years and three months, cost Hastings £70,000, and he was left, as he himself said, without the means of subsistence. But the company came generously to his aid. He received addresses of congratulation on his acquittal from various quarters; and he was surrounded by old friends and their children while he farmed, and gardened, and rode at Daylesford. He was among the first to appreciate Walter Scott's poetry. He hailed Malthus on population as ‘one of the most enlightened of modern publications.’ In 1802 he declined with due acknowledgments an offer from the nawáb of Oudh to settle £2,000 a year upon him for life. But he had no scruple in taking aid from the general revenues of India. In writing to the court of directors about his affairs in 1804, he honestly confessed that he could not practise strict economy, adding with a proud humility that ‘this was not to be expected from a man who had passed his life in the hourly discharge of public duties.’ The directors made a liberal response, and would have done more had they not been restrained by Dundas, president of the board of control.
From the middle of 1804, therefore, Hastings was free from the worry of insolvency. In his deep interest in the defence of England against French menace he would have drilled and armed his labourers, but the government stopped his hand. Invited to dine at the Brighton Pavilion he met Sheridan, with whom the Prince of Wales was desirous that he should be reconciled. Sheridan offered his hand, but Hastings responded only by a cold bow. On 14 March 1806, Pitt being now dead, Hastings waited on the prince at Carlton House by appointment, and expressed a wish to obtain some public redress for the calumnies and sufferings of the trial, also mentioning that as a part of such amends he should gladly accept a title that his wife could share. Afterwards the prince was ready to bestow on Hastings a peerage, but apparently shrank from a conflict with parliament by asking for a reversal of the impeachment. On these terms Hastings felt bound to decline honours; a title so bestowed, he said, would ‘sink him in his own estimation.’ Lord Moira, the prince's friend, and afterwards governor-general and Marquis of Hastings, befriended him through all these troubles. Lord Wellesley too, who had once volunteered to be one of the managers but had received subsequently the light of local experience, wrote him a flattering letter in 1802, enclosing one from the ruler of Oudh.
The parliamentary redress that Hastings longed for was never formally accorded. But in 1813 he received it in an indirect form. Being summoned to give evidence before a committee of the whole house charged with the inquiry previous to the renewal of the East India Company's charter, he reappeared at that bar where he had once pleaded as a culprit. Applause greeted him now from both sides of the house; he was offered a seat and courteously questioned; when he withdrew at the close of the examination, the members rose to their feet, as by a common impulse, and stood silent and bareheaded until he had passed the door. Next day he received a similar mark of respect from the House of Lords, whither he was conveyed by a prince of the blood. During the same year the university of Oxford conferred on him the degree of D.C.L., on which occasion he was enthusiastically cheered by the undergraduates.
In May 1814 he was sworn of the privy council, and in June presented to the allied sovereigns on their visit to London by the regent himself. On 11 July he joined in a dinner to the Duke of Wellington, and made a speech, which was well received according to the newspaper report. At a second dinner to the same hero a few days later the health of Hastings was the first toast. On the 21st he attended a fête at Carlton House. That he went through such a series of festivities at the age of eighty-two without immediate injury speaks well for his strength. He showed deep sympathy with the fall of Napoleon. He kept up a correspondence with Lord Hastings in India, whom he described as ‘a man of superior talents, steady of purpose and determination.’
In July 1816 Hastings began to restore Daylesford Church, which had fallen into decay, and the work was completed before the middle of November. About the same time his letters began to betray a sense of failing mental power, but he still continued to employ his mind with unflagging activity. In March 1817 he paid his last visit to London, returning to Daylesford on 8 May. In April 1818 he could still write to a friend a well-reasoned letter on the writing of history. On 13 July he came home from a carriage drive in a condition which appeared to the country doctor to require a bleeding. He seems never to have recovered. On the 20th his diary closes. Sir H. Halford was now called in, and Hastings's nearest friends came round him. He was no longer able to swallow, and starvation slowly ensued. On 3 August he dictated and signed a letter recommending his wife to the protection of the court of directors, and on the 22nd he passed away, his last act being to lay a handkerchief over his face lest the last change should distress the women who were watching his bedside. He was buried near the church, and the building substituted for it in 1860 was extended so as to include the tomb. Mrs. Hastings was buried in the same place in 1837, and her son, General Sir Charles Imhoff, sixteen years later. Daylesford is now the property of Mr. R. N. Byass.
The charges of personal corruption brought against Hastings are abundantly refuted, not only by the want of proof (after a most searching inquiry), but by the small amount of his savings after a singularly prolonged Indian life. To say that Hastings was a scrupulous politician according to modern ideas would be to say too much. No doubt he did irregular things; possibly he helped the ruin of Nand Kumar, certainly he transgressed the letter of the law in removing the unmanageable governor of Madras. In instigating, or conniving at, the spoliation of the Oudh dowagers he allowed a violation of the faith of treaties and of the delicacies of private life. But he saved and established the empire, which he would not have done had he listened to all possible objections or held his hand before a hostile confederacy. The insincerity of the outcry against Hastings was pointed out by Erskine in eloquent terms. Mill has some pointed remarks showing how he was impressed in spite of a strong prejudice: ‘Hastings,’ he says, ‘was placed in difficulties and acted on by temptations such as few public men have been called on to overcome. ... No man, probably, who ever had a great share in the government of the world, had his public conduct so completely explored and laid open to view. ... If we had the same advantage with respect to other men, ... few of them would be found whose character would present a higher claim to indulgence than his’.
Hastings's passions were always well controlled. His wife adored him. He was admired by such men as Thurlow and Johnson, by Halhed, and ultimately by Teignmouth. He is not known ever to have lost a friend. ‘His generosity was unbounded in desire, and did not always calculate his means of indulging it. His own private interest was lost in his regard for the public welfare’. Testimony abounds to his gentleness under suffering, and absence of vindictive language about his enemies.
Like other distinguished men, Hastings owed much to the combination of apparently incompatible qualities. A bold dreamer he possessed almost unequalled executive ability and practical good sense. Though not always fastidious as to the means by which he benefited his employers, he never showed any vulgar greed on his own account, and his lavish expenditure of money was accompanied by a total indifference to personal advantage or display. Gentle in temper and constant in affection, he could be combative, and even truculent on occasion; determined and resolute, he yet knew how to give up his own purpose when it was not to be had without paying too dear. Brought up in a bad school, exposed to most dangerous influences, he was guilty of nothing personally dishonouring, even when he compromised his reputation. But in the contemporary criticism of public men allowance is rarely made for shades of character and peculiarities of circumstance. At the end of the eighteenth century Englishmen were awakening to a sense of the duties of humanity, and felt that the position and the doings of English traders and officials in the East were not always to be defended. The outcry of 1785 and the unanimous condemnation of Hastings by both sides of the House of Commons were the first outcome of this feeling. Although partly due to political motives, and further tainted by insincere rhetoric and extravagant hyperbole, the impeachment was something more than mere hypocrisy or hysterics.
|Meet the web creator||
These materials may be freely used for
non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances
and distribution to students.
Last modified 12 January, 2016
|American Affairs 1760-83||The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815||Irish Affairs 1760-89|
|Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel||Irish
|Primary sources index||British Political Personalities||British Foreign policy 1815-65||European history||