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This article was written by Alexander John Arbuthnot and was published in 1899
Richard Colley Wellesley, Marquis Wellesley, governor-general of India, was born at Dangan Castle on 20 June 1760. He was the eldest of the six sons of Garrett Wellesley, first viscount Wellesley of Dangan Castle and earl of Mornington in the county of Meath. His mother was Anne, eldest daughter of Arthur Hill-Trevor, first viscount Dungannon. Henry Wellesley, baron Cowley, Arthur Wellesley, the great duke of Wellington, and William Wellesley-Pole, first baron Maryborough and third earl of Mornington, were his younger brothers.
Richard began his education in a private school at Trim, whence he was sent to Harrow. There he was implicated in barring out a newly appointed headmaster named Heath, whose appointment was resented by the elder Harrow boys. He was then sent to Eton, where he speedily acquired an accurate knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics, and also the remarkable facility in composition in those languages which distinguished him to the end of his life. From Eton he went to Oxford, matriculating from Christ Church on 24 December. 1778. In 1780 he won the chancellor's prize for Latin verse, the subject being Captain Cook. He was elected a student of Christ Church. His father dying in 1781, he left Oxford without taking a degree, and returned to Ireland, where he devoted himself to putting his estates in order and to looking after the education of his brothers. The estates he placed under the management of his mother. He at the same time took upon himself the payment of his father's debts. When he came of age he entered the Irish House of Peers, where he contracted a great admiration for Grattan. William Wyndham Grenville (afterwards Baron Grenville), who had been his intimate friend both at Eton and at Oxford, was at that time chief secretary for Ireland, and the former intimacy was renewed.
On 3 April 1784 Wellesley was returned to the English House of Commons as member for Beeralston in Devonshire, on 19 July 1787 and on 16 June 1790 for Windsor, and on 13 May 1796 for Old Sarum. He was one of the original knights of St. Patrick on the foundation of the order in 1783, and was made a lord of the treasury in 1786. He early imbibed liberal principles. He sympathised with Pitt's free-trade principles and with Wilberforce regarding the slave trade; but in the earlier part of his life, influenced by what he saw of revolutionary proceedings in Paris, he was opposed to parliamentary reform. He has been called a typical representative of the conservatism which owed its birth to Pitt and Burke.
In 1793 he was appointed by Pitt a member of the board of control for Indian affairs, and devoted himself to the study of Indian business. At that time he became intimately acquainted with Lord Cornwallis, who had recently retired from the governor-generalship of India. In 1797 he was nominated for the post of governor of Madras, the intention being to reappoint Cornwallis as governor-general. The latter, however, could not be spared from Ireland, where he was holding the office of lord lieutenant, and accordingly Mornington was appointed governor-general of India, and sailed on 7 November 1797. He took out with him as his private secretary his brother, Henry Richard Charles Wellesley (afterwards Lord Cowley). He had married, on 29 November 1793, Hyacinthe Gabrielle, daughter of Pierre Roland of Paris, who had lived with him for nine years before their marriage, and by whom he had had children. In the circumstances he did not think it expedient to take her to India.
It was a very critical time in India. Clive had laid the foundations of British supremacy in Bengal, and that supremacy, amid many difficulties, had been consolidated by Warren Hastings; but in the south of India the British had been hard pressed by Hyder Ali, the astute ruler of Mysore, with whom they had maintained a by no means equal contest. Hyder's son and successor, Tippu Sahib, who had been defeated by Cornwallis in 1792, was engaged in plots for the subversion of British rule, and the great Mahratta states had still to be overcome. There were also threats of another invasion of India from the north, where Zamán Shah, the ruler of Cabul, was known to be planning an advance upon Delhi. The danger, however, which at that time was most pressing was an alliance between Tippu and the French, and the co-operation of a French force with that under Tippu for the expulsion of the English. This was Tippu's object, and it so happened that on 26 April 1798, the very day that Mornington reached Madras, a small body of French soldiers landed at Mangalore, a port on the coast of Canara, which was then under Mysore rule.
The condition of affairs in the Hyderabad state was also threatening. In 1759 Colonel Francis Forde, acting under Clive's orders, had compelled the nizam of that day, then styled the subahdár of the Dekhan, to renounce the French alliance, and in 1768 and 1779 fresh treaties had been made with the nizam, under which he was bound to maintain no French troops in his service. These treaties, however, had been broken, and Mornington's predecessor, Sir John Shore (afterwards Baron Teignmouth), had taken no steps to enforce their observance. Indeed, when Mornington reached India the troops maintained at Hyderabad under French officers numbered fourteen thousand men. They had been under the command of an able French officer named Raymond, who had died just before Mornington arrived. The Mahratta states of Poona, Baroda, Nagpur, Gwalior, and Indore, however much divided among themselves, were at one in their desire to expel the English from India, while in Oudh and in Rohilkhand the feelings of the people towards the English were the reverse of friendly.
In the course of his voyage Mornington landed at the Cape of Good Hope, where he not only received despatches from India giving the latest news, but met Lord Macartney, then governor of the Cape, who had been governor of Madras; Lord Hobart, who had just retired from the Madras government; General (afterwards Sir) David Baird, and Major William Kirkpatrick, who had quite recently held the office of British resident at Hyderabad. From Major Kirkpatrick Mornington received a great deal of useful information, although he did not agree with him on all points, and several of the recommendations which, when writing from the Cape, Mornington made to the home government were based upon information given him by Kirkpatrick. The conclusion at which Mornington arrived during his short stay at the Cape was that the balance of power in India no longer existed upon the same footing on which it was placed by the peace of Seringapatam, and that therefore the question was, how it might best be brought back to that state in which the president of the board of control had directed him to maintain it. He was clearly of opinion that the non-intervention policy of his two immediate predecessors — for Cornwallis, as well as Shore, was a believer in that policy — could not be continued. During his stay at Madras he looked into the position of the nawáb of Arcot, the successor of Muhammad Ali, commonly called the Nawáb Wallajah, who owed his throne to the aid given him by Stringer Lawrence and Clive. He found that there was a large debt due by the nawáb to the company, and that the nawáb had no intention of paying it. He also investigated the affairs of Tanjore, a Mahratta state in the south of India; but he was compelled to postpone his decision on both these matters. He did not reach Calcutta until 17 May 1798, and the Mysore question then claimed precedence of all others.
This question assumed an acute phase in June 1798, when a proclamation appeared in the newspapers, which had been issued at Mauritius by the French governor of that island, inviting natives to enlist for an expedition against the English in India, in conjunction with Tippu Sultán. Mornington was at first disposed to question the authenticity of the document, but he at once wrote to General George Harris (afterwards Lord Harris), the commander-in-chief and acting governor at Madras, to be prepared to collect a force in the event of its being required, and, after ascertaining that the proclamation was authentic, he, with the full concurrence of his council, gave further orders for the necessary preparations. In the meantime the first thing to be done was to secure the co-operation of the nizam, and, if possible, also of the Mahrattas, in order that in the war which was impending the English might not be without allies, or, at all events, that the Mysore ruler might not have the aid of the fourteen thousand troops commanded by French officers who were still in the service of the nizam. This was accomplished in the month of September. The French officers were removed, the troops under them were either disbanded or placed under British officers, and a treaty was executed which brought the nizam into the position of a protected prince. The negotiations with the Mahrattas did not do more than secure their neutrality; but, as the event showed, this sufficed to protect the British from a flank attack. Thus within seven months Mornington succeeded in giving effect to a great extent to the policy which he had sketched out in his letters from the Cape.
The execution of that policy was not unattended with difficulties. In the first place the government of Madras had been greatly alarmed by Hyder Ali's victories, and were very unwilling to renew the struggle with his son. Josiah Webbe, the chief secretary, the most able man about the government, and probably the most important, anticipated nothing but disaster from an attack upon Tippu. His views were adopted by the local government, including the commander-in-chief, and formed the text of a remonstrance which the government of Madras addressed to the supreme government. But Mornington had made up his mind, and was not to be moved by any remonstrance. He had thoroughly gauged the situation. He had penetrated Tippu's treachery. He had also received news of the destruction of the French fleet in the battle of the Nile. Up to this point his letters to Tippu had been of a conciliatory character, but now he threw off the mask, and intimated to Tippu that Major (Sir) John Doveton, an officer in his confidence, would visit his court and explain his views more fully. About the same time he informed the sultán that he had decided to repair to Madras in order to carry on the negotiations on the spot. All this produced but little effect until Tippu learnt that Mornington had actually reached Madras. To the intimation that a British envoy would be sent him, he replied with studied insolence to the effect that he was going to be absent on a hunting expedition, showing that he had by no means realised the gravity of his position. Mornington soon perceived that Tippu's object was to gain time, in order that the British troops might be exposed to the inconvenience of the monsoon, and also in the hope that some change of circumstances might bring him the aid which he looked for from the French. General Harris was accordingly instructed to advance into Mysore territory, which he did on 11 February 1799.
On the 22nd of that month Mornington issued a proclamation, in which he reviewed Tippu's conduct, showing how he had ‘rejected every pacific overture, in the hourly expectation of receiving the succour’ from the French ‘which he has eagerly solicited for the prosecution of his favourite purposes of ambition and revenge,’ and stating that ‘the allies were equally prepared to repel the violence and to counteract the artifices and delays of the sultán,’ and with this view were resolved to place their army in such a position as shall afford ‘absolute protection against any artifice or insincerity, and shall preclude the return of that danger which has so lately menaced their possessions.’ It had been arranged that a force from Bombay, under the command of Major-general James Stuart, the commander-in-chief in that presidency, should co-operate with General Harris. This force, before it joined General Harris, was attacked by Tippu, who was repulsed with considerable loss. Subsequently a battle was fought at Malavelly (27 March 1799), in which the British, who had been reinforced by six thousand of the nizam's troops, were again victorious. On that occasion the left wing, of which the nizam's troops formed a part, was commanded by Colonel Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington). Tippu having after this battle retired within the walls of Seringapatam, General Harris advanced and laid siege to that fortress, which was taken by assault on 4 April, Tippu being slain in the assault. This ended the war. The other Mysore fortresses speedily surrendered.
Mornington had now to decide what should be the fate of the Mysore state. The decision at which he arrived was that Mysore should be maintained as a native state under a member of the old Hindu dynasty which had been displaced by Hyder Ali. It was, however, to be shorn of a considerable part of its territory, a portion to be taken by the company and a portion by the nizam. Mornington's original intention was that the Mahratta state of Poona should share in the spoil; for although the Mahrattas had rendered no aid in the advance on Seringapatam, he deemed it expedient on political grounds that the Mahrattas should be admitted on certain conditions to a share of the conquered territory. Those conditions were that the peshwa should enter into a definite alliance against the French, should engage never to employ Europeans without the consent of the company, and should guarantee the inviolability of the new state to be erected in Mysore. These conditions, however, were declined by the peshwa, and accordingly the conquered territory was divided between the company and the nizam. The company's share included Canara, Coimbatur, and in fact all the districts intervening between their possessions on the western coast and the Carnatic. The forts and posts at the heads of the passes leading into Mysore were also assigned to the company, as was the fortress of Seringapatam. The nizam obtained the districts of Gooty and Gurramconda, and land down to Chitaldrug and other fortresses on the northern border of Mysore; but a year later these tracts were all ceded to the company to defray the expenses of the subsidiary force which the nizam was, and still is, required to maintain in his dominions. By this last arrangement the nizam was placed in the position of a protected prince absolutely bound to the British government.
On one part of these arrangements, viz. the revival of the Hindu state of Mysore, there has been considerable difference of opinion, not only at the time when the arrangements were made, but during the years which have since elapsed. The late Sir Thomas (then Captain) Munro, who was one of the ablest, if not the ablest, of the rising Indian statesmen of that day, regarded with grave misgivings the re-establishment of the Mysore state. He was strongly in favour, under all the circumstances, of the extension of British rule wherever an opportunity offered. If he had had any voice in the decision of the question, he would have had ‘no rájá of Mysore, in the person of a child dragged forth from oblivion, to be placed on a throne on which his ancestors for three generations had not sat for more than half a century.’ Nor was his opinion without justification from the subsequent course of events. The maladministration of the young rájá, after he attained his majority and was invested with power, was so gross that the government of the country had to be assumed by the company, and was never again placed in his hands. He died without any natural male heir, and it had been quite settled that after his death Mysore should be annexed to the British ráj; but after the Indian mutiny the change of opinion as to the policy of annexation was so great that in 1867 it was decided by the secretary of state to recognise an adoption which the rájá had made shortly before his death, and to maintain Mysore as a native state.
There can be no question that if the native state was to be maintained, the policy adopted by Mornington of setting up a member of the old Hindu family which had formerly ruled in Mysore, in preference to continuing the government in the family of Hyder and Tippu, who had shown themselves so thoroughly hostile to the British power, was a wise policy, and at that time there was much to be said in favour of moderation in extending British territory. As a safeguard for the future, the new ruler was not entrusted with the power of making peace or war, and was forbidden to maintain an army, the company undertaking for an annual subsidy of £280,000 the protection of the country. The right was also reserved of interfering in the internal government when such interference was required, and this right, as we have said, was exercised when the rájá proved that he was unfit to govern. Sir Barry Close, an able military and political officer, was appointed resident at the rájá's court, and Colonel Arthur Wellesley was left in command of the military force quartered in Mysore.
The services rendered by Mornington in thus surmounting the main difficulties by which he was confronted on his arrival in India were acknowledged by votes of thanks from both houses of parliament, and on 2 December. 1799 he was created Marquis Wellesley of Norragh in the peerage of Ireland. The latter was not regarded by Wellesley as by any means an adequate reward, and in writing to Pitt he spoke his mind very plainly on the subject. He declined a donation of £100,000 which was offered to him by the court of directors from the plunder taken at Seringapatam, but was persuaded by that body to accept a star and badge, composed of Tippu's jewels, which the army wished to present to him, but which he had at first refused.
Shortly after the conquest of Mysore it devolved upon Wellesley to deal with the right to the throne of the native state of Tanjore. It lay between Sarfoji, the adopted son of the late rájá, and Amír Singh, the half-brother of the latter, who was actually on the throne. Wellesley decided that the right clearly lay with Sarfoji, and moreover that the country had been grossly misgoverned by Amír Singh. Sarfoji, however, was very young and inexperienced, and by no means well qualified to conduct the government of the country. In these circumstances Wellesley decided to place Sarfoji in the position of a mediatised prince, and to vest the actual administration in the company's government. This was effected by a treaty concluded on 25 October 1799, which remained in force until 1855, when, owing to the death of the last rájá without leaving a male heir, Tanjore was annexed. Under British rule, both before and since the annexation, Tanjore has prospered wonderfully, and has long been one of the richest districts in India. A few months later Wellesley placed the nawáb of Surat in a position similar to that of the rájá of Tanjore.
A greater difficulty was presented by the case of the nawáb of the Carnatic. Here the relations between successive nawábs and the company had long been unsatisfactory. Muhammad Ali, who had been secured on his throne by Stringer Lawrence and Clive, was a spendthrift, as was his son, Omdat ul Omrah, and they neither of them had met their engagements to the company, to which they were heavily in debt. About the time when Wellesley took up the question, papers were discovered at Mysore which showed that both Omdat ul Omrah and his father had been engaged in a clandestine correspondence with Tippu, having for its object the expulsion of the English from India. At the moment when this discovery was made Omdat ul Omrah was on his deathbed, and in consequence the question of the succession had to be postponed until his death. Wellesley had previously endeavoured to obtain his assent to an arrangement similar to that which had been made at Tanjore, but had been met, not only by a refusal, but by a demand that the nawáb should share in the distribution of the territories just taken from Mysore. On the nawáb's death Wellesley offered similar terms to his reputed son, Ali Hussain, but by him also the terms were refused. Wellesley then proceeded to treat with Azim ud Dowlah, a nephew of the late nawáb, and with him a treaty was made on 31 July 1801 which provided for the practical annexation of the Carnatic. Under this treaty the complete civil and military administration was vested in the company, one-fifth of the net revenues being assigned to the nawáb. James Mill the historian condemns the arrangement, and affects to throw doubt upon the genuineness of the documents upon which Wellesley acted, stigmatising the whole transaction as ‘an unmanly fraud.’ But his views have not been accepted by any of the authorities best qualified to form a judgment upon such a question; and when we remember that if the documents upon which Wellesley acted were forged, such men as General Harris, General Baird, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, Colonel Close, Henry Wellesley, Captain Macaulay, Neil Benjamin Edmonstone, and Josiah Webbe must have been parties to the forgery, it is impossible to suppose that there can have been the slightest foundation for the charge. The treaty of 1801 was a personal treaty, and as such was held in 1855 to justify the government of India in their refusal to put up another mediatised nawáb. The chief members of the Arcot family are now pensioners, liberally pensioned, but coming under the category of subjects.
Wellesley next directed his attention to Oudh. In that frontier state the existing state of things was extremely unsatisfactory. The nawáb, Saádat Ali, was a mere voluptuary, a coward, and a miser. The long-threatened invasion by the Afghan ruler, Zamán Shah, was still by no means improbable, and the army of Oudh was a disorderly rabble. This state of affairs was obviously a serious danger to the company's territories. Wellesley in the first instance despatched Colonel Scott, the Bengal adjutant-general, to explain the situation to the nawáb, and to urge him to replace his so-called army by a British subsidiary force. Saádat Ali's reply was an offer, by no means genuine, to abdicate; but Wellesley did not wish to annex Oudh, and he soon discovered that the offer to abdicate was a mere sham. He therefore despatched to Lucknow his brother, Henry Wellesley, who succeeded in convincing the nawáb that temporising and dilatory shifts would not be tolerated, and that Oudh must be placed either upon the footing of Tanjore or upon that which had been adopted in the case of Hyderabad. The latter arrangement was eventually accepted by the nawáb, and a treaty was made under which certain districts were ceded to the company, who were to maintain a force for the protection of Oudh, the nawáb agreeing to reduce his own troops, and to introduce into his remaining territory a good system of government. About the same time another treaty was made, under which the nawáb of Farrukhabad was mediatised and the civil and military administration of his district assigned to the company.
While these measures were being taken, the danger from Cabul was still threatening. Indeed it was the risk of an invasion by Zamán Shah which mainly impressed upon Wellesley the necessity of strengthening his authority in Oudh. But this, he felt, was not sufficient. He determined that the most effectual method of preventing aggression by the amír of Cabul would be to compel him to act upon the defensive in his own country. He accordingly despatched a native envoy, and subsequently Captain (afterwards Sir John) Malcolm to Persia to negotiate a treaty with the shah. Malcolm's embassy was a very costly affair, but its main object had already been accomplished by the native envoy who had preceded Malcolm, and had incited Muhammad Shah, the brother of the amír, to invade the amír's dominions. From that time there was no further risk of an invasion by Zamán Shah, who shortly afterwards perished in battle.
Another measure which Wellesley had much at heart was the expulsion of the French from the islands of Mauritius and Bourbon, whence, by means of privateers, they were able to inflict serious loss upon Indian commerce. He also contemplated the expulsion of the Dutch from Java. His plans, however, were frustrated by the perversity of Peter Raynier, the admiral in command on the Indian station, who declined to place the fleet at Wellesley's disposal without express orders from the admiralty. Both expeditions had in consequence to be abandoned, and the two French islands remained in possession of the French for eight years longer, greatly to the detriment of Indian commerce.
Very shortly afterwards, however, the force which had been collected, reinforced by a large contingent of troops from Bombay, was despatched, under orders from home, to Egypt for the purpose of turning the French out of that country; Wellesley remarking to General Baird, who was placed in command, and had commanded the storming party at Seringapatam, ‘that a more worthy sequel to the storm of Seringapatam could not be presented to his genius and valour.’ The object of this expedition was achieved without bringing the Indian contingent into action, the mere report of its approach, combined with the energetic measures of Sir John Hely-Hutchinson (afterwards second Earl of Donoughmore), who had succeeded Sir Ralph Abercromby in command of the English force, sufficing to drive the French general to capitulate.
The peace of Amiens shortly afterwards followed, and under its provisions Wellesley was instructed to restore to the French Pondicherry and other places which had been French possessions. It was a strong measure to disregard these instructions, but Wellesley did disregard them. He felt that the duration of the peace was very uncertain, and that if war broke out again the restoration of these places to the French would seriously imperil British interests in India. He accordingly instructed Lord Clive, the governor of Madras, to refuse the restoration of Pondicherry pending a reference to London. Before the answer came the war in Europe had been resumed, and Wellesley was ordered to recapture ‘any ports or possessions which the French may have in India.’ This had been rendered unnecessary by Wellesley's prescient refusal to act upon the previous orders.
About this time Wellesley received from the home government what he naturally regarded as a high honour, viz. the rank of captain-general and commander-in-chief of all the forces in the East Indies. It gratified his military instincts, which were very strong, and it gave great satisfaction to the army, to which he had endeared himself by his sagacious direction of the Mysore war, and by his generosity in refusing to accept, at the expense of the army, the donation of £100,000 which had been offered to him out of the Seringapatam prize-money. During the greater part of this time Wellesley's relations with the court of directors were far from satisfactory. They resented his somewhat autocratic proclivities, and they especially disapproved of his mode of exercising his patronage. They overruled his appointment of Henry Wellesley as resident at Lucknow, and they refused to sanction his nomination of Major Kirkpatrick as political secretary. They insisted upon all such appointments being held by members of the covenanted civil service. They refused to sanction the staff salary which it was proposed to assign to Colonel Arthur Wellesley while serving in Mysore. Irritated by interference of this description, Wellesley in 1802 applied to be relieved, but the state of things in India compelled him to remain. Again in 1803, keenly resenting the attitude of the court, he requested that he might be relieved in the following year; but before his application could be complied with the discontent which had shown itself on the part of the rulers of the Mahratta states compelled the directors to request him to remain at his post.
The five principal states in which the Mahrattas bore rule were Poona, Indore, Gwalior, Berár, and Baroda. The peshwa who ruled at Poona, although his position was only that of hereditary minister to the descendants of Sivaji, the nominal rulers of the Sattára state, was regarded as the chief of the Mahrattas. It was from the peshwa that Wellesley sought for co-operation when he was about to attack Mysore, although at this time (1802) Holkar and Sindia, the chiefs of Indore and Gwalior, were really the most powerful of the Mahratta rulers; and although the peshwa had been for some years a prisoner in the hands of Sindia, and more recently had been driven by Holkar a fugitive into British territory, still, looking to his legitimate position as peshwa, Wellesley again deemed it advisable to secure his co-operation. The result was the treaty of Bassein (31 December. 1802), by which the peshwa pledged himself to hold communications with no other power, European or native, and ceded districts to the company for the maintenance of a subsidiary force. This treaty, as might have been expected, gave great offence to the other Mahratta chiefs, who saw that the system of subsidiary alliances with the British power was fatal to the independence of native states. Thereupon followed the second Mahratta war, which lasted from 1802 to 1804. The immediate casus belli was the position taken up by the troops of Sindia and the Berár rájá on the confines of the nizam's territories. Wellesley resolved to attack the Mahrattas in Hindustan, in the Dekhan, in Guzerat, and in Cuttack. The command in Hindustan was entrusted to General Gerard Lake (afterwards Viscount Lake), then commander-in-chief of the Bengal army; that in the Dekhan to General Arthur Wellesley, and the commands in Guzerat and Cuttack to Colonels Woodington and Harcourt respectively. The operations were attended with brilliant success, especially in Hindustan and in ththe Dekhan, where at Laswári and at Assye and Argáume, the generals in command won the famous battles named after those places. Sindia and the rájá of Berár, commonly called the Bonsla, were speedily vanquished. The French-drilled troops under M. Perron were destroyed, Perron himself obtaining a safe-conduct from Lake. Considerable additions were made to British territory both in Central India and on the east coast, where the district of Cuttack was ceded by the Bonsla. Wellesley, however, was somewhat hasty in assuming that hostilities were at an end. In reply to an address presented to him by the inhabitants of Calcutta in 1803, he remarked that ‘the peace which has been concluded comprehends every object of the war with every practicable security for the continuance of tranquillity.’ Events speedily showed that this language was premature. Before the year 1803 had come to an end, Holkar, who had stood aloof during the previous hostilities, was preparing for war. In April 1804 orders were issued by Wellesley to begin it. Lake, who was in command, would seem to have under-estimated Holkar's strength. He sent Colonel William Monson (1760-1807) with a force of sepoys to keep Holkar in check, and to protect the city of Jaipur, which was threatened by him, and then marched back with his main force to Cawnpur.
The commissariat arrangements were very inadequate. Jaipur was saved, and Monson followed Holkar, and eventually found himself in front of the whole of Holkar's force with only two days' supplies for the troops under his command. He then commenced to retreat. The rains set in, the retreat became a rout, and ended in a most grave disaster. The Duke of Wellington, then General Wellesley, pronounced it the greatest disaster and most disgraceful to our military character that had ever occurred. It was a serious blow to Wellesley, although he was in no way to blame for the unfortunate strategy which had led to it. For this Lake was mainly responsible in sending too small a force, and not seeing that it was properly supplied. Indeed Wellesley had urged Lake to send with Monson's detachment a small force of Europeans, but his advice had not been acted on. Wellesley, however, had to suffer the consequences. Both the court of directors and the board of control under Castlereagh had all along questioned the policy of the Mahratta war, and accordingly, when the intelligence of the disaster reached England, it was at once determined to recall Wellesley and to reverse his policy. Lord Cornwallis was sent out to relieve him, and reached Calcutta on 29 July 1805. Wellesley was not taken by surprise. Indeed from the time of Monson's disaster he had felt that the opponents of his policy in England would bring about his removal from his post. The result to India was disastrous. Cornwallis survived his return too short a time to do much; but his temporary successor, Sir George Hilaro Barlow, with all the enthusiasm of a convert, did all he could to reverse the policy, to which as Wellesley's secretary, and afterwards as a member of his council, he had given a strong support. It was mainly by this reversal of Wellesley's policy that the third Mahratta war of 1817 and 1818 was brought about.
The leading feature of Wellesley's foreign policy in India was the system of subsidiary alliances which he introduced. It enabled the British government to establish a preponderating influence in the native states without actually annexing them; but it was not altogether free from objection. Sir Thomas Munro, who was at first a warm supporter of the system, ended by deprecating its further extension. His deliberate opinion was that the presence of a British force in a native state, by supporting the prince on his throne against any foreign or domestic enemy, acted as an encouragement to misgovernment. Sir Arthur Wellesley also had doubts at one time as to the usefulness of the system. In June 1803 he wrote that such treaties entirely ‘annihilated the military power of the governments with which we contracted them,’ and that he would ‘preserve the existence of the state and guide its actions by the weight of British influence rather than annihilate it.’ A year later, however, he recognised that the subsidiary treaties conferred ‘enormous benefits’ upon the British government: ‘The consequences of them have been that in this war with the Mahrattas, which it is obvious must have occurred sooner or later, the company's territories have not been invaded, and the evils of war have been kept at a distance from the sources of our wealth and our power. This fact alone, unsupported by any others which could be enumerated as benefits resulting from these alliances, would be sufficient to justify them’.
Wellesley was by no means inattentive to the internal administration of the British provinces. At an early period he discerned the importance of improving the personnel of the civil service. He framed during 1800 an elaborate and comprehensive scheme for the establishment of a college in Fort William at Calcutta, in which the education of the young civil servants sent out from England should be completed. He pointed out that the members of the Indian civil service could no longer be regarded as the agents of a commercial concern; that they would have to discharge the functions of magistrates, judges, ambassadors, and governors of provinces, and would require to be educated in those branches of literature and science which form the basis of the education of persons destined to perform similar duties in Europe, added to which they should acquire an intimate acquaintance with the history, languages, and customs of the people of India, with the Muhammadan and Hindoo codes of law and religion, and with the political and commercial interests and relations of Great Britain in Asia. The scheme did not commend itself to the court of directors, who pronounced it to be too vast and too expensive; but it led some years later to the formation of a college in England for the education of Indian civil servants, which, established first at Hertford and afterwards transferred to Haileybury, was successfully maintained until the appointments to the service were thrown open to public competition under the act of 1853.
The refusal of the court to sanction his scheme was bitterly resented by Wellesley. It was one of several causes — the others being acts of interference with his patronage, some of a very offensive character — which on 1 January 1802 led him to request that he might be relieved from his office in the following October.
Another method which Wellesley adopted for improving the civil service, although necessarily carried out on a very limited scale, was to gather round him some of the younger members of the service and employ them at government house in drafting despatches under his own orders and writing them to his own dictation. The late Lord Metcalfe was one of the assistants thus employed. Among the others were John Adam, William Butterworth Bayley, (Sir) Richard Jenkins, and Henry Cole. Under such a man as Wellesley these young men enjoyed a splendid opportunity of learning how public affairs of the highest importance were carried on, and not one of them failed to profit by the experience. The despatches which were issued on the outbreak of the Mahratta war were among the documents which were thus prepared.
The observance of the Sunday in India was a matter to which Wellesley attached considerable importance, as tending to disabuse the natives of the idea that the English had no religion, and, with this view, shortly after his return from Madras he ordered a public and general thanksgiving for the successes which had attended the British arms. He also directed by a public notification the observance of Sunday as a day of rest.
The seditious character of many of the publications of the native press was a matter which then, as in more recent times, caused some anxiety. Wellesley dealt with it by introducing a mild censorship.
Wellesley was not himself a financier, but he speedily realised the importance of placing the finances in a sound condition. For this purpose he selected Henry St. George Tucker, a Bengal civil servant, who performed the duty with marked success.
Wellesley sailed from India on 15 August 1805, and arrived in England early in 1806. The change from the autocratic position which he had filled in India to that of a retired ruler but little known to the multitude caused him a degree of chagrin which he was unable to conceal. Shortly after his arrival his mortification was increased by learning that he was to be attacked in parliament in connection with his policy regarding Oudh. His accuser was James Paull, who had made a fortune by trade in India and obtained a seat in parliament. Paull moved for papers in January 1806, and in May of that year formulated his charges, in which he accused Wellesley of having incited the subjects of the Nawáb Vazir of Oudh to rebel against him, and then by means of threats compelled the Náwab Vazir to give up a large portion of his territory. Paull having lost his seat at the general election in 1806, the charges which he had brought were taken up by Lord Folkestone; but it was not until 1808 that they were brought to a division. The result was that Wellesley's policy was approved by the House of Commons by a large majority (182 to 31), and a subsequent motion of impeachment made by Sir Thomas Turton was rejected by a still larger one. In the meantime Wellesley, a few days after his arrival, had been cordially received by his friend Pitt, then very near his end, and had been welcomed at a public dinner given at Almack's, at which the chair was taken by General Harris, the captor of Seringapatam, supported by some of the leading statesmen of the time. Wellesley spoke for the first time in the House of Lords on 8 February 1808, when, in an eloquent and convincing speech, he supported the ministers in their refusal to produce papers relating to the seizure of the Danish fleet. In the following year (1809) Wellesley was despatched as ambassador-extraordinary to Seville to concert measures with the Spanish junta for carrying on the war in the Peninsula, his brother, Sir Arthur Wellesley, being entrusted with the command of the troops on 2 April. The course taken by the government in sending the expedition to Walcheren, to which Wellesley strongly objected as being certain to interfere with the efficiency of the army under his brother, led him to resign his appointment; but at the instance of Canning, then foreign secretary, he withdrew his resignation upon an assurance that the force under Arthur Wellesley should not be unduly weakened.
At the end of July the victory of Talavera took place; but the British force was so ill-supplied, and the Spanish government so utterly failed to fulfil their promises, and their assertions proved to be so untrustworthy, that Wellesley was compelled to threaten the withdrawal of the British army into Portugal, which produced some improvement in the situation. Shortly afterwards the retirement of Canning from the ministry after his duel with Castlereagh resulted in Wellesley's appointment as foreign secretary under Perceval. Wellesley assumed this office at an important crisis. Every government in Europe was under the sway of Napoleon or was in alliance with him. England was absolutely isolated. Napoleon by his Berlin and Milan decrees had seriously threatened British trade. There were grave differences with the United States. The intercourse between the British envoy in America and the government of the United States had been suspended. The great work accomplished by Wellesley in India had not then been fully recognised. A large party in England doubted the policy of the Peninsular war, the success of which still hung in the balance. The cabinet at home was by no means unanimous. The ministry was so weak in debating power that both Lord Liverpool and Wellesley offered to vacate office to make room for Canning and Castlereagh; but neither of the latter would at that time join the government.
Wellesley entertained but a poor opinion of the fitness of Perceval for the post of prime minister, and did not attempt to disguise it. Indeed his autocratic antecedents seriously affected his intercourse with his colleagues in the cabinet, whose meetings he seldom attended, managing his department without consulting them. During 1811 he seldom attended a cabinet council. At the same time he was so much affected by constitutional nervousness that, notwithstanding his great oratorical power, he seldom spoke in parliament. On one memorable occasion of a debate on the regency bill, when he had led his colleagues to suppose that he would give them a cordial and effective support, he maintained an absolute silence, the cause of which has never been fully explained. It is generally attributed to an invincible nervousness, and is said to have caused great annoyance to Wellesley himself.
On 16 January 1812 Wellesley tendered his resignation to the prince regent, who, however, more than once pressed him to retain his office. On 18 February he was offered, but refused, the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland, and on the following day he finally resigned. He was installed K.G. on 31 March, when he withdrew from the order of St. Patrick. On 11 May the assassination of Perceval caused a ministerial crisis. On the 22nd Wellesley was commissioned by the prince regent to ascertain whether a fusion could be brought about between the leaders of the two parties on the understanding that the Roman catholics were to be relieved from civil disabilities and that the war should be prosecuted with vigour. Canning was willing to join, but Lord Liverpool and some of his colleagues refused to become members of an administration to be founded by Lord Wellesley. He then communicated with Lords Grey and Grenville, who were quite prepared to support the removal of catholic disabilities, but did not share his views as to the urgency or possibility of a vigorous prosecution of the war.
Up to this point Wellesley had been employed by the prince regent merely to ascertain and report to him the possibility of forming a government including representatives of the two great parties; but on 1 June he received authority to form an administration. In this, however, he failed, and on 3 June he announced in the House of Lords his resignation of the commission entrusted to him, observing that he had failed in consequence ‘of the most dreadful personal animosities and the most terrible difficulties arising out of complicated questions.’ He subsequently explained that in using the phrase ‘dreadful personal animosities’ he had had in his mind Lord Liverpool and some of his colleagues in the administration which came into office upon Wellesley's failure to form one. Lord Liverpool's government, which, it was supposed, would not last long, lasted for fifteen years. It met with reverses at an early period of its existence, but was saved by Lord Wellington's victory at Salamanca on 22 July 1812. From that time until the end of 1821 Wellesley remained out of office, but during the greater part of this period he showed an active interest in the political questions of the day. His views and those of his illustrious brother, whom he had so loyally supported both in India and in Spain, gradually drifted apart. He opposed the treaty of Fontainebleau, foreseeing that Napoleon would not observe it, and on Napoleon's return from Elba he opposed a renewal of the war, and was in favour of recognising Napoleon as a constitutional ruler on the throne of France. On two important domestic questions the views of the two brothers were absolutely discordant. Wellesley was in favour of removing the disabilities of the Roman catholics, while Wellington opposed any such measure until he and Peel felt compelled by the state of Ireland to adopt it in 1829. Wellesley was a free-trader, while Wellington supported a policy of protection to the end. On this question Wellesley was one of a small body of peers who signed a protest against a protective policy as imposing an unjust burden upon the consumer. This protest was directed against a recommendation made in 1814 by a committee of the House of Lords, that as long as the price of wheat should be under 80s. a quarter the ports should be closed against supplies from other countries.
But the most notable point upon which the two brothers differed was the foreign policy of the country. The man who as governor-general of India had done so much to extend and consolidate our Indian empire, and whose military policy had been essentially a forward policy in India and in Spain, and more recently as foreign secretary in London, was now all for a policy of peace and retrenchment. If it had rested with him there would have been no Waterloo campaign. After the war the military charges would have been at once reduced, and every effort would have been made to lighten the burdens of the people. He was not, however, prepared to oppose the government during the crisis in 1819 memorable for the ‘Peterloo massacre,’ when the peace of the country seemed to be actually in danger. On that occasion he supported the government in a vigorous speech. He still continued his efforts in favour of catholic emancipation and in support of a free-trade policy. In 1820 George III died, and in the following year Lord Grenville and some of his followers having joined the government, Wellesley was again offered, and on this occasion accepted, the post of lord lieutenant of Ireland. His wife, from whom he had been practically separated for some years, had died on 5 November 1816, and was buried at Penkridge in Staffordshire.
Wellesley's appointment was received with acclamation. He was known to have been for many years in favour of Roman catholic emancipation, and was therefore acceptable to the Roman catholics. With the protestants, or with what of late years has been called the English garrison, he was popular on account of the brilliant public services which had been rendered by him and by his illustrious brother, and with Irishmen generally the fact of his being an Irishman by birth told in his favour. His first levée was numerously attended by members of all parties. At a meeting of Roman catholic gentlemen held in Dublin on 7 January 1822, O'Connell pronounced a high eulogium upon him, and moved an address of congratulation upon his appointment, which was seconded by Richard Lalor Sheil. But, notwithstanding these demonstrations, the difficulties of the situation were very great and speedily became manifest. The country was torn to pieces by faction. It was honeycombed by secret societies. The state of things was thus described on 7 February 1822 by John Grattan, the son of the Irish patriot, Henry Grattan: ‘Oaths were of little obligation, and human life of no value.’ On the one hand ribbonmen and whiteboys defied the law and committed outrages of the most fiendish nature. On the other hand the orangemen, and those who sympathised with them, opposed all attempts at conciliation, and took an early opportunity of insulting the man who strove to promote a conciliatory policy and equal justice. A few months after his arrival in Dublin Wellesley had to deal with the question of allowing the decoration of the statue of William III, a ceremony which, being very distasteful to the Roman catholics, was invariably attended by disturbances. The king, George IV, had advised that it should be discountenanced. O'Connell, through the press, had urged Wellesley to prohibit it. Wellesley deemed it preferable to act through the civic authority, and accordingly the lord mayor, at his request, forbade the decoration of the statue. A riot ensued, and troops had to be called out to restore order. In the following month Wellesley was insulted on the occasion of his attending the theatre in state, and a quart bottle was thrown at his head and narrowly missed him. This outrage was committed not by whiteboys or ribbonmen, but by the followers of those who posed as the party of order; and when Wellesley prosecuted for a treasonable conspiracy the perpetrators of the outrage the Dublin grand jury threw out the bill, and a vote of censure on the prosecution moved in the House of Commons was rejected not without difficulty. Wellesley held his office until after the death of Canning, who had given an active support to his policy. He resigned in 1828, when his brother the Duke of Wellington became prime minister, pledged to a policy of distinct protestant ascendancy.
During his tenure of office he did excellent service. Immediately after his arrival he took measures to suppress the whiteboy insurrection, which was then raging, obtaining for this purpose the re-enactment of the Insurrection Act and the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. He reorganised the police. He reformed the magistracy, removing from the bench those members of it who were notorious for the bitterness of their party prejudices. When in 1822, through scarcity of food, owing partly to the disturbed state of the country and partly to natural causes, a considerable number of the poorest members of the community were threatened with starvation, he organised an effective system of relief, obtaining a grant of £300,000 from the government, and raising public subscriptions amounting to £350,000 from England, and to £150,000 in Ireland, to which he contributed £500 out of his private purse. He also introduced and passed a bill providing for composition for tithes, which at first was attended with some success. He promoted increased facilities for commercial intercourse, and did everything in his power to mitigate the hostility which existed between the protestant and Roman catholic sections of the community. His view was that ‘any adjustment would be very imperfect which, instead of extinguishing discontent, only transferred it from the catholic to the protestant,’ and that the great purpose ‘of securing the peace of the empire would be answered, not by giving a triumph to any one party, but by reconciling all’. His course was beset with difficulties. He had to contend not only with the violence of the opposing factions in Ireland, but with opposing views as well in the cabinet in London as among the officials who had been appointed to serve with him in carrying on the local government. The chief secretary, Henry Goulburn, was a pronounced opponent of the catholic claims. Indeed he was said to have belonged at one time to the Orange Society. Peel, the home secretary in London, was a pronounced anti-catholic, so was Sir David Baird, the commander of the forces in Ireland. Indeed, the views entertained by the latter were so strong that notwithstanding the high opinion which Wellesley entertained of his services at Seringapatam, where Baird commanded the assault upon that fortress, he found it necessary to get another commander of the forces in the person of Sir Samuel Auchmuty appointed in his room. When Wellesley assumed the government the office of attorney-general was held by William Saurin, a bigoted anti-catholic. His bigotry was so intense that Wellesley deemed it his duty to remove him also, and in January 1822 appointed William Conyngham Plunket (afterwards Baron Plunket) in his place. A few months later, Charles Kendal Bushe, the solicitor-general, a supporter of catholic emancipation, was appointed chief justice in the place of William Downes (afterwards Baron Downes), who had retired.
The most important service, however, which Wellesley rendered was the suppression by law of the secret societies, both protestant and catholic.
On 29 October 1825 Wellesley married for the second time. His second wife was Marianne, an American Roman catholic, the widow of Robert Patterson, and daughter of Richard Caton of Baltimore. She was granddaughter of Charles Caroll of Carollstown, who, at his death in 1832, was the last surviving signatory of the declaration of American independence. She was a woman of wealth, beauty, and refinement, and her marriage with Wellesley greatly increased the happiness of the remainder of his life.
It had long been evident that the views of Wellesley and the Duke of Wellington on the Roman catholic question entirely differed, and when the duke became prime minister in 1828, Wellesley was not invited to join the administration. The two brothers had one passage of arms in the House of Lords in June 1828, when Wellesley supported a motion which had been carried in the commons for the appointment of a committee to consider the claims of the catholics. On that occasion the duke contended that the state of things which then existed furnished securities which were indispensable to the security of church and state, while Wellesley, arguing from his personal knowledge of Ireland, pronounced the condition of that country to be unlikely ‘to lead to a conciliatory termination, or calculated to effect the desired stability of the church, or to secure the re-establishment of harmony and peace.’ Seven months later the measure which Wellesley had so long advocated was carried by the duke, acting upon the advice of Peel, as being essential to the peace of the country.
Wellesley concurred in the policy of the Reform Bill of 1832, the principle of which he had opposed in 1793, but he took no part in the debates on it. After it was passed he was appointed by Lord Grey to be lord steward of the household, and subsequently resumed the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland, which he held until the dismissal of the whig ministers by William IV in 1834. His views as to the advantage of a conciliatory policy were unchanged, and he endeavoured to give effect to them by recommending that more Roman catholics should be employed in the higher judicial posts and in other civil offices; but his administration came to an end with the change of government. When the whigs returned to power in April 1835 he is said to have expressed his willingness to resume the government of Ireland; but political ties led to the appointment of Lord Mulgrave, and Wellesley became lord chamberlain, resigning his office in the following month, and retiring finally from public life in his seventy-fifth year.
There was some discussion in the House of Lords as to the reason of his retirement; but Wellesley declined to explain it. He lived seven years longer, residing generally at Kingston House, Brompton, enjoying the society of his friends and employing much of his time in prosecuting those classical studies which had had a charm for him since his Eton days.
We have seen that during his government of India Wellesley's treatment by the court of directors of the East India Company had not been satisfactory. They had been unable to appreciate his policy and had been alarmed at the vastness of his plans. A great deal had happened since those days, and the reputation of ‘the Great Proconsul,’ as he is designated by one of his biographers, had steadily risen in public estimation. Some of those who had been personally acquainted with his services in India were now in leading positions in Leadenhall Street. In 1837, it being understood that his private means were embarrassed, a grant of £20,000 was voted and was placed in the hands of the chairman and deputy-chairman of the company and two other persons as trustees, to be applied at their discretion for Wellesley's use and benefit. About the same time it was resolved that copies of his despatches, which had just been published, should be distributed largely to the civil servants in India; and in 1841, the year before his death, a white marble statue was erected in his honour in Leadenhall Street. On that occasion, when acknowledging the resolution in which the wishes of the East India Company were communicated to him, and, after having alluded in complimentary terms to the fact that William Butterworth Bayley, who was then filling the chair, had been in the early part of the century one of the young civil servants employed in the governor-general's office, Wellesley repeated the following words which he had used in returning thanks to the inhabitants of Calcutta on 2 March 1804 for an address presented to him at the close of the second Mahratta war:
The just object of public honours is not to adorn a favoured character, nor to extol individual reputation, nor to transmit an esteemed name with lustre to posterity, but to commemorate public services and to perpetuate public principles. The conscious sense of the motives, objects, and results of my endeavours to serve my country in this arduous station inspires me with an unfeigned solicitude that the principles which I revere should be preserved for the security of the interests now entrusted to my charge and destined hereafter to engage my lasting and affectionate attachment.
The most brilliant part of Wellesley's career was unquestionably his government of India. He must be regarded as one of the three men who consolidated the empire of which Clive laid the foundation. In many respects he resembled Dalhousie more than Hastings; but the difficulties which he was called upon to encounter were greater than those which confronted Dalhousie. His services in Spain as ambassador to the Spanish junta, and his subsequent action as foreign secretary in London, must be regarded as having largely conduced to the success of the Peninsular war in the indefatigable support which he gave to his illustrious brother. His policy in Ireland was wise and statesmanlike. This cannot be said of the foreign policy which he advocated in 1814 and afterwards, when, if his views had prevailed, the peace of Europe which followed the downfall of Napoleon would have been indefinitely postponed. As a member of a constitutional government such as that of Great Britain he was somewhat out of place owing to his autocratic habits and the contempt which he felt, and did not attempt to conceal, for the failings of his less able colleagues. Mackintosh called him ‘a sultanized Englishman.’ He was fond of display, but here he seems to have been actuated not so much by vanity, although he was by no means free from self-consciousness, as by a deliberate conviction of the expediency of maintaining pomp and state, especially when dealing with orientals.
His style of writing and speaking was largely affected by his constant study of the great orators and poets of antiquity. Although he professed the greatest admiration for the oratory of Demosthenes and the terse writing of Tacitus, the model which he practically followed was to be found in the more diffuse speeches of Cicero.
He was gifted with a keen sense of humour and was a very popular member of society, especially with the fair sex. Notwithstanding his indefatigable devotion to his public duties, his pursuits in his moments of leisure were those of a man of pleasure, as well in middle age as in youth.
In the latter part of his life his chief friend was Lord Brougham, whose gifts as a scholar made them congenial companions. Wellesley continued his classical studies and writings up to the last year of his life. In 1840 he privately printed (and often revised later) a little book entitled ‘Primitiæ et Reliquiæ,’ for the most part composed of Latin verses written by him at different periods of his life. In 1841, on the occasion of a statue being erected in honour of his brother by the citizens of London, he wrote a Latin inscription. Several of his Latin poems appeared in the ‘Anthologia Oxoniensis.’ But Wellesley's literary studies were not confined to the ancient classics; he was a good Italian scholar and had an extensive knowledge of the Italian poets, and especially of Dante. Shakespeare also was often quoted in his letters and despatches.
Wellesley died at Kingston House, Brompton, on 26 September 1842 in his eighty-third year, and was buried at Eton in the college chapel on 8 October His widow, who was a lady of the bedchamber to the Queen-dowager Adelaide, died at Hampton Court Palace on 17 December. 1853.
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9 August, 2014