Administrations And Impeachments
A.D. 1761 TO A.D. 1785
Clive and Warren Hastings need to be bracketed together in the history
of India. They were the men who made our Empire, and they were both
impeached for their methods by their countrymen.
And both were acquitted. How came this about?
There is a little sentence in the History of India by James Mill the
historian (father to John Stuart Mill),
man presumably above sordid
considerations, a man whom one would never suspect of commercialism,
which answers the question:--
"In India the true test of the Government as affecting the interest
of the English nation is found in its financial results."
This is not intended as blame. On the contrary, Mill goes on to make
the deliberate but not quite accurate statement that Warren Hastings'
administration must have been bad, because, though in 1772, when
that administration began, the revenue was but L2,373,750, as against
L5,315,197 in 1785, the additional income did not provide for 5 per
cent. interest on the additional debt incurred.
That and that only was the fons et origo mali. England wanted gold.
Doubtless the expenses of the ruinous wars which devastated India
during the latter half of the eighteenth century were a terrible
charge upon the revenues; but the revenues increased during the same
time, and were more than equal to current expenses, only they did not
provide for L400,000 a year tax, and the payment of more than 5 per
In truth, England had not yet grasped the significance of the White
Man's burden; she wanted to be paid for carrying it. That is the
But during the administrations of both Clive and Warren Hastings an
effort, at least, was made to make that administration worthy of
Englishmen. Clive spent his whole force against corruption; Warren
Hastings spent his in an attempt to govern the people peacefully and
righteously. So much attention is absorbed, as a rule, by the question
of his guilt or innocence in regard to certain specific charges, that
none is given to the masterly way in which he turned his brief
ascendency in the Council, caused by Colonel Monson's death, not
to any scheme for personal aggrandisement or even to public
money-getting, but to the passing of a revenue settlement which should
protect the peasant. In the course of the argument against Mr Francis'
views (which necessarily formed part of the scheme) Mr Hastings made a
remark which deserves quotation, if only because it seems to have
roused no denial, not even from the irrepressible Francis.
"It is a fact which will with difficulty obtain credit in England,
though the notoriety of it here justifies me in asserting it, that
much the greatest part of the zemindars" (big proprietors, petty
Rajahs, and Nawabs, etc.) "are incapable of judging or acting for
themselves, being either minors, or men of weak understanding, or
This is a sweeping indictment which, had it not been incapable of
denial or mitigation, must certainly have met with censure. But even
Mr Francis acquiesces. He admits that "many of the zemindars will at
first be incapable of managing their lands themselves."
Now we have here a most ominous admission which gives us the
clue by which we can unravel much more in this tangled web of
It was the upper class which was corrupt, which was degenerate
utterly. Long centuries of unpunished crime, of depravity without one
check, had done their work. The scions of the small nobility were born
decrepid; they died early, outworn by vice, leaving heirs as
degenerate as themselves. In lesser--ever, thank Heaven!--in lessening
degree this has remained the great problem in India: how to give
freedom to its hereditary rulers, and yet to ensure that the race
shall not suffer, yet to give it freedom from hereditary evils.
In the eighteenth century the men of courts and cities were, as a
rule, vicious to the core. If evidence be needed on this point,
go to Delhi, go to Lucknow, and there, in the dregs, and lees, and
off-scourings of what was once a dynasty, you will still find some of
the meanest specimens of humanity on God's earth.
It was with the far-away ancestors of these off-scourings of dead
courts, full, then, of pride and power, that men like Clive and
Hastings often had to deal. Small wonder, then, if they often dealt
with them unwisely, harshly, angered by their hopeless treachery.
But the great factor in all the many oppressions which, undoubtedly,
formed part of English annexation in India was not private rapacity,
it was public greed.
What, for instance, was even Clive's asserted L300,000 of plunder
beside the L400,000 of yearly tribute to the English Exchequer? As for
Warren Hastings' fortune, he left India an impoverished man, with
scarce enough wherewithal to pay the expenses of defending himself
from the charge brought against him by his country for unbridled
Both Clive and Hastings had hard parts to play, and, considering the
difficulties against which they had to contend, they played them well.
Though, perhaps, neither of them realised (and certainly no one else
did) that the times in which they lived were transitional, that the
very existence of the East India Company as a purely mercantile
concern was fast drawing to a close, and that a new life of
responsibility--the life of true empire--was opening before it, they
acted as if they had so realised it. They flung rupees behind them to
stay the gold-grubbing multitude, careless, over-careless of how they
gained them; but--but they took their own way! Hastings especially
identified himself with the people of India; he learnt their language,
knew their hoarded wisdom, and often appealed to the lessons of their
This in itself was an offence to the self-sufficient West, which
failed, and often still fails, to find excuse for a breach of its own
laws in the different ethical standards of the East.
Take Clive's rapacity. There was no law forbidding the reception of
presents. He did great things, very great things for Mir Jaffar, and
under the same misconception of enormous wealth which made the country
itself claim one million of money as compensation for a loss of
L5,000, he accepted a fee of L180,000.
Regarding the Omichand incident--the only other accusation formulated
against him which is of any importance--it is, at least, arguable that
when bare existence for your countrymen depends on outwitting a
traitor, an informer, a villain, any weapon is legal.
In like manner, if it is possible to disentangle the actual charges
made against Warren Hastings from the network of words in which
Sheridan and Burke caught the unwary minds of many ignorant people, it
will be found that in every charge which went up to trial a simple
excuse bars the way of blame.
The charge concerning his responsibility for the extermination of the
Rohillas, of which he was acquitted even by the House of Commons,
finds answer in his vehement dissent from the treaty forced on him by
the Triumvirate, and by which he was bound to provide the Nawab of
Oude with troops.
That concerning his cruelty to the Rajah of Benares is met by the
undoubted fact that no article in the treaty with the latter gives
colour to the contention that the tribute payable was a fixed and
unalterable sum, while the fact that L300,000 worth of treasure was
discovered in the possession of the Rajah's women, disposes
effectually of the plea that poverty prevented payment.
Against the accusation of his having aided and abetted the Nawab of
Oude in seizing and confiscating the personal property of the Begums,
stands the undoubted fact that these ladies could not, by the laws of
India, possess such property; while the charge of undue cruelty in the
treatment of these same ladies is absolutely unprovable, by reason of
the conflicting evidence on both sides.
Then the charge of having, during his administration, raised the cost
of the civil establishment some L5,000,000, is more than met by his
undenied efforts to place the Government of India on a basis worthy of
England, and by the necessity for either accepting and carrying
through new responsibilities, or allowing the Company to sink back
into its former state, when a paltry L20 a year was all the salary it
could afford to pay men whom it yet vested with almost unlimited power
The eighth and last count--for it is as well to confine refutation to
what actually went up for trial--his personal rapacity and corruption
is answered conclusively by the undoubted fact that when he retired,
the sum of some L72,000 represented his entire fortune.
Truly, there was some justification for the bitter cry with which he
ended his defence--a defence which lies practically in denouncing
English greed for gold:--
"I gave you all, and you have rewarded me with confiscation, disgrace,
and a life of impeachment."
He was on his trial for no less than nine years.
These two great men left India a very different place from what they
had found it. The East India Company was trying now to govern, as well
as to make money. There was scarcely a district throughout the length
and breadth of the land into which the thought of England had not
entered; few in which the lives of Englishmen did not form a not
always wholesome example. In Lucknow, however, Claude Martin, soldier
of both France and England, quaint admixture of honour and dishonour,
while he aided and abetted the Nawab in cock-fighting, drew the line
at debaucheries, though he kept a considerable number of wives. This,
however, was forced on him by his own merits, since the courtly,
good-looking, middle-aged Frenchman's favourite charity was the
educating of orphans, and the girls for whom he performed this kindly
office had a trick of refusing the eligible partis offered them, and
electing to remain with their guardian!
Walter Reinhardt, nicknamed the "Sombre," was not so estimable a
creature. He was, undoubtedly, the murderer, while in the Nawab of
Bengal's service, of the English at Patna in 1763, and the arch-factor
in many other crimes. But he met his dues by marrying one of the most
remarkable women of India. It was no light task to be the husband of
the Begum Sumroo, who buried a laughing girl at whom the blue-eyed
German from Luxembourg had cast an approving glance, under her chair
of state; buried her alive, and sat on her for three days. Four was
not necessary; Walter the Sombre had learnt his lesson in three!
After his death she ruled her state of Sirdhana, not very far from
Delhi, until she died in 1838, a very old woman, who possibly, despite
her conversion to Roman Catholicism, looked back on her youth as a
dancing-girl in Delhi with a vague regret.
Then there was George Thomas, an Irishman, whilom favourite of the
aforesaid Begum, who cherished the hope--so he says--"of attempting
the conquest of the Punjaub, and aspired to the honour of placing the
British Standard on the Attock." He only succeeded in establishing for
himself an independent principality near Hansi, which he yielded to
Lord Lake in 1803.
But all over India, in almost every town of import, Englishmen were to
be found in positions of trust under native rulers. Briefly, they had
come to stay; and no amount of legislation by Parliament, no
prohibition of diplomacy, no exhortation to refrain from treaties or
from meddling in native politics, could now avail to prevent England
from becoming first factor in India.
It may be worth while to glance round that India and gain, as it were,
a pictorial view of it at the time when England and the English
Parliament first assumed political responsibility in regard to it by
the establishment of a Board-of-Control appointed by the Crown.
In the far north, Kandahar and Kabul were, as ever, engaged in petty
warfare, the sons and grandsons of Ahmed-Shah Durrani each striving
for the mastery. The Punjab was held by the Sikhs so far as the
Sutlej. What are now called the Cis Sutlej States including the
great battlefield of Panipat, being under Mahratta influence. This
influence had also made itself felt at Delhi, where the Great Moghul,
Star-of-the-Universe and Defender-of-the-Faith, Shah-Alam by name, led
the life of a pensioner, a prisoner, his authority gone save as a
watchword to rouse strife. Oude was in the hands of the British
debauchee Asaf-daula. Thence passing through Benares lay the
English-held Bengal, Behar, Orissa. Westward was Poona, Guzerat,
almost all Rajputana, Agra, and a great part of Central India; these
were strongholds of the Mahrattas. Mysore, headquarters of the
man-monster Tippoo-Sultan, murderer-in-chief after his father
Hyder-Ali's death, marched with Central India the Dekkan fief of that
half-hearted ally the Nizam. Below that, again, came the Carnatic,
held by that most troublesome and expensive of potentates the Nawab of
Arcot, tame bear (and bore) to the Madras Presidency, which must have
wished its protege at the bottom of the sea many and many a time.
And under all these broad classifications, such a welter of proud,
poor principalities and grasping, vicious courts as surely this
world's history shows nowhere else. The horrid outcome of unlimited,
unbridled power in the past.
And below this again?
Below this, again, the dreaming heart of India, unchanged,