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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 10

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" Had it been the fate of the English to have had the like events to dread, on the part of the people of Bengal, perhaps the famine would have been less general, and less destructive. For, if we set aside the charge of monopoly, will any on undertake to defend them against the reproach of negligence and insensibility? And in what a crisis have they merited this reproach? In the very instant of time in which the life or «death of several millions of their fellow-creatures were in their power. One would think that, in such alternative, the very love of human kind, that innate sentiment in all hearts, might have inspired them with resources."

Besides succeeding to the government of a country, whose chief province was thus exhausted, the finances of the company were equally drained, both in Calcutta and at home, and the immediate demands on Hastings from the directors were for money, money, money! As one means of raising this money, they sent him a secret order to break one of their most solemn engagements with the native princes. When they bribed Meer Jaffier to depose his master, by offering to set him in his seat, and received in return the enormous sums mentioned for this elevation, they settled' on Meer Jaffier and his descendants an annual income of thirty-two lacs of rupees, or three hundred and sixty thousand pounds. But Meer Jaffier was now dead, and his eldest son died during the famine. The second son was made nabob, a weak youth in a weak government, and as the company saw that he could not help himself, they ordered Hastings to reduce the income to one-half. This was easily done; but this was not enough, disgraceful as it was. Mohammed Reza Khan, who had been appointed by the company the nabob's naib dewan, or minister, on the ground that he was not only a very able but very honest man, they ordered to be arrested on pretended pleas of maladministration. He and all his family and partisans must be secured, but not in an open and abrupt way, which might alarm the province; they were to be inveigled down from Moorshedabad to Calcutta, on pretence of affairs of government, and there detained. Nuncomar, the Hindoo, who had been displaced, in order to set up Mohammed, who was a Mussulman, and who had been removed on the ground of being one of the most consummate rogues in India, was to be employed as evidence against Mohammed. The company had pronounced Nuncomar as guilty of forgery and of treachery, in conveying information, injurious to the company, to the French at Pondicherry. They had stigmatised him, and justly, "as of that wicked and turbulent disposition, that no harmony can subsist in society, where he has the opportunity of interfering." Yet it was this Nuncomar, who had been incessantly plying the directors with base suggestions against Mohammed, on which they were now determined to act. Knowing the utter villany of Nuncomar, and willing to profit by it, the directors instructed Hastings to avail themselves of all the information which the envy and malice of Nuncomar were sure to furnish, but to take care not to put him into any office as a reward. They knew that his object was to be made naib dewan, or minister, instead of Mohammed; but he was by no means to consent. He might be recompensed by a sum of money.

Such was the business Hastings was ordered to perform; such an one as the Inquisition might have employed its familiars in, and as secretly communicated. "Yet," says lord Mahon, " right or wrong, he was in no degree responsible for these acts. They arose from the peremptory and positive commands of the directors at home." And Knight's History says, " No choice was left to their paid servant, which Hastings was, but implicit obedience, or disgrace and dismissal." But is this the language of a Christian historian? Does the execution of wicked actions, under command, exempt the doer from all moral responsibility? And was there no alternative but the execution of them, or dismissal and disgrace, left to Hastings? Certainly there was a far more honourable - a glorious alternative, that of resigning rather than be the instrument of such baseness and injustice. But Hastings was not of that high moral stamp - such was not the spirit of the East India school. Hastings proceeded to obey, and from that moment became particeps criminis, and prepared to advance further in that dishonest course. Hastings fully carried out the orders of the secret committee of the India House. He had Mohammed seized in his bed, at midnight, by a battalion of sepoys; Shitab Roy, the naib of Bahar, who acted under Mohammed at Patna, was also secured; and these two great officers and their chief agents were sent down to Calcutta under guard, and there put into what Hastings called " an easy confinement." In this confinement they lay many months, all which time Nuncomar was in full activity preparing the charges against them. Shitab Roy, like Mohammed, stood high in the estimation of his countrymen of both faiths; he had fought on the English side with signal bravery, and appears to have been a man of high honour and feeling. But these things weighed for nothing with Hastings or his masters in Leadenhall-street. He hoped to draw large sums of money from these men; but he was disappointed. Though he himself arranged the court that tried them, and brought up upwards of a hundred witnesses against them, no malpractice whatever could be proved against them, and they were acquitted. They were therefore honourably restored, the reader will say. By no means. Such were not the intentions of the company or of Hastings.

Whilst Mohammed and Shitab Roy had been in prison, Hastings had been up at Moorshedabad, had abolished the office of naib in both Patna and Moorshedabad, removed all the government business to Calcutta, cut down the income of the young nabob, Muharek-al-Dowla, to one half, according to his instructions, and reduced the nabob himself to a mere puppet. His uncle, Ahteram-ul-Dowlah, had solicited, as the existing eldest male relative, to be his minister and guardian? but Hastings set him aside, and appointed a lady of the harem, called Munny or Minnee Begum, to those offices. The young nabob's own mother would have been the proper person, if a woman was to have the office; but independent of this, the giving the office to a woman at all in that country was a matter of astonishment. This Munny Begum had been a dancing-girl, and had nothing in her character to recommend her to the office, except that she was a determined enemy of Mohammed Rheza Khan.

Nuncomar was rewarded by his son Goordas, who " had no dangerous abilities," being appointed steward of the nabob's household; and Nuncomar was himself to be strictly watched that he did no mischief; for Hastings, having done all this, still wrote to the directors that he knew Nuncomar to be a traitor and a scoundrel, and had only used him because no one else could or would do the things he had done. " It is," said he, " on his abilities and on the activity of his ambition and hatred to Mohammed that I depend. And," he adds, " had I not been guided by the caution you have been pleased to enjoin me, yet my own knowledge of the character of Nuncomar would have restrained me from yielding him any trust or authority which could prove detrimental to the company's interests."

Thus had Hastings, fulfilling to the tittle the secret instructions of the secret committee of the India House, as completely swept away every engagement into which the company had entered with Meer Jaffier for the possession of Bengal as if they had never existed. He had transferred the whole government to Calcutta, with all the courts of justice, so that, writes Hastings, "the authority of the company is fixed in this country without any possibility of competition, and beyond the power of any but themselves to shake it." In all this wholesale injustice the only glimpse of a sense of it was shown in sending back Shitab Roy to Patna, clothed in a robe of state, and mounted on a richly- caparisoned elephant, to hold some nominal office there; but the high-minded man sunk and died soon after, as it was said, of a broken heart, of a feeling evidently of the injustice and ingratitude to which he had been subjected.

The manner in which Hastings had executed the orders of the directors in this business showed that he was prepared to go all lengths in maintaining their interests in India. He immediately proceeded to give an equally striking proof of this. We have seen that when the Mogul Shah Alum applied to the English to assist him in recovering his territories, they promised to conduct him in triumph to Delhi, and place him firmly on the grand musnud of all India; but when, in consequence of this engagement, he had made over to them by a public dewannee or grant, Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa, they found it inconvenient to fulfil their contract, and made over to him Allahabad and Corah instead, with an annual payment of twenty-six lacs of rupees - two hundred and sixty thousand pounds. The payment of this large sum, too, was regarded by the company, now in the deepest debt, as unnecessary, and Hastings had orders to reduce it. It appears that the money was at no time duly paid, and had now been withheld altogether for more than two years. The mogul, thus disappointed in the promises of restoration by the English, and now again in the payment of this stipulated tribute, turned to the Mahrattas, and offered to make over the little provinces of Allahabad and Corah, on condition that they restored him to the sovereignty of Delhi. The Mahrattas gladly caught at this offer, and by the end of the year 1771 they had borne the mogul in triumph into his ancient capital of Delhi.

This was precisely such a case as the directors were on the watch for. Their historian, Mill, says, in their letter to Bengal of the 11th of November, 1768, they had said: "If the emperor flings himself into the hands of the Mahrattas, or any other power, we are disengaged from him, and it may open a fair opportunity of withholding the twenty-six lacs of rupees we now pay him." The opportunity had now come, and was immediately seized on by Hastings to rescind the payment of the money altogether, and he prepared to seize the two provinces of Allahabad and Corah. " Thus," adds Mill, " they had plundered the unhappy emperor of twenty-six lacs of rupees per annum, and the two provinces of Corah and Allahabad, which they sold to the vizier (the nabob of Oude) for fifty lacs of rupees, on the plea that he had forfeited them by his alliance with the Mahrattas; as though he were not free, if one party would not assist him to regain his rights, to seek that assistance from another."

This bargain was settled between the vizier and Hastings at Benares, in September, 1773.

But the nabob of Oude held out new temptations of gain I to Hastings. The Rohillas, a tribe of Afghans, had, earlier in that century, descended from their mountains and conquered the territory lying between the Ganges and the mountains to the west of Oude. They had given it the name of Rohilcund. These brave warriors would gladly have been allies of the English, and applied to Sujah Dowlah to bring about such an alliance. Dowlah made fair promises, but he had other views. He hoped, by the assistance of the English, to conquer Rohilcund and add it to Oude. He had no hope that his rabble of the plains could stand against this brave mountain race, and he now artfully stated to Hastings that the Mahrattas were at war with the Rohillas. If they conquered them, they would next attack Oude, and, succeeding there, would descend the Ganges and spread over all Bahar and Bengal. He therefore proposed that the English should assist him to conquer Rohilcund for himself, and add it to Oude. For this service he would pay all the expenses of the campaign, the English army would obtain a rich booty, and at the end he would pay the English government besides the sum of forty lacs of rupees.

Hastings had no cause of quarrel with the Rohillas, but for the proffered reward he at once acceded to the proposal. In April, 1774, an English brigade, under colonel Champion, invaded Rohilcund, and in a hard-fought field defeated the Rohillas. The old Rohilla chieftain, Hafiz, was seen with his long white beard, seated on his charger, and vainly endeavouring to recall his flying troops. When he found that he could not, he gave a great shout, and, galloping forward, was riddled by the balls of the enemy. The nabob of Oude demanded the body, that he might have it cut in pieces, and his head carried on a pike round the country, but colonel Champion had it wrapped in shawls, and sent honourably to his family.

In the whole of this campaign nothing could be more disgraceful every way than the conduct of the troops of Oude. They took care to keep behind during the fighting, but to rush forward to the plunder. The English soldiers in great disgust said, We have the honour of the day, and these bandits, these robbers, have all the profit." Hastings had made not a single stipulation with Sujah Dowlah for mercy towards the inhabitants, and the nabob and his troops committed such horrors in plundering and massacreing not only the Rohillas, but the native and peaceful Hindoos, that the English officers and soldiers denounced the proceedings with horror. It was now, however, in vain that Hastings called on the nabob to restrain his soldiers, for, if he did not plunder, how was he to pay the stimulated forty lacs of rupees? and if he ruined and burnt out the natives, how were they, Hastings asked, to pay any taxes to him as his new subjects? All this was disgraceful enough, but this was not all. Shah Alum now appeared upon the scene, and produced a contract betwixt himself and the nabob, which had been made unknown to Hastings, by which the nabob of Oude stipulated that, on condition of the mogul advancing against the Rohillas from the south of Delhi he should receive a large share of the conquered territory and the plunder. The nabob now refused to fulfil the agreement, on the plea that the mogul ought to have come and fought, and Hastings sanctioned that view of the case. One chief of the Rohillas alone stood out; Fyzoola Khan took up a strong position in the north of the province, and the nabob was glad to grant him a jaghire in Rohilcund, as the price of submission. The rest of the Rohillas returned to their own country, Sujah Dowlah remained in possession of it, and Hastings returned to Calcutta with his ill-gotten booty. This was one of the cases which excited so much indignation in England when Burke brought it against Hastings on his trial; and when some member of parliament endeavoured to excuse him on the plea that the Rohillas were not natives of Rohilcund, Mr. Wilberforce exclaimed, u Why, what are we but the Rohillas of Bengal? "

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