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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 15


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Having failed in his attempt to screw sufficient money from Cheyte Sing, and undeterred by the perils he had run, he next determined to experiment on the nabob of Oude. This nabob, Asoff-ul-Dowlah, was an infamously dissipated prince, spending his own money in licentious pleasures, and extorting what he could from the begums, his mother and grandmother. The old ladies lived at the palace of Fyzabad, or the " Beautiful Residence," situated in a charming district, amid hills and streams, about eighty miles from Lucknow. The nabob's father had left them large sums of money and extensive jaghires, so that they kept a handsome court, and yet had the reputation of having accumulated about three million pounds sterling. The nabob had compelled them, by coercive means, to let him have, at different times, about six hundred thousand pounds, and he thirsted exceedingly for more. To defend themselves from his rapacity, the begums appealed earnestly to the English governor-general, who, in conjunction with the council, Francis, Barwell, and Wheler, in 1778, compelled the nabob to enter into a solemn engagement not to violate any further the rights of these ladies, either in their money or their jaghires. The council expressed their lively sense of the disgraceful conduct of the nabob in thus extorting their property from these ladies, and talked much of the honour and reputation of the company being implicated by it.

But there is no doubt that the existence of this wealth being thus brought to the knowledge of Hastings, had determined him, spite of his moral vows to the nabob, to seize it for the purposes of conducting the war in Madras. There was nothing so easy as to frame reasons why he should have this money, notwithstanding his own affected sense of indignation at the idea of the son and grandson getting it by pressure. The nabob had requested the service of a brigade of British troops to secure him against his own people, whose disaffection he had excited by his oppressions. Hastings had most readily granted it, seeing at once that it would be the means of putting him completely in his power. The nabob, in addition to the heavy tribute under which he lay, was to pay a heavy price for the brigade, besides maintaining it. By these means, by the time that Hastings had resolved to seize the money of the begums, he had swelled up an account of arrears against Asoff-ul-Dowlah of nearly a million and a half sterling. This enormous amount Hastings himself admitted to the nabob, when he afterwards wanted his co-operation in coming at the money of the begums, was run up by extravagant charges of all kinds; and that he had, moreover, been unmercifully squeezed by the British officers in Oude. In fact, the nabob had for years been earnestly imploring that the brigade should be recalled, as he was quite unable to pay for it, or that the charge for it should be dropped. But Hastings had taken no notice of his demand, but had gone on, keeping the brigade at Lucknow, still running up the account.

It was one part of his original plan, on going to Benares, to go on to Oude, and to employ his claims on the nabob as a lever to wrench the money bags from the begum. The failure of his cash anticipations at Benares had made Hastings all the more desperate. He sent for the nabob of Oude while he was still in the fortress of Chunar, and there reminding him of his debts, proposed to him coolly the robbery of his mother and grandmother. He was ready to give up the million and a half on condition that he got the three millions of the begums. He therefore offered to take the jaghires from these ladies - lands, let it be understood, as fully and completely left to them by the late Soujah Dowlah, as the sovereignty of Oude had been left by him to the nabob, and on which neither the nabob nor Hastings had any claim whatever, for it is not pretended that the princesses were in any debt or arrears to the nabob, or to the British government. But as India, according to Hastings, can and must be saved, there must be money for it; the begums had money, and he was resolved to have it. He agreed, therefore, to give up to the nabob the jaghires of his mother and grandmother, as though they had been his own, and the nabob was to take the odium of forcing the money from the ladies and handing it to Hastings! '

The proposal was so barefaced, that, when Hastings came to propose it to the nabob, he felt that he really required some pretended reason for thus arbitrarily laying hands on the property of these innocent women, and therefore un- blushingly asserted that they had been concerned in stirring up the insurrection at Benares - a matter, besides that it was so notoriously the result of Hastings own daring arrest of Cheyte Sing, the begums had neither motive for meddling in nor time for doing it. They till now regarded the British as their own only protectors. They were living quietly at Fyzabad, one hundred and fifteen miles from Benares, when the insurrection broke out from very obvious causes. This infamous bargain being concluded at Chunar, Hastings relying on his agent at Lucknow, Mr. Middleton, compelling the nabob to carry it out, retreated to Benares, and thence to Calcutta. The nabob returned to Lucknow to enforce the diabolical scheme; but he found his mother and grandmother determined to resist the iniquitous order, and so shameful was it, that even the needy and debauched nabob felt compunctions in proceeding with it. He left it to Middleton to execute, but Middleton, in his turn, recoiled from the odious business. Not so Hastings; cold and resolute, he wrote to Middleton, that if he could not rely upon his firmness he would free him from his charge, and himself proceed to Lucknow and enforce his own orders. To induce Middleton to abandon his scruples of conscience and honour, the ever-ready friend of Hastings, the chief-justice of Bengal, Sir Elijah Impey, it appears, wrote to Middleton, and inculcated the necessity of obedience. Middleton and the nabob, therefore, seized on the jaghires of the begums, and suddenly surrounded Fyzabad and the palace with troops, and made themselves masters of both. But the old ladies had not been so inattentive to the approaches of the storm as to neglect the secretion of their treasures; they could not be found. The nabob, who was familiar with all the modes of hiding and finding such possessions, assisted Middleton and his officers, but the money could not be traced. The whole palace was filled with terror by the soldiers hunting through every room, even the very apartments of the alarmed and shrieking women.

Thus cruelly disappointed of the expected hoard, and the begums remaining firm in their refusal to produce any part of it, Middleton seized on their two chief ministers, the eunuchs, Jewar Ali Khan and Behar Ali Khan. These two old men had been the most confidential servants of Sujah Dowlah, and had, since his death, stood in the same relation to his widow, the Bhow begum. They were now thrown into prison, put in irons, and orders were given to starve and torture them till they revealed the secret of the concealment of the treasure of their mistresses. At the same time, the two ladies were placed in very rigorous confinement themselves. These proceedings, at length, produced some effect: a large sum was given up; but by no means such a sum as the English were bent upon having. Instead, therefore, of any mitigation of the duresse of the eunuchs or the ladies, this was rendered only the more severe. Middleton himself signed an order to the officer commanding the troops, that the eunuchs should be kept without food, &c., their irons should be increased in weight, and torture be menaced, till the expected sum should be extorted. To aid in the coercion and the torture, officers of the nabob, well acquainted with these devilish atrocities, were admitted to the unhappy old men in their prison.

Let it be remembered that we are not relating mere inventions of romance, but facts proved on the most unquestionable evidence; nor the dark deeds of Italian or Spanish inquisitors, whose names have filled the world with horror, but the acts of English gentlemen, high in the service of their country in the eighteenth century, and who have found many defenders of their deeds, on the simple plea that India must be saved, and that the begums had the money that could save it. If this plea be admitted, then there is nothing to be said against the most infamous transactions in history. In perpetrating these deeds Hastings was arbitrarily throwing down every solemn engagement which the British government in India had set up, and to permit the violation of which they had shortly before pronounced to the nabob to be most dishonourable, and destructive of our national character. He now took away the jaghires, and gave them to the nabob, and made him assist in robbing and torturing his own mother and grandmother. By the continuance of such means, he at length forced from the begums the sum of five hundred thousand pounds; but this was but a sixth of the riches he was hoping for; and the same system of violence was continued through the greater part of 1782. It was reported by the officer of the sepoy guard, that the health of the two old eunuchs had suffered severely, and that they implored that their irons might be taken off, and themselves be permitted to walk a little for a few days in the palace gardens, the officer asserting that there was not the slightest danger of their escape. But the request was not only refused, but orders were issued to treat them more severely. They were informed, that if they did not give information where the money was, they should undergo still more exquisite torture. They were then removed to Lucknow. and confined in the English prison there; but the English assistant resident wrote an order to the British officer in command of the sepoy guard: - " Sir, - The nabob being determined to inflict corporal punishment upon the prisoners under your guard, this is to desire that his officers, when they shall come, may have free access to the prisoners, and be permitted to do with them as they shall see proper."

It was hoped that the nabob's people being thus employed in this horrible business the cruelties would appear to be his, and not those of the EŁglish; and this system was continued till they had forced upwards of a million sterling from the begums, and found that they might kill both them and their aged ministers, but could get no more. When the begums and two old men were liberated, they were told by the resident - not now Middleton, but Bristow - that they owed this favour to the governor-general, who had determined, to have them " restored to their dignity and honour." It is impossible to decide whether in this history the atrocity or the hypocrisy is the most astounding. During the conferences at Chunar, Hastings, in open defiance of the law against receiving presents from the Indian princes, accepted a present of one hundred thousand pounds from his accomplice, the nabob of Oude. This was probably to obtain his desire, that the jaghire of Fyzoola Khan,- the Rohilla chief, which had been secured to him in the north of Rohilcund, should be seized by the nabob. Hastings readily agreed to the seizure, and it was duly made a clause of the treaty at Chunar. But Hastings, with that ready duplicity for which he was so famous, at the same time wrote to the council to say he never intended to carry it into execution; that the independence of Fyzoola Khan was more to the interests of the British than his suppression. The nabob, therefore, notwithstanding his earnest demands to be put in possession of the jaghire, never was gratified. Hastings, however, sent to the khan, to inform him that, by the payment of fifteen lacs of rupees, he could engage to guarantee his retention of the jaghire. Fyzoola replied that he did not possess any such sum of money, and that he relied on his treaty with the English government for the possession of his jaghire; and, singular enough, he was allowed to retain it during his life.

There was another name connected with these events, and with almost equal disadvantage, that of Sir Elijah Impey, the chief-justice. We have seen how this old schoolfellow of Hastings had supported him against the opposition of Francis and his party; how he had condemned and hanged Nuncomar, the mortal enemy of the governor-general; and how, though, for a time, he, with the other justices, were in hostility to Hastings regarding their own authority; all this was forgiven, and Impey was rewarded with a new judgeship, with a salary of five thousand pounds a-year, in addition to his old one of eight thousand pounds a-year. Impey, who had no jurisdiction in Oude, was found, however, up there in the midst of these transactions, volunteering his assistance in getting up charges against the begums. These charges were supported by a host of venal witnesses, such as were brought forward to swear away the life of Nuncomar, and affidavits of their evidence were made out, and sent down to Calcutta, to justify the dark doings of Hastings.

But the violent proceedings of Hastings and his council, partly against each other, and still more against the natives, did not escape the authorities at home. Two committees were appointed in the house of commons in 1781, to inquire into these matters. One of them was headed by general Richard Smith, and the other by Dundas, the lord-advocate of Scotland. In both of these the conduct of Hastings, especially at that time in the war against the Rohillas, was severely condemned, and the appointment of Impey to the new judicial office was greatly disapproved. In May, 1782, general Smith moved an address praying his majesty to recall Sir Elijah Impey, which was carried unanimously, and he was recalled accordingly. Dundas also moved and carried a resolution declaring it to be the duty of the court oi directors to recall Warren Hastings, on the charge of his " having, in sundry instances, acted in a manner repugnant to the honour and policy of the nation." The court of directors complied with this suggestion; but lord Rockingham dying, his ministry being dissolved, and Burke, the great opponent of Indian oppressions, being out of office, in October the court of directors, through the active exertions of the friends of Hastings, rescinded his recall. The succeeding changes of administration, and their weakness, first that of the Shelburnc, and then that of the coalition ministry, enabled Hastings to keep his post in India, and finish the war in Madras. It was the India bill of Pitt in 1784, which, by creating the board of control, and enabling the government to take immediate cognisance of the proceedings of the governor-generals, and other chief officers in India, which broke the power of Hastings, and which led him to resign, without, however, enabling him to escape the just scrutiny which his administration needed. In the India bill of Pitt there was a clause calling on the court of directors to inquire into the state of the debts of the nabob of Arcot. Of these debts, the most extraordinary accounts were in circulation; the most wonderful stories of the peculations and inventions of Englishmen, by which they had arrived at their monstrous dimensions. As the fate of the nabob of Arcot - that great friend of the English - was the fate of so many of the English allies - the nabobs of Oude, Tanjore, Benares, Surat, and others - we will give a rapid sketch of his history, from first to last, though we have incidentally noticed one or two of the events in the details of proceedings against Hyder Ali.

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Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 15

Dunbrody Abbey
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Church of Dungannon
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Calcutta
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Fort of Allahabad
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Futtehpoor
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Great Mogul
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Banks of the Ganges
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Tippoo Saib
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View near Agra
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Warden Hasting
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Taje Mahal
Taje Mahal >>>>
Rohilla Chief
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French and English cruisers off Ceylon
French and English cruisers off Ceylon >>>>
Defeat of Hyder Ali
Defeat of Hyder Ali >>>>
Bundelcund
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Cheyte
Cheyte >>>>
Brahmin
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