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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 17


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Such were the measures by which the nabob of Arcot endeavoured to relieve himself of his embarrassments with the English; but they would not avail. Their demands grew faster than he could find means to satisfy them. Their system of action was too well devised to fail them; their victims rarely escaped from their toils. He might help them to ruin his neighbours, but his own ruin was equally sure. During his life the nabob was surrounded by a host of cormorant creditors, of whom we shall immediately have some notice; his country harassed by perpetual exactions, rapidly declined; and the death of his son and successor, Omdut ul Omrah, in 1801, produced one of the strangest scenes in this strange history. The marquis Wellesley was then governor-general, and was pursuing that sweeping course which stripped away the hypocritical mask from British power in India, threw down so many puppet princes, and displayed the English dominion in Hindostan in its gigantic nakedness. The revenues of the Carnatic had been before taken into the hands of the English; but lord Wellesley resolved to depose the prince, and the manner in which this deposition was effected was singularly despotic and unfeeling. They had come to the resolution to depose the nabob, and only looked about for some plausible pretence. This they professed to have found in a correspondence between Tippoo and some officers of the nabob. They alleged that this correspondence contained injurious and even treasonable language towards the English. When, therefore, the nabob lay on his death-bed, they surrounded his house with troops, and immediately that the breath had departed from him, they demanded to see his will. This rude and unfeeling behaviour, so repugnant to the ideas of every people, however savage and brutal, at a moment so solemn and sacred to domestic sorrow, was respectfully protested against; but in vain. The will they insisted upon seeing, and it was accordingly put into their hands by the son of the nabob. Finding that the son was named as his heir and successor by the nabob, the commissioners immediately announced to him the charge of treason against his father, and that the throne was thereby forfeited by the family. This charge, of course, was a matter of surprise to the family, especially when the papers said to contain the treason were produced, and they could find in them nothing but terms of fidelity and respect towards the English government.

But the English had resolved that the charge should be a sufficient charge; and the young prince manfully resisting it, they then declared him to be of illegitimate birth - a very favourite and convenient plea with them. On this they set him aside, and made a treaty with another prince, in which, for a certain provision, the Carnatic was made over to them for ever. The young nabob, Ali Hussim, did not long survive this scene of indignity, his death occurring in the spring of the following year.

Such was the treatment by the English of their friend, the nabob of Arcot! - the nabob of Arcot, whose name was, for years, continually heard in England as the powerful ally of the British, as their coadjutor against the French, against the ambitious Hyder Ali, as their zealous and accommodating friend on all occasions. It was in vain that either the old nabob or the young one, whom they so summarily deposed, pleaded the faith of treaties, their own hereditary right, or ancient friendship. Arcot had served its turn; it had been the stalking-horse to all the aggressions on other states that they needed from it - they had exacted all that could be cxacted in the name of the nabob from his subjects - they had squeezed the sponge dry; and, moreover, the time was now come that they could with impunity throw off the stealthy, crouching attitude of the tiger, the smiling, meek mask of alliance, and boldly seize upon undisguised sovereign powers in India. That is the history of one amid a number of Indian princes that were so treated.

We have now to see the view which Burke took of these things as far as they had then gone, in 1785.

As just stated, the nabob of Arcot had not only, by the means now detailed, been fast falling into debt to the company, but, to enable him to pay the company's demands of annual revenue and interest, he had borrowed money of private individuals. These individuals, leeches of the most insatiate species, had contrived, by arts in which they were most accomplished adepts, to swell their comparatively small advances into monstrous sums. As the nabob could not pay them, they went on multiplying their amount by a system of book-keeping legerdemain till they amounted to millions. Conspicuous above them all stood one Paul Benfield, who, from a most obscure individual, had contrived to make it appear that the nabob owed him upwards of half a million of money. How a man, who had commenced as an humble clerk in the company's service, with a few hundreds a-year, and had lived in a manner so ostentatious as to more than absorb the legitimate proceeds of his office, and having no original property of his own, could have accumulated such a sum, no one pretended to explain. The company, however, who had large claims on the nabob, by no means relishing the enormous demands upon him by these private creditors, instituted a commission of inquiry to ascertain the nature and justice of these debts, which so ominously competed with their own.

But they had in Mr. Paul Benfield a rival of no mean character. This man went to Europe, and put himself in communication with Pitt and Dundas, and made himself so useful to them in bribing borough constituencies, that the government, through the board of control, put a stop to the company's inquiries; and Dundas, as speaker for the board of control, declared that the debts of the nabob were bona- fide and just debts, and must be discharged by twelve lacs of rupees being set aside annually for the purpose. This astonishing resolution was strongly opposed by the court of directors, and especially their chairman, in the house of commons. Sir Thomas Rumbold, too, who had been recalled by ministers from his three years' governorship of Madras, and an order given for his impeachment, declared that nearly the whole of the debt of the nabob was a scandalously spurious one. Sir Thomas might be supposed to know something of these Indian mysteries, for, in three years, with a salary as governor of twenty thousand pounds a-year, besides living as governor at Madras, he had remitted home one hundred and sixty-four thousand pounds!

Dundas had brought this matter before parliament; but, when all the world expected proceedings against Rumbold, the charge was suffered quietly to drop. It, no doubt, was found best, with such a man as Paul Benfield in their employment, not to inquire too closely into Indian corruption, Sir Thomas now boldly opposed ministers in his turn, and cast the most entire suspicion on the bulk of the nabob's debts.

It was in this position of things that Burke, on the 28th of February, 1785, brought forward his famous motion for a parliamentary inquiry into these debts. In one of the most extraordinary and startling speeches ever made in the house of commons, he declared the nabob's debts "a gigantic sham." He declared that any man but Pitt "would have exorcised that shapeless, nameless form, and by everything sacred would have adjured it to tell by what means a small number of eight individuals, of no consequence or situation, possessed of no lucrative offices, without the command of armies, or the known administration of resources, without profession of any kind, without any sort of trade sufficient to employ a pedlar, could have, in a few years, or, as was the case with some, even in a few months, amassed treasures equal to the revenues of a respectable kingdom? Was it not enough to put these gentlemen, in the novitiate of their administration, on their guard, and to call on them for a strict inquiry, that, when all England, Scotland, and Ireland, had for years been witness to the immense sums laid out by the servants of the company in stocks of all denominations, in the purchase of lands, in the buying and building of houses, in the securing quiet seats in parliament, or in the tumultuous riot of contested elections, in every imaginable species of prodigality, that, after all, India was still four millions in their debt!" Burke called on Pitt and Dundas to notice a letter to the court of directors written by the nabob of Arcot, stating to them how their servants were robbing them and him at the same time. " Your servants," he said, " have no trade in this country, neither do you pay them high wages, yet in a few years they return to England with many lacs of pagodas. How can you or I account for such immense fortunes acquired in so short a time without any visible means of getting them? "

The recent committees of the house of commons could have given a fearful answer to that question. They reported of Paul Benfield, and their report was corroborated by that of the select committee of St. George, that he was guilty of almost every possible rascality in his transactions in the Carnatic, and with the nabob in particular; that to secure the permanency of his own power and profit, he had kept the nabob an absolute stranger to the state of his affairs; that he had kept the accounts and correspondence in the English language, which neither the nabob nor his son could read; that he had surrounded the nabob on every side, keeping him totally at his mercy, and making him believe what was not true, and subscribe to what he did not understand. The details of his extortions, and of his treatment of the natives in Tanjore, by the most credible witnesses, stamped him as a villain of the deepest dye. Yet he was the man who was the active agent of Pitt in borough- mongering. Burke declared that, in the last parliament, this man had manufactured eight members; and, to secure this man and others of like stamp, Burke's motion was thrown out by the ministerial majority of one hundred and sixty-four against sixty-nine. The debts of the nabob of Arcot continued for more than twenty years to occupy both parliament and government. There was a commission sitting constantly to fathom the mystery of these debts, and to point out the means of liquidating such as were pronounced real. The commission appointed in 1805 by act of parliament, for this purpose, after employing themselves in this almost fathomless gulf of corruption till 1815, reported, that of the thirty million three hundred and ninety thousand five hundred and seventy pounds, only one million three hundred and forty-six thousand seven hundred and nine-six pounds were bonš-fide debts; the rest - namely, nineteen million forty-three thousand seven hundred and seventy-four pounds, were false and gross impositions, and were accordingly rejected!

As for Warren Hastings, after he had terminated the war of Mysore, and, by his exactions, reduced Oude, Benares, and great part of Bengal 'to a frightful condition, he found it necessary to make a journey to Lucknow and Benares, to keep all quiet. Major Palm, who commanded the troops in Oude, the nabob, and his ministers, all implored him to see the condition of things with his own eyes. On the 17th of February, 1784, he commenced his journey. Years before, the nabob had drawn a very melancholy picture of the state of Oude: that the nabob was involved in debts, and harassed by his father's creditors; that not a foot of the country could be appropriated for their payment x that the revenue was deficient a million and a half sterling; that in the country cultivation was abandoned; that the company's troops were not only useless, but caused great loss of revenue and confusion in the country. Bu: enormous exactions had still been going on; and now we have his own description of the horrible state of the people in his letter to the council, dated from Lucknow, April, 1784: - " From the confines of Buxar to Benares, I was followed and fatigued by the clamour of the discontented inhabitants. The distresses which were produced by the long-continued drought unavoidably tended to heighten the general discontent; yet I have reason to fear that the cause principally existed in a defective, if not a corrupt and oppressive, administration. From Buxar to the opposite boundary I have seen nothing but traces of complete devastation of every village." And what were the causes of these devastations? The wars and the determined resolve introduced by Hastings himself, to have the very uttermost amount that could be wrung from the people. Hastings tells us himself that the very sight of his sepoys was enough. " The petty towns and serais were deserted at our approach, and the shops shut up, from the apprehension of the same treatment from us."

What were the horrors which made the poor natives thus fly, were made very clear afterwards on his trial; and, without a little insight into these particulars, we should leave the reader without an adequate conception of the Indian administration of this man, whom Macaulay and others have endeavoured to pursuade us was a humane man, averring that the portraiture of him by Burke was overcharged. On the trial it was shown how he farmed out the revenues to such men as Kelleram, Govind Sing, and Deby Sing. We have already seen what was Hastings' treatment of the princes: the evidence regarding these men show how his agents treated the people at large. Let us take Deby Sing as a specimen of the class of the diabolical harpies to whom they were subjected. This man was declared to have been appointed, though Hastings knew that his character was most infamous; and Hastings himself admitted it on his trial. But although the governor-general had this knowledge of the man, Deby offered a very convenient sum of money, four lacs of rupees - upwards of forty thousand pounds - and was made ruler of the district of Dinagepore. Complaints of his cruelties were not long in arriving at Calcutta. Mr. Patterson, a gentleman in the company's service, was sent as a commissioner to inquire into the charges against him, and the account of them, as given by Mr. Patterson, is thus quoted by Mill, from "The History of the Trial of Warren Hastings, Esq."

"The poor ryots, or husbandmen, were treated in a manner that would never gain belief, if it were not attested by the records of the company; and Mr. Burke thought it necessary to apologise to their lordships for the horrid relation with which he Would be obliged to harrow their feelings. The worthy commissioner Patterson, who had authenticated the particulars of this relation, had wished that, for the credit of human nature, he might have drawn a veil over them; but, as he had been sent to inquire into them, he must, in the discharge of his duty, state these particulars, however shocking they were to his feelings. The cattle and corn of the husbandmen were sold for a third of their value, and their huts reduced to ashes! The unfortunate owners were obliged to borrow from usurers, that they might discharge their bonds, which had unjustly and illegally been extorted from them while they were in confinement; and such was the determination of the infernal fiend, Deby, or Devi Sing, to have these bonds discharged, that the wretched husbandmen were obliged to borrow money, not at twenty, or thirty, or forty, but at six hundred per cent., to satisfy him! Those who could not raise the money, were most cruelly tortured. Cords were drawn tight round their fingers, till the flesh of the four on each hand was actually incorporated, and became one solid mass. The fingers were then separated again by wedges of iron and wood driven in between them! Others were tied, two and two, by the feet, and thrown across a wooden bar, upon which they hung with their feet uppermost. They were then beat on the soles of their feet till their toe-nails dropped off! They were afterwards flogged upon the naked body with bamboo canes and prickly bushes, and, above all, with some poisonous weeds, which were of a caustic nature, and burnt at every touch. The cruelty of the minister who had ordered all this, had contrived how to tear the mind as well as the body. He frequently had a father and son tied naked to one another by the feet and arms, and then flogged till the skin was torn from the flesh; and he had the devilish satisfaction to know that every blow must hurt; for if one escaped the son, his sensibility was wounded by the knowledge that the blow had fallen upon his father. The same torture was felt by the father, when he knew that every blow that missed him had fallen upon the son.

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