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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 17


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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.

"The treatment of the females could not be described. Dragged from the inmost recesses of their houses, which the religion of their country had made so many sanctuaries, they were exposed naked to public view! The virgins were carried to the court of justice, where they might naturally have looked for protection, but they now looked for it in vain; for in the face of the ministers of justice, in the face of the spectators, in the face of the sun, those tender and modest virgins were brutally violated. The only difference between their treatment and that of their mothers was, that the former were dishonoured in the face of day, and the latter in the gloomy recesses of their dungeon. Other females had the nipples of their breasts put into a cleft bamboo, and torn off!"

What follows is too shocking and indecent to transcribe. It is almost impossible, in the perusal of these frightful and savage enormities, to believe that we are reading the history of a country under a British government, and that these deeds were perpetrated by British agents, and for the purpose of extorting the British revenue. But these innocent and unhappy people were thus treated because Warren Hastings wanted money, and had sold them to a wretch, whom he knew to be a wretch, for a bribe; they were thus treated because Devi Sing had paid him four lacs of rupees, and must wring them again out of the miserable ryots, though it were with their very life's blood, and with fire and tortures, before unheard of, even in the long, black catalogue of human crimes. And it should never be forgotten, that though Mr. Burke pledged himself, if permitted, under the most awful imprecations, to prove every word of this barbarous recital, such permission was stoutly refused; and that, moreover, the evidence of commissioner Patterson stands on the company's own records. In fact, this, terrible as it is, is but a small portion of the iniquity of the treatment of the natives of India then, and, indeed, so long as the company continued to hold the destinies of India in their hands. The reader cannot help wondering, as he reads, at the non-interference of an indignant Providence; but the Nemesis has come in our own time. There has been, indeed, an active endeavour to represent the revolt and terrible vengeance of the sepoys as having nothing to do with the feelings of the people at large. But those who think so have only to read what was said by Sir John Malcolm in a debate at the India-house in 1824, himself a governor and laudator of our system, that " even the instructed class of natives have a hostile feeling towards

us, which was not likely to decrease from the necessity they were under of concealing it. My attention," he said, " has been, during the last five-and-twenty years, particularly directed to the dangerous species of secret war carried on against our authority, which is always carried on by numerous, though unseen hands. The spirit is kept up by letters by exaggerated reports, by pretended prophecies. When the time appears favourable, from the occurrence of misfortune to our arms, from rebsllion in our provinces, or from mutiny in our troops, circular letters and proclamations are dispersed over the country with a celerity that is incredible. Such documents are read with avidity. Their contents are, in most cases, the same. The English are depicted as usurpers of low caste, and as tyrants, who have sought India only to degrade the natives, to rob them of their wealth, and subvert their usages and religion. The native soldiers are always appealed to, and the advice to them is, in all instances that I have met with, the same, - 'Your European tyrants are few in number - murder them!'"

The attempt has at length been made on a mighty scale; nor is this the only retribution of our deeds in India. The cholera, which has repeatedly swept Europe with its death- wing, has been traced to Bengal as its source, where it has been, in the opinion of scientific men, created by the privation of salt, so necessary to the natives with their vegetable food, that salt being placed, for the most part, beyond their reach by an imposition of two hundred per cent.

Hastings, one of the earliest and most inexorable of the tyrants who have ultimately produced such awful fruits - Hastings, the patron of Devi Sing, and numbers like him - was now traversing the countries cursed by his rule. He arrived on the 27th of March at Lucknow, and remained there five months, busily engaged in vain endeavours to remedy the evils which had their hopeless roots in the huge drain of the English government at Calcutta. In fact, one of the main objects of his suit was to obtain more money from the nabob; and he did obtain it, but he agreed to relieve him of part of the company's troops, which the nabob had so long prayed to be rid of, and for which he paid enormously. Another matter was to do some little justice to the begum. This was strictly enjoined him by the board of directors. That board, spite of the gilded statements of Hastings regarding his proceedings at Benares, had not been able to shut' their eyes to the monstrous conduct of their governor-general. They had written him, that it nowhere appeared, from the papers laid before them, that the begums had anything to do with the insurrection, and they therefore ordered that the jaghires should be returned to them. If they were innocent, as undoubtedly they were, the money ought to have been returned too; but that would have been inconvenient. Hastings ordered the nabob to go to Fyzabad and surrender the jaghires to his mother and grandmother, but the nabob only returned part of them, protesting that the Begums had made a voluntary gift of the rest to him.

Whilst Hastings was at Lucknow, the eldest son of poor old Shah Alum, the great mogul, paid him a visit to persuade him to intercede with the Mahrattas, who kept the shah still a prisoner at Delhi. Hastings was not likely to risk a war with the Mahrattas on account of the mogul, but he persuaded Scindia, the greatest of the Mahratta princes, to endeavour to take the Shah out of the hands in which he then was. This was, in fact, throwing a firebrand amongst the Mahrattas, without any real benefit to the mogul himself; and having, as he hoped, prevented any outbreak in Oude and Benares - substantial benefit was out of his power without a thorough change of system - he re turned to Calcutta, which he reached in the beginning of November.

He had for some time been requesting the directors to name his successor, but, as they had not done it, he now resolved to leave, and he announced the fact to the court of directors, and that he had appointed Mr. Macpherson, the senior member of council, to supply his place till they sent out a new governor-general. He embarked on the 8th of February, 1785, and arrived in England in June, 1786. He had sent home before him his wife, whose health had begun to suffer from the climate of India, and she had been most graciously received by king George and queen Charlotte. Charlotte was not in the habit of passing over blandly such antecedents as those of Marian Imhoff Hastings, but then Mrs. Hastings brought her rich presents of diamonds, and an exquisite ivory bedstead, and was, moreover, a German. All these recommendations had insured her the most flattering reception at St. James's, and now her husband received the same distinctions. He had been accompanied to his ship, on leaving Calcutta, by all the authorities, and by all people of distinction; he had received the most enthusiastic addresses of regret and of admiration as the saviour of India, for he had saved it, for the benefit of the English, though at the cost of the natives. In London, not only at court, but in Leadenhall-street, he met with the same satisfactory honour. He spent the autumn at Cheltenham with his wife, where he was courted and feted in a manner to warrant his writing to a friend, " I find myself everywhere and universally treated with evidences, apparent even to my own observation, that I possess the good opinion of my country." His country had not yet been fully enlightened on his doings in India - doings, however, which do not seem to have in any degree troubled his own conscience, for he had one of those accommodating ones which have in all ages induced some of the greatest tyrants to regard themselves as the peculiar benefactors of their race. He was busy trying to purchase Daylesford, the old family estate, and anticipating a peerage.

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Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 17

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