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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 9


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Then the house thought he had suffered enough, for nothing was clearer than that justice required the country which was in possession of the splendid empire he had won to acknowledge his services, whilst it noted the means of this acquisition. Burgoyne's second resolution was rejected, and another proposed by Wedderburn, the solicitor-general, adopted, " That Robert, lord Olive, did, at the same time, render great and meritorious services to this country."

This terminated the attack on this great though faulty- man. Olive, like most men who took the lead in the extraordinary circumstances of the early acquisition of India, committed serious faults; but he also displayed, at the same time, wonderful talents for conquest and government, and, what is more, great and eminent virtues. He was naturally frank, generous, and just. In private life, he was most kindly unassuming and benevolent. He made many wise regulations during his administration in India, and gave both the company and the government here wise advice. The circumstances which led to his sudden aggrandisement were enough to overcome the virtue of most men, and prompted him, on one occasion, when reviewing, in the select committee, the elevation of Meer Jaffier, the bankers offering enormous sums for his favour, the vaults of the vizier piled with heaps of gold, and crowned with diamonds and rubies, all of which he might have seized, to exclaim, " By God, Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation!"

His enemies made him pay the full penalty of his wealth. They had struck him to the heart with their poisoned javelins. From a boy he had been subject to fits of hypochondriacal depression; as a boy, he had attempted his own life in one of these paroxysms. They now came upon him with tenfold force, and in a few months he died by his own hand.

From Olive, events cause us to pass at once to one accused of much greater misdemeanours, and one whose administration terminated in a more formal and extraordinary trial than that of Olive; a trial made for ever famous by the great abilities and eloquence of Burke and Sheridan, and the awful mysteries of iniquity, as practised by our authorities in India, which were brought to the public knowledge by them on this great occasion. Warren Hastings was of an old, decayed family, a branch of that of the earls of Huntingdon. The ancient seat of his ancestors, Daylesford, in Worcestershire, was sold, and he received his education at Westminster school. There Cowper, the poet, and Elijah Impey, the latter destined to figure in his Indian concerns, were his schoolfellows. He went to India as a cadet at the age of seventeen. He attracted the notice of Olive, and was much employed by Vansittart. Steadily advancing, he was appointed chief of the council of Bengal in 1772, and, in the following year, the first governor-general of India.

It is singular that the tender-hearted Cowper, and, in fact, all who knew Hastings as a youth, were astonished at the accounts of his oppressions and cruelties charged against him on his trial, and many, spite of all the evidence, would never believe them. All who knew him when young regarded him as particularly humane and gentle. Clive, who saw him in India, and beheld only a man of spare form, shrunken features, of particularly gentle manners and mild voice, thought him in danger from a too easy disposition, which might lead him to be governed by others. No doubt, had Hastings had his future career suddenly displayed to him by an Indian prophet, as Jehu had his by a Hebrew one, he would have replied, in horror, " Is thy servant a dog, that he should do these things? " No man can be judged of, perhaps no man can estimate himself, so as to predicate what he will do under wholly new and extraordinary circumstances. But under the mild and gentle outside of Warren Hastings lay a most dogged and determined will, and a disposition to rule, which, when called into action, and opposed by obstacles, converted him into the astonishing tyrant.

Hastings commenced his rule in Bengal under circumstances which demanded rather a man of pre-eminent humanity than of the character yet lying undeveloped in him. In 1770, under the management of Mr. Cartier, a famine broke out in Bengal, so terrible that it is said to have swept away one-third of the population of the state, and to have been attended by indescribable horrors. The most revolting circumstance was, that the English were charged with being the authors of it, by buying up all the rice in the country, and refusing to sell it, except at the most exorbitant prices. There have not been wanting zealous defenders of our countrymen from this awful charge, and we should have rejoiced if so dread an opprobrium could have been removed from our national character. It has been contended that famines are, or have been, of frequent occurrence in India; that the natives had no providence; and that to charge the English with the miserable consequences of this famine, is unreasonable, because it was what they could neither foresee nor prevent. Of the drought in the previous autumn, there is no doubt; but there is, unhappily, as little, that the regular rapacity of the English, as we have described it, had reduced the natives to that condition of poverty, apathy, and despair, in which the slightest derangement of season must superinduce famine; that they were grown callous to the sufferings of their victims, and were as alive to their gain by the rising price through the scarcity, as they were in all other cases. Their object was sudden wealth, and they cared not, in fact, whether the natives lived or died, so that that object was effected.

Amongst the foremost defenders of the English has been lord Macaulay, in the famous Edinburgh Review article already mentioned. He says, " These charges we believe to have been utterly unfounded. That servants of the company had ventured, since Olive's departure, to deal in rice, is probable. That, if they dealt in rice, they must have gained by the scarcity, is certain. But there is no reason for thinking that they either produced or aggravated the evil which physical causes sufficiently explain." But, unfortunately, there is every reason for thinking that they assisted these physical causes, and, if we take into consideration that since the experience of these horrors, though droughts have been frequent in India, famines have been rare, this conclusion acquires much force. Let us see what men, well acquainted with India at that time, have to say. The author of the u Short History of the English Transactions in the East Indies" thus boldly states the facts. Speaking of the monopoly just alluded to, of salt, betel- nut, and tobacco, he says: -

" Money, in this current, came but by drops. It could not quench the thirst of those who waited in India to receive it. An expedient, such as it was, remained to quicken it. The natives could live with little salt, but could not want food. Some of the agents saw themselves well situated for collecting the rice into stores. They did so. They knew that the Gentoos would rather die than violate the principles of their religion by eating flesh. The alternative would, therefore, be between giving what they had, or dying! The inhabitants sunk. They that cultivated the land and saw the harvest at the disposal of others, planted in doubt: scarcity ensued. Then the monopoly was easier managed; sickness ensued. In some districts, the living left the bodies of their numerous dead unburied."

Let us next see what says the celebrated Abbe Raynal, a foreign historian, and the light in which this event is regarded by foreigners: - "It was by a drought in 1769, at the season when the rains are expected, that there was a failure of the great harvest of 1769, and the less harvest of 1770. It is true that the rice on the higher grounds did not suffer greatly by this disturbance of the seasons, but there was far from a sufficient quantity for the nourishment of all the inhabitants of the country; add to which, the English, who were engaged beforehand to take proper care of their subsistence, as well as of the sepoys belonging to them, did not fail to keep locked up in their magazines a part of the grain, though the harvest was insufficient... This scourge did not fail to make itself felt throughout Bengal. Rice, which commonly sold for one sol (½d.) for three pounds, was gradually raised so high as four and even six sols (3d.) for one pound; neither, indeed, was there any to be found, except where the English had taken care to collect it for their own use.

"The unhappy Indians were perishing every day by thousands under this want of sustenance, without any means of help, and without any revenue. They were to be seen in their villages, along the public ways, in the midst of our European colonies, pale, meagre, emaciated, fainting, consumed by famine - some stretched on the ground in expectation of dying; others scarcely able to drag themselves on to seek any nourishment, and throwing themselves at the feet of the Europeans, entreating them to take them in as their slaves.

"To this description, which makes humanity, shudder, let us add other objects, equally shocking. Let imagination enlarge upon them, if possible. Let U3 represent to ourselves infants deserted, some expiring on the breasts of their mothers; everywhere the dying and the dead mingled together; on all sides the groans and the tears of despair, and we shall then have some faint idea of the horrible spectacle which Bengal presented for the space of six weeks.

" During this whole time the Ganges was covered with carcases. The fields and highways were choked up with them; infectious vapours filled the air, and diseases multiplied; and, one evil succeeding another, it appeared not improbable that the plague would carry oft' the total population of the unfortunate kingdom. It appears, by calculations pretty generally acknowledged, that the famine carried off a fourth part, that is to say, about three millions! What is still more remarkable is, that such a multitude of human creatures, amidst this terrible distress, remained in absolute inactivity. All the Europeans, especially all the English, were possessed of magazines. These were untouched, as were also private houses. No revolt, no massacre, not the least violence prevailed. The unhappy Indians, resigned to despair, confined themselves to the request of succpurs they did not obtain, and peacefully awaited the relief of death.

" Let us now represent to ourselves any part of Europe afflicted with such a calamity. What disorder! what fury! what atrocious acts! Europeans would have contended for food dagger in hand; some flying, some pursuing, and, without remorse, massacreing one another! In the blindness of despair, they would trample under foot all authority.

" 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.

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Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 9

Dunbrody Abbey
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Church of Dungannon
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French and English cruisers off Ceylon
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Bundelcund
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Cheyte
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