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India. page 2


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It was the decay of the Mughal empire, and French rivalry, that caused the British East India Company to become, at first almost in spite of themselves, employers of warlike forces and conquerors of territory, instead of mere peaceful traders. In the early years of the 18th century the three Presidencies had, purely for self-defence, small garrisons of British soldiers, and native troops called Sipahis. War between France and Great Britain in Europe (the "Austrian Succession"), beginning in 1741, soon caused collision in Asia, and hostilities began in southern India, where the Mahrattas were fighting against the Nizam, Mohammedan ruler of the Deccan, the country between the Nerbudda and the Kistna. The British, in 1746, lost Fort St. George by surrender, after bombardment, to La Bourdonnais, who came against it from Mauritius with a fleet and army, and then the able, crafty, and ambitious Dupleix, French governor of Pondicherri, intervened. He had formed the design of expelling the British from India, and of bringing the whole peninsula under subjection to France, and it was his genius which conceived the plan of effecting conquest by means of native troops (Sipahis) drilled, trained, and armed in the European fashion. The details of the struggle which ensued are well known from British history, and need not be given here. Dupleix declined to ratify the terms made by La Bourdonnais, and carried off the English governor and his officers to Pondicherri, but they were released, and the Madras Presidency was recovered, in 1748, under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The French and English, apart from hostilities in Europe, during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), engaged in warfare as supporters of rival native princes in southern India. British supremacy was due to the genius and courage of Robert Clive, one of the greatest of English commanders. His daring seizure and splendid defence of Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic; his victory of Plassey over the young Nawab (Nabob) of Bengal, Suraj-ud-Daula (Surajah Dowlah), avenging the hideous tragedy of the "Black Hole of Calcutta"; his rule in Bengal; the victories of Sir Eyre Coote in southern India; the skill of Major Monro, in the battle of Buxar, east of Benares, saving Bengal for the Company by defeat of the emperor's forces: these were the causes of French discomfiture in India, and of the rise of the Company's empire, in 1765, in their appointment, by the Mughal ruler, as virtual governors of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, a territory twice as large as the British Isles.

A period of misrule under the Company's officials followed the departure of Clive from India in 1767, and the natives of Bengal suffered much from extortion and other oppressive proceedings Financial ruin for the Company was in prospect, and in 1772, with, 1,000,000 pounds sterling of arrears, the Company borrowed largely from the Bank of England, and also applied to Parliament for aid. This was granted, on conditions which changed the method of rule in India. The Regulating Act of 1773 established a new Supreme Court at Calcutta, with a chief-justice and three judges nominated by the Crown, and appointed a Governor-General of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, with a salary of, 25,000 pounds a year, assisted by four highly paid councillors. The other Presidencies were made subordinate to his rule. The first Governor-General, probably the greatest, in ability and achievements, of a long and illustrious roll of high officials in India, was Warren Hastings, already "President" at Calcutta, whose Indian career had begun with a clerkship in Bengal, in 1749. In 1765 he had risen to the post of member of council at Madras, and he became governor of Bengal in 1772. During his 13 years tenure of power until 1785, this famous ruler committed some high-handed acts, due to zeal for the Company's and his country's interests, but he has lately been freed, after careful investigation of the records of the time, from the chief calumnious charges brought against him by Burke in the " impeachment," charges based upon the false representations of the malignant Sir Philip Francis, Hastings' colleague in council, and repeated, in good faith, with lack of full knowledge of the facts, by Macaulay in his brilliant essay. It was Hastings who founded British rule on a firm basis in India, and, in Macaulay's words, "preserved and extended an empire; founded a polity; administered government and war with more than the capacity of Richelieu." Amongst other administrative reforms, the collection of the revenues was vested solely in English civil servants; the native ryots, or cultivators, were protected from oppression. Civil and criminal tribunals, in which British officials were supreme, were created in country-districts, curtailing the powers of corrupt native courts. The Company's servants were checked in various corrupt and oppressive practices, including monopolies in salt, tobacco, rice, and other articles of trade. A great and growing revenue arose in the manufacture of salt and opium, now brought under the control of the government. The country was cleared of bands of roving robbers or "dacoits."

In foreign affairs, the great Governor-General had an ample field for the display of his abilities and strength of character. One of the most formidable of foes had appeared in southern India. This was Haidar (Hyder) Ali, a man of rare energy, daring, and skill, who became ruler of Mysore in 1762. The country, under his sway, was enriched by trade and tillage, and increased in territory through conquests effected by a reorganised military force. The British dominions were attacked, and the government of Madras, in 1769, was forced into an alliance binding them to help Haidar against all foes. In 1770 the Madras council declined to aid him against the invasion of a great Mahratta army, and the ruler of Mysore, who never forgave the English for what he deemed to be a cowardly breach of faith, was deprived of nearly half his territory. The crisis came in India in 1778, when war with France began through her aid to the revolted British colonies in North America. French agents, intriguing with the Peshwa, the Mahratta ruler, at Poona, strove to form an alliance against British power, and Hastings took prompt measures to meet the danger. Chandernagore and Pondicherri were taken, and an expedition was sent from Bombay against the Mahrattas. Ill-success at first attended our arms; but a Bengal army restored the position, and in 1780 Ahmedabad and Bassein were taken; the powerful Mahratta chiefs, Holkar and Scindia, were twice defeated; and another force from Bengal took by escalade the great rock-fortress of Gwalior, deemed by all men in India to be impregnable. In March, 1781, Scindia was again defeated, and no more present trouble from the Mahrattas was to be feared. A greater task was to be faced in the south. The indomitable Haidar was again in the field, in alliance with the Mahrattas, and in 1780 he was carrying fire and sword through British territory in the Carnatic with an army trained by French officers. Sir Hector Monro, the victor of Buxar in 1764, was forced to retreat, with the loss of his guns, and Haidar then seized Arcot. Hastings at once dispatched from Calcutta Sir Eyre Coote, the old hero of Wandewash in 1760, with a small, well-equipped force of British and Sipahis. In July, 1781, Coote gained, south of Pondicherri, the decisive victory of Porto Novo, or Cuddalore, defeating 80,000 men under Haidar with a tenth of that number, the victors losing only 300 men. In August a less brilliant success was gained at Pollilore, and in June, 1782, Coote again worsted the fierce old Mussulman, then in his 80th year, at Arnee, southwest of Madras. In October Coote was forced to return to Calcutta from ill-health, but the death of Haidar two months later made an end for the time of all danger in southern India. The Mysore sovereign, succumbing to old age, expressed his regret that he had ever attacked a nation that no defeats could ever compel to yield, and left a charge to his son and successor Tippoo to make peace with the British on any terms. Tippoo, however, continued the war, with some slight success, but the Peace of Versailles, in 1783, deprived him of his French contingent under the able Bussy, and in March, 1784, when a British army had drawn close to Tippoo's capital, Seringapatam, a peace was concluded which left the British masters in the Carnatic, with Tippoo ruling in Mysore. Hastings had made terms with the Mahrattas in western and central India, restoring all his conquests except Gwalior, but binding them to friendship and intercourse with the British alone among Europeans.

In 1784 William Pitt's "India Act" gave the home-government its first real power in Indian affairs. A "Board of Control" in London, consisting of six privy-councillors nominated by the Crown, and always including the Chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the Secretaries of State, was headed by a President, having all the actual authority, a member of either the Commons or the Lords, and responsible to Parliament and the Crown, who gained through him direct knowledge of Indian affairs. This new system, which continued until the extinction of the Company as a political body, left to the Directors their power over patronage and commercial business, but deprived them and the Court of Proprietors of supreme authority in _civil and military affairs. In February, 1785) Warren Hastings returned to England, where he received a vote of thanks from the Directors. Three years later, his famous trial, or impeachment by the Commons before the Lords, began in Westminster Hall, to end in April, 1795, with acquittal on every charge. More than 20 years later, in advanced old age, Hastings went to his grave "in peace, after so many troubles, in honour, after so much obloquy." The eloquence of Burke, Fox, Pitt, and Sheridan had been launched in vain against the man defended in a masterly style by Law, afterwards Lord Ellenborough, and, in 1794, by the valuable evidence of Lord Cornwallis, who, succeeding the accused as Governor-General, had learned by a long experience the facts and conditions of British rule in the Asiatic dominions.

The rule of Cornwallis, from 1786 to 1793, was made notable by his complete reform of the Company's civil service, and by his permanent settlement of the system of raising the land-revenue in Bengal. The native zemindars, or revenue-farmers, now received in perpetual tenure the lands on which they had previously been only collectors of the tax, and they undertook henceforth to pay that annual sum to the government. The Company's officials were deprived of all irregular sources of income, receiving henceforth salaries ample for their maintenance, and judicial officers ceased to be employed in the collection of revenue. It is obvious that these changes were all in the direction of pure and non-oppressive rule. In war with Tippoo, from 1789 to 1792, Lord Cornwallis took the field, in alliance with the Peshwa of the Mahrattas, and with the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the storming of Bangalore was followed by a march on Seringapatam, the defeat of Tippoo, and his retreat under the guns of his great fortress and capital. Cornwallis, short of supplies, was then compelled to retire, but in January, 1792, with reinforcements from home raising his force to 20,000 men, and aided by the Nizam and the Mahrattas, the Governor-General again marched on Seringapatam, stormed three strong lines of advanced works mounting 300 guns, and forced his foe within the walls. The ruler of Mysore had then to yield half his territory for equal division among the three allies; to pay, 3,000,000 pounds sterling as a war-indemnity; and to deliver up his two sons as hostages.

Lord Mornington, better known as the Marquis Wellesley, was Governor-General from 1798 to 1805, and under him, through great ability in council and in arms, much was done to extend British ' power and influence in India. Himself a man of brilliant parts and energetic character, the ruler was aided by his younger and greater brother, Arthur Wellesley, then colonel of the 33rd regiment, who first displayed on Indian soil the qualities which afterwards won him undying fame as duke of Wellington. There was a formidable league of native states against the British in central and southern India. The Peshwa at Poona had become a mere instrument in the hands of Scindia, the actual head of the Mahratta powers. The restless Tippoo, eager for revenge, was in alliance with Napoleon, and the native forces were trained and commanded by French officers. The British element in the governor-general's army, reduced through the requirements of European warfare, was not ready for the field in the great coming struggle, and the Company's finances were in a poor way. Panic arose at Madras and Calcutta, but the two Wellesleys faced the position with combined courage and wisdom. Diplomacy staved off the outbreak of war while our preparations were being made. The Nizam of the Deccan was seduced from the French to the British cause. In March, 1799, Mysore was invaded by 40,000 British and Sipahis, under General Harris and Sir David Baird, and they were joined by the Nizam's troops, to which Colonel Wellesley's regiment was attached. On May 4th, after some previous fighting, Seringapatam was stormed in brilliant style, and the brave Tippoo's body was found among the slain. All his territories were divided amongst the British, the Nizam, and a descendant of the old ruling house, displaced by Haidar. There were thus added to the British territories 20,000 square miles in southern. India, including the coast of Canara, the formidable passes of the Ghats, leading into Mysore, and the city of Seringapatam. Colonel Wellesley, as governor, was engaged for some years in organising, with consummate skill, the civil and military administration of the new province. In 1800, under the "subsidiary system" steadily carried out by Lord Wellesley, by which a military force, under British command, was maintained at the expense of a native ruler, and the control of state-affairs lay with a British "Resident," the Nizam ceded all his Mysore territories in exchange for British protection and aid. In 1801 the Nabob of Arcot, the Subahdar (viceroy) of Oudh, and the Peshwa became "protected allies" in this fashion, one which had then and afterwards a vast effect in the extension of British influence in India. The next task of the Governor-General was that of dealing with the Mahrattas aroused against him by French influence. The five Mahratta chiefs, including Scindia and Holkar, controlled a population of 40,000,000 in the rich provinces extending southwards from Delhi to the Krishna, and from the Bay of Bengal to the Gulf of Cambay. They could place in the field 300,000 men, including 100,000 horse. In September and November, 1803, Sir Arthur Wellesley's brilliant victories at Assaye and Argaum shattered the power of the Mahrattas, and the strong fortresses of Ahmednuggur, east of Bombay, Aseerghur, and Burhampoor were taken. A treaty concluded in December made Scindia and the Raja of Berar dependent allies on the system above described, and they agreed to exclude from their territories all non-British Europeans. Meanwhile, General Lake had been doing good work against the same foes in northern India. In September, 1803, the fortress of Alighur was stormed. Agra had already yielded on the first fire of our siege-batteries. Delhi was taken after a great defeat of Scindia's troops on the banks of the Jumna. Lake, in November, won his peerage by the great victory of Laswari, near Agra. Delhi, Agra, and other provinces were ceded, and British influence became finally predominant in the great peninsula. In 1804 and 1805 there was some turn of the tide in warfare against Holkar and a vast force of ferocious freebooters called Pindarees. Lord Lake was victorious in the field, but he failed to capture, after five separate assaults, the immensely strong fortress of Bhurtpore. Our power was, however, too strongly established to be seriously shaken, and in December, 1805, Holkar made peace on the usual terms of excluding the French from his dominions. The Mahratta power was broken, though it was not yet wholly subdued, under Lord Wellesley's administration, our rule being advanced far from Calcutta towards the north-west. Bengal and Madras Presidencies were united by the annexation of Cuttack, and the western seaboard was in British possession. This great Governor-General had also raised British influence by his steady assumption that British supremacy in India, and not mere trade, with a good dividend for the Company's shareholders, was the main reason of our presence in a region where we had committed to our charge the task of securing the happiness of many millions of people by permanent improvements of the territory, by the development of natural resources, and by a vigorous and pure system of rule. He first taught the civil servants of the Company to regard themselves in their proper light as magistrates, judges, ambassadors, and rulers of provinces, men invested with high, responsible, and serious functions. Under the earl of Minto, who was in power from 1807 to 1813, British diplomacy went beyond the borders of the Indian Empire in missions to the Shah of Persia and the Amir of Kabul, and friendly relations were established with Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh kingdom, afterwards famous as the "Lion of the Punjab," the Sutlej being accepted as the southern boundary of his dominions. On the renewal of the Company's charter in 1813, for the period of 20 years, a material change was made in their commercial position, by the throwing open of the trade to India in favour of all British subjects. At the same time, the territorial and commercial departments of affairs were separated, and the Crown was empowered to recognise Christianity in India by the appointment of a bishop with three archdeacons, to be paid from the funds of the Company. Under Lord Moira (marquis of Hastings), Governor-General from 1814 to 1823 important warlike events occurred. The brave, lithe, active Ghoorkhas (Gurkhas) of Nipal (Nepaul), now so valuable in our Indian army, were beaten after fierce fighting in 1815 and 1816, and some of their territory was annexed. In the latter year the troublesome Pindaree freebooters of central India invaded our territory, west of Madras, and did much damage. They were found to be acting in secret alliance with the Mahratta princes, and the Governor-General, on special instructions from home, adopted vigorous measures. In September, 1817, he took the field, with Sir John Malcolm, in great force, and in a few months the Pindarees were Utterly destroyed or finally dispersed, hunted down at last to ruin. The Mahrattas, under Holkar, were routed at Maheidpoor, north-west of Indore, by Malcolm, and the Mahratta power was suppressed, with great enlargement of the Bombay Presidency.

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The British Indian Empire, 1898.
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