Page images

These shameless proceedings were not, indeed, unanimously approved of in the Council. A minority warmly objected, and those who persisted deemed it necessary to frame some plausible excuse. On November 10, 1760, a memorial, drawn up by Mr Holwell, set forth "the causes of the late change in the Soubahship." In this document the Nawab is charged with almost every enormity, but particularly with wanton taking of life without justifiable cause. Eight persons of distinction are specially mentioned, and over seventy others are stated to have been put to death by his capricious orders. Six years later, and when Mir Jaffir was no more, the Council admit they had ascertained all this to be fabrication. Addressing the Directors on 30th September 1766, they say, "In justice to the memory of the late Nawab Mir Jaffir, we think it incumbent on us to acquaint you that the horrible massacres wherewith he is charged by Mr Holwell in his address to the proprietors of East India stock, are cruel aspersions on the character of the Prince, which have not the least foundation in truth. The several persons there affirmed, and who were generally thought to have been murdered by his order, are all now living except two, who were put to death without the Nawab's consent or knowledge; and it is with additional satisfaction we can assure you, that they are lately released from confinement by the present Soubahdar, which fully evinces the entire confidence he reposes in the Company's protection against all attacks on his Govern-ment."

The iniquity of this transaction finds few apologists even among those who have taken upon themselves to dress and to enamel Oriental deeds for European view. The treaty with Mir Jaffir still subsisted; and measured by the elastic rules of that convenient code of public morality which con

querors in all ages have striven to pass off under the guise of international law, there was no pretence for such behaviour. He was the sworn and blood-knit ally of the Company; and if ever men were bound by decency to maintain at least the forms of good faith, the Governor and Council of Calcutta were so bound. Yet, being so, for the sum of £200,000, to them privately paid, and for the cession of three rich and populous provinces, they sold their too confiding friend and ally. The terms of their service to Mir Kasim were formally drafted in a treaty, which, as far as the advantage he derived from it, was only to be for life; but to the Company was surrendered wholly and for ever the fertile districts of Burdwan, Midnapore, and Chittagong. For their dexterity in cozening Mir Jaffir he paid Mr Vansittart £58,000, Mr Holwell £30,937, Mr Sumner £28,000, General Caillaud £22,916, and proportionately smaller sums to other members of the Council.

The necessary firman of investiture was obtained from Delhi, a detailed account of the revolution was transmitted to the Directors and Government in England, and the Nawab-Regent entered upon the exercise of his functions. He quickly displayed a capacity for government which bid fair to reconcile the people to his authority, to restore the country to health and vigour, and, if it were possible, to vindicate his share in the acts whereby he had been raised to power. By a rigorous economy of the public revenues, he was able to satisfy the arrears long due to the army, and to increase its efficiency. He rapidly acquitted the Company's claims. He made himself master of the wants and weaknesses of his subjects, and took prompt measures for the redress of their grievances. It was not long before his energy in this direction brought him into collision with his allies. At an early period of their settlement in Bengal,

The Com

the Company had obtained a firman exempting them from customs, dues, and the payment of tolls along the roads and navigable rivers, on the transit of their goods. The dustuck (certificate) of the heads of their factories had the virtue of an imperial permit. They had also established the vicious custom of paying their servants in the East a nominal and insufficient salary, with the liberty of engaging in private trade. The liberty thus accorded gradually grew into a license to neglect the Company's trade on the one hand, and to oppress the natives on the other. An official free pass was made to cover the goods of private individuals. all over the country. When the toll-collectors questioned the validity of the dustuck, and stopped the goods, as they were rightfully entitled to do, they were arrested, imprisoned, loaded with fetters, and even beaten. pany's servants, for their own private profit, were thus getting into their hands the whole trade of the country, and were practically drying up one of the sources of public revenue. Every subordinate English agent assumed the airs and profited by the prestige of participation in the joint-stock of power. Vast fortunes were accumulated rapidly, none knew how, for there were none whose business it was to inquire. Individualised spoliation ran loose, and only came home to rest when weary of the burthen of booty, or spent with predatory toil. Not content with the advantage wrung from this injustice, they went even further, and turned general dealers inland, which trade they also exercised free of duty. In every village and market they undersold the native shopkeeper in rice, paddy, fish, straw, bamboos, and other commodities. They compelled the natives to buy and sell at their own price, and enforced their will with personal violence. The harassed and dismayed inhabitants seldom ventured to resist. Grievous

complaints of these enormities reached Mir Kasim from all quarters, and he presented the strongest remonstrances against them to the Council.1 Mr Ellis, the Resident at Patna, was among the most prominent in the violation of fiscal authority, and most of the Council were too much implicated to be the willing authors of a reformation. They affected to doubt or deny the existence of the injury, and declared the Nawab's remonstrances to be an evidence of ingratitude which ought to be reproved. When he offered to agree to a transit duty of 9 per cent., though it was much less than that paid by the natives, they met him with a reluctant offer to pay 2 per cent. on salt alone. At last the negotiations ended in a compromise, and a treaty was signed in December 1762, binding the Company to pay a small fixed duty on their internal trade. But the majority of the Council were jealous of the popularity and success of the Regent. He would not wink at their frauds or suffer their violence, and it was necessary, therefore, to pick a quarrel with him; and this they did by publicly annulling the treaty, declaring that the President had no authority to sign it. Indignant at being thus trifled with, the Nawab issued a decree abolishing all internal duties, thus putting all classes in the country on an equal footing. The Council demanded its revocation, and preparations for hostilities were made on both sides. Some boats containing arms were stopped by Mir Kasim's orders; they were afterwards released, yet this was made the pretext for the plunder of Patna by a European force. But reinforcements arriving, the native Governor turned the scales on the following day, and compelled the aggressors to capitulate, Mr Ellis, the obnoxious Resident, being of the number. The imprisonment of every Englishman in the province

1 1 Mill, book IV. chap. v.

was also ordered; but only in the case of Mr Amyatt, who had been acting as mediator between the two Governments, was any life sacrificed; and his death was occasioned by the indiscretion of his escort, who drew upon themselves a volley by which he was killed.

Though Mir Kasim had been at some pains to organise and equip his army after the European pattern, victory did not declare in his favour. Moorshedabad was taken on 19th June, and he was again defeated in a general engagement at Geriah, on the 2d August, after such a resistance as the invaders had not encountered before in any struggle with native troops. He made another stand at the pass of Oodwa, and for a whole month defended it with judgment and resolution. Mongheer, which he had made his capital, fell in October; and now, finding his resources exhausted and fortune against him, in a paroxysm of rage and despair he ordered the execution of Mr Ellis and the prisoners from Patna, to whose conduct he mainly ascribed his downfall. He then took refuge for some time in Oude, and died at Delhi in 1777, in obscurity and indigence. When the Company found that Mir Kasim would not make his country's interests subservient to theirs, they entered into negotiations with Mir Jaffir for his resuming active authority; and, on the 10th July 1763, a new treaty was signed, by which the Company engaged to reinstate him in the full exercise of all the executive powers, rights, and functions, of Soubahdar. On his part, Mir Jaffir ratified the previous treaty of 1757; granted afresh and confirmed to the Company the chucklas (districts) of Burdwan, Midnapore, and Chittagong, for defraying the expenses of their troops; confirmed their privilege of trading free from all duties, taxes, and impositions, except in the article of salt, on which 2 per cent. was to be levied on the Hooghly market-price ;'


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »