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to aliens; that they drank their water for money, that their wood was sold unto them; that servants ruled over them, and that there was none to deliver them out of their hand ?1

The rice crop of 1768 had been scanty throughout Bengal, but “the revenues were never so closely collected before.” Prices rose, and the poorer cultivators of the soil had consequently little to spare for seed. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1769, the export of rice went on; for customers at Madras and elsewhere could afford to pay high, and no one in authority cared about consequences. The rains fell as usual in the spring, copiously enough to do even harm in the Delta. But the clouds of autumn came not as usual, and failed to drop fatness. Everywhere the crop withered, and the rice-fields became prematurely fields of straw. Governor Verelst did not deem the matter worth mentioning when writing home ; and except for the troops, no care was taken to lay up provisions in store. The only question indeed was about the troops; for as once was said of another neglected dependency by a statesman of our own time, Bengal was occupied, not governed.” Mr Cartier mentioned incidentally late in January 1770, that one district was suffering severely for want of food, but he adds the consolatory assurance that “they had not yet found any failure in the revenue.' What no failure of revenue means, when people are famishing, it can hardly be necessary to explain. Subsequently it occurred to the Governor and Council that if some relaxation in the collection of the landtax were conceded, that was the utmost that could be expected of them; but as for taking measures to save the lives of the community, they naturally thought nobody expected that at their hands. In seasons of drought it had

Lamentations of Jeremiah, v.

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not been uncommon for native rulers to suspend the landtax, and to make advances to ryots; and measures of this kind were proposed at Fort William, but “except in a few isolated instances they were not granted.”? In April, the pulse harvest, though scanty, was secured, and about the same time an addition of 10 per cent. was made to the rentrevenue. But destitution deepened, and in the middle of May the reports of suffering came from far and near. mortality and beggary exceeded all description. Above one-third of the inhabitants perished in the once-plentiful province of Purneah, and in other parts the misery was the same.

From every native official who had still been retained earnest representations poured in of the dire calamity that had befallen the people. Sympathy and selfishness alike inspired these representations. Even Mussulmans, Tusuldars, and Hindoo police might be credited with pity and compassion ; while whatever tribute they still were able to send in, would entitle them to all the more praise when it was known under what difficulties it had been collected. There were no disorders, outbreaks, or threats of violence among the peasantry. The habitual reticence and domestic privacy of Bengalis is well known. Even the charitable who sought out objects of benevolence, found it often difficult to reach the inner chambers, where debilitated and despairing women and children slowly perished for want of food. Cattle were sold, tools pawned, and seedl-grain eaten; then children were offered for sale, till purchasers could not be found ; and finally the Government were informed by their subordinates that the living were known to prey upon the dead." 3

At length all traditional reserve gave way. Troops of famished peasants, worn and wan, came crowding into the towns, bringing with them pestilence in various forms, small-pox, dysentery, and fever, and spreading terror and dismay among rich men and rulers. Death did not heed being told to begone. Its carnival was come, and the ghastly revel was prolonged from week to week and from month to month, till the gravedigger was weary and the jackal and vulture grew lazy and tame.

1 Ilunter's Annals of Rural Bengal, p. 23. Despatch, 9th May 1770.

3 Letter of 21 June 1770.

The testimony of an eyewitness whose veracity has never been questioned, and who afterwards rose to the highest post in Bengal, confirms what a despatch of the Council, so late as the month of September, expressly set forth, that it was “scarcely possible that any description could be an exaggeration of the prevailing want and woe. Mr Shore was nothing of an enthusiast, and in every act of his life he was a loyal and trusted servant of the Company. Punctilious, careful, plodding, and exact, he was of all men the least likely to overstate any case where the credit of the Government was concerned. Yet he owned in after years that nothing could obliterate from his recollection the horrors of that dreadful time

“ Dire scenes of horror, which no pen can trace,

Nor rolling years from memory's page efface.”

A certain show of compassion was made at Calcutta when the evil was at its height. An embargo was laid for several weeks on the export of grain, but the total amount contributed by the Calcutta treasury to alleviate wretchedness so unparalleled did not exceed £4000. The native landlords must do the rest, if they would and could. For the most part, they were not unwilling, but the means were wanting. Their own resources had wholly failed, and they could only borrow at high usury, or become de

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faulters to the exchequer. Instances are recorded of the sacrifices they made, and of the suffering they subsequently endured in consequence. Sooner than let their people die, they went in debt. From this dreadful year the ruin of two-thirds of the old aristocracy of Bengal dates; while the revenue farmers, “ being unable to realise the land-tax, were stripped of their office, their persons imprisoned, and their lands, the sole dependence of their families, relet."1 The Rajah of Nuddea survived the famine so much in default, that he was glad to surrender his estates to his son. The Rani of Rajshie, though previously esteemed as a woman of business, and as a lady who exercised justly much territorial influence, was threatened with eviction and the confiscation of her lands. The young Rajah of Beerbhoom was thrown into jail for arrears of land-tax; while the aged Rajah of Bishenpore was only let out of a debtor's prison when his end visibly drew nigh. Out of an assessment of £1,380,269 only £65,355 was remitted during the famine year. The ruin of the Hindu gentry excited little pity or forbearance. The clearing of great tracts of country by famine caused more concern; a third of the land was reported in the next two years to have gone out of tillage. This was a serious evil, and accordingly schemes were set on foot to tempt immigrants to take farms and settle. There was to be a new plantation by men of a hardier breed, and, as was said, of a superior race.

But the work of home colonisation proved more slow than probably was expected. Sheep from the other folds did not come so quickly at the click of the shears : stupid creatures! that did not know what was good for them. Villages remained in ruins, field after field lay fallow, and rapidly returned to jungle. Beerbhoom and Bishenpore had been cultivated by six thousand rural com

i Hunter's Annals of Rural Bengal, p. 56.


Three years after the famine a fourth of these agricultural communities had disappeared. For fifteen years after the famine depopulation went on; and in 1789 a minute of the Viceroy in Council declared that one-third of the Company's territories in Bengal was “a jungle inhabited only by wild beasts.”

Something more remains to be told. Shameful frauds appear to have been practised during the famine by persons in office. They were known to have dealt in grain, imported for the supply of the famishing multitude, to have made false returns of its distribution, and to have appropriated the exorbitant price it brought. The Council tried to throw the blame upon the subordinates who were natives.

. The Directors refused to be thus duped; said plainly that they believed the guilt lay at the door of their own countrymen high in office, and called for the disclosure of their names; but the names were never audibly disclosed. One who held an important place at the time, returned to his own country a wealthy man, founded a family, since ennobled, and amid “honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,” lay down to spend the evening of his days in peace. But that best of blessings was denied him. His nights were haunted by images and sounds which would not let him sleep; and though a man of what is called iron frame and of ready courage, to his dying hour he never would allow the lights to be extinguished round his bed.

The next harvest was plenteous, but the labourers were so comparatively few that a great extent of land was left untilled, and it was many years before the population rose to their former numbers. All the computations made officially at the time, and afterwards, set down the extent of depopulation at from nine to ten millions. Nothing like this has been even asserted as having happened elsewhere in any

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