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part of the world for centuries. Nevertheless the land revenue was within two years brought up once more to the former average of a million and a half sterling, though not, as Warren Hastings owned, without the exercise of cruel severity. By the practice termed “naja,” each district was throughout compelled to furnish its quota, regardless of depopulation and abandonment of farms.
The practice which, in ordinary years, was hardly complained of by a people traditionally accustomed to a rude but regular solidarity of local interests and industries, became an instrument of inhuman rigour when there was famine in the land. The more utter the insolvency occasioned by dearth in one portion of a district, the more intolerably fell the weight of exaction upon the portion that still struggled for life. What frugality had saved from the sickle of dearth, the pitiless clutch of the tax-gatherer gleaned ; but the coffers of the alien dewanny were kept full, and the remittances to the absentee owners afar off were suffered to fail.
The tidings of the terrible disaster startled from the apathy of neglect the popular conscience at home; and in the following session, select committees of inquiry were moved for—the one by Vfr Dundas, and the other by Colonel Burgoyne. In the voluminous evidence brought before them, the scandalous history of Clive's and Vansittart's administrations was laid bare. Clive was threatened with impeachment, but he boldly faced the accusations laid to his charge; and the House of Commons, after censuring many of the learling acts of his government, voted, by way of set-off, that he had rendered great services to his country. His haughty spirit was not appeased by this, or by the cheers with which he was subsequently received on entering the House. His solitude was haunted by thoughts to which he gave no
utterance. At length the burthen of his unhallowed fame and fortune grew insupportable, and the public learned with a shudder that he had perished by his own hand.
In their anxiety to escape impending condemnation for past mismanagement, and to offer guarantees of something better for the time to come, the Directors professed themselves ready to send out a commission of three men of repute and standing, awaiting whose report Parliament might fairly be called on to abstain from permanent legislation. The Vice-Chairman, Sir George Colebrooke, suggested to his colleagues that they should invite Edmund Burke to preside over this Commission of Supervisors, as, in the counting-house language of the Board, they were to be called. Lord Rockingham, then leader of the Whigs in opposition, was consulted ; but, from a feeling of delicacy, or from some other cause unexplained, he abstained from expressing any opinion. The over-sensitiveness of his friend and follower seems to have been hurt at the want of interest thus shown in a matter which he regarded as of importance not only to himself but to the nation. He took time to consider, and his family dissuading him, he declined the offer. How different might have been the subsequent course of events in India, had even a ground-plan whereon to build been laid down by the noble, just, generous, and far-sighted intellect of him who has been truly designated by Macaulay as beyond comparison the greatest man of his time!
Meanwhile another but very different man, daring as Clive, and of more comprehensive and persistent purpose, was climbing fast and climbing high the rounds of ambition in the East. Failing to obtain the services of the eloquent statesman, the Directors bethought them of their most astute and versatile official. He had no friends of consequence to push his interest with them, and no resources wherewith to purchase favour. But he had the faculty of impressing all with whom he came into personal contact that, though diminutive in form and delicate in feature, he possessed indomitable energy, profound sagacity, and an iron will. They thought he was the sort of man they wanted; and the next decade in the annals of annexation is identified with the name of Warren Hastings.
“In such a state of affairs, what influence can exist except that of fear ? Can
those who have been deprived of their power and their wealth like the Government who have been the instruments of their ruin ? Is it possible that their relations, friends, and former dependants, should not sympathise with them ? And will not the people, who are taxed with much greater severity than they ever were before, be ready to concur in their complaints ? The ruin of the upper classes (like the exclusion of the people from a share in the government) was a necessary consequence of the establishment of the British power ; but had we acted on more liberal plan, we should have fixed our authority on a much more solid foundation.”
-F. J. SHORE.1
the UNTIL year 1773, the English possessions in India
were governed by the three separate Councils of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, each of them presided over by one of their number specially designated by the Directors at home for the performance of that duty. Between these independent and co-equal Governments, no little jealousy prevailed. Their local interests were often different, and they were separated from each other, not only by distance and diversity of circumstances, but by mutual jealousy and distrust. As their respective relations with the native states grew more complex, their need of one another's aid in time of peril grew more plain. Concerted action and unity of policy was every year more obviously desir
Notes on Indian Affairs, vol. i. p. 162.
power; but it
able ; and to secure this unity, the Minister of the day recommended Parliament to create a supreme executive at Calcutta, which should in all great affairs control the two remaining Presidencies, and to erect at the same time in the future metropolis of British India, a High Court of Judicature, invested with unlimited jurisdiction, civil as well as criminal, over all English settlers in the East, and over all matters wherein they might in any way be concerned.
By an Act passed in 1773, Government for the first time explicitly assumed paramount authority over the English possessions in Asia. George III. and his Ministers had long coveted this increase of patronage and was not until the Board of Directors came for a loan of £1,500,000 to the Treasury, to meet their excess of expenditure, that the opportunity arose for effecting so great a change. For five years the heavy quit-rent to the State and the dividend of 10 per cent to the proprietary had been punctually paid; but the price of stock steadily went down, and at length, in the autumn of ’72, Leadenhall Street found itself on the brink of insolvency. Lord North readily agreed to a loan from the Exchequer, adequate to meet all pressing wants. He intimated at the same time, however, that the executive should henceforth be regarded as supreme in all questions of acquired territory, and that a provincial administration, political, military, and judicial, must be nominated by the Home Government, though paid for out of the revenues of the Company. Its internal constitution, moreover, would be modified so as to restrict the constituent votes by whom the Directors were to be chosen, to persons registered for twelve months as holders of £1000 of stock. This sweeping measure of disfranchisement and of centralisation raised a storm of opposition in the City. Corporate privileges were said to be