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Antique Print of Warren HastingsWarren Hastings (1732-1818)
Born: 6th December 1732 at Churchill, Oxfordshire
Governor-General of India
Died: 22nd August 1818 at Daylesford, Worcestershire

The first Governor-General of India was, like Lord Clive, sprung from an old impoverished family of landowners, whose home had been at Daylesford in Worcestershire. His father was one Penyston Hastings and his mother, Hester Warren. But, unlike Clive, he had a first-rate classical education, being head scholar of his year at Westminster. This training, no doubt, helped him in after years to master the Urdu and Bengali languages. He resembled Clive also in his great natural sweetness of temper, his dauntless resolution and in the power of swift decision to bear responsibility. But he too had to earn his living and he entered the civil service of the East India Company in Bengal in 1750. In the crisis of 1756, he was up country on a mission and was imprisoned by Suraja Dowla at Moorshedabad. It was Clive who picked him out as a fitting person to become Resident at the Court of his protégé, Meer Jaffier. He became a member of the Calcutta Council in 1761, in Vansittart's governorship, and sailed for England on his first leave in 1764, still a very poor man, which in those days meant that he must have been an unusually honourable civil servant. He spent five very pleasant and fruitful years in England and was, naturally, much interested in the active discussions at the India House, and in society at large, concerning the future administration of the new British possessions. In 1769, he was sent out to Madras with a seat on the Council of that Presidency and, two years later, was promoted to the Governorship of Bengal. This was just after the great famine of 1770, which not only diminished the population of the pro­vince but even threatened bankruptcy to the Company.

Hastings's first great service, and it is one whose difficulties and value it is impossible to overrate, was to create an efficient, economical and non-oppressive system for collecting the land revenue, which was at once the mark of the Company's sovereignty and the main source of its financial stability. For this, he began the practice of employing native agents under English supervisors.  He went on to establish an efficient and impartial hierarchy for the administration of justice, both to natives and Europeans. While, somewhat later, he set to work to get the substance of Hindu law codified and to apply it to all Hindu subjects of the Company; just as he applied Aurungzebe's code of Mohammedan law to Moslem subjects. To his early years, we owe the germ, and to his whole period of rule the improvement, of measures of police against 'dacoity' - i.e. robbery and murder by gangs of religious fanatics. In this police work also, Hastings employed native agents under English officers and fined the villages in which such crimes were committed. He abolished the pension which Clive had paid to the Mogul and cut down that paid to the Nabob by one half.

Meanwhile, Lord North's 'Regulating Act' had made him Governor-General of India with a control over the other two Presidencies; but gave him only one vote in the newly-created Council (consisting of four persons in addition to himself), with a casting vote only in the cases of equal division of votes. The same act created a Supreme Court of four judges to administer English law to British subjects in India. Three of the new Councillors had been nominated at home and in deference to parliamentary opinion. One of these was Philip Francis, who probably had, at first, no other ambition than to supplant Hastings in his highly-paid office. Of the other Councillors, Clavering and Monson were merely Francis's tools; Barwell, the only one favourable to Hastings, was thus constantly outvoted with his chief. Hastings received very little support from the Directors at home and Lord North's outwardly friendly Government would have thrown him over in any political emergency. So, in the teeth of a six-year-long campaign of calumny, which Francis now started against him, Hastings had to go on laying the basis - it was nothing less - of the system of Indian administration used throughout British rule in the departments of finance, judicature and administration; and also inaugurating the practice of subsidizing and helping such native princes as would enter perpetual alliances with the Company. Monson died in 1776 and Clavering in 1777, and their successors were not so uniformly hostile as these had been, but Francis, until his own retirement at the end of 1780, never ceased his persecutions. Once, he goaded Hastings into writing home a resignation and into appealing to the Supreme Court to support him when he withdrew it. He also provoked him into challenging him to a duel, in which Hastings wounded Francis severely. Whenever sickness or accidental absence, on the part of one of the hostile councillors, put Hastings and Barwell even with the enemy for a time, the Governor-General would use his casting vote in his own favour and then the business of State would go on unchecked; but, for long periods, their hands were completely tied by obstruction. Francis did not hesitate to accuse Hastings of procuring judicial murder in the case of Nuncomar, of the 'massacre of a free people ' in the case of the Rohillas, of applying torture to the Begums of Oude and of extorting vast sums of money from a rich Raja called Cheyte Sing. On these charges, not all openly presented at the Council table, but all transmitted and painted in the darkest colours to Francis's political friends in England, the impeachment of the Governor-General was afterwards built up. His memory has now been completely cleared of the reputation of corruption and cruelty which the eloquence of Sheridan and Burke and the indefensible Essay of Lord Macaulay had left upon it.

Hastings was opposed to what has been called the 'forward' policy in India and he annexed almost nothing to the already vast territories of the Company. He was especially anxious not to provoke the power that he most dreaded, the Mahratta Confederacy, which threatened both Bombay and Madras far more immediately than Bengal. Oude, he regarded as a ' buffer state' against the Mahrattas and it was the danger of Oude that led him to send Colonel Champion to deliver a corner of it from Rohilla oppression on which the Mahrattas looked favourably. Again, it was the misrule of a new Nabob of Oude that brought him into conflict with the Begums and Cheyte Sing. In the Western Province, Hastings would fain have averted the quarrel with the Mahrattas in which the Presidency of Bombay involved itself in 1775, and he sent help only when he learned that French agents were working for the enemy. It was on that occasion that he sent troops right across India with complete success and terminated the 'First Mahratta War' by the Treaty of 1782. In the south, he had to deal with the rise (also fostered by the French) of the great Sultanate of Mysoor under Hyder Ali. Thither, he sent troops both by sea and land. When it became evident that a great combination of French, Dutch, Mahrattas and Mysoor was really on foot against the British, and when the Sultan of Mysoor had begun his campaign, Hastings on his own authority removed the incompetent Governor of Madras and dispatched the veteran Coote, who beat Hyder Ali at Porto Novo. The Dutch possessions in the far south gradually fell into British hands and, when Hyder Ali died in 1782, a treaty in the next year with his son, Tippoo, at least saved the Carnatic and gave the Presidency of Madras a much-needed breathing space on land while Suffren and Hughes were still disputing the command of the sea.

These treaties of 1782 and 1783 were the last great political work of Hastings; but he never ceased his intelligent attention to every detail of the administration of Bengal, until he quitted India early in 1785. He wrote a careful 'Review' of this during his voyage home, bringing with him only £80,000, a mere nothing to have saved after a life spent in high office in India. Of his princely salary as Governor, he had expended almost the whole on the administration of the Provinces in his charge and in the foundation and endowment of institutions and schools.

But Francis, as Hastings well knew, was watching for his prey with a patience and a persistency as great as his enemy's own. For ten years, by letters and four years by fiery talk, he had been inflaming the generous but gullible mind of Burke, always too prone to listen to tales of “oppression of alien races,” especially if such ‘oppression’ had been committed by one of different party politics from himself. Burke, too, had his own injury to revenge, the lost India Bill of Fox and the defeat of the Coalition Government of which he had been the champion. Pitt too readily acquiesced and Dundas (who, if any one in England, knew the whole truth) urged him to acquiesce, as a mere party move, in the impeachment of one of the greatest servants any British Government ever had, one of the greatest benefactors the native races of India ever had. The mere preliminary debates, whether or no there should be an impeachment, lasted for two years, and conclusively proved that the House of Commons was the unfittest possible body to do justice to India. The Most High Court of Parliament, i.e. the House of Lords, proved more fit. During one hundred and forty-five days of the seven years, from 1788 to 1795, the trial dragged on. Hastings - having bought Beaumont Lodge and rented Purley Hall, both in Berkshire - prepared his defence well and was, at last, triumphantly acquitted of all the charges brought against him. He had all but spent the last penny of his modest fortune, but the generosity of the Directors was extended to him and he was able to repurchase his old paternal estate of Daylesford. He lived there, till his eighty-sixth year, in comfort, though not in affluence. Without importunity, but with quiet steadiness, Hastings continued to demand that the House of Commons should follow the decision of the Lords and reverse or expunge from their journals the votes of 1787, which he felt to have stained his name. When this was refused, he, for his part, refused the peerage which was offered to him as a sop. The only honours he accepted were a degree from the University of Oxford and a seat on the Privy Council.

Edited from CRL Flecther's 'Historical Portraits' (1919)


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