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Sir George Barlow was the next Governor-General for two years (1805- 07). The Vellore Mutiny of 1806 took place during his administration. He was succeeded by Lord Minto (1807-13) who concluded the Treaty of Amritsar with Ranjit Singh of Punjab in 1809. The Charter Act of 1813 was passed during this period.

LORD HASTINGS (1813-1823)

Lord Hastings became Governor- General in 1813. He adopted a vigorous forward policy and waged wars extensively. His aggressive and imperialist polices paved the way for the general of expansion of the British Empire. He further expanded the British power in India.

The conditions in India when he assumed power posed a serious threat to the British administration. There was anarchy in central India. The Pindaris plundered the whole region and the Marathas could not control them. Also, there was infighting among the Maratha chiefs. Yet, they were aiming at the expulsion of the British from India. The Peshwa was secretly plotting against the British. Hastings was also troubled by the expansion of the Gurkha power. Therefore, Hastings determined to restore order by suppressing the Pindaris and to eliminate threats to the British power by waging wars with the Marathas and the Gurkhas.

War against the Gurkhas (1814-16)

Nepal emerged as a powerful Gurkha state in 1768. This country is situated to the north of India with its boundary touching China in the north and Bengal and Oudh in the east and south, respectively. In 1801, the British acquired the districts of Gorakhpur and Basti from the Nawab of Oudh. This move brought the boundary of Nepal to touch the British frontier. The aggressions of the Gurkhas into the British territories culminated in a war. In May 1814, the Gurkhas attacked the British police post and killed 18 policemen and their officer. Hastings declared war on Nepal. In 1814 several battles were fought between the British and the Gurkhas. Amar Singh Thapa, the able General of Nepal Army was forced to surrender.

In March 1816, the Treaty of Sagauli was concluded. The Gurkhas gave up their claim over the Tarai region and ceded the areas of Kumaon and Garhwal to the British. The British now secured the area around Simla and their north-western borders touched the Himalayas. The Gurkhas had to withdraw from Sikkim and they also agreed to keep a British Resident at Katmandu. It was also agreed that the kingdom of Nepal would not employ any other foreigner in its services other than the English. The British had also obtained the sites of hill stations like Simla, Mussoori, Nainital, Ranikhet and developed them as tourist and health resorts. After this victory in the Gurkha War Hastings was honoured with English peerage and he became Marquis of Hastings.

Suppression of the Pindaris

The origin of Pindaris is lost in obscurity. The first reference about them is during the Mughal invasion of Maharashtra. They did not belong to any particular caste or creed. They used to serve the army without any payment but instead were allowed to plunder. During the time of Baji Rao I, they were irregular horsemen attached to the Maratha army. It is worth mentioning here that they never helped the British. They were mostly active in the areas of Rajputana and the Central Provinces and subsisted on plunder. Their leaders belonged to both the Hindu as well as the Muslim communities. Chief amongst them were Wasil Muhammad, Chitu and Karim Khan. They had thousands of followers.

In 1812, the Pindaris plundered the districts of Mirzapur and Shahabad and in 1815 they raided the Nizam’s dominions. In 1816, they plundered the Northern Circars. Lord Hastings determined to suppress the Pindaris. For this he gathered a large army of 1,13,000 men and 300 guns and attacked the Pindaris from four sides. He himself took command of the force from the north while Sir Thomas Hislop commanded the force from the south.

By 1818, the Pindaris were completely suppressed and all their bands disintegrated. Karim Khan was given a small estate in the Gorakhpur district of the United Provinces. Wasil Muhammad took refuge in the Scindia’s camp but the latter handed him over to the British. Wasil committed suicide in captivity and Chitu escaped to the forest, where a tiger killed him. Thus, by 1824, the menace of the Pindaris came to an end.

Downfall of the Maratha Confederacy

The third major achievement of Lord Hastings was against the Marathas. In reality, the Maratha power had weakened considerably after the Third Battle of Panipat (1761) and the two subsequent wars against the British. But the Marathas had not finally crushed out. The Maratha chiefs fought amongst themselves and their successors were invariably weak and incapable. The relationships of powerful Maratha chiefs like the Bhonsle, Gaekwar, Scindia, Holkar and the Peshwa were ridden with mutual jealousies. Peshwa Baji Rao II wanted to become the head of the Maratha Confederacy and at the same time wanted freedom from the British control. His Chief Minister Tirimbakji encouraged him.

On the advice of the Company, the Gaekwar sent his Prime Minister Gangadhar Shastri to negotiate with the Peshwa. On his way back, Gangadhar Shastri, was murdered at Nasik in July 1815, at the instance of Triambakji.

This caused a lot of anger not only among the Marathas but also among the British. The latter asked the Peshwa to handover Triambakji to them. Peshwa handed over his Minister to the British, who lodged him in Thana jail from where he escaped. Consequently, on 13 June 1817, the British Resident Elphinstone forced the Peshwa to sign the Treaty of Poona. Baji Rao gave up his desire to become the supreme head of the Marathas.

Third Maratha War (1817-1819)

But soon the Peshwa undid this treaty with the British and on 5 November 1817 attacked the British Residency. He was defeated at a place called Kirkee. Similarly, the Bhonsle chief, Appa Sahib also refused to abide by the Treaty of Nagpur, which he had signed with the British on 17 May 1816.

According to this treaty, Nagpur came under the control of the Company. He fought with the British in the Battle of Sitabaldi in November 1817, but was defeated. The Peshwa now turned to Holkar for help, but Holkar too was defeated by the British on 21 December 1817 at Baroda. Therefore, by December 1817 the dream of a Mighty Maratha Confederacy was finally shattered.

In 1818, Scindia was also forced to sign a new treaty with the British on the basis of which Ajmer was given to the Nawab of Bhopal, who also accepted the British suzerainty. The Gaekwar of Baroda, while accepting the Subsidiary Alliance, agreed to hand over certain areas of Ahmedabad to the British. The Rajput states which were under the Pindaris were freed after the latter’s suppression.

The year 1818 was a significant year on account of major political achievements for the British. The Maratha dream of establishing themselves as the paramount power in India was completely destroyed. Thus, the last hurdle in the way of British paramountcy was removed.

Causes of the Defeat of the Marathas

  1. There were several reasons for the defeat of the Marathas in the Anglo-Maratha Wars. The main reasons were:
  2. Lack of capable leadership
  3. Military weakness of the Marathas.
  4. The major drawback of the Maratha power was mutual bitterness and lack of cooperation amongst themselves.
  5. The Marathas hardly left any positive impact on the conquered territories.
  6. The Marathas did not have cordial relations with other princes and Nawabs of India.
  7. The Marathas failed to estimate correctly the political and diplomatic strength of the British.

Reforms of Hastings

The Governor-Generalship of Lord Hastings witnessed not only territorial expansion but also the progress of administration. He approved the Ryotwari system of land revenue introduced in the Madras Presidency by Sir Thomas Munroe. In the sphere of judiciary, the Cornwallis Code was improved. The Police system of Bengal was extended to other regions. The importance of Indian Munsiffs had increased during his administration. The separation of judicial and revenue departments was not rigidly followed. Instead, the District Collector acted as Magistrate.

Hastings had also encouraged the foundation of vernacular schools by missionaries and others. In 1817, the Hindu College was established at Calcutta by the public for the teaching of English and western science. Hastings was the Patron of this college. He encouraged the freedom of the Press and abolished the censorship introduced in 1799. The Bengali Weekly, Samachar Darpan was started in 1818 by Marshman, a Serampore missionary.

Estimate

Lord Hastings was an able soldier and a brilliant administrator. His liberal views on education and Press are commendable. He suppressed the Pindaris, defeated the Marathas and curbed the power of the Gurkhas.

His territorial gains strengthened the British power in India. He was considered the maker of the Bombay Presidency. In short, he completed and consolidated the work of Wellesley.

LORD WILLIAM BENTINCK (1828-1835)

Lord William Bentinck assumed the office of the Governor- General in 1828. Born in 1774 he commenced his career as a soldier and later at the young age of twenty-two he became a Member of Parliament. He was appointed the Governor of Madras in 1803. He supported Sir Thomas Munroe on revenue administration.

The Vellore Mutiny of 1806 had resulted in Bentinck’s recall. However, his appointment again to the higher office as Governor-General shows his real greatness. As Governor-General, Bentinck had initiated an era of progress and reforms. He was undoubtedly the first Governor- General of British India who acted on the dictum that “the welfare of the subject peoples was a main, perhaps the primary, duty of the British in India”.

Policy Towards Indian States

William Bentinck adopted a policy of non-intervention and non-aggression with Indian states. If at all he interfered in the affairs of the Indian states, it was only to end any form of misgovernment and never to annex any territory.

Mysore

In Mysore, Hindu rule under Krishnaraja III was restored by Wellesley. In the beginning, the young Raja functioned well along with his able minister Puranaiya. Later, when the young raja assumed full control of the government, he proved incompetent. The peasantry of the state suffered from many grievances.

There was no redressal. Consequently, a revolt of the peasants broke out in 1830 and it was suppressed with the help of an army from Madras. Nonetheless, the British authorities took over the administration of Mysore State and placed it under the control of a commissioner. The Raja was given a pension.

Cachar and Jaintia

The principality of Cachar lying in the North East Frontier came under the protection of the British in accordance with the Treaty of Yandaboo concluded at the end of the first Burmese War. The Raja of this small state was assassinated in 1832 but there was no heir to succeed him. Bentinck annexed this state at the wish of the people.

Jaintia was one of the territories brought under the custody of the British after the first Anglo-Burmese War. The ruler of the small country behaved in an unruly way by abducting a few subjects of British India with the evil intention of sacrificing them to the goddess Kali. Therefore, the Governor-General acted promptly to avert any recurrence of such cruel abhorrent act and annexed this country.

Coorg

Vira Raja was a ruthless ruler of Coorg who treated his people with savage barbarity and killed all his male relatives. Lord William Bentinck decided to deal with him effectively and sent Colonel Lindsay to capture Mercara, the capital of the Coorg state. The Raja was deposed in 1834 and the state was annexed.

Relations with Ranjit Singh

Lord William Bentinck was the first Governor-General to visualise a Russian threat to India. Hence, he was eager to negotiate friendly relations both with the ruler of Punjab, Maharajah Ranjit Singh and also with the Amirs of Sind. His earnest desire was that Afghanistan should be made a buffer state between India and any possible invader. As an initial measure, an exchange of gifts took place between Lahore, the capital of Punjab and Calcutta, the seat of Governor-General. It was then followed by the meeting of Bentinck and Ranjit Singh on 25 October, 1831 at Rupar on the bank of the river Sutlej amidst show and splendor. The Governor-General was successful in winning the friendship of Ranjit Singh and the Indus Navigation Treaty was concluded between them. This treaty opened up the Sutlej for navigation. In addition, a commercial treaty was negotiated with Ranjit Singh. A similar treaty was also concluded with the Amirs of Sind.

Charter Act of 1833

The Regulating Act of 1773 made it compulsory to renew the Company’s Charter after twenty years. Hence, the Charter Act of 1793 was passed by the Parliament. It extended the life of Company for another twenty years and introduced minor changes in the existing set up. The Charter Act of 1813 provided one lakh of rupees annually for the promotion of Indian education. It also extended the Company’s charter for another twenty years.

The Charter Act of 1833 was a significant constitutional instrument defining the scope and authority of the East India Company. The liberal and utilitarian philosophy of Bentham was made popular by the provisions of this Act. Following were the important provisions:

  1. The English East India Company ceased to be a commercial agency in India. In other words, it would function hereafter as the political agent for the Crown.
  2. The Governor-General of Fort William was hereafter called ‘the Governor – General of India’. Thus, Bentinck was the first Governor-General of India’.
  3. A Law Member was appointed to the Governor-General’s Council. T. B. Macaulay was the first Law Member of the Governor- General-in-Council.
  4. The Act categorically stated ‘that no native of India, nor any natural born subject of His Majesty, should be disabled from holding any place, office, or employment, by reason of his religion, place of birth, descent or colour”. It was this enactment which laid the foundation for the Indianization of public services.

After twenty years, the Charter Act of 1853 was passed and it was the last in the series of Charter Acts.

Reforms of Lord William Bentinck

The advent of Lord William Bentinck ushered in a new era in the annals of India in many ways. Although his tenure of office covered only a short span of seven years, it saw a period of enduring reforms. They may be classified as financial, administrative, social and educational.

Financial Reforms

When Bentinck assumed the Governor-Generalship in 1828, the financial position of the Company was poor. The exchequer was very weak. The state budget showed a deficit of one million rupees. It became necessary on the part of the Governor-General to take effective steps to improve the financial condition. To achieve this, he adopted the following measures:

He reduced the salaries and allowances of all officers and additional staff were removed. In the military department, he abolished the system of double batta. (Batta was an allowance to troops on active service.) By these financial reforms at the time of his departure, he left the treasury with a surplus of Rs.1.5 million.

Administrative Reforms

Bentinck’s administrative reforms speak of his political maturity and wisdom. In the judicial department he abolished the provincial courts of appeal established by Cornwallis. They were largely responsible for the huge arrears of cases. This step was readily accepted by the Directors since it cut down their expenditure. Another good measure of Bentinck was the introduction of local languages in the lower courts and English in the higher courts in the place of Persian. Even in matters of revenue Bentinck left his mark. He launched the revenue settlements of the North West Province under the control of R.M. Bird. This settlement was for a period of 30 years and it was made either with the tillers of the soil, or with the landowners.

Social Reforms

The social reforms of William Bentinck made his name immortal in the history of British India. These include the abolition of Sati, the suppression of Thugs and the prevention of female infanticide.

Abolition of Sati

The practice of sati, the age-old custom of burning of widows alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands was prevalent in India from ancient times. This inhuman social custom was very common in northern India more particularly in Bengal. Bentinck was greatly distressed when he received a report of 800 cases of sati in a single year and that from Bengal. He determined to abolish this practice which he considered an offence against natural justice. Therefore, he became a crusader against it and promulgated his Regulation XVII on 4 December 1829 prohibiting the practice of sati. Those who practiced sati were made liable for punishment by law courts as accessories to the crime. The Regulation was extended to the Madras and Bombay Presidencies in 1830.

Suppression of Thugs

The most commendable measure which Bentinck undertook and which contributed to the material welfare of the people was the suppression of the ‘thugs. They were hereditary robbers. They went about in small groups of fifty to hundred posing as commercial gangs or pilgrims ‘strangling and robbing peaceful travelers.

They increased in number in central and northern India during the 18th century when anarchy reigned after the disintegration of the Mughal Empire. A campaign was systematically organised by Colonel Sleeman from 1830 against the thugs. During the course of five years nearly 2000 of them were captured. A greater number of them were exterminated and the rest were transported to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. For his role in the suppression of thugs, Sir William Sleeman was known as “Thugee Sleeman”.

Female Infanticide

Female infanticide was one of the horrible and heartless deeds committed even by civilized people. This practice killing female infants was very much prevalent in places like Rajputana, Punjab, Malwa and Cutch. Bentinck took effective steps to prevent the ritual of child sacrifice at Saugar Island in Bengal. He not only prohibited female infanticide but declared them as punishable crime.

Introduction of English Education

The introduction of English Education was a significant event of Lord William Bentinck’s administration. He appointed a committee headed by Lord Macaulay to make recommendations for the promotion of education. In his report, Macaulay emphasized the promotion of European literature and science through English medium to the people of India. This recommendation was wholeheartedly accepted by William Bentinck. The Government Resolution in 1835 made English the official and literary language of India. In the same year, William Bentinck laid foundation of the Calcutta Medical College.

Estimate of William Bentinck

Bentinck was a “straightforward, honest, upright, benevolent, sensible man”. His social reforms such as abolition of sati and prevention of child sacrifice eradicated age-old evils from Hindu society. It is gratifying to note that “Bentinck acted where others had talked”. To enforce the regulations regarding the prohibition of sati, he was prepared to risk his own position. Such courage and straightforwardness were seldom found among the administrators of those days. His educational reforms heralded a new age in India.


Sources

  1. Module-3 Modern India by NIOS
  2. Modern India by Bipin Chandra
  3. Class-12 Tamil Nadu State Board History Book

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