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Governor Generals of Bengal

Warren Hastings

See the previous topic.

Lord Cornwallis (1786-93)

The first Governor-General under the new Act was Lord Cornwallis. He held office between 1786 and 1793, and was answerable to the Board of Control. He was able to defy the mercenary interests of the East India Company when they conflicted with state policy.

Cornwallis suspended the Board of Revenue for irregularities and enforced the new rules against private trade. He insisted on the company providing generous salaries in its place.He then reorganised the whole administration. From then on, a Company servant could join either the commercial or political branch of the East India Company, but not both. As a merchant, a man could still trade on his own account; as an official he had to be content with a large salary. This was the beginning of the Civil Service, as known in the nineteenth century and the beginning of the end of the company’s commercial activities.

Cornwallis’ next major measure was the Europeanisation of the services. All high Indian officials were dismissed and all posts worth more than £500 a year were reserved for Europeans. He also settled the revenue and land system of Bengal by giving the tax-farmers ten-year contracts.

A third major reform was in the legal sphere. North’s Regulating Act had introduced a Supreme Court which administered British law. Cornwallis took over criminal administration from the Indians and pruned the Muslim criminal code of some of its less humane features. The consequence was that the Indian legal code became one of the most enlightened in the world and was much more humane than the English system.

These major reforms lasted, with all their implications, into the twentieth century.

Cornwallis resigned as Governor-General in 1793 because the officers of the Bengal army were obstructive and he failed to find the full support from London which he demanded. After 1793 the Company’s charter was renewed every twenty years, allowing parliament further opportunity to investigate and reconsider affairs in India, a power which was intended to, and did, limit the Company’s plans.

Sir John Shore (1793-98)

Sir John Shore (1751-1834) was the Governor General during the period 1793-1798

Most of the reforms in the revenue administration in 1786 and 1790 were introduced by Shore. The Court of Directors was so impressed by Shore’s reasoning and knowledge and his genuine concern for the interests of the company and the people, that he was appointed the Governor General of India in 1793.

During his tenure as the Governor General, John Shore avoided war and hostilities. His policy was to strengthen and govern the colonial state properly. He was known for his utter honesty, lacking in most other company officials.

Lord Wellesley (179­8-1805)

Lord Mornington, the Marquis of Wellesley, was Governor-General from 1797 to 1805, succeeding Cornwallis.

Wellesley saw India as a theatre in the war with France; he was a statesman who feared the conquests of Napoleon.The French Wars reopened trouble in India.

Wellesley planned the destruction of Mysore to prevent Tipoo from allying with the French. It appears that his objective was to expand British rule in India and to make this extended empire pay for itself by opening up the trade to interests outside the East India Company. Consequently he extended British control in India.

He concluded alliances with the weaker native rulers. The company made itself responsible for the defence of the state and gained control of the province’s trade. He attacked and defeated Tipoo of Mysore, annexing lands on both east and west coasts and appointed a puppet prince to rule the rest of Mysore. And he forced the Nizam of Hyderabad to dismiss his army and submit to an alliance with the British

He conquered the whole of the Carnatic on the east coast and large areas around Bombay on the west coast.

Wellesley’s superior attitude towards the Indians, especially Hindus, did leave much to be desired, however. Indians were not allowed in top administrative posts and could not attend social events. His excessive vanity caused him to wear his medals and decorations even in bed.

Sir George Burlow (1805-07)

Sir George Barlow acted as Governor-General of India between 1805 and 1807. He made economy and peace his chief objects and was criticised for not continuing his predecessor Richard Colley Wellesley’s policy of aggressive expansion. Gilbert Eliot was brought in to replace him and Barlow was demoted to Governor of Madras. He experienced a serious military mutiny while in the post and his reputation suffered further. He was recalled to England in 1812.



Lord Minto I (1807-13)

Wellesley resigned as Governor General of India in 1805 and was replaced by Lord Minto (1807-13).

Minto did not find life as quiet as might have been expected following Wellesley’s exploits.

Some sepoys had mutinied near Madras and the Mahratta chiefs resented their treatment by the British. The Sikhs of the Punjab, led by Ranjit Singh from his capital at Lahore, had already captured Kashmir from the Afghans and now had designs on neighbouring British territory across the Sutlej River.

Minto, however, was soon able to restore internal order and persuaded Ranjit Singh to sign an agreement at Amritsar promising not to cross the Sutlej River.

Lord Hastings (1813-23)

Francis Rawdon-Hastings joined the army in 1771 as an ensign in the 15th Foot. He served in the American Revolution(1775–81) and was rewarded with an English peerage in 1783; he succeeded his father as earl of Moira in 1793.

He landed at Calcutta (Kolkata) and assumed office in October 1813. Facing an empty treasury, he raised a loan in Lucknow from the Nawab-vizier there and defeated the Gurkhas of Nepal in 1816. They abandoned disputed districts, ceded some territory to the British, and agreed to receive a British resident (administrator).

Hastings then had to deal with a combination of Maratha powers in western India whose Pindaris(bands of horsemen attached to the Maratha chiefs) were ravaging British territory in the Northern Sarkars, in east-central India.

In 1817 he offered the Marathas the choice of cooperation with the British against the Pindaris or war. The Peshwa (titular ruler of the Maratha confederacy), the raja of Nagpur, and the army under Holkar II, ruler of Indore, chose war and were defeated. Hastings also suppressed pirate activities off the west coast of India and in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. In 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles, under the authority of Hastings, obtained the cession by purchase of the strategic island of Singapore.

In internal affairs, Hastings began the repair of the Mughal canal system and brought the water of the Yamuna River (Jumna) into Delhi, encouraged education in Bengal, began a process of Indianization by raising the status and powers of subordinate Indian judges, and took the first measures for the revenue settlement of the extensive “conquered and ceded” provinces of the northwest.

Hastings’s competent administration, however, ended under a cloud because of his indulgence to a banking house. Though he was cleared of any corrupt motive, the home authorities censured him. He resigned and returned to England in 1823, receiving the comparatively minor post of governor of Malta in 1824.

Lord Amherst (1823- 28)

Lord Amherst found the local politics much disturbed in India. By judicious firmness and conciliation, Lord Amherst succeeded in throwing oil upon the troubled waters on the spot, though Mr. Buckingham subsequently carried on the contention in England. But far more important matters demanded the immediate attention of the viceroy.

The pretensions of the king of Burma had for some time been giving rise to uneasiness, and when Lord Amherst assumed the governor-generalship he was met by a demand from that sovereign for the cession of the whole of Eastern Bengal.

Presumptuous conduct made a continuance of peace impossible, and on 24 February 1824 Lord Amherst issued a proclamation of war. Although successes during the operations which followed were by no means unchequered by misfortune, the net result of the various campaigns was that Rangoon, Martaban on the Tenasserim coast, and Prome, the capital of Lower Burmah, were captured by British troops.

Having by these reverses had his eyes opened to the real strength of the British power in India, and fearing lest further disasters should overtake him, the king proposed terms of peace, and eventually agreed to cede to the English Tenasserim, Arracan, and Assam, and to pay the expenses of the war. No sooner had Lord Amherst thus succeeded in securing peace with Burmah than a case of disputed succession at Bhurtpore again taxed his statesmanship.

After a short campaign, in which Bhurtpore was captured by assault, Doorjun Sál was deposed, and the young rajah was left in undisputed possession of his heritage. For his services in this matter and in the general conduct of affairs in India, Lord Amherst was created an earl, and received at the same time the thanks of the directors and proprietors of the East India Company.

Lord William Bentinck (1828-33)

After a period at home in Britain when he served as a commissioner for drainage and navigation in the fens, Bentinck returned to India in 1828 as Governor General – a post which he then held until 1835. In this role he undertook sweeping social, economic and political reforms which, it has been argued, laid the foundations for modern India.

He reformed the finances, opened up judicial posts to Indians, and suppressed such practices as suttee, or widow burning, and thuggee, or ritual murder by robber gangs.

The innovations effected in his years of office were milestones in creating a much more interventionist style of government than preceding ones, a style that involved the westernization of Indian society and culture.

Bentinck’s immediate instructions were to rescue India from its financial difficulties; at this time the government in India operated on an annual deficit of about £1.5 million.

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