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Governor-Generals of India

Roger Drake (1756-58)

Roger Drake was appointed as the President of Bengal Presidency from the year 1752 to 1756. Drake was a well known Colonial administrator of the British East India Company. Roger Drake was assigned as the President of the Province of Bengal on 8 August 1752.

The Bengal Presidency was one of the 3 major Presidencies in British India, along with Bombay Presidency and Madras Presidency.


Robert Clive (1758-60 and 1765-67)

The English soldier and statesman Robert Clive, Baron Clive of Plassey (1725-1774), extended British power in India. He checked French aspirations, and made possible 200 years of British rule in the Indian subcontinent.

The rivalry between French and British interests in southern India gave Clive his opportunity for fame and fortune. He volunteered for military service, received an ensign’s commission, and participated in several battles against the French; he distinguished himself at Pondicherry in 1748, before the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle temporarily ended hostilities.

In 1751 Clive offered to lead an expedition to relieve Trichinopoly (Tiruchirappalli), where Mohammed Ali, the British candidate for the Nawab, or ruler, was besieged by Chanda Sahib, the French candidate. With only 200 European, 300 Indian troops plus three fieldpieces, Clive seized Arcot, Chanda Sahib’s capital, thereby diverting 10,000 of Chanda Sahib’s men from Trichinopoly. Clive withstood a 50-day siege and, when he received reinforcements, began guerrilla warfare against the French and French-supported troops. The siege of Trichinopoly was finally lifted, and a truce in 1754 recognized Mohammed Ali as the Nawab. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 confirmed this, and in 1765 the Emperor at Delhi admitted British hegemony in southern India.

Clive’s brilliant leadership at Arcot gave him an immense reputation in Europe. When he went home in 1753, William Pitt the Elder called him a “heaven-born general.”

In 1756 Suraja Dowla (Siraj-ud-Daula), the new Nawab, seized and plundered Calcutta, the principal city of Bengal and the most valuable trading center in India. Many English fled to ships and escaped, but 146 were imprisoned in a small underground dungeon called the Black Hole. Only 23 would emerge alive.

Clive led a relief expedition from Madras in October; he rescued the English prisoners in December, took Calcutta in January, and defeated the Nawab’s army in February. Peace was made, and the East India Company’s privileges were restored. Displeased with the nawab’s friendly attitude toward the French, Clive decided to replace him. In June 1758, at the Battle of Plassey, he defeated Suraja and became Company Governor and the virtual master of Bengal. His position now enabled him to buttress the authority of the new nawab, Mir Jafar, to launch successful military expeditions against the French and to thwart Dutch expansion.

In 1765, when administrative chaos and fiscal disorder brought the company near disaster in Bengal, he returned to Calcutta as Governor and commander in chief. Clive limited the company to Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, bringing these states under direct company control. He reformed the company’s administrative practices, restored financial discipline while abolishing abuses, and reorganized the army. His efforts made the company sovereign ruler of 30 million people who produced an annual revenue of £4 million sterling.

Clive left India in February 1767. Five years later, in the absence of his strong hand in Bengal, the company appealed to the British government to save it from bankruptcy caused by widespread corruption. Clive’s enemies in Parliament claimed that he was responsible for the situation. Continuing attacks on his integrity, together with illness and physical exhaustion, led him to commit suicide in London on Nov. 22, 1774.

Henry Vansittart (1760-65)

Henry Vansittart entered the service of the East India Company at an unusually early age in 1746, became proficient in Persian, and served with distinction in the Madras presidency. He won the approbation of Clive in India and Laurence Sulivan at East India House, and after being transferred to Bengal in 1758, took office as Governor in 1760.

His governorship was turbulent, marked by the deposition of two Nawabs, dissensions within his council, and the massacre of Patna; but his attempts to halt the disorganization in the Company’s affairs and establish satisfactory relations with the native powers won him the support and friendship of the young Warren Hastings. He was rumoured to have acquired a great fortune, but he does not seem to have succeeded in remitting more than a part of it to England and his wealth was probably greatly exaggerated.


Harry Vercist (1767-69) and John Cartier (1769-72)

Nothing of historical significance occurred during their reigns.

Warren Hastings (1772-73)

He became a clerk in the East India Company and reached Calcutta in October 1750. As was the custom, he augmented his salary by private trading. He was placed in charge of a factory weaving silk and cotton goods in Kasimbazar (Cossimbazar) and by 1756 was a member of the council, the local governing body of the company.

When Suraja Dowla (Siraj-ud-Daula), the Nawab of Bengal, attacked and took Calcutta, Hastings was taken prisoner but was soon released to act as intermediary for the prisoners in the Black Hole. He joined Robert Clive’s relief force, which recaptured the city.

In 1772, after Vansittart and two other members were lost at sea, Hastings became governor of Bengal. Hastings’s tenure of office was marked by constant strife in his council and in England. He faced and dealt with continual opposition to his policies. Yet by strength of character, firmness of resolve, and sense of duty he overcame all obstacles, many of which arose from the difficulty of defining his new position and its responsibilities.

Hastings carried out an aggressive policy of administrative, judicial, and fiscal reform to improve government and eliminate abuse. He suppressed banditry in the country. He put down a serious Maratha conspiracy supported by the French. He reestablished British prestige, which had declined after Clive’s departure.

He used military forces throughout India to prevent the fragmentation and dissolution of British power. He perhaps occasionally overstepped his prerogatives by making British forces available to the nawab of Oudh, by using questionable methods to recover from the dowager of Oudh money illegally withheld. But he vigorously maintained his authority over subordinate provincial governors despite objections to what at times seemed like his autocratic or dictatorial control.

Hastings also fostered education, encouraged the codification of Hindu law, stimulated the study of Sanskrit by European scholars, founded a Mohammedan college in Calcutta and an Indian institute in London, opened a trade route to Tibet, sponsored a survey of Bengal, and organized expeditions to explore the seas.

The passage in 1784 of Pitt’s India Act, which provided a new constitution, persuaded Hastings there was little point for him to remain.

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