The claims of Lord William Bentinck were at length recognized by the Court of Directors, and the stigma which had been unjustly cast on his character by his abrupt and harsh removal from Madras in 1806, was effaced by the gift of the Governor-Generalship. He was sworn in at the India House in July, 1827, while his relative, Mr. Canning, who had promoted his nomination, was Prime Minister; but the lamented decease of that statesman a few days after brought into power those members of his party who had been opposed to his elevation, and Lord William suspended his departure till he was satisfied that they were not disposed to object to his appointment. He sailed in February, and reached Calcutta on the 4th July, 1828. His administration of seven years, which forms one of the brightest periods in the history of British India, commenced under the most unfavourable circumstances. The Burmese war had not only saddled the treasury with a loan to the extent of ten crores of rupees, but created an annual deficit of a crore; and the new Government was constrained at once to enter upon the unpopular duty of retrenchment.
Immediately on his arrival two committees were appointed to investigate the increase of expenditure in the civil and military establishments, and to suggest the means of bringing it back to the standard of 1822. The sweeping reductions which the Court of Directors had already made in the strength of the army left little for the military committee to do except to curtail individual allowances, though they Were in no case excessive, and in many cases inadequate. In the civil departments the allowances of the civilians presented a more legitimate field for revision. During the previous thirty-five years the only two items which had never experienced any diminution, but on the contrary exhibited a constant tendency to increase, were the public debt and the pay of the civil service. To select one example by way of illustration: the remuneration of an opium agent, for duties which required no mind and little labour, had been gradually augmented to 75,000 rupees a-year. Lord. William Bentinck cut it down to a level with the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in England. Some offices were abolished, a few were doubled up, and the income of others was reduced, but the retrenchments did not affect the aggregate allowances of the service to a greater extent than six per cent. It was still the best paid service in the world, enjoying an annual income of ninety lacs of rupees, which, divided among four hundred and sixteen officers, gave each civilian, from the member of Council to the writer, an average allowance of more than 20,000 rupees a-year. But the reductions effected by Lord William Bentinck, combined with his stern resolution to constrain every man to do his duty, punctually and efficiently, created a feeling of irritation in the ranks of the service beyond all former example, and subjected him to insults which severely taxed his habitual equanimity.
Of the measures of reduction which Lord William Bentinck was constrained to carry out, none was found to create so much animosity as the half batta order. Soon. after the beginning of the century an arrangement had
been proposed which assured the officers of the army full batta in cantonments in the lower provinces. It bore the character of a compromise, and was considered by them in the light of a sacred compact. It did not, however, meet with the approval of the India House, and directions were issued successively to Lord Hastings and to Lord Amherst, to reduce the batta allowance by one half. Both the Governors-general deemed it their duty to suspend the execution of the order pending a reference to the Court of Directors, but they simply repeated their injunctions in more peremptory language. Their last despatch on the subject reached Calcutta soon after the arrival of Lord William Bentinck, who was then for the first time put in possession of their wishes, and issued an order in November, 1828, to curtail the batta allowance at all stations within four hundred miles of Calcutta. This measure kindled a flame throughout the army, which at one time threatened to consume the bonds of obedience. A word from the officers at that moment, and the whole Bengal army would, it was firmly believed, have risen to a man. One officer went so far as to declare on his honour that if an enemy were to appear in the field, he did not believe there was a single officer who would give, or a regiment which would obey the order to march. The statement was doubtless exaggerated, but it will serve to show the irritation which then pervaded the army, and which subjected Lord William Bentinck to such gross personal insults from the officers as no Governor-General had ever before experienced. An attempt was made to form representative committees in the army, on the principle which had been adopted by the mutineers in 1796, but it was peremptorily forbidden by the Commander-in-chief, Lord Combermere, though he did not hesitate to declare that he considered the order itself unjust, and inconsistent with the implied conditions of the service. The Court of Directors were exasperated by this expression of his opinion to such an extent as to intimate that he would have been immediately superseded, if he had not already resigned their service. Lord William Bentinck felt that it was
beyond his power to suspend the execution of the order, though he considered it unnecessary, impolitic, and unjust, but he transmitted all the memorials of the army to the Court of Directors, stating that “if it had been a new case, he would have assumed the utmost latitude of discretion; but, after the Court had for the third time reiterated their orders, no alternative was left to him but to obey them.” Sir Charles Metcalfe, who was emphatically the friend of the army, had recently been raised to Council, and fully concurred with Lord William Bentinck that the order was one which could not have been disobeyed, under existing circumstances, without assuming that the executive Government in Calcutta was the supreme power in the empire. The Court of Directors denounced the tone and spirit of the memorials as subversive of every principle of military obedience. They asserted their right, in common with all Governments, to regulate the allowances of the public servants, and they signified their determination to enforce the order they had issued. This resolution met with the full concurrence of the Duke of Wellington. Considering the pass to which matters had arrived, it was necessary for the maintenance of discipline, to enforce the order, although it was an egregious blunder. At the period when it was first issued, the Indian treasury was full to repletion, and the saving created by these cheese parings would not have increased the surplus revenue by more than one per cent. The reduction was, under every aspect, impolitic; it affected the most expensive stations, and created an invidious distinction between the officers of different arms in the same service. Dumdum, the head-quarters of the artillery, was within the fatal circle of four hundred miles, and the officers who had won their commissions after a severe scientific competition, and who formed the elite of the army. were condemned to reduced allowances; but those of the cavalry, filled with the relatives and connections of the Directors, which was never cantoned in the lower provinces, were exempted. The irritation, moreover, was annually revived, as each regiment was required in succession to take its turn, as a
matter of equity, at the penal stations. It appears strange that so astute a body as the Court of Directors should have risked the attachment and confidence of a noble army for a saving of less than two lacs of rupees a-year, but they were not exempt from the infirmity of occasional spasms of zid. It appears still more astonishing that during the thirty succeeding years in which they retained the government of India, they had not the magnanimity, if only as a graceful acknowledgment of the services of the army in twenty hard-earned victories, to rescind an order which created perpetual irritation. It was only after the government had passed into the hands of the Crown that this act of injustice and impolicy was redressed.
In the attempt to adjust the finances of India, the decrease of allowances afforded a larger scope for exertion than the increase of revenue; but it was not overlooked. Opium has always presented a very elastic source of wealth to the Government of India. The scheme of raising a revenue from the manufacture of it originated with Warren Hastings, and was matured by Sir John Shore, through whose diligent efforts the purity of the drug was improved to such a degree that a chest with the Company’s trade mark and seal passed like a bank note, without question, in China and throughout the Eastern Archipelago. In the Gangetic provinces it was grown in Behar and Benares, under the restrictions of a close monopoly. It was also indigenous in Malwa, and, on the restoration of tranquillity to that rich and distracted province by the victories of Lord Hastings, the native capitalists eagerly embarked in the cultivation of an article which yielded colossal returns. The importation of Malwa opium into Bombay was strictly prohibited, but the interdict was evaded by conveying it across the desert to Kurrachee, in Sinde, and thence to the Portuguese ports of Diu and Daman on the western coasts, and, eventually, in vessels under Portuguese colours to China and the east. The profits of the Company’s monopoly were seriously affected by this competition, and various plans
were devised to check it, but they were chiefly remarkable for the absence of either wisdom or equity. The purchase of the whole crop in Malwa, which was adopted in one season, entailed a loss to the extent of more than half-a-crore of rupees. The restrictions, moreover, which it was sought to impose on the native states in Central India, regarding the culture of the poppy, were found to interfere unjustly with their independent action, and often to occasion serious conflicts. Lord William Bentinck put an end to the difficulty by establishing a system of licences for the direct conveyance of the opium from the provinces in Central India in which it was raised, to the port of Bombay, and a progressive revenue has thus been established, without annoyance either to prince or people.
The final and successful effort which was made to recover the land revenue which had been alienated from the state by fraudulent deeds, belongs to Lord William Bentinck’s administration, though the regulation itself was passed immediately before his arrival. The native governments had been in the habit of making grants of land to individuals and to establishments, lay or ecclesiastical, free from the payment of rent; in other words, to bestow on them the public share of the produce of the lands. Some of these grants to charities and religious endowments were consecrated by time, but, generally, rent free tenures in the Deccan were resumed on every succession to the throne, and frequently more than once during the same reign. The same practice was common in Hindostan. Thus, the Nabob of Oude when constrained by Lord Wellesley in 1801 to commute his annual subsidy for a territorial cession, sought to compensate himself by resuming the grants which had thus been made by his predecessors. In the confusion occasioned by the dissolution of the Mogul empire this royal prerogative was usurped by the governors of provinces, and sometimes by their subordinate officers. On assuming the management of the revenue the Council in Calcutta announced that all grants made previous to the acquisition of the Dewanee in 1765, should
be deemed valid; but as there existed no register of these titles, the zemindars, farmers, and revenue officers set to work unscrupulously to fabricate and to antedate them. A tenth of the public revenue appears thus to have been alienated from the support of the state during the infancy and inexperience of the Company’s administration. A vigorous native Government would have summarily resumed all such grants, but the Regulations of 1793 simply reserved the right of imposing the public assessment on them after their illegality had been established in a court of law. The laborious duty of conducting these investigations was imposed on the Collector, and neglected. A more stringent Regulation was passed in 1819, which empowered him to call for written documents, to examine witnesses, and to decide the validity of the title, with the approbation of the Board of Revenue, leaving the proprietor to make his appeal to the civil courts. But the Collector found himself thwarted at every step in the performance of this invidious task, by the mercenary officers of his own court, who were bribed by the holders of the lands, and he became lukewarm in the performance of it. Few cases were taken up, and the decisions of the courts on appeal were so dilatory and withal so contradictory, as to be equally unsatisfactory to the appellant and to Government. It became necessary, therefore, either to relinquish altogether the pursuit of this lost revenue, or to adopt a more vigorous course to recover it. Accordingly, three weeks before the arrival of Lord William Bentinck, a Regulation, long remembered as III of 1828, was passed, by which special Commissioners, selected from the ablest and most experienced officers in the judicial service, were appointed to hear and determine appeals from the decisions of the Collectors, who were stimulated to greater activity under the influence of the new system. These energetic proceedings produced great dissatisfaction among those who were affected by the resumptions. They pleaded that the difficulty of adducing evidence to establish the validity of their titles had increased with the lapse of time; that many
documents had disappeared through the humidity of the climate and the ravages of the white ants, and that in the course of several generations, lands, though originally obtained by fraud, had been purchased, bond fide, and at an enhanced value, by their present proprietors. There can be no doubt that the resumption of these lands, or rather of the rent of them, – as the parties were in no cases dispossessed, inflicted great unpopularity on the Government at the time, though by no means to the extent which has been assumed, but to affirm, As some have done, that it was one of the leading causes of the great mutiny of the sepoys thirty years after, is one of the most gratuitous of assertions. The natives of the country, though they had been accustomed to submit meekly to the wholesale and indiscriminate resumption of such lands by the arbitrary will of their native princes, resented the resumptions when made by a foreign Government which had never been popular, and they arraigned its justice and moderation; but the irritation did not outlive the generation affected by them, and had passed out of memory long before the crisis of the mutiny arose. The addition made to the rent-roll of the state by this procedure, amounted to about thirty lacs of rupees a year, while the machinery of investigation cost eighty lacs.
The political and military events of Lord William Bentinck’s administration were of minor importance compared with those of a previous or a succeeding period, when thrones and dynasties were overthrown, and the map of India was reconstructed. There was the usual amount of chronic turbulence among the border tribes on the various points of our extensive territory, but it did not affect the stability of the empire. The Cole insurrection, however, involved operations of some magnitude. The Coles, the Dangars, the Santals, and other cognate tribes, the aborigines of the country are believed to have receded before the conquering Hindoos into the hills and fastnesses south-west of Bengal; and in that wild region they have continued for ages to maintain their primitive language, habits, and superstitions, as well
as their physical appearance and, in some cases, their wild independence. Their condition had been little affected by the political or religious revolutions in Hindostan. Of these forest tribes, some were under the loose authority of the Rajpoot zemindars who had gradually succeeded in obtaining a footing in their country. Some of them lived by the chase, but others obtained a subsistence by the rude cultivation of the open and fertile tracts embosomed in their hills. The zemindars endeavoured to improve their revenues by settling a more industrious class of farmers from Bengal and Behar on the lands, but the interlopers became an object of intense hatred to the aborigines. The cumbrous Regulations of the Bengal Presidency had unhappily been introduced into the province, to the great annoyance both of the zemindars and the ryots. The general feeling of discontent occasioned by these proceedings was exasperated by the insolence and rapacity of the Bengalee underlings who had flocked in with the establishment of our institutions, and monopolized every office. In 1832, the whole country was in a state of insurrection. The vengeance of the Coles was directed against the zemindars who oppressed them, and more especially against the foreign settlers. Their fields were laid waste, their villages given up to the flames, and more than a thousand were put to death before it was possible to assemble troops. A considerable force of horse, foot, and artillery was sent into the province. The insurgents assembled in thousands, but were armed only with bows, arrows, and axes, and the military operations were confined to scouring the country, burning down the hamlets, and endeavouring to apprehend the leaders. There was no real opposition, but great slaughter; and as none of the Company’s officers were acquainted with the language of the Coles, not a few of them were cut down as they were thronging to the camp to implore mercy. All the tribes at length threw themselves on the consideration of the Government, and the troops were withdrawn. A chief of the Choars, a kindred race in the neighbouring province of Manbhoom, rose in revolt immediately after, but
an overwhelming force, consisting of no fewer than four regiments of infantry, besides irregular horse, and some guns, was poured into the country and speedily extinguished the rebellion. It was not, however, without its countervailing advantages. Lord William Bentinck was induced, in compassion to the people, to relieve them from the incubus of a code altogether unsuited to the simplicity of their habits, and he formed the districts into a non-regulation province, and placed it under the control of a Commissioner.
Another insurrection attracted notice about the same time from the singular circumstances of its occurrence within fifteen miles of Government House in Calcutta. Syud Ahmed, a Mohamedan reformer and fanatic, of whom further particulars will be given hereafter, had collected numerous disciples in Bengal, and more particularly in the district of Baraset. The superior sanctity they assumed, the intolerance they manifested towards the Mohamedans who refused to join their sect, and their hostility to the Hindoos rendered them an object of general aversion, and some of their Hindoo zemindars had inflicted fines upon them. They made their appeal to the Magistrate, but the dilatory proceedings of his court exhausted their patience, and, under the direction of one Teetoo Meer, a Mohamedan mendicant, they took the law into their own hands. They proclaimed a religious war against the Hindoos, by the usual process of defiling a temple with the blood of a cow, and forcing its flesh down the throats of the brahmins, and constraining them to pronounce the formula of the Prophet’s creed. They then proceeded to plunder and burn down villages and factories, and to put to death all who ventured to oppose them. The émeute gained strength from two ineffectual efforts on the part of the Magistrate to quell it, and in the peaceful province of Bengal, which had not seen the smoke of an enemy’s camp for more than seventy years, two regiments of infantry with a body of horse and some guns were summoned to the field. They came up with the insurgents near Roughly; a few rounds of grape
drove them into a stockade they had erected, where, contrary to all expectation, they defended themselves with great resolution for an hour, and put to death sixteen of their assailants. Many of the fanatics were slain, and the remainder made prisoners, and the insurrection subsided as rapidly as it had arisen.
Lord William Bentinck’s administration was marked by the addition of two principalities to the Company’s dominions, but of such insignificant extent as to escape observation and censure. The raja of the little province of Cachar in the hills on the north-east frontier of Bengal, had been rescued from the grasp of the Burmese in 1825, and restored to power. He was murdered in 1832, and, as he left no legitimate successor, Lord William Bentinck yielded to the general wish of the people, and gave them the benefit of the Company’s government. This unnoticed nook of the great empire has since acquired a commercial importance by the application of British capital and enterprise to its improvement. The forests have been cleared, and the hills covered with tea plantations, on which large sums have been expended.
The conquest and annexation of Coorg was the deliberate act of the most pacific of Governors-General. This province lies on the Malabar coast, between Mysore and the sea, and comprises an area of about fifteen hundred square miles, no portion of which is less than three thousand feet above the level of the sea. The population is scanty, and the country itself had never been deemed of any importance; but circumstances have invested it with a peculiar interest. At the close of the last century, the raja was the most chivalrous character of his age in India, and defended his domains with such perseverance and gallantry against the overwhelming force of the Mysore rulers, as to obtain the hearty commendations of Lord Cornwallis and Lord Wellesley. From the latter he received the gift of a splendid sword, which was long preserved with pride among the family heir-looms.
His descendant, the princess Gourumna, came to England in company with her father, and embraced the Christian religion, the Queen standing her sponsor at the baptismal font. At the commencement of the war with Tippoo in 1791, it was deemed important by the British authorities to obtain a military position in Coorg, and a treaty was concluded with the raja, Vira Raja, which secured his assistance and the resources of his country, and granted him the guarantee of his independence on the part of the British Government. The arrangement was concluded by Mr. Taylor, the Company’s agent at Tellicherry; and such were the lax notions of religion which prevailed at the Madras Presidency in those days, that he took God, the sun, the moon, and the earth to witness the execution of the deed. The raja died in 1809 and was succeeded by his brother, who bequeathed the throne to his son Vira raja in 1820. Few princes, even in India, have ever exhibited a more atrocious example of cruelty and ferocity. His first act was to put to death all those who had thwarted his views before he came to the throne. To prevent the possibility of being superseded, he directed all his royal kinsmen, twelve in number, to be taken into the jungle and decapitated. He never scrupled to take the life of anyone who was obnoxious to him, and he became the object of universal dread to his courtiers and his subjects. He manifested a peculiar hatred of the British Government, and prohibited all intercourse between his people and Englishmen, which had the effect of concealing his conduct from observation. In 1832, his sister and her husband fled for their lives, and revealed the tale of his barbarities to the British Resident at Mysore, who proceeded in person to the capital, and endeavoured, but without success, to bring the raja to reason. A native envoy was then sent to remonstrate with him, but he was seized and placed in confinement. The raja, at the same time, addressed letters to the Governor of Madras, and even to the Governor-General, couched in terms of extraordinary insolence, and organized his little force for a conflict with British power. Lord William Bentinck, finding him deaf to all admonition,
resolved to treat him as a public enemy, and issued a proclamation, recounting his cruelties and oppressions, and announcing that he had ceased to reign. A force of about 6,000 men was directed to enter the country simultaneously from the east, west, north, and south, under the general command of Colonel Lindsay. Advancing from the eastward, he succeeded in penetrating the intricate and perilous defiles leading to the capital, where the mere interjection of felled trees from the neighbouring forest might have completely blocked up his path. He entered the capital and planted the British standard on its ramparts on the 6th April, 1834. But the Coorg troops resisted the divisions which were advancing into their country from other directions with the same energy and courage which had been exhibited in the defence of their independence against the veterans of Hyder and Tippoo. Two of the British columns were repeatedly repulsed by these gallant highlanders, and many officers and more than two hundred of the men fell beneath their weapons. If the generalship of the Coorg commander had corresponded with the valour of his men, the campaign might with ease have been protracted till the rains set in, in which case the British army would have been obliged to withdraw from a scene where disease would have annihilated their strength. But the raja was as cowardly as he was cruel, and surrendered to General Fraser, the political agent, who issued a proclamation, under the orders of the Governor-General, annexing the territory of Coorg to the Company’s dominions “in consideration of the unanimous wish of the people.” The General was an officer on the Madras establishment, and he took on himself to humour the religious notions of the Hindoos by prohibiting the slaughter of kine throughout Coorg, though he was not ignorant that the British Government – except in the fatal instance of Rangoon – had invariably refused to sanction so preposterous a concession to native prejudices. The country of Coorg was overlooked for more than twenty years, when it was discovered to be one of those mountain tracts suitable for the residence of Europeans and
the cultivation of coffee, and it has now become one of the most valuable and prosperous sections of the great national estate in India.
The policy of Lord William Bentinck in reference to the native states was regulated at first by the principle of non-interference, which was still in the ascendant in Leadenhall street, and on which some brief remarks may not be redundant. For centuries, the idea of a paramount power in India had been so familiar to the native mind, that its existence came to be considered a matter of necessity. In his minute on the Bhurtpore crisis, Sir Charles Metcalfe had stated that the obligation to maintain the legal succession of the heir in that principality devolved on us as the supreme guardians of general tranquillity, law, and right in India. But the Court of Directors lost no time in repudiating this doctrine, and laid positive and repeated injunctions on the Government of India to abstain from all interference with the native princes, beyond what was indispensable to secure the punctual payment of their respective tributes. The British Government in India was thus placed in the unseemly position of a powerful and importunate creditor, instead of that of a beneficent guardian; and its interference with the princes had all the appearance of being regulated by its own pecuniary interests, and not by any regard for the welfare of the country. During the early period of Lord William Bentinck’s government, his proceedings were shaped by the policy of the India House, of which he did not disapprove, and they form the least satisfactory portion of his administration. That policy was not, however, without an apparent justification, as a glance at the progress of events will show.
To retain our standing in India, it was necessary to secure a position which should enable us to control the inherent elements of anarchy. There was no alternative between the decay and the aggrandizement of our power. If we had refused to advance we must have submitted to recede. This fact is clearly demonstrated in the
memorable remarks of Lord William Bentinck: “To the policy of Lord Wellesley succeeded other policy and other measures; the renunciation of conquests, the abandonment of influence and power, the maintenance of a system strictly neutral, defensive, not interfering, pacific, according to the full spirit of that enactment declaring that to pursue schemes of conquest and extension of dominion in India, are measures repugnant to the wish, the honour, and the policy of the nation. The impossibility of adhering to this beautiful theory was soon manifested, and subsequent events have all shown that, however moderate our views, however determined we may be not to extend our limits, it has been utterly out of our power to stand still. Such have been the restless, plundering habits which belong to this great Indian society, such its very natural jealousy and apprehension of our power, that, after a series of unprovoked aggressions, Lord Hastings at last, in 1817, brought to a completion that system of policy which the great genius and foresight of Lord Wellesley had originally planned, and would have probably accomplished twenty-five years before, had he remained in India.”
But it was found that the system of subsidiary and tributary alliances, while it secured our supremacy, had an inevitable tendency to render the native Governments weak and oppressive., The native prince became indolent by trusting to strangers for security, and cruel and avaricious from the assurance that he had nothing to dread from the hatred of his subjects as long as his protection was guaranteed by our irresistible power. From time immemorial the remedy for an oppressive government in India, when it had reached a point beyond the power of endurance, was a popular rebellion, the result of which was the subversion of the dynasty and the establishment of a new family on the throne. Any such remedy, however, was rendered absolutely impracticable by the presence of a British force, which supported the throne against every opponent, domestic as well as foreign. The dignity, the energy, and the capacity of the native princes withered under this parasitical connection with a paramount
power. The Court of Directors deemed it wise, if not also benevolent, to preserve these attributes of power, and to render the princes efficient instruments of Government. They considered that this object could be attained by a rigid system of non-interference in their affairs. But this theory was found as impracticable as the “beautiful theory” of Mr. Dundas, in 1788, which denounced all extension of the British dominions. During half-a-century, there was scarcely an instance of a prince, living under the safeguard of British protection, who rose above the debasing influences of the zenana, and showed any talent for governing. It was only when a native state happened to be blessed with the services of statesmen like Salar Jung, or Dinkur Rao, that the interference of the paramount power became redundant, except to defeat the intrigues for his dismissal. Circumstances were constantly arising to baffle this principle of non-interference. We found it often necessary to interpose our authority in a contest for the throne, or to prevent a course of action tending to produce a conflict of which we should have to bear the brunt. We were bound to correct a system of misrule which might lead to a failure of resources, and entail heavy responsibilities on us. Nor could we always forget that our protection of the prince from the indignation of his subjects, implied the obligation of protecting the subjects from the oppressions of the ruler. The rule of non-intervention was therefore, from the inexorable necessity of circumstances, almost as often in abeyance as in operation, and it was this vacillating policy during Lord William Bentinck’s administration, which lowered the character, and diminished the usefulness of the British Government. In some cases he refused to interfere where he might have prevented disorder and misery; in others, he has been deemed to have interfered too far. At Gwalior, he declined to use his influence, and the state was brought to the verge of revolution and civil war. In Coorg, he extinguished the dynasty; in the case of Mysore, he assumed the government of the country.
The kingdom of Mysore, it will be remembered, was created out of the spoils of Tippoo by Lord Wellesley in 1799, and conferred on one of the descendants of the old royal family. This measure was strenuously opposed at the time by Sir Thomas Munro, one of the most profound statesmen the Company’s service has ever produced. He advised the partition of the whole of the conquered country between the Nizam and the Company. He urged that the inhabitants had long been accustomed to the government of strangers; that they had no national spirit or antipathies to stir them up to resistance, and that they beheld a change of rulers with perfect indifference. He argued that no political advantage could be gained by dragging the descendant of the raja of Mysore from obscurity. “If,” he said, “we had found a prince in captivity who had once enjoyed power, a proper regard for humanity, and the supposed prejudices of the nation in favour of one who had once been their sovereign, would no doubt have pleaded strongly for his restoration; but no such motive now calls upon us to invest the present raja, a boy of six years old, with royalty; for neither he nor his father, nor his grandfather, ever exercised or knew what it was; and long before the usurpation of Hyder, the rajas had been held as state prisoners by their delways or ministers. No attachment remains towards the family among the natives, for it has long been despised and forgotten.” This communication did not reach Lord Wellesley till after he had made his arrangements for the elevation of the boy; but he did not hesitate to declare that “the territories thus placed under the nominal sovereignty of the raja of Mysore constituted substantially an integral portion of our own dominions.” The treaty of cession was, therefore, made by the British Government alone, to the exclusion of the Nizam. It was, moreover, concluded with the raja personally, without that allusion to heirs and successors, which had been inserted in the treaties formed by Lord Wellesley with the Peshwa, the raja of Nagpore, the Nizam, and Sindia. This
significant omission in the case of Mysore was supplied, it has been said, by the clause which makes the treaty binding “as long as the sun and moon shall endure.” This expression is employed in cases where treaties were made expressly to include heirs and successors. That portion of the conquered territory which was assigned to the Nizam and the Company was to “be held in full right and sovereignty forever,” whereas the raja of Mysore was simply “to possess the territory described.” It was clearly intended by Lord Wellesley to be a personal and not an hereditary fief. The power of resuming the grant of the kingdom was reserved in the 4th article of the treaty: “Whenever the Governor-General in Council shall have reason to apprehend a failure in the funds destined for the maintenance of the military force – seven lacs of pagodas a-year – he shall have full power and right either to introduce regulations and ordinances as he shall deem expedient for the internal management and the collection of the revenues of the country, or to assume and bring under the direct management of the servants of the Company such part or parts of the territory as shall appear to him necessary to render such funds efficient and available either in peace or war.” The object of this assumption was defined in the next article to be, not only “to secure the efficiency of the said military funds, but also to provide for the effective protection of the country, and the welfare of the people.” In his memorandum explanatory of these two articles, Lord Wellesley said, “recollecting the inconvenience and embarrassment which have arisen to all parties concerned under the double Government and conflicting authorities in Oude, Tanjore, and the Carnatic, I resolved to restore to the Company the most extensive and indisputable powers of interposition in the internal affairs of Mysore, as well as an unlimited right of assuming the direct management of the country.” The government of Mysore was placed under the management of the renowned brahmin, Poornea, the minister of Hyder and Tippoo, and he was supported by the able and active superintendence of Sir Barry Close, Mr. Webbe, and
Colonel Wilks. Under these favourable auspices the country flourished and a surplus of two crores of rupees was accumulated in the treasury.
In 1811, the raja having attained his sixteenth year, proclaimed his own majority, and, under the influence of his minions and flatterers, dismissed the faithful Poornea and assumed the charge of the government himself. The Resident reported that he was utterly unfit for the management of the country by the instability and the infirmities of his character, his utter disregard of truth, and his entire subservience to the influence of favourites. The government steadily deteriorated during the twenty years in which he held the reins. The accumulations of Poornea were dissipated, and all the establishments of the state fell into arrears. The administration became venal and corrupt; the highest offices were put up to sale; valuable crown lands were alienated, and new and grievous taxes were imposed. There was no security for property, and nothing worthy the name of a court of justice. This system of misrule was continued in spite of the admonitions of the Madras Government. Sir Thomas Munro, the Governor, paid a visit to Mysore in 1825, and, in a personal interview with the raja, gave him a deliberate warning that if the reform of the administration was not commenced forthwith, the direct interference of the British Government would be unavoidable. This remonstrance produced a partial improvement, but the raja soon relapsed into his old habits of prodigality and extortion. The Resident at his court subsequently renewed these expostulations, but finding them altogether unavailing, ceased to press them. Unable any longer to support the oppressions of the raja’s administration, the people broke into open revolt, and in 1830 one half the kingdom was in a state of insurrection. Adventurers from the southern Mahratta country, and not a few of the Mysore constabulary, joined the standard of the insurgents and the peace and security of the Company’s territories and of the Deccan were placed in jeopardy. It became necessary to send
a large British force into the field to quell the rebellion. A proclamation was issued inviting the cultivators to come into the British camp and peacefully state their grievances, with the promise that they should be redressed. The natives reposed entire confidence in the British officers, but none in those of the raja, and the insurrection at length died out.
Lord William Bentinck then informed the raja that though tranquillity was for the present restored, the British Government could not permit its name or its power to be identified with these acts of misrule, and was imperiously called on to supply an immediate and complete remedy. It became indispensable, therefore, with reference to the stipulations of the treaty, to interfere for the preservation of the state of Mysore, and to save the various interests at stake from further ruin. To accomplish this object he deemed it necessary to transfer the entire administration of the country to the hands of British officers, paying over to the raja the sum stipulated in the treaty, a lac of star pagodas, and a fifth of the net revenue. Under the able and honest management of those functionaries the revenues have been improved to such an extent as to give the raja, from both sources, an income of about fourteen lacs of rupees a-year. This decisive measure of Lord William Bentinck received the entire approbation of the Court of Directors. The raja entreated that the administration might still be carried on in his name, but the Court directed that it should be conducted in the name and by the sole authority of the Company. Soon after, Lord William Bentinck appointed a commission, composed of officers of high standing in the service, to investigate the causes of the outbreak which had been quelled by the British army, and he gathered from their report that the representations of oppression had been overstated. From this, among other considerations, he was led to express a doubt whether the entire assumption of the country was in strict accordance with the terms of the treaty, and he proposed to
the Court to take over in perpetuity a portion of the country sufficient for the payment of the subsidy, and to restore the remainder to the raja, subject however, to the condition that if he neglected the Government, and suffered any gross and general oppression to be practised, the Company should be at liberty to resume this portion also. But the Court of Directors refused to sanction the proposal, and decided that the assumption of the whole country was justified by the provisions of the treaty, and essential to the security of the people. The Ministry soon after confirmed and completed the arrangements by directing that the produce of Mysore should thenceforward be treated both in England and in India, as that of a British possession, and be relieved from the payment of differential duties.
In the principality of Bhopal the policy of non-intervention led to anarchy and bloodshed, which a word from the paramount authority would at any moment have prevented. About eighteen months after the alliance with this state was concluded in 1818, the amiable and accomplished nabob was accidentally killed by a pistol shot, and his widow, Secunder Begum, a woman of high spirit and great ability, assumed the responsibilities of the government, with a Christian for her prime minister, and a Mohamedan and a Hindoo as his assistants. She affianced her daughter to her nephew and adopted him as the heir to the throne; but she was unwilling to part with any portion of her power, and not only delayed the celebration of the nuptials, but refused him any share in the government after he had attained his majority. He appealed to Lord William Bentinck, who declined to interfere further than by insisting on the completion of the marriage. In the hope of strengthening her position she laid aside the restraints imposed on females by Asiatic custom, and held durbars without a screen, and appeared on horseback without a veil, to the great scandal of her people. The young nabob, finding himself still denied all authority, made his
escape from the capital and began to collect partisans. The two parties appealed to arms, and an action was fought in which the young nabob was defeated and the leaders on both sides were killed. Lord William Bentinck had by this time quitted India, and his successor, Sir Charles Metcalfe, considering that the principle of non-interference had been carried to an extreme, offered the mediation of the Government; tranquillity was immediately restored. The Begum retired to a jageer, and the youth ascended the throne. His reign however was brief, and the succession devolved on his daughter, then six years of age, who was invested with the supreme authority at the usual age, and has continued to govern the principality to the present time with extraordinary talent and success. She took great delight in manly sports, and speared and shot with all the ardour of the keenest sportsman. She was in the habit of working ten and often twelve hours a-day; she visited every district and attended minutely to the drill and discipline of her soldiers. She reformed her civil establishments, paid off the state debts, resettled her revenue, set up a new police, and organized a judicial system. Her energy is still the admiration of the country, and her administrative ability has seldom been surpassed in India. During the Mahratta and Pindaree war, her grandfather sold his jewels to maintain the contingent of troops with which he joined the British army. During the sepoy mutiny, the present Begum exhibited the ancient fidelity of her house to the British Crown, and she is the only Indian princess decorated with the Grand Cross of the “Illustrious Star of India.”
The same vacillating policy was exhibited in regard to the various principalities of Rajpootana, although the turbulent habits of the feudal nobles, and the vicious constitution of the government, rendered the interposition of the paramount power indispensable to their tranquillity. This will be illustrated by a reference to the transactions in Joudhpore and Jeypore. Maun Sing, the raja of Joudhpore, had been deposed by his “thakoors,” or feudatory chiefs, before the Pindaree war, on account of his insanity, real or feigned; but
he recovered his power, if not his reason, in 1821, and immediately began to wreak his vengeance on them. A reconciliation was effected by the Resident in 1824, but it was of brief duration. The raja determined to retain the lands he had agreed to restore to them, and commenced a new course of spoliation. The chiefs again appealed to the British Government, but the non-interference policy was now predominant, and they were driven to seek redress by their own efforts. They raised an army of 7,000 men, and advanced to the capital with the determination to depose Maun Sing. He appealed in great alarm to Lord William Bentinck, who felt the necessity of interposition, and was disposed, for various reasons, to consider the case exceptional. The Resident was empowered to restore peace, which was effected with a stroke of the pen. But the insane violence of the raja’s character broke forth afresh, and he had the temerity to insult the Governor-General by refusing, on a frivolous pretext, to attend the great durbar of all the Rajpoot chieftains, which was held at Ajmere in 1831. He allowed his tribute to fall into arrears; he gave encouragement to the robber tribes of the desert, and refused to apprehend the thugs, or to surrender the malefactors, who sought refuge in his country. A large army was, therefore, ordered to march into Marwar to bring the raja to reason, but the mere demonstration of force was found to be sufficient, and he hastened to send a deputation with his humble submission. The Rathores – the designation of this tribe – were accustomed to boast of the “hundred thousand swords” with which they had supported the throne of Akbar, and of the resistance they had offered for three years to Aurungzebe. But they quailed before the majesty of British power, and the raja’s envoys meekly enquired what occasion there could be for an army when a single constable would have been sufficient to convey the commands of the Governor-General. Every demand was at once conceded.
During the minority of the raja of Jeypore, his mother acted as regent, and resigned herself to the counsels of
Jotaram, a banker of the Jain sect. The haughty nobles expelled the money changer from the post of minister, and installed one of their own number, Bhyree Saul, a connection of the royal family. The regent mother embraced every opportunity of thwarting his measures and throwing the government into confusion, in the hope of embroiling him with the British authorities, and at length obtained the permission of Sir David Ochterlony to recall Jotaram. The nobles resented the indignity of having their renowned state subjected to the control of bankers and women, and a civil war appeared inevitable, when Sir Charles Metcalfe, who had succeeded Sir David, proceeded in person to Jeypore, and convened a meeting of the chiefs. The majority of them were found to favour the views of the regent ranee, and her authority was accordingly guaranteed with liberty to choose her own minister. A grand durbar was held, and the young raja, seated on the lap of Sir Charles, received the homage of the Jeypore nobility. Jotaram became the head of the administration, but it speedily fell into confusion. The revenues were misappropriated, the troops remained unpaid and became insubordinate, and the tribute to the Company was allowed to run into arrears. The Jain pursued the nobles who had opposed him with great vindictiveness, and a general spirit of disaffection pervaded the country. An appeal was made to Lord William Bentinck, to terminate the disorders of the state by the supreme authority of the British Government, but he refused to interfere. Emboldened by this reply, Jotaram attempted to confiscate the estates of Bhyree Saul. The regent ranee died soon after, having held the reins of power for ten years. Her death was followed, in 1835, by that of the raja, but not without such strong suspicions of poison that the minds of men became inflamed against Jotaram, and he was obliged to tender his resignation. The British Government accepted the guardianship of the infant heir, and the political agent who was sent to the capital was just in time to prevent a conflict between the party of the exasperated nobles and of Jotaram. The banker was directed to remove to a
distance from the capital, and as he attributed his disgrace to the Resident, he, or his partisans, hired men to assassinate him. He was assailed and wounded as he was leaving the durbar, and barely escaped with his life, but his assistant, Mr. Blake, was barbarously murdered in the streets. This attempt to apply the principle of non-interference to Jeypore kept the country in commotion for a long period, and eventually resulted in the appointment of a British agent to reside at the court, and in the establishment of a stringent control over the affairs of the state.
The most strenuous efforts had been made by successive Governors-General, Lord Wellesley, Lord Minto, and Lord William Bentinck, to prevail on the king of Oude to reform the administration of his country, but with little appearance of success. The king who was seated on the throne during Lord William Bentinck’s government, had been brought up in the zenana, and possessed no aptitude for business; his ideas were altogether effeminate and puerile, and his life was devoted to indulgence. He entertained the deepest aversion to his father’s able minister, and would have taken his life but for the protection of the Resident, Mr. – afterwards Sir Herbert – Maddock. In an able and exhaustive report upon the state of the country, Mr. Maddock represented it as in a state of decay. There was no security either for life or property, and the administration presented a constant scene of violence and oppression; scarcely a day passed in which he did not hear from his own residence in Lucknow the booming of artillery employed in the siege of forts, or in the coercion of zemindars, who never paid their rents without compulsion. The character of the native Government of Oude had, however, become the subject of party feelings, and there were not wanting men who maintained that it was cultivated like a garden, and presented a flourishing appearance. But Lord William Bentinck in his despatch to the India House, assured the Court that the representations of Mr. Maddock were corroborated by the testimony of all the officers civil or military
who had traversed the province, and that during his own journey from Lucknow to Rohilcund the whole country exhibited a melancholy picture of desolation and misery. Some of his predecessors had questioned the right of the British Government to interfere with the administration of the country, but he considered it the bounden duty of the Company to interpose for the protection of the wretched inhabitants, and constrain the king to put a stop to the arbitrary and tyrannical proceedings of his officers. He accordingly proceeded to Lucknow in 1831 and transmitted a written communication to the king, in which he insisted on the adoption of reforms, and distinctly announced that if he continued to withhold them, the entire management of the country would be taken over by the British Government, as in the cases of Tanjore and the Carnatic, and an annuity assigned for the support of the royal family.
Before this remonstrance was delivered, the king had reappointed Hakim Mehdi to the post of minister. This extraordinary man was the son of a Persian gentleman of Sheraz, who emigrated to India in search of political employment, and entered the service of Oude, in which he rapidly rose to distinction. He was one of the ministers who in 1801 vigorously but ineffectually opposed the cession of territory demanded by Lord Wellesley. He identified the prosperity of his adopted country with his own happiness, and devoted his splendid talents to the improvement of the administration, though thwarted at every step by his sovereign. During successive reigns he had amassed a princely fortune, which he expended with unbounded generosity in the town of Rampoora in the British territories, to which he had retired. It was gracefully remarked of him that the poorest man never entered his house without a welcome, or departed without relief. His liberality was not confined to his own neighbourhood. In the remote region of Cashmere, he contributed bountifully to rebuild a town, on hearing that it had been overthrown by an earthquake. There was no ostentation in his charity and no bigotry
in his creed. Lord William Bentinck pronounced him one of the ablest men in India, and as a revenue administrator unsurpassed by any officer, European or native. Having resumed charge of the government of Oude, he introduced important reforms with a vigorous hand; he reduced the amount of the assessments, organized a police, and established courts of justice. He retrenched the profligate expenditure of the zenana, curtailed the allowances of the parasites who thronged the court, and had the courage to reduce the lavish stipends of the king’s uncles. But he was too radical a reformer for the meridian of Oude. The ear of the king was filled with complaints and calumnies, and he began to withdraw his confidence from his able and virtuous minister. Hakim Mehdi implored the support of the British Government, pleading the terms of the treaty of 1801, which bound the Nabob Vizier “to advise with and act in conformity to the counsel of the Company’s officers,” and he maintained that they were under a solemn obligation to afford it. But Lord William Bentinck, acting upon the principle of non-intervention, refused to make use of his authority, and the king soon after dismissed the minister, on the frivolous pretence that he had used disrespectful language towards his mother, and had insulted the portrait of his father. In a despatch which the Court of Directors sent to Calcutta in the early period of Lord William Bentinck’s administration on the subject of Oude, they remarked that “had it not been for their connection with the country, although misrule might have attained as great a height, it would not have been of equal duration. It was the British Government which, by a systematic suppression of all attempts at resistance, had prolonged this disorganization, which became permanent when the short-sightedness and rapacity of a semi-barbarous government was armed with the military strength of a civilized one.” In reply to Lord William Bentinck’s minute representing the deplorable condition to which the country had been reduced, and the heavy responsibility which was thus entailed on the Company, they authorized him at
once to assume the government of Oude, if circumstances should appear to him to render it necessary. But, under the menace which Lord William Bentinck had formally administered to the king, and under the influence of some of Hakim Mehdi’s reforms, the country began to present an improved appearance. The Governor-General, moreover, when he received the order of the Court to take over the administration of the country, was on the eve of quitting India, and he contented himself with communicating the substance of their instructions to the king, and with intimating to him that the execution of this order would be suspended in the hope that a spontaneous adoption of improvements would render it altogether unnecessary.
No event of any moment occurred at the court of Sindia after the conclusion of the Mahratta war in 1818, in which he alone escaped the fate of the other princes, and retained his possessions and his power. He expired in peace and honour at Gwalior on the 21st March, 1827, at the age of forty-seven, having reigned thirty-four years. During this long and eventful period, he had witnessed a stupendous revolution of political power in India. At his accession, the Mahratta empire had reached the zenith of its glory, and he was the most powerful member of that great commonwealth, as well as the most influential and important chief in India, – second in military strength and resources only to the Company. At the time of his death, the Mahratta empire was extinct; the. Peshwa, a captive, though treated with all the honours of royalty, and his kingdom, a British province. The Guickwar, the Nizam, Holkar, and the raja of Nagpore were divested of all political power, and controlled by subsidiary armies, and he himself was entirely subordinate to British authority. On his death-bed, he sent for Major Stewart, the Resident, and in reference to the future government of his kingdom, said “I wish you to do whatever you think proper.” He left no son, and had invariably refused to adopt one. His widow, Baeza-bye, without whose advice he is said never to
have formed any determination, was the daughter of the famed Sirjee Rao Ghatkay, the most accomplished villain of his age. She was a woman of imperious disposition, masculine character, and inordinate ambition. She inherited all the violence of her father’s temper, but was not like him either cruel or vindictive. She was constrained by the voice of the chiefs to adopt a son, and her choice fell on Junkojee, a near relative of her deceased husband, but, in the hope of prolonging her own authority, she neglected his education, and studiously withheld from him all those advantages which might prepare him for his important station. To every remonstrance on this violation of her duty she replied, “no one ever wished to qualify another for the exercise of that power which he himself wished to retain.” Fretting under the restraints which she continued to impose upon him after he had attained his majority, he appealed to Lord William Bentinck, who relaxed the principle of non-interference to the extent of insisting on his being furnished with a separate seal, with which every public communication addressed to the British Government was to be authenticated. But he was still kept under the most galling control within the precincts of the palace, from which he at length succeeded in making his escape. He took refuge with the Resident, through whose mediation a reconciliation was effected, though not without great difficulty. Soon after this event, Lord William Bentinck visited Gwalior, when both parties pressed their claims on his attention, but he declined to afford any authoritative expression of his wishes, and advised the raja to be content with his present position, and await the course of events. The belligerents were, in fact, left by the Governor-General to their own exertions; the bye to retain her power as long as she was able, and the raja to wrest it from her whenever he could. The breach was thus widened, and the raja, having at length gained over some of the disciplined battalions, beleaguered the palace on the 10th July, 1833. The bye, alarmed for her personal safety, fled to her brother, Hindoo Rao, and
summoned the Resident to her assistance, but he declined to attend her. She then called up one of the brigades and was proceeding towards the Residency, when she was met by a body of the young raja’s troops, and a deadly conflict would have ensued if the Resident had not hastened to the spot and interposed to prevent it. The interference of the supreme Government now became imperative, and the Resident received instructions to exercise his power and influence to compose these differences, and to prevent a civil war. He endeavoured to ascertain the state of public feeling, and finding the chiefs and other influential men of the durbar anxious to support the cause of the raja, threw the weight of his authority into that scale, and Junkojee received a letter from the Governor-General congratulating him on his accession to the throne. The bye was permitted to retire with the wealth she had accumulated to Agra, only sixty-five miles from Gwalior, but as she continued to disturb the peace of the country by her incessant intrigues, she was required to remove to Furruckabad, where she encamped with an army of followers. At the instance of the Governor-General, the Government of Gwalior agreed to allot her a large annuity, on condition of her retiring to her jaggier in the Deccan, and the rapid desertion of her retainers constrained her, however reluctantly, to accede to these terms.
While the Government of India thus adopted the principle of non-interference in reference to the states of India which were dependent on it for support and guidance, attempts were made to establish a connection with the independent states beyond the Company’s territories. The cycle of alarm had come round again. In 1808, Napoleon had obtained a paramount influence at the court of Persia, and was supposed to entertain designs on India, which the Government in London sought to counteract by forming alliances with Persia, Cabul, and Lahore. Russia had now secured the same ascendency in Persia which the French had formerly enjoyed, and was believed to cast a hostile glance at the Company’s dominions in India. The Government therefore
deemed it advisable to open up the navigation of the Indus, and obtain a commanding influence on that river, by forming defensive alliances with the independent princes on its banks, the Ameers of Sinde, the Khan of Bhawulpore, and Runjeet Sing.
To elucidate the intercourse now established with Runjeet Sing, it is necessary to resume the narrative of his progress since the mission of Mr. Metcalfe in 1809. His government was founded on the principle of conquest, which became the vital element of its growth. Ambition is inherent in all Asiatic powers, but with Runjeet Sing the increase of territory was the one object of his life, and the improvement of his army, and the acquisition of the sinews of war, absorbed his attention to the neglect of every other branch of government. To restrain his army from turning upon himself and creating internal disturbances, it was kept in constant employ. Scarcely a year passed without some military expedition, and his troops were assembled for action at the close of the rains with the regularity of the season.
The wealth and energies of the Punjab were concentrated on military objects. This system was exactly suited to the martial character of the Sikh population, whom it furnished with congenial occupation, and likewise gratified with the submission of province after province to the supremacy of the Khalsa, as well as with the means of acquiring wealth. Glory and plunder thus became the chief sources of their fidelity to the crown. Runjeet Sing had been struck with the discipline and efficiency of the small escort of sepoys which accompanied Mr. Metcalfe in 1809, when they successfully repelled an assault of the Sikh fanatics, of whom he himself stood in awe, and he immediately commenced the formation of regular battalions on the model of the Company’s army, by means of deserters whom he allured from its ranks. His soldiers at first manifested great reluctance to abandon their old national mode of fighting on horseback with matchlocks,
for which they had long been renowned through India; but Runjeet Sing succeeded in overcoming it by the encouragement of higher pay, by incessant attention to their drill and equipment, and by going through the military exercises in person. Through these unremitting exertions the Sikhs were at length converted into regular infantry soldiers, and admirable artillerymen, and contracted the Indian feeling of adoration of their guns.
Runjeet Sing, having completed the subjugation of all the Sikh chieftains who were once his equals, and brought the whole of the Punjab under one dominion, led his army in 1810 against Mooltan, which was still bound by allegiance to the throne of Cabul, but he was obliged to content himself with the exaction of two lacs of rupees. Three years later he entered into a convention with Futteh Khan, the vizier of Cabul, for a joint expedition to Cashmere, but the vizier outstripped his army, and having obtained possession of the principality, refused to share it with his ally. While the Afghan troops were thus employed in Cashmere, Runjeet Sing surreptitiously obtained possession of the district and fort of Attock on the Indus, esteemed the eastern key of Afghanistan. A battle ensued, in which Futteh Khan was completely overpowered, and the authority of Runjeet Sing was permanently extended up to that river. Soon after, Shah Soojah, the exiled monarch of Cabul, who had been for some time a captive in Cashmere, was persuaded to seek refuge with Runjeet Sing. He brought with him the far-famed diamond, the Koh-i-noor, or mountain of light, which, according to the Hindoo legends, originally belonged to the Pandoos, the mythological heroes of the Muhabharut. In the last century it was the chief ornament of the celebrated peacock throne of Delhi, which was carried away with other trophies by Nadir Shah, in 1739. On the murder of that prince and the plunder of his tents, Ahmed Shah Abdalee obtained possession of it, and it descended with his throne to his grandson, Shah Soojah. He was now within the power of Runjeet Sing, who was equally avaricious of jewels and of horses, and who subjected the Shah and his
family for several days to the torture of hunger, till he surrendered the gem. Runjeet Sing was anxious to avail himself of the name of the Shah for his own designs, and not only detained him in close custody but treated him with the greatest indignity. He succeeded at length in eluding the vigilance of his guards, and made his escape in disguise to Loodiana, where the British Government generously allowed him a pension of 50,000 rupees a-year. In 1818, Runjeet Sing led his army a second time against Mooltan, and, after a futile siege of four months, obtained possession of the citadel by a happy accident, through the temerity of one of his fanatic soldiers. It was in this year that Futteh Khan, the vizier of Mohamed Shah, the ruler of Cabul, whose energy and talent alone had kept the Afghan monarchy from dissolution, was first blinded and then barbarously murdered by the execrable Kamran, the heir apparent of the throne. Mohamed Azim, the governor of Cashmere, and one of the twenty brothers of Futteh Khan, hastened to Cabul with a large army to avenge his death. The king was obliged to fly to Herat, the only province which now remained to him of all the vast possessions of the Abdalee dynasty, and the Barukzyes, Futteh Khan’s tribe, became supreme in Afghanistan. Runjeet Sing took advantage of the confusion of the times to obtain possession of Peshawar, the capital of the Afghan province lying between the Khyber pass and the Indus, but it was speedily recovered by the Afghans. The loss, however, was more than compensated by the conquest of Cashmere in the following year, with which he was so elated, as to celebrate it by illuminating Lahore and Amritsar for three successive nights. During the next two years his army was employed in wresting from the throne of Cabul the Derajat, or strip of territory, about 300 miles in length, lying between the right bank of the Indus and the Soliman range, and stretching down southwards to the borders of Sinde.
In March, 1822, two of the French officers of Napoleon’s army, Colonel Allard and Colonel Ventura, who had left Europe on the restoration of
the Bourbons, and had subsequently obtained employment under the king of Persia, made their way through Candahar and Cabul to Lahore, and after some hesitation, were received into the service of Runjeet Sing. The Sikh soldiery were distinguished by their indomitable courage, their alert obedience, and their endurance of fatigue. They were animated by a strong feeling of national enthusiasm, strengthened by a high religious fervour, every regiment having its own grunthee, or expounder of the sacred book, a copy of which was usually deposited near the regimental colours. Runjeet Sing had already succeeded in bringing his army up to a high standard of efficiency by his personal exertions, and by constant employment in expeditions in which they were accustomed to victory. From these French officers, and from Generals Court and Avitabile who followed them, that army now received the further improvement of European discipline and tactics, though not without exciting murmurs of discontent among the old Sikh officers, who resisted all innovations under the plea that they had conquered Cashmere, Peshawar and Mooltan without any of these new fangled manoeuvres. Under the instruction of these officers the Sikh army became more effective and powerful than even the battalions which De Boigne bad created for Sindia, and Raymond for the Nizam. Thus, the important design, which was sedulously pursued by Lord Wellesley, of breaking up the armies of native princes disciplined by European officers, and of providing in treaties against the renewal of the system, was completely frustrated. In a kingdom which could scarcely be said to have an existence during his administration, an army trained and commanded by European skill, more formidable than any of those which had created anxiety in his mind, arose on our northern frontier, within two hundred miles of Delhi.
In March, 1823, Runjeet Sing advanced against Peshawar with an army of 24,000 men, and was met at Noushera by a body of Eusufzye highlanders not exceeding 5,000, who had raised the cry of a religious war against the
infidel Sikhs. The Sikh fanatics – the Akalees, or immortals – were thus brought into conflict with the Mohamedan fanatics, and the Sikhs were completely defeated with the loss of their leader. Fresh troops were brought up, and two charges of cavalry were made, but repulsed by the Mohamedans, who were not dislodged from their position before night-fall, notwithstanding the utmost efforts of Runjeet Sing. This battle became memorable from the fact that a body of mountaineers and villagers, without any support from regular troops, but frantic with religious fanaticism, succeeded in baffling the exertions of more than four times their own number of the well-trained and disciplined Sikh troops. Runjeet Sing was ultimately left master of the field, and sacked Peshawar and plundered the country up to the mouth of the Khyber. His troops, however, had a superstitious aversion to any expedition beyond the Indus, and he did not consider it prudent, at the time, to occupy a province which would entail harassing duties on his soldiers, without contributing anything to his treasury. It was accordingly left in the hands of Yar Mohamed, the brother of Dost Mohamed, on the simple condition of his paying tribute to Lahore. In 1827, the tranquillity of the province was disturbed by Syud Ahmed, a Mohamedan fanatic, who was a petty officer of horse ten years before, in the service of Ameer Khan, the Patan freebooter, and on receiving his discharge when the army was broken up, turned reformer and pretended to have special revelations from heaven. By denouncing the irregularities which had crept into the Mohamedan ritual, and professing to restore the creed to its original simplicity and purity, he kindled into a flame that feeling of fanaticism which is always inherent in a Mussulman population. During a visit to Calcutta in 1822, he made many disciples, and then proceeded on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the centre of Mohamedan unity, and the perennial fountain of Mohamedan enthusiasm. He returned from the tomb of the prophet with feelings still more excited, and proceeding to Afghanistan proclaimed a religions war against the Sikhs. In 1827, he raised the green standard
of Islam in the Eusufzye mountains, and came down on Peshawar, but was defeated with ease by the disciplined battalions of Runjeet Sing. Two years after he repeated the invasion, when Yar Mohamed, who held the province under Runjeet Sing, was overcome and slain, but the opportune arrival of General Ventura dispersed the fanatics and saved Peshawar. In 1830, Syud Ahmed attacked Sultan Mohamed, to whom Peshawar had been granted as a fief by Runjeet Sing, and drove him out of the province, which was occupied by his followers. Elated with his success he proclaimed himself Caliph, and struck coin in the name of “Ahmed the Just, the Defender of the Faith,” and not only demanded a tithe of all their property from the Eusufzyes, but began to interfere in their matrimonial arrangements. The rude inhabitants of the mountains resisted this assumption of authority, and expelled him from the country, when he retreated to Cashmere, where he was overtaken by the troops of Runjeet Sing and killed in May, 1831, – six months before his followers rose in insurrection, at a distance of fifteen hundred miles, in the neighbourhood of Calcutta.
In 1827, Lord Amherst took up his residence at Simla which has now become a great and popular sanitarium. It lies within a hundred and fifty miles of Lahore, and Runjeet Sing embraced this opportunity of sending a complimentary mission, together with a magnificent tent of shawls for the King of England, which was duly presented to His Majesty by the Governor-General on his return to England. Runjeet Sing had a strong passion for horses, and thought little of despatching a military expedition to secure any of extraordinary beauty of which he might happen to receive information. Lord Ellenborough, who was then President of the Board of Control, resolved to present him in return with a team of stalwart English dray horses, and to make the conveyance of them the ostensible motive of exploring the Indus. That river was then not more known than in the days of Alexander the Great, and all our
knowledge of it was derived from the authors of antiquity. Instead, therefore, of despatching the horses by the more obvious route of the Ganges, it was determined to send them up the Indus, and to make an attempt at the same time to establish friendly relations with the chiefs on its banks. On the arrival of the horses at Bombay, Sir John Malcolm selected Lieutenant – afterwards Sir Alexander – Burnes to take charge of the mission, a duty for which he was peculiarly fitted by his knowledge of the native languages and character, his intelligence, and his ambition. Sir John also furbished up one of his old state carriages, to be presented, along with the horses to the ruler of the Punjab.
At the mouth of the Indus Lieutenant Burnes entered the territory of Sinde which had become tributary to Cabul, on the decay of the Mogul empire, but was subjugated in 1786 by the Talpooras, a tribe from Belochistan, beyond the Indus. The conquering chiefs, who were designated the Ameers of Sinde, partitioned the country among themselves, and an independent prince presided over each of its three divisions. Like all new dynasties in India they had been incessantly engaged in encroaching on the territories of their neighbours, the Afghans and the Rajpoots, and had at length succeeded in extending their sovereignty over a hundred thousand square miles. From their first establishment in the government of the country they had manifested an inveterate jealousy of the English, and rigidly prohibited all intercourse with them, as the most effectual means of securing their own independence. They had broken up the Company’s factory which they found established at the ancient emporium of Tatta, and treated with invariable insolence every envoy sent to them from Bombay. The arrival of Lieutenant Burnes with the avowed design of traversing the length of the country was considered an event of evil omen, and one Belochee chief, as the mission advanced up the river, exclaimed “The mischief is done; the English have seen our country.” The Ameer of Hyderabad, the capital of lower Sinde, exhibited great
hostility to Lieutenant Burnes, who was subjected to gross indignity, and twice constrained to retire from the country. The energetic remonstrance of Colonel Pottinger, the Resident in the neighbouring British province of Cutch, at length procured him a suitable reception at that court, and the means of transporting his convoy up the Indus.
On quitting Sinde he entered the territories of the khan of Bhawulpore, who welcomed him with much cordiality, and exhibited with a feeling of pride the testimonials which Mr. Elphinstone had given his grandfather, on his way to Cabul in 1809. The principality of Bhawulpore was limited in extent and far from fertile. Runjeet Sing had despoiled the prince of all his territory north of the Sutlege and would long since have absorbed the remainder, but for the restrictions of the Metcalfe treaty of 1809. On entering the Punjab, Lieutenant Burnes was met by the officers deputed to wait on him and escorted through the country with great pomp, and received at the court with ostentatious courtesy. Runjeet Sing gave him a warm embrace as he entered the durbar, and on the production of the letter with which he said he had been entrusted by the minister of the King, his master, touched the seal with his forehead, while the whole court rose to honour it. In this communication Lord Ellenborough stated that the King of England, knowing that his highness was in possession of the most beautiful horses of the most celebrated breeds in Asia, had thought that it might be agreeable to him also to possess horses of the most remarkable breed of Europe, and that his Majesty witnessed with sincere satisfaction the good understanding which had for so many years subsisted, and which. God ever preserve, between the British Government and his highness. While the letter was read a salute of twenty-one guns was fired from each of sixty pieces of cannon drawn up for the occasion. During his residence at Lahore, Lieutenant Burnes was treated not only with distinguished honour in public, but with great personal kindness both by the genial
chief himself, and by all his officers, European and native. He then proceeded to Simla, where Lord William Bentinck was residing, and submitted the information he had collected respecting the commerce, the politics, and the military strength and organization of the provinces he had traversed. The Governor-General was highly gratified with the talent, zeal, and enterprise which he had exhibited in his arduous task, and directed him to return to Bombay through Afghanistan, Balkh, and Bokhara, and to explore the routes and resources of these unknown regions.
The greatness of Runjeet Sing had been steadily on the increase for twenty years, and the power he had now attained exceeded that of any of the native princes who had successively succumbed to the strength of our arms. The small body of cavalry, armed only with matchlocks, which was bequeathed to him by his father, had been gradually improved and expanded into a grand army, which, including the contingents of his Jageerdars, consisted of no less than 82,000 men, animated by the successes of a dozen campaigns, and in part, disciplined and commanded by European officers. His artillery consisted of 376 guns, and an equal number of swivels. His annual revenue was estimated at two crores and a half of rupees, and he had accumulated ten crores in the vaults of the fortress of Govindgur, which he had erected in the neighbourhood of Amritsar, to curb the Akalees, the armed and fanatic guardians of that national shrine. Though unable to read or write, the habit of listening to papers in Persian, Punjabee, and Hindee, had given him great facility in comprehending whatever was brought before him by the able secretaries whom he had selected with great judgment, and who were obliged to be in attendance, by night as well as by day. He was the most extraordinary man of the age between Constantinople and Pekin, and with the command of such an army and such resources as he had created, and with the animation of a lofty spirit of ambition, would doubtless have founded another empire in Hindostan, but for the treaty dictated by
Mr. Metcalfe in 1809, which confined him to the right bank of the Sutlege. It was this restriction which constrained him to direct his views of aggrandizement to other quarters. He had accordingly conquered Cashmere and the territories to the north of it up to the confines of Tartary; he had rendered Peshawar tributary, and extended his power up to the Khyber pass. Across the Indus he had taken possession of the Derajat, which brought him to the borders of Sinde, on which he cast a longing eye.
But though he had reached the summit of power, and was absolute throughout the Punjab, he never arrogated the invidious distinction of an independent sovereign, but both in speech and writing represented himself as the head of the Sikh Khalsa, or commonwealth, which was regarded with a feeling of superstitious devotion by the chiefs, the people, and the soldiery of the Punjab. His noble army was the army of the Khalsa; and the shout of triumph was “Victory to the Khalsa,” not to Runjeet Sing. All the grand achievements of his reign were performed for the sake of Gooroo Govind, the founder of the community, in the name of God, and for the glorification of the Khalsa. There was no apprehension of any revolt against his authority during his lifetime, but it was doubtful whether the same allegiance would be paid by the Sikh barons and their followers to his son, who was utterly deficient in talent and energy, a mere purple-born prince. In these circumstances, he considered it important to secure for his throne and his dynasty all the strength and prestige which a close affiance with the British Government, and his own recognition by the Governor-General as the chief of the Khalsa, were calculated to impart. On the other hand, Lord William Bentinck deemed it politic to manifest to the princes of India, who regarded the progress of Runjeet Sing’s power with exultation and hope, that a feeling of cordiality existed between the two Governments; and it was arranged that a meeting should be held at Roopur, on the banks of the Sutlege.
Assembly at This assembly was the most brilliant in which
Roopur. 1831. the representative of the Company had participated since the first establishment of their power in India. Lord William was distinguished by the simplicity of his habits, and his sincere aversion to the pageantry of power; but he considered it important on this occasion to give éclat to the meeting in the eyes of all India by a grand military display, which should likewise enable Runjeet Sing’s generals to appreciate the efficiency of the various arms of our force, and gratify his own curiosity regarding their organization and equipment. He accordingly ordered up two squadrons of European lancers with their mounted band, two battalions of native infantry, two squadrons of irregular horse, and eight horse artillery guns. He descended from Simla to the encampment at Roopur on the 22nd October, and Runjeet Sing, accompanied by his brilliant court, arrived at the opposite bank of the Sutlege three days later with 10,000 of his best horse and 6,000 selected infantry. But as the time for the meeting approached, his habitual mistrust led him to entertain suspicions of treachery, and he sent for General Allard late overnight, and informed him that he could not venture to proceed across the Sutlege on the morrow. The general endeavoured to remove his apprehensions, and offered to stake his own head that there would be nothing disagreeable. The Maharaja was not satisfied with this assurance, and directed the astrologers to consult the Grunth, or sacred volume. They reported that the result of the meeting would be auspicious; but they advised him to take two apples, and present one to the Governor-General and the other to his secretary: if they were received without any hesitation it might be considered a favourable omen. Runjeet crossed the Sutlege on a bridge of boats, and in the middle of the street formed by British troops was met by Lord William Bentinck, to whom he presented the apple, which was cheerfully accepted, and all his fears were at once dissipated. He occupied the centre of the cavalcade; his nobles mounted on elephants, and decked in gorgeous
apparel, preceded and followed him, while a body of 4,000 horsemen, uniformly dressed in yellow, whom the Maharaja had cautiously brought over with him, formed the wings of the procession. He directed every movement himself with the eye and confidence of a soldier, and even in this holiday ceremonial exhibited the activity of his mind, and his wonderful talent for command. Presents of every variety, and of the most costly description, had been collected by the order of Lord William Bentinck from various parts of India, sufficient in value to efface the remembrance of Lord Ellenborough’s cart horses, and Sir John Malcolm’s old state carriage. Runjeet examined every article minutely with the curiosity of a child, and saw it carefully packed up under his own eye, by his master of the jewel office. The following day the Governor-General returned the visit. The spectacle was one of extraordinary splendour. Seventy elephants, richly caparisoned, advanced with the principal Sikh chieftains to meet him. The royal tents exhibited a scene of magnificence which had not been witnessed in India since the days of Aurungzebe, and which was little to have been expected among the rough soldiers of the Punjab. After passing through two triumphal arches Lord William Bentinck was conducted to a splendid pavilion, where the courtiers, resplendent with silk and jewels, were individually introduced to him. The court was shaded by a lofty arcade of yellow silk, and the floor was covered with the richest shawls and carpets which Cashmere could produce. The spacious tent behind, in which the Governor-General was received, composed of crimson velvet, yellow French satin, a sheet of inlaid pearls, and jewels of immense value, realized the highest visions of oriental grandeur. The frank manners, the free enquiries, and the lively conversation of Runjeet Sing gave an air of ease and cheerfulness to ceremonials which were usually stately and stiff. He called up and paraded before the Governor-General his favourite horses, announcing their names and their virtues with great animation. One of the dray horses was likewise brought
forward, but his huge and shaggy legs and coarse appearance formed a strong contrast with the glittering gold and crimson velvet with which his back was ornamented. A week was passed in reviews, entertainments, and displays, recalling to mind the days of Mogul magnificence, and the parties separated with an increased appreciation of each other’s power. Before the encampment was broken up Runjeet Sing prevailed on Lord William Bentinck to affix his signature to a pledge of perpetual friendship, which, “like the sun, was to shine glorious in history.”
Runjeet Sing had long been eager to add Sinde to his dominions, and more especially to obtain possession of Shikarpore, a commercial mart on the right bank of the Indus, of such magnitude and importance that the bills of its bankers pass current from Astracan to Calcutta. But he began to suspect that the British Government entertained designs regarding that province in opposition to his wishes, and that the transmission of the horses up the Indus, when they might have been sent with greater ease up the Ganges, was not without some political object. In a private interview with the secretaries before the Governor-General’s departure, he endeavoured to sound them on the subject, and hinted at a joint expedition against the Ameers, and a partition of their dominions. Sinde, he remarked, was a rich country; the wealth accumulated in it for a century was immense; and the treasury at the capital, as Lieutenant Burnes told him, contained twenty crores of rupees; on the other hand, there was no standing army, or indeed any troops at all beside the Beloche militia. But no intimation could be extracted from their official lips of the intentions of the Governor-General, although on the very day of his arrival at Roopur he had instructed Colonel Pottinger to proceed on a mission to Sinde, for the double object of concluding a commercial treaty with the Ameers, and of watching the movements of a Persian envoy who was at the capital negotiating a matrimonial alliance with the Talpoora family, as the extension of Persian influence to the banks of the
Indus was already beginning to be identified with the progress of Russian power in the east. Colonel Pottinger reached Hyderabad in February, 1832, and found that the Ameers recoiled from the idea of a connection of any description with the Company’s Government. The opening of the Indus to British trade and enterprise appeared to them fraught with indefinite danger to their independence, and they apprehended that it would not be long before the factory, as in other cases, was transformed into a cantonment. They yielded at length to the pressure of the envoy, and a treaty of commerce was concluded, the most memorable article of which was that “the contracting parties bound themselves never to look with the eye of covetousness on the possessions of each other.” Within eleven years Sinde was a British province. A request was at the same time made to Runjeet Sing to co-operate in opening the Sutlege to trade, which he was assured would afford him the gratification of seeing a steamboat. To this proposal he consented with great reluctance, remarking that these commercial projects of the British Government on the Indus had snatched Shikarpore from his grasp, and defeated all his views on the kingdom of Sinde.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage