Warren Hastings 1st Governor General of India 1773-1785
Hastings was born in Oxfordshire 1732 and died in 1818. He was the first Governor General of India (1773-1785) but was famously impeached for corruption in 1787, and acquitted in 1795. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1814.
Warren Hastings (similar background to Clive) joined the EICo as a clerk in 1750, and was made the British Resident (administrative in charge) of Murshidabad in 1757. • He was appointed to the Calcutta council in 1761 but returned home in 1764. • In 1760 he returned as a member of the Madras council and was made Governor of Bengal in 1772. • In 1773, he was appointed the first Governor-General of India.
After an eventful ten-year tenure in which he greatly extended and regularised the nascent Raj created by Clive, Hastings resigned in 1784. • On his return to England he was charged with high crimes and misdemeanours by Edmund Burke, encouraged by Sir Philip Francis whom he had wounded in a duel in India. • He was impeached in 1787 but the trial ended with his acquittal in 1795. • Hastings spent most of his fortune on his defence, although towards the end of the trial the East India Company did provide financial support. Gilray’s famous cartoon of Sheridan, the chief prosecutor
Impact on Indian history • In many respects Warren Hastings epitomizes the strengths and shortcomings of the British conquest and dominion over India. Warren Hastings went about consolidating British power in a highly systematic manner. • They realized very early into their rule after they gained control over the vast lands of the Gangetic plain with a handful of British officers, that they would have to rely on the Indic to administer these vast areas. In so doing, he makes a virtue out of necessity by realizing the importance of various forms of knowledge to the Colonial power.
In 1784 he makes the following remarks about the importance of various forms of knowledge for a colonial power and the case that such knowledge could be put to use for the benefit of his country Britain: • “Every application of knowledge and especially such as is obtained in social communication with people, over whom we exercise dominion, founded on the right of conquest, is useful to the state … It attracts and conciliates distant affections, it lessens the weight of the chain by which the natives are held in subjection and it imprints on the hearts of our countrymen the sense of obligation and benevolence… Every instance which brings their real character will impress us with more generous sense of feeling for their natural rights, and teach us to estimate them by the measure of our own… But such instances can only be gained in their writings; and these will survive when British domination in India shall have long ceased to exist, and when the sources which once yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance”
Hastings creates Precedents • Hastings had a great respect for Hindu scripture and fatefully set the British position on governance as one of looking back to the earliest precedents possible. • This allowed Brahmin advisors to mold the law, as no Englishman understood Sanskrit; • It also accentuated the caste system and other religious frameworks which had, at least in recent centuries, been somewhat incompletely applied.
What does that mean? • Thus, British influence on the ever-changing social structure of India can in large part be characterized as, for better or for worse, a solidification of the privileges of the caste system through the influence of the exclusively high-caste scholars by whom the British were advised in the formation of their laws.
As Hastings had few Englishmen to carry out administrative work, and still fewer with the ability to converse in local tongues, he was forced to farm out revenue collection to locals with no ideological friendship for Company rule. • Moreover, he was ideologically committed at the beginning of his rule to the administration being carried out by 'natives'. He believed that Europeans revenue collectors would "open the door to every kind of rapine and extortion" as there was "a fierceness in the European manners, especially among the lower sort, which is incompatible with the gentle temper of the Bengalee".
British desire to assert themselves as the sole sovereign led to conflicts within this 'dual government' of Britons and Indians. • The very high levels of revenue extraction and exportation of Bengali silver back to Britain had probably contributed to the 1769 famine, in which it has been estimatedthat a third of the population died; • This led to the British characterising the collectors as tyrants and blaming them for the ruin of the province.
Judgement • Some Englishmen continued to be seduced by the opportunities to acquire massive wealth in India and as a result became involved in corruption and bribery, and Hastings could do little or nothing to stop it. Indeed it was argued (unsuccessfully) at his impeachment trial that he participated in the exploitation of these newly conquered lands. • In his Essay on Warren Hastings, Macaulay, while impressed by the scale of Hastings' achievement in India, found that “His principles were somewhat lax. His heart was somewhat hard.” • The nationalists in the subcontinent consider Hastings as another English bandit, along with Clive, who started the colonial rule in the subcontinent through treachery and cunning. However, it should be pointed out that other bandits, English or otherwise, did not found colleges, nor helped to collect and translate Sanskrit works into English.
An Estimate: C.J.B Gaskoin Heritage History • “For a hundred years after Plassey the English possessions in India were still ruled by the East India Company, that is, by a trading body whose first aim was to make the highest possible profit out of a country supposed to be inexhaustibly rich. A government which thinks first of profits is likely to be bad, but the Governors whom the Directors sent out were happily often excellent. They realized their duties as well as their rights. They saw that millions of Indians, so far from being rich, were miserably poor. And they fought valiantly against oppression and corruption…
Clive, after his famous victories, ruled well and wisely. Especially, he forbade the Company's servants to trade themselves, or accept bribes and presents, lest they should neglect its interest; while he increased their pay, lest poverty should make them dishonest. But other difficulties remained, especially the uncertain division of powers between the Governors of the three Presidencies (each independent of the other), the Directors in England, and the British Government. • Just before the American Rebellion, however, the Governor of Bengal, always the chief man in India, became Governor-General of all the Company's possessions. Thus one strong man at Calcutta might guide affairs in all three provinces. And the first Governor-General—Warren Hastings—whatever else he may have been, was beyond all doubt a strong man.
Otherwise, indeed, English rule in India could hardly have survived the next ten years. For it was threatened from without by three great powers: the loose league of Mahratta chiefs in Western and Central India, whose marauding horsemen were the terror of all their neighbours; the new kingdom of Mysore in the south, built up by the great warrior Hyder Ali; and France, now helping the Americans in the far West, but helping also the enemies of England in the East, and fighting in Indian waters—and there alone—on equal terms with the English navy. • It was threatened also from within by disputes between the English authorities themselves. • Warren Hastings was never heartily supported either in England or in India. The Directors at home disapproved his methods. The other Governors in India dragged him into unwise and unjust wars, and so drove him to wring money out of native princes at the point of the sword to pay the cost. And his own councillors thwarted and insulted him at every opportunity. Only when two of them had died, and he himself had fought and wounded a third in a duel, was he really master in his own house.
Naturally, therefore, he was sometimes high-handed, and even unscrupulous. He lent English troops to one Indian prince to attack a tribe at peace with the Company. He demanded enormous sums for war expenses from another, and deposed him for refusing them. He forced the widowed Begums, or Queens, of Oudh to surrender a vast treasure, so that the new ruler might therewith pay his debts to the English, and by so doing he caused their servants to be harshly treated —even, perhaps, tortured. So, when he at last returned to England, he found himself impeached by the Commons before the House of Lords. • The trial lasted seven years. The greatest orators of the day denounced every mistake in Hastings's career. They painted in lurid colours his sternness, his immovable determination, his readiness in emergency to sweep away every scruple—all the characteristics which he shared with Charles I's minister, Strafford. They proved against him some deeds difficult, others perhaps impossible, to defend. And the end of the long trial found him poor, broken, and embittered.
Yet, after all, he was acquitted. Some of the charges against him were foolish. Others were exaggerated. All were urged by men who lacked a real knowledge of the facts. For, rightly as his accusers denounced the evils of English rule in India, they should have blamed for them the weakness of a system, not the wickedness of a man. Hastings had done strange things, but he had done them in times of extraordinary difficulty and danger. And in those times only his magnificent courage and patient endurance—his readiness to risk not only his life but even his good name for England's sake—had saved the English power in India. So the verdict of history echoes the verdict of the House of Lords— ‘Not guilty!’ ”
Consider Gaskoin’s analysis from www.heritage-history.com on the preceding 4 pages. • Can you identify the words and phrases that demonstrate bias? • Can you assemble an alternative perspective from these and other sources? (Some are listed below).
Bibliography • Bernard S Cohn, Colonialism and its forms of knowledge: The British in India Oxford University Press 1997. • John Keay, India: A History. United States: Grove Press Books 2000. • M.E. Monckton-Jones, Warren Hastings in Bengal, 1918. • G.W. Forrest, G.W., Selections from The State Papers of the Governors-General of India - Warren Hastings (2 vols), Blackwell, Oxford 1910. • Keith Feiling, Warren Hastings (1954) • Marshall, P.J., The Impeachment of Warren Hastings (1965) • T.B. Macaulay, “Warren Hastings” in Critical and Historical Essays (1843)