Imatges de pÓgina

quest, all the knowledge by which tropical fevers and excessive sun power could be combated was hidden. They had no means of rapid transport over the great areas covered in their actions and their numbers were negligible.

Their superiority lay in no great physical or even mental advantage, but in strength of will, an outrageous courage which defied the most appalling risks, and the instinct to seize the opportunity which “ taken at the flood leads on to fortune." These things have to be remembered when the British as administrators were faced a few years later with a catastrophe arising from natural causes of which they had no knowledge.

In May 1765 Clive returned and attempted to stop the looting and oppression of the natives by the Company's servants, for which he received no thanks but only persecution. I recommend his account of the inland trade and the almost hopeless war which he waged to effect a settlement equitable to the servants of the Company and the natives in P.H. XVII., 828 et seq., to anyone who wishes to study the details. He obtained the Dewani, practically the sovereignty of Bengal, Behar and Orissa and the Northern Circars for the Company, an immense addition to the Company's territory. “The English found India,” says Hunter (Orissa, p. 6), “ strewn with the wrecks of Asiatic despotisms; and out of the driftwood which the tempest threw up they had to build the fabric of a civilized government. How these political Crusoes hewed their log into a seaworthy ship is a story which touches the honour of England to have some day truly written."

It is the assumption of our obligations to the Indians and the general fulfilment of them, and not any display of force, which has always saved India for us. As Macpherson expressed it in his Report on the Kandhs (Part vii, parag. 49, Calcutta, 1842, quoted by Hunter) : “The voluntary and permanent acknowledgment of our sovereignty by these rude societies must depend upon our ability to discharge beneficially and acceptably towards them some portions of the duty of sovereignty. They will spontaneously yield allegiance to us only in return for advantages which are suited in form and spirit to their leading ideas and to their social wants."

I put these judgments of great Anglo-Indian servants forward here because the period of which I am treating was one of the

darkest in our Indian history when the Company, in spite of the great deeds of the soldiers in the field, were hardly holding their own, and when the sudden access of enormous wealth, coupled with insufficient salaries and irresponsibility hitherto unknown, led to a neglect of their obligations on all sides which brought them near to ruin.

The social conditions were those of primitive Britain a thousand years before ; in the Hindu law of inheritance, for instance, a man was tenant for life only and could not will in favour of aliens or prefer one child to another, while it was the custom for the prodigal son to demand his portion in his father's lifetime. Justice was by the ordeal of fire and water as in Numbers v., 12-30. (Halhed's Gentoo Laws, translated from the Persian, 1773). Into this primitive society, governed by Asiatic agents under the handful of British adventurers, came, soon after the grant of the Dewani, a terrible catastrophe.

Great as were the military achievements of the little armies of the British in India, they were simple in comparison with the task which faced the handful of civilians who carried on the trade of the Company, men who for the most part were the overflow of European society, by no means chosen for their knowledge of business. Their duty first and last was to buy and sell goods, to make balance sheets, and to remit profits to England. As it happened, in the course of their business, they founded an Empire, administered the affairs of a continent, peacefully abolished evil customs, codified customary laws of great antiquity, erected great engineering works, introduced new methods in agriculture, new crops and industries, built roads and organized transport.* But all these energies were but the imperial accidents of a world trade.

It is hardly surprising that, separated by a dangerous voyage of many months from home influences, exercising as a small irresponsible body of aliens an unlimited authority over masses of people of a different race and religion, these men made many mistakes, did evil acts, and sometimes came near to rivalling the British House of Commons in corrupt methods and selfish disregard of social needs.

Their difficulties were enormous. There were hardly any roads on the continent, and only very limited transport by water; the local authority of each area had little or no connection with the next district; and the federal authority was paralysed by the double rule of the Company and the officers of the Mogul. Overseas were the hungry directors and shareholders calling for dividends from what they imagined to be inordinate wealth, the British Parliament looking for loot and plunder, and the woollen trade jealous of the import from India of silks, linen and cotton fabrics with which as yet they were unable to compete to the injury of their time honoured industry.

* By 1887 nearly 94 millions of acres were artificially protected by irrigation, and by 1911, 32,839 miles of railways had been built for transport.

In no direction was the difficulty so great as in finance. There was no system of collection of revenue, which varied according to local custom, passing through many hands. Bengal had been drained of its specie. The Company borrowed money in India at interest and drew bills on London. Then, as the income in India was needed to pay the interest on the Indian debts, the shipments decreased. From the first the Company's servants had a hard struggle to provide the necessary specie for trade and payment of expenses. Their effort to establish a working ratio between gold and silver, to overcome the instinct to hoard, and to obtain an even distribution of the specie in circulation would fill volumes. The Company had to keep local banks for their accounts for the various factories scattered over the country, leaving in each as little cash as could lie idle in safety, and remitting all possible to Calcutta. The coin in circulation being insufficient for the commerce, the Company in its financial difficulty made as wide a circulation as it could of its notes, with the result that, like the paper currency of the American Assemblies, they could only be cashed at a discount. .

The money in circulation was like the fantasies of a nightmare : “ The coinage, the refuse of twenty different dynasties and petty potentates, had been clipped, drilled, filed, scooped out, sweated, counterfeited, changed from its original value by every process of debasement devised by Hindu ingenuity during a space of four hundred years. The smallest coin could not change hands without an elaborate calculation as to the amount to be deducted from its nominal value

· cowries, copper coins of every denomination, lumps of copper without any denomination whatever, pieces of iron beaten up with brass, thirty-two different kinds of rupees, pagodas of various weights,

dollars of different standards of purity, gold mohars worth from twenty-five to thirty-two shillings each, and a diversity of Asiatic and European coins whose very names are now forgotten (Hunter, Annals of Rural Bengal) were tendered and received or refused in payment of taxes.

Under such conditions British merchants acted as pioneers in setting up and financing new industries at enormous risks, and the Company covered the country with factories which were oases of safety for the weavers who worked here against ad vances.

Apart from these refuges, the country was so unsafe that no one travelled without an escort or in large bands. The land was overrun with gangs of banditti with whom the scanty force of authority found it hard to cope, banditti so bold that occasionally they seized the specie on its way to headquarters. The British had to use extensive military measures for many years at very heavy cost against these men over vast tracts of country.

But the chief difficulty which hampered the servants of the Company and ruined their morale was the double system of rule which grew up under the grant of the Dewani. That grant was of fiscal powers only, all matters of crime and legal procedure being left to the Nawab. “As a result,” says Hunter, " the records place it beyond doubt that until 1793 civil justice was unknown in Bengal.” The British could have taken over these elements of rule, if they had chosen, but they had their hands full, and Clive accepted the double rule, not being willing for the Company as yet to pose openly as ruler of Bengal.

The double rule continued until Warren Hastings was appointed Governor General in 1772. “Many generals,” says the great writer from whom I have so often quoted, have vanquished great armies with little ones, but Warren Hastings alone in the history of conquerors set about honestly governing thirty millions of people by means of a few merchant clerks.” By what infamous persecution and ruin at the hands of Burke, Sheridan, Fox and others he was rewarded is recorded in our histories. He took upon himself the full government, and, like Henry II. in the twelfth century, sent his assessors on circuit to settle and collect revenue and to try cases of wrong and robbery. He was one of the first to study the language, literature and legal customs of the people whom he loved. But he was subject to


so much obstruction both in England and in India that his success was partial only. It was not until Cornwallis came in 1786 that it was possible to complete the nesessary reform of government. Although several attempts were made by both these men to get justice done in the Nawab's Court, it was not until 1790 that the Company grasped the nettle. Then Cornwallis established the Supreme Criminal Court at Calcutta and Four Circuit Courts, and enabled the British magistrate to deal with the petty offences of the district. But before Warren Hastings came to rule, there came in 1770 into this strange experiment of alien rule by a trading Company an appalling catastrophe.

ii. India 1763-1775. The Bengal Famine and its Results.The chief industry of India was agriculture, though home weaving and other industries held a high place until the economic change brought about by railways and quick sea transport supplanted the native industries by European manufactures, cheaper in cost but inferior in artistic delicacy. India had always been subject to great droughts, destructive to agriculture, and consequent famines, the great famines recurring, according to calculation, in cycles of about fifty years. (Loveday, Indian Famines.) The Mogul government had made a certain provision for such emergencies. They had stored against failure of harvest, like Louis XVI. in 1788, and they had encouraged the villagers to keep up the great wells and tanks for irrigation, a task more popular and likely to be accomplished when the rents and taxes were paid in kind, and not, as to the Company, in specie. But owing to the wars and disorders attending the decay of the Mogul Empire this work had been much neglected. Now a failure of the summer and autumn rains in 1769, preceded by smallpox, excessive rain storms, floods and plague in various districts, brought on a fearful famine in Bengal.

In December 1769 Verelst, the Governor of Bengal, had resigned. The native revenue farmers, officials and magistrates, in whose hands the management of the revenue had remained, would appear to have realized the approach of the catastrophe, but to have been unable to impress the serious character on the Council of Europeans at Calcutta, for whom the social happenings among the natives only affected revenue. The local native

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