The Battle of Plassey
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The call [for Clive and the British] to remain in Bengal came from the natives themselves. The nawab's rule was a reign of terror; his principal ministers resolved to get rid of him, and to set on the throne Mir Jafar, the commander-in-chief of his army. They applied to Clive to assist them. Mir Jafar as nawab of Bengal, established there by aid of the British, would be a puppet of the British as completely as the nawab of Arcot. Clive and the Calcutta Council entertained the proposal. While they amused Suraj ud-Daulah with empty negotiations, terms were arranged with the conspirators through their Hindu agent, Amin Chand.
In the course of the negotiations with the conspirators Clive, with the support of the Council, committed the one act of his public career which is seriously open to censure. When all was ready except the formal completion of the agreements, Amin Chand (or Omichund, as Macaulay calls him) demanded the insertion in the treaty of a clause engaging to pay him ￡300,000. Every detail of the plot was known to him, and would be betrayed to Suraj ud-Daulah if his demand were refused.
The treaty trick
He was tricked by a fraud such as he might have invented himself. Two copies of the treaty were drawn up, one upon red paper, containing the required promise which was omitted from the other. He was satisfied when he was shown the red treaty with the British signatures, attached to it. He did not know that one of the signatures was a forgery. Admiral Watson had refused to append his name, though, when the thing was done, he became a party to it. But it was the other treaty without the blackmailing clause which was signed by the conspirators. Clive to the day of his death asserted that he was justified; but on no other occasion did he depart from the one sound rule for Europeans in dealing with Orientals, of holding fast not by the Eastern but by the Western standard of morals. For no Oriental would have been shocked by the deception practised upon Amin Chand.
When the treaty was signed, Clive no longer considered it necessary to play with Suraj ud-Daulah. He sent to the nawab a despatch, setting forth the whole of the British grievances, and announced that he was coming with his men to the nawab's capital of Murshidabad to receive his answer. He followed his letter at the head of his troops - something over three thousand men, of whom two thousand were sepoys, and ten guns. The letter was despatched and the advance began on 13th June. The nawab moved to meet him with sixty thousand men at his back. On the fifth day the British halted at Katwa.
There was no sign of Mir Jafar carrying out his promises, and the march was checked by stormy weather. On the eighth day Clive, for the first and last time of his life, held a council of war. An advance must mean either a victory against unparalleled odds or annihilation. Would it be better to take the risk, or to entrench themselves wheTe they were at Katwa and invite aid from the Marathas, which might involve indefinite delay, and the intervention of Bussy on the other side? Olive's own opinion was given in favour of the more cautious course; eleven of the council of war supported him, seven voted for the advance. The council was broken up and Clive withdrew by himself to meditate on the situation. The result was that he reversed the decision of the council, and the advance was renewed in the morning.
The next night the British force, wet and weary, bivouacked in the grove of Plassey; and with the dawn of June 23 they were drawn up face to face with twenty times their own number of the nawab's troops. The morning passed in cannonading; as the afternoon advanced a small body of fifty Frenchmen, who were with the nawab's army, were seen to move; one of the British officers at once without orders occupied the spot where they had been posted. The nawab's guns were put out of action, Clive's line advanced, and the whole vast army broke before it and fled. So slight was the resistance offered that the vanquished lost only a few hundred men, the victors only seventy.
Suraj ud-Daulah, fleeing in disguise from Murshidabad, was caught and murdered by the son of Mir Jafar. Clive, according to promise, proclaimed Mir Jafar nawab, but would allow no bloodshed. To the natives Clive became at once a sort of demi-god; and he found himself not only effective master of Mir Jafar himself, but for all practical purposes responsible master of all Bengal; while the fame of his miraculous powers spread over half India. It never occurred to the new nawab to regard himself as independent of the power which had placed him on the throne, and which would in no wise permit him to play the despot. It was manifestly impossible to pretend that effective government could be assumed by any one except Clive and the British, whose lightest word none dared disobey.
Above all it was out of the question that Clive should leave the province until some system had been organised for preserving the British control. Without any such design on their part the East India Company had become at a stroke a territorial power, lords of the richest province in India. Instructions for the formation of a government were sent out by the directors from London, who understood so little of the situation that Clive himself was not included in the commission; perhaps it was assumed that his military services would be in requisition elsewhere. The British on the spot, however, had no doubts, and deliberately placed themselves at their great chief's orders. A little later the directors sent revised instructions, which made Clive officially what he already was in actual fact. It was not till the end of 1760 that he felt able to retire from the scene of his triumphs and returned to England.
During the two and a half years of Clive's personal rule in Bengal the struggle between French and British was fought to a finish in the south; when he left India the French were cooped up In Pondichery, and were on the point of surrendering their last stronghold. In the conflict with them Clive took no further personal part; Bengal gave him enough to do. Six months after Plassey the Oudh Wazir threatened an invasion,, but his armies melted away at the mere threat of Clive's approach, In 1758 the enormous prestige he had won enabled him almost to denude Bengal of British troops in order to despatch an expedition to sieze Masulipa'am, a city on the east coast situated in the district called the Sarkars, just south of th river Godavery, an episode which belongs to the last phase of the struggle with fee French.
The departure of the troops induced the Nawab of Oudh to contemplate another invasion, this time in conjunction with the "Shah zada," the heir to the throne of the Mogul. Clive could only collect some four hundred British and about six times as many sepoys. With this small force he covered in twenty-three days the four hundred miles which separate Calcutta from Patna, to which the Shahzada had laid siege. The siege was raised, and the hosts of the Shahzada and the Wazir scattered in hasty flight.
Yet once more Clive had to display his promptitude and energy in emergency. The Dutch had played no important part in India, but they too had a factory at Chinsura, on the Hugli. Towards the end of 1759 seven of the Dutch company's ships appeared in the river. There was no quarrel between Dutch and British, but in fact the Dutchmen were not profiting by the sudden development of the British ascendency, and they had given ear to the appeal of Mir Jafar, who was growing secretly restive in his position of subordination. Clive's suspicions were aroused, and became certainty when the Dutch seized some English vessels. Forde, the trusted officer whom Clive had sent against Masulipatam, was now back at Calcutta, having achieved his task. He was at once despatched against Chinsura, while three English Ships under the command of Captain Wilson attacked and captured the seven Dutchmen. Mir Jafar promptly turned against his intended allies, who had to appeal to Clive himself for the protection which he extended to them. And so collapsed the last extraneous attempts at intervention in Bengal.
The East India Company takes control
Eighteen months earlier the French had revived the contest by sending to the Carnatic some troops under the command of Lally, the son of an Irish father who had been one of the gallant defenders of Limerick. A brave and efficient soldier himself, he was absolutely devoid of tact in dealing with his own officers, his own men, or with natives. Also he was under positive orders to have no dealings with the native courts, whereas such chance as the French had lay almost entirely in the influence which Bussy exercised at the court of the Nizam. Now the Nizam had bestowed upon the French the coast district known as the Northern Sarkars, from which supplies ought to have been procurable. But Lally proceeded to summon Bussy from Haidarabad, and the troops from the Sarkars, in order to besiege Madras. Madras held out under Stringer Lawrence, and the appearance of a British squadron sent the besiegers hurrying back to Pondichery, to the wrath of their commander.
And, meanwhile, Forde's expedition from Calcutta was attacking Masulipatam, which fell in April (1759). The Nizam, no longer under Bussy's personal control, found the British victory convincing, and granted the Sarkars to the British instead of to the French. The British successes were crowned in the following January, when Lally was defeated at Wandewash by Eyre Coote, one of the officers who had voted in the audacious minority in Clive's council of war before Plassy. By October the French were swept up into Pondichery, and Pondichery itself surrendered in January 1761. So ended the struggle between French and British in India with the complete loss of the French power, confirmed by the peace two years later; and so was the British East India Company established as a territorial power in England.