Early 19th century India
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
In 1812 Britain had become involved on her own account in a separate war with the United States, and throughout the whole period of the contest with Napoleon she had been establishing and extending her dominion in India. To these two fields we shall now turn our attention before proceeding with the events in Europe during the fifteen months which elapsed between Napoleon's abdication and his final overthrow.
Wellesley in India
At the close of the century Lord Mornington, who had just been created Marquess Wellesley, was Governor-General of India, had completed the overthrow of the Tippu Sultan, and had annexed the greater portion of his territories to the British dominion. Wellesley was the first British Governor-General who deliberately and of set purpose sought to add to the realms under direct British administration. Clive, after the conquest of Bengal, which had not be designed, desired no further expansion; Warren Hastings had had enough to do in organising and maintaining what was already secured, and the acquisitions of territory under Cornwallis had been forced upon the Governor-General. His succesor, Shore, had pursued a policy of non-intervention to a point which had aroused in native potentates new hopes of overthrowing the British dominion.
Wellesley was the first to recognise that an actual paramount power was a necessity in India, where each native potentate desired supremacy for himself. It was clear to Wellesley that if the British were to remain in India at all it must be in the character of paramount power. The overthrow of Tippu was a palpable necessity which would have been as patent to Cornwallis as to Wellesley himself; it could not properly be called an act of aggression. But to Wellesley it was not an inconvenient but a welcome necessity.
The younger Wellesley earns his spurs
His great instrument in establishing British ascendency was the system of subsidiary alliances, the system under which the country powers were guaranteed British protection against agressors by virtually surrendering the control of their military force to the British. Their main standing army at least became under these conditions a British contingent; an army, that is, of sepoys disciplined and commanded by British officers. The payment of the force could not be left to the potentates; it must be maintained by the British, and therefore the potentate must guarantee the cost to the British. The one secure guarantee was the cession of territories, which provided a sufficient revenue for the purpose. Thus a double end was served.
The potentate, while he was secured against aggression, could by no means defy the advice of the power which controlled his sodiery; he had in effect become a dependant, and at the same time the British had become the effective possessors and administrators of new territories. On these lines subsidiary alliances were made, and districts were ceded by the Nizam and the Nawab of Oudh. The persistent misrule and the extensive debts of the Nawab of the Carnatic provided a sufficient ground for pensioning off the dynasty, annexing the province, and placing it under direct British administration.
Dynastic questions at Tanjur and Surat were settled when the British took over the control of administration as a condition of recognising the technical succession of the respective claimants. Rivalries and hostilities between the heads of the different branches of the Maratha confederacy gave Wellesley another opportunity. Each of them had stoutly refused the British proffer of a subsidiary alliance until the Peishwa at Puna accepted a treaty as a lesser evil than subjection to Holkar. The result was that Sindhia and the Bhonsla tried to bring about a combined Maratha resistance, and so brought on the Maratha war, from which at first the jealous Holkar stood aloof. Sindhia, the most northerly of the Maratha chiefs, from his position at Gwalior generally held control of the Mogul. He had organised his forces upon the Europeon model under French officers.
When war was declared in August 1803 this force was in the north, but Sindhia himself with a second army was on the borders of the Deccan to co-operate with the Bhonsla. It was in this southern war that the Governor-General's brother, Arthur Wellesley, won the laurels to which chiefly he owed his subsequent appointment to the command in the Peninsula. His small force completely routed Sindhia and the Bhonsla; first at Assaye and then at Argaon. Meanwhile, iri'fne north Lake had defeated Sindhia's French general at Delhi, captured the person of the Mogul, and then crushed the Marathas at Laswari.
By the end of tiie year both Sindhia and the Bhonsla had made peace, surrendering their claims to chautk from other princes, and ceding considerable districts, some of which were handed over to the Nizam. Incidentally Sindhia agreed to dismiss his French officers, and both agreed to accept British arbitration in disputes with native powers. The treaty completed the line of British territory along the whole seaboard from Calcutta to Madras, but it also in effect transferred the guardianship of the Mogul from Sindhia to the British, so simplifying their recognition as the sovereign power.
It was unfortunate that Holkar now chose to rise on his own account, and that Colonel Monson, who was sent to deal with him, was obliged to beat a hasty and disorderly retreat, which brought much discredit on the British arms. Holkar ventured to attack Delhi, but was beaten off and driven out of the northern territory by General Fraser. It was at this time that Wellesley was recalled, owing to the alarm which his expansive policy had aroused among the directors. Cornwallis returned once more to the scene of his former labours, but only to die; and the Governor-Generalship devolved upon Sir George Barlow. The appointment was not a happy one, for Holkar was granted peace upon terms which excited general derision and contempt for the British.
Barlow, however, was superseded in 1807 by Lord Minto, who very soon realised that the policy of non-intervention was impracticable, and also that when the British did intervene they must do so in a decisive fashion. Minto's Governor-Generalship was marked by the establishment of friendly relations between the British Government and the astute statesman and warrior, Ranjit Singh, who was now consolidating into a very powerful kingdom the confederacy of the Sikhs in the Punjab.
Not very happily also began the opening of diplomatic relations with Persia and with Afghanistan, in both cases owing to the first symptoms of the nervousness which Russia was to inspire throughout the century. It was just after the Tsar had made the Treaty of Tilsit with Napoleon, and the fear of Russian expansion towards the Indian border was never from that time forward absent from the mind of the British government in India. For the time, however, the alarm was allayed by the rapidity with which the sudden friendship between the Tsar and the Emperor cooled down and changed into hostility. Otherwise the most notable ventures of Minto's rule were the capture of Java from the Dutch and of Mauritius from the French. This latter was a stroke of importance, since the French station at Mauritius lay on the flank of the communications' with the Cape; and a squadron from the Mauritius was generally a possible danger whenever, native powers were embroiled with the British.
The Ghurka Connection
But Minto also was too aggressive for the authorities at home, and he in his turn was superseded by Lord Moira, who was shortly afterwards created Marquess of Hastings. The new Governor-General, like Minto and Wellesley, was no sooner in India than he found himself obliged to throw over the policy of non-intervention, although he had arrived fully determined to carry it out. By the beginning of 1814 he found himself forced into a war with a new enemy, the Ghurkas of Nepal - a very valiant race of mountaineers, who, in spite of their small numbers, began to prey upon the people in the plains below the Himalayas.
The first expedition sent against them was so disastrous that half of India was again on the alert for the breakdown of the British ascendency, but the stubborn hill-men were presently, mastered in spite of a most courageous defence by the skill and persistence of Ochterlorry; The treaty which ended the war in 1815 as a matter of course transferred a great belt of territory from Nepal to the British; but it also had the unusual effect of establishing a particularly loyal and enduring friendship between the Nepal government and the Ghurka race on the one side and the British on the other, a friendship of inestimable value in the darkest hours of the history of the British dominion in India. The rest of the rule of Lord Hastings belongs to our next chapter.