Haidar Ali and Tippu Sahib
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
[Ed. Following the Regulating Act, an administrative council was set up – ostensibly under the Governor General of India. Three members of this new council were sent to India and proceeded to make life very hard indeed for the Governor General]
The Trial of Nuncomar
From the time of their arrival in India at the end of 1774 the three members of the council, Francis, Clavering, and Monson, commonly known as the Triumvirate, set themselves to reverse whatever could be reversed in the past doings of Hastings, and to thwart his actions in the present. To this strife between the Governor-General and his council belongs an incident too notorious to be passed over. The Triumvirate deliberately set themselves to procure evidence which could be used for a formal attack upon Hastings. An instrument upon whom they relied was a high-caste Brahmin, Nanda Kumar, whose name has been popularised as Nuncomar. Nuncomar was an adept at the fabrication of evidence, and Hastings was preparing to indict him for conspiracy when he was relieved from the necessity for further action. The new High Court of Justice presented an opportunity to an old enemy of Nuncomar, one Mohun Persad, who charged him before the court with forgery. The court administered English law, and forgery under English law was a capital offence. The court, after a long and entirely fair examination, found Nuncomar guilty and condemned him to death.
They could have done nothing else. But the incident has been ingeniously perverted so as to represent Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice, as a kind of Judge Jeffreys, and the trial itself as in effect a conspiracy for the protection of Hastings and the destruction of Nuncomar. It would be nearer the truth to say that a conspiracy against Hastings was thwarted by the fortunate accident that Nuncomar had exposed himself to destruction at the hands of a private enemy.
Meanwhile, however, Bombay had chosen to assert itself, with disastrous results, A posthumous child was born to the late peishwa of Puna. But before the child's birth the functions of the peishwaship were discharged by a kinsman, Ragonath Rao, or Ragoba, who wished to remain peishwa; but the adherents of the infant were too strong for him. The other chiefs of the Maratha confederacy, Sindhia, Holkar, the Gaekwar and the Bhonsla (three of these titles are born by hereditary princes to the present day), were in no haste to commit themselves.
Ragoba appealed to the authorities at Bombay to support his cause, for which support they demanded, and were promised as their price, the ports of Salsette and Bassein. The Bombay governor had no power to conclude such a treaty, since Hastings was already Governor-General. Hastings was entirely averse from superfluous meddling in native politics. But the Bombay authorities proceeded to active hostilities on behalf of Ragoba before there was time to stop them. Hastings felt that in the circumstances withdrawal was impossible. But the Triumvirate overrode Hastings, and negotiated a treaty with the regency acting for the infant peishwa at Puna. But then came the news that a French adventurer had arrived at Puna, while the intervention of France in the American War just at this time pointed to a serious danger of the revival of the French question in India. The Triumvirate at Calcutta had been broken up by the deaths of Monson and Clavering. With his hands thus freed, therefore, Hastings designed to co-operate with Bombay again in making Ragoba peishwa. Bombay did not wait to co-operate, but blundered into disaster in a hurry; only the brilliant march across India of a small force despatched by Hastings under Captain Goddard saved Bombay from an altogether ignominious collapse. Negotiations with the different Maratha chiefs, all of whom played fast and loose with each other and with the British, occupied the eighteen months following Goddard's arrival in the West - varied with occasional skirmishes.
Meanwhile, Madras had not been idle in the work of mischief-making. The authorities there had in 1773 made a present of Tanjur, which was not theirs to give, to the Nawab of the Carnatic, ostensibly because it would be inconvenient if Tanjur happened to turn hostile, actually because the Nawab of Arcot was heavily in debt to various servants of the company, and the possession of Tanjur might help Kim to pay a dividend. Then, after the Madras council had arrested and imprisoned the exceedingly arbitrary Governor Pigott, who had been sent out to try to restore order, the authorities proceeded to alarm the Nizam by proposing to cancel in the existing treaties with him such details as were inconvenient to them. As this was just at the time when Bombay had plunged itself into its worst difficulties, the Nizam thought the moment opportune for forming an anti-British coalition with the Marathas and Haidar Ali of Mysore, and perhaps with the French at Mauritius.
Now for the past ten years Haidar, a born captain, had been organising in Mysore an army more powerful than had been wielded by any potentate since the death of Aurangzib. He was much too shrewd to be in a hurry to quarrel with the British, with whom he would have preferred an alliance; but the conduct of the Madras authorities was not encouraging. Then came the declaration of war between Britain and France; Haidar opened communications with Mauritius. Hastings, as a matter of course, issued from Calcutta orders for the seizure of the French factories. The French port of Mahe on the west coast could not be attacked without violating Haidar's territory, nevertheless the British seized it without reference to him. This was the last straw; and suddenly in July 1780 Haidar Ali swept down from Mysore into the Carnatic with a hundred thousand men ravaged the whole country, cut up one British detachment, and swept all the whites into Madras.
It was fortunate that the native powers were incapable of making common cause for any long time. The Nizam at once became more afraid of Haidar than of the British. The Maratha chiefs were playing each one for his own hand. At the moment Sindhia and Holkar were on the side, of the Puna regency; the Gaekwar and the Bhonsla, the most westerly and the most easterly of the confederacy, were keeping aloof. In August, while Haidar was ravaging the Carnatic, a small British force under Popham and Bruce, which had been detached to Sindhia's territory, completely restored the prestige of British arms by surprising and capturing that prince's headquarters, the rock fortress of Gwalior, which was supposed to be impregnable. Sindhia, who had been acting farther south in conjunction with Holkar, was at once drawn back to take care of his own territories, the Gaekwar and the Bhonsla decided to do nothing, and Sindhia, finding that Holkar was gaining credit at his expense, began to reconsider the position. Thus the opportune capture of Gwalior had the practical effect of preventing any other power from co-operating with Haidar, and of leaving Hastings free to concentrate almost exclusively upon the defence of the Carnatic. Eyre Coote was despatched thither from Calcutta, and although he was grievously hampered by the mismanagement of the Madras government, he routed Haidar's forces three times during the summer of 1781. It was just after this that the declaration of war between Britain and Holland led to the capture of Negapatam and Trincomali.
The close of 1781, however, was the lowest moment of the British fortunes. Yorktown fell, Britain had lost her naval supremacy, and the ablest, perhaps, of all French admirals, Suffren, was making for the Indian Seas. Still the obstinate valour of the British commander Hughes and his subordinates, displayed during 1782 in a series of engagements none of which could be definitely described as a victory for either side, prevented the brilliant abilities of the French admiral from effecting anything of a decisive character. The old Sultan of Mysore - he was eighty years of age - died, and was succeeded by his much less capable if equally ambitious son Tippu Sahib or Tippu Sultan; and in the following year, just as it seemed that the decisive struggle was on the point of taking place, the news came that the peace preliminaries had been signed between France and Great Britain. The Madras government, in defiance of Hastings, stopped the operations against Tippu and made peace with him on terms which he was able to represent as having been dictated by himself as victor. Hostilities with the Marathas had ceased some time earlier.
Hastings had not desired or aimed at any extension of British territory, and the only actual addition made under him to the British dominion was that of the district of Benares, ceded by Oudh in return for British support. But it was his vigour and audacity which enabled Goddard and Popham toneutralise the blunders of Bombay, and permitted Eyre Coote to retrieve the position in the Carnatic which had been so terribly jeopardised by the government of Madras. It was the diplomacy of Hastings which severed the Gaekwar and the Bhonsla from the Maratha confederacy, and impressed upon the particularly intelligent Sindhia the wisdom, of avoiding an irreconcilable breach with the British.
Happily, during the greater part of these complications with the country powers Hastings had very nearly a free hand, because of the disappearance of the cabal against him in his own council; though, at the last he again lost some of his freedom of action, because the cabal against him in England, reinforced by Sir Philip Francis, was in the ascendant. But we have still to give attention to some other aspects of his rule in Bengal itself and with relation to Oudh.
These are affairs of which the most conspicuous belong rather to the province of the biographer rather than of the historian, since they did not permanently affect the position of the British, whereas they were utilised as leading features in indictments against the Governor-General. Still they cannot be passed over. The first of these is the suppression of Cheyte Singh, the Rajah of Benares.
When Shujah Daulah, the Oudh wazir, died, he was succeeded by his son, Asaf ud-Daulah. The Triumvirate, newly arrived in India, made exceedingly heavy demands on the new wazir, insisting on an increase of the subsidies granted by his father for the maintenance of troops under British control in Oudh. They required also for the same purpose the cession of the district of Benares, and at the same time they caused very serious embarrassment to the wazir by guaranteeing to the royal ladies or Begums, his mother and grandmother, a quantity of treasure left by the old wazir, as well as sundry very rich estates which ought in the natural course to have supplied the wazir's exchequer.
Now the title of Rajah, which had been conferred upon Cheyte Singh's father by the Oudh wazir, has no very precise translation. A rajah might be an independent monarch, or he might be merely a big landowner or zemindar, whose title meant less than that of an earl in England. Cheyte Singh, in short, was a vassal of the wazir of Oudh, who, by the transfer of Benares to the British, became a vassal of the British. He had paid a tribute to the wazir, and that tribute was now due to the British. When the Maratha war increased the Bengal exchequer's chronic need of money, Hastings demanded an increase of tribute from Benares.
Such demands were a normal part of the oriental system; if the overlord could enforce them, they were paid; if he could not, they were not paid. Cheyte Singh tried to evade payment; Hastings imposed a fine by way of penalty. Still the rajah evaded payment. Hastings went to Benares with a very small esoort and arrested him; the population rose, and Hastings was in no little personal danger. Nevertheless the revolt was very promptly suppressed; the rajah was deposed, and Benares was forfeited to the company.
The fines imposed were heavy enough to be called vindictive, though in no way contrary to oriental precedent; but Hastings had the excuse that Cheyte Singh was under very strong suspicion of treasonable correspondence with Haidar Ali, or at least of taking advantage of Haidar Ali's hostility to the British to seek his own liberation from his British overlords. The most serious interpretation of Hastings's action was that he deliberately intended to goad Cheyte Singh into revolt in order to have an excuse for forfeiting Benares; but that view is hardly warranted by the facts.