The British Empire 1816-1830
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
Hastings in India
In India Lord Hastings, like his predecessors, continued after the war with Nepal to find it impossible to avoid native wars and the expansion of British dominion. The treatment of the Marathas after the removal of Lord Wellesley had in fact encouraged them to watch for opportunities of further aggression. Sheltered by the Maratha chiefs, large bodies of lawless soldiery known as Pindaris or Pathans established themselves within Maratha territory and carried their devastations all over Central India.
British protests were met by promises which were left carefully unfulfilled, and it was impossible to doubt that it was the intention of the confederacy to foster and encourage the Pindaris as allies, by whose aid the British authority could be set at defiance. It became clear to Hastings that the preservation of order and security in India imperatively demanded the suppression of these robber bands which held the whole peaceful population in terror. In 1816 George Canning had become President of the Board of Control, and, realising the nature of the emergency and the appalling character of the Pindari raids, he gave Hastings a free hand.
Hastings' campaign against the Pindaris
Accordingly in 1817 Hastings opened his campaign for the suppression of the Pindaris, the operations being on a scale very much larger than had ever before been undertaken in India; for as matters stood, it was practically certain that unless an overwhelming force were employed the entire Maratha confederacy would take part with the robber hordes. Sindhia, fortunately for himself, was isolated and paralysed for action by the disposition of the British troops.
Elsewhere, however, although the Pindari chiefs were quickly forced to a formal submission, both the Peishwa and the Bhonsla attacked the British, and the Pindari campaign was converted into a Maratha war. The general results were as concerned Sindhia that the British extended their protection to the Rajput states, over which he had usurped an ascendency which the Rajputs abominated. At Nagpur a new Bhonsla was set up, who was a minor, and the administration was temporarily taken over by the British.
The Pathans and Pindaris were completely broken up and many of them were absorbed into the British sepoy army. The young Holkar accepted a subsidiary alliance of the normal type which was already in force with the Gaekwar. But the whole of the territories of the Peishwa, with the exception of the state of Satara, were annexed, and the Peishwa himself was removed to an estate on the Ganges basin with the enjoyment of an exceedingly substantial pension. Satara was reserved to the puppet "royal" family of the Marathas, the descendants of Sivaji, the founder of the Maratha power.
By way of contrast to the penalties of increased formal dependence imposed upon the Maratha states, a more dignified status was offered to the two great Mohammedan princes, the Nizam and the Wazir of Oudh, as the reward of their loyalty. Both were officially lieutenants of the Mogul, whose legal dignity Wellesley had made a point of upholding. Hastings now offered to both the title of king or "Padishah," implying an independent monarchy. Behind the offer lay the intention of diminishing the prestige of the titular sovereign of India, a step viewed with extreme suspicion by the Mussulman population, though not with any special disfavour by the Hindus. The Nizam disdained the proffered honour as being inconsistent with his loyalty to the Mogul; the Wazir of Oudh was less scrupulous, and became henceforth the king of Oudh.
It must be remarked at the same time, with regard to the treatment of the Marathas, that the Peishwa had for the last century been the nominal head of the Maratha confederacy which, when united, had hitherto been the one great Hindu power in the Peninsula. There was now no Peishwa, no one with a traditional title to be regarded as the head of the Marathas. Thus the total result in 1819 was not merely the addition of extensive territory to the British dominion, but a marked step towards the formal assertion of actual British sovereignty.
Three years later Lord Hastings resigned; but for the suicide of Castlereagh George Canning would have succeeded him as Governor-General. But Canning was needed at the Foreign Office, and the Indian appointment was given to Lord Amherst. Once more expansion was forced upon the Governor-General, but not in the peninsula itself. This time the challenge came from Burmah, which lay beyond the sphere of operations of the various empires which had dominated India. The Burmese were racially distinct from the peoples of India, being more nearly akin to the Chinese; moreover they were Buddhists, a religion which had taken its rise in Hindustan but had failed to retain its hold there, while it established its ascendency among the peoples beyond the mountains on the east and north.
The Burmese empire was extensive, but it was in a great degree isolated from India by the barrier of the mountains and the sea; and the Burmese emperor suffered from illusions as to his own power and that of the British. Before Lord Hastings left India the Burmese monarch demanded from him the "restoration" of that part of Bengal which lay on the north-east of the Ganges Delta, which, of course, had never belonged to Burmah at all.
War with Burma
Hastings had treated this communication as a forgery. But when Amherst arrived he found that the Burmese were taking aggressive action on the frontier. His warnings were treated with contempt as impertinences, and it at once became obvious that an appeal must be made to force. In May 1824 an expedition was despatched to Pegu, which occupied Rangoon; but the character of the climate, and the country delayed further operations till the winter. It was not till the autumn of the next year that the progress of the British forces impressed upon the Burmese the fact that they had aroused a dangerous enemy; and it was only after some more severe defeats that the Burmese monarch was induced to accept the British terms. Assam, Arakan, and Tenasserim were annexed, and a British Resident was admitted to the Burmese capital at Ava. The nearest equivalent in the West of the term Resident as employed in Indian politics is Ambassador.
Unfortunately, there had been much mismanagement in the conduct of the Burmese war, so that what ought to have been a short and sharp campaign was dragged out over, a couple of years. A bad impression was produced in India itself, and the principality of Bhartpur lying on the west of the river Jumna tried the experiment of defying British intervention.
The result was that the citadel of Bhartpur, which had been regarded as impregnable, was captured, and British invincibility was decisively reasserted. The fall of Bhartpur impressed the native mind more strikingly than the operations of the Pindari war, and sixteen years passed before any other attempt was made to challenge British authority. In the Punjab, beyond the Sutlej, Ranjit Singh had consolidated an exceedingly powerful monarchy since the beginning of the century; but that very shrewd ruler consistently through all his life realised that the British were not to be challenged; and in all his relations with them took very good care not to transgress those limits of his activities imposed by the danger of a direct collision with the Lords Paramount of India.
Lord Bentinck's Administration
After Bhartpur, then, the interests of our Indian history for several years centre entirely in administrative reforms associated mainly with the Governor-Generalship of Lord William Bentinck. Bentinck, who succeeded Amherst in 1.828, may be taken as representing the more liberal spirit which was predominant in British politics after the retirement of Lord Liverpool, a spirit in which the pnncjpal danger for India lay in the disposition of the government to assume the appropnateness of Western ideas to Eastern conditions.
The gams, effected in actual administration, in the increased security of life and property, the improvement of material conditions, and the spread of education, were enormous, though in some respects sufficient account was not taken of native traditions and native prejudices, which were not fully understood. But the wisdom of the main lines followed, and the great preponderance of beneficial results, are beyond dispute.
Four reforms in particular may be emphasised, the abolition of practices of an essentially barbarous character. The first of these was sati - the Hindu custom that when a man died his widow should sacrifice herself on his funeral pyre. In theory the action was voluntary, an act of self-dedication; in practice it was habitually forced upon reluctant victims. Bentinck ventured on the suppression, in spite of very great fears that it would be followed by an outburst of fanaticism; but the expectation happily proved to be without foundation. A very much more difficult affair was the suppression of thuggee.
Who were the thugs?
The thugs were a secret society with ramifications all over India devoted to robbery and murder, principally committed on the persons of lonely travellers who vanished and left no trace. The thugs were believed to work under the protection of a particularly powerful goddess, and so great were the material and superstitious terrors which they inspired that there was extraordinary difficulty in procuring any sort of evidence against them; nevertheless the work was accomplished, mainly by the persistent energy and skill of Colonel Sleeman. Even the existence of the organisation had been previously unsuspected by the authorities. Yet ten years after Sleeman commenced his operations, it had practically ceased to exist.
The third was the organised system of brigandage known as dacoity, in which large numbers of apparently respectable persons were found to be concerned. Here, again, the process of identification and the collection of evidence presented extraordinary difficulties, and several years elapsed before fear of the law overpowered fear of the dacoits. The fourth evil practice successfully put down was that of infanticide, the habitual murder of girl babies, a practice which had arisen out of the crushing cost of marriages, while the marrying of daughters was looked upon as an imperative religious duty.
Here the suppression was effected by removing the main motive for the custom rather than by punishing the offence, for the difficulty of proving that an infant had been murdered was enormous, the matter therefore was dealt with by legal restrictions on the expenditure at marriages and the exclusion from the attendant ceremonies of the hordes of beggars on whom it was considered a religious duty to bestow alms on such occasions. Other reforms belong also to the period of Bentinck's administration, which have to be associated with the more decisive ascendency of Whig doctrine that came into force after the carrying of the Reform Bill, The history of Colonial Expansion during this period is not marked by striking events.
In the Canadas certain family groups became established as a dominant political aristocracy which monopolised administrative appointments and administrative control, somewhat as the Undertakers had done in Ireland before the Union. There was therefore growing discontent, especially in Lower Canada, where the population was mainly French and Catholic, while the group leagued in what was called the Family .Compact was British and Protestant. Matters however did not come to a head until about the time when Queen Victoria succeeded her uncle on the British throne. Another point to be observed, however, is that the pressure of industrial troubles in the British Isles, with other causes, brought about an increasing emigration especially from Scotland, which added a democratic element in the Canadas, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
In South Africa the British population began to accumulate beside the descendants of the Dutch and French Huguenot families which had been in possession for a couple of centuries. The new settlers were planted largely between Capetown and the Kaffir districts on the east, and this increased the risk of collisions with the natives. For some time, however, there was as little interference with or alteration in the Dutch laws and institutions as in the case of the French in Canada. But before 1830 the government, which was still in the hands of a Governor and a nominated Council, began to introduce changes in accordance with British ideas, very much to the offence of the extremely conservative and suspicious Dutch population.
The changes in themselves were undoubtedly improvements; the objection to them lay in the fact that they were resented and misunderstood by the people upon whom they were forced in a manner which did not attempt to be tactful. It was particularly ominous of trouble that the British authorities were moved by prevalent humanitarian sentiments, and were inclined to go as much too far in crediting the native races with a capacity for the immediate development of the virtues of civilisation as the Dutch, in accordance with their own tradition, went too far in treating them as belonging to a lower and distinctly vicious order of creation. Again these effects were to make themselves more prominently felt after the passage of the Reform Bill in London.
Lastly, we have to record the slow progress of colonisation in Australia. The first colony of New South Wales with its nucleus at Sydney included Tasmania as well as the East Australian seaboard. Soldiers and convicts, when their term of service expired, were allowed to settle on the land under the control of a military governor. In 1812 Tasmania was separated from New South Wales. The arrival of other settlers was slow, the convict settlements having a repelling effect. But after the peace McQuarrie, the Governor of New South Wales, made energetic efforts to encourage immigration, and received assistance both in the shape of expenditure by the imperial government and from the agricultural and industrial depression which was driving emigrants still more rapidly both to Canada and to South Africa.
By 1826 there were thirty thousand inhabitants in New South Wales, and the free settlers from home considerably outnumbered the convict group. Between 1813 and 1831 a good deal of exploration was carried out, and vast areas were taken up for sheep farming The new colony of Western Australia was started in 1829, and marked the beginning of a new movement towards expansion, having its sources in England.