Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of no common religion, they welcomed to their ranks the outlaws and broken tribes of all India—Afghans, Mahrattas or Jats. Their headquarters were in Malwa, but their depredations were not confined to central India. In bands, sometimes numbering a few hundreds, sometimes many thousands, they rode out on their forays as far as the Coromandel coast. The most powerful of the Pindari captains, Amir Khan, had an organized army of many regiments, and several batteries of cannon. Two other leaders, known as Chitu and Karim, at one time paid a ransom to Sindhia of £100,000. To suppress the Pindari hordes, who were supported by the sympathy, more or less open, of all the Mahratta chiefs, Lord Hastings (1817) collected the strongest British army that had been seen in India, numbering nearly 120,000 men, half to operate from the north, half from the south. Sindhia was overawed, and remained quiet. Amir Khan consented to disband his army, on condition of being guaranteed the possession of what is now the principality of Tonk. The remaining bodies of Pindaris were attacked in their homes, surrounded, and cut to pieces. Karim threw himself upon the mercy of the conquerors. Chitu fled to the jungles, and was killed by a tiger.

In the same year (1817) as that in which the Pindaris were crushed, and almost in the same month (November), the three great Mahratta powers at Poona, Nagpur and Indore rose against the English. The peshwa, Baji Rao, Third Mahratta War. had long been chafing under the terms imposed by the treaty of Bassein (1802), and the subsequent treaty of Poona (1817), which riveted yet closer the chains of dependence upon the paramount power. Elphinstone, then resident at his court, foresaw what was coming and ordered up a European regiment from Bombay. The next day the residency was burned down, and Kirkee was attacked by the whole army of the peshwa. The attack was bravely repulsed, and the peshwa immediately fled from his capital. Almost the same plot was enacted at Nagpur, where the honour of the British name was saved by the sepoys who defended the hill of Sitabaldi against enormous odds. The army of Holkar was defeated in the following month at the pitched battle of Mehidpur. All open resistance was now at an end. Nothing remained but to follow up the fugitives, and determine the conditions of the general pacification. In both these duties Sir John Malcolm played a prominent part. The peshwa himself surrendered, and was permitted to reside at Bithur, near Cawnpore, on a pension of £80,000 a year. His adopted son was the infamous Nana Sahib. To fill the peshwa’s place to some extent at the head of the Mahratta confederacy, the lineal descendant of Sivaji was brought forth from obscurity, and placed upon the throne of Satara. The greater part of the peshwa’s dominions was ultimately incorporated in the Bombay presidency, while the nucleus of the Central Provinces was formed out of territory taken from the peshwa and the raja of Nagpur. An infant was recognized as the heir of Holkar, and a second infant was proclaimed raja of Nagpur under British guardianship. At the same time the several states of Rajputana accepted the position of feudatories of the paramount power. The map of India, as thus drawn by Lord Hastings, remained substantially unchanged until the time of Lord Dalhousie. But the proudest boast of Lord Hastings and Sir John Malcolm was, not that they had advanced the pomoerium, but that they had conferred the blessings of peace and good government upon millions who had suffered unutterable things from Mahratta and Pindari tyranny.

The marquis of Hastings was succeeded by Lord Amherst, after the interval of a few months, during which Mr Adam, a civil servant, acted as governor-general. Lord Amherst’s administration lasted for five years, from First Burmese War. 1823 to 1828. It is known in history by two prominent events, the first Burmese War and the capture of Bharatpur. For some years past the north-east frontier had been disturbed by the restlessness of the Burmese. The successors of Alompra, after having subjugated all Burma, and overrun Assam, which was then an independent kingdom, began a series of encroachments upon British territory in Bengal. As all peaceful proposals were scornfully rejected, Lord Amherst was compelled to declare war in 1824. Little military glory could be gained by beating the Burmese, who were formidable only from the pestilential character of their country. One expedition with gunboats proceeded up the Brahmaputra into Assam; another marched by land through Chittagong into Arakan, for the Bengal sepoys refused to go by sea; a third, and the strongest, sailed from Madras direct to the mouth of the Irrawaddy. The war was protracted over two years. At last, after the loss of about 20,000 lives and an expenditure of £14,000,000, the king of Ava consented to sign the treaty of Yandabu, by which he abandoned all claim to Assam, and ceded the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim, which were already in the military occupation of the British. He retained all the valley of the Irrawaddy, down to the sea at Rangoon. The capture of Bharatpur in central India by Lord Combermere in 1826 wiped out the repulse which Lord Lake had received before that city in January 1805. A disputed succession necessitated British intervention. Artillery could make little impression upon the massive walls of mud, but at last a breach was effected by mining, and the city was taken by storm, thus losing its general reputation throughout India for impregnability, which had threatened to become a political danger.

The next governor-general was Lord William Bentinck, who had been governor of Madras twenty years earlier at the time of the mutiny of Vellore. His seven years’ rule (from 1828 to 1835) is not signalized by any of those Bentinck. victories or extensions of territory by which chroniclers delight to measure the growth of empire. But it forms an epoch in administrative reform, and in the benign process by which the hearts of a subject population are won over to venerate as well as obey their alien rulers. The modern history of the British in India, as benevolent administrators ruling the country with an eye to the good of the natives, may be said to begin with Lord William Bentinck. According to the inscription upon his statue at Calcutta, from the pen of Macaulay: “He abolished cruel rites; he effaced humiliating distinctions; he gave liberty to the expression of public opinion; his constant study it was to elevate the intellectual and moral character of the nations committed to his charge.” His first care on arrival in India was to restore equilibrium to the finances, which were tottering under the burden imposed upon them by the Burmese War. This he effected by reductions in permanent expenditure, amounting in the aggregate to 1½ millions sterling, as well as by augmenting the revenue from land that had escaped assessment, and from the opium of Malwa. He also widened the gates by which educated natives could enter the service of the company. Some of these reforms were distasteful to the covenanted service and to the officers of the army, but Lord William was always staunchly supported by the court of directors and by the Whig ministry at home.

His two most memorable acts are the abolition of suttee and the suppression of the Thugs. At this distance of time it is difficult to realize the degree to which these two barbarous practices had corrupted the social Suttee. system of the Hindus. European research has clearly proved that the text in the Vedas adduced to authorize the immolation of widows was a wilful mistranslation. But the practice had been engrained in Hindu opinion by the authority of centuries, and had acquired the sanctity of a religious rite. The emperor Akbar is said to have prohibited it by law, but the early British rulers did not dare so far to violate the religious customs of the people. In the year 1817 no fewer than seven hundred widows are said to have been burned alive in the Bengal presidency alone. To this day the most holy spots of Hindu pilgrimage are thickly dotted with little white pillars, each commemorating a suttee. In the teeth of strenuous opposition, from both Europeans and natives, Lord William carried the regulation in council on the 4th of December 1829, by which all who abetted suttee were declared guilty of “culpable homicide.” The honour of suppressing Thuggism must be shared between Lord William and Captain Sleeman. Thuggism was an abnormal