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

excrescence upon Hinduism, in so far as the bands of secret assassins were sworn together by an oath based on the rites of the bloody goddess Kali. Between 1826 and 1835 as many as 1562 Thugs were apprehended in different parts of British India, and by the evidence of approvers the moral plague spot was gradually stamped out.

Two other historical events are connected with the administration of Lord William Bentinck. In 1833 the charter of the East India Company was renewed for twenty years, but only upon the terms that it should abandon its trade and permit Europeans to settle freely in the country. At the same time a legal or fourth member was added to the governor-general’s council, who might not be a servant of the company, and a commission was appointed to revise and codify the law. Macaulay was the first legal member of council, and the first president of the law commission. In 1830 it was found necessary to take the state of Mysore under British administration, where it continued until 1881, when it was restored to native rule; and in 1834 the frantic misrule of the raja of Coorg brought on a short and sharp war. The raja was permitted to retire to Benares, and the brave and proud inhabitants of that mountainous little territory decided to place themselves under the rule of the company; so that the only annexation effected by Lord William Bentinck was “in consideration of the unanimous wish of the people.”

Sir Charles (afterwards Lord) Metcalfe succeeded Lord William as senior member of council. His short term of office is memorable for the measure which his predecessor had initiated, but which he willingly carried into execution, for Auckland. giving entire liberty to the press. Public opinion in India, as well as the express wish of the court of directors at home, pointed to Metcalfe as the most fit person to carry out the policy of Bentinck, not provisionally, but as governor-general for a full term. Party exigencies, however, led to the appointment of Lord Auckland. From that date commences a new era of war and conquest, which may be said to have lasted for twenty years. All looked peaceful until Lord Auckland, prompted by his evil genius, attempted by force to place Shah Shuja upon the throne of Kabul, an attempt which ended in gross mismanagement and the annihilation of the British garrison in that city. The disaster in Afghanistan was quickly followed by the conquest of Sind, the two wars in the Punjab, the second Burmese War, and last of all the Mutiny.

The attention of the British government had been directed to Afghan affairs ever since the time of Sir John Shore, who feared that Zaman Shah, then holding his court at Lahore, might follow in the path of Ahmed Shah, First Afghan War. and overrun Hindustan. The growth of the powerful Sikh kingdom of Ranjit Singh effectually dispelled any such alarms for the future. Subsequently, in 1809, while a French invasion of India was still a possibility to be guarded against, Mountstuart Elphinstone was sent by Lord Minto on a mission to Shah Shuja to form a defensive alliance. Before the year was out Shah Shuja had been driven into exile, and a third brother, Mahmud Shah, was on the throne. In 1837, when the curtain rises upon the drama of British interference in Afghanistan, the usurper, Dost Mahommed Barakzai, was firmly established at Kabul. His great ambition was to recover Peshawar from the Sikhs; and when Captain Alexander Burnes arrived on a mission from Lord Auckland, with the ostensible object of opening trade, the Dost was willing to promise everything, if only he could get Peshawar. But Lord Auckland had another and more important object in view. At this time the Russians were advancing rapidly in Central Asia, and a Persian army, not without Russian support, was besieging Herat, the traditional bulwark of Afghanistan on the east. A Russian envoy was at Kabul at the same time as Burnes. The latter was unable to satisfy the demands of Dost Mahommed in the matter of Peshawar, and returned to India unsuccessful. Lord Auckland forthwith resolved upon the hazardous plan of placing a more subservient ruler upon the throne of Kabul. Shah Shuja, now in exile at Ludhiana, was selected for the purpose. At this time both the Punjab and Sind were independent kingdoms. Sind was the less powerful of the two, and, therefore, a British army escorting Shah Shuja made its way by that route to enter Afghanistan through the Bolan Pass. Kandahar surrendered, Ghazni was taken by storm, Dost Mahommed fled across the Hindu Kush, and Shah Shuja was triumphantly led into the Bala Hissar at Kabul in August 1839. During the two years that followed Afghanistan remained in the military occupation of the British. The catastrophe occurred in November 1841, when Sir Alexander Burnes was assassinated in the city of Kabul. The troops in the cantonments were then under the command of General Elphinstone (not to be confounded with the civilian Mountstuart Elphinstone), with Sir William Macnaghten as chief political adviser. Elphinstone was an old man, unequal to the responsibilities of the position. Macnaghten was treacherously murdered at an interview with the Afghan chief, Akbar Khan, eldest son of Dost Mahommed. After lingering in their cantonments for two months, the British army set off in the depth of winter to find its way back to India through the passes. When they started they numbered 4000 fighting men, with 12,000 camp followers. A single survivor, Dr Brydon, reached the friendly walls of Jalalabad, where General Sale was gallantly holding out. The rest perished in the defiles of Khurd Kabul and Jagdalak, either from the knives and matchlocks of the Afghans or from the effects of cold. A few prisoners, mostly women, children and officers, were considerately treated by the orders of Akbar Khan. (See Afghanistan.)

Within a month after the news reached Calcutta, Lord Auckland had been superseded by Lord Ellenborough, whose first impulse was to be satisfied with drawing off in safety the garrisons from Kandahar and Jalalabad. But bolder counsels prevailed. General Pollock, who was marching straight through the Punjab to relieve General Sale, was ordered to penetrate to Kabul, while General Nott was only too glad not to be forbidden to retire from Kandahar through Kabul. After a good deal of fighting, the two British forces met at their common destination in September 1842. The great bazar at Kabul was blown up with gunpowder to fix a stigma upon the city; the prisoners were recovered; and all marched back to India, leaving Dost Mahommed to take undisputed possession of his throne. The drama closed with a bombastic proclamation from Lord Ellenborough, who had caused the gates from the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni to be carried back as a memorial of “Somnath revenged.”

Lord Ellenborough, who loved military display, had his tastes gratified by two more wars. In 1843 the Mahommedan rulers of Sind, known as the “meers” or amirs, whose only fault was that they would not surrender their Annexation of Sind. independence, were crushed by Sir Charles Napier. The victory of Meeanee, in which 3000 British troops defeated 20,000 Baluchis, is perhaps the most brilliant feat of arms in Indian history; but an honest excuse can scarcely be found for the annexation of the country. In the same year a disputed succession at Gwalior, fomented by femimine intrigue, resulted in an outbreak of the overgrown army which the Sindhia family had been allowed to maintain. Peace was restored by the battles of Maharajpur and Punniar, at the former of which Lord Ellenborough was present in person.

In 1844 Lord Ellenborough was recalled by the court of directors, who differed from him on many points of administration, and distrusted his erratic genius. He was First Sikh War. succeeded by Sir Henry (afterwards Lord) Hardinge, who had served through the Peninsular War and had lost a hand at Ligny. It was felt on all sides that a trial of strength between the British and the Sikhs was at hand. (For the origin of the Sikh power see Punjab.)

Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh kingdom in the Punjab, had faithfully fulfilled all his obligations towards the British. But on his death in 1839 no successor was left to curb the ambition of the Sikh nationality.

In 1845 the khalsa, or Sikh army, numbering 60,000 men with