Verelst, Harry (DNB00)


VERELST, HARRY (d. 1785), governor of Bengal, was a grandson of Cornelius Verelst, the flower-painter, whose eldest son was his father. He was brought up by his uncle, Willem Verelst, the portrait-painter [see under Verelst, Simon]. About 1750 he entered the service of the East India Company and went to Bengal. In February 1757 he was appointed to take charge of the company's factory at Lakhipur, and to receive from the officers of the government the effects taken from that place by Suraj ud Dowlah. In the following April, when on his way to Calcutta, his party was attacked and made prisoners by the nabob's troops, whose commander produced orders prohibiting the passing and repassing of Europeans, and a declaration repudiating the treaty by which the effects were to be restored. After the battle of Plassey he was released, and became a member of the Bengal council. In that capacity he joined in a protest (November 1760) against Governor Vansittart's deposition of Meer Jaffier [see Vansittart, Henry (1732–1770)]. From 1761 to 1765 he was in charge of the province of Chittagong. Clive referred to him in 1764 as one of those on whom he relied for the re-establishment of affairs in Bengal; and Verelst was in June of that year appointed a member of the select committee, who were independent of the Bengal council, and constituted a kind of cabinet. As supervisor of Burdwan and administrator of the province of Midnapur, which offices he held in 1765–6, he introduced useful reforms and increased the company's revenue. In July 1765 Verelst, acting under Clive's instructions, carried on successful negotiations with the nabob at Moorshedabad, and soon afterwards was despatched by him to Calcutta to remonstrate with Governor Sumner for yielding material privileges of the select committee to the council of Bengal. In May 1766 he was continued as a member of the former, and during Clive's absence acted as governor. On his departure in the following January Verelst succeeded to his position, his appointment as governor of Bengal being confirmed by the directors on 17 May 1767. He held the office till the end of 1769. Clive, whose policy he continued, was in constant and intimate correspondence with him.

During Verelst's government Bengal was reduced to a state of great impoverishment owing to the want of specie and the demands made upon its revenue by the assistance given to Madras in the war with Hyder Ali. But trading beyond the province was prohibited in April 1768, and the vizier of Oudh, Sujah Dowlah, was compelled to reduce his forces by the treaty of January 1769. In taking leave of the company in December 1769 Verelst, writing to his successor, John Cartier, earnestly advised that the company should take no further step in the direction of sovereignty, that its governing body should be free from commercial views and connections, and that the special functions of the council and select committee should be precisely defined. He also recommended that the grand mogul should be kept in dependence upon it, and that the vizier of Oudh should be managed by appeals to his vanity.

In 1770 Verelst returned to England with an easy fortune. He married and settled at Aston Hall, near Sheffield, which he purchased from Lord Holdernesse. But he was ruined by litigation resulting from the measures he had taken in Bengal to repress the officers' mutiny and put down illegal trading, and he was ultimately obliged to retire to the continent. Verelst's prosecutions were prompted by Willem Bolts [q. v.], who had been dismissed and sent to England by him. On 15 Dec. 1774 he was condemned to pay 5,000l. damages, with costs, for false imprisonment in one case; in another the following day 4,000l., and similar cases were afterwards decided against him. He died at Boulogne on 24 Oct. 1785, and was buried at Minster in the island of Thanet. He married, in 1771, Ann, daughter and coheiress of Josiah Wordsworth of Wadworth, near Doncaster. By her he had four sons and five daughters. Verelst was a man of strict integrity and great industry, and his judgment was highly valued by Clive, his intimate friend, who, however, seems to have thought him wanting in firmness.

In reply to Bolts's attack on the Bengal administration Verelst published in 1772 a quarto volume entitled ‘A View of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the English Government in Bengal.’ The work is of value not merely as a successful refutation of the charges made against himself and other officials, but also for its statistical information and the historical documents printed in its copious appendices. Moreover, its lucid style and general impartiality commended it to succeeding historians, such as Mill, Malcolm, and McCulloch.

[Gent. Mag. 1785, ii. 920; European Mag. p. 394; Hunter's Deanery of Doncaster, ii. 166; Verelst's View of Bengal; Mill's Hist. of British India, ed. Wilson, 4th ed. iii. 308–9, 392, 413 et seq., 431–2, 450; Malcolm's Memoirs of Clive, chs. xiii–xvii.; McCulloch's Lit. of Pol. Economy, p. 104; Ann. Reg. 1774 pp. 170–1, 1775 p. 97, 1776 p. 120, 1778 p. 191; S. Nicol and T. Davie v. Verelst and others, 1775, fol.; see arts. Bolts, Willem, and Clive, Robert, Lord.]

G. Le G. N.