Lord William Bentinck

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Article Sub-Category: THE BRITISH OR ANGLO-INDIAN PERIOD

Title: Lord William Bentinck
 
Lord William Cavendish-Bentinck, commonly called Lord William Bentinck: reforms; charter of 1833; Sir Charles Metcalfe and the press


Lord William Bentinck.  After the departure of Lord Amherst, Mr.Butterworth Bayley acted as Governor-General until the arrival, in July 1828, of Lord William Bentinck, who had been recalled from Madras twenty-one years earlier, and had since held various appointments.  The India of 1828 was very different from the India of 1807, and Lord William, during his long term of office, nearly seven years, was able to devote himself almost exclusively to the business of internal administration and reform.  When he became Governor-General the only independent powers left India were the Sikhs of the Panjab and the Amirs of Sind, whose subjugation was reserved for his successors.  The friendship between the Government in India and Ranjit Singh was solemnly affirmed in 1831, when Lord William Bentinck met the Sikh potentate at Rupar on the Sutlaj with splendid ceremony.
     Annexation of Cachar and Coorg; Mysore.  But even the most peaceful of the rulers of India was unable to excape the necessisty for small annexations.  The Raja of the principality of Cachar, to the east of Sylhet, given up by the Burmese under the provisions of the Treaty of Yandabo, having been murdered, leaving no heirs, the Governor-General acceded to the prayers of the inhabitants adn annexed the country.  It now forms a valuable District in the prosperous province of Assam, and is largely occupied by European tea-planters.  The little province of Coorg, lying between Mysore and the Malabar coast, had the misfortune to come under the rule of a mad Raja, who treated his people with ferocious cruelty and exterminated all hi male relatives.  Lord William Bentinck was obliged to occupy the province, and with the full consent of the people, to depose the Raja, in May 1834.  Till 1949, Coorg was governed by a Commisioner, subordinate to the Resident of Mysore, but is now a Chief Commissioner's province
under the Government of India.
     The action of Lord William's Government in Mysore has been noticed above (ant,p.283).
     Opinions on Lord William's policy.  In dealing with the protected states Lord William Bentinck showed hesitation and ws not always successful, but the significance of his term of office lies in his internal administration, of which we must now give a brief account.  Like all reformers he excited bitter hostility, which has found expression in Thornton's History, but general opinion has settled down to a favourable verdict on his policy, and on the whole endorses the eulogium recorded in the incription on his statue at Calcutta, composed by Lord Macaulay, his friend and colleague, which extols his as the man who 'ruled India with eminent prudence, intergrity, and benevolence', and 'whose constant study it was to elevate the intellectual and moral character of the nation committed to his charge.
     Finance.  The Burmese war having caused a deficit of a million sterling, the Governor-General was constrained to pay close attention to finance.  Additions to revenue were obtained by improved organization of the monopoly and by the revision of land settlements in the Agra provinces and in Madras.  The precedent of the Permanent Settlement of Bengal was not followed in either the north or the south.  The Madras assessments had been made under the able supervision of Sir Thomas Munro on the 'ryotwari' system of direct contracts between the Government and the cultivators for a term of years.  The assessments of the Agra or North.  Western Provinces were generally confirmed for thirty years, and the contracts were made, not with large proprietors as in Bengal, but with the village zemindars, or their representatives.
     Army.  Extensive ecnomies were effected in both the civil and military services.  The cessation of war gave opportunities for profitable retrenchments, and in 1831 Lord William Bentinck took a free hand by assuming the office of Commander-in-Chief in addition to that of Governor-General.  His studies of military organization led him to form a poor opinion of the Indian army, which he stigmatized in a confidential minute as 'the least efficient and most expensive in the world'.  After the general settlement effected by the Marques of HAstings in 1818 the spirit of the sepoys had rapidly declined, and the army was not nearly as good as it had been in lord Lake's time.  The events of the Mutiny in 1857 proved that Lord William understood the defects of the Indian system much better than most people.  He appreciated the strategical advantages given by steam power in navigation, at that time a novelty, and did much to develop communication with Europe by the Red Sea adn Suez route.  He also formed a just estimate of the importance of Singapore in Malacca, acquired finally by treaty with the Dutch in 1824, and made it the capital of the Straits Settlements.  Constant tours enebled Lord William to exercise supervision over all branches of the administration and to acquire personal knowledge of local needs.

     Prohibition of suttee.  The most famous reform associated with his name is the prohibition of suttee (sati), enacted in 1829.  The Regulation declared 'the practice of suttee, or burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, illegal and punishable by the Criminal Courts', and rightly pronounced it to be 'revolting to the feelings of human nature, and nowhere enjoined by the religion of the people as an imperative duty'.  The practice had attained terrible prevalence in Bengal, where in some years eight hundred or more women had been sacrificed, and the only strenuous opposition to Lord William's measure came from Bengal.  A better feeling on the subject exists now, and it is to be hoped that it is no longer necessary to defend the prohibition, which was enacted owing to the zeal courage of the Governor-General.
     Thuggee.  Another social reform was effected by the suppression of thuggee (thagi), the practice of wholesale strangling for the sake of plunder by strong armed gangs who infested the highways of every province in India except the Konkan, and inveigled unwary travellers to their death.  More than three thousand of the Thugs were arrested, and an eleborate system of detection and punishment was organized, under the control of Major (Sir William) Sleeman, which extirpated the system almost completely.
     Employment of Indians and judicial reforms.  Lord William Bentinck's judicial reforms and arrangements for the employment of people of the country in appoinments hitherto reserved for Europeans were intimately associated with his financial economies.  The practical exclusion of Indians from all official employment except of the most humble kind, which was the blot on the arrangements of Lord Cornwallis, had, in addition to its other demerits the objection of expense.  Lord William's measures threw open to Indian candidates responsible employment in the judicial and executive service, with the ultimate result that Indian judges gained seats in all the High Courts as well as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and the bulk of the judicial and administrative business of the country was done by the people of it.  In 1910 Indians were appointed to the Executive Councils of the Supreme and Provincial Governments.  The dilatory Provincial Courts of Appeal and Circuit established by Lord Cornwallis were abolished and replaced by a more workable system, which need not be described in detail.
     English education.  Important as were the reforms indicated in the preceding pages, some observers give an even higher place to 'the momentous decision to make the English language the official and literary language' of the country, and regard that decision as the event which makes the administration of Lord William Bentinck a landmark in Indian history.  Previous Governors, Warren HAstings and the MArquess of Hastings especially, had not been unmindful of the claims of oriental literature on the attention of the rulers of India, but the idea of a general system of education was first brought forward during the discussions concerning the renewal of the Company'sw charter in 1833.  Among other things, the new charter provided for the appointment of a Law Member to the Governor-General's Council.  The first holder of the office was Mr.Thomas (Lord) Macaulay, afterwards famous as the historian of England.  His influence decided the Government, as against the advocates of purely oriental learning, to accept his view that 'it is possible to make natives of this end our efforts ought to be directed'.  The possibility has been abundantly demonstrated, adn the existing system of education in India is based on the lines laid down by Macaulay.  That system is open to much criticism, but few of its critics will dispute the proprity of the decision to make the English language the vehicle for higher instruction.
     The charter of 1833.  In 1813 the Indian trade had been thrown open to all comers (ante,p.293), and the Company ahd been allowed to retain its monopoly only in the commerce with China.  As the time approached for another renewal of the charter, reform of all kinds was in the air, the English Reform Act having been passed in 1832, and it was clear that the last vestige of monopoly must go.  The main question at issue was whether the Crown should take over the direct administration of the Indian empire, now an established fact, or continue to exercise its powers through the medium of the Company.  The Ministry of the day not feeling ready to undertake the direct government, Parliament preferred to continue the use of the Company's machinery.  But ht eCompany ceased to exist as a commercial body; its assets were bought at a valuation, adn its organization became merely an extra wheel in the mechanism of the Imperial Government.
     That was the main effect of the legislation of 1833, although other important changes were effected.  The Government in India was now formally empowered to pass laws, and its statues were given the title of Acts instead of Regulations.  At the same time Madras and Bombay were deprived of the legislative power', and , as already mentioned, a Law Member was added to the Governor-General's Council.  A Commission was appointer to devise a system of Anglo-Indian law, and after many years its labours resulted in the existing Codes.  The North-Western Provinces (now the United Provinces) were formed into a fourth Presidency, but soon afterwards they were reduced to the standing of a lieutenant-governorship.  Europeans were permitted to hold lands, and a declaration was recorded that 'no native of India, nor any natural-born subject of His Majesty, should be disabled from holding any place, office, or employment by reason of his religion, place of birth, descent, or colour'.
     Eminent men of the period.  The review of Lord William Bentinck's memorable administration may be closed by mentioning the names of some of the illustrious men, British and Indian, who adorned the period.  The Indian career of Mountstuart Elphinstone ended the year before Lord William's arrival, when he was succeeded as Governor of Bombay by Sir John Malcolm.  Elphinstone's history of India during the Mohammedan period, although no longer adequate, has not lost its reputation, and Malcolm's account of Central India and other works are still standard authorities.  James Prinsep laid the foundation for the scientific study of Indian antiquities and early history; Horace HAyman Wilson and other scholars handed on the torch of Sanskrit learning received from the hands of Sir William Jones adn Colebrooke.  Colonel James Tod, author of the inimitable Annals of Rajasthan, retired in 1823 and died twelve years later.  Another famous historian of the period is Grant Duff, who told the story of the Marathas in a work which ranks as an original authority.  His namesake, the Rev. Alexander Duff, was one of many eminent missionaries who were the pioneers of education in India.  Raja Rammohan Rai, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, and a zealous opponent of suttee, died in England in 1833.  Isvar Chadra Gupta, editor of a Bengali newspaper in 1830, is famous as a poet in his mother-tongue.
     Sir Charles Metcalfe and the press.  The short term of office of Sir Charles Metcalfe, one of the ablest of the Company's servants, who held charge pending the arrival of Lord William Bentinck's successor, is memorable for the Act repealing all restrictions on the press, which at that time was almost wholly confined to Calcutta andnin European hands.  The censorship, introduced during the French wars in order to prevent communication of intelligence to the enemy, was withdrawn in 1818 by Lord Hastings, and replaced by the issue of rules, which editors were required to obey.  Mr.Adam, who deported the editor of the Calcutta Journal, made the rules more stringent.  Lord William Bentinck, while making no change of system and maintaining that the press should be subject to 'rigid control', ordinarily allowed the journalists a free hand.  Sir Charles Metcalfe, believing in absolute freedom, passed an Act applicable to the whole of India, removing all checks on the press.  Anarchical conspiracies having shown the dangers of 'the liberty of unlicensed printing', both the Government of India and the protected states were subsequently obliged to reimpose certain restrictions.
 












 
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