Wellesley, Richard Colley

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WELLESLEY, RICHARD COLLEY (1760–1842), governor-general of India (1798–1805). Richard Colley Wellesley, Earl Mornington and Marquess Wellesley, was born into the English "ascendancy" in Ireland. First elected to the British House of Commons in 1784, his introduction to Indian affairs came with his appointment in 1793 to the Board of Control, the link between the government and the East India Company. He became governor-general of the company's possessions in India in 1798. Before leaving for India he had been warned by the directors of the company not to get involved in wars, as they were too expensive and were arousing the Indian rulers against the British traders. Wellesley, an eighteenth-century pleasure-loving aristocrat, was contemptuous of the bourgeois merchants who controlled the company, but he was also the first of the great nineteenth-century imperialists who believed that territorial power in India would give Great Britain an enormous advantage over her European rivals. He was personally ambitious, in search of fame in India that would assure him a place in British politics. He had a degree of freedom from London to pursue his own policies in India that later governors-general did not have, since it took four months for an action in India to become known in England and another four or six months for approval or disapproval to reach Calcutta (Kolkata). Wellesley believed that the British position in India was threatened by an alliance between Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, with the French; by the Maratha chieftains who had established themselves in western and central India; and by the ruler of the state of Awadh, who realized that the British were becoming a threat to his power. Wellesley dealt with these hostile powers by defeating them in battle, then forcing them to give territory to the British, making them pay for the cost of the wars, forbidding them to have any dealings with foreign powers, and permitting British officials, or "Residents," to live in their territories to keep watch on what was happening. During these years of decisive action, Wellesley's brother, Arthur, later the great Duke of Wellington, was in charge of many of the important military campaigns. While bitterly criticized by the directors of the East India Company, Wellesley was supported by the British government, and he later became foreign secretary and lord-lieutenant of Ireland, but in neither post did he enjoy the success he had had in India, where he could correctly claim that he had created an empire for the British.

Ainslie T. Embree


The Despatches, Minutes and Correspondence of the Marquess Wellesley during His Administration in India, 5 vols., edited by Robert M. Martin (reprint, New Delhi: Inter-India Publications, 1984), is a sampling of an immense correspondence. P. E. Roberts, India under Wellesley (London: G. Bell, 1929) provides a military and political history. Iris Butler, The Eldest Brother: The Marquess Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington's Eldest Brother (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973) is a biography.