Hastings, Warren (1732–1818)

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HASTINGS, WARREN (17321818), first governor-general of India. Warren Hastings was a competent, honorable, and farsighted administrator whose policies, some controversial, decisively shaped and stabilized future Anglo-Indian relations. The controversy surrounding his administration made him the subject of impeachment and trial in Great Britain.

Warren Hastings was born at Daylesford, Worcestershire, on 6 December 1732, the son of a country solicitor whose family had fallen into poverty. When his mother, Hester Warren, died soon after his birth, his father departed for the West Indies. Warren was raised by an uncle who sent him to school, first at Newington and then to Westminster, where he became the first king's scholar of his year in 1747.

In October 1750, Hastings entered service as a clerk in the East India Company. Able and ambitious, he advanced rapidly, becoming the company's resident (1757). From 1761 to 1764, he served on the Calcutta Council, the chief governing body in Bengal. During this period he attempted to reform abuses in the transit system, specifically the practice whereby British officials passed private consignments free of duty, resulting in disproportionate fiscal burdens on the Mughul nabob Mir Kasim and his subjects. Hastings's compromise proposal proved ineffectual and a brief war erupted, ending in the defeat of Mir Kasim and restoration of the former nabob, Mir Jaffier.

In 1764 Hastings returned to England, but financial need forced him to seek reemployment with the Company, which, in 1769, appointed him to the Council of Madras. Two years later he was promoted to the governorship of Bengal.

From 1772 to 1774, Hastings consolidated British control over native authorities, restored order to the province's judicial system, abolished the pension that Lord Clive had paid to the Mughul, and created a new, more efficient procedure for collecting the land revenues, a major source of the company's financial solvency. The English collectors, being inexperienced and extortionate, were removed and replaced with native officers of proven knowledge and ability. Six divisions were created by grouping the districts and subordinating them to provincial councils under the control of non-Indian administrators. This arrangement, like so many of Hastings's ideas, was to become an enduring part of the British ruling tradition in India.

Lord North's Regulating Act of 1773 placed India under three presidencies, with one governor-general, a position held by Hastings from 1774 to 1784, assisted by a newly created council of five, three of whomstrangers to Indiawere hostile to his policies. Given only a single vote, Hastings frequently found himself overruled in his efforts to curb further corruption and introduce reforms. Eventually his fellow councillors, led by Sir Phillip Francis, conspired against him, fabricating charges of corruption and cruelty that were to culminate in his impeachment. Despite such obstructionism, Hastings launched military expeditions to defeat the Mahrattas conspiracy that threatened Britain's imperial governance, quelled provincial revolts, continued his financial reforms, and founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Calcutta Madrisa, a vital center of Muslim culture. He also had to confront the danger posed by the sultanate of Haidar Ali, who (with the connivance of the French and Dutch) plotted insurrection against British rule. On his own authority, Hastings removed the incompetent governor of Madras and replaced him with the veteran militarist Sir Eyre Coote, who defeated Ali's forces at Porto Novo. Parallel naval action drove the rebels out of the Carnatic (a region in southeastern India). On the death of Haidar Ali in 1782, Hastings negotiated the treaty of Salbai, which acknowledged British supremacy throughout India and calmed the situation in Madras.

Hastings resigned his office in December 1784 and returned to England on 13 June the following year. In 1787 he faced impeachment charges initiated by Edmund Burke (working with Hastings's enemies), whose outrageous conduct evoked numerous rebukes from the House of Lords. The lengthy trial, beginning in 1788 and lasting until 1795, ended in Hastings's acquittal, but severely compromised his reputation, ruined his health, and cost him £50,000.

In his later years, Hastings campaigned for a peerage and a parliamentary reversal of the impeachment, neither of which ever materialized. He received a doctorate of civil law from Oxford in 1813, was sworn privy councillor in May 1814, and died, a rural recluse, on 22 August 1818.

Although Hastings's conduct of affairs tended at times to be high-handed, if not unscrupulous, his motives were invariably patriotic, not self-interested. He expanded the territorial scope of British dominion in India, honored and preserved indigenous cultures, and introduced many needed and lasting reforms. The prince regent (the future George IV) put it best when, in 1814, he called Hastings "the most deserving yet also one of the worst used men in the empire."

See also British Colonies: India ; Burke, Edmund ; Colonialism ; George II (Great Britain) ; George III (Great Britain) ; Mercantilism ; Trading Companies .


Bowen, H. V. Revenue and Reform: The Indian Problem in British Politics, 17571773. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1991.

Feiling, K. Warren Hastings. London and New York, 1954.

Forrest, G. W. India under Hastings. New Delhi, 1984.

Marshall, P. J. The Impeachment of Warren Hastings. London, 1965.

Turnbull, P. Warren Hastings. London, 1975.

Karl W. Schweizer

Hastings, Warren

views updated May 18 2018


HASTINGS, WARREN (1732–1818) British East India Company's governor of Bengal (1772–1773), first governor-general of India (1774–1785). Warren Hastings was born into a noted English family then in reduced circumstances. An uncle paid for his private education, which revealed his brilliance as a scholar. However, his financial situation was such that in 1750 he had no choice but to accept a clerkship in the East India Company's service in Bengal. Over the next fourteen years, the company overthrew the Indian rulers of Bengal and introduced a corrupt "dual government." During this turbulent era, Hastings served as a councilor in Kassimbazar, as Resident at Murshidabad, and ultimately as a member of the Governor's Council in Calcutta. Hastings denounced the rapacity of his fellow agents and the mistreatment of Bengal's indigenous leaders. Disgusted with his compatriots, he went on leave to Britain in 1764, having established a reputation for courage and resourcefulness, as well as for an unrivaled capacity to place duty over personal interest; he had so little enriched himself at the company's and India's expense that he had to borrow the money to pay for his return voyage to India in 1769, when his prior service earned him appointment as second in charge of the company's Council in Madras.

In 1772 Hastings was appointed governor of Bengal, a title expanded to that of governor-general of India by the Regulating Act of 1773. Of the thirty-two British officers to hold that rank, Hastings is one of the very few whose name still inspires admiration among Indians. This recognition is derived from the efforts Hastings made to bridge the cultures of Britain and India; he had quickly mastered Persian, the language of the Indian courts, spoke both Bengali and Urdu, and had some knowledge of Arabic. He used his period of leave in Britain to press for the establishment of a school for the education of the company's servants in Indian languages and culture and sought the creation of a scholarship in Persian at Oxford. He subsequently encouraged research into Arabic studies as well as Sanskrit and Hindu law, and he founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He also supported the translation of the Bhagavad Gītā into English (writing a learned introduction to the text) and lent support to a fellow Persian and Arabic scholar, Sir William Jones, who identified the historic linguistic link between Sanskrit and Latin.

Hastings's affinity for India influenced his administrative policy. Not long after assuming office as governor of Bengal, the company determined that his government should "stand forth as diwan," ending whatever remained of the nawāb of Bengal's authority; the company itself began collecting the revenues of the province, rather than doing so through Indian officials. Hastings complied, but attempted to retain Indian revenue agents, whose work would be supervised by company managers. This arrangement ultimately pleased neither the company's servants nor Indians, but Hastings strove to blend Indian traditions with Western practices when he later reconstituted Bengal's judicial system. Hastings's revenue reforms and his establishment of a cadre of Collectors and Magistrates, backed by courts of civil and criminal appeal, laid the foundation of modern Indian public administration.

Hastings was also instrumental in the preservation of the company's dominions. In the decade spanning 1774 and 1785, the company faced a series of severe challenges at once imperial and regional. Under the provisions of the Regulating Act of 1773, his authority over the company's other provinces was unclear. A simple majority of Hastings own four-man council could, moreover, vote to overrule his actions, an issue so critical that Hastings was forced to resolve it, in part, by fighting a duel with his most bitter council opponent, Philip Francis.

When conflicting financial as well as political relations between the company, the Mughal emperor Shujaud-Dawla, the Marathas, and Afghan freebooters (known as Rohillas) threatened the frontiers of Oudh (Awadh), Hastings did not hesitate to intervene, though the territory in question lay beyond the company's domains. The resulting Rohilla War eliminated the Rohillas, strengthened Oudh, and added a crore (ten million) rupees (over £1,000,000) in tribute to the company's coffers. Though a subsequent Parliamentary Committee investigating the war urged Hastings's recall, the company's directors refused to do so.

Ruthless may be the only word to describe the pressure Hastings brought to bear on the Chait Singh, the raja of Benares, to contribute to the company's coffers in order to help defray the costs of conflicts with the Marathas and Mysore, as well as with the French. Chait Singh, however, had also intrigued with Hastings's enemies on his council. Hastings showed no mercy: Chait Singh was ultimately deposed, a nephew installed in his place, and the raja's annual tribute to the company was raised from 22.5 lakhs, or 2,500,000 rupees (£225,000) to an exorbitant 40 lakhs, or 4 million rupees (£400,000). Hastings employed an equally self-serving interpretation of a previous treaty with the nawāb of Oudh to successfully extort funds from the nawāb's mother, the begum of Oudh, which enabled the nawāb to pay off his enormous debts to the company.

The First Maratha War from 1775 to 1782 was not of Hastings's making, but he defended the Bombay Council's ill-advised decision to back the young peshwa Raghunath Rao, who had turned to them for support against his Maratha rivals. Bombay's early military losses in this cause were later overcome as a result of Hastings's decision to risk sending a brigade of enforcements on a heroic march from Allahabad to Surat in 1779. The performance of these troops and Hastings's skillful diplomacy eventually brought a satisfactory end to the otherwise ill-starred conflict by the Treaty of Salbai in 1782.

Hastings employed the same martial daring and diplomatic skills in dealing with a dangerous alliance of Indian and French forces in the south. The ill-considered policies of the company's servants in Madras had provoked a war with a dangerous coalition of forces led by Hyder Ali Khan of Mysore and the nizam of Hyderabad in 1779. The timing of this conflict was unfortunate, for it coincided with a revolt in Britain's North American colonies, which had evolved into a global war with France and its allies in Europe. France was thus eager to exploit the turbulence in South India. It offered the support of its naval forces in the Bay of Bengal to Haidar Ali and the nizam's forces when they defeated a company army in the Carnatic and occupied its capital, Arcot.

Though then fully occupied by the struggle against the Marathas, Hastings effectively dealt with the deteriorating situation in the south. After suspending the company's governor in Madras and persuading the raja of Berar and Mahadaji Scindhia to break with the enemy alliance, Hastings launched fresh offensive operations in the Carnatic, supported by reinforcements that successfully marched from Bengal to Madras. Hastings's diplomacy and bold military strokes led to the Peace of Mangalore in 1784. This treaty stipulated little more than a mutual cession of conquests, but by the time of its signing, France's chief potential ally and the linchpin of any southern alliance, the nizam of Hyderabad, was firmly in the company's camp.

With the company's territory and revenues secure and with the British government committed to fresh Indian legislation (the Regulating Act of 1784), which he did not support, Hastings resigned his office in 1785. On his return to Britain, he sought only to cultivate his garden in Windsor, but his old enemy Philip Francis joined a host of British politicians to secure Hastings's impeachment by Parliament in 1787. His trial commenced the following year. Among his accusers were Edmund Burke, Richard B. Sheridan, and Charles James Fox, whose principal charge was Hastings's extortion of funds from the begums of Oudh.

The length of the trial (145 days over seven years—the longest in British history) worked in Hastings favor, as did the dignity with which Hastings managed his defense and the common knowledge that Hastings had derived only a modest fortune from his long service to the company. He was acquitted of all charges in April 1795. The company soon restored his finances, which were decimated by the cost of the trial. The prince regent offered him a peerage in 1806, but the government withheld its assent when Hastings made the revocation of his bill of impeachment a condition of his acceptance. He was, however, greeted with a standing ovation when he attended Parliament to offer testimony during the debate over the renewal of the company's charter in 1813, and he was made a privy councilor the following year.

Marc Jason Gilbert

See alsoBritish East India Company Raj


Bernstein, Jeremy. Dawning of the Raj: The Life and Trials of Warren Hastings. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.

Lyall, Alfred. Warren Hastings. 1889. Reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1970.

Moon, Penderel. Warren Hastings and British India. 1947. Reprint, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1962.

Warren Hastings

views updated Jun 27 2018

Warren Hastings

The English statesman Warren Hastings (1732-1818) was the first governor general of British India. He established the system of civil administration that was the basis of Anglo-Indian security and prosperity.

Warren Hastings was born on Dec. 6, 1732, in Churchill, near Daylesford, of an old but poor family. His mother died immediately after his birth, and his father, a clergyman, disappeared in the West Indies. Raised by an uncle, Hastings had a good education and attended Westminster. He became a clerk in the East India Company and reached Calcutta in October 1750. As was the custom, he augmented his salary by private trading. He was placed in charge of a factory weaving silk and cotton goods in Kasimbazar (Cossimbazar) and by 1756 was a member of the council, the local governing body of the company.

When Suraja Dowla (Siraj-ud-Daula), the nawab of Bengal, attacked and took Calcutta, Hastings was taken prisoner but was soon released to act as intermediary for the prisoners in the Black Hole. He joined Robert Clive's relief force, which recaptured the city.

In August 1758 Clive appointed Hastings resident at Murshidabad to deal with the new nawab, Mir Jafar. Three years later Hastings was named to the Calcutta council under Henry Vansittart, Clive's successor. Disgusted by the widespread corruption, Hastings retired to England in 1764 with a modest fortune. His funds gone after 4 years, he applied for reemployment and was appointed to the Madras council, arriving there in 1769. In 1772, after Vansittart and two other members were lost at sea, Hastings became governor of Bengal. Two years later he was governor general of India, a post he held until 1785.

Hastings's tenure of office was marked by constant strife in his council and in England. He faced and dealt with continual opposition to his policies. Yet by strength of character, firmness of resolve, and sense of duty he overcame all obstacles, many of which arose from the difficulty of defining his new position and its responsibilities.

Hastings carried out an aggressive policy of administrative, judicial, and fiscal reform to improve government and eliminate abuse. He suppressed banditry in the country. He put down a serious Maratha conspiracy supported by the French. He reestablished British prestige, which had declined after Clive's departure. He used military forces throughout India to prevent the fragmentation and dissolution of British power. He perhaps occasionally overstepped his prerogatives by making British forces available to the nawab of Oudh, by using questionable methods to recover from the dowager of Oudh money illegally withheld. But he vigorously maintained his authority over subordinate provincial governors despite objections to what at times seemed like his autocratic or dictatorial control.

Hastings also fostered education, encouraged the codification of Hindu law, stimulated the study of Sanskrit by European scholars, founded a Mohammedan college in Calcutta and an Indian institute in London, opened a trade route to Tibet, sponsored a survey of Bengal, and organized expeditions to explore the seas.

The passage in 1784 of Pitt's India Act, which provided a new constitution, persuaded Hastings there was little point for him to remain. Resigning, he returned to England in 1785. He was immediately charged with "high crimes and misdemeanors, " which he denied vigorously. He was impeached by Parliament in 1786, but the trial opened 2 years later and lasted 7 years. The House of Lords found him not guilty, but his personal fortune was exhausted by his defense. The East India Company came to his aid and granted him funds and an annuity.

In 1813 Hastings was asked to discuss Indian matters in Parliament and was received with extraordinary respect. In 1814 he was made a privy councilor. He died at Daylesford on Aug. 22, 1818.

Hastings was said to have "looked like a great man, and not like a bad man." He was physically slight, temperate in his habits, and reserved in his behavior. Personally neither corrupt nor cruel, he has been characterized as "the scapegoat upon whose head parliament laid the accumulated sins, real and imaginary, of the East Indian company."

Further Reading

There are three standard biographies of Hastings: Cuthbert C. Davies, Warren Hastings and Oudh (1939); Penderel Moon, Warren Hastings and British India (1947); and Keith Grahame Feiling, Warren Hastings (1954). Hastings the man is revealed in Letters of Warren Hastings to His Wife, edited by Sidney C. Grier (1905), and in H. H. Dodwell, ed., Warren Hastings' Letters to Sir John Macpherson (1927). □

Hastings, Warren

views updated May 29 2018

Hastings, Warren (1732–1818). Hastings joined the East India Company in 1750. He rose quickly in its service, being a member of the Bengal Council by 1757 when Robert Clive achieved his first military victories. He was at the heart of the subsequent intrigues surrounding the nawabi of Bengal. In 1764 he retired to England with a large fortune which he rapidly lost. He returned to India in 1769 and, three years later, was appointed governor of Bengal. In 1773, he became the first governor-general of India. In office, he reformed the company's revenue and commercial systems and extended its influence across the Ganges valley. He retired with a second fortune after the establishment of a parliamentary Board of Control for east India affairs, which subsequently impeached him for murder and extortion. The prosecution was led by Edmund Burke and the proceedings lasted from 1788 until 1795, when Hastings was acquitted, but left impoverished and discredited.

David Anthony Washbrook

Hastings, Warren

views updated Jun 11 2018

Hastings, Warren (1732–1818) First British governor general of India (1774–85). He successfully defended British territory against several Indian opponents. He made many enemies and returned to England in 1785 to face a variety of charges. Although eventually acquitted, his career was ruined.

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