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Warren Hastings, Episode 41 - 13/02/06


Warren Hastings (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

Warren Hastings
(Getty Images)
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Warren Hastings laid the foundations of the British Raj. Yet this first governor general of Bengal who saved India for the British was later vilified by his own people. Hastings in 1750 started as a writer [clerk] with the East India Company in 1750 as Clive had done six years earlier.

By the time Hastings was establishing himself in Bengal, the East India Company was abandoning its policy of not interfering in India's politics and wars. After Clive's victory at Plassey in 1757 commerce and warfare went hand in hand and the Company went further into India's interior.

This was not always an honourable period in the history of the East India Company. Its officials took bribes and 'commissions' in the manner of the very Indian nabobs they despised. Clive once told a House of Commons committee who accused him of taking money that he was surprised at his own restraint. Hastings had a reputation of being very open about gifts and entering commissions and presents in the Company register, although there were occasional lapses.

Hastings was never fabulously wealthy like Clive. When he wanted to go to England he had to borrow the fare and expenses. Hastings went to England in 1765 and stayed for four years until the directors decided he was the best man to protect their interests in Madras. His return to India began with an intrigue which contradicted his reputation for being an unimaginative and sober soul. He began a shipboard romance with the very young wife of a Baron Imhoff that continued in India. They were eventually married.

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Historical Figure

Warren Hastings 1732-1818

Warren Hastings became a member of the Bengal Council, the ruling cabinet of the East India Company in India, in 1761. In 1771 he was governor of Bengal and it was after this time that he reformed the legal and administrative systems. In 1774 Hastings took up his appointment as the first governor general. Between 1782 and 1784 he arranged peace settlements with the Maratha states and the leader of Mysore, Hyder Ali. However he rarely had peace in his 'cabinet' the council and eventually fought a duel with his fiercest opponent Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818). Hastings returned to England in 1785 and was impeached for corruption in 1788. The trial lasted seven years and Hastings was acquitted in spite of his opponents including Burke, Fox and Sheridan.

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Did You Know...

That the Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay said of the Bengalis: "What the horns are to a buffalo…deceit is to the Bengali. Large promises, smooth excuses, elaborate tissues of circumstantial falsehood, chicanery, perjury, forgery, are the weapons, offensive and defensive of the people of the Lower Ganges."

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Have Your Say

Events of this episode took place in the Indian subcontinent region. We're interested to hear your comments on the influence of Empire on this region:

Comment on the Indian subcontinent

John Bell
This was an excellent episode of a consistently quality format. I have listened to TSI since the days of Anna Massey and it continues to educate and entertain. India and the British involvement in the history of the sub continetnt is a passion since I visited and travelled extensively some years ago. May TSI continue for many years to come.

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Contemporary Sources

Warren Hastings complains to Lord North, the British Prime Minister, about the arguments amongst the members of the ruling council in Bengal

"The public despatches will inform you of the division which prevails in our council. I do not mean in this letter to enter a detail of its rise and progress but will beg leave to refer to those despatches for the particulars, and for the defence both of my measures and opinions. I shall here only assure your Lordship that this unhappy difference did not spring from me, and that had General Clavering, Mr Monson, and Mr Francis brought with them the same conciliatory spirit which I had adopted, your Lordship would not have been embarrassed with the appeals of a disjointed administration, nor with the public business here retarded by discordant councils."

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