Hastings' Memoirs Relative to the state of India

About this text

Introductory notes

Warren Hastings was the first Governor-General of Bengal or the Presidency of Fort-William. Hastings born in 1732, remains to be one of the most well-known and controversial figures of early days of the East India Company. Hastings joined the Company's service at a very tender age of 17 in 1750. Gradually Hastings made his way up and after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, he assumed a more important position. Hastings served as the Company's representative at the court of Bengal between 1758 to 1761. Hasting thereafter became a member of the Council. Following the Famine of 1770, the Company felt the responsibility of intervening more actively in the governance of the Province. The Regulating act passed in 1772 made Hastings the Governor-General . Under Hastings the Company's sway over India was further extended and reinforced. Hastings finally retired in 1785. His 'Memoirs Relative to the State of India' was written during his voyage back to England. The Memoir was published for the public in 1787 by J. Murray in London. Following his retirement Hastings faced impeachment at the British Parliament on charges of misrule and injustice, though eventually acquitted. Hastings died at the age of 85 in 1818.

Hastings' memoir was composed immediately after his retirement from the post of Governor-General of Bengal, during his voyage back to home. Hastings' in his memoir tries to justify Company's administration during his tenure. The selected portions highlight Hastings' reference to development economy has improved during his tenure and also the precautionary measure adopted by the government against scarcity through construction of public granaries.

Selection details

Hastings' memoir was composed immediately after his retirement from the post of Governor-General of Bengal, during his voyage back to home. Hastings' in his memoir tries to justify Company's administration during his tenure. The selected portions highlight Hastings' reference to development economy has improved during his tenure and also the precautionary measure adopted by the government against scarcity through construction of public granaries.


WARREN HASTINGS, Esq; Late Governor General of Bengal
LONDON: J.Murray 1787
[Page 1]

1. 1

[Page 105]

I CAN affirm, that the charge, so far as it respects myself, and I fear that I stand too conspicuous a mark before my fellow servants to be missed, or not to have been the aim of its intended direction, is wholly and absolutely false, as it is inconsistent with any motive to which it could be ascribed of pride, avarice, or thirst of power; for what profit or advantage could I have acquired, or hoped to acquire, for instance, in a Marattah war; or what reputation in any war, the operations of which must necessarily depend on another, and him either taken in his turn from the roster, or with a choice divided at the most between two or three officers standing at the head of the list of the army? The first acts of the government of Bengal, when I presided over it, were well known at the time to have been of my formation, or formed on principles which I was allowed to dictate. These consisted of a variety

[Page 106]

of regulations, which included every department of the service, and composed a system as complete as a mind incompetent like my own, though possessed of very superior aids, could form, of military political, productive, æconomical, and judicial connection. I found the Treasury empty, the revenue declining, the expences unchecked, and the whole nation yet languishing under the recent effect of a mortal famine. Neither was this a season for war, nor, occupied as I was in it, would candor impute to me even a possible disposition to war. The land required years of quiet to restore its population and culture; and all my acts were acts of peace. I was busied in raising a great and weighty fabric, of which all the parts were yet loose and destitute of the superior weight which was to give them their mutual support; and (if I may to express myself) their collateral strength. A tempest, or an earthquake, could not be more fatal to a builder whose walls were uncovered, and his unfinished columns trembling in the breeze, than the ravages or terrors of war would have been to me and to all my hopes.

[Page 107]

I LAID my plans before the Court of Directors, and called upon them to give me the powers which were requisite for their accomplishment and duration. These were silently denied me, and those which I before possessed, feeble as they were, were taken from me. Had I been allowed the means which I required, I will inform my readers of the use to which I intended to apply them. I should have sought no accession of territory. I should have rejected the offer of any which would have enlarged our line of defence, without a more than proportionate augmentation of defensive strength and revenue. I should have encouraged, but not solicited, new alliances; and should have rendered that of our government an object of solicitation, by the example of those which already existed. To these I should have observed, as my religion, every principle of good faith; and where they were deficient in the conditions of mutual and equal dependance, I should have endeavoured to render them complete; and this rule I did actually apply to practice in the treaty which I formed with the Nabob Shujah o'Dowlah in the year 1773.

[Page 108]

WITH respect to the provinces of the Company's dominion under my government, I should have studied to augment both their value and strength by an augmentation of their inhabitants and cultivation. This is not a mere phantasy of speculation. The means were most easy, if the power and trust were allowed to use them. Every region of Indostan, even at that time, groaned under different degrees of oppression, desolation, and insecurity. The famine which had wasted the provinces of Bengal, had raged with equal severity in other parts, and in some with greater, and the remembrance of it yet dwelt on the minds of the inhabitants with every impression of horror and apprehension. I would have afforded an asylum in Bengal, with lands and stock, to all the emigrants of other countries: I would have employed emissaries for their first encouragement; and I would have provided a perpetual and proclaimed incentive to them in the security of the community from foreign molestation, and of the individual members from mutual wrong; to which purpose, the regulations already established

[Page 109]

were sufficient, with a power only competent to enforce them. And for the same purpose, and with a professed view to it, I early recommended, even so early as the year 1773, the erection of public granaries on the plan since happily commenced.

[Page 117]

Revenues- THE three principal sources of the revenues enjoyed by the Company in Bengal, are, the land-rents, salt, and opium.

[Page 118]

THE system established in February 1781, for the management and collection of the land-rents, has continued to the present period, without any material variation; and the complete information which has been laid before the Company upon this subject, renders particular explanations superfluous. I shall therefore content myself with inserting a few general remarks.

THE establishment of the present Committee of Revenue, or some other founded on the same principles, appears to me the properest mode of agency that can be adopted for the controul of the revenue department.

The system of government in Bengal is so complicated, and embraces so many and distinct objects, that it would be difficult for any set of men, who may become members of the supreme administration, to enter into the detail attending the revenues; and this difficulty will amount to an impossibility, if those who possess the supreme controul should be appointed [Page 119] members of it without any previous local knowledge and experience.

IT will be observed, that the amount of the settlement annually varies, and that it has never been compleatly realized without same balance. I may venture to affirm, that this has been the case for the last century, and that our predecessors the Mahommedans, though possessed of advantages which a fluctuating European administration can scarce ever hope to attain, cannot boast of ever having collected the entire annual assessment. It may perhaps, in time, be possible to prevent nearly any diminution either in the amount of the settlement or collections; but whilst the government requires so large a proportion of the produce of the country, causes beyond the reach of human controul will occasionally operate, to render some indulgence in favour of its subjects indispensable; and the formality of agreements will but ill justify the rigour of exaction.

WITH respect to the amount of the present settlement, I am so far from

[Page 120]

deeming it too heavy, that I am clearly of opinion it may, by prudent management, formed upon local experience, admit of an increase. I speak generally; for the particular distribution will in many instances be found unequal; a defect in the system, which can never be remedied by any permanent rule, but must be corrected by temporary application according to the exigency of particular circumstances.

THE public in England have of late years adopted very high ideas of the rights of the Zemindars in Hindostan; and the prevailing prejudice has considered every occasional dispossession of a Zemindar from the management of his lands, as an act of oppression. I mean not here to enter into any discussion of their rights, or to distinguish between right, fact, and form, as applied to their situation. Our government, on grounds which more minute scrutiny may, perhaps, find at variance with facts, has admitted the opinion of their rightful proprietorship of the lands. I do not mean to contest their right of inheritance to the lands, whilst [Page 121] I assert the right of government to the produce thereof. The Mahommedan rulers continually exercised, with a severity unknown to the British administration in Bengal, the power of dispossessing the Zemindars on any failure in the payment of their rents, not only pro tempore but in perpetuity. The fact is notorious; but lest proof of it should be required, I shall select one instance out of many that might be produced; and only mention that the Zemindary of Rajeshahy, the second in rank in Bengal, and yielding an annual revenue of about twenty-five lacks of rupees, has risen to its present magnitude during the course of the last eighty years, by accumulating the property of a great number of dispossessed Zemindars, although the ancestors of the present possessor had not by inheritance a right to the property of a single village within the whole zemindary.

I SHALL only further observe on the proposed* plan of restoring the Zemindars [Page 122] to the. possession of their lands, and the management of their revenues; that unless care should be taken at the same time to establish some mode of guardianship, with a view to remedy the defects of minority, profusion, and incapacity of the Zemindars; their restoration, which carries with it the appearance of justice, will often terminate in acts of the greatest severity; in the total dispossession of the Zemindars, or in concessions on the part of government in their demands for the revenues.

IT may not be improper to take notice of the assiduity exercised in establishing a belief in Europe, that the collection of the revenues in Bengal is enforced by repeated acts of personal severity. No proof has yet been exhibited to the public of this assertion; and I might content myself with this observation, without adding that the fact is incapable of proof, since it does not exist. During the last four years, a proportion, exceeding one half of [Page 123] the whole revenue of Bengal, has been received at the Khalsa in Calcutta from the different renters, without any intermediate agency; and I am authorised in affirming, that during this period, a single instance cannot be produced of any renter having been beat there, for the purpose of compelling the payment of his stipulated rent.

I SHALL close this subject with a reflection, that appears to me too important to be omitted. In recommending the institution of the Committee of Revenue, I mean it with a reserve, that the express objects designed by it, should be carried into execution. The candour and sincerity which I have ever professed in giving my opinion to the Company on matters of importance to their interests, or of even personal concern to myself, call upon me to make a confession, which other motives should induce me to conceal. I acknowledge that some parts of this institution, which depended upon the supreme administration in Bengal for their completion, still remain unaccomplished; that even its professed and fundamental object of making Calcutta the place of receipt of all the [Page 124] revenues, without passing through the subordinate treasuries, has been defeated by causes which my situation did not allow me to controul. This object comprehended the gradual removal of the different collectors, as fast as their services could be dispensed with, and on this account only was unattainable. If the same act of the legislature which confirmed me in my station of President over the Company's settlements in Bengal, had invested me with a controul as extensive as the new denomination I received by it indicated; if it had compelled the assistance of my associates in power, instead of giving me opponents; if, instead of creating new expectations which were to be accomplished by my dismission from office, it had imposed silence on the interested clamours of faction, and taught the servants of the Company to place their dependance upon me, where it constitutionally rested; if, when it transferred the real controul over the Company's affairs from the Direction to the Ministers, instead of extending, it had limited the claims of patronage, which every man possessing influence himself, or connected with those who possessed [Page 125] it, thought he had a right to exert; and if it had made my continuance in office to depend upon the rectitude of my intentions, and the vigour with which they were exerted, instead of annexing it to a compliance with those claims, I should have had little occassion, at this period, to claim the public indulgence for an avowal of duties undischarged. But the reverse took place in every instance. I mean to apply these reflections, those suggested by one circumstance only, to my situation in general.

IF the interests of the nation are truly consulted, a total change in the system must take place: For whilst private interests are allowed to stand in competition with, or in opposition to arrangements founded on the public good; whilst those who censure the concessions made to them, in all instances which have not a reference to themselves or to their connections, still persist in recommending them; and whilst the official existence, public reputation, and private fame, of the members of the government in Bengal are maintained or sacrificed in proportion to the concessions [Page 126] made, or withheld, the interests of the British nation in it must verge to a decline.

ENOUGH has been said to shew the pernicious consequences of this system, which is publicly proscribed, and privately supported; which no man dares to avow, yet many combine to maintain. To discuss it more minutely would be invidious, and entail upon me resentments, which, though I do not fear, I would wish to avoid. I have made a sufficient sacrifice to truth; my successors in office perhaps benefit by this confession, The duties and functions of the supreme government in India will never be well discharged, unless it meets with the consideration due to it.

[Page 131]

I HAVE already spoken of the population of the country, and shall conclude the subject of the revenues with some observations on the state of cultivation: I am authorised by my own experience to assert, what every man who has resided long in Bengal, and has had opportunities of visiting the countries beyond the Company's jurisdiction, is qualified to confirm, that the territorial possessions of the English in Bengal and Bahar, are not only better cultivated than the lands of any other state of Hindostan, but infinitely superior to what they were at the time the Company received the grant of the Dewanny, or for many years preceding that period. It is also a fact, that the produce of the lands in common years, so much exceeds the quantity required for the consumption of the people, or for the purposes of exportation, that the difficulty of converting it into specie considerably affects the collection of the revenues in many parts of the country, and in some degree distresses the Ryots to furnish their stipulated quotas [Page 132] of rent; that there is no country in the world, where the inhabitants in general procure a subsistence with the same ease and cheapness as in Bengal; and that, if by any sudden exertion of industry, the quantity of land in cultivation could be greatly increased, the Company would derive no advantage from it, nor the labourers receive any compensation for their toil.

This is a selection from the original text


famine, oppression, settlement, war, zamindar

Source text



Publisher: J.Murray

Publication date: 1787

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Eighteenth Century Collections Online: http://www.gale.com/primary-sources/eighteenth-century-collections-online/

Digital edition

Original author(s): Warren Hastings

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 105 to 109
  • 2 ) pages 117 to 126
  • 3 ) pages 131 to 132


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > nonfiction prose > memoirs

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.