Famine and Dearth

Narrative of transactions in bengal vol.1

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Introductory notes

Henry Vansittart was the Governor of Bengal between 1760 to 1764. Vansittart joined service at Madras in the year 1756. With Robert Clive’s support he was transferred to Bengal in 1758 and became the Governor when Clive went back to England, in 1760. Vansittart’s tenure as Governor, marked a turbulent period for the East India Company. With the Company in financial distress, Vansittart deposed Mir Jafar, the existing Nawab with his son-in-law Mir Qasim, deemed to be a better administrator. Vansittart also tried to put a check on private trading of Company’s officials and made a treaty with Mir Qasim with this in objective. This move did not win him much support from the Council. Mir Qasim’s endeavor to exert his independence also did not go in favor of Vansittart’s decisions. Mir Jafar was again brought back after the Battle of Buxar against Mir Qasim. Vansittart resigned immediately after and went back to England. Back in England, Vansittart was threatened with prosecution by the Company for his activities in Bengal. Vansittart published his Narrative of Transactions in Bengal along with his papers and correspondences, in 1765, as a defense of his conduct. In 1769, Vansittart, along with Luke Scrafton and Francis Forde was appointed as members of a committee to examine the activities of the East India Company in Bengal. However, the ship which was carrying them to India was lost in Cape of Good Hope. Vansittart was officially announced to be dead in 1772.

The selections from the first volume of Narrative of Transactions in Bengal, highlight the nature of private trading which severely affected Bengal’s economy following the Battle of Plassey.

Selection details

The selections from the first volume of Narrative of Transactions in Bengal, highlight the nature of private trading which severely affected Bengal’s economy following the Battle of Plassey.

A NARRATIVE OF THE TRANSACTIONS IN BENGAL FROM THE YEAR 1760, to the YEAR 1764 During the Government of Mr HENRY VANSITTART Published by HIMSELF In THREE VOLUMES

Vol.I

LONDON: J.NEWBERY 1766
[Page iv]

1. INTRODUCTION

THE Nabob, as he is usually termed, or properly the Nazim of a province, is an officer of the Mogul government, appointed to superintend the affairs of the province during the pleasure of the court. This commission extends not even to the life of the possessor, and in the early times of the empire it was usual to make frequent removals, to prevent the dangerous effects of an increasing influence. Neither, according to the original institution, has he any right to interfere in the management of the revenues, which branch belongs to another officer, called the Dewan, appointed also by the court, and in every respect independent of the Nazim. It is true, that since the authority of the emperors began to decline, the Nazims, taking advantage of the distractions of the state, have generally established themselves in such a degree of independency, as to pay little more than a nominal obedience to the court. The forms are still kept up, but [Page v] they serve only to shew what was the original constitution. The Dewan is still appointed by a commission from the court, but the interest, or rather the force, of the Nazim procures it in the name of his son, or nearest relation. Upon the death of a Nazim, the succession, whether continued in the same family, or seized by a stranger, is not considered as valid, till confirmed by the Imperial patent; but this the actual possessor finds no difficulty in obtaining.

[Page 7]

2. Preliminary Observations on the Restraints laid on our Trade, till the year 1757, and the Disputes with the Officers of the Government, occasioned by our Encroachments, since that Period.

The lncrease of Commerce was at first the only object of the European settlements in India. English, French, Dutch all perceived equal encouragement from the princes [Page 8] of the country, and were permitted to buy and sell, upon condition of paying the same duties to the government, that Armenians and other strangers had paid before. Their ships and warehouses were liable to be visited by the officers of the government, who extorted, under various pretences, frequent contributions, over and above the duties, for their own or their masters emolument. In Bengal, particularly, traders could by no means escape paying whatever was demanded from them, because their settlements were established above a hundred miles up the Hoogly river, with several forts belonging to the government below them, so that their ships could not withdraw without leave.

THE disposition of the people of that country will naturally lead them to make the utmost advantage of such a circumstance, and of course the trade of the settlements in Bengal was loaded with grievous taxes and impositions. Our East India Company continued a great number of years under this disadvantage; but [Page 9] at length, in the year 1716, they made an effort, at a great expence, to obtain some relief from these heavy and arbitrary taxes, by an embassy to the Mogul emperor, who granted them, upon this application, a Firmaun, or order, for a free importation and exportation of goods, upon condition of a small annual tribute or acknowledgment, to be paid into the royal treasury at Hoogly.

[Page 19]

3. Translation of the TREATY executed by MEER JAFFIER

[Page 20]

EIGHTH, Within the ditch which surrounds the borders of Calcutta, are tracts of land belonging to several zemindars; besides this, I will grant the English Com[Page 21]pany six hundred yards without the ditch.

NINTH, all the land lying to the south of Calcutta as far as Culpee, shall be the zemindarree of the English Company, and all the officers of those parts shall be under their jurisdiction, the revenues to be paid by them (the Company) in the same manner with other zemindars.

[Page 22]

TO state this account right, the sum for compensation should be set against the past losses of the Company, and in truth it will not more than repair them. If we examine further the consequences of this event, we shall find, that from a commercial body, founded upon a system of œconomy, we are become from this moment a military and political body; we have entered into connections with the country government; we have begun a fortification upon a very extensive plan, to render our influence and command permanent and secure against all accidents; we have taken upon us the defence of the provinces, [Page 23] and our expences will be daily increasing by an augmentation of sepoys and other country forces, by larger demands of troops from England, with constant supplies of artillery and military stores proportionate to our present engagements and views, and lastly, by the purchase of materials and pay of workmen for carrying on the new fort.

[Page 25]

4. Extract if a Letter from Mr. Scrafton, Resident at the Nabob's Court, to P. R. Pearkes, Esq; and the Council at Dacca, without Date, but wrote between the 14th and 21st of July, 1758.

GENTLEMEN,

"I Acquainted you by express pulwar, of the complaints made to me by the Nabob's Meer Moonshee, of your opposing Nehimodee, in possessing himself of Russelpoor and Hydrapoor, for which he had received ample perwanahs from the Nabob's Dewan.

[Page 26]

THERE is likewise a complaint lodged against an English gomastah at Chilmarree, that he gives protection to numbers of merchants who trade there, which has proved a loss to the government of 70,000 rupees; also several complaints of under protection to the zemindars, tenants, and others; my general answer is, that I will write to the gentlemen at Dacca; I persuade myself, that most of these complaints are without grounds, and that you will do your utmost to prevent the encroachments of your black servants."

[Page 32]

5. A View of the State of the Country, and the Company's Affairs at Mr. Vansittart's Arrival in Bengal

IT is foreign to my purpose to enter into any detail of the transactions of Myr Jaffier's government, from the time of his being raised to the suba [Page 33] ship, till the month of July 1769, when I came to Bengal to succeed Colonel Clive. It is enough if I give a plain and distinct view of the situation in which I found his affairs, and the Company's.

THE greatest part of the Nabob's and the English forces was at Patna, to oppose the Shahzada, who for three years successively had invaded the province, and at this time was more powerful than ever, by the number of disaffected Zemindars who had joined him, or espoused his interest, in different parts of the country. The Nabob's army consisted as usual of a great number of undisciplined people, who were never regularly paid, but were kept together by the promises of Saddoc Allee Cawn **, the Nabob's son, who commanded them, that he would be answerable for their arrears one time or other. Being disappointed of these hopes by the death of the Nabob's son, who was killed by lightening the 3d of July, their clamorous demands could no longer be restrain [Page 34] ed, and a general plunder and desertion was daily expected. Colonel Caillaud, who commanded the English forces after Colonel Clive's departure for Europe, stopped these clamors for a moment, by his promises to secure the payment of their arrears from the Nabob; but the English troops were in little better condition than the Nabob's; they had two or three months arrears due to them; the Nabob having failed in the payment of the sum stipulated for their maintenance, which was a lack of rupees a month, and the low state of the treasury at Calcutta, not admitting of the deficiency being supplied from thence. The effects of this were seen by the desertion of many of our men; and the army, thus situated, was within thirty miles of the Shahzada's whole force.

THE situation of affairs at Moorshedabad, where the Nabob resided, was still more alarming. Far from being in a condition to pay off the arrears of his troops at Patna, he had a large number of the same undisciplined rabble about [Page 35] his person, and was no less in arrears to them; these also losing their best dependence, by the death of the Nabob's son could no longer be satisfied with promises, but insisted, in a most tumultuous manner, on immediate payment. More than once they surrounded the palace, abused the principal officers in the most opprobrious language, and daily threatened the Nabob's life; thro' the weakness of his government, and the general disaffection of the people, the revenues of most parts of the province were withheld by the Zemindars, and the Nabob had so little attention to, or capacity for business, that what little was collected, was in a great measure appropriated by his favorites to their own profit.

[Page 45]

6. The Proceedings of the Select Committee, to the Treaty concluded with Meer Cossim.

THE chief objects the Select Committee now had in view were, first, to secure the Company a revenue proportionable to the increased military expences, brought upon them by their connections with the Nabob, and which the assignment made by him, besides the uncertainty of the payment, was by no means equal to; and, secondly, to put an end to the war in Bengal, either by a decisive action, or by entering into an alliance with the Shahzada, to support his pretensions to the throne of Indostan: for the first of these, Meer Cossim readily agreed to cede to the Company lands, to the yearly amount of about fifty lacks of rupees, consisting of the Burdwan, Midnapore, and Chittagong provinces, upon condition of our securing his appointment to the vacant offices of the Nabob's deceased son, the chief administration of all the affairs of the government under Meer Jaffier, and the [Page 46] succession to the subaship after his death. The second point was left to be determined by the negociations which had already been set on foot with the Shahzada; but whether the intended alliance with him thould take place or not, it was to make no difference in our engagements with Meer Cossim.

[Page 46]

7. Copy of the Memorial delivered by the President (Mr. Holwell) to the Select Committee, upon the Arrival of Mr. Vansittart, to succeed him in the Government.

[Page 51]

THE prince more than once wrote to the Colonel, offering any terms for the Company and himself, on condition the English would quit the Nabob, and join his arms, but the Colonel thinking it incompatible with our treaty of alliance with the Nabob, gave the prince no encouragement.

AT the end of the campaign the Colonel returned to us in June 1759, and the two Nabobs arrived in the city about the same time with full conviction of our firm attachment to his government and family, and our religious regard to our treaties, what sense they retained of these obligations, and how long, will appear by and by.

THE Nabobs, thinking themselves now better established in the government and screened by such a sure and powerful support as our arms, began to set no bounds to their cruelties, oppressions, and exactions from those who had any thing to be plundered of; and this barely received a check from the severe and frequent remonstrances of the Colonel to the Na [Page 52] bob, on a conduct which he told him must, from the general detestation of the people, end in the destruction of himself, his family and country. His troops clamorous at the same time for their pay, whilst the Nabob, in place of appropriating the sums he had acquired by repeated assassinations to the just demands of his jemmatdars and troops, lavished the same in boundless extravagancies.

[Page 66]

8. Extract of a Letter from. Colonel Caillaud to Mr. Vansittart, to which Mr. Amyatt, Chief at Patna, also subscribed; no Date, but received 24 Aug. 1760.

"IT were to be wished, that confidence between us and the Nabob could be established; but give me leave to assure you, that will be no easy talk, until he changes his counsellors. My opinion in this is confirmed by Colonel Clive's judgment, who wanted such a change, and would have effected it, had he stayed; but I hope the same from your management.

THE money matters still perplex me more; the state of our finances at Bengal you are before this acquainted with. The countries you mention are the best we could have for the sum wanted; but nothing will induce the Nabob to part with them, but the fear of our strength and power; and not much less force is requisite to keep him in awe, and to prevent enemies from within or without disturbing the peace of the Subahship, which, [Page 67] if not perfectly maintained, of consequence the revenues suffer. The Nabob would not be a poorer man, by giving us fifty lacks per annum, with which he would have a body of forces, that would do him service; and it does not cost him less than that sum for maintaining an useless rabble: but to convince him of this step, there lies the difficulty; the Colonel's last letter to him was full of salutary instructions on this head; but he is of so mistrustful a nature, that already our power and influence, though meant for his good, give him pain; and every thing that we can propose, that seemingly tends to encrease it, gives him umbrage, and will make him unwillingly consent to this, or any other step we can propose. Be assured of this, that he can only be frightened into compliance; and so you see it is my opinion, that though the prince goes, we cannot send both men and money to Madras.

[Page 83]

9. Copy of the Proceedings at a Select Committeeheld at Calcutta, Sept. 11, 1760.Present Mes. Vansittart, Caillaud, Sumner, Holwell,and M'Gwire.

BEFORE we resolve upon a plan of future operations, we will attempt a description of the state the Company's affairs are now in; and this not to be confined to Bengal, but with regard also to the exigencies of the other settlements, who are told to depend on this for supplies of money. Our influence encreasing from time to time, since the revolution [Page 84] brought about by Colonel Clive, so have we been obliged to encrease our force to support that influence. We have now more than a thousand Europeans and five thousand seepoys, which, with the contingent expences of an army, is far more than the revenues allotted for their maintenance. This deficiency was not so much attended to whilst the immense sums stipulated by the last treaty were coming in; but these resources being now quite exhausted, and no supplies of money coming from Europe, it becomes immediately necessary to secure to the Company such an income as will bear them clear of charges, and bring in besides a supply for the emergencies of their other settlements, and for providing cargoes for loading home their ships.

THE first question then that naturally occurs is this;

WHETHER a less force is wanted?

THAT a less force would secure the settlement of Fort William, with its former bounds against any thing that is now in the country, is not to be doubt [Page 85] ed; but it is as certain, that nothing but that influence and weight, which we maintain by the largeness of our force, can possibly prevent the well known designs of the two principal European powers, who have long shared with us the benefits of the trade of this country; and to this we may add, that the nearer we approach to a peace in Europe, the nearer we are to our danger here.

THESE considerations having their due weight, we believe few will dispute the necessity of keeping up our present force, perhaps augmenting it. This granted, it follows, that means must be found within ourselves of supporting the expence; and these means can be no other, than a proportionable share of the revenues of the country. By the treaty made with the present Nabob, he is obliged, as often as it may be requisite for our troops to take the field, to furnish a lack of rupees a month for their expence; but the uncertainty of this payment has been too long experienced to be any more depended on; nor indeed, is it by [Page 86] any means sufficient to answer the purpose, supposing the payments regularly made. It must therefore be proposed to the Nabob, to assign to the Company a much larger income, and to assign it in such a full and ample manner, by giving to the Company the sole right of such districts, as lay most convenient for our management, that we may no longer be subject to the inconveniencies we experienced from the late tuncaws, being orders only on a certain part of the revenues. From the experienced weakness and unsteadiness of the Nabob himself, and the nature of those dependents, who now oppose every encrease of our power, as their own will be proportionably lessened, it is to be supposed, that such a proposal would meet with all the difficulties that could possibly be thrown in our way. Notwithstanding these difficulties, we will suppose, that we should have weight enough to overrule his counsellors, and obtain his consent, we then just keep our present footing; we have a fund for paying our troops, and those [Page 87] troops must be employed in the service of the Nabob; and this service the same as for these two years past, in opposing the Shahzada, whose designs on these provinces, it is almost certain, will still be pursued.

[Page 91]

ANOTHER principal motive that urges us to think of changing our system, is the want of money: a want that is not confined to ourselves alone, but upon which greatly depend the operations of the coast; the reduction of Pondicherry; and the provision of an investment for loading home the next year's ships at all the three Presidencies.

IT is hardly to be doubted, that the Shahzada would be willing to enter into a negotiation with us independent of the Nabob; but such a measure would neither be for the interest, nor the honor of our nation: our views in adopting this system, should be directed rather to strengthen, than weaken or overthrow the present Nabob. All we desire is, to see the power removed out of the hands of that sort of men, who now rule and direct his affairs, and through whose mismanagement and frauds, the country and [Page 92] his administration suffer so considerably; and to have such a share of power invested in the Company, as will enable them to prevent the bad consequences of so many contending interests; will effectually put a stop to that dissipation of revenues, which has reduced the Nabob to his present distressed condition; which revenue, if properly applied, would leave neither him, nor us, any thing to fear from the designs of any enemy; and effectually secure to us such a fund, as would answer all our present pressing exigencies; and in time, prove an increase of honor and advantage to the Nation, and the Company."

[Page 101]

10. Copy of the Treaty concluded between Mr. Vansittart, the Gentlemen* of the Select Committee, and the Nabob Meer Mahomed. Cossim Allee Cawn.

[Page 102]

FIFTH, For all charges of the Company, and of the said army, and provi [Page 103] sions for the field, &c. the lands of Burdwan, Midnapoor, and Chittagong, shall be assigned, and sunnuds for that purpose shall be written and granted. The Company is to stand to all losses, and receive all the profits of these three countries; and we will demand no more than the three assignments aforesaid.

[Page 115]

11. Copy of a Letter from Mr. Vansittartand Colonel Caillaudto the Select Committee. Dated Muradbaug, October 21,1760.

GENTLEMEN,

"THE Governor wrote you yesterday of the affairs here being settled to the Company's advantage. We shall now have the honor to acquaint you of the steps by which we advanced to this point of success.

THE Nabob's visit to the Governor at Cossimbuzar, the 15th of the month, as well as that we paid him the next day in return, passed only in general conversation. The 18th, he came here to talk upon business. In order to give him a clear view of the bad management of his ministers, by which his own affairs, as well as the Company's, were reduced to so dangerous a state, and the inhabitants in general to want and misery, we had prepared three letters, which, after a short and friendly introduction, the Governor delivered to him; and of which [Page 116] translations are here unto annexed, under No. I, II, and III*.*

[Page 125]

12. No. I.**Translation of an Address, presented to the Nabob Jaffier Allee Cawnby the Governor. Dated October 12, 1760.

[Page 127]

FOURTHLY, I plainly perceived, that the ministers of this court, from their covetous and base dispositions, had set aside all justice, were plundering the poor without cause, and doing what they pleased; not even withholding their hands from the lives of the people, destroying the subjects, and bringing ruin and desolation on the country.

FIFTHLY, The scarcity of provisions, &c. is so great, as was never before known in this country; insomuch, that the people of all degrees are in the greatest distress. This can be owing to no other cause, but the bad management of your ministers.

SIXTHLY, Formerly, at the desire of the English Company, a mint was established in Calcutta; and it was your order, that the siccas of Calcutta, of the same weight and fineness as the siccas of Moorshedabad, should pass for equal [Page 128] value. Notwithstanding your perwannah for inforcing this grant, the officers of the provinces .have not suffered them to pass; but, contrary to your order, require and insist on a batta on the siccas.

SEVENTHLY, The war with the Shahzada still continues, notwithstanding the sums expended, and the endeavors of the English forces. This affair is yet no nearer a conclusion than the first day, excepting the fort of Patna, no part of the Bahar province remains in your possession. All the lands and villages are in a state of ruin, and the Zemindars, in every place, are ready to join the Shahzada's army, as appears from the letter to me to this purpose from Beerboom. From these circumstances, it evidently appears to me, that all these difficulties came to pass after the death of your son, the late Chuta Nabob; from which time the ministers of your government, regarding only their own interest, neglect the good of the country, and the welfare of your subjects, and employ themselves in oppressing the poor, in rapine [Page 129] violence, injustice, and iniquity. When I saw the affairs of the Sircar in the hands of such faithless and unworthy men, and every thing tending still further to ruin, I lifted up my hands to heaven, and bewailed my strange fate, that Providence should send me into this country, at such a time, and in the midst of such calamities, when the dignity of the Nabob, the reputation of the Company, and the prosperity of the country, are almost expired. After long consideration I concluded, that I would make one vigorous trial immediately, to remedy all these evils, hoping, by God's assistance, to surmount all difficulties. For this reason, I am come with great joy into your presence, and am happy in paying you my respects."

[Page 151]

13. Copy of a Memorial on the Subject of the Revolution in the BengalGovernment in the Year 1760.

THE Nabob Jaffier Allee Cawn was of a temper extremely tyrannical and avaritious, and at the same time very indolent; and the people about him being either abject slaves and flatterers, or else the base instruments of his vices, there was no chance of having the affairs of the government properly conducted, but by their removal. He attributed all the ill success of his affairs to imaginary plots and contrivances, and sacrificed lives without mercy, to the excess of his jealousy. Numberless are the instances of men of all degrees, whose blood he has spilt without the least assigned reason.

[Page 157]

All who are now in Bengal, and acquainted with the transactions of the government, will bear witness, that this is a true description of facts; and all who are convinced of the facts, will certainly agree, that affairs were at an extremity no longer to be neglected, without manifest danger of having the province over-run, and the trade entirely ruined. I was resolved therefore to use my utmost endeavors to get those bad ministers removed, and judging it might be difficult to prevail with the Nabob to part with his favorites, [Page 158] without some degree of violence, I brought with me a detachment of Europeans and seepoys, under pretence of sending them with Colonel Caillaud, to reinforce the army at Patna*.*

This is a selection from the original text

Keywords

gomastha, scarcity, settlement, trade, zamindar

Source text

Title: A NARRATIVE OF THE TRANSACTIONS IN BENGAL FROM THE YEAR 1760, to the YEAR 1764

Subtitle: Vol.1

Author: Henry Vansittart

Publisher: J.NEWBERY

Publication date: 1766

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: http://archive.org.

Digital edition

Original author(s): Henry Vansittart

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages iv to v
  • 2 ) pages 7 to 9
  • 3 ) pages 19 to 23
  • 4 ) pages 25 to 26
  • 5 ) pages 32 to 35
  • 6 ) pages 45 to 46
  • 7 ) pages 51 to 52
  • 8 ) pages 66 to 67
  • 9 ) pages 83 to 87
  • 10 ) pages 91 to 92
  • 11 ) pages 101 to 103
  • 12 ) pages 115 to 116
  • 13 ) page 125
  • 14 ) pages 127 to 129
  • 15 ) pages 151
  • 16 ) pages 157 to 158

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Acknowledgements