Observations on Vansittart

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Introductory notes

Luke Scrafton was an early servant of the East India Company in Company. Scrafton joined service in the Dacca factory in the year 1733. Scrafton was a witness and participants of the all major events in early days of East India Company in Bengal. As Clive's aide it was Scarfton who negotiated with Mir Jafar. Scrafton became the resident at Durbar of Murshidabad following the Battle of Plassey. Later Scrafton became a part of Calcutta Council, assisting the Governor of Bengal. Scrafton published his Observations on Vansittart in 1767 as a reply to Vansittart's Narrative on Indian Affairs which was published in 1764. Later Scrafton was made a part of the Commission of Inquiry into Bengal affairs to inquire into corruptions emanating from illegal private trade along with Vansittart and Forde. However before the inquiry could be brought into conclusion Scrafton died along with Vansittart and Forde at sea near Cape of Good Hope in 1770.

Henry Vansittart served as the Governor of Bengal between 1760 to 1764. Vansittart's reign was plagued by the illegal private trade carried on by the officials of the East Indian Company. Vansittart's effort to put a check was not successful. Vansittart wrote an account justifying his conduct after his resignation in 1764. Scrafton who wrote this account in reply to Vansittart also offers another picture of political economic situation of the period. Scrafton's version too reveals the exploitative nature of private trade to the local traders and the local economy.

Selection details

Henry Vansittart served as the Governor of Bengal between 1760 to 1764. Vansittart's reign was plagued by the illegal private trade carried on by the officials of the East Indian Company. Vansittart's effort to put a check was not successful. Vansittart wrote an account justifying his conduct after his resignation in 1764. Scrafton who wrote this account in reply to Vansittart also offers another picture of political economic situation of the period. Scrafton's version too reveals the exploitative nature of private trade to the local traders and the local economy.

[Page iii]


MR. Vansittart's friends published, in the year 1764, two volumes in octavo in justification of his conduct. Mr. Vansittart arrived in England, in 1765, and wrote a letter to the court of Directors, signifying, that he should be glad to wait on them: he was received according to the usual form, and told the court he was very ready to give them any information they might desire on the Bengal affairs.

When the ships were all arrived, the court of directors were engaged for seven weeks in the examination of the conduct of the company's servants, in Bengal, and the result was, an unanimous disapprobation on several important points; they therefore declined a conference with Mr. Vansittart, out of a point of delicacy, from having nothing agreeable to say to him.

Mr. Vansittart thought himself injured in this, in consequence of which he published another edition of his justification, and appeared active in an opposition against the present [Page iv] directors, which was declared only two days before the last election. I waited on Mr. Vansittart, and endeavoured to dissuade him from engaging in it but his final answer was, that he had been unworthily treated by the court of directors, and that he would take every opportunity to resent it. I then told him, that he must expect to see his conduct attacked, and that I would publish some observations on his Narrative. A letter appeared the next day in the Public Advertiser, of which I was the penman, and left my name at the printer's. Mr. Vansittart represented to me, that a passage in that letter, which mentioned, large sums stipulated for by private treaty, was generally received as a charge against him, as if obtained for himself, which was an injury done to his private character, and wished I would do, him justice in that respect. I told him, I had no such meaning; that I meant the sum of thirty-seven laacks of rupees stipulated for the army and navy, and fifty-three laacks for restitution, the former of which was by private treaty, and out of candour and regard to Mr. Vansittart, wrote an explanation, not a recantation. I then wrote these observations on Mr. Vansittart's Narrative; but being extremely averse to so disagreeable a controversy, I let them lay at the bookseller's; by what accident some of them were dispersed is not necessary to mention here, as I now publish them with my own name.

[Page v]

As to the Observer, which Mr. Vansittart ascribes to me, I never saw, heard or knew of it, until it was advertised, of which that gentleman is now fully convinced.

The injustice Mr. Vansittart ascribes to the directors, with respect to an order sent to stop the payment of the restitution money, for losses sustained in the war against it Cossim Ally Cawn, is this: The court of directors could not comprehend upon what principle of justice their arms or influence could be employed to obtain from the Nabob an indemnification for losses sustained in a trade carried on to the oppression of his subjects and against their (the directors) orders; they therefore sent an order to stop the payment of it, that they might make a distinction between a legal and an illegal trade; and I must here observe, that the restitution stipulated for on this occasion, bears no parity with that obtained from Meer Jaffir, in 1757, for the losses sustained by the unjust capture of Calcutta, by Surajah Dowlah.

As to the injurious expressions in Mr. Vansittart's pamphlet, I have no further notice to take of them here, as Mr. Vansittart has, in presence of two other gentlemen, acknowledged his error, in ascribing the Observer to me, and that he should not have expressed in the terms he has, had he not supposed me the author of that paper: to Mr. Holwell's work, it contains nothing but scurrility, and I mould be very sorry to disturb his tranquility at his time of life, or [Page vi] do any thing that may tend to deprive the world of his future reveries on the Banian religion.

Wherever Mr. Vansittart and I differ in facts, the curious reader may easily satisfy himself by enquiry. There is a dubious passage in Mr. Vansittart's work, which, for my own honour, requires some explanation: it relates to an injury supposed to be done to one Omichund. This man was a very old, rich merchant, of great abilities; he was employed by Mr. Watts, in his negociation with Surajah Dowlah, in 1757, and most notoriously betrayed both parties: he was afterwards instrumental in negociating the treaty with Meer Jaffir, but insisted on an article being inserted in that treaty, for thirty laacks of rupees for himself, besides various other demands, which would have amounted to near a million sterling, and threatened to reveal our negociation to Surajah Dowlah, if we refused, which would have exposed Mr. Watts, and all the gentlemen dispersed about the country to instant death. To counteract this ploting genius, it was agreed to deceive him by a sham treaty, in which all his demands were inserted; but when the battle of Plassey was over, he was undeceived, and his disappointment brought on his dotage a year or two sooner than it would have come by the course of years. As to any private advantage derived therefrom, by me, or any one else, I know of none; neither do I know of a single transaction in those times that [Page vii] would not stand the test of the most rigid scrutiny.

It is not from little occasional pamphlets that the public are to form their judgement on the transacions in Bengal; they may expect to see the history of the war in that quarter, by the same able and impartial hand, that has wrote the history of the war in the Carnatic; until then I would recommend to them to suspend their judgment, or to collect their knowledge from those gentlemen who have served in India.

2. OBSERVATIONS on Mr. Vansittart's Narrative,

[Page 2]

The general idea at this time entertained by the servants of the company was, that the battle of Plassey did only restore us to the same situation we were in before the capture of Calcutta: the subah was conceived to be as independent as ever, and the English returned into their commercial character, with no other alteration in their situation, than a full indemnification for their losses, and a small acquisition of territory, which it was thought might defray the military expences of their garrisons, grown too burthensome to be supported by their trade alone: if the forces were to take the field in support of the subah, it was to be at his expence. These were the mutual conditions; and to strengthen and support the subah, we, in his presence, promised the company's protection to Jaggutseat and Roydullub, for their lives and honour, as long as they remained firm in their allegiance to their master.

It is necessary here to explain who these two persons are.

Jaggutseat was a very great banker, whose ancestors had been long established in Bengal, and during the power of the mogul, used to mediate between the subahs and the court of Delhi, and remit the revenues; he was also mediator between many of the rajahs and the subah, was always highly respeced and esteemed; and the late head [Page 3] of that house was supposed to be possessed of many millions sterling: his assistance and support were necessary to the strength and reputation of the government, and our protection was necessary to him, to preserve him against the designs of the government on his wealth.


[Page 15]

A SHORT space fully proved how unworthy the family thus raised to the subahship were: the conditions of the treatycould noy be obtained from the subah without in a manner being extorted from him, a thousand shifts evasions; it was no single article would ever have been complied with, had the subah been vested with sufficient power to prevent it, or could he have diverted himself of his own fears and apprehensions from our resentment. Tunka's on the lands were however granted for payment of the stipulated sums at stated times, by which the Roy Royen, or collector of the revenues, and the Dewans, Mat [Page 16] soodies, &c. dependants of that office, with every harpy employed in the Zemindary or lands, became our implacable enemies, and consequently a party was soon raised at the Durbar, headed by the subah's son Mhiran and Raja Raag Bullob, who were daily planning schemes to shake off their dependance on the English, and continually urging to the subah, that until this was effected, his government was nominal only. The subah, something irritated by our protection of Raja Doolubram, (better known by the name of Roy-Doolub) and weak and irresolute in himself, fell too soon into these sentiments. The first step taken to accomplish his scheme of independence, was to assassinate and cut off un[Page 17]der one pretence or another, every minister and officer at the Durbar, who they knew were attached to the English. To this purpose Coja Hadee, and Cossim Ali Khan first and second Buxy, were assassinated in November and December, 1758.

4. TRANSLATION of an ADDRESS to Lord CLIVE received 'December 10, 1765.

[Page 38]

The first claim of this trade, as matter of right, was in Mr. Holwell's letter to Mr. Hastings, dated February 11, 1760*, probably the first letter he wrote after lord Clive left the government: he therein desires to know, why the English should not trade in salt, beetle-nut, and tobacco? What Mr. Hastings's answer was, I know not; what it should have been, I well know: he should have represented it as a violation of the Phirmaund, as well as of the company's orders, and incompatible with the peace of the country: he should have wrote so to the governor and council, and have quitted the subah's court, if they persisted in it.

From this time it appears to me to have been generally given into: for after the superiors had set the example, it is not probable their inferiors were long in following it. The distracted state of the country, after the shahzada entered Bengal, took off the subah's attention to it; nor had he complained, was there much prospect of redress.

The first part of Meer Cossim's reign was taken up with military operations, and the regulation of the province of Bahar: but when he had reduced that entirely under his power, increased his military force, and began to feel his strength, he seems to have taken the resolation to check the encroachments of the English trade. He found his revenue affected by [Page 39] it, his authority trampled upon by the uncontroulable power exercised by the English agents all over the country, and, in short, all those evil consequences which he so well describes in his letter to the governor, of May 1762, vol. ii. page 97; or, without referring to that, we will take Meer Jaffir's words on the occasion. "The poor of my country used to get "their bread by trading in salt, beetle-nut, "and tobacco, which the English have now "taken to themselves; by which my poor are "starving, my revenues ruined, and no advantage to the company."||

I can add nothing to these words, which can shew the impropriety and illegality of this trade in a stronger light; but the evil was not now to be checked. Had Mr. Vansittart let the example of self-denial, (which was more immediately his duty, as well from the rank he bore, as in gratitude to his employers, from whom he, at this time, received near 20,000l. sterling per annum) it might have been prevented; but, although he was so great a master of the reasons against it, yet he, together with almost all the agents of the company, have now a great part of their fortunes embarked in it ; and must, therefore, either support the measure, or give up the prospect of the vast fortunes they expected to acquire in it.

Mr. Vansittart, who foresaw the violent disputes this was like to bring on, thought to prevent it by going himself to the subah at Mon- [Page 40] gheer, where he entered into certain articles for the conducting this trade ; but the remedy proved worse than the disease; for it submitted the subjects of the company to the jurisdiction of the subah's courts; a most inexcusable error in any man, who had resided only a month in that country, in which space of time he could not have failed of learning, that in them bribery prevails to the utter exclusion of justice. Neither did the difference of paying 2 and a half or 9 per cent tend any ways to remove the injuries occasioned by this oppressive trade: it was with respect to the natives, (who never could carry salt the distance of Patna without paying from 30 to 40 per cent.) as much a monopoly as ever.


[Page 46]

THE restoring Jaffir Ally Cawn to the subahship was the necessary consequence of the war against Cossim Ally Cawn, and the conditions on which he was to be restored were, besides the confirmation of former treaties,

That he mould maintain twelve thousand horse and twelve thousand foot, which number should not be exceeded without the consent of the company, that he mould permit a constant resident at his court, on behalf of the company.

That the orders issued by Cossim Ally Cawn, declaring all trade exempt from customs for two years, should he be reversed, and the English permitted to trade free of duty on all commodities except salt, which should pay two and a half per cent.

Thirty laacks of rupees to be paid to the company, to defray their losses and expences in the war.

All private persons, inhabitants of Calcutta, to be reimbursed such losses as they should prove before the governor and council; besides this public treaty, there were the following separate articles, which are not entered on the records. That twenty-five laacks should be paid to the army for their services, and half that sum to the navy.

The war was carried on with such success against Cossim Ally, that he was soon driven out of his dominions, and implored the protection of Sujah Dowla, the soubah of the next province; who, on hearing Cossim Ally had entered his dominions with a considerable [Page 47] force, which still remained attached to him, thought it proper to move towards the Bengal frontier; when having made Cossim Ally dismiss his troops, and probably having taken a considerable share of his treasures, he then solemnly took him under his protection.

It does not appear Sujah Dowla had at this time any intention of invading the Bengal provinces, but our success against Cossim Ally was followed by a mutiny among our troops, at the instigation of some French men in our service; a batallion of sepoys, and about two hundred Europeans (mostly foreigners) marched off to the enemy, with their arms, colours, and two field pieces, and the rest were with difficulty restrained from following them.

Flattered by these circumstances of our distress, Sujah Dowla seemed to assure himself of an easy conquest of the three provinces, which he immediately invaded. General Carnac, who at this time commanded our army, wisely declined hazarding an action: as the mutinous spirit in the army was not yet reduced, he stood on the defensive, and always repulsed the enemy and covered Patna, till the rains put an end to all operations. General Carnac being soon after dismissed from the service by orders from England, the command devolved on major Munro, who, by a well-timed severity, reduced the army to obedience; took the field and gain'd the important battle of Buxar.

Affairs in Calcutta were pushed with as much vigour as in the field; Mir Jaffir was extremely pressed for payment of the several demands on [Page 48] him. The expence of the army was enormous, for we did not now fight our battles with a handful of men as at Plassy in 1757. The military establishment had been annually encreasing ever since lord Clive left the country, and now consisted of 18000 horse and foot, the expence of which soon swallowed up the thirty laacks paid by Meer Jaffir; as also the further sum of five laacks per month, which Mir Jaffir had agreed to pay while the war lasted; and the company were sinking from forty to fifty thousand pounds every month of their capital: besides the maintaining the war at this immense expence, Meer Jaffir was closely pressed for the vast sums to be paid on private accounts.

The article of the treaty stipulating an indemnification for private losses, proved a source of the most dishonourable oppression. Meer Jaffir was first assured the losses would not amount to more than ten laacks, on the faith of which he consented to make them good; he was soon after told it would be twenty, then thirty, then forty, and was finally fixed at fifty three laacks, or 700,000l. of which seven-eighths was for losses sustained (or said to be sustained) in an illicit monopoly of the necessaries of life, carried on against the orders of the company, and to the utter ruin of many thousands of the India merchants: That we may not lose the fight of the English conduct in this, I shall here bring this subject to a conclusion, by informing the reader, that the court of directors being justly alarmed at the fatal consequences they apprehended from this trade, had under [Page 49] date, the 8th of February 1764, most positively ordered their servants to put a total and effectual stop to the inland trade in salt. Mr. Vansittart and his council met to debate on this order, and came to a resolution to carry it on, paying two and a half per cent. Mr. Vansittart is pleased to urge, contradictory orders were then arrived, or soon expected. Mr.Vansittart mistakes both in dates and facts. Four months after the above order, the court of directors, conformable to an order of a general court, informed their agents at Bengal, that lord Clive and the select committee would have powers to regulate the inland trade, meaning to regulate it so, that it should neither be oppressive to the natives nor hurtful to the Nabob's revenue; but this letter was not received nor known of at that period of time when the above resolution was agreed to.

To return to the demands made upon Meer Jaffir. The twenty-five laacks, stipulated for the army, were nearly discharged, but all delicacy of conduct was laid aside in the manner in which payment was obtained for the 700,0001. for private losses, half of which was soon extorted from him, tho' the company were at that time sinking under the burthen of the war, and obliged to borrow great sums of money of their servants at eight per cent. interest; and even with that assistance could not carry on both their war and their involvement, but sent their ships half loaded to Europe.

[Page 50]

When advice was received of lord Clive's departure from England, the persecution of Meer Jaffir for payment of the several demands on him held pace with their fears of Lord Clive's disapprobation of their conduct, and I make no doubt that the indignities he suffered hastened his death, by bringing on a bad state of health, which ended in a dropsy, of which he died two months after Mr. Vansittart left the country.

This is a selection from the original text


ship, trade, violence, war

Source text

Title: OBSERVATIONS ON Mr. Vansittart's Narrative,

Author: Luke Scrafton, Esq;

Publisher: G.Kearsley

Publication date: 1767

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: London

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

Digital edition

Original author(s): Luke Scrafton

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages iii to viii
  • 2 ) pages 2 to 3
  • 3 ) pages 15 to 17
  • 3 ) pages 38 to 40
  • 3 ) pages 46 to 50


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

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Genre: India > nonfiction prose > memoirs

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