Page images

Indeed, as early as 1724 the Deccan, Oudh, and Bengal had become practically disserered from the empire. About the beginning of the eighteenth century the Mabrattas, a Hindoo race, had begun to grow powerful under a chieftain named Sivaji, and by 1760 they had captured Delhi, where they remained up to 1818 the scourge of India and the most dangerous opponents of the growing English “raj.” The East India Company first obtained a foothold in India in 1602, and for a time had to strive with the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, and French ; but soon the last were their only rivals worthy of the name. For a time, nevertheless, it seemed as if the French, and not the English, were to found an European empire in India. However, by the capture of Pondicherry in 1761, Clive struck the final blow at the French power; and henceforward the English had only the native princes, to whom they were up to that date little better than suffragans, to contend with.

Warren Hastings was the first Governor-General of British India, and under his successors—McPherson, Cornwallis, Teignmouth, Wellesley, Barlow, Minto, Moira, Amherst, Bentinck, Auckland, Ellenborough, Hardinge, and Dalhousie-foe after foe of England succumbed, until, with the exception of a few native kingdoms with nominal independence, the greater part of the country acknowledged the rule, actual or indirect, of the Governor-General in Calcutta, and his various subalterns in the different presidencies, provinces, commissionerships, and native States. Lord Canning's rule was not so prosperous. The discontent which had been long brewing broke out on the 10th of May, 1857, in the mutiny of the Bengal army, and rapidly, by preconcerted arrangement, spread throughout the country. But in little more than a year, by the strenuous efforts put forth, it was effectually crushed, and with it came to a close the famous East India Company, whose history, in spite of their many mistakes—and crimes—forms one of the most brilliant volumes in the chronicles of England and the English. On the 1st of November, 1858, the country passed under the direct rule of the Queen ; and ever since, the policy of the Viceroys—Elgin, Lawrence, Mayo, Northbrook, Lytton, and Ripon-has been an imperial one. In 1877 the Queen formally assumed the title of Kaisari-Hind (Empress of India); and of late years the tendency of the Government has been, while educating the natives to take an intelligent share in the government of their country, to gradually consolidate all parts of the empire into one, so far as this can be done without outrage to the customs or religious prejudices of the heterogeneous races of the immense region over which the British sway extends. A recent step in this direction is the annexation of some of the Afghan passes, and the erection of Candabar into a separate principality, over which is to rule a nominee favourable to us, and presumably but indifferent friends with Cabul, against which a fresh war was waged in 1878, and which has still in 1880) to be settled.* ·

A few words on each of the great administrative departments (some of which are large kingdoms, more populous than most of those in Europe) into which the country has been divided may now be given. Bengal, Madras, and Bombay are known as presidencies, but the term is no longer accurate. It refers to a period when the English

* Cassell's “ History of India,” and the works of Mill, Marshman, Thornton, Trotter, Sewell, Owen, Mahon, Low, Sherring, Wheeler, Torrens, Routledge, Duncan, Hill, Forsyth, Arnold, Elliot, and Monier-Williams,

settlements of Fort William, Fort St. George, and Bombay were ruled by a president, who at that period was more a trade superintendent than a political governor. Nowadays these “presidencies” in the old sense no longer exist, and Bengal, instead of being one government, such as it was in the days when the term originated, has been broken up into several. Altogether, British India is divided into twelve great local governments, each of which is independent of the others, and possesses its own civil government, but is subordinate to the supreme Government, the seat of which is Calcutta, or, during the hot season, Simla, where the gubernatorial machinery is temporarily located.


Up to 1853 this vast region was administered directly by the Governor-General, but in that year it was made a separate province under a Lieutenant-Governor. It is, notwithstanding the large slices which have been cut out of it, still very large and populous, containing 203,473 square miles, and over 61,000,000 people. It is thus the most extensive and densely populated of all the Indian provinces, and as its revenue is nearly eighteen millions of pounds, it may be said to contribute over one-third of the national income of the empire of which it forms part. Its surface is diversified, and comprises the basin of the Ganges, including Bengal proper, and Behar, which is perhaps as thickly inhabited and fertile a region as the world knows of, and the country of Chota Nagpore and Orissa to the west and south-west, which is ill watered, and in consequence subject to periodical famines and other woes. The valleys of Bengal, though for the most part luxuriant alluvial plains, are diversified by the spurs and peaks thrown out by the “great mountain systems which wall them on the north-west and south-west.” Dr. Hunter, from whose numerous works we derive almost our entire data regarding Bengal, remarks that Bengal contains almost every product of the tropics and temperate regions, from the fierce beasts and irrepressible vegetation of the equatorial jungles, to the stunted barley which the hillman rears, and the tiny fur animals which he hunts within sight of the perpetual snows. Tea, indigo, turmeric, lac, waving white fields of the opium poppy, wheat, and innumerable grains and pulses, pepper, ginger, betel-nut, quinine, and many costly spices and drugs, oil-seeds of all sorts, cotton, the silk mulberry, inexhaustible crops of jute and other fibres, timber, from the feathery bamboo and coroneted palm to the iron-hearted sal tree-in short, every vegetable product which feeds and clothes a people, and enables it to trade with foreign nations, abounds.” The soil near the sea consists of alluvial formations, and indeed it is affirmed that throughout the Delta, or within 400 miles of the river mouths, in the heart of the province, not a stone is to be found. In the hills and broken country on either side coal, iron and copper ores exist, and in the west the coal-fields yield a large output, though they are imperfectly developed.

The climate of Bengal varies in different parts. In one section it is cooled by the blasts from the snowy regions of the Himalaya, in another the residents live in the vapour-bath of the Delta, or parch under the influence of the burning winds of Behar. But altogether, Bengal is a hot-a very hot-province. The thermometer will often read


103° in the shade during the warm months, and if it falls below 60° the weather is accounted very cold. However, by the aid of punkahs, or great fans, and other contrivances, the atmosphere of well-built houses is not usually, even during the heats, higher than 95°, which is, however, a temperature utterly enervating while it lasts.

Bengal owes everything to its rivers—the chief of which are the Ganges and Brahmapootra—which enable the traders to carry on these untaxed highways the products of an immense region of country, and, in addition to daily adding to the extent of the Delta by their floods, deposit alluvium which yearly supplies fresh soil to the ryot or farmer, renders elaborate culture unnecessary, and puts any fear of exhausting the soil by over-cropping out of the question. “As the rivers creep further down the Delta they become more and more sluggish, and their bifurcations and interlacings more and more complicated. The last scene of all is a vast amphibious wilderness of swamp and forest, amid whose solitudes their network of channels insensibly merges into the

Here the perennial struggle between earth and ocean goes on, and all the ancient secrets of land-making stand disclosed. The rivers, finally checked by the dead weight of the sea, deposit their remaining silt, which emerges as banks or blunted promontories, or after a year's battling with the tide, add a few feet, or it may be a few inches, to the foreshore.” At the time of the annual inundations the country in the lower part of the Delta presents the appearance of an immense sea. Hundreds of square miles of the rice-fields are submerged to a great depth, the ears of grain floating on the surface, while in all directions peasants may be seen going to their daily work with their cattle on rafts or in canoes. Indeed, what with the Ganges and Brahmapootra, and their tributaries, and the lakes, rivulets, and other water-courses, there are many parts of Bengal where it is possible to sail up to the door of almost every cottage. However, as has already been noticed, the vagaries of the rivers add to and diminish estates in such an unexpected but persistent manner, that in course of ages a particular branch of jurisprudence has grown up, the province of which is “the definition and regulation of the alluvial rights alike of private property and of the State." Bengal contains within its

a million and a quarter more people than the whole inhabitants of England and Wales, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece, and the Ionian islands, with the total white, Indian, and Chinese population of the United States. These millions comprise various nationalities and religions, and differ from each other widely as to the grade of civilisation they have attained to. In a day's journey we may meet the highly-educated Hindoo gentleman, who is more familiar with Theodore Parker and Comte than half of the Oxford graduates, and could discuss as learnedly Sanscrit philosophy and the Shashtras as he could Fichte and Herbert Spencer; and side by side with him, creeping along, the rude billman, on whose altars, in spite of police vigilance, was offered up not many years ago an idiot as a human sacrifice to appease the deities represented by the members of the English Privy Council, before whom the chieftain had then an appeal. “On the same bench of a Calcutta college,” writes the historian of Bengal, “sit youths trained up in the strictest theism, others indoctrinated in the mysteries of the Hindoo trinity and pantheon, with representatives of every link in the chain of superstitionfrom the harmless offering of flowers before the family god, to the cruel rites of Kali, whose altars in the most civilised district of Bengal, as lately as the famine of 1866, were stained with human blood.” Even the Hindoos, taking that term in its most restricted sense, are as near akin to us as are the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish Highlanders, for they speak a language sprung from the Sanscrit, and nearer allied to English than are the Celtic dialects. The Mussulmans exceed twenty-one million souls, and so far as numbers go, Dr. Hunter very justly remarks, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal is as

area over

[graphic][merged small]

great a Mohammedan power as the Sultan of Turkey himself. To again use the eloquent words of the Director-General of Indian statistics : “Amid the stupendous catastrophes of the seasons, the river inundations, famines, tidal waves, and cyclones of the Lower Provinces of Bengal, the religious instinct works with a vitality unknown in European countries, where the forces of nature have long yielded to the control of man. Until the British Government stepped in with its police, and canals, and railroads between the people and what they were accustomed to consider the dealings of Providence, scarcely a year passed without some terrible manifestation of the power and wrath of God. Mahratta invasions from Central India, piratical devastations on the seaboard, banditti who marched about the interior in bodies of 50,000 men, floods which drowned the harvests of whole districts, and droughts in which a third of the population starved to death, kept alive a sense of human powerlessness in the presence of an Omnipotent fate with an intensity which the homilies of a stipendiary clergy fail to awaken. Under the Mohammedans a pestilence turned the capital into a silent wilderness, never again to be repeopled. L'nder our own rule it is estimated that ten millions perished within the Lower Provinces alone in the famine of 1769–70; and the first Surveyor-General of Bengal entered on his maps a tract of many hundreds of square miles as bare of villages, and depopulated by the Maghs.”Education is well attended to in Bengal, and schools, supported or aided by Government, or of the “hedge” type, are numerous and increasing. Courts of justice are plentiful, and moderately cheap in their process. The country is being rapidly intersected by roads and railways, and though there is still much to be desired in this respect, greater control than formerly is being exercised over the rivers and the natural water supply, by storing it in tanks, on which the safety of a country like Bengal greatly depends. The Government also watches over the emigration from the over-populated or sterile districts of the West to the rich under-populated territories in the East, and controls the importation of “coolies” to the West Indies and other colonies beyond the sea. Charitable dispensaries are being widely distributed over the country, so that the epidemios which at one time raged unopposed are less fatal than formerly; and though checks have been put on the license of the vernacular press, the Bengalee cannot complain that he is either oppressed intellectually or otherwise. Dr. Hunter estimates the taxation for civil administration alone at less than Is. lld. per head. But where wages are so low and earnings so trifling this sum must not be gauged by the European standard. There are as yet no representative institutions in any of the Indian provinces. But the Hindoos' capacity for local self-government is great. Their village system, as has already been pointed out,* is a very perfect and simple form of municipality, and in the large cities like Calcutta town councils after the English fashion exist in full working order. Bengal, under its native rulers, bad large towns which no longer exist. They are overgrown by jungle, washed into the rivers, or, having been devastated by famine, war, or pestilence, have been deserted and allowed to fall into ruins. On the other hand, under British rule many market centres, such as Nawabganj and Sirajganj, have sprung up, and languishing cities have attained great size and prosperity. On the Bay of Bengal there are ten or twelve considerable ports, of which the principal is Chittagong, from which most of the rice is shipped. But the chief commercial transactions are carried on in the large inland towns like Patna and Calcutta. Indeed, it may be said that the trade of Bengal practically centres in the last-named city, from which rice, opium, indigo, jute, tea, oil-seeds, silk, cotton, &c., are exported, and through which every class of European goods is imported.

Calcutta—the “Kali Ghatta,” or the goddess Kali's landing-place—is situated on one of the branches of the Ganges, above one hundred miles from the sea (Plate XLVI., and p. 205), and stretches about five miles along the river banks, covering altogether an area of

“Races of Mankind,” Vol. IV., p. 52.


« PreviousContinue »