Page images



India, while attended with less outward splendour, has been, upon the whole, more beneficent and just. The Hindoo can at least enjoy the rewards of his industry without any fear that his property should be wrenched from him at the caprice of an imperious despot, while the numerous wars which distracted the peninsula during the contests waged by the Mahrattas, and other independent powers, with the sovereigns of Delhi, have been terminated for ever, we may hope, by the stern vigour and watchful vigilance of the English rulers of India.

Nor can the Christian historian feel otherwise than thankful that the sway of England over this fine country has led to the introduction of the Gospel among its Pagan and Mohammedan inhabitants. Much indeed remains to be done, but the blessings of a sound and scriptural education are already beginning to make themselves felt; ancient superstitions are waning before the steady light of truth; nor is the period probably far distant when a large proportion of the Hindoos will have renounced entirely the idolatry which they already regard with suspicion, if not with contempt. Nor, after reviewing carefully all these considerations, can we hesitate to maintain that, however defective it may be in some respects, the English government in India has no cause to fear a comparison with the Mogul rule, even if the brightest and most prosperous periods of the latter be selected for examination.





In the year 1498, Vasco de Gama discovered' a passage to India round the Cape of Good Hope. This achievement of the Portuguese navigator placed for a time the whole commerce of the farther East in the hands of his countrymen, but in the course of a century they found themselves obliged to encounter the rival efforts of the English, the French, and the Dutch. The success of the former gave rise to the formation of a company in London, for the special purpose of trading with India. Fifteen superintendents, or directors, were selected to manage the fund, which amounted at the commencement to 30,1331. 6s. 8d. but they did not obtain the Royal Charter till the close of 1600, and then for a period of fifteen years only. Their first expeditions, however, were directed more to the Spice, and other islands of the Indian Ocean, than to the continent itself, where they possessed no colony until the year 1612, when a firman issued by the Great Mogul, as he was popularly termed, gave them permission to erect a factory at Surat. Some naval victories over the Portuguese had gained for the English the respect of the native princes, and to augment this friendly feeling, James I. despatched Sir Thomas Roe in 1614 as ambassador to the court of Delhi. Jehanghir, the son of the great Akbar, then occupied the throne, and the splendour of his palace and retinue made a marked impression upon the English envoy. Sir Thomas was treated with unusual honours, but the intrigues of the Portuguese raised many hindrances in


15 his way, since they easily succeeded in exciting the jealousy or fears of the suspicious Orientals.

The massacre of Amboyna, in which some English merchants resident at that island were barbarously tortured and put to death by the Dutch, induced our countrymen to confine their attention more exclusively to the continent of India. Soon afterwards also Mr. Boughton, a surgeon in the service of the Company, having by his medical skill ingratiated himself with Shah Jehan, the reigning Mogul, that sovereign gave the English permission to erect factories on the Hooghly. About the same period, also, Mr. Francis Day constructed the fortress of St. George, around the walls of which sprang up eventually the modern city of Madras.

In 1668 the charter of the Company was renewed by Charles II. Seven years before, that monarch had made over to them the islands of Bombay and St. Helena, which formed part of the dowry he received with his consort, Catherine of Braganza. In 1687 the seat of government was transferred from Surat to Bombay, but the advantages derived from this new possession seemed at one period nearly forfeited by the disastrous results of an expedition unadvisedly undertaken against the Nabob of Bengal. The Mogul emperor supported his vassal, and some of his slips having been burnt by the English, he seized the factories of Surat, Masulipatam, and Vizagapatam, put many of the Company's agents and officers to death, and threatened to expel them entirely from the continent. The changes of oriental policy, however, and the hope of obtaining the means of replenishing their exhausted treasury, induced the court of Delhi to lend a favourable ear to the humble entreaties of the Company. The English merchants were soon afterwards reinstated in their former possessions, while they added to these, in 1690, the fortress of St. David, situated near the native city of Negapatam. A few miles to the south of this new settlement lay the


city of Pondicherry, which had been recently colonized by the French. Eight years after, the Viceroy of Bengal sold the provinces of Chutametty, Govindpore, and Calcutta to the English, who erected in the last mentioned district a fortress, which they named after King William, then the reigning monarch of England.

The Dutch education of William III. had made hiin familiar with the advantages capable of being derived from the Indian trade, and at one time he seemed disposed to rescue this monopoly out of the Company's hands. Every effort was made by independent merchants for the purpose of obtaining a cessation of the monopoly, as well as redress for the ill treatment which they complained of having suffered from the Company's officers. Party spirit ran high, and the “interlopers,” they were termed, succeeded in gaining a charter, allowing them to incorporate a new and rival community. But the intrigues and contests of the two companies rendering their separate existence undesirable, they were at length amalgamated into one society, which received then, and has borne since, the appellation of “The United East India Company." The first advantage obtained by the new association, was a measure passed in 1708, by which Parliament extended to them several novel and important privileges, confirming at the same time those that they already enjoyed. The termination of party warfare at home, enabled the Directors to give their undivided attention to the affairs of the East, where new opportunities for aggrandizement were daily presenting themselves.

The death of Aurungzeeb, the disturbances occasioned by the disputes of his sons, and the bigoted fanaticism which led the Moguls upon the slightest pretences to oppress and insult their Hindoo subjects, had alienated the affections of the latter from their Mohammedan lords. The Seikhs, and the Mahrattas, warlike and predatory tribes, inhabiting the northern and western districts of




Hindoostan, devastated the country on every side, and insulted with impunity the feeble and degenerate sovereigns of Delhi. An imperial minister, Nizam-oolMulk, rendered himself independent by seizing upon the Deccan, while the Afghans and Rohillas invaded the provinces of the north. But all these calamities were eclipsed by the inroad of the Persians, under Nadir Shah. That fierce conqueror took and plundered the city of Delhi, carried off the magnificent peacock throne of its emperors, and after exercising every species of cruelty and extortion upon the terrified inhabitants, he returned to Ispahan, bearing with him treasures to an almost fabulous amount.

The English possessed at this period flourishing settlements in Surat, Bombay, Fort St. David, Calcutta, and Madras. Near the two places last mentioned, their territories had been recently augmented by grants of land, a favour which they owed principally to the gratitude of the Mogul emperor, and to the medical skill of one of their servants, who, when the monarch was attacked by a dangerous malady, succeeded in effecting his cure.

But the prosperity of these thriving colonies was threatened in 1744 by the war which then broke out between France and England. M. Dupleix had been appointed Governor of the French settlements in India, the capital of which was the town of Pondicherry on the Coromandel coast. He proved himself to be a man of aspiring and ambitious views, subtle, daring, and profoundly impressed with the advantages to be obtained by erecting in the Peninsula an independent French state. Being allied by marriage to a native lady, he possessed a thorough acquaintance with the habits, manners, language, and prejudices of the Hindoo and Mohammedan races. Although accused of want of personal courage in the field, he displayed in the cabinet all those qualities which are essential to the skilful arrangement of a campaign, while in negotiation and intrigue

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »