Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1732, was born Warren Hastings.
Hastings was a colonial governor who dominated Indian affairs and who was sent home for trial for corruption but, after one of the longest trials in British history, was acquitted.
Hastings was born on 6th December 1732, at Churchill, Oxfordshire, the son of an Anglican clergyman and his lady wife, the daughter of a country squire. After some doubt as to his paternity, the young Hastings was abandoned by his father and left in the care of his uncle. He received an adequate education, as far as his uncle’s meagre income would allow, at Westminster School, where he acquired the literary experience that would later give him an attraction to Indian culture. His schooling came to an abrupt end in 1749, when his uncle died leaving him with no substantial inheritance.
At the age of 18, Hastings was appointed to a writership, that is a clerk, to the East India Company in Bengal. At that time trade between Britain and India was the monopoly of the East India Company, a corporation which ran a series of trading posts along the Indian coast. In 1756, the company’s trading posts were attached by the local nawab, an Indian ruler, supported by the French. The company responded by forming its own militia, which succeeded in defeating the opposing forces and deposing the nawab. The company was now so dominant that it could exercise political control over Eastern India, and administrators like Hastings became involved in the running of state affairs.
Hastings served as the company's representative at the Council of Bengal, from 1758 to 1761 and later on the company's Council, the board of directors. Unfortunately, he found that his sympathies for the native peoples conflicted with the company’s desire for immediate profits and he was obliged to relinquish his post in 1765 and return home.
In 1769, finding himself short of money, Hastings took on a position as an administrator in Madras. Two years later, he was appointed governor of Bengal, where the situation has degenerated into chaos since he left.
Hastings reorganised the administration, creating the precedents which would establish British rule in India. His view of the role of the British in India was not of a colonial power attempting to civilise or modernise the country, but rather that the local population should continue with its own customs undisturbed. He allowed the Brahmins, the priestly caste, to shape a legal framework which respected ancient Indian customary law, but he remodelled the administration of justice throughout Bengal to enforce this law. Most importantly, he established an equitable system of taxation which placed responsibility for the collection of taxation in the hands of trusted officials. Hastings established the binary division of the Indian people into Muslim or Hindu, each governed by their own laws. He consolidated the privileges of the caste system through the influence of the exclusively high-caste scholars, who effectively ran the legal system. It was this polarisation which would eventually lead to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan.
In 1773, Hasting was appointed as the first Governor General of India. He spread the reforms introduced in Bengal, throughout India, but when it came to collection of taxes, he found difficulty in finding sufficient officials of integrity to perform the necessary administration. He unwisely delegated collection duties to company officials, who paid more attention to their own self interest than to the efficient gathering of revenues. In 1784, Hastings was accused of corruption, and summoned home to be put on trial before Parliament.
The House of Commons found that there was a case to answer and passed the matter to the Lords. The trial before the Lords began in 1788 and was vigorously defended. The prosecution could not find any evidence that Hastings had embezzled any the taxation revenues and, in 1795, after seven years of hearing of evidence, Hastings was acquitted.
Hastings retired to Daylesford, near his place of birth and led the life of a country squire. He died on August 22nd 1818, aged 85, and is buried in the local parish church. [St Peters Church, Daylesford, Oxfordshire, GL56 0YG]
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