George Canning.

Speech of the Right Hon. George Canning, (president of the board of controul), in the House of commons, on Thursday, March 4, 1819, in proposing votes of thanks to the Marquis of Hastings, and the British army in India online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryGeorge CanningSpeech of the Right Hon. George Canning, (president of the board of controul), in the House of commons, on Thursday, March 4, 1819, in proposing votes of thanks to the Marquis of Hastings, and the British army in India → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook the House of G on-
ions... in Pronosinf votes of
1 o the varquis of Hastings and the
I r1 15 r -y in Indin

"' 'inning


















Booksellers to the Honourable East India Company,



o 'A'

Printed by W. Waues, Northumberland-court, Strand.




I RISE, in pursuance of the Notice given by

^ me to the House at the Opening of the Session,

to propose a Vote of Thanks to the Marquis of

^ Hastings, and to the Officers and Troops who
served under his command during the late cam-

^ paign in India. This Vote, I wish the House to
understand, is intended merely as a tribute to
the military conduct of the Campaign, and not
in any wise as a sanction of the policy of the
War. I feel it necessary to state this reser-
vation the more emphatically, lest, from my
having deferred my proposition until the
Papers, which the Prince Regent was gra-

.J-^ciously pleased to direct to be laid before us,
had been for some time in the hands of the



Members of this House, any apprehension
should be entertained that I wished the policy
of the measures adopted in India to be dis-
cussed on this occasion, with the view of
conveying in the Vote of Thanks an implicit
general approbation. I assure you, Sir, that
I have no such object in view. The political
character of Lord Hastings's late measures
forms no part of the Question upon which I
shall ask the House to decide. My object
in the present Motion is to acknowledge
with due praise and gratitude the splendid
services of the Indian army. I was, indeed,
anxious to have the Papers upon the table, be-
cause some statement of the political relations
of the different parties in the late hostilities
in the way, not of argument but of narrative
seems necessary, to render intelligible the origin
and operations of the war. From these papers
I will describe as succinctly as I can, the
situation in which the British Government
found itself placed towards the different Native
Powers of India : and if, in performing this
task, I should let slip any expression of my


own opinions as to the policy of the Gover-
nor-General (and it may be hardly possible to
avoid doing so, whatever caution I endeavour
to observe,) I beg to be understood as by no
means calling upon the House to adopt those
opinions. In agreeing to the Vote to which I
trust they will agree this evening, they will
dismiss altogether from their consideration, the
preliminary observations with which I intro-
duce it.

I approach the subject, Sir, with the greater
caution and delicacy, because I know with
how much jealousy the House and the Country
are in the habit of appreciating the triumphs
of our arms in India. I know well that,
almost uniformly successful as our military
operations in that part of the world have been,
they have almost as uniformly been considered
as questionable in point of justice. Hence the
termination of a war in India, however glorious,
is seldom contemplated with unmixed satisfac-
tion. That sentiment generally receives some
qualification from a notion, in most cases petf-

B 2

haps rather assumed than defined, that the war
is likely to have been provoked on our part, with
motives very different from those of self-defence.
Notions of this sort have undoubtedly taken
deep root in the public mind: but I am con-
fident that in the present instance (and I
verily believe on former occasions which are
gone by, and with which it is no business of
mine to meddle at present) a case is to be
made out as clear for the justice of the British
cause, as for the prowess of the British arms.
Neither, however, do I accuse of want of can-
dour those who entertain such notions ; nor do
I pretend to deny that the course of Indian
history, since our first acquaintance with that
country, furnishes some apparent foundation for
them. It is not unnatural that, in surveying that
vast Continent, presenting as it does from
the Boorampooter to the Indus, and from the
Northern Mountains to the Sea an area of
somewhere about one million of square miles,
and containing not less than one hundred mil-
lions of inhabitants; in looking back to the
period when our possessions there consisted

only of a simple factory on the coast for the
purposes of a permitted trade, and in comparing
that period with the present, when that factory
has swelled into an empire ; when about one-
third in point of extent, and about three-fifths
in point of population, of those immense ter-
ritories are subject immediately to British go-
vernment ; when not less than another fourth of
the land, and another fifth of the inhabitants,
are under rulers either tributary to the British
power or connected with it by close alliance ; it
is not unnatural that, upon such survey and com-
parison, prejudices should have arisen against
the rapid growth of our Indian Establish-
ment ; that its increase should have been as-
cribed, not only by enemies or rivals, but by
sober reflection and by impartial philosophy, to a
spirit of systematic encroachment and ambition.

On the other hand, in a power so situated as
ours, a power planted in a foreign soil, and
without natural root in the habits or affections
of the people ; compelled to struggle, first for

its existence, and then for its security, and, in
process of time, for the defence of allies from
whom it might have derived encouragement
and aid, against nations in the habit of chang-
ing their masters on every turn of fortune,
and, the greater part, already reduced under
Governments founded by successful invasion;
in a power so situated, it can hardly be matter
of surprise that there should have been found
an irrepressible tendency to expansion. It
may be a mitigation, if not a justification, of
such a tendency, that the inroads which it has
occasioned have grown out of circumstances
hard to be controlled ; that the alternative has
been, in each successive instance, conquest or
extinction ; and that in consequence, we have
prevailed for the most part over preceding con-
querors, and have usurped if usurped upon
older usurpations.

But, with all that may be said in excuse for
this disposition of our Indian Empire to stretch
its limits wider every day, far am I, very far,

from describing it as a disposition to be
fostered and indulged; or from undervaluing
the constant and laudable exertions of the
British Parliament to check its progress, and,
if possible, to counteract its impulse. Would
to God that we could find, or rather that we
could long ago have found, the point the rest-
ing-place at which it was possible to stand 1
But the finding of that point has not depended
upon ourselves alone.

I state these considerations rather as quali-
fying generally the popular and sweeping con-
demnations of Indian warfare, than as necessary
or applicable in the case of the present war. I
refer to the wise and sober enactments of the
British Parliament, not to dispute their au-
thority or to set aside their operation ; but
because I can with confidence assert, that at
no period of our Indian history, have the re-
corded Acts and Votes of Parliament been
made more faithfully the basis of instructions
to the Government in India than at the period
when the Marquis of Hastings assumed the


supreme authority. It is but justice to the
Executive Body of the East India Company to
say, that the whole course and tenour of their
instructions has been uniformly and steadily
adverse to schemes of aggrandizement, and to
any war which could safely and honourably be
avoided. It is but justice to the memory of
the noble person, whom I succeeded in the
office which I have the honour to hold, to say,
that he uniformly inculcated the same for-
bearing policy, and laboured to turn the at-
tention of the Indian Governments from the
extension of external acquisitions or connexions,
to the promotion of internal improvement. And
having said this, it may not be an unpardonable
degree of presumption in me to add that I have
continued to walk in the path of my predeces-
sor ; that I have omitted no occasion of adding
my exhortations to those which I found re-
corded in my Office, against enterprises of
ambition and wars of conquest. So strongly
and so recently had the pacific system been
recommended, that upon the eve of the break-
ing out of the late hostilities, the hands of the


Supreme Government were absolutely tied up
from any foreign undertakings, except in a case
of the most pressing exigency. Such an exi-
gency alone produced, or could justify, the war,
the glorious result of which the House is now
called upon to mark by its vote.

That war takes its denomination from the
Power against which it was in the first in-
stance exclusively directed, the Pindarries:
a Power so singular and anomalous, that
perhaps no exact resemblance could be found
for it in history ; a Power without recognized
government or national existence ; the force
of which, as developed in the papers upon the
table, is numerically so small, that many per-
sons have naturally enough found themselves at
a loss to conceive how it could be necessary for
the suppression of such a force to make pre-
parations so extensive. It is true that the
Pindarries consisted only of from 30,000 to
40,000 regular and irregular horse; capable
however of receiving continual reinforcements,
and of eluding, by the celerity of their move-


ments, the attack of regular armies. Remnants
of former wars, the refuse of a disbanded
soldiery, they constituted a nucleus round
which might assemble all that was vagabond
and disaffected, all that was incapable of
honest industry and peaceful occupation, all
that was opposed in habit and in interest to
a system of settled tranquillity in Hindostan.
Hostilities against them could, therefore, be
undertaken only at the risk of bringing into
action all the elements of a restless and dis-
satisfied population; and the hazards to be
calculated were not merely those arising from
their positive strength, but those also which
might arise from the contagion of their excite-
ment and example.

It was not, however, from mere speculation
as to the danger to be apprehended from such
a body collecting and bringing into activity the
unquiet and dissolute of all manner of casts and
tongues and religions ; it was not from theo-
retical conviction of the incompatibility of the
existence of such a power in central India,


with the maintenance of social order and gene-
ral peace, that the late war was undertaken. The
Indian Government, however confident its per-
suasion upon these points might be, however
keen its sense of the perils to which the peace
of India was exposed, were too fast bound by
their instructions to strike the first blow, or U>
engage in war upon any less provocation than
that of positive aggression either against the
British power itself, or against allies whom its
faith was pledged to defend. The war was pro-
voked by actual aggressions, such as no govern-
ment could endure without the neglect of a sacred
duty. The native population would, without
doubt, have had just reason to complain if the
British Government, having superseded those
who would have sympathized with their suffer-
ings, had omitted to avenge injuries which the
awe of the British name ought perhaps to have
been sufficient to prevent. Neither was it one ag-
gression only, nor a series of aggressions con-
fined to one year, that called for chastisement :
nor was it against distant provinces, or obscure
dependencies of the British power that these


injuries had been directed. So long ago as

1812 an irruption was made into Bengal; in

1813 into the territory of Bombay ; and in
1816, accompanied with circumstances of ex-
traordinary audacity and outrage, into that of
Madras. Of this last irruption intelligence was
received in England, within a few weeks after the
final and most peremptory injunctions of a for-
bearing policy had been despatched to India :
and this intelligence it was that determined the
Government at home so far to relax those in-
junctions, as to loose the hands of the Indian
Government specifically against the invaders.
Even without such specific permission, the Go-
vernment in India could not longer have for-
borne ; unless it had forgotten what it owed to
its subjects, and had been contented to forfeit
its good name throughout the territory of
Hindostan. And it is but justice to that
Government to say, that it had taken on its
own responsibility a determination conformable
to its character and its duty. Fortunately,
the delays incident to the season at which this
determination was taken, enabled the Marquis


of Hastings to receive from home a warrant
for his proceedings, before he began to act on
his own discretion.

The war, therefore, against the Pindarries was
undertaken by the Indian Government, with the /
full concurrence of the Government at home.
And what was the nature of the aggressions
which called for this concurrence ? Nothing
can be imagined more dreadful than the irrup- i
tions of the Pindarries. There is no excess of
lawless violence which they did not perpetrate ;
no degree of human suffering which they were
not in the habit of inflicting. Rapine, murder
in all its shapes, torture, rape, and conflagra-
tion, were not rare and accidental occurrences
in their progress, but the uniform and con-
stant objects of their every enterprise, and the
concomitants of every success. After ravag-
ing tracts of country of all visible wealth,
they inflicted torture on innocence, helpless-
ness and age, for the purpose of extorting the
avowal and indication of hidden treasure.
There were instances where the whole female


population of a village precipitated themselves
into the wells as the only refuge from these
brutal and barbarous spoilers ; where, at their
approach, fathers of families surrounded their
own dwellings with fuel, and perished with
their children in the flames kindled by their own
hands. If it were not a shame to add to such
details anything like a calculation of pecuniary
loss, it might be added, that this last invasion was
calculated to have cost, in booty and in wanton
waste, scarcely less than a million sterling.

'.i-.rf ', '*':'.'' '- '(-'."' :

No wonder then that the Government of India
had resolved to avenge and chastise such un-
paralleled atrocities so soon as the season for
taking the field should arrive, even had they
not received any previous sanction from
England. No wonder that the Government at
home had not hesitated to revoke its interdicts
of war, and to qualify its injunctions of for-
bearance, upon receipt of details so afflicting
to every feeling of human nature.

It is obvious from what I have already



stated, that a war once excited in India might
draw into its vortex many whom fear of our
power only kept at peace. With respect to
the Pindarries themselves, the difficulty was to
find an opportunity of striking a decisive blow.
Attacked, routed, scattered in all directions,
they would speedily collect and congregate
again ; as a globule of quicksilver, dispersing for
a moment under the pressure of the finger, re-
unites as soon as that pressure is withdrawn.
But the Pindarries had also chances of external
support. They had, many of them, been trained
to arms in the service of Scindia, the greatest
among the native princes who maintain an in^
dependent rule ; in the service of Holkar, long
the rival of Scindia for preponderance in the Mah-
ratta confederacy ; and in that of Meer Khan,
a Mahomedan adventurer, who, originally
employed as an auxiliary by Holkar, had the
address to render himself, for a time, master of
the Government which he was called in to
support ; and to carve out for himself, in return
for his abdication of that influence, a substan-
tive and independent sovereignty. However

contemptible therefore in themselves, when
compared with the numerous and well-trained
armies of the British Government, yet as the
fragments of bands that had been led by formi-
dable chieftains to whom they still professed
allegiance, these vagrant hordes might be the
means of calling into action Powers of greater
magnitude and resources, Scindia, Holkar,
and lastly, Meer Khan, himself essentially a
predatory Power, and the leader only of more
regular and disciplined Pindarries. Nor was
this the utmost extent of danger to be appre-
hended. Suspicions might also be naturally en-
tertained that the other Mahratta powers were
not displeased to seethe British authority, against
which they had more than once combined with
all their forces in vain, weakened in effect and
in opinion by the unavenged attack of such
despicable antagonists ; and that when the
occasion should ripen, they might not be dis-
inclined to revenge and retrieve their former
defeats. But whatever might be the extent of
immediate hostility to be encountered, or the
chances of future danger to be calculated, the


case was one which did not admit of doubt.
The most beneficial acquisitions of territory
would not have justified the incurring either the
expense or the hazard of a war ; but no hazard
and no expense could be put in competition
with the vindication of national honour, and the
discharge of national duty.

In the endeavour to render intelligible the
origin and operations of the war, I fear I may
have trespassed much loo long with prefatory
matter upon the patience of the House. But it
will be felt that in offering these explanations, I
have incidentally disposed of a question strictly
military, which I have mentioned as suggesting
itself on the first viw of Lord Hastings's un-
dertaking, how it happened that preparations
6n so large a scale were necessary for the sup-
pression of a horde of 30,000 horsemen ? Ban-
ditti as they were, it will have been shewn that
they touched in near relation three powerful in-
dependent Chiefs of India ; friendly indeed
by the existing state of peaceful relations, but
in character, and habit, and interest, our foes.



It will have been shewn that two of these three
chiefs being members of the great Mahratta
confederacy, it would not have become a prudent
statesman to lay out of his contemplation the
possibility, however remote however in the
name of good faith to be disbelieved and depre-
cated that the nominal head and the other
members of that confederacy, the Peishwah,
the Rajah of Nagpore, and the prince known
by the title of the Guickwar (whose dominions
are situated on the western side of Hindostan)
might, if the course of events should be pro-
tracted or untoward, forget the obligations of
treaties, and make common cause with those
whose hostility we more nearly apprehended.

In fact, of these last mentioned Mahratta
States, our allies and tributaries, the Guick-
war is the only one that did not, in the
course of the war, take part with our enemies.
The Peishwah and the Rajah of Nagpore,
though recently bound to us by the most
solemn engagements and the latter particu-
larly by the most signal benefits did avail
themselves of the earliest opportunity to de-


clare against us : with a treachery which, to
Lord Hastings's trusting and generous nature,
was unexpected ; but which, though unex-
pected, did not take him unprepared.

I now come, Sir, to the operations in the
Held : upon which, extensive and complicated
as they were, spread over so wide a theatre,
and involving so much intricacy of military de-
tail, I do not presume to venture to speak with
any particularity ; or to offer myself as a guide
to the House through a labyrinth, which I have
neither skill nor practice to enable me to trace.
I shall confine myself to the general course,
and character, and results, of the campaign.

The House has seen that when the Governor
General prepared to take the field against the
Pindarries, he looked -forward to the possible
hostility of Scindia, Holkar, and Meer Khan.
With the Peishwah a Prince the most impor-
tant from the influence of his high rank among
the Mahratta States, and with the Rajah of
Nagpore, treaties had been recently signed
and ratified, under such fair- seeming protesta-

c 2


tions of good faith and friendship that, so far
as instruments and professions could be bind-
ing, the fidelity of these Powers seemed as-
sured. The treaties to which I refer are the
first and second in the collection upon the

So effectual were the plans and dispositions of
Lord Hastings, that Scindia, the most formidable
of his expected enemies, was overawed, and com-
pressed, as it were, into a new treaty which
pledged him to active co-operation against the
Pindarries. The utmost extent of the stipula-
tions of this treaty cannot be said to have been
very diligently fulfilled by him : but so far the
object of it was effected that he at least re-
mained neutral during the campaign. Whether
in this respect Scindia acted under the im-
pulse of fear, or was persuaded by arguments
addressed to his interest and ambition, the
prudence of the Governor-General is equally
conspicuous : it detracts nothing from military
skill to have been aided by political sagacity.
As to Meer Khan, the overwhelming force


which Lord Hastings brought to bear upon
him compelled his immediate acquiescence and
submission. He withdrew his troops and sur- /
rendered his artillery. It remains to speak of
the third Power whose hostility was expected
Holkar. With Holkar's Government, (the ac-
tual chief being a minor) negotiations were for
some time carried on : regarding which, the
Papers on the table contain information some-
what less ample than could be wished ; as by
some omission, no doubt accidental, various
documents relating to these transactions have
not yet reached this Country. That Lord Hast-
ings had been in negotiation with the Regent, J
the mother of the young Rajah; and that great
hopes were indulged of a favourable issue, is
clear : but how these hopes were disappointed
does not appear in the documents before the
House. I am, however, enabled to add to what
appears in the Papers, one fact the particulars
of which have only come to my knowledge within
a few days. A short time before the great
and decisive battle with the forces of Holkar,
one of the refractory and disaffected chieftains


in his council, took this summary method of
over-ruling the policy of the Regent : he entered
her tent at night, dragged her out by her hair,
and severing her head from her body, cast
both into the river. Of the change thus sud-
denly wrought in Holkar's counsels, the first
indication was, an attack by the army of Holkar
on the troops composing the advanced guard
of Sir Thomas Hislop.

This brings me to the battle of Maheidpore
the only great general action which occurred
in the course of the campaign. Of this battle
I feel myself incompetent, even if it were
necessary, to enter into the military details:
the Gazettes furnish a more perspicuous ac-
count of it than I could pretend to offer. But
I may be permitted to say, that more de-
termined gallantry, more inflexible perseve-
rance, or greater exertion of mind and body
on the part of every individual engaged, were
never displayed than in the battle of Maheidpore.
The result was, the defeat and dissolution of
the army of the enemy, though not without a
loss on our side, deeply to be deplored. This


' .

victory recommends to the gratitude of the
House the name of Sir Thomas Hislop, by
whose conduct and under whose auspices it
was won; and that of Sir John Malcolm
second in command on that occasion ; second
to none in renown whose name will be re-
membered in India as long as the British tongue
is spoken, or the British flag hoisted through-
out that vast territory.

The result of this battle, as it was the com-
plete dissolution of the army of Holkar, so was
it that of the confederacy among the Mahratta
Powers, which had long been secretly formed, and
which an unprosperous or even a doubtful issue of
our first action in the field, would unquestionably

1 3

Online LibraryGeorge CanningSpeech of the Right Hon. George Canning, (president of the board of controul), in the House of commons, on Thursday, March 4, 1819, in proposing votes of thanks to the Marquis of Hastings, and the British army in India → online text (page 1 of 3)