Mountstuart Elphinstone.

Selections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir online

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Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 5 of 41)
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(hereditary lands), annual stipends, and all religious
and charitable establishments will be protected, and all
religious sects will be tolerated, and their customs
maintained, as far as is just and reasonable. The
farming system is abolished. Officers shall be forth-
with appointed, to collect a regular and moderate
revenue on the part of the British Government, to
administer justice and to encourage the cultivation of
the soil ; they will be authorized to allow of remissions,
in consideration of the circumstances of the times.'

To carry out the provisions of this proclamation,
distinguished for its moderation and good sense, Mr.
Elphinstone was appointed sole Commissioner for the
settlement, and administrator of the conquered terri-
tory, and was invested with full authority over all the
civil and military officers in it. No better choice could
have been made. As Resident, he had shown much
administrative ability, and to his coolness and courage
the English owed the decisive victory which won them
the Mahratta land. The words spoken by Canning in
the House of Commons were not mere words of eulogy.
' Mr. Elphinstone (a name distinguished in the literature
as well as the politics of the East) exhibited, on that
trying occasion military courage and skill, which, though
valuable accessories to diplomatic talents, we are not
entitled to require as necessary qualifications for civil em-
ployment. On that, and not on that occasion only, but on
many others in the course of this singular campaign, Mr.
Elphinstone displayed talents and resources, which would
have rendered him no mean general in a country where
generals are of no mean excellence and reputation.'




In the year 1818 Moimtstuart Elpliinstone entered
upon liis new duties as Commissioner of the lands
lately ruled over hy Baji Eao, the head of the great
Mahratta Confederacy. The rapidity and apparent
ease with which the British rule was estahlished over
a country of wild valleys and precipitous mountains
inhabited by a race of warriors is worthy of note.
Many causes contributed to the rapid spread of British
authority over the Deccan, but the main cause was the
energy and the character of the new ruler, and the
broad and impartial views which guided his adminis-
tration. When the war first broke out, every Mahratta
thought Baji Pvao would drive the foreigner out of his
dominions. The defeat at Kirkee did not destroy their
hopes, for the Mahrattas suffered no crushing loss, and
Baji Eao still possessed an army. The battle of Aslite
dispelled all illusions ; for in that engagement Gokhle,
the only militaiy commander of repute among them,
was killed, and Baji Bao, deserted by the Mahrattas,
retired from his dominions, and surrendered finally to
Sir John Malcolm. The populace now had nothing to
gain from the favour, nothing to fear from the resent-
ment of the Peshwa. In every village the new pro-


clamation began to be discussed. Weary of war and
an unsettled government, the people bailed with joy
the hopes of peace and the promised immunities. Mr.
Elphinstone took advantage of this feeling, and, by wise
and conciliatory measures, succeeded in reconciling the
several classes of Mahratta society to the foreign rule.

Mountstuart Elphiustone's success as an adminis-
trator was chiefly due to the fact that he saw that
political institutions and social usages which had lasted
for centuries could not be entirely devoid of merit.
His great endeavour in the civil administration was ' to
show the people that they are to expect no change but
in the better administration of their former laws.' He
felt that not only the privileges, but even the prejudices
of the people ought to be respected. He wrote to the
Governor- General : ' It is, however, to be remembered
that even just government will not be a blessing if at
variance with the habits and character of the people.'
Mountstuart Elphinstone knew that foreign dominion
must ever be a hardship, and the most that conquerors
can do is to take care that the yoke presses as lightly
as possible, and that it galls at the fewest points. The
Marquis of Hastings left him the choice of giving the
Eaja of Satara a jahagir or a small sovereignty; and he
adopted the latter course, for he felt the importance ' of
leaving for part of the Peshwa's subjects a government
which could afford them service in their own way.'
The re-establishment of the Satara Kajah in some
measure reconciled the old Mahratta chiefs to the
destruction of the more modern authoritj^ of the
Peshwa. The English were no longer fighting against
the House of Sivaji, but against a successful Mayor of
the Palace. Many of the old families, let it be re-
corded to their credit, resolved to share the fortunes of
their fallen prince ; but the majority, from fear of for-


feiting their lands, gave in their allegiance to the con-
querors. To preserve the old families from destruction,
to maintain their influence, was one of Mr. Elphin-
stone's first cares. He saw that the nobles of the
Deccan wore not like the chiefs of a Mohammedan
government, foreigners to the people; but they were of
the same nation and religion, and the descendants of
those who had been their leaders since they rose to
independence. He also saw that the Mohammedans in
their most powerful days never attained complete
success in taking the place of the local princes, and in
substituting their own for native law and organization ;
and he tried to avoid as far as possible, attempting what
the Mohammedans failed to do.

The local princes of the Deccan were the jahagir-
dars, or owners of jahagirs, which, both in nature and
history, had a strong resemblance to feudal beneficences.
A jahagir was at first granted to some successful
warrior during life, for the purpose of maintaining
troops to serve the King. A small portion was set
aside as a personal possession for the chief. On his
death, the grant was renewed on condition of the heir
paying a relief. The jahagirs, as in Europe, came in
course of time to be regarded in the light of hereditary
property. ' The period,' wrote Mr. Elphinstone, ' for
which a jahagir had been held, was therefore a very
important point to advert to in deciding how long to
continue it. I recommend that all granted by the
Mogul Emperors, or the Rajahs of Satara, should be
hereditary in the fullest sense of the word. The
former most generally have been very long in the
families which held them, and had survived two
changes of dynasty. These do not seem now to be
interfered with. The latest of the Satara grants must
now l;e near a century old, and must have survived a


change of dynasty, besides our conquest. Surely there
is enough to entitle the possessor to feel secure from
future disturbance ! On this principle, I believe we
stipulated with the new Kajah of Satara that he should
not resume such grants of his ancestors as lay within
his territorj', binding ourselves by implication (if the
fact be as I have supposed) not to resume those within
ours. The Jahagirdars of the Pesliwa stood on a different
footing : they had arisen under the dynasty which we
subverted ; none could have been in possession for
more than seventy years, and they had been kept in
mind by the exactions of service, as well as by oc-
casional resumptions, of the real nature and extent of
their tenure. Much consideration was, however, due
to them as the actual possessors of power ; and they
were allowed to retain their private lands for one or
more generations, according to their merits or import-
ance. No change has taken place in the condition of
this class ; and I cannot see how any claim w^hich
they possessed at the conquest has been weakened

Mr. Elphinstone had a regard for hereditary rights ;
and not only were jahagirs given back to their owners,
but all other rent-free lands — all established pensions,
charitable and religious assignments and endowments
were restored. ' The preservation of religious es-
tablishments,' he wrote, ' is always necessary in a
conquered country ; but more particularly so in one
where the Brahmins have so long possessed the
temporal power. The Peshwa's charities and other
religious expenses amounted to nearly Pis. 1,500, 000,
besides those of the wealthy persons in employment
under his Government. It would be absurd to imitate
this prodigality^ but many expenses of this nature are
rendered necessary by the proclamation of Satara ; and


it would be worthy of a Liberal Government to supply
the place of the Peshwa's indiscriminate charities by
instituting a Hindu College at once in both of the
sacred towns of Nasik and Wai.' Mr. Elphinstone,
however, found it was no easy task to conciliate the
Brahmins. A plot, in which a few of them were
the chief conspirators, to murder the Europeans and
restore the Peshwa was discovered. The Commissioner
ordered the ringleaders to be blown from the cannon's
mouth. Sir Edward Nepean, the Governor of Bombay,
approved of the vigorous act, but advised Mr. Elphin-
stone to ask for an indemnity ; but he rightly refused.
' If I have done wrong,' he said, ' I ought to be
punished ; if I have done right, I don't want any act
of indemnity.'

The suppression of rebellion was accompanied by a
settlement of the land revenue. The system intro-
duced did not essentially differ from the comparatively
patriarchal scheme of management of Nana Farnavis,
by which the agents of the Government settled directly
with the people. The advantage of the Eayatwari
system is that it enables us to know the Kayats, and
them to become acquainted with us. The abolition of
the farming system of Baji Rao, by which districts were
rented to contractors, removed many grievances. Mr.
Elphinstone felt that many novelties must accompany
every revolution, and he tried to limit the number as
much as possible. He ordered the collectors to ad-
minister the government ' without the restraint of any
regulations but those which they found established.'
He did all that lay in his power to revive the public
spirit which once animated the village communities,
ancient institutions which have existed from time im-
memorial, and which centuries of alternating tyranny
and anarchy have never been able entirely to extinguish.


He preserved the influence of tlic village officers, for he
knew what other English administrators have been
ignorant of — that the task of really governing India
doAvn to the villages and the people is too great for a
foreign Government, and can only be done through
native agency and communal self-government. In the
important matter of the administration of justice, Mr.
Elphinstone refrained from any hasty introduction of
English machinery and agency, for his knowledge of
the people taught him that the state of society and
civilization which pervades the many millions of India
calls for a simple, cheap, and expeditious administration
of justice. Under native rule, the main instrument of
dispensing justice was the Panchayat or assembly of
village elders. This ancient institution had its defects,
but it also possessed many advantages. ' The intimate
acquaintance,' wrote the Commissioner, ' of the members
with the subject in dispute, and in many cases with the
character of the parties, must have made their decisions
frequently correct, and it was an advantage of incalcul-
able value in that mode of trial that the judges being
drawn from the body of the people could act on no
principles that were not generally understood, a circum-
stance which by preventing uncertainty and obscurity
in law, struck at the very root of litigation.' Mr.
Elphinstone felt that the object of the conquerors ought
not to be to destroy the native system, but to take
means to remove its abuses and revive its energy.
He proposed that the Patel or head of the village in the
country districts, and the heads of trades in the towns,
should have the power to summon a Panchayat.

In very large cities native judges were appointed. In
all cases appeals were allowed to the collector, with
whom all powers of criminal and civil administration
remained. One of the main secrets of Mr. Elphinstone's


success was the faculty that he had for choosing good
men, and the power he confided to them. The tendency
of the jDresent day is to make the collector a mere
machine for writing and forwarding reports and yards
of useless statistics. His time is so occupied in writing
reports that he has hut scanty leisure for administration.
Mr. Elphinstone thought it indispensable ' that the
collector should give audience for at least two hours
every day to all ranks, receive revenue complaints viva
voce, and grant decisions and orders on Mamlutdars as
the cases require. If he confines himself to receiving
petitions in writing, it is impossible that he should
have time to become acquainted with the state of
fthings in his district.' The modern collector is fast
becoming a mere instrument for carrying out orders,
and all originality and independence is fast perishing.
The administration in which the people have the largest
share in their own government is the best ; after that
comes strong personal rule ; but the worst form of
government ever invented is government by secretariat.
It was the personal rule of the Munros and Malcolms, of
the Elphinstoues and Metcalfes, which created the Indian
Empire, and the rule by resolutions and statistics will go
far to destroy it. The effect of government by bureau-
cratic resolutions is to be read in letters of blood in the
history of the Ancien Eegime ; to do everything for the
people, and let them do nothing for themselves — this was
the ancien regime. The Council of State settled arbi-
trarily not only taxes and militia and roads, but any-
thing and everything. There is no new thing under the
sun. Like the Indian Government, they tried to teach
agriculture by schools and pamphlets and prizes ; i\\ey
sent out ])l;ins for every pu])lic work. A town could
not establish an octroi, levy a rate, or mend the
parish steeple without an order from Council. Every-


where was meddling. There were reports on statistics
— circumstantial, inaccurate, and useless as Indian
statistics. Every centralized bureaucracy has been a
failure, and is ever likely to be a failure, because it
regards and treats men as things, and not as persons.
One of the reasons why the English Raj has not won
favour of the people is that there is too much of the
powerful machine and too little of humanity in us. We
try to be just, but we are often unjust and cruel,
because we believe our system of government to be
adapted to all races and conditions of life. We have
forgotten the principles which Elphinstone enforced in
his report. ^

' The plan I have proposed has many obvious and
palpable defects, and many more will no doubt appear
when its operations are fully observed. It has this
advantage, that it leaves unimpaired the institutions,
the opinions, and the feelings that have hitherto kept
the community together ; and that as its fault is
meddling too little, it may be gradually remedied by
interfering when urgently required. Any opposite plan,
if it fails, fails entirely; it has destroyed everything
that could supply its place, and when it sinks, the
whole frame of society sinks with it. This plan
has another advantage likewise, that if it does not
provide complete instruments for the decision of suits,
it keeps clear of the causes that produce litigation. It
makes no great changes, either real or apparent, in the
laws, and it leads to no revolution in the state of pro-
perty. The established practice also, though it be
worse than another proposed in its room, will be less
grievous to the people, who have accommodated them-
selves to present defects, and are scarcely aware of
their existence ; while every fault in a new system, and
perhaps many things that are not faults, would be


severely felt for want of this adaptation. I do not,
however, mean to say that our interference with the
native plan is odious at present. On the contrary,
several of the collectors are of opinion that a summary
decision by a European judge is more agreeable to the
natives than any other mode of trial. This may be the
case at first ; but if the decisions of Europeans should
ever be so j^opular as to occasion the disuse of the
native modes of settlement, there would soon be a run
on the Courts, and justice, however pure when obtained,
^vould never be got without j^ears of trouble.'

Mr. Elphinstone had not the opportunity, as Com-
missioner of the Deccan, of carrying out personally the
principles enforced in his great report ; for before the
document reached Government, Mr. Elphinstone had
become Governor of Bombay. But he devoted the
weight of his great office to the execution of the plans
and principles sketched out in one of the ablest State
papers ever Avritten by an Indian statesman.




Mr. Elphinstone had been only a year Commissioner
of the Deccan, when the Governorship of Bombay
fell vacant by the resignation of Sir Evan Nepean.
The great statesman who was then President of the
Board of Control named three distinguished Indian
administrators — Munro, Malcolm, and Elphinstone —
for the post. The East Indian Directors mianimously
elected the last ; and his rule justified their choice.
Mountstuart Elphinstone brought to his new office
those qualities which make a man a successful adminis-
trator. With a masculine understanding, and a soft
but resolute heart, he had unlimited powers of applica-
tion. His rise, through all the gradations of public
service, was due not to birth or favour, but to a
thorough knowledge of its constitution, and a perfect
practice in all its business. But by being conversant
in office his mind had not become narrowed. He was
not only a great official — he was a great statesman.
Mr. Elphinstone recognised the obligation which lay
upon the rulers ' to raise the natives by education and
public trust to a level with their present rulers.' His
'Minute on Education,' now published for the first time,
combines comprehensive and elevated views with so



much circumspection and dignity, that it must ever be
shown as a model of what a State paper ought to be.
In this document many fallacies regarding Indian edu-
cation, which appear from time to time, are ruthlessly
destroyed. He felt, in order to successfully start educa-
tion, you must first create a desire for education ; and
that this desire would naturally be more easily raised
in the higher than in the lower orders. ' I will here
only remark, that I consider that it is more important
to impart a high degree of education to the upper
classes, than to diffuse a much lower sort of it among
the common peoj^le. The latter object also is highly
important, but it is not the point in which there is
most deficiency at present. It will, besides, be much
easier to make the lower orders desirous of learning to
read, after a spirit of inquiry and improvement shall
have been introduced among their superiors.' Mr.
Elphinstone disposes of the common argument against
higher education, that it rears a class whose only object
is Government employment. He writes : ' The most
important branch of education, in my opinion, is that
designed to prepare natives for public employment. It
is important, not only from its contributing so directly
to the general improvement, but also from the stimulus
it affords to education among the better class of natives,
by connecting it with their interest.' Regarding the
advisability of Indian education being entirely secular,
he wrote : ' To the mixture of religion, even in the
slightest degree, with our plans of education I most
strongly object. I cannot agree to clog with any
additional difficulty a plan which already has so many
obstructions to surmount. I am convinced that the
conversion of the natives must infallibly result from
the diffusion of knowledge among them. Evidently
they are not aware of the connection, or all attacks on


their ignorance would be as vigorously resisted as if
they were on their religion. The only effect of intro-
ducing Christianity into our schools would be to sound
the alarm, and to warn the Brahmins of the approach-
ing danger. Even that warning might perhaps be
neglected as long as no converts were made ; but it is
a sufficient argument against a plan, that it can only
be safe as long as it is ineffectual, and in this instance
the danger involves not only failure of our plans of
education, but the dissolution of our empire.'

These are grave words of warning to any Govern-
ment who may be tempted to enter upon the dangerous
path of proselytism in India. A charge has often been
brought against Government high education that it
mainly benefits one class — the Brahmins. On this
point, Elphinstone has some sensible remarks : ' It is
observed that the missionaries found the lowest castes
the best pupils ; but we must be careful how we offer
any special encouragement to men of that description ;
they are not only the most despised, but among the
least numerous of the great divisions of society. It is
to be feared that if our system of education took root
among them, it would never spread farther ; and, in
that case, we might find ourselves at the head of a new
class, superior to the rest in useful knowledge, but hated
and despised by the castes to whom these new attain-
ments would always induce us to prefer them. Such a
state of things would be desirable if we were con-
tented to rest our favours on our army, or on the at-
tachment of a part of the population, but inconsistent
with every attempt to found it on a more extended
basis.' Mr. Elphinstone attached little value to
schemes for improving the education of natives, unless
pari passu steps were taken for extending to them a
greater share of the honours and emoluments of office.



With regard to their employment, he wrote : ' It seems
desirable gradually to introduce them into offices of
higher rank and emoluments, and afterwards of higher
trust. I should see no objection to a native member
of a board, and I should even wish to see one district
committed experimentally to a native judge, and
another to a native collector.' Mr. Elphinstone, how-
ever, was a statesman, and he appreciated the fact,
that in statesmanship prudence is the first of virtues.
He qualifies his remark regarding the admittance of
natives into offices of trust : ' At the same time, I
think very strict supervision requisite, and many
Europeans necessary for that purpose. If this be not
attended to, the natives will introduce their own corrupt
practices into the system at the first outset, and we
shall never be able to eradicate them.' It was the
same spirit of prudence which caused Mr. Elphinstone
to be decidedly against the introduction of a free press
in India ; but freedom of speech once having been per-
mitted, he objected to any retrograde movement.

After education, the next great question which en-
gaged Mr. Elphinstone 's attention was legislative and
judicial reforms. He has left a monument of his labour
in the * Code of Eegulations ' which bears his name.
He had no mania for passing a multitude of Acts, but
he saw the necessity of simplifying the law in India.
His rules were framed to lessen the written pleadings,
and to bring matters to a speedy issue. He saw that
if justice was to be meted out, the language of the Court
must be the language of the district ; and that the
evidence of the witnesses must be taken in their own

No man was more impressed than Mr. Elphinstone
with the importance of Indian officers knowing the
vernacular of the country. His own administrative


success was in a great measure due to his knowledge of
the people, gained by a thorough knowledge of their
dialects. His thorough knowledge of the native
languages added greatly to the value of the two tours
which he made through each part of the Presidency.
On these journeys he made himself accessible to all

Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 5 of 41)