Our Empire Story - H. E. Marshall

Sati and Thags

Now at length there came to India a time of peace, and Lord William Bentinck, the next Governor-General, could spend his time in trying to make the lives of the people happier.

One of the first things he did was to forbid Sati or widow-burning.

When a Hindu died, his body was not buried but laid on a great pile of wood and burned. It was the custom for his widow to throw herself upon the burning pile and be burned too. Sometimes she did it willingly, being carried along by a kind of religious madness, and believing that she was doing a great and noble deed. Sometimes the wretched woman had to be forced into the flames with threats and blows, sometimes she was drugged with opium until she knew not what she did.

Now Lord William made this horrible deed a crime, and anyone who helped in it was punished with death. It was thought at the time that the Indians would be very angry with this new law which seemed to interfere with their religion. But there were no riots. Sati soon died out even in provinces not under British rule.

Lord William also put down the Thags. These were stranglers and thieves by trade. They were born thieves. The fathers and mothers were thieves, and they taught their children to be thieves, as naturally as a father who was a tailor, taught his son to be a tailor too.

Dresses as ordinary people they went about the country. They made friends with those they met upon the road. Often they would travel for days in seeming friendliness, making the journey pass pleasantly with talk and laughter. But suddenly, one evening, perhaps, as the whole party was resting under the cool shade of trees or making ready an evening meal by some village well, the chief would give a sign. Quick as lightning each Thag would draw a rope from its hiding-place. Whirling through the air came the noose, and in a moment it was drawn tight round the neck of his victim.

In a few minutes the wretched unsuspecting travellers lay dead. They were robbed of all they possessed, and buried at once. For the Thags always carried a kind of pick-axe with them with which to dig holes for the graves of their victims.

They had many tricks, too, with which to deceive travellers. Sometimes a rich young man would come upon a beautiful lady weeping by the roadside. Full of pity for her, he would stop to ask what was the matter. In a moment the noose would be round his neck. And when he lay dead the beautiful lady, wiping her pretended tears, would be among the first to rob him.

The Thags had a secret language of their own. The children were trained when they were quite young as scouts and spies. The cleverest were chosen to use the lasso, and so skillful did they become that no traveller whom they attacked ever escaped.

It was not easy to put down the Thags, for although they wandered all over Central India, their ways were so secret that it was hard to find them. But Lord William was very determined to root them out, and in various ways two thousand of them were caught in about six years. Some were hanged, some put in prison, and some were pardoned and settled down into peaceable citizens, and at last the Thags quite disappeared.

Lord William Bentinck ruled in India for nearly eight years. He not only fought against evil customs but he tried to bring good into the lives of the people. He was perhaps the first British ruler who saw that India must be ruled for the good of the Indian people, and not just to put money into the pockets of the British.

It was during Lord William's rule in 1833 that another great change in the Company took place. In that year the Company was made to give up all trade, and made to attend only to the ruling of India. The trade of India was made quite free to all, and people of any country were allowed to live there, if they wished, without first asking leave from the Company.

It was while Lord William Bentinck was Governor-General that Lord Macaulay went to India as law member of the Council. And when the people raised a monument in memory of Lord William, it was Lord Macaulay who wrote the words carved upon it. Among many things which a man might be proud to know were said of him were the words. "Who never forgot that the end of government is the happiness of the governed."


Front Matter

Part I—Canada
Lief the Son of Eric
Westward! Westward! Westward!
A Breton Sailor in Canada
The Story of Henry Hudson
The Father of New France
The Founding of Quebec
A Bold Answer Saves Quebec
Union Jack upon the Fort
Feast of Eat-Everything
A Knight of New France
The Hudson Bay Company
Adventures of La Salle
La Salle (cont)
Count Frontenac
Madeleine de Vercheres
War of the Boundary Line
The Pathy of Glory
For the Empire
The Story of Laura Secord
Red River Settlement
Louis Riel
Part II—Australia
Nothing New under the Sun
The Founding of Sydney
Bass and Flinders
A Little Revolution
First Traveller in Queensland
Through the Great Unknown
Tracts of Thirst and Furnace
The Finding of Gold
The Bushrangers
Part III—New Zealand
A Great White Bird
The Apostle of New Zealand
Hongi the Warrior
The Maoris
The Wild Cabbage Leaf
The Flagstaff War
The Warpath
Storming of the Bat's Nest
Taming of Wild Cabbage Leaf
King of the Maoris
Sound of the War-Song
The Hau Haus and Te Kooti
Part IV—South Africa
Early Days
The Coming of the Dutch
The Coming of the French
The Coming of the British
Rebellion of Slachter's Nek
The Great Witch Doctor
About the Black Napoleon
The Great Trek
Dingaan's Treachery
The War of the Axe
The Wreck of the Birkenhead
Founding of Two Republics
Story of a False Prophet
A Story about a Pretty Stone
Facing Fearful Odds
Upon Majuba's Height
The Gold City
War and Peace
Part V—India
Alexander Invades India
How Brave Men Went Sailing
Success at Last
Dutch and English
Ambassador Goes to Court
The Hatred of the Dutch
The French in India
The Siege of Arcot
The Black Hole
The Battle of Plassey
Times of Misrule
Warren Hastings—Governor
Warren Hastings—War
Tippoo Sultan
Warrior Chieftains
The Mutiny of Vellore
The Ghurkas
Pindaris and the Maratha War
The First Burmese War
The Siege of Bhurtpore
Sati and Thags
The First Afghan War
The Sikhs
The Mutiny—Delhi
The Mutiny—Cawnpore
The Mutiny—Lucknow
The Empress of India