Our Empire Story - H. E. Marshall
In 1786, the year after Hastings came home, Lord Cornwallis went out to India as Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief. Unlike Hastings or the Governors before him, Lord Cornwallis was not in the service of the Company. He was the first Governor who had had nothing to do with the Company, and he was the first British peer to rule in India.
When Lord Cornwallis was first asked to go to India he refused. "I have no wish," he said, "to forsake my children and every comfort on this side of the grave to quarrel with the Supreme Government of India whatever it may be ; and finally to run the risk of being beaten by some Nawab and disgraced to all eternity." But at length, "with grief of heart," he consented to go.
Lord Cornwallis tried to keep the peace in India which Hastings had left. But he soon found himself forced into war with Tippoo Sultan the "tiger of Mysore," the son of the fierce Hyder Ali. At first Tippoo got the best of things, but in the end he was defeated. He was made to pay a large sum of money, and to give his two sons into the keeping of Lord Cornwallis as surety that he would keep the peace.
Cornwallis improved what Hastings had begun both as to the collecting of rents and the courts of justice. In this he helped by Mr. John Shore, who, when Lord Cornwallis went home, became for a short time Governor-General. He was made a baronet and later became Lord Teignmouth.
He was the first British ruler to put down one of the terrible Indian customs. This was called "sitting in dharna."
The life of a Brahmin was, as you remember, sacred, and any man who killed a Brahmin, or even caused his death without meaning it, was accursed. If a Brahmin therefore hated a Hindu for any cause, he simply sat down on his doorstep and refused to move, to eat, to drink, or to sleep. This was sitting in dharna.
The poor Hindu dared not go out or in, for fear of injuring the Brahmin. He dared not eat or drink, while the Brahmin fasted. He was caught like an animal in a trap. There was no escape, and he stayed there until he died of hunger and fear.
Lord Teignmouth made sitting in dharna a crime, and so one horrible custom was done away with.
The next Governor-General was Lord Wellesley, the elder brother of Arthur Wellesley who was later the great Duke of Wellington.
At this time Napoleon was conquering Egypt. To him was merely the first step towards India. He meant to conquer that too, and drive the British out. So the French became very busy in India. Tippoo Sultan, who had already been beaten by Lord Cornwallis, made a secret treaty with the French against the British. And both the Nizam of the Deccan and the Máráthas had large armies which were officered by Frenchmen. He quite expected any day to see French ships arrive to help to help Tippoo, or the Nizam, or the Máráthas.
Lord Wellesley, like nearly all the British of his day, hated the French and doubly hated Napoleon. And he was as full of dreams of driving the French out of India as Napoleon was of driving the British out. Lord Wellesley's thoughts were not at all turned to trade. He thought only of Empire, so his first desire was to get rid of the French officers and sepoys, and try to persuade the native rulers to make friends with the British, instead of with the French.
The Nizam was quite willing to be friends with the British, for he thought that they would protect him from the Máráthas, who were were now the strongest native power in all India, and who were eager to be still greater. So some British troops were sent to the Nizam's capital, Hyderabad. Then the French Sepoys were drawn up and told that they were no longer needed, and might go. But the sepoys had not been paid for months, and when they realised that they were being sent away without being paid, murmurs and then yells of discontent broke from the ranks. At the best of times they were a wild undisciplined army. Now they turned upon their French officers with such fury, that they fled to the British camp for refuge.
When the British heard what the riot was about, they paid the men. Greatly delighted at their unexpected good fortune, the sepoys scattered to their homes, and in a few hours the Nizam's French army had vanished. The officers were sent home to France. Wellesley promised to help the Nizam with British soldiers, should he be attacked, and the Nizam, on his side, promised not to go to war without first asking British consent. Thus one enemy was got rid of, and soon all fear of invasion by the French was over, for the news that Nelson had shattered their fleet in the Nile was brought to India.
Lord Wellesley next tried to make peace with the Máráthas. But the Máráthas were not at all anxious to make friends with the British. They were great and powerful, and feared no one. They were willing enough to help the British in battle if they were paid. But they were just as willing to help their enemies. They would fight for those who paid most.
With Tippoo there was no making friends at all. He hated the British too thoroughly, and in 1799 war with him began. Among the British leaders in this war was Colonel Arthur Wellesley.
Battles were fought in which Tippoo was beaten again and again, and at last he was shut up in his capital, Seringapatam.
Now Tippoo asked for peace. "Half your land and two million pounds," were Lord Wellesley's terms.
Beaten though he was, these terms were too hard for Tippoo. "Better," he cried, "to die like a soldier than to live a pensioned Nawab."
"TIPPOO SULTAN'S BODY WAS FOUND BURIED BENEATH THOSE OF HIS FOLLOWERS."
For a month the siege of Seringapatam lasted. Food was growing scarce in the British camp, when at last the town was stormed and taken.
The defenders fought bravely. Among them might be seen the short, stout figure of Tippoo clad in a dress of white and crimson. But at last, wounded in four places, he fell dead. Still his soldiers fought on, and when at last Seringapatam was taken, and the British flag floated upon the walls, his body was found buried beneath those of his followers.
Tippoo, being dead, and his capital taken, the whole of his land, called Mysore, fell into the hands of the British. Lord Wellesley divided it into three. Part he put under the rule of the Company, adding it to the Madras Presidency. Part he gave to the Nizam, who had helped him in the war, and part he formed into a new kingdom, and upon the throne he placed a little boy, a descendant of the king whom Hyder Ali had driven out. But this kingdom was really under British rule also.
Tippoo had been such a cruel ruler, that all over India there was rejoicing at his downfall, and the people made songs about it which were remembered and sung for long after.
Fill the wine-cup fast for the storm is past,
The tyrant Tippoo is slain at last,
And victory smiles
To reward the toils
Of Britons once again.
Let the trumpet sound, and the sound go round
Along the bound of Eastern ground;
Let the Cymbals clang
With a merry merry bang,
To the joys of the next campaign.