Warren Hastings


The influence of Warren Hastings in laying the foundation of Britain's empire in India is second only to that of Clive. While Clive made his mark primary in the military realm, Hastings' contribution was administrative. One would typically suppose that the life of a military man would involve more danger and drama than that of an executive, but Britain's newly won realm in India was a positive snake-pit, complete with crooks, swindlers, busy-bodies, corrupt officials, corrupt natives, seething discontent, bribery, treachery, looming warfare, and rank depravity.

Into this cesspool, Hastings was sent as governor-general, and for twelve years, under nearly impossible conditions, he implemented a great many reforms and fought two major wars. He left the administration of the East India Company in Bengal immeasurably better than the way he found it, and yet on his return to Britain, he was indicted for corruption by people who had no idea of the conditions he worked under. His trial lasted for seven years, nearly bankrupted him, and was largely a vehicle for sanctimonious grand-standing and political theatre. Most sane people would prefer an honorable death in combat to what Hastings endured, or, like Clive, simply blown their own head off. But Hastings endured all, and in the end was roundly vindicated.

Hastings was born to a noble, but impoverished family. Both his parents died while he was young, and he was raised by a relation. After completing high school he was sent to Bengal in 1750 to work as a clerk for the East India Company. During Hastings' first tour in India he served in many capacities including clerk, soldier, translator, resident (i.e. ambassador to an Indian prince), and finally to council of the company president. In 1757, while Hastings was still a low level operative, the Company's fortunes took a dramatic turn when Clive won Bengal for Britain at the Battle of Plassey. The enormous infusion of riches however, and the difficulties of dealing with rival native princes and overlords caused enormous problems. The company was not equipped to govern such a large and diverse region; there was no consensus on how to proceed; the company had unreasonable financial expectations; and there was graft and corruption at every level of administration. In 1764, after fourteen years in India, Hastings resigned his post on the presidents council and returned to England.

In 1772 Hastings was recalled to India as governor-general of Bengal, and given instructions to make reforms that were obviously needed. He was required to work with a council of advisors however, who proved to create many difficulties for him. The difficulties that Hastings had to deal with in his twelve year term as governor-general are too complicated to go into in depth, but they involved large scale wars with both the Marathas, and the Mysores, several lesser battles, and also petty personal feuds, treachery, and back-stabbing. Plotting and counter-plotting abounded among both the natives and the Europeans under his watch. Many of Hastings long-term problems had to do with Philip Francis, one of his "advisors". Hastings became so infuriated with him that he challenged him to a duel. Francis was injured and returned to England where he spent the rest of his life brewing up trouble for Hastings. Hastings' trial for corruption was largely the work of Francis, who used his connections in Parliament to turn Hastings seven-year trial into a Whigs vs. Tory showdown.

The only good thing to come of the whole ghastly affair was that it succeeded in raising important issues related to governing India into the national eye. Corruption, and misgovernment in India, while still a problem for many years after Hastings, were undoubtedly improved in the long term by the oversight of Parliament. Hastings survived the ordeal and lived his final years peaceably in England, his reputation restored, and his legacy intact.

Key events during the life of Warren Hastings:

Hastings born to a noble, but impoverished family.
Sent to Bengal as a clerk for the East India Company.
Siege of Arcot: Britain defeats French and their Indian allies.
While working at Cossimbar, factory was taken. Hastings captured and released.
Battle of Plassey: Britain gains control of Bengal
Appointed resident at Murshidabad for three years.
Promoted to council of president Vansittart.
Resigned post and sailed for England.
Worst famine on record n Bengal.
Returned to Bengal as second-in-command.
Appointed governor-general for five years.
Brahman Nuncomar is hanged.
Became involved in First Mahratta War.
Injures Philip Francis in a duel. Francis returns to Britain.
Became involved in Second Mysore War.
Sails from India after resigning governorship.
Hastings put on trial for corruption. Prosecuted by Burke.
Hastings acquitted of wrong-doing.
Death of Warren Hastings

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Our Indian Empire  in  The Hanoverians  by  C. J. B. Gaskoin
Warren Hastings, First Governor-General  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Pindaris and the Last Maratha War  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Unsettled Times  in  India  by  Victor Surridge
Trial of Warren Hastings  in  The Struggle for Sea Power  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Warren Hastings
 in The Hanoverians

Warren Hastings
 in India: Peeps at History

Duel between Warren Hastings and Philip Francis
 in India

Short Biography
Robert Clive British soldier, who rose to be a hero in the Carnatic Wars and delivered Bengal to Britain at the Battle of Plassey.
Philip Francis Nemesis of Warren Hastings. Caused him enormous headaches in India and thereafter.
Nuncomar Treacherous Brahman who caused trouble for Hastings and was eventually hung.
Samuel Johnson Eminent literary figure in England. Wrote the first British Dictionary.
Eyre Coote After Clive, greatest of British generals during early years of British Rule in India. Fought at Porto Novo.
Hyder Ali Muslim Ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in Southern India. Allied with the French against the British.
Edmund Burke Very influential Political Philosopher, whose works are a basis of constitutional law.