Primary aims and achievements of Marquess (Lord) Hastings – 1813-1823

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Marquees (Lord) Hastings

The charge of the Company was taken over by Lord Minto from Sir George Barlow in 1807. At that time, Napoleon Bonaparte was at the zenith of his power in Europe. Except Britain, practically all European states were subjugated by him while Russia signed the treaty of Tilsit with him in 1807. Therefore, there was a serious apprehension in the minds of all British statesmen that Napoleon would attack India with the help of Russia, and the only route open to him was via Persia and Afghanistan. Therefore, Minto avoided interference in the affairs of the native rulers. He, however, took measures to strengthen the North-Western frontier. For that purpose, he deputed Charles Metcalfe as ambassador to the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Punjab, Stuart Elphinstone as ambassador to Afghanistan and John Malcolm as ambassador to Persia. The mission to Persia did not succeed but Shah Shuja, the ruler of Afghanistan agreed that he would not permit the French or the Russian forces to cross his frontier. The same way, a treaty of friendship was signed with Ranjit Singh at Amritsar in 1809. Thus, the period of Lord Minto remained one of peace for the British.

The condition, however, changed with the coming of Marquess of Hastings as governor-general of the Company in 1813. Hastings remained here for nearly ten years. During this period, he defeated Nepal and forced it to sign a treaty; he suppressed the Pindarees and the Pathans; and gave a final blow to the Maratha power which made the Company the Supreme power in India.

The Nepal War (1814-16)

The Gurkhas had succeeded in establishing a strong kingdom in Nepal by the time the British became a Strong power in India. Their boundary, in the south nearly touched the boundary of the English empire. It resulted in occasional disputes between the two and, finally, in an open War in 1814.

The war began on a disputed claim over the districts of Butwal and Sheoraj. The two districts were occupied once by the Gurkhas during the period of Minto but were recovered by the English. In May 1814, the Gurkhas attacked three police stations in the district of Butwal. Marquess of Hastings was provoked and declared war in October. The English attacked Nepal from three sides. Colonel Ochterlony proceeded from the river Sutlej while Major General Gillespie marched from Meerut to join him. Major General Marley proceeded from Patna and John Wood proceeded towards Nepal from Gorakhpur. The Gurkhas resisted the English bravely. Marley and Wood were forced to retreat, Gillespie was killed and Major General Martindell was defeated. But the situation was reversed in 1815. Colonel Nicholas and Colonel Gardener captured Almora anq Kumaon in April 1815 and Colonel Ochterlony captured the fort of Malon from the hands of Amar Singh Thapa. Ochterlony proceeded further and defeated the Gurkhas at Makwanpur on February 28, 1816. The king then agreed for peace-and the treaty of Sagauli was signed in March 1816 by which the English got larger part of Tarai region including the districts of Garhwal and Kumaon; their boundary was settled with Nepal; and, an English Resident was stationed in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

The Pindarees and the Pathans

The Pindarees were a group of freebooters whose numbers ran into hundreds of thousands. They existed mostly on systematised plunder. Peshwa Baji Rao first utilized their services as irregular cavalrymen. After the third battle of Panipat, they settled themselves in Malwa and came into contact with the Maratha chiefs, the Sindhia and the Holkar. Gradually the Maratha chiefs lost their power and the Pindarees became free from their influence, and organized plunder became their main occupation. Yet, they received protection from the Maratha chiefs and therefore, were called the ‘scavengers of the Marathas.’ The Pindarees never challenged regular troops. Their main victims were peaceful citizens of villages and from whom they could get easy booty. Their important leaders were Hiru, Cheetu, Wasil Mohammad and Karim Khan. Hastings decided to finish the menace of the Pindarees for once and ever. He first moved diplomatically and entered into negotiations with the Bhonsle, the Sindhia, the Rajput rulers and the Nawab of Bhopal. Each of them agreed not to support the Pindarees against the English. He then organized an army nearly one lac and thirteen thousand soldiers and equipped it with three hundred pieces of artillery. This army was divided into two parts. One part was commanded by Sir Thomas Hislop who moved from the South towards the North. The other part was commanded by Marquess of Hastings himself who moved from the North towards the South with a view to encircling the Pindarees. The campaign was started in 1817 and by the beginning of 1818, the Pindarees were completely destroyed. Karim Khan surrendered himself to the English and he was assigned the jagir of Gwaspur in the district of Gorakhpur. Wasil Mohammad was imprisoned and he committed suicide in the jail. Cheetu fled in the forest and was killed by a tiger. The Pathans were more organized than the Pindarees. They grew in power under their leader Amir Khan and Mohammad Shah Khan. The primary aim of the Pathans was also plunder but there was a marked difference between the Pathans and the Pindarees. Prinsep wrote : “The Pathans were banded together for the purpose of preying on government and powerful chiefs ; while the object of the Pindarees was universal plunder.” Their area of depredations was primarily Rajasthan. They helped different Rajput chiefs in their mutual quarrels and received rewards and booty in return. Their one leader, Mohammad Shah Khan, died in 1814 and his soldiers went under the service of Amir Khan whose power was further strengthened. The English opened negotiations with Amir Khan through Sir Charles Metcalfe, the Resident at Delhi. Amir Khan agreed for peace with the English and a treaty was signed between the two. Amir Khan agreed to disband his army and the English accepted him as the Nawab of Tonk. Thus, a powerful enemy was converted into a dependent ally by the English peacefully.

Marquess of Hastings, thus, succeeded in destroying the menace of the Pindarees and the Pathans. It helped the English in maintaining peace and order in the territory under their command, in bringing the Rajput rulers under their effective protection and deprived the Marathas of the help of these two powerful groups in the ensuing Maratha War.

Read about the Third Maratha War

Points to remember

  1. Lord Minto, the predecessor of Marquess of Hastings, took measures to check the probable attack of Napoleon on India by signing the treaty of Amritsar with Ranjit Singh in 1809, securing an assurance from Shah Shuja of not permitting the French or the Russian forces to cross his frontiers and pursuing the policy of peace with Indian native rulers.
  2. But when Lord Hastings came to India in 1813, he pursued an aggressive policy, forced Nepal to sign a treaty with the English, suppressed the Pindarees and the Pathans and gave a final blow to the Maratha power.
  3. Boundary disputes between Nepal and the English, particularly the disputed claim over Butwal and Sheoraj, provoked Hastings to declare war against the Gurakhas in 1814.
  4. The English attacked Nepal from three sides but, initially, met with reverses.
  5. In 1815, however, the English succeeded in defeating the Gurkhas at several places which forced them to sign the treaty of Sagauli in March 1816.
  6. By this treaty, the English got larger part of Tarai, settled their boundary with Nepal and stationed an English Resident at Kathmandu.
  7. Marquess of Hastings decided to finish the Pindarees, organized an army of nearly one lakh and thirteen thousand soldiers, gave Hislop the command of the army of the South, himself commanded the army of the North and during 1817-1818, encircled and destroyed them.
  8. Among their leaders, Karim surrendered himself to the English, Wasil Mohammad was captured and Cheetu fled in the forests.
  9. The Pathan leader, Amir Khan, peacefully agreed to disband his army and, in return, was made the Nawab of Tonk by the English.
  10. Hastings was determined to give a final blow to the Marathas but, prior to doing so, he weakened them diplomatically.
  11. The claim of Baji Rao over some territory of Gaekwad, the murder of Gangadhar Shastri at Poona and fleeing away of Trimbakji from imprisonment in connivance with Baji Rao provoked Hastings to force the Peshwa to sign the treaty of Poona in 1817, by which he accede to all demands of the English.
  12. Hastings also forced the Gaekwad, the Bhonsle and the Sindhia to sign fresh treaties by which their power to resist the English was reduced.
  13. All Maratha chiefs were therefore, dissatisfied with the English and were keen to oppose them.
  14. Baji Rao attacked the English Residency at Kirkee and thus began the third Maratha War in 1817.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan and their achievements. Death and biography.

Questions for UPSC mains :

Form an estimate of the achievements of Hastings.


What were the primary aims of Lord Hastings? Is it justified to accept that he succeeded in making the British the greatest power in India?

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