Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

Times of Misrule

In 1760 Clive again sailed home. He was only thirty-five but he was now enormously rich, a great soldier and conqueror, and perhaps the most famous man of his day. In England he was received with joy. Honours were heaped upon him. He was made a peer and became Lord Clive, Baron Plassey.

But while Clive was being fêted and feasted at home, Bengal was quickly sinking into a state of fearful confusion.

Many of the British hated Mir Jafar, as he had been leader of the troops at the time of the Black Hole. They made up their minds to depose him and to set his son-in-law, Mir Cossim, in his place. This they very quickly did. But they soon found that the new Nawab was not so easily dealt with as the old, and quarrels began.

Mir Jafar had been old and feeble and a mere tool in the hands of the British. Mir Cossim was young and clever, and anxious to free himself from their power. They, it was true, had put him on the throne, but he had paid them for that, and now he tried to show that he meant to rule without their help or their interference.

The officers of the Company were very badly paid, some of them indeed receiving only a few pounds a year. It was quite impossible to live in India on such small sums. So, instead of attending to the work of the Company only, every officer became a merchant on his own account, and bought and sold to the natives. This was called private trading and was forbidden by the directors of the Company, but in spite of that it was still continued.

Soon all the trade of Bengal was in the hands of the white people, and the native traders were ruined. For they had to pay duty while the British were allowed to trade everywhere without paying duty. If a boat hoisted a British flag, or a trader showed a Company's passport, he could buy and sell as he pleased. The Company's officers made a great deal of money by selling passes to people who had nothing to do with the Company. They forced the natives to sell their goods cheaply, and made them pay dear for what they bought. In fact, they did as they liked. The whole land was filled with misery, and these years have been called the darkest in the history of British rule in India.

The native people were utterly miserable, and the Nawab, too, became poor, for a great deal of his money came from customs and duties. And now all the money from them went into the pockets of the Company's servants. Mir Cossim tried his best to make the British stop this inland trade and keep to the trade between India and Europe. This made the British traders angry, and both sides prepared for war.

Mir Cossim gathered his army at his capital, Monghyr, on the Ganges. He thus lay between the British at Calcutta and at Patna, where they had another factory.

The factory at Patna had no defences, and seeing themselves cut off from their friends, the British attacked and took the town of Patna, hoping to be able to defend themselves there. But they were not strong enough to keep the town, and the soldiers of the Nawab attacked and took it again from them. Many of the British were killed, and all the rest were taken prisoner.

Mir Cossim rejoiced greatly at this victory, but when the British at Calcutta heard of it they were very wrathful, and, to punish Mir Cossim, they dethroned him, and again made Mir Jafar Nawab.

Mir Jafar was by this time not only old, but ill and foolish. The traders, however, did not want a real ruler, they only wanted a figure-head, and he did as well as any other.

The British now sent an army against Mir Cossim, and as they marched towards Patna, they beat his soldiers again and again. Then a massacre, quite as bad as that of the Black Hole, took place. For the Nawab, mad with anger, ordered his men to kill all the British prisoners.

They had been shut up in a large house built round a square. Now three of the chief of them were brought out into this square, and there cruelly put to death. The Indians were then ordered to fire upon the rest who were quite unarmed. Against their fierce, dark fores, the white men defended themselves as best they could with bottles, sticks, bits of furniture, anything that they could find. But it was all useless, and soon the last man fell dead and their bodies were thrown into a well.

So the war began, and soon the whole country was ablaze, for the Nawab of Oudh and the Great Mogul both joined with Mir Cossim against the British. But they, when they heard of the massacre of Patna, swept with an avenging army over the land. For months the war lasted, and ended with the battle of Buxar. This was a victory as important as Plassey, for it made the British secure as the greatest power in India.

The Nawab of Oudh and the Great Mogul made Peace. Utterly vanquished, Mir Cossim fled, to die a few years later in wretched exile. Yet Mir Cossim, with all his cruelty, had been a clever ruler. He had tried to do the best for his own people, and much of the trouble and war was no doubt due to the misrule of the Company's officers, which was such "as to make the very name of Briton a shame."

In those days it took a long time for news to travel home. But now every ship brought news of battles, revolutions, loss. At length the directors began to be alarmed. Filled with grief at the awful news of Patna, wearied with constant tidings of disaster and war, they begged Lord Clive to go back to India again and try to bring order once more into the terrible confusion there. And in 1764 Clive sailed again for Bengal.

When Clive arrived he found that poor old Mir Jafar was dead, and that the Company had enthroned another Nawab. He found, too, everything in such confusion that he wept "for the lost fame of the British nation."

For eighteen months Clive stayed in India working hard. He had immense difficulties to fight—difficulties with the directors at home, with the Council in India, with the British soldiers and officers, with the natives and their rulers. But Clive had a will of iron, and all that one man could do, he did. He sent away the men who had done the worst deeds, he put down mutinies, he made treaties with the native rulers, and at last brought some sort of order out of wild disorder. But he made many enemies and wore his health out, and after eighteen months he again went home.

At first he was received with honour as before, and thanked for all that he had done. But soon his enemies began to attack him. They recalled again the deceit he had used against Omi Chand, they accused him of taking bribes, and of many other wicked deeds. Against these accusations Clive had to defend himself before the House of Commons. And he defended himself so well that the Commons, after much stormy debate, passed a resolution, "That Robert, Lord Clive, did render great and meritorious services to his country."

So Clive won the victory over his enemies. But the struggle had left him sad. He could not forget it. He suffered much, too, from a painful disease brought on by his hard life in India. And one day his friends found him dead, killed by his own hand. He was only forty-eight.

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