| Our Empire Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Vivid and picturesque account of the principal events in the building of the British Empire. Traces the development of the British colonies from days of discovery and exploration through settlement and establishment of government. Includes stories of the five chief portions of the Empire: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Ages 10-16 |
 ALTHOUGH Hastings was no soldier he had battles to
The Máráthas were a tribe of warlike Indians who every
year swept over the land plundering and destroying. At
first they were little more than mounted robbers,
burning villages, wasting harvests, leaving a track of
death and desolation behind them. But, as years went
on, their power grew greater and greater. From a band
of raiders they had grown to be a wealthy nation with a
great army of well-drilled soldiers, and now they
declared that they would conquer all India.
Another people, called the Rohillas, lived in Northern
India. Rohilla means mountaineer. These mountaineers
were a wild and warlike set of raiders who had come
from the hills of Afghanistan and settled in Northern
India. The land of which they had taken possession
they called Rohilkhand, or the land of the Rohillas.
The Máráthas now made war on the Rohillas, and they, in
their need, begged the Nawab of Oudh to help them. The
Nawab promised to do this if they would pay him a large
sum of money. This the Rohillas gladly said they would
do, but when, with the Nawab's help, the Máráthas had
been driven back, the Rohillas refused to pay.
For this the Nawab of Oudh resolved to punish them, and
he asked Hastings to help him.
Hastings did not want to fight the Rohillas. Neither
 did he want to offend the Nawab of Oudh, who was now
friendly. For Oudh lies next to Bengal, and Hastings
was anxious to keep a friendly state between British
India and the states around, where the princes were
always fighting with each other. He wanted a "buffer
state" in fact—a state to soften the blows which might
be aimed at him.
He was also in need of money, for the directors kept
writing letters saying, "Be just, govern well, but send
us money." It was very hard to do both as things then
were. So now Hastings decided that, although the
British had no quarrel with the Rohillas, it would be
well to help the people of Oudh to fight them if the
Nawab would pay for the help. The Nawab readily
promised a large sum of money, and the Company's
soldiers were sent to help him against his enemies.
In a battle, which the British leader called the battle
of St. George because it was fought on St. George's
day, the Rohillas were utterly defeated and their
The most of the fighting had as usual fallen to the
share of the British. But when the Rohillas had been
beaten, when they broke and scattered, when before the
glitterimg bayonets of the redcoats they swept forward
in mad flight, then the men of Oudh dashed after them
and began a fearful slaughter and pillage. The
Rohillas left all their camp baggage behind, and while
the men of Oudh plundered it, the British soldiers
looked on somewhat scornful and discontented. "We have
the honour of the day, these robbers the profit," they
said as they saw the piles of gold and gems and rich
stuffs laden upon camels and elephants to be carried
back to Oudh.
But the Nawab paid the money he had promised, and the
British had still a friendly state upon their borders.
Soon after this, three new councillors were sent out
from England to Calcutta. These three men knew
 nothing of India or of the Indian people. They were
jealous of Hastings and angry at the things he did. On
the council there were now five—Hastings, and one
friend, and these three. But as the three always voted
together, and against the Governor and his friend, for
some years they did very much as they liked, and
although he was Governor-General, Hastings had really
The natives soon began to see that Sahib Warren
Hostein, as they called him, was no longer all
powerful, and now one of them, who hated him, thought
that the time was come when he might be overthrown.
This man was called Nuncomar. He was one of the most
important among the natives, but he was a bad old man.
Yet, although he was bad, he was clever and useful. So
the directors told Hastings to employ him. Hastings
did, but he disliked the old villain so much that he
would rather have had nothing to do with him. Nuncomar
knew this very well, and he became the
Governor-General's deadly enemy.
Now, knowing that the three English gentlemen on the
council were also the enemies of Hastings, Nuncomar
wrote a letter to them, accusing Hastings of taking
bribes and of other wickedness.
The letter was read at the council, and the three
wished to bring Nuncomar in to hear what he had to say.
The idea that these Englishmen should take the word of
a wicked old Indian against one of themselves was more
than Hastings could bear. He was very angry. "I will
not suffer Nuncomar to appear before the board as my
accuser," he said. "I know what belongs to my dignity
as head of it. I will not sit at this board as a
criminal, nor do I acknowledge the members as my
judges." The Hastings left the room.
But the council would not be stopped, for they intended
 to ruin Hastings. When he had gone they made one of
themselves chairman. Nuncomar was called in and
questioned, and without more ado, and without any
proof, they decided that Hastings had been guilty of
bribery, and ordered him to repay the money he had
Hastings of course refused. He did not admit that the
three had any right to try or condemn him. And now
other natives, terrified by the threats of Nuncomar, or
bribed by his gold, made bold to accuse Hastings of all
manner of cruelty and injustice. It seemed as if the
authority of the Governor-General was at an end, and
that there was nothing left for him but to give up his
post and go home.
Then suddenly bad old Nuncomar was accused in his turn
of forgery. To forge, in this sense, means to make
something false, meaning, for some wicked reason, to
pretend that it is real. Nuncomar had written out a
paper making believe that it was written by someone
else, and by this means had got a large sum of money to
which he had no right.
This was only one of the many bad things which Nuncomar
had done in his life. But it was enough. He was
seized, put in prison, and tried before four British
judges. They, finding that he was guilty, condemned
him to death. Nowadays no man would be hanged for
forgery, but in those days it was the law of Britain.
It was not, however, the law among the Indians. Indeed
lying and cheating did not seem to them to be very
Besides, Nuncomar was a Brahmin. The people of India
were divided into castes or classes. Of the four chief
castes, the highest and sacred class was the Brahmin.
Next came the Royal caste, then the Merchant, and last,
 the Sudras or slave or servant caste. Each caste kept
strictly to itself, and no man might marry any one who
was not of his own caste, so they never became mixed.
There are still castes in India, but the two middle
classes have almost passed away, and the Sudras are
split up into many sub-castes.
Brahmins were looked upon as sacred. If any one killed
one even by mistake, the deed was looked upon with
horror. Now the people of India found it hard to
believe that their terrible white masters really meant,
of set purpose, to put a Brahmin to death. They
shuddered at the thought. But Nuncomar was hated by
all, and no man, either British or Indian, not even his
friends the three councillors, tried to save him.
And so one August morning a great crowd, brown-faced,
bright-eyed, eager and wondering, gathered to see the
end of the mighty Brahmin. Nuncomar marched to death
in a calm and stately manner. His white head was bowed
to a dishonoured grave, but he showed neither fear nor
shame. Around him his friends wept and howled in an
agony of farewell. But he stood unmoved. It was God's
will, he said. And so with unshaken, eastern calm he
Breathless, wide eyed, the swaying crowd watched. Then
when all was over, they fled shrieking with fear and
horror, many in their terror plunging into the waters
of the Hooghly. So great was the shock of this deed to
the Indian mind that not a few Brahmin families fled
from the town altogether, and for years it was looked
upon as a place accursed.
The death of Nuncomar removed Hastings' greatest enemy,
and because he was Hastings' enemy, and because one of
the judges was Hastings' friend, it was said that the
Governor-General had tried to have Nuncomar hanged.
 But there was never any real reason for believing that.
Nuncomar was hanged, not because he was Hastings'
enemy, but because he was found guilty of forgery, and,
according to the ideas of the time, was deserving of
One enemy was thus removed, yet Hastings had still to
fight his councillors, who hated him as much or even
more than before. But first one died, and then
another, and the third and bitterest went home, leaving
Hastings at last free to rule as he thought best.
Meantime, while Hastings was struggling to hold and
rule British India, the government at home was flinging
away the colonies on the other side of the world, for
the war of American Independence had begun. The French
helped the Americans, and war between Great Britain and
France was declared. In India, too, there was war—in
Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. There was war with the
Máráthas; there was a war with a fierce Mohammedan
leader called Hyder Ali, who, after deposing the
rightful ruler of Mysore, swept the Carnatic with his
terrible host, and swore to conquer all Southern India;
there was war with the French who still possessed
Pondicherry and some other towns. They helped the
Máráthas, and still more they helped Hyder Ali. There
were battles and sieges, defeats and victories.
But in 1782 Hyder Ali died, weary of warring against a
powerful nation who might have been his friends and
begging his son to make peace. The Máráthas, too, made
peace, promising no more to help the enemies of the
British, and in 1783, the news of the Peace of
Versailles reached India and put an end to the war
between French and British. So everywhere there was
Then in 1785, after sixteen years of toil, Warren
Hastings sailed home, leaving all India at rest.
 At first Hastings was received with honour even as
Clive had been. But his enemies had been at work, and
before many months had passed, he was called to account
for many of his deeds in India.
Hastings was impeached. In Great Britain to impeach
means the process by which any man may be called upon
by the Commons to defend himself before the house of
Lords, for treason or other high crimes against the
Hastings was accused of cruelty, bribery, and misrule
in many ways. He knew that the charges brought against
him were for the most part untrue, or so twisted by
hate as to seem much worse than they were, and he
defended himself well. "Every department of the
government which now exists in Bengal," he said, "is of
my making. The office formed for the service of the
revenue, the courts of civil and criminal justice were
created by me. To sum up all, I kept these provinces
in a state of peace, plenty, and safety, when every
other member of the British Empire was full of wars and
tumults. The valour of others won; I enlarged and gave
shape to the dominion you hold there. I preserved it.
I maintained the wars which were of your making or that
of others, not of mine. I am accused of desolating the
provinces in India which are the most flourishing of
all the states in India. It was I who made them so. I
gave you all; and you reward me with confiscation,
disgrace, and a life of impeachment."
But in spite of all that Hastings might say, the trial
dragged on for seven long years, filling his life with
anxiety and trouble. But at last it came to an end,
and the Lords declared Hastings "not guilty."
So the little, bald old man, who yet looked every inch
a great man, went away to live quietly in his beautiful
 house, there to forget in a simple country life the
glories and the troubles of the first Governor-General
Once, many years later, when Parliament wished to know
something about India, Hastings was called upon to
attend. As he entered, the Commons received him with
cheers. They listened respectfully to what he had to
say, and, when he had finished, they rose to a man and
stood bareheaded until he had passed from the hall.
The Lords, too, treated him with like honour. So it
seemed that even in his own day, his name was cleared.
Yet there were many people who still believed that
Hastings had been a cruel ruler. There are many who
believe so to this day. Of course many things were
done in those first years of British rule in India
which would seem very terrible to us now. But we
cannot judge those times as we would our own. And the
people of Bengal did not think of Hastings as cruel.
To them he was a deliverer rather than a tyrant. The
men admired him, and the women sang their children to
sleep with songs of the wealth and the might of the
great Sahib Warren Hostein.
At last, at the great age of eighty-seven, Hastings
died. To the end he was a kindly, cheerful, brave old
man, taking an interest in all around him, and ruling
his estate with as great care as he had ruled the broad
lands of India.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics