Warren Hastings

Warren Hastings

Infobox Governor-General
honorific-prefix =Rt. Hon.
name =Warren Hastings
honorific-suffix =

order =1st
office =Governor-General of Bengal
term_start =1773
term_end =1785
predecessor =None
successor =Sir John Macpherson, "acting"
birth_date = December 6, 1732
birth_place = Churchill, Oxfordshire
death_date = August 22, 1818
death_place = Daylesford, Gloucestershire
nationality = English
relations =
children =
residence =
alma_mater =Westminster School

Warren Hastings (December 6 1732 - August 22 1818) was the first Governor-General of Bengal, from 1773 to 1785. He was famously impeached in 1787 for corruption, and acquitted in 1795. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1814.


Warren Hastings was born at Churchill, Oxfordshire. He attended Westminster School before joining the British East India Company in 1750 as a clerk. In 1757 he was made the British Resident (administrative in charge) of Murshidabad. He was appointed to the Calcutta council in 1761, but was back in England in 1764. He returned to India in 1769 as a member of the Madras council and was made governor of Bengal in 1772. In 1773, he was appointed the first Governor-General of India.

After an eventful ten-year tenure in which he greatly extended and regularised the nascent Raj created by Clive of India, Hastings resigned in 1784. On his return to England he was charged with high crimes and misdemeanours by Edmund Burke, encouraged by Sir Philip Francis whom he had wounded in a duel in India. He was impeached in 1787 but the trial, which began in 1788, ended with his acquittal in 1795. Hastings spent most of his fortune on his defence, although towards the end of the trial the East India Company did provide financial support.

He retained his supporters, however, and on August 22, 1806, the Edinburgh East India Club and a number of gentlemen from India gave what was described as "an elegant entertainment" to "Warren Hastings, Esq., late Governor-General of India", who was then on a visit to Edinburgh. One of the 'sentiments' drunk on the occasion was "Prosperity to our settlements in India, and may the virtue and talents which preserved them be ever remembered with gratitude." [ Gilbert, W.M., editor, "Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century", Edinburgh, 1901: 44]

In 1788 he acquired the estate at Daylesford, Gloucestershire, including the site of the medieval seat of the Hastings family. In the following years, he remodelled the mansion to the designs of Samuel Pepys Cockerell, with magnificent classical and Indian decoration, and gardens landscaped by John Davenport. He also rebuilt the Norman church in 1816, where he was buried two years later.

Impact on Indian history

In many respects Warren Hastings epitomizes the strengths and shortcomings of the British conquest and dominion over India. Warren Hastings went about consolidating British power in a highly systematic manner. They realized very early into their rule after they gained control over the vast lands of the Gangetic plain with a handful of British officers, that they would have to rely on the Indic to administer these vast areas. In so doing, he makes a virtue out of necessity by realizing the importance of various forms of knowledge to the Colonial power, and in 1784 towards the end of his tenure as Governor general, he makes the following remarks about the importance of various forms of knowledge , including linguistic, legal and scientific for a colonial power and the case that such knowledge could be put to use for the benefit of his country Britain

“Every application of knowledge and especially such as is obtained in social communication with people, over whom we exercise dominion, founded on the right of conquest, is useful to the state … It attracts and conciliates distant affections, it lessens the weight of the chain by which the natives are held in subjection and it imprints on the hearts of our countrymen the sense of obligation and benevolence… Every instance which brings their real character will impress us with more generous sense of feeling for their natural rights, and teach us to estimate them by the measure of our own… But such instances can only be gained in their writings; and these will survive when British domination in India shall have long ceased to exist, and when the sources which once yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance” [(Bernard S Cohn "Colonialism and its forms of knowledge: The British in India" Oxford University Press 1997]

During Hastings' time in this post, a great deal of precedent was established pertaining to the methods which the British Empire would use in its administration of India. Hastings had a great respect for the ancient scripture of Hinduism and fatefully set the British position on governance as one of looking back to the earliest precedents possible. This allowed Brahmin advisors to mold the law, as no Englishman understood Sanskrit until Sir William Jones; it also accentuated the caste system and other religious frameworks which had, at least in recent centuries, been somewhat incompletely applied. Thus, British influence on the ever-changing social structure of India can in large part be characterized as, for better or for worse, a solidification of the privileges of the caste system through the influence of the exclusively high-caste scholars by whom the British were advised in the formation of their laws.

In 1781, Hastings founded Madrasa 'Aliya, meaning "the higher madrasa", in Calcutta showing his relations with the Muslim population. [cite book
last = Rahman
first = Fazlur
authorlink = Fazlur Rahman
year = 1982
title = Islam & Modernity
publisher = The University of Chicago Press
location = United States
id = ISBN 0-226-70284-7
] In addition, in 1784 Hastings supported the foundation of the Bengal Asiatik Society (now Asiatic Society of Bengal by the Orientalist Scholar William Jones, which became a storehouse for information and data pertaining to India. [cite book
last = Keay
first = John
authorlink = John Keay
year = 2000
title = India: A History
publisher = Grove Press Books, distributed by Publishers Group West
location = United States
id = ISBN 0-8021-3797-0

As Hastings had few Englishmen to carry out administrative work, and still fewer with the ability to converse in local tongues, he was forced to farm out revenue collection to locals with no ideological friendship for Company rule. Moreover, he was ideologically committed at the beginning of his rule to the administration being carried out by 'natives'. He believed that Europeans revenue collectors would "open the door to every kind of rapine and extortion" as there was "a fierceness in the European manners, especially among the lower sort, which is incompatible with the gentle temper of the Bengalee". [cite book
last = Monckton-Jones
first = M. E.
year = 1918
title = Warren Hastings in Bengal
pages = 156

British desire to assert themselves as the sole sovereign led to conflicts within this 'dual government' of Britons and Indians. The very high levels of revenue extraction and exportation of Bengali silver back to Britain had probably contributed to the famine of 1769-70, in which it has been estimated Fact|date=July 2007 that a third of the population died; this led to the British characterising the collectors as tyrants and blaming them for the ruin of the province.

Some Englishmen continued to be seduced by the opportunities to acquire massive wealth in India and as a result became involved in corruption and bribery, and Hastings could do little or nothing to stop it. Indeed it was argued (unsuccessfully) at his impeachment trial that he participated in the exploitation of these newly conquered lands.


The city of Hastings, New Zealand and the Melbourne outer suburb of Hastings, Victoria, Australia were both named after him.

Hastings is a Senior Wing House at St Paul's School, Darjeeling, India, where all the senior wing houses are named after colonial-age military figures.

As judged by history

In his "Essay on Warren Hastings", Lord Macaulay, while impressed by the scale of Hastings' achievement in India, found that “His principles were somewhat lax. His heart was somewhat hard.”

The nationalists in the subcontinent consider Hastings as another English bandit, along with Clive, who started the colonial rule in the subcontinent through treachery and cunning Fact|date=February 2008. However, it should be pointed out that other bandits, English or otherwise, did not found colleges and madrasas, nor helped to collect and translate Sanskrit works into English.



* Forrest, G.W., CIE, (editor), "Selections from The State Papers of the Governors-General of India - Warren Hastings" (2 vols), Blackwell's, Oxford (1910)
* Feiling, Keith, "Warren Hastings" (1954)
* Marshall, P.J., "The impeachment of Warren Hastings" (1965)
* Thomas Babington Macaulay " [http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/2332 Warren Hastings] " in "Critical and Historical Essays" (1843) ----

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