LORD MINTO IN INDIA.*
ANGLO-INDIANS, who usually know at least the traditional out- line of the history of British India, think of Sir Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto, as a second-rate Governor-General, who never made great mistakes, and who did one brilliant thing, the ex- pulsion of all European flags from Asiatic waters, but who was in no way a marked man in the list of Indian Viceroys. That estimate of him, though perhaps too unfavourable, for his char- acter was finer than his intellect, will not be greatly disturbed by this memoir. Lord Minto appears in it, as painted by him- self in his letters, as a sensible man, of fine temper, great firm- ness, and great decision, but without much original power, and a little given to enunciate sound and sensible platitudes. He was very much what a first-class Director of the East India Company might have been supposed to be, if there had ever been such a person, with the addition that he had very little fear of responsibility. When, in 1807, the Ministry of All the Talents was formed, it became necessary to appoint a Viceroy in succession to Lord Cornwallis, who had just died, during his second Viceroyalty, and had been succeeded by Sir George Barlow, a Civilian of eminence, whom the Duke of Wellington described as a "most respectable 'person," but whom the Court of Directors loved, and made Governor of Madras. The Govern- ment selected Lord Lauderdale for the vacancy, but the Court of Directors refused to consider the nomination, and after a bitter quarrel, in which Mr. Fox showed a most autocratic temper, Lord Grenville, while Fox was ill, nominated Lord Minto, who was accepted by the Court, and arrived in Calcutta on July 3rd, 1808. The selection turned out a very happy one. Lord Minto was essentially Conservative, economical, and disposed to let things ripen ; and under his government the finances improved, dacoity in Bengal Proper was almost suppressed, and the great officers of the Company were impressed with a spirit of patience and moderation in reform which was just then greatly needed. Lord Wellesley, with his brilliant, sultan-like ways, had a little upset all heads. It was Lord Minto's desire for moderation— in this instance, wrongly directed—which induced him to enter into his famous quarrel with the Missionaries of Serampore, whose publications he for a time suppressed ; and it was • Lord Minto in India: Life and Letters of Gilbert Elliot, First Earl of Hint°, from 1807 to 1814. Edited by his Great-niece, the Countess of Moto. London Long- mans and Co. 1880.
the same impulse which persuaded him to avoid, where- ever it was possible, any increase of territory within India itself. He did not, indeed, much believe in progress forced on from above, expecting improvement rather from a gradual change of feeling, and declining to abolish institutions like slavery and suttee, which he, nevertheless, condemned. He always inculcated on all subordinates to govern as little as possible, but when they interfered to be inexorable, and wrote to them advice on such subjects which, though sound, now appears a little platitudinarian. He could, however, take a high and even haughty tone, when occasion demanded it. In 1809, the second mutiny of the officers of the Indian Army broke out in Madras. The first had occurred in 1796, when the Bengal Colonels resisted a measure of retrenchment, and were in part victorious, the Government regranting half the allowances they had taken away. This precedent was, Lord Minto says, remembered, and led to the dangerous manifestation of 1809, when the officers of the Madras Presi- dency, almost to a man, combined to insist on their old allow- ances, and openly threatened to march upon the capital. The Commander-in-Chief himself tried to punish by court-martial an officer, Colonel Munro, for sending to his Government a re- port which he had been required to furnish upon an allowance called tent-money, a contract by which Colonels made large SUMS :—
" The open revolt of Masulipatam (where the officers seized the fortress and put their commanding officer under arrest) left no doubt as to the lengths to which they were prepared to go. It was quickly followed by the mutiny of Seringapatam. From Masulipatam, where he had been sent by Sir George Barlow on a mission, Malcolm wrote that there was not a Company's corps from Cape Comorin to Ganjam that was not implicated in the general guilt,—that is, not pledged to rise against Government unless what they call their grievances are redressed.' Colonel Close, who, on account of his great popularity with the army, had been sent to Hyderabad to take command of the subsidiary force, was met at the camp by the whole of the troops ander arms and prepared for action. Plans were formed for concentrating the rebel force ; all concealment was thrown off, and menaces were heard that 30,000 men would march upon Madras. The Janina detachment actually quitted their station in the execution of that plan. Public treasure was seized, correspondence interrupted, —in a word, civil war bad commenced."
Lord Minto, on the news of the Seringapatam affair, instantly started for Madras, and before and after, with the whole weight of his authority, supported the determined and, indeed, almost desperate resolve adopted by Sir George Barlow, then Governor of the Presidency. Lord Minto held and avowed in his despatches that it would be better for the Government to be beaten by a mutinous army, and reassert its authority sub-
sequently by conquest, than to yield to its own offiders with arms in their hands. He therefore approved Sir George Barlow's plan, which was to appeal to the Sepoys openly by
proclamation against their officers. The plan, doubtful as its expediency appeared, succeeded completely. The Sepoys looked to the " Sircar," and signified that they should take no orders contrary to the will of Government ; and the officers, to their intense surprise and mortification, found themselves suddenly powerless. They submitted instantly, and though one officer was acquitted, . contrary to evidence, twenty were condemned by their own comrades in court-martial. The sentences were not, however, in all cases carried out, Lord Minto,•though determined on obedience, thinking that, with a great body of young, ignorant, and hot-headed officers, " rough-
riding" was out of place. There is reason to believe the Court of Directors thought him too lenient, for they never answered
his despatches for two years, evidently from some difference between them and the Board of Control.
Having settled this dangerous affair, which occupied four- teen months, Lord Mints turned his attention once more to foreign politics. There is always some bugbear reigning in India, and from 1805 to 1815 this was the possibility of an invasion of India by France. Napoleon was supposed to be preparing an invasion of India with Persian troops, or Russian troops, or in some other manner; and Lord Mints, though he did not expect a land invasion, did expect Napoleon to intrigue with native Princes, and thought it needful to give French power in Asia a decided blow. The French in 1808, ruling Portugal and Holland, held, besides their claims to their old possessions, Pondicherry and Chandernagore, Goa, Macao, the Moluccas, Singapore, Java, the Manzi- tins, and the Isle de Bourbon ; and from the latter place expeditions had been sent to Malabar, while all trade was interrupted by French cruisers. Lord Minto deter-
mined to remove this danger, and at the same time inflict a great blow upon Napoleon's prestige, by terminating French authority eastward of the Cape. He had no orders, except as regards Goa and Macao ; indeed, there were old orders pro- hibiting action against European Powers east of the Cape ; but, after occupying Goa in 1808, and threatening Macao—which, however, the Chinese defended—he in 1810 occupied the Mauritius and Isle de Bourbon, and in 1811, Java, accompany- ing this last expedition in person, a singular proceeding, very imperfectly explained in these pages:— "My own reasons are that there are many important points regard- ing our future relations with the Dutch, and with the Native States in Java, which ought to be adjusted at the moment of the attack; that it is impossible to obtain at this distance the information and materials on which a satisfactory judgment can be formed, and which shotild enable me to issue instructions sufficiently distinct or well-founded to meet all the possible exigencies ; that if the general system could be settled here, events might require modifications not to be foreseen or provided for ; and lastly, that, as Admiral Drury acts under a dis- tinct authority, and is fond of acting for himself, I have no security for the execution of any plan I might adopt, or any instructions which might be given by this Government. Upon the whole, I am of opinion that I should not perfectly discharge my duty if I did not attend the whole affair in person ; and although it is not necessary that the public should be in possession of my motives, I have the satisfaction of knowing that they are entirely approved by my colleagues, and other men of experience and judgment with whom I have communi- cated on the subject."
Our own impression is, we confess, not favourable in this matter to Lord Minto. He was quitting the govern- ment of a great empire for an object which, though
it looked much larger then than it looks now, was com- paratively insignificant, and we cannot but suspect that he was moved in part by the desire to obtain credit at home— which he did obtain, though not at first, from the Court of Directors—and partly by that distrust of subordinates which he manifested once or twice in his life, as, for example, in his unreasonably long stay in Madras. He was absent less than a year, and he undoubtedly helped to construct the excellent system of government established by Sir S. Raffles in Java ; but the more we admire his energy and ability, the more we must regret his injudicious absence from his own dominions, where,.
it should be remembered, the Governor-General was at that time also the only head of administration in Bengal Proper. There was no separate government for that vast province then, and by all that Java gained Bengal lost.
Lord Mints was superseded in 1813, nearly a year before lie• had intended to resign, to make way for the Earl of Moira, to whom the Prince Regent was under political obligations ; but the affront was mitigated by the grant of an earldom, and by warm letters of approval of his entire policy. He arrived. in,
London on May 14th, 1814, and his short subsequent history is a very melancholy one. Passionately attached.to his ewu lam ily,. which had remained in Scotland, and to his own place; Minto, about which he was incessantly writing, with the true longing
of a Scotclunan, he was nevertheless compelled, by some official duties and some claims of etiquette, to remain in town,. and could not leave the capital till June 15th or 18th—the
exact date is not given—and was then discovered to be the victim of some dangerous internal complaint,—stone, we imagine, but it is not stated ; and of this disease he died, at Stevenage, on June 21st, never having again seen his wife or his home. He was only sixty-three. He was a man of great public spirit, much decision, and fair average force ; but this memoir will not greatly modify the usual opinion, that he was a second-rate, though successful, Viceroy. Indeed, it may be observed that, as often occurs in despotisms, the .
traditional opinion of Anglo-Indians about their masters is very rarely wrong. They have too much interest in arriving at the
truth. If there has been an exception, it is in the case of Lord Elgin, who was decidedly under-rated, though the error would, had he lived longer, have been folly corrected.