6 JULY 1867, Page 6


IF Parliament separates without punishing the officials who 1 are mainly responsible for the Famine in Orissa, at least by a solemn vote of censure, it will grossly neglect its duty. That catastrophe, a catastrophe which, alike in extent and degree of horror, is almost without a parallel since the birth of Christ, has been traced home to the ignorant negligence of four civilians, all in the service of a parliamentary depart- ment, and if the House of Commons lets them pass unscathed it will abdicate one of the noblest of its functions, that of protecting Her Majesty's unrepresented subjects. The four are Sir Cecil Beadon, late Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, and the three members of the Calcutta Board of Revenue. Under the orders of the Secretary for India, without which the Government of India would have done nothing, a Commission was appointed to inquire into the Orissa Famine, and its report, with the Lieutenant-Governor's defence, and the Vice- roy's comments on both, have been presented to Parliament. We venture to say no documents more deeply incriminatory of public officers were ever laid upon the table of the House of Commons. The Commission was composed of civilians, men bound by esprit de corps, by interest, by an inexorable etiquette, to bear as gently as possible on members of their own service, and its head and reporter was Mr. George Campbell, a man as able and as hard as his uncle, the late Lord Chancellor, about the last man in India to defer to any popular cry, or avoid exposing any popular exaggeration. Their report is gentle and moderate to the full official degree, yet even they admit, in so many words, that the labourers of Orissa, the class below the yeomen, seem to have perished en masse of hunger, that the statements made by public officers and private individuals as to the horrors of the famine were substantially correct, and that the official estimate of seven hundred thousand deaths from hunger and its consequences in Orissa alone, exclusive of the deaths in the hill and jungle districts, is, at all events, no exaggeration. Their statement upon this point is so judi- cially calm that we give the precise words. After stating that " no accounts of the extent and severity of the famine generally have been, we might also say could be, exaggerated," and that the Commissioner of the province estimates the- mortality at one-fourth the entire population, and that this population is not below three millions, they continue :---" Thee Lieutenant-Governor has recently estimated the mortality at one-fifth of the population, but we are not informed of the- grounds of that estimate, nor can we attempt to say which is. nearest to the truth. The police have made some rough returns by counting houses lately and now occupied, but they can be little relied on. We can only say that the mortality has been, without doubt, enormous. Perhaps some of those- who have witnessed the most horrible scenes may be inclined to take a more gloomy view of the destruction than will be borne out when the survivors have settled down again in quiet- and comfort. We do not think that the appearance of the country generally warrants any estimate of the loss of one-half the population ; and even one-fourth might seem too high an estimate, if it referred to able-bodied adults only in the parts of the country which we have seen. It cannot be there said that one-fourth of the land has generally ceased to be culti- Vated, nor probably that one-fourth of the families have ceased to exist. But, on the other hand, the mortality has un- doubtedly been so great among the old and the young of so- many families which have escaped total destruction, and in so- many parts the great mass of the proper labouring population (as distinguished from farming ryots) seems to have been. really so much swept from the face of the earth, that we cannot take on ourselves to say that the estimate of one-fourth is too high, even in parts which have not suffered much from the floods of 1866." Nothing like this has occurred in India in this century, nothing like it in a civilized country since the- birth of Christ. Imagine one-fourth of the population of Scotland to have died of hunger, and our readers may form a faint and under-coloured idea of the calamity which fell upon a British province for which Parliament is as responsible as for Scotland 1 The famine began to be expected by officers on the spot in October, 1865, when Mr. Barlow, collector and magistrate of Pooree, that is, Prefect of the most important county in the province, and the only official warmly praised by all con- cerned, began to warn Mr. Ravenshaw, Commissioner of Orissa, and apply to Calcutta for remissions of rent, on the ground that the rice crop was not an eighth of the nominal average, representations curtly rejected by the Board of Revenue as. "inadmissible." This Board, it mast be remembered, is the " Treasury " of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, and in the words of the Viceroy, primarily responsible for the suggestion of any exceptional measures required by the condition of the country.. Even at this time, serious stoppages of sales of grain were reported, but the Board ordered that "no interference with the course of trade " should be sanctioned, that is, that nothing whatever should be done. The attention of the Lieutenant- Governor was, however, attracted to the reports, and the Board circulated a document which they intended to be a kind of Code for the guidance of their officers in time of scarcity. A more wonderful document was never penned even by Bengal civilians. But for the . horrors it occasioned it would be worthy a place in one of Mr. Dickens's rhapsodies on the art- of misgoverning. The Board direct that in the event of mere " scarcity " the retail prices of each district shall be regularly published--among a population who cannot read—and that work shall be found for labourers, who are to be paid only in cash,—which would not buy the non-existent food,—bat that " if famine," i.e., death from hunger, "actually supervenes, the chief, if not the only reliance, must be upon the efforts of local private liberality," that is, the subscriptions of a few landlords, which even, if given, would buy nothing. It is " of the utmost consequence to wean the people of this country of their habit of relying upon Government for help," every landlord, that is, being expected to do his duty except the big one, the State, which not only owns five-sixths of Orissa, but was at• this moment refusing with curt callous- ness all demands for remission or postponement of rental. This, however, is nothing to what followed. The local reports became worse and worse, and the Board of Revenue, stirred at last to its shallow depths, formally prohibited inquiries into the condition of the people. We again quote the words of the Commission, "On the collec- tor of Pooree's application, with the Commissioner's orders upon it coming before the Board, they negatived it in very decided terms. They regretted that the Commissioner had instructed the collector to enter upon any investigation of claims of zmaindars to remission, as such inquiries tended to raise expectations which, not being realized, must result in discontent and disaffection. No remissions were to be granted, and all hope of receiving any was to be positively barred. On receipt of the Board's orders, the Commissioner desired the collector to observe that the Board had disapproved of the permission even to satisfy himself of actual loss in zemindaree estates, expressed his entire concurrence in the orders, directed the collector to consider them final and con- clusive and to cancel his proceedings, and sent a copy of the orders to the other collectors for their guidance." Again, in the end of January Mr. Ravenshaw telegraphed an urgent demand for help in kind, representing money as of little use. " Famine relief is at a standstill ; Public Works Department ref ase to advance money to collectors to purchase rice. Pooree must get rice from elsewhere. May I authorize advance for this purpose for °attack, Balasore, and Pooree V" The reply of the Board, sent by telegram without consulting the Lieu- tenant-Governor, was coldly cruel :—" The Government de- cline to import rice into Pooree. If the market favours importers, rice will find its way to Pooree without Govern- ment interference, which can only do harm. All payments for labour employed to relieve the present distress are to be in cash." Even wages in kind were prohibited, though the Board knew well that money had become useless.

These orders daunted the local officials. Their promo- tion and their characters depended upon the Board of Revenue, they knew that the Board would never forgive a zeal which cost money, and they desisted for months from remonstrances which only brought down on themselves rebuke. Even Mr. Barlow, the only official fairly awake to the danger, "threw himself into public works," trusting against his own conviction that the Board might be right, and that if the people received much wages they would be able to buy some grain. For weeks there was dead silence, and then at last, " early in May, an extreme pitch of misery having been reached," Mr. Barlow could stand it no longer, and addressed a full report to his commissioner, Mr. Ravenshaw, who instead of dealing with it departed for the jungles of the interior, so that the demand was another month in reaching Calcutta. He, however, at last supported Mr. Barlow, though, still unable to comprehend the imminence of the danger, he asked only for a grant of 501. a month to each district. No rice was sent, and by 28th May the distress had reached so tremendous a height that the Commissioner "found the troops and Government establishments on the point of starvation"—imagine that in a military monarchy 1—and telegraphed urgently for rice. Only six days before this telegram arrived, the Board had definitively refused to sanction any importation of rice, agreeing only to institute further local inquiries, and had summarily rejected a demand telegraphed from Balasore, by its official chief, in these words :—" Rice required for free distribution to about 3,000 starving of all ages. Might be sent to mouth of Balasore river, and could be unladen by aid of sloops of this port." Moreover, they had on their Board only one member, Mr. Schalch, who per- sonally knew Orissa, and they took the opportunity in this very May, when Calcutta is broiling hot, to depute him not to Orissa, but to Darjeeling ; to send him, that is, on full pay, to a pleasant hill station, where croquet is possible, and one tiunks of broiling plains and people dying of starvation as passed nightmares. Telegram after telegram followed, each more urgent than the last, but it was not until a peremptory order had been received from the Lieutenant-Governor, that the Board, sorely against its will, consented to send one cargo, and on the 9th June they, as the Viceroy notices, actually re- fused to obey Sir Cecil Beadon's order to increase the supply. We give the Commissioner's words :—" On the 9th of June, the Lieutenant-Governor, having asked the Government of India for the balance of the North-West Famine Fund, authorized the Board to arrange for the importation of another two lakhs' worth of rice into Orissa ; but the Board replied,—' Your telegram received. The Board do not think it necessary to order more rice from Rangoon at present. They will wait to see the effect of what has been done already, and of the rains, which may be expected daily. Another cargo of 20,000 mounds destined for Bourbon has been offered to them upon a guarantee, and they will accept it if prices do not fall at once." The rice sent was sent chiefly in country boats, though there were plenty of steam-tugs, " there being," say the Commis- sioners, " some lingering fear of unremunerative expense," and in August for want of rice Balasore "suffered terrible extremities." In June "all Orissa was plunged in one uni- versal famine of extreme severity. Although there never were such crowds of starving people and such mortality in the town of Cuttack as in Balasore and Bhudruk, the state of that district, in which famine had been so recently discovered, was already as bad as possible. Mr. Kirkwood says that in June, at Taldunda, the distress could not be exaggerated ; it was impossible to keep any sort of order among the famishing crowd, and for miles round you heard their yell for food.' The relief afforded by importation was as yet extremely small, in fact, except in the town of Balasore, hardly appreciable." The rice in almost all oases arrived too late, feeding centres were few, the people had lost the strength to travel far for food, the rice, even in this extremity, was sold lest the Board should lose its revenue, and the people died in heaps. The Commissioners repudiate the Board's defence about caste, proving that the people were far beyond the influence of prejudices, which, indeed, as every tribe makes and waives its own caste rules, could not have been operative in any per- ceptible degree. Up to 1st September, one clear twelvemonth after the famine had set in, half a year after its existence had been fully recognized, only 5,120,0001b. of rice had reached Orissa, to feed a population of three millions, that is, less than 21b. a head. And Orissa is opposite Arracan, the rice granary of Asia, and as the Commissioners admit there was ample means of transport. Well may General Durand, military Member of Council, and one of the ablest servants of the Indian Government, say it " is clear the appalling nature of the famine was as little realized as was the principle that the first duty of a Government is the preservation of the lives of its people," more especially, we may add, of a foreign government supported by the sabre, and wielding an absolute authority over a brimming exchequer. Only one of two explana- tions can be offered for the conduct of the Board. Either they deliberately thought it better that Orissa should perish than that the Treasury should spend money—a supposition we of course reject, though it is the one Hindoos will believe—or they were, from want of imagination, incompetent to prevent, to understand, or to remedy a famine. In either case their dismissal from offices in which they have so completely failed is the least punishment the justice of Parliament can award.

But how of their superiors V There are two points to be noted, to the credit of the Lieutenant-Governor, on whom the responsibility immediately rests. He woke up to the need of rice a little before his Board, and when once aware of the famine, i.e., after the people had perished, he acted with energy. But he incessantly informed the Viceroy that everything had been done that could be done ; he "did not inquire narrowly into the sufficiency of his measures," and no reasonable man can doubt that the Viceroy's decision—a decision endorsed by every Member of Council—is too lenient for the occasion.

" We are convinced that, if the extent and imminence of the danger had been brought home to the Lieutenant-Governor, no officer in the service of Her Majesty would have been more forward in exertions or personal sacrifices for the sake of miti- gating or averting it. But it would appear that, until com- paratively late in the history of these events, the head of the Bengal Government laboured under what may be described as an incapacity to believe in disaster ; and we think that the result of this frame of mind was that he neglected warnings which were not obscure, and wasted valuable opportunities both of inquiry and of action. We, of course, admit it to be uncertain what number of the lives which have been lost could have been saved by human efforts promptly applied. The records of similar calamities would seem to show that, under any circumstances, there must have been very great loss of life. But we have the satisfaction of knowing that, on the occasion of those calamities, the foresight and diligence exhi- bited by the local representatives of the British Government were not unworthy of the emergencies which had arisen. We regret that we cannot make the same statement of the Lieu- tenant-Governor of Bengal, so far as relates to the later months of 1865 and the earlier months of 1866."

There is no one save Sir Stafford Northcote and Parliament to pass a similar opinion upon the Viceroy, but he deserves it at least as much. He, not Sir Cecil, is responsible for India ; he, not the Revenue Board, is required to deal with exceptional cases ; he, not Lord Cranborne, ought to have ordered full inquiry. His defence throughout his minutes is that he was alarmed about Orissa, that he pressed the matter on the Government of Bengal, and that he offered to sanction any amount of outlay, but beyond this he did nothing. He took no initiative, sent out no officer from his own Court, issued no peremptory orders, demanded no direct reports, did no one of the hundred things which, had Orissa been in revolt, he would undoubtedly have done. He permitted a professional and official etiquette to prevent his own action under circumstances where he himself suspected that action to be needful, and cannot escape the censure which on the same grounds he awards to men whose action he had the power to over-ride, and whose deficiencies it was his duty to supply. If the British Government learns any lesson from the calamity, it is that no extent of service, no degree of natural capacity, no amount of official reputation can justify the selection of an Englishman trained only in India for a Governorship or a Vice- royalty on his own ground. India does not contain two abler or two kindlier men than Sir John Lawrence and Sir Cecil Beadon, and Orissa perished while they looked feebly on.