Page images
PDF
EPUB

John Newbury and Ralph Fitch, armed with letters from Queen Elizabeth herself, to Akbar, the greatest of the “ Great Moghuls," and the Emperor of China to boot. They made their way by Baghdad and Bussora to India, running the gauntlet of the Portuguese, who threw them for some time into prison ; but though they succeeded in reaching the Imperial Court at Agra, and visiting the Straits afterwards, their journey only put it beyond a doubt that the trade with India must be carried on by sea, whether the Pope permitted it or not.

The spell, indeed, had been already broken by Sir Francis Drake, who, in circumnavigating the globe in 1577, boldly intruded into the Portuguese preserves-- Java and the Spice Islands; and brought home such accounts as fired the country with the spirit of commercial venture. The successes of the more forward Dutch added fresh fuel to the flame, and after some abortive attempts at organization by the merchants, the Charter of the “Governor and Company of Merchants of London, trading to the East Indies," was signed by Queen Elizabeth on the last day of the sixteenth century.

On the 22nd of April, 1601, their first fleet set forth. It was commanded by Captain Lancaster; and consisted of four ships and a pinnace, the largest being of 600 tons, and the united crews of the whole only 500 men.

As that tiny fleet spread its canvas to the wind, and left the little barbour of Torbay, what mariner among them, or what statesman on the shore, was bold enough to dream that they were carrying out the anchor of the British Indian Empire ? Yet so it proved ; and I have been thus minute, perhaps tedious, in recalling the purely commercial spirit which took our countrymen to India in the reign of " Good Queen Bess," because, in the reign of better Queen Victoria, India is ours ;-the vast Empire of the Great Moghul a jewel only in old England's crown. And who that looks at the relations of the two countries to-day, what subject Hindoo, or Mahommedan, or Sikh, what foreigner of Europe, could possibly believe that we went not to the East for Empire, if history did not establish beyond dispute, that we went simply for cinnamon and cloves, for pepper, capsicum, and ginger, for ebony and pearls, and precious stones, for what Asia grew and Europe wanted; in short, for honest commerce?

For the first ten or twelve years the new English Company confined their trade to the isles in the Eastern Seas ; after which they extended their trade to the main land, and in A.D. 1613 obtained leave from the Emperor Jehangeer to establish factories at Surat, Cambay, and other places in Guzerât. This was the first footing of the English on the Continent of India!

In 1615, our King James I. sent Sir Thomas Roe as Ambassador to the Delhi Court, where he stayed three years, negotiating a treaty of commerce. He was treated not only with respect, but familiarity, and was courteously forced to sit night after night in the Imperial circle, while the Great Moghul, on a gorgeous throne of diamonds and rubies, and his chosen courtiers round him, all got drunk. Nor was this the Emperor Jehangeer's only departure from the Korân;

for he wore on his rosary, images of Our Saviour and the Virgin Mary, which he had got from the Portuguese Jesuits; and he permitted two of his own nephews to become Christians.

In the end Jehangeer granted to Sir Thomas Roe, in 1618, leave to the English to have factories in Bengal, and all parts of the Moghul donjinions; and this we may consider the point of departure of the British power in India.

The succeeding steps were slow and gradual, but as inevitable as any law of natural development, from the internal decadence of the Moghul Empire.

Factories once established, it became necessary to guard the goods and treasures and lives which they contained, both against European rivals and the rapacious chiefs of the country.

Hence came first fortified factories, and servants armed and trained; and then Presidency towns, with fortifications round them, and a mongrel military establishment within, made up of English idlers, French, Dutch, or Portuguese deserters, and half-caste native Christians. Then followed alliances with one chief to render mutual defence against another. Then oppressions by Viceroys in defiance of the weak and distant Emperor on the throne; and out of these, claims for compensations, and negotiations at the Court.

Sometimes an English physician, a Boughton or a Hamilton, would heal a daughter of the Emperor (1642), or the Emperor himself (1715), and generously ask as his reward increased commercial privileges for his countrymen, or leave to purchase lands.

Sometimes the Empire would be desolated by invasions ; a Nadir would massacre 100,000 citizens of Delhi, and carry away £30,000,000 of plunder (A.D. 1739); or the Mahrattas, rising against the Moghuls, would sweep like locusts over Bengal, and force Viceroys to bid the English strengthen their position.*

Soon the great Moghul Empire itself broke up; and the provinces from Persia to the Indian Ocean became one vast scramble among the Viceroys and the races. Then, to complete the anarchy of India, war broke out in Europe, and the French and English inerchants flew at each other's throats, and factories and settlements. The French had two very remarkable men in India then, Labourdonnais and Dupleix ; and though the one was of the right sort, the

* The Mahratta Ditch round Calcutta, 1740.

other of the wrong, both were of the stuff that pioneers are made of.

These Frenchmen were the first to conceive the notion of building up a European power on the continent of India. And the subtle genius of Dupleix was the first to devise the plan of mounting to an Indian throne on the shoulders of the Indian chiefs and people.* It was he who first trained Sepoys under European officers to eke out a scanty and costly European force. And it was he who first set the example of mixing in the quarrels of the native Viceroys, and making a handful of foreigners the arbiters of the Eastern dynasties.

The English at this crisis would unquestionably have been driven out of India by these great Frenchmen and their allies, if they too had not produced their Man. Robert Clive arose to save them. Equal to Labourdonnais in patriotism, and to Dupleix in ambition, he was superior to them both in military genius, and that dauntless heart which masters men and circumstances. He perceived that the French and English could not exist together in India, and he never rested till the ambitious fabric which the policy of Dupleix, and the arms of the brave Bussy and De Lally had built up, was humbled in the dust. Even then the English would have been content to go on trading, without dreaming of empire, had the Viceroys of the Moghul been content to let them trade in peace. But the Governor of Bengal, a dissolute youth, named Sooraj-ood-dowlah, hated the English, and ordered them to throw down their fortifications,--as a butcher might say to a lamb, “Give me your throat!” The English merchants refused. Sooraj-ooddowlah, and his mob of troops, attacked and took the English factories of Cossim Bazaar and Calcutta, and thrust 146 English men and women into a dungeon, 18 feet by 14, on a sultry tropic night, to wait there while he slept.

* His very wife was a half-caste native, who acted as his interpreter with the chiefs.

You know the story of that “Black Hole;" how mad the inmates grew, and by turns prayed for mercy or fought for water, or cursed the guards, in hopes of being killed ; and how, when morning dawned and the Tyrant of Bengal awoke, twenty-three only crawled out alive. What wonder that Clive took revenge? What wonder that when in the spring of 1757 Sooraj-ood-dowlah once more moved out with 50,000 men and forty guns, and a detachment of Frenchmen, to exterminate the English traders, and his own chief ministers made offers to betray the tyrant, Clive accepted their overtures ?

With 3,000 men and nine guns Clive crossed the river, and on the renowned field of Plassey unmade one Viceroy, made another, and established the English as the source of power in Bengal. Here, then, we have the founding of our British Indian Empire !

The rest is only repetition: the piling of stone on stone; demands and grants of judicial powers; demands and grants of direct administration; political powers; political and commercial necessities; native aggressions; English defence; fresh conquest ; onward moves; consolidation; government; expansion ; empire. Thus the strange Eastern story runs, till those mighty rivers, the Irrawaddy, the Brahmapootra, the Ganges, and the Indus, probably for the first time in the world's history, water one empire; and the shores of the Indian and Arabian seas, the barriers of the Soolimânee Mountains, and the far-off peaks of the Himalaya, resound to the same thanksgiving, and echo back Victoria! Victoria !

It is indeed a wondrous thing this British Indian Empire: from north to south 1,800 miles from east to west 2,000

« PreviousContinue »