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The aboli. tion of suttee.
» 2 who
with this injustice, another Governor-General years afterwards repealed the order. But it is not possible to restore a punishment which has been once abolished, and the new order became
consequently a dead letter. The abolition of suttee was destined to become more enduring. In Bengal
the suttee, or “the pure and virtuous woman, became a widow, was required to show her devotion to her husband by sacrificing herself on his funeral pile. The practice was said to be founded on certain texts in the sacred books of the Hindoos, and ordinary historians have been content to give this reason for its prevalence. A more philosophic author has traced it to a coarser motive. "In Bengal," writes Sir H. Maine, the Hindoo laws gave “the childless widow the enjoyment of her husband's property, under certain restrictive conditions, for her life. . . . Marriages among the upper classes of Hindoos being very commonly infertile, a considerable portion of the soil of the wealthiest Indian province is in the hands of childless widows as tenants for life. But it was exactly in Bengal proper that the English, on entering India, found the suttee, or widow-burning, not merely an occasional, but a constant and an almost universal practice with the wealthier classes, and, as a rule, it was only the
hildless widow ... who burnt herself on her husband's funeral pyre. ... The anxiety of her family that the rite should be performed ... was, in fact, explained by the coarsest motives.” 3
Successive Governors-General, whose attention had been directed to this barbarous practice, had feared to incur the unpopularity of abolishing it. Cornwallis issued some minute regulations to ensure that the widow was of a certain age and a consenting party to the sacrifice; Wellesley actually asked the judges whether the ceremony could be forbidden. But Conservatism was very strong in Bengal in the days of Cornwallis and Wellesley. The regulations of the one were fre
i Marshman, vol. iii. p. 273; Thornton, vol. v. p. 233.
2 For the explanation of the term, see Wilson, vol. iii. p. 265, note, and Arnold's Dalhousie, vol. ii. p. 316.
Early History of Institutions, pp. 334, 335.
quently broken; the judges assured the other that the abolition of suttee was highly inexpedient. Yet these timid legislators might have gained courage if they had studied Indian history. Centuries before, a great Portuguese administrator, Albuquerque, had set them an example by abolishing suttee in the Portuguese settlements. In 1808 Metcalfe had prohibited suttee in Delhi.2 What Albuquerque had done at Goa in the beginning of the sixteenth century, what Metcalfe had done in Oudh in the beginning of the nineteenth century, an English gentleman might have ventured on doing in Bengal. Yet Cornwallis and Wellesley, Hastings and Amherst, were all afraid to prohibit murder which was identified with religion, and it was accordingly reserved to Bentinck to remove the reproach of its existence. With the consent of his Council, suttee was declared illegal. The danger which others had apprehended from its prohibition proved a mere phantom. The Hindoos complied with the order without attempting to resist it, and the horrible rite which had disgraced the soil of India for centuries became entirely unknown.3
For these humane regulations Bentinck deserves to be remembered with gratitude. Yet it should not be forgotten that these reforms were as much the work of his age as of himself. The wave of thought which in England had led to the prohibition of cruel sports, and to the mitigation of a cruel code, had reached the shores of India, and was sensibly affecting the views of the Company's officers. Few men,
1 Wilson, vol. i. p. 552.
? Life of Metcalfe, vol. i. p. 338. 3 Marshman, vol. iii. p. 53; Wilson, vol. iii. p. 265; Thornton, vol. v. p. 235. How great the danger of abolishing suttee was supposed to be may be inferred from a passage in Sir J. Malcolm's Political History of India. After urging that the barbarous rite would ultimately be eradicated by the improvement of manners, Sir J. Malcolm declares it to be “unwise to attempt to suppress by the strong arm of power this or any other of the superstitious customs of our native subjects;” vol. ii. p. 287.
4 A young Bengal civilian-Augustus Cleveland-is recollected as one of the first persons who endeavoured to civilise the more barbarous tribes of India. He devoted his life to reclaiming the savage robbers of the Rajmahal district. He died in 1784 at the early age of twenty-nine. Some years afterwards Outram pursued similar means in dealing with the Bheels, a robber tribe of Western India, and his labours were crowned with similar success. 1 Marshman, vol. iii. pp. 58–60.; Wilson, vol. iii. pp. 297–304.
however, enjoy so enviable a lot as those whose fortune or whose capacity enables them to alleviate permanently the sorrows of humanity; and the right-judging critic will regard such persons as Howard, Wilberforce, Buxton, Pinel, and Shaftesbury as among the happiest members of the human family in modern times. Bentinck will hereafter be included in the same category, and, like Abou-ben-Adhem, will be recollected as one of those who proved by their example that they “loved their fellow-men."
One other great abuse was terminated under Bentinck. In Central India life was made unsafe and travelling dangerous by the establishment of a secret band of robbers known as Thugs. The Thugs mingled with any traveliers whom they met, disarmed them by their conversation and cou
availed themselves of the first convenient spot in pression of
their journey to strangle them with a rope and to Thuggee.
rob them of their money. The burial of the victim usually concealed all traces of the crime; the secrecy of the confederates made its revelation unlikely; and, to make treachery more improbable, the Thugs usually consecrated their murders with religious rites, and claimed their god as the patron of their misdoings. Bentinck selected an active officer, Major Sleeman, whom he charged to put down Tiruggee.1 Sleeman's exertion's were rewarded by a gratifying success. The Thugs, like all secret societies, were assailable in one way. The first discovery of crime always produces an approver. The
During the half-century which commenced in 1790 a succession of the Company's officers laboured to prevent the horrible practice of female infanticide which was prevalent among the Rajpoots; while in 1835 the horrid system of human sacrifice which was found among the Khonds, an aboriginal hill tribe of Orissa, was checked. (For these sacrifices, cf. Dalhousie's Administration, by Arnold, vol. ii. p. 304 seq.) It is important to observe, in connection with the assertion in the text, that all these reforms were commenced, and most of them completed, in the same half-century. It is a fair presumption, that they were due less to the individuals by whose agency they were effected than to the kindlier feelings of the age in which they lived. For the facts in this note, see Marshman, vol. iii. pp. 99-111. There is a pleasant notice of Lord W. Bentinck's kindness to a young Frenchman of genius, Victor Jacquemont, in Guizot's Mémoires, vol. iii, p. 132.
timid conspirator, conscious of his guilt, is glad to purchase his own safety by sacrificing his associates, and when one man turns traitor every member of the band is anxious to secure the rewards and immunity of treachery. Hence the first clue towards the practices of the Thugs led to the unveiling of the whole organisation; and the same statesman who had the merit of forbidding suttee succeeded in extirpating Thuggee from the dominions over which he ruled.
Social reforms of this character occupy the greater portion of the history of Bentinck's government. In politics he almost always pursued a policy of non-intervention, The British during his rule made few additions to their possessions; they rarely interfered in the affairs of Native states. The little district of Cachar, on the borders of Assam, was indeed brought under subjection to the Company, and the Raja of Coorg was driven from his throne, and his dominions were annexed to the Company's territories. In Mysore itself an insurrection provoked by the follies and cruelties of its rulers compelled the interference of the Resident, and the Governor-General ultimately determined to enforce a stipulation in Wellesley's treaty of 1799, and to terminate anarchy by placing its administration under a British officer. These, however, were almost the only instances in which Bentinck departed from his usual principle of non-interference.
In the long period, during which he remained in India, he proved that the supremacy of the British could be maintained without either meddling unnecessarily in affairs with which they had no concern, or embarking on wars of aggression or ambition.
At the commencement of Bentinck's government, he received only a hesitating and doubtful support from the authorities at home. Political parties in England were in a transitional state; and the death of ment at Canning, the disintegration of the Goderich Administration, the secession of Huskisson and his friends from the Wellington Ministry, had lessened the confidence of the
1 Marshman, vol. iii. pp. 11-13; Wilson, vol. iii. pp. 324, 349; Thornton, vol, v. p. 204.
2 Wilson, vol. iii. p. 349.
dent of the Board of Control.
public in the stability of the Tory Government. While, however, the Tory party was weakened by these changes, its control over the government of India was simultaneously strengthened. From the retirement of Canning in 1820 to the formation of the Wellington Ministry in 1828, the Presidency of the Board of Control was held by Charles Wynn, a politician who owed his promotion to his connection with the Duke of Buckingham. No real control was exercised over Hastings or Amherst during his tenure of office. But, on the formation of the Wellington Administration, Charles Wynn was unceremoniously dismissed and Lord Melville was placed at the India Board ;1 while, in the following September, Melville
was promoted to the Admiralty, and the Board of made Presi- Control was given to Lord Ellenborough. The
new President, in an age of oratory, was a remark
able orator. He wrote, as he spoke, for effect; and both his despatches, his papers, and his speeches contain sparkling phrases which a more judicious person would probably have suppressed. The training of the new minister was, perhaps, opposed to the formation of a judicial temperament. The son of the great judge who had proved his capacity both in Parliament and at the Bar, but who too frequently carried into Westminster Hall the opinions which he should have left in the House of Lords; the brother-in-law of the statesman who was the last uncompromising defender of Tory opinions in this country; in enjoyment of an office which yielded him an income of £7000 a year for doing nothing—his birth, his associations, and his position all marked him out rather as the apologist for abuses than the advocate of reform.
A great poet once declared that the people regarded the orator as a god, and a philosophic historian has insisted that the use and reputation of oratory among a rude people is the clearest evidence of public freedom. It may, however, be doubted whether a capacity for words in man, like action in a horse, does not occasionally divert attention from more solid
i Ante, vol. ii. p. 375.
2 Ellenborough, vol. i. p. 207. 3 Gibbon, vol. ix. p. 235; cf. Odyssey viii. 173.