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Part 1 of 4

Holwell's Religion of Paradise, Excerpt from The Birth of Orientalism
by Urs App
© 2010 University of Pennsylvania Press

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Chapter 6: Holwell's Religion of Paradise

An Internet search for John Zephaniah HOLWELL(1711-98) produces thousands of references, most of which contain the words "Black Hole." The back cover of Jan Dalley's The Black Hole: Money, Myth and Empire explains:

The story of the Black Hole of Calcutta was once drilled into every British schoolchild: how in 1756 the Nawab of Bengal attacked Fort William and locked the survivors in a tiny cell, where over a hundred souls died in insufferable heat. British retribution was swift and merciless, and led to much of India falling completely under colonial domination.1


Dalley's book tells the story of this foundation myth of the British Empire, a myth that was "based on improbable exaggeration and half-truth" and "helped justify the march of empire for two hundred years" (2007: back cover). The reason Holwell is associated with this myth is that he was its creator. When Holwell's account of the dreadful night in the Black Hole was printed in 1758, it provoked scandal and horror. Fueled by numerous reprints, the story soon became an event of mythic proportions, a symbol of the fall of Calcutta and the beginning of empire that Dalley lines up with the likes of the Boston Tea Party and the Barrie of Wounded Knee (2007:199). According to Hartmann (1946:195) this story was "about as well-known in the English- speaking world as the fact that Napoleon was Emperor of France"; but the fact that this statement occurs in a paper titled "A Case Study in the Perpetuation of Error" points to the raging controversy about the "Question of Holwell's Veracity," as J. H. Little put it in the title of his influential 1915 article. Having examined Holwell's original Black Hole report line by line,

Little arrived at the conclusion that the whole episode was a gigantic hoax. Hartmann summarized Little's observations as follows:

Specifically, Little shows that Holwell (1) fabricated a speech and fathered it on the Nawab Alivardi Khan; (2) brought false charges against the British puppet ruler of Bengal, the Nawab Mir Jafar, accusing him of massacring persons all of whom were later shown to be alive ... (3) forged a whole book and called it a translation from the ancient sacred writings of the Hindus. (Hartmann 1946:196)


Hartmann defended Holwell against the last accusation by portraying him as a possible victim of fraud rather than a forger:

This last might be defended on Holwell's behalf if we assume him to have been victimized by some Brahmin or pundit who enjoyed pulling a foreigner's leg; but certainly the first two cases have a brazen political significance also possessed by the similar story of the Black Hole. (pp. 196-97).


The book that Holwell (according to Little) forged and sold as a translation from the ancient sacred writings of the Hindus was the very Chartah Bhade Shastah that Voltaire from 1769 onward so stridently promoted as monotheism's oldest testament (see Chapter I). Is there any evidence that Holwell's Chartah Bhade Shastah is a brazen forgery? Some modern historians and Indologists have tried to identify the text translated by Holwell, thereby absolving him of the charge of having invented the whole text. For example, A. Leslie Willson thought that Holwell had adapted a genuine Indian text:

John Z. Holwell (1711-1798), a former governor of Bengal and a survivor of the famed Black Hole of Calcutta, gives an account of his favorable impression of the religious and moral precepts of India. Because of his acquaintance with one of the holy books of the Hindus (the Sanskrit Satapatha-brahmana, called the Chartah Bhade in Holwell's adaptation), he believed he discerned a great influence of Indic culture upon other lands in ancient times. The more familiar he became with the Sanskrit work, the more clearly he claimed to see that the mythology as well as the cosmogony of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans was borrowed from the teachings of the Brahmans contained in the Satapatha brahmana. Even the extreme rituals of Hindu worship and the classification of Indic gods found their way West, although extremely falsified and truncated. (Willson 1964:24)


Based on the authority of Johannes Grundmann (1900:71), Willson claimed that Holwell's source, the Satapatha-Brahmana, was later lost (p. 24). In The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, P. J. Marshall argued that "judging by the words which he reproduces, Holwell must have made his translation out of a Hindustani version" but added that "the original of Holwell's Shastah cannot be identified" (Marshall 1970:46). Marshall, who took the trouble of annotating Holwell's Shastah text, thus seems to have regarded it not as a literary hoax or an invention but as a translation of a genuine Indian text, albeit not from Sanskrit but from a Hindustani original. More recent research has questioned earlier opinions but otherwise hardly advanced matters.

In the introduction to the 2000 reprint of Holwell's text, M. J. Franklin calls the Shastah text "a text which must remain rather dubious as Holwell asserted it covered all doctrine, and no independent record of such a work exists" (Holwell 2000:xiii). Franklin and other recent authors all rely on Thomas Trautmann's excellent study Aryans and British India, which found that Holwell's book "contains what putport to be translations from a mysterious ancient Hindu text, Chartah Bhade Shastah (Sanskrit, Catur lIeda Sastra), a work not heard of since" (1997=30). Trautmann characterized Holwell's "supposed translations of the supposed ancient Shaster" as "obscure and dubious" (p. 33), his Indian sources as "not otherwise known, before or since," and the details of his account as "confusing" (p. 68). Thus, his valiant attempt to identify Holwell's Indian sources2 ended with a sigh: "It is all rather murky and more than a little suspicious" (pp. 68-69).

According to his obituary in the Asiatic Annual Register for 1799 (1801:25- 30), John Zephaniah Holwell was born in Dublin on September 17, 1711. At age 12 the intelligent boy won a prize for classical learning but was soon sent by his father as a merchant apprentice to Holland, where he learned Dutch and French. Before he turned eighteen, he became a surgeon's apprentice in England, and at age twenty he embarked as a surgeon's mate on a ship sailing to Bengal. As surgeon of a frigate of the East India Company, he soon was on the way to the Persian Gulf and studied Arabic, and on his return to Calcutta he also learned some Portuguese and Hindi. At the young age of twenty-three, he was appointed surgeon-major, and after another trip to the Gulf he could speak Arabic "with tolerable fluency" (p. 27). During his residence in Dacca, he was "indefatigable in improving himself in the Moorish and Hinduee tongues" and began "his researches into the Hindu theology" (p. 27). Back in Calcutta, he quickly rose through the ranks; at age 29 he was appointed assistant surgeon to the hospital, and in 1746 (age 35), he became principal physician and surgeon to the presidency of the Company. In 1747 and 1748, he was successively elected mayor of the corporation. In the winter of 1749/50' he returned for the first time from India to England. It was for health reasons, and while recuperating, he enjoyed the leisure "to arrange his materials on the theology and doctrines of the ancient and modern Brahmans." Only after his return to India did he become acquainted "with the Chartah Bhade of Bramah," of which he claims to have translated a considerable part (Holwell 1765:3). During the sack of Calcutta when the Black Hole incident took place, Holwell allegedly lost both the Indian manuscripts of the Chartah Bhade Shastah and his English translation.

After this incident Holwell had to sail back to Europe for the second time, and this time he used his sojourn to publish the famous Black Hole narrative (1758). Upon his return to India, he became governor of Bengal for a few months but was soon replaced. During the last eight months of his long stay in India, he was "freed from the plagues of government" and reassumed his researches into Indian religion "with tolerable success" when "some manuscripts" happened to be "recovered by an unforeseen and extraordinary event" (p. 4), which Holwell never explained. In 1761, at age 50, he returned to England for the third and final time and lived there for almost four leisurely decades until his death in 1798 at the age of 87. Of particular interest among the books published during these decades are the three volumes of Interesting historical events, relative to the provinces of Bengal, and the empire of Indostan (1765, 1767, 1771) and his Dissertations on the Origin, Nature, and Pursuits, of Intelligent Beings, and on Divine Providence, Religion, and Religious Worship of 1786.

Indian Paradises

In order to understand Holwell's pursuit and intention, one needs to examine not only the second volume of his Interesting historical events (1767), which contains the Chartah Bhade Shastah "translation" with his commentary, but also the first and third volumes. The title page of the first volume (1765) indicates that Holwell had from the outset planned a three-part work of which the first was to present the historical events of India during the first half of the eighteenth century, the second "the mythology and cosmogony, fasts and festivals of the Gentoos, followers of the Shastah," and the third "a dissertation on the metempsychosis." In the first volume (published in 1765 and revised in 1766), there is an easily overlooked account that is crucial for understanding both the "Question of Holwell's Veracity" and the character of his Chartah Bhade. Modern scholars paid no attention to it, but Voltaire highlighted this sensational report by Holwell in chapter 35 of his Fragmens sur l'Inde under the heading "Portrait of a singular people in India" (Voltaire 1774:212-16). Voltaire wrote:

Among so much desolation a region of India has enjoyed profound peace; and in the midst of the horrible moral depravation, it has preserved the purity of its ancient morality. It is the country of Bishnapore or Vishnapore. Mr. Holwell, who has travelled through it, says that it is situated in north-west Bengal and that it takes sixty days of travel to traverse it. (p. 212)


Quickly calculating the approximate size of this blessed territory, Voltaire concluded that "it would be much larger than France" (p. 212), and exhibited some of his much-evoked "complete trust" in Holwell by accusing him of "some exaggeration" (p. 212). But Voltaire did not exclude the possibility that it was someone else's fault, for example, "a printing error, which is all too common in books" (p. 212). Instead of double-checking the number in his copy of Holwell's book (which on p. 197 has "sixteen days" rather than "sixty"), Voltaire proceeded to correct Holwell:

We had better believe that the author meant [it takes] sixty days [to walk] around the territory, which would result in 100 [French] miles of diameter. [The country] yields 3.5 million rupees per year to its sovereign, which corresponds to 8,200,000 pounds. This revenue does not seem proportionate to the surface of the territory. (pp. 212-13)


Feigning astonishment, Voltaire adds: "What is even more surprising is that Bishnapore is not at all found on our maps" (p. 212). Could Holwell have invented this country? Of course not! "It is not permitted to believe that a state employee of known probity would have wanted to get the better of simple people. He would be too guilty and too easily refuted" (p. 212). When reporting biblical events that defy logic, Voltaire often cut the discussion short with a sarcastic exhortation to his readers to stop worrying about reason and to embrace faith. Here he "consoles" readers who are surprised that this blissful country is not found on any map with the tongue-in-cheek remark: "The reader will be even more pleasantly surprised that this country is inhabited by the most gentle, the most just, the most hospitable, and the most generous people that have ever rendered our earth worthy of heaven" (p. 213).

Today we know that Bisnapore (Bishnupur) is located only 130 kilometers northwest of Calcutta (Kolkata). The city is famous for its terracotta craft and Baluchari sarees made of tussar silk and was for almost a thousand years the capital of the Malla kings of Mallabhum. Bur Holwell's report carries a far more paradisiacal perfume. The country that he reportedly visited is portrayed as the happiest in me world. It is protected from surrounding regions by an ingenious system of waterways and lock gates mat gives the reigning Rajah the "power to overflow his country, and drown any enemy that comes against him." Holwell, ever the sly and devoted colonial administrator, suggests mat the British could avoid an invasion and easily bring the country to its knees through an export blockade that would oblige the Rajah to pay the British as much as two million rupees per annum (Holwell 1766:I.I97-98). Bur, of course, this was just an innocent idea and by no means a call for the colonialization of paradise:

But in truth, it would be almost cruelty to molest these happy people; for in this district, are the only vestiges of the beauty, purity, piety, regularity, equity, and strictness of the ancient Indostan government. Here the property, as well as the liberty of the people, are inviolate. Here, no robberies are heard of, either private or public. (p. 198)


When a foreigner such as Holwell enters this country, he "becomes the immediate care of the government; which allots him guards without any expence, to conduct him from stage to stage: and these are accountable for the safety and accommodation of his person and effects" (p. 198). Goods are duly recorded, certified, and transported free of charge. "In this form, the traveller is passed through the country; and if he only passes, he is not suffered to be at any expence for food, accommodation, or carriage for his merchandize or baggage" (p. 199). Furthermore, the people of Bisnapore are totally honest:

If any thing is lost in this district; for instance, a bag of money, or other valuable; the person who finds it, hangs it up on the next tree, and gives notice to the neatest Chowkey or place of guard; the officer of which, orders immediate publication of the same by beat of tomtom, or drum. (p. 199)


The country is graced by 360 magnificent pagodas erected by the Rajah and his ancestors, and the cows are venerated to such a degree that if one suffers violent death, the whole city or village remains in mourning and fasts for three days; nobody is allowed to displace him- or herself, and all must perform the expiations prescribed by the very Chartah Bhade Shastah whose existence and content Holwell herewith first announced to the world (pp. 199-200).

The country described by Holwell is a carefully delimited territory within whose boundaries time seems to have stood still since the proclamation of the Chartah Bhade Shastah several thousand years ago. Its elaborate water management system with lock gates and canals offers total protection from the dangers of the outside world, and within its boundaries perfect honesty, piety, purity, morality, tolerance, liberty, generosity, and prosperity reign since time immemorial. Sutely some of Holwell's and Voltaire's readers must have asked themselves why -- given the free transport, food, accommodation, and even health care for visitors -- Mr. Holwell was the only person ever to transmit the good news about this paradisiacal enclave at Calcutta's doorstep. Is it too farfetched to think that Holwell endowed Bisnapore with its ideal characteristics in order to prepare the ground for the Chartah Bhade Shastah in the second volume of his Interesting events? If a real country with a real economy existed -- a country whose religion was strictly based on the Chartah Bhade Shastah and whose rites had followed this text to the letter for millennia -- then the existence of this ancient sacred text could not be subject to doubt, could it?

Of course, Holwell was not the first person to imagine a paradise in or near India; medieval world maps are full of interesting information about it. In the year 883, about eight hundred years before Holwell wrote about Bisnapore, a Jew by the name of Eldad ha-Dani ("Eldad of the tribe of Dan") showed up in Tunisia.3 Presenting himself as a member of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel (which according to Eldad continued to flourish in Havilah), he told the local Jews a story that could have been written by Holwell. Beyond the boundaries of the known world, somewhere in Asia, he claimed, four tribes of the "sons of Moses" continue to lead pure lives protected by a river of rolling stones and sand called Sambaryon, and their laws and texts remain unchanged since antiquity.4 Their Talmud is written in the purest Hebrew, and their children never die as long as the parents are alive. Eldad supported his own credibility by an impressive genealogy stretching back to Dan, the son of Jacob. Eldad's tales provoked an inquiry addressed to the rabbinical academy in Sura, Babylon; and while not much is known about the further fate of Eldad, his Story pops up here and there in medieval manuscripts. Eventually, the inquiry triggered by his account and the response it received were printed in Mantua in 1480 (Wasserstein 1996:215).

About three centuries after Eldad, in 1122, a story with many similar elements began to make the rounds in Europe, and its protagonist ended up as a prominent feature on numerous illustrated world maps. It was the tale of John, archbishop of India, who had reportedly traveled to Constantinople and Rome. Patriarch John was said to be the guardian of the shrine of St. Thomas, the favorite disciple of Jesus; and through his Indian capital, so the Story went, flow the "pure waters of the Physon, one of the rivers of Paradise, which gives to the world outside most precious gold and jewels, whence the regions of India are extremely rich" (Hamilton 1996:173).

In 1145, Otto von Freising also heard of "a certain John, king and priest, who lived in the extreme east beyond Armenia and Persia." He reportedly was of the race of the very Magi who had come to worship the infant Christ at Bethlehem (p. 174). Otto first connected Prester John with the Magi and with Archbishop John, and soon after the completion of his History in Il57 three corpses exhumed in a church in Milan were identified as the bodies of the Three Magi (pp. 180-81). These relics were solemnly transported to the Cologne cathedral in n64 and became objects of a religious cult (p. 183). It is around this time that a letter signed by a Prester John began to circulate in western Europe. In his letter Prester John portrays himself as the extremely rich and powerful ruler of the Three Indies, whose subjects include the Ten Lost Tribes beyond the river Sambaryon. Prester John claims to live very close to Paradise and emphasizes that he guards the grave of St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus.

Though the country described in Prester John's letter is richer and far larger than Holwell's Bisnapore, it is also extremely hospitable and its inhabitants are perfectly moral: "There are no robbers among us; no sycophant finds a place here, and there is no miserliness" (Zarncke 1996:83). As in Holwell's Bisnapore, "nobody lies, nor can anybody lie" (p. 84). All inhabitants of Prester John's country "follow the truth and love one another;" there is "no adulterer in the land, and there is no vice" (p. 84).

The Prester John Story became so widely known that the famous patriarch became a fixture on medieval world maps as well as a major motivation for the exploration of Asia (from the thirteenth century) and Africa (from the fifteenth century).5

Another layer in the archaeology of Holwell's Indian paradise can be found in the famous Travels of Sir John Mandeville of the fourteenth century, a book that fascinated countless readers and travelers as well as researchers.6 Mandeville's "isle of Bragman" -- like Prester John's Indies, Eldad's land beyond the Sambaryon, and Holwell's Bisnapore -- is a marvelous land. Its inhabitants, though not Christians, "by natural instinct or law ... live a commendable life, are folk of great virtue, flying away from all sins and vices and malice" (Moseley 1983:178). The still unidentified Mandeville, who habitually calls countries "isles," described a great many of them in his Travels. But the country of the "Bragmans" (Brachmans, Brahmins) is by far the most excellent:

This isle these people live in is called the Isle of Bragman; and some men call it the Land of Faith. Through it runs a great river, which is called Thebe. Generally all the men of that isle and of other isles nearby are more trustworthy and more righteous than men in other countries. In this land are no thieves, no murderers, no prostitutes, no liars, no beggars; they are men as pure in conversation and as clean in living as if they were men of religion. And since they are such true and good folk, in their country there is never thunder and lightning, hail nor snow, nor any other storms and bad weather; there is no hunger, no pestilence, no war, nor any other common tribulations among them, as there are among us because of our sins. And therefore it seems that God loves them well and is well pleased by their manner of life and their faith. (p. 178)


Of course, the antediluvian patriarchs of the Old Testament who lived many years before Abraham and Moses were not yet Jews blessed with the special covenant with God, something only conferred finally after the Exodus from Egypt at Mt. Sinai, much less Christians. But the virtues of these antediluvians were so great that they enjoyed extremely long life spans. Mandeville's Bragmans, too, though ignorant of God's commandments as conveyed to Moses, are said to "keep the Ten Commandments" (p. 178) and enjoy the benefits:

They believe in God who made all things, and worship Him with all their power; all earthly things they set at nought. They live so temperately and soberly in meat and drink that they are the longest-lived people in the world; and many of them die simply of age, when their vital force runs our. (p. 178)


Like Holwell's inhabitants of Bisnapore, they are a people without greed and want; all "goods, movable and immovable, are common to every man," and their wealth consists in peace, concord, and the love of their neighbor. Other countries in the vicinity of the land of the Bragmans for the most part also follow their customs while "living innocently in love and charity each with another." Almost like Adam and Eve in paradise before they sinned, these people "go always naked" and suffer no needs (p. 179).

And even if these people do not have the articles of our faith, nevertheless I believe that because of their good faith that they have by nature, and their good intent, God loves them well and is well pleased by their manner of life, as He was with Job, who was a pagan, yet nevertheless his deeds were as acceptable to God as those of His loyal servants. (p. 180)


Mandeville's naked people are extremely ancient and have "many prophets among them" since antiquity. Already "three thousand years and more before the time of His Incarnation," they predicted the birth of Christ; bur they have not yet learned of "the manner of His Passion" (p. 180). These regions that evoke paradise and antediluvian times form part of the empire of Prester John. Mandeville explains: "This Emperor Prester John is a Christian, and so is the greater part of his land, even if they do not have all the articles of the faith as clearly as we do. Nevertheless they believe in God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost; they are a very devout people, faithful to each other, and there is neither fraud nor guile among them" (p. 169). In Prester John's land, there are many marvels and close by, behind a vast sea of gravel and sand, are "great mountains, from which flows a large river that comes from Paradise" (p. (69).

The lands described by Eldad, Prester John, Mandeville, and Holwell share some characteristics that invite exploration. The first concerns the fact that all are associated with "India" and the vicinity of earthly paradise. In the Genesis account (2.8 ff.) God, immediately after having formed Adam from the dust of the ground, "planted a garden eastward of Eden" and put Adam there. He equipped this garden with trees "pleasant to the sight, and good for food," as well as the tree of life at the center of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The story continues:

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pishon: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. (Genesis 2.10-12)


The locations of this "land of Havilah" and the river Pishon (or Phison) are unclear, but the other rivers are better known. The second river, Gihon, "compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia," the third (Hiddekel) "goeth to the east of Assyria," and the fourth river is identified as the Euphrates (Genesis 2.13-14). In his Antiquities, written toward the end of the first century C.E., the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus for the first time identified the enigmatic first river of paradise as the Ganges river and the fourth river (Gihon or Geon) as the Nile:

Now the garden was watered by one river, which ran round about the whole earth, and was parted into four parts. And Phison, which denotes a Multitude, running into India, makes its exit into the sea, and is by the Greeks called Ganges.... Geon runs through Egypt, and denotes the river which arises from the opposite quarter to us, which the Greeks call Nile. (trans. Whiston 1906:2)


The location of the "garden in Eden" (gan b'Eden), from which Adam was eventually expelled, is specified in Genesis 2.8 as miqedem, which has both a spatial ("away to the East") and a temporal ("from before the beginning") connotation. Accordingly, the translators of the Septuagint, the Vedus Latina, and the English Authorized Version rendered it by words denoting "eastward" (Gr. kata anatolas, Lat. in oriente), while the Vulgate prefers "a principio" and thus the temporal connotation (Scafi 2006:35). But the association of the earthly paradise and enigmatic land of Havilah with the Orient, and in particular with India, was boosted by Flavius Josephus and a number of Church fathers who identified it with the Ganges valley (p. 35) where, nota bene, Holwell located his paradisiacal Bisnapore.

For the Christian theologian AUGUSTINE of Hippo (354-430), too, Pishon was the Ganges River and Gihon the Nile, and his verdict that these rivers "are true rivers, not just figurative expressions without a corresponding reality in the literal sense" hastened the demise of other theories as to the identity of the Pishon and Gihon (p. 46). In the seventh century, ISIDOR of Seville (d. 636) described in his Etymologiae the earthly paradise among the regions of Asia as a place that was neither hot nor cold but always temperate (Grimm 1977:77-78). Isidor also enriched the old tradition of allegorical interpretations of paradise. If paradise symbolized the Christian Church, he argued, the paradise river stood for Christ and its four arms for the four gospels (p. 78).

The allegorical view of paradise as the symbol of the Church, watered by four rivers or gospels and accessed by baptism, had first been advanced by Thascius Caelius CYPRlANUS (d. 258) and became quite successful in Carolingian Bible exegesis (pp. 45-46). The Commemoratio Geneseos, a very interesting Irish compilation of the late eighth century, identified the Pishon with the Indus river and interpreted Genesis's "compasseth the whole land of Havilah" as "runs through Havilah" while specifying that "this land is situated at the confines of India and Parthia" (p. 87). The Commemoratio also associates the Pishon with the evangelist "John who is full of the Holy Ghost," and the gold of Havilah with "the divine nature of God [diuinitas dei] which John wrote so much about" (p. 87).

Such Bible commentaries helped to establish an association of paradise with the name "John," with India, and with a mighty Indian river. Until the end of the fifteenth century, many medieval world maps depicted paradise somewhere in or near India (Knefelkamp 1986:87-92), and travelers like Giovanni MARIGNOLLI of the fourteenth or Columbus of the fifteenth century were absolutely convinced that they were close to the earthly paradise.

Image
Figure 14. Paradise near India at Eastern extremity of Osma world map (Santarem 1859).

Their view that paradise itself was not accessible does not signify that for them "earthly paradise ... was in a sense nowhere," as Scafi (2006:242) argues. When Marignolli met Buddhist monks at the foot of Adam's Peak in Ceylon, he noted that they "call themselves sons of Adam" and reports their claim mat "Cain was born in Ceylon." According to Marignolli, these monks lead a "veritably holy life following a religion whose founder, in their opinion, is the patriarch Enoch, the inventor of prayer, and which is professed also by the Brachmans" (Meinen 1820:85). No wonder that the missionary felt close to paradise. Did these monks not refrain from eating meat "because Adam, before the deluge, did not eat any," and did they not worship a nee, claiming that this custom stemmed "from Adam who, in their words, expected future salvation from its wood" (p. 86)?7 Marignolli also reports about his arrival "by sea to Ceylon, to the glorious mountain opposite paradise which, as the indigens say according to the tradition of their fathers, is found at forty Italian miles' distance -- so [near] that one hears the noise of the water falling from the source of paradise" (p. 77) -- and was proud to have visited Adam's house "built from large marble plates without plaster," which featured "a door at the center that he [Adam] built with his own hands" (pp. 80-8r). A pond full of jewels was reportedly fed by me source of paradise opposite the mountain, and Marignolli boasted of having tasted the delicious fruit of the paradise (banana) nee, whose leaves Adam and Eve had used to cover their private parts (pp. 81-83).

This paradise mythology was very influential and far reaching, and it shows itself sometimes in perhaps unexpected domains. Christopher COLUMBUS (1451-1506), a man who was very familiar with maps and had once made a living of their trade, also thought that he approached the earthly paradise on his third voyage. While he cruised near me estuary of me Orinoco in Venezuela, he firmly believed he had finally reached the mouth of a paradise fiver.

Holy Scripture testifies that Our Lord made the earthly Paradise in which he placed the Tree of Life. From it there flowed four main rivers: the Ganges in India, the Tigris and the Euphrates in Asia, which cut through a mountain range and form Mesopotamia and flow into Persia, and the Nile, which rises in Ethiopia and flows into the sea at Alexandria. I do not find and have never found any Greek or Latin writings which definitely state me worldly situation of the earthly Paradise, nor have I seen any world map which establishes its position except by deduction. (Columbus 1969:220-21)


Since Columbus knew that the earth is round and that he was far away from Africa and Mesopotamia, he apparently thought mat he was in the "Indies" and noted the unanimity of "St Isidor, Bede, Strabo, the Master of Scholastic History [Petrus Comestor], St Ambrose and Scotus and all learned theologians" that "the earthly Paradise is in the East" (p. 221). Columbus clearly imagined himself near the Ganges and the Indian Paradise.

I do not hold that the earthly Paradise has the form of a rugged mountain, as it is shown in pictures, but that it lies at the summit of what I have described as the stalk of a pear, and that by gradually approaching it one begins, while still at a great distance, to climb towards it. As I have said, I do not believe that anyone can ascend to the top. I do believe, however, that, distant though it is, these waters may flow from there to this place which I have reached, and form this lake. All this provides great evidence of the earthly Paradise, because the situation agrees with the beliefs of those holy and wise theologians and all the signs strongly accord with this idea. (pp. 221-22)


Who would have thought that the "Indian" fantasies of Flavius Josephus, Augustine, and the medieval theologians and cartographers in their wake would one day play a role in the discovery of the Americas? But while Columbus was looking forward to exploring the East Indies and enriching himself with the gold and jewels promised by the Bible commentators, the heyday of the "Indian" Paradise on world maps was coming to a close. In 1449, Aeneas Silvius PICCOLOMINI (1405-64; Pope Pius II from 1458-64) had already come to doubt the identification of the Gihon with the Nile (Scafi 2006:197), and soon the learned Augustinus STEUCHUS (1496-1549) argued that Pishon and Gihon had nothing to do with the Ganges and Nile since Havilah and Cush were not located in India and Ethiopia but in Mesopotamia and Arabia (p. 263).

Subsequently, the location of earthly paradise became unhinged and drifted for a time; Guillaume Postel, for example, first located it in the Moluccas, the home .of the paradise birds (Postel 1553a), but subsequently made a V-rum and placed it near the North Pole (Secret 1985=304-5). Though arguing that the entire earth had once been paradise, Postel's contemporary Jan Gorp (Goropius Becanus) of Antwerp believed that Adam had lived in India (Gorp 1569:483, 508) and that Noah's ark had landed not on Mt. Ararat but on the highest mountains of the Indian Caucasus, that is, near Mt. Imaus in the mountain range that we now call the Himalaya (p. 473). In his History of the World of 1614, Sir Walter Raleigh called this view "of all his conjectures the most probable" (1829.2.243); and around the end of the seventeenth century, some physical theories related to the deluge and the formation of the earth also revived Gorp's idea that the entire earth had initially been paradise (Burnet 1694). However, around the turn of the eighteenth century most specialists of biblical exegesis tended to place earthly paradise somewhere near the Holy Land.
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Part 2 of 4

Paradise and Reform

While the physical paradise had found a more or less stable abode in the Middle East, the search for the religion of paradise entered a period of chaos. Textual criticism of the Bible increasingly threatened scripture's claims to antiquity and authenticity; Moses's ancient "Egyptian" background was explored; and gradually texts from far-away China and India that purportedly were much older than the Old Testament entered the picture.

In contrast to physical and historical interpretations, some allegorical or spiritual (spiritaliter) Bible commentaries likened the lands in the vicinity of the Ganges to the holy Church, its gold to the genuine conception of monotheism, and the four cardinal virtues and foundational gospels to the four paradise rivers (Grimm 1977:87). The land of the Ganges was thus associated with the pure original teaching of Christianity, and Christianity in turn with humankind's first religion that was personally revealed by God to Adam before the Fall. Indeed, the view of "India" as a motherland of original teachings is a characteristic that links the reports by or about Eldad, Prester John, Mandeville, Prince Dara, Holwell, and Voltaire. They all portray pure original teachings and practices that survived in or near India: Eldad of the original Judaism of the sons of Moses, Prester John of the Ur-Christianity of St. Thomas, Mandeville of the seemingly antediluvian monotheism of the Bragmans, Prince Dara of Ur-Islam, Voltaire of Ur-deism, and Holwell of the Ur-religion. Characteristically, each author also had a particular reform agenda that is apparent or implicit in the critique of the reigning religion as degenerate compared to "Indian" teachings and practices.

The example of Mandeville's Travels is quite instructive. The pilgrimage motif that forms the setting for his entire tale is really "a metaphor for the life of man on earth as a journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem" -- but this promised land can only be reached if Christians reform themselves (Moseley 1983:23). Interestingly, the model for this reform is found not in Rome or the Holy Land but rather in far-away India. This region in the vicinity of the earthly paradise and its extremely ancient religion are held up as a mirror by Mandeville to make his Christian readers blush in shame. Prester John, the guardian of the shrine of Jesus's favorite disciple, managed to keep original Christianity pure and heads an ideal Christian state where even the empire's heathen live in ways that Christians should imitate.

Mandeville's description of non-Christian religions, particularly those of the regions near paradise, thus has a definite "Ambrosian" character and very much resembles Voltaire's use of the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's Shastah (see Chapter I). Like St. Ambrose's Brachmanes (Bysshe 1665), Eldad's Ur-Jews, Voltaire's Indian Ur-deists, Holwell's Vishnaporians, and Prester John's prototype Christians, the heathens and Christians of Mandeville's India have the mission of encouraging European Christians to reflect upon themselves and to reform their religion according to the "Indian" ideal. In each case, the model is the respective Ur-tradition -- appropriately set in the vicinity of paradise -- which forms both the point of departure and the ultimate goal. This goal can typically be reached by a "regeneration of the original creed" that entails eliminating degenerate accretions and stripping religion down to its bare Ur-form.

Rehabilitation Station Earth

As we have seen in Chapter 4, the three-step scheme of golden age/degeneration/ regeneration and return to the golden age formed the backbone of Andrew Ramsay's book The Travels of Cyrus, first published in French and English in 1727. It was a smashing success; a Dublin print of 1728 is already marked as fourth edition (Ramsay 2002:7). One of its readers in London may have been a London liveryman8 whose Oration, published in 1733, caught Holwell's attention at an early stage and influenced him so profoundly that he "candidly confessed" in the third volume of his Interesting historical events that the "well grounded" yet "bold assertions of Mr. John [Jacob] Ilive"9 had given him the "first hints":

[It was Mr. Ilive's bold yet well grounded assertions] from whom we candidly confess we took our first hints, and became a thorough convert to his hypothesis, upon finding on enquiry, and the exertion of our own reason, that it was built on the first divine revelation that had been graciously delivered to man, to wit, THE CHARTAH BHADE OF BRAMAH; although it is very plain Mr. Ilive was ignorant of the doctrine of the Metempsychosis, by confining his conceptions only to the angelic fall, man's being the apostate angels, and that this earth was the only hell; passing over in silence the rest of the animal creation. (Holwell 1771:3.143)


Jacob ILIVE (1705-63) was a printer, owner of a foundry, and religious publicist who in 1729 wrote down a speech, read it several times to his mother, and was obliged by his mother's testamentary request to proclaim it in public. Ilive went a bit further; after his mother's death in 1733, he read it twice in public and then printed it in annotated form. Later he rented Carpenters' Hall and lectured there about "The religion of Nature" (Wilson 1808:2.291). His Oration of 1733, which so deeply influenced Holwell, addresses several themes of interest to deists such as the origin of evil, original sin, eternal punishment, and the reliability of Moses's Pentateuch. Ilive offered more or less creative solutions to all of the above. Moses was for him not only a typical representative of "priestcraft" but one who began his career with a vicious murder. "I observe, that for the Truth of this, we have only Moses's ipse dixit, and I think a Man may chuse whether he will believe a Murderer" (Ilive 1733:37). Moses not only commanded people to steal and cheat but he also contrived "a great Murder, yea, a Massacre" while lying to his people as he told them that "the Lord God of Israel" had ordered "to slay every Man his Brother, and every Man his Neighbour" (p. 42). Ilive regarded the author of the Pentateuch as far from inspired:

What is to be understood by delivering Laws as the Result of Divine Appointment, if hereby is not meant, that Moses had for every Law and Ordinance he instituted not received miraculously and immediately the Command of the Great God of Heaven, but delivered them to the Jews only as (what he thought) agreeable to the Mind of God. (p. 41)


Ilive was not content with the Reformation either and described how the first reformers "glossed away the Christian truths":

In the first Article they say God is without Body, Parts, or Passions: in the second they sware, that God the Son has Body and Parts now in Heaven. In the third, that he went down into Hell, i.e. into me Centre of the Earth, or a distinct Creation from the Earth, I suppose is meant. Article Six they do not insert here, that the Books of the Old Testament were written by the Inspiration of the Holy Ghost, but they dub all the Stories contained in them for Truth. In Article seven, they are not Jews; but because the Old Testament would be necessary to back Christianity, they say, therefore, it is to be held in respect. In the ninth they establish three Creeds at once: in two of them this absurd Doctrine, the Resurrection of me Body, or Flesh. It is too tedious to go through them all. (pp. 43-44)


Ilive was clearly planning a more thorough reform of Christianity and was not happy with the Pentateuch. He felt that Moses had not explained who we are and why we are here in "the Place we now inhabit" (p. 9). Inspired by the notions that there is a plurality of worlds, that our world was created long after a more perfect one, and that souls preexisted, Ilive came up with a scenario that could very well have been inspired by Ramsay's Discourse upon the Theology and Mythology of the Pagans at the end of the Travels of Cyrus. The Discourse contains almost all the central elements of Ilive's system and appeared in 1727, exactly two years before Ilive apparently wrote his text, in the city of London where Ilive happened to earn his living in the printing business. As we have seen in the previous chapter, Ramsay had traced in the kabbala and various ancient cultures the idea that angels had fallen from their state of perfection and were exiled; that they formed the souls of beings on planets that are like hospitals or prisons for these fallen higher intelligences; that they were there imprisoned in the bodies of men; and mat they had to migrate from one body to another until their purification was complete and the return to their initial state of perfection possible. This was the central theme of Ramsay's Of the Mythology of the Pagans where it was presented as "a very ancient doctrine, common to all the Asiatics, from whom Pythagoras and Plato derived it" (Ramsay 1814:384-85). The idea had also played an important role in early Church heresiology since it was one of the main accusations leveled against Origenes (c. 185-254).10

Ramsay called this "the doctrine of transmigration," and its features of "a first earth" where "souls made their abode before their degradation, the "terrestrial prison" where they are confined, and the divine plan for their rehabilitation in order to regain their original state (pp. 366-67) form the very fabric of Ilive's system that so inspired Holwell. It is a classic golden age/ degeneration/regeneration scenario proposed by people intent on reforming the degenerate Christian religion and defending ideal Christianity against "all the Atheists" including "Spinoza, Hobbes, Toland, &c." (Ilive 1733:25). The task was to show that the world was "created for the Good and Benefit" and that its evils (ignorance, wars, cruelty, illness, etc.) are not due to the creator God's sadism but are part and parcel of his compassionate rehabilitation plan for fallen angels. Since "there has not been given as yet any real satisfactory Reason for the Creation of the World," Ilive (and in his wake, Holwell) attempted to furnish exactly that: an improved creation story. While Holwell eventually cobbled together an "Indian" one and presented it as a better (and older) Old Testament, Ilive relied mostly on inspired interpretations of New Testament passages. 11

Ilive's creation story begins long before Adam enjoyed paradise. "Many years, as we compute Time, before the Creation of Man," God "thought fit to reveal the Eternal Word, his Equal, unto the Angels" (p. 10). While two thirds of them "were chanting forth their Halleluja's," another third were "seized with Anger and Pride" and rebelled (pp. II-l2). Soon there was war in heaven, and the rebels were cast "into this very Globe ... which we now inhabit, before its Formation out of Chaos" (p. 15). At that time the earth was just a "Place of Darkness, and great Confusion, a rude Wilderness, an indigested Lump of Matter." The matter "out of which this World was formed, was prae-existent to the Formation of the Earth, and to the Creation of Man," and this dark chaotic world "was a Dungeon for the Punishment of the Lapsed Angels, and the Place of their Residence" (p. 26). After about 6,000 years of such confinement in chaos, "God began the Formation of the World" (p. 16) as we know it. Whereas for Milton this formation of the second world was designed to repopulate heaven by giving men on earth the chance to join the diminished number of good angels in heaven (Milton 2001:163; book 7, verses 150-60), Ilive regarded it as an act of divine compassion with the aim of giving the banished angels a chance for rehabilitation. Our planet earth, therefore, is, as it were, a rehabilitation center for rebel angels, and the bodies of men are "little Places of Confinement for the Reception of the apostate Angels" within this gigantic facility (Ilive 1733:23). Contrary to Holwell's assertion (1771:3.143), transmigration is clearly part of Ilive's design since rehabilitation and purification can take a very long time: "The Reader is desired to observe, that I suppose the Revolutions of these Angels in Bodies, and that they may have actuated or assumed Bodies many times since the Creation, in order for their Punishment, Probation and Reconciliation" (Ilive 1733:24).

In Ilive's narrative, human souls are thus fallen angels who must atone for past rebellious acts in small prison cells (our bodies) within a facility (the earth) that was created for the very purpose of punishing and rehabilitating them. One might say that our earth resembles a giant Guantanamo Bay prison camp, which during the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush was established as a facility tailor-made to house evil spirits (terrorists) brought in by "extraordinary rendition." The delinquents were incarcerated without the possibility of appeal since they were considered outlaws undeserving of the ordinary course of justice. The worst offenders were subjected to the trademark "Guantanamo frequent flier program" in which prisoners were constantly moved from cell to cell after short periods of sleep. In terms of our metaphor, they had to undergo seemingly endless transmigration from body to body and feel lucky if they got to inhabit a better cell for a little while. The final goal of this grueling regime was atonement, rehabilitation, and eventual release; but since this was a realm without habeas corpus rights, the best the prisoners could do was to follow the rules in order to accumulate expiation points. Regaining their original status and returning home, however, possibly necessitated an almost endless sequence of transmigrations.

Holwell's Delinquent Angels

In the Historical events, Holwell makes a great effort to convey the impression that his entire system is based on the Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah and that he is no more than a translator and commentator of an ancient text who intends "to rescue from error and oblivion the ancient religion of Hindostan"12 and to "vindicate" it "not by labored apologies, but by a simple display of their primitive theology."13 Following Holwell's candid confession that he took his "first hints" from Dive and "became a thorough convert to his hypothesis," one would expect him to acknowledge that he subsequently found a similar system in the Shastah. Instead, Holwell makes the startling claim (1771:3.143) that Ilive's system "was built on the first divine revelation that had been graciously delivered to man, to wit, THE CHARTAH BHADE OF BRAMAH"!

Not only Egyptian religion and the Pythagorean system but even Dive's ideas are thus supposedly based on an ancient Indian text whose two manuscripts Holwell claims to have bought very dearly and thereafter lost in the sack of Calcutta:

It is well known that at the capture of Calcutta, A.D. 1756, I lost many curious Gentoo manuscripts, and among them two very correct and valuable copies of the Gentoo Shastah. They were procured by me with so much trouble and expence, that even the commissioners of the restitution, though not at all disposed to favour me, allowed me two thousand Madras rupees in recompense for this particular loss; but the most irreparable damage I suffered under this head of grievances, was a translation I made of a considerable part of the Shastah, which had cost me eighteen months hard labour: as that work opened upon me, I distinctly saw, that the Mythology, as well as the Cosmogony of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, were borrowed from the doctrines of the Bramins, contained in this book; even to the copying their exteriors of worship, and the distribution of their idols, though grossly mutilated and adulterated. (Holwell 1765:1.3-4)


If Holwell had spent no less than eighteen months of "hard labor" to translate a "considerable part" of the Shastah, then one must assume that he had bought a text of gigantic proportions. The manuscripts that he owned and translated were, he says, lost in 1756. However, he claims to have recovered "some manuscripts ... by an unforeseen and extraordinary event" that allowed him to publish his translation; but though he tantalizingly adds that he "possibly" may "recite" this wondrous recovery afterward (p. 4), he never explained himself, and nobody has ever seen an original manuscript. One is reminded of James Macpherson's phantom Ossian manuscripts that excited the curiosity of an entire generation of Europeans after the publication of their English "translation" in 1761. But though there are some striking similarities one notes a major difference: Macpherson's Ossian was very prolix compared to Holwell's Brahma. Holwell's entire translation from the Shastah amounts to a skimpy 531 lines, printed in large type on narrow pages with very conspicuous quotation marks at the beginning of each line. In fact, there was so little substance that Edmund Burke decided to include Holwell's entire translation in his Annual Register book review (1767:310-16), and it fit neatly on six and a half pages!

This means that the "unforeseen and extraordinary event," which Holwell never explained, yielded very little material. Moreover, over 80 percent of the translated text deals with me fate of angels: their creation, their fall, their punishment, and of course their incarceration on "rehab station" earth. A single section entitled "The Mitigation of the Punishment of the delinquent Debtah, and their final Sentence" (Holwell176T2.47-59)-which basically replicates Jacob Ilive's argument spiced up with some Indian terminology-constitutes no less than two thirds of Holwell's Shastah translation; see Figure 15. This is the section that explains the core of Holwell's system, namely, that human bodies host the souls of rebellious angels; that the earth was created as a rehabilitation facility in which these souls could purify themselves in successive existences; that transmigration is part of this rehabilitation process; and that vegetarianism is obligatory for the obvious angelic reason.

Image
Figure 15. Chapter theme percentages of Holwell's Shastah translation (Urs App).
15%: Creation of world
1.3% Time
2.6% God
6.5%: Angel Creation
6%: Angel fall
3.6%: Anger punishment
65% The fate of fallen angels; their confinement on earth as human souls, transmigration, and their rehabilitation


Table 10 shows that the volume of Holwell's commentaries on sections translated from the Shastah is similarly lopsided.

The thematic analysis of Holwell's Shastah fragments indicates that the Shastah author's interests strangely resemble those of Ilive and that the possibility of an ancient Indian origin seems remote. But does the content of Holwell's text -- which purportedly "is as ancient, at least, as any written body of divinity that was ever produced in me world" (Holwell 1767:2.5) -- support such doubts about the Shastah's authorship? Let us examine me first section of Holwell's translation, which is shown in Figure 16.

TABLE 10. TEXT PERCENTAGES IN HOLWELL'S TRANSLATIONS PER THEME
Part / Lines of "translation" / % of total / Theme / Pages of commentary / % of total

1.1 / 14 / 2.6 / God & attributes / 3 / 4.9
1.2 / 35 / 6.5 . creation of angels / 5 / 8.2
1.3 / 31 / 6.0 / fall of angels / 0 / 0.0
1.4 / 20 / 3.6 punishment angels / 1.6
1.5 / 343 / 65 / fate of angels / 41 / 67.2
/ 2.8 / 81 / 15 / creation of world / 7 / 11. 5
? / 7 / 1.3 computing time / 4 / 6.6
Total / 531 / -- / -- / 61 / --


While an ancient Indian inspired by Brahma might have had other ideas, a European would quite naturally tend to have a catechism begin with an affirmation of monotheism and a creator God. The very first sentence of the Shastah already points toward an author familiar with Christian theology. Holwell seems to have vacillated on how to formulate this crucial initial statement that echoes God's first commandment to Moses. The text cited in Burke's review in the Annual Register for the Year 1766 (1767:310) must stem from the galley proofs and begins with "God is the one that ever was" in place of the final version's "God is ONE." If Holwell's Indian text -- which was written in Hindi, as his note suggests -- contained the words ek (one) and hamesha (always), then "the one that ever was" or "the eternal one" seem just fine. So why did Holwell at the last minute decided to change his initial translation (which did not need a note) to "God is ONE" and to banish the literal translation into a note? Did a unitarian friend who read the proofs suggest this, or did Holwell try to "improve" the text Voltaire-style? At any rate, the published text begins with a strong statement against trinitarianism.
 
Image
Figure 16. First section of Holwell's Shastah in review and published versions.

That this God rules all creation by "general providence resulting from first determined and fixed principles" again points to an author familiar with eighteenth-century theological controversies. Moreover: what ancient Indian author would have thought of prohibiting research about the laws by which God governs? Here, too, one has reason to suspect the interference of a certain eighteenth-century author who was opposed to scientific research into the laws of nature. It so happens that Holwell had exactly this attitude. Pointing out that Solomon had called the "pursuits of mankind, in search of knowledge, arts, and sciences ... all futile and vain," Holwell called it a Christian reformer's duty "to prevent the misapplication of time, expence, and talents, which might be employed for better purposes" (1786:45). Of what significance is it, he asks (p. 46), "to know whether our globe stands still, or has a daily rotation from East and West?" This might sound strange coming from a man who had traveled so much at sea, but Holwell offered an explanation in tune with Brahmah's will:

It is highly improbable, that when the DEITY planted the different regions of this globe with the fallen spirits, or intelligent beings, his design was, they should ever have communication with each other; his placing the expanded and occasionally tempestuous ocean between them exhibits an incontestable proof to the contrary. But in this as in every thing else, man has counteracted his wise and benevolent intentions. (pp. 49-50)


The first lines of the Shastah thus already strongly indicate European authorship. Another example suggesting an eighteenth-century author is the crucial passage in Section 2, titled "The Creation of Angelic Beings."

The ETERNAL ONE willed. -- And they were. -- He formed them in part of his own essence; capable of perfection, but with the powers of imperfection; both depending on their voluntary election. (Holwell 1767:2.35)


In his commentary Holwell explains that this passage is related to the problem of "free will" and "the origin, and existence of moral evil' (p. 39). Here he openly joins the fray and attacks authors "who have been driven to very strange conclusions on this subject" and even "thought it necessary to form an apology in defence of their Creator, for the admission of moral evil into the world" (p. 39). One of the culprits is Soame Jenyns's A Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil whose fourth edition appeared in 1761 just after Holwell's final return to England. Holwell quotes from Jenyns's book and then contrasts it with the Shastah's solution that is, in his eyes, by far the best to date:

How much more rational and sublime [than such eighteenth-century apologies is] the text of Bramah, which supposes the Deity's voluntary creation, or permission of evil; for the exaltation of a race of beings, whose goodness as free agents could not have existed without being endued with the contrasted or opposite powers of doing evil. (p. 41)


Though Holwell gives all the credit to his Shastah, this was an ingenious if somewhat circular solution that both Ilive and Ramsay had proposed. Whoever authored the Shastah, it certainly addressed problems of utmost interest not to any ancient Indian author but rather to a certain eighteenth-century Englishman familiar with Indian religion as well as the theological controversies of his time. Is it not noteworthy that Holwell seems to have recuperated only Shastah sections that deal exactly with the questions he felt passionate about? One gets the distinct feeling that he was considerably more than just a translator of "Bramah's" ancient text, and as one reads on, the signs pointing to Holwell multiply. Section 4 of the Shastah begins with the words: "The eternal ONE, whose omniscience, prescience and influence, extended to all things, except the actions of beings, which he had created free" (p. 44). In his remarks Holwell points out that this section begins "by denying the prescience of God touching the actions of free agents" and that "the Bramins defend this dogma by alleging, his prescience in this case, is utterly repugnant and contradictory to the very nature and essence of free agency,-- which on such terms could not have existed" (p. 46). Whatever these Bramins may have explained to Holwell, here it is old Bramah himself who seems to react to the attacks of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century deist writers, and it is striking how familiar he is not only with Indian religion but also-as his omniscience and prescience would have one expect-with eighteenth-century Europe's theological controversies!

Holwellian Contradictions

It is certain that during his long stay in India Holwell had conversed with many Indians about their religions. He severely criticized Western authors who "have (either from their own fertile inventions, or from mis-information, or rather from want of a competent knowledge in the language of the nation) misrepresented" the Indians' religious tenet (pp. 4-5). Holwell was proud of having studied the language and to have had "various conferences with many of the most learned and ingenious, amongst the laity of the Koyt," the tribe of writers,14 as well as "other Casts, who are often better versed in the doctrines of their Shastah than the common run of the Bramins themselves" (p. 21).

2. Cayast’ha or Koyt.

The children of a Cshatriya father and a Vaisya mother are Cayast’has, (Caits,) commonly called the Writer Caste by Europeans. Most of this Caste can read and write; several practice medicine; many are merchants, tradesmen, farmers, &c. Though not so numerous as the Brahmans, they are, as a body, more wealthy. They perform the same daily religious ceremonies as the Brahmans, but use prayers taken from the Tantras. Some authorities seem to consider them as pure Sudras (As. Res. v. 58).

-- Encyclopædia metropolitana; or, Universal dictionary of Knowledge, on an Original Plan: Comprising the Twofold Advantage of a Philosophical and an Alphabetical Arrangement, with Appropriate Engravings. Edited by The Rev. Edward Smedley, M.A., Late Fellow of Sidney College, Cambridge; The Rev. Hugh James Rose, B.D., Principal of King’s College, London; and The Rev. Henry John Rose, B.D., Late Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge. Volume 16. 1845


3. – Dinagepour, called also the havillee of the circar of Penjerah, and sometimes classed with Edrackpoor, under the head of Arungabad, was conferred by Jaffier Khan, like all the other great zemindarries, towards the latter end of his government, in the first instance, on a very intelligent landholder of the caste of koyt or writer, named Ramnaht, originally from upper Hindostan. This man was supposed to have acquired great wealth by the discovery of buried treasure, in digging tanks for the improvement of agriculture; and had therefore repeated application from the nazim for pecuniary aids, under the real or feigned distresses of the State. The truth may be, that by amelioration and good management, in rendering productive the extensive wastes within the circle of his jurisdiction, or secret enlargement of his frontiers on all sides, particularly towards Cooch Behar, he might have realized the necessary operation of husbandry, conducted with intelligence, industry or good fortune. But however this may have been, by personal address, and anticipating the wants or desire of the sovereign representative, in paying large douceurs over and above his current revenue, he enjoyed the annual special privilege of administering internally his own district, without being subject like the zemindars, to either hustabood investigations, on the immediate control of a Mussulman aumildar. Nor did these extraordinary exemptions cease entirely before the year 1757, when a new revolution having strengthened the efficient powers of government, and politically increased the public expenses, through the necessity of maintaining a regular standing military establishment, it was found expedient to resume the equitable, indispensible rights of royalty, by bringing into the exchequer the ascertained surplus exaction levied from the country by the farming collector, and hitherto fraudulently kept for his proper use. Originally this zemindarry, exclusive of jageers, consisted of pergunnahs 89, yielding 4,62,964.

-- The Zemindarries in 1728, from The Fifth Report from the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company, Volume 1, Bengal Presidency. 1812


Holwell also mentions a "judicious Bramin of the Battezaar tribe, the tribe ... usually employed in expounding the Shastahs" who explained images to him (p. II3). It is from such Indians that Holwell claims to have learned about the origin of his text. 15 But the origin and other aspects of this text are clouded by a number of strange contradictions. On one hand, Holwell openly admitted that his idea of "the antiquity of the scriptures" -- namely, that the Shastah of Bramah "is as ancient, at least, as any written body of divinity that was ever produced in the world"-is based upon "our conjecture and belief" (p. 5) and emphasized that the ideas of the Brahmins are not very trustworthy and that they led to conjectures rather than historical facts:

Without reposing an implicit confidence in the relations the Bramins give of the antiquity of their scriptures; we will with our readers indulgence, humbly offer a few conjectures that have swayed us into a belief and conclusion, that the original tenets of Bramah are most ancient; that they are truly original, and not copied from any system of theology, that has ever been promulged to, or obtruded upon the belief of mankind: what weight our conjectures may have with the curious ... we readily submit to those, whose genius, learning and capacity in researches of this kind, are much superior to our own. (p. 23)


On the other hand, Holwell presented an elaborate scheme of the origin of Indian sacred literature with precise dates: it was precisely "4866 years ago" (3100 B.CE.) that the Almighty decided to have his sentence for the delinquent angels "digested into a body of written laws for their guidance" and ordered Bramah, "a being from the first rank of angels ... destined for the eastern part of this globe," to transmit God's "terms and conditions" to the "delinquents" (pp. II-12). Bramah "assumed the human form," translated God's sentence from "Debtah Nagur (literally, the language of angels)" into "the Sanscrit, a language then universally known throughout Indostan." This oldest book of the world "was preached to the delinquents, as the only terms of their salvation and restoration" and is known as "the Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah (literally, the four scriptures of divine words of the mighty spirit)" (p. 12). This was the text that Holwell claimed to have found, translated, lost, found again in fragments, translated again, and finally published in 1767. Since Holwell's text titles are a bit confusing -- he claims at the bottom of the same page that Bhade means "a written book" -- I will call this first Sanskrit scripture from 3,100 B.C.E. "Text I."

For a thousand years Text I remained untouched and many delinquent angels were saved by its teachings; but in 2100 B.C.E. some commentators wrote a paraphrase called Chatah Bhade of Bramah or "the six scriptures of the mighty spirit' and began to "veil in mysteries the simple doctrines of Bramah" (pp. 12-13). The product of these commentators, Text II, consisted of Text I plus comments.

Again five hundred years later, in 1600 B.C.E., a second exposition swelled "the Gentoo scriptures to eighteen books"; this was Text III, called "Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah, or the eighteen books of divine words" (pp. 14-15). In Text III the original scripture of Bramah, Text I, "was in a manner sunk and alluded to only" and "a multitude of ceremonials, and exteriour modes of worship, were instituted," while the laity was "precluded from the knowledge of their original scriptures" and "had a new system of faith broached unto them, which their ancestors were utterly strangers to" (p. 14).

Text III "produced a schism amongst the Gentoo's, who until this period had followed one profession of faith throughout the vast empire of Indostan" (p. 14). But now the Brahmins of South India formed a scripture of their own, "the Viedam of Brummah, or divine words of the mighty spirit" (Text IV: p. 14). The southerners claimed that their Viedam ( = Veda) was based on Text I; but in reality they had, like the authors of Text III, included all kinds of new things and even "departed from that chastity of manners" still preserved in Text III.

While the southerners based their religion on the Viedam (Text IV), the northerners continued to use the Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah (Text III):

The Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah, has been invariably followed by the Gentoos inhabiting from the mouth of the Ganges to the Indus, for the last three thousand three hundred and sixty six years. This precisely fixes the commencement of the Gentoo mythology, which until the publication of that Bhade, had no existence amongst them. (p. 18)


Having read about Holwell's "conjecture" and "belief," the reader is astonished to find such a precisely dated genealogy of the sacred scriptures of India. To ensure that the reader understands that this is not Holwell's personal "conjecture" and "belief," every line of this 12-page history (pp. 9-21) begins with a quotation mark. But who said or wrote all this, including what was just quoted about the precise beginning of Gentoo mythology? Holwell calls it a "recital" that he had heard "from many of these [learned Bramins]" -- which must signify that these twelve pages, in spite of no less than 329 conspicuous quotation marks, present no quotation at all but rather a kind of summary of things that Holwell had heard at various times from a variety of people.

However, in Europe, Holwell's fake precision had a great impact. In the second volume of his Interesting historical events (1767), Holwell delivered extended "quotations" from numerous "learned among me Bramins" (p. 9) who hitherto had hardly discussed such things with foreigners; he ostensibly translated parts of the world's most ancient book; he declared that this text was much older and more authentic than the Veda that the Europeans had coveted for so long; he explained the origin and unity of Indian religion (the religion of the Gentoos or, as we would say today, me Hindus); he furnished precise dates for a "schism" that had set the religion of the South against that of the North; and he asserted that his Shastah was the one and only original revelation that God had granted to the ancient Indians. Holwell's "conjecture and belief" seemed to have vanished underneath a giant heap of certified facts.

Another contradiction that strikes the reader concerns the story Holwell weaves around the transmission of his Shastah text. On one hand, he claims that this text was extremely rare and hard to find; hence, the high price he had to pay for the acquisition of the two manuscripts lost in 1756, me failure of acquiring a replacement after that, and the miraculous (though unexplained) recovery of just a few fragments. On the other hand, the Shastah text seems to have been rather well transmitted. Holwell claims to have had not just one but two complete copies in the early 1750s and insisted that it was from recovered fragments of this original text mat he translated the chapter on me fate of me delinquent angels (which forms 65 percent of me entire translation).16 Furthermore, Text I could not have been rare since it was also included in Text II and to some extent in Text III, which born "derive their authority and essence, in the bosom of every Gentoo, from the Chartah Bhade of Bramah" (p. 29), and could easily be consulted when the need arose:

It is no uncommon thing, for a Gentoo, upon any point of conscience, or any important emergency in his affairs or conduct, to reject the decision of the Chatah [Text II] and Aughtorrah Bhades [Text III], and to procure, no matter at what expence, the decision of me Chartah Bhade [Text I], expounded in the Sanscrit. (p. 29)


Those who included Text I in Text II, commented on it, and eventually produced Text III -- "some Goseyns and Battezaaz Bramins" -- obviously also had access to Text I (p. 13):

Thus the original, plain, pure, and simple tenets of the Chartah Bhade of Bramah (fifteen hundred years after its first promulgation) became by degrees utterly lost; except, to three or four Goseyn families, who at this day are only capable of reading, and expounding it, from the Sanscrit character; to these may be added a few others of the tribe of the Batteezaaz Bramins, who can read and expound from the Chatah Bhade [Text II], which still preserved the text of the original, as before remarked. (p. 15)


Also blessed with access to Text I were apparently "many of the most learned and ingenuous, amongst the laity of the Koyt, and other Casts, who are often better versed in the doctrines of their Shastah than the common run of the Bramins themselves" (p. 21). Furthermore, as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Holwell reported that there existed an entire country near Calcutta whose religion had forever been based on Text I and that had preserved paradisiacal purity! And just before the end of his second volume, Holwell mentions another group who intimately knows Text I and seems also on course to paradise:

The remnant of Bramins (whom we have before excepted) who seclude themselves from the communications of the busy world, in a philosophic, and religious retirement, and strictly pursue the tenets and true spirit of the Chartah Bhade of Bramah, we may with equal truth and justice pronounce, are the purest models of genuine piety that now exist, or can be found on the face of the earth. (p. 152)


Yet another contradiction concerns the language of Text 1. Holwell stated that his text first existed in the language of angels'? and was then translated and promulgated in Sanskrit. He accused missionaries as well as "modern authors ... chiefly of the Romish communion" of having presented "the mythology of the venerable ancient Bramins on so slender a foundation as a few insignificant literal translations of the Viedam" that were not even "made from the book itself, but from unconnected scraps and bits, picked up here and there by hearsay from Hindoos, probably as ignorant as themselves" (Holwell 1765:1.6). Holwell, by contrast, was using the unadulterated original Shastah text rather than the degenerate southern "Viedam," and his thirty-year sojourn in Bengal (p. 3) had supposedly equipped him to deal with this original text. Holwell never claimed openly to have studied Sanskrit, but the reader of his account gets the impression, as Voltaire did, that Holwell knew Sanskrit since he was able to translate the ancient text and labored for many months to produce not only a literal translation but one that even took the diction and style of the original into account. Bur it is evident that Holwell never studied Sanskrit and that the Indian words he quotes from Text I are not Sanskrit.

There are also many unanswered questions concerning Holwell's recovery of some fragments of the Shastah that ought to have taken place before his rerum to England in 1761. A comparison of Holwell's announcement in 1765 with the actual content of the 1767 volume seems to indicate that, in 1765, Holwell was not yet planning to include any translations from the Shastah except for the creation account. The 1765 announcement only mentioned "A summary view of the fundamental, religious tenets of the Gentoos, followers of the Shastah" and "A short account, from the Shastah, of the creation of the worlds, or universe" (p. 15). The latter became in 1767 the eighth section of the Shastah's second book (1767:2.106-10). Why did Holwell in his first volume (on whose tide page the second and third parts were already announced) not lose a single word about the literal translations he was about to publish from the world's oldest text? Did Holwell decide around 1766 to transform his "summary view of the fundamental religious tenets of the Gentoos" into "translations"? The content of the Shastah texts as well as their style, inspired as they seem by Milton's Paradise Lost, Salomon Gessner's Death of Abel (1761), and James "Ossian" Macpherson's Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760), also point in that direction. Are all those hundreds of quotation marks signs of a bad conscience?

Contradictions pertaining to Holwell's (and Ilive's) system will go unmentioned here, except for one related to the salvation of fish that was pointed our in a delightful passage by Julius Mickle who noted many suspicious facets of Holwell's text:

Nature has made almost the whole creation of fishes to feed upon each other. Their purgation therefore is only a mock trial; for, according to Mr. H[olwell] whatever being destroys a mortal body must begin its transmigrations anew; and thus the spirits of the fishes would be just where they were, though millions of the four Jogues [yugas; world ages] were repeated. Mr. H. is at great pains to solve the reason why the fishes were not drowned at the general deluge, when every other species of animals suffered death. The only reason for it, he says, is that they were more favoured of God, as more innocent. Why then are these less guilty spirits united to bodies whose natural instinct precludes them the very possibility of salvation? (Mickle 1798:190)
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Part 3 of 4

The Shastah and the Vedas

A further contradiction concerns the discrepancy between Holwell's and the standard Indian view of Vedas and Shastras. To contemporaries like Voltaire or Anquetil-Duperron, Holwell's presentation of sacred Indian literature -- delivered purportedly in the words of learned Indian informers -- seemed impressive. Holwell apparently set the beginning of the last world age (and thus the promulgation of Text I in Sanskrit) at 3100 B.C.E.,18 but nobody knows how he came up with a 1,000-year golden age until Text II and another 500 years until Text III. The descriptions of the four corpora of Indian sacred scriptures by Holwell's "learned Bramins" seem to stem, in spite of their 329 quotation marks, from a non-Indian source since Indians of all stripes always regarded the four Vedas as their basic sacred scriptures and Shastras as commentarial literature.19 This is also what European reports since the sixteenth century had affirmed (Caland 1918), and it is why Abbe Bignon urged Father Calmette to acquire and send the four Vedas to Paris and not some Shastras. So where did Holwell get this idea that the Vedas are late and degenerated scriptures, a mere shadow of the far older Shastah of Bramah?

Holwell boasted that he had "studiously perused all that has been written of the empire of Indostan, both as to its ancient, as well as more modern state" but added that what he had read was "all very defective, fallacious, and unsatisfactory to an inquisitive searcher after truth" (Holwell 1765:1.5). However, in the meantime we may have learned not to take every word of Holwell as gospel. He occasionally cited Ramsay's Travels of Cyrus, which contained an interesting passage about Indian religion that could not fail to inspire him. Ramsay reported that the Veda states

that souls are eternal emanations from the divine Essence, or at least that they were produced long before the formation of the world; that they were originally in a state of purity, but having sinned, were thrown down into the bodies of men, or of beasts, according to their respective demerits; so that the body, where the soul resides, is a sort of dungeon or prison. (Ramsay 1814:382)


Ramsay attributed this passage to Abraham Roger's De Open-Deure tot het verborgen Heydendom (The Open Door to the Hidden Paganism), whose French translation (1670) he had consulted. In the preface to that edition, translator Thomas La Grue particularly emphasized "what was also clearly a motif with Roger himself: that the Indians did indeed possess a pristine and natural knowledge of God, but that it had decayed almost completely into superstition as a result of moral lapses" (Halbfass 1990:46-47). But Holwell, a good reader of Dutch, could consult Roger's original edition of 1651.20 There Roger called the Indian Dewetaes (Skt. devatas; Indian guardian spirits or protective divinities) "Engelen" or angels (Roger 1915:108). But here we are primarily interested in Roger's description of the Vedam, which for him is the Indian's book of laws containing "everything that they must believe as well as all the ceremonies they must perform" (p. 20).

This Vedam consists of four parts; the first part is called Roggowedam; the second Issourewedam; the third Samawedam; and the fourth Adderawanawedam. The first part deals with the first cause, the materia prima [eerste materiel, the angels, the souls, the recompense of good and punishment of evil, the generation of creatures and their corruption, the nature of sin, how it can be absolved, how this can be achieved, and to what end. (p. 21)


After a brief explanation of the content of the second to fourth Vedas, Roger states that conflicts of Vedic interpretation generated a literature of commentaries called Iastra (Skt. sastra), "that is, the explanations about the Vedam" (p. 22). As Willem Caland has shown in detail (1918),21 Roger's source for such information was Diogo do Couto's Decada Quinta da Asia of 1612. Couto's account of the content of the Vedas was in turn, as Schurhammer (1977:2.612-20) proved, plagiarized from an account by the Augustinian brother Agostinho de Azevedo's Estado da India e aonde tem o seu principio of 1603, a report prepared in the 1580s for King Philip III of Portugal, which "includes an original summary of Hindu religion, from Shaiva Sanskrit and Tamil texts" (Rubies 2000:315). The question as to what exactly Azevedo's sources were still awaits clarification in spite of Caland's speculations (1918:309-10); but here we will concentrate on Couto whose report about sacred Indian literature, unlike Azevedo's, was used by Holwell who could handle Portuguese. Couto's report of 1612 describes Indian sacred literature as follows:

They possess many books in their Latin, which they call Geredaom, and which contain everything they have to believe and all ceremonies they have to perform. These books are divided in bodies, members, and articulations. The fundamental texts are those they call Vedas which form four parts, and these again form fifty-two in the following manner: Six that they call Xastra which are the bodies; eighteen they call Purana which are the members; and twenty-eight called Agamon which are the articulations. (Couto 1612:125r)


TABLE II. Do COUTO'S VEDAS AND HOLWELL'S SACRED SCRIPTURES OF INDIA

Couto / Holwell (1767)


4 Vedas / I / 4 scriptures of divine words of the mighty spirit (Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah)
6 Xastras / II / 6 scriptures of the mighty spirit (Chatah Bhade of Bramah)
18 Puranas / III / 18 books of divine words (Aughtorrah Bhade Shastah)
28 Agamon / IV / Divine words of the mighty spirit (Viedam of Brummah)


The numbers four, six, and eighteen first made me think that Holwell's weird history of Indian sacred literature might be modeled on Couto's report. As we have seen, Holwell also mentioned four textual bodies. The number of scriptures of the first three bodies thus correspond exactly to Couto's, as shown in Table II.

Holwell's wild potpourri of Bhade (which would be the Vedas), Shastah (which would be, as Roger indicates, commentaries), and Viedam has confused many readers.22 Trautmann commented that Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah "would be something like Catur Veda Siistra in Sanskrit, an odd title since it combines two classes of Sanskrit literature that are distinct, Veda and Sastra" (1997:68), and he complains, "Holwell does not seem to understand that his Bhade is the same word as his Viedam, the one under a Bengali pronunciation, the other a Tamil one" (p. 69). At any rate, Holwell garnished such information with a plethora of quotation marks and presented it as the opinion of knowledgeable Indians. But it is abundantly clear that no knowledgeable Indian would ever have said anything remotely similar. Rather, Holwell once again used Western information as a basis for a house of cards. Calling the Viedam "a corruption" of his Shastah, Holwell asserted that it was only used In the South "by the Gentoos of the Mallabar and Cormandel coasts: and also by those of the Island of Ceylon" (Holwell 1767:2.11-12) and claimed that only his Text I contained the genuine teaching of antiquity:

Enough has been said, to shew that the genuine tenets of Bramah, are to be found only in the Chartah Bhade [Text I]; and as all who have wrote on this subject, have received their information from crude, inconsistent reports, chiefly taken from the Aughtorrah Bhade, and the Viedam; it is no wonder that the religion of the Gentoos, has been traduced, by some, as utterly unintelligible; and by others, as monstrous, absurd, and disgraceful to humanity: -- our design is to rescue these ancient people, from those imputations; in order to which we shall proceed, without further introduction or preface, to investigate the original scriptures, as contained in the Chartah Bhade. (pp. 29-30)


In particular, Holwell attacked the Dutch pastor Philip BALDAEUS (1632- 72) for having "given a laborious translation of the Viedam" and having claimed that the part that "treated of God, and the origin of the universe, or visible words" was lost. Baldaeus had indeed written that "the first of these [Vedam] Books treated of God, and of the Origin and Beginning of the Universe" and that "the loss of this first Part is highly lamented by the Brahmans" (Baldaeus 1732:891. Holwell accused Baldaeus of a double error: first, of "alleging the part lost" even though "both the Viedam, and Shastah, are elaborate on the subject ... and fix not only the period of its creation but also its precise age, and term of duration"; and second, of lamenting "a loss they never sustained" (p. 32). He must have preferred Couto's description of the Veda's content:

To better understand these [Vedaos] we will briefly distinguish all of them. The first part of the four fundamental texts treats of the first cause, the first matter [materia prima], the angels, the souls, the recompense of good, the punishment of evil, the generation of creatures, their corruption, what sin is, how one can attain remission and be absolved, and why. The second part treats of the regents and how they exert dominion over all things. The third part is all about moral doctrine, advice exhorting to virtue and obliging to avoid vice, and also for monastic and political life, i.e., active and contemplative life. The fourth part treats of temple ceremonies, offerings, and their festivals; and also about enchantment, witchcraft, divination, and me art of magic since they are much taken by this kind of thing. (Couto 1612:125r)


TABLE12. CONTENTS OF DOCOUTO'S FIRST VEDA AND THE FIRST BOOK OF HOLWELL'S SHASTAH

Couto's first Veda in Decada Quinta (1612:125r) / First book of Holwell's Shastah (1767:30)


first cause, materia prima / God and his attributes
angels / creation of angelic beings
souls (of angels in human bodies) / lapse of angelic beings
punishment / recompense / punishment, mitigation
remission, absolution / final sentence leading to remission
 

The comparison of this description with Holwell's summary (1767=30) of the contents of his Shastah (see Table 12) shows that they are also quite a good match. This common inspiration may explain another contradiction in Holwell's portrayal of Indian sacred literature, namely, why -- in spite of his rantings against the Veda as a late and degenerate text -- Holwell claimed that both his Shastah (Text I) and the Viedam (Text IV) were "originally one":

Both these books [the Viedam and Shastah] contain me institutes of their respective religions and worships,23 often couched under allegory and fable; as well as the history of their ancient Rajahs and Princes -- their antiquity is contended for by the partisans of each -- but the similitude of their names, idols, and a great part of their worship, leaves little room to doubt, nay plainly evinces, that both these scriptures were originally one. (Holwell 1765:1.12)


If Couto's summary of Veda content does not seem overly concerned with angels, the more detailed explanations (Couto 1612:125v) provide details that were certainly of great interest to a man so thoroughly converted to Jacob Ilive's system as Holwell. Couto wrote that Indian manuals of theology portray God as first cause and as "a pure, incorporal, infinite spirit, endowed with all might, all knowledge, and all truth" who "is everywhere, which is why they call him Xarues Zibaru which signifies creator of all" (p. 125v). According to Couto, the first Veda then describes three kinds of angels: the good angels that remain in heaven with God; the delinquent angels who must go through rehabilitation imprisoned in human bodies on earth; and the angels shut in hell. It furthermore treats of the immortality of souls and their transmigration during the rehabilitation process on earth: "They believe that the souls are immortal; but they think that a sinner's soul at death passes into the body of some living being where it continues purification until it merits rising to heaven" (p. 125v). Couto goes into considerable detail about the meaning of transmigration and its deep connection with the punishment of evil and recompense of good: the souls of the worst sinners transmigrate after death into the most terrible animals, and those of the good into an ever better body. In this way they can purify themselves and atone until they become ready to regain their original state before the fall (pp. 125v-126r).

The Making of an Ur-Text

One can imagine how delighted Holwell must have been to find such stunning similarities between me description of India's ancient religious texts and Ilive's vision. But the doctrines that had been translated or summarized from old texts by the likes of Roger, Baldaeus, and the Catholic missionaries showed little similarity with this. All of it seemed "very defective, fallacious, and unsatisfactory" to Holwell, in fact, no more than "unconnected scraps and bits, picked up here and there by hearsay" from ignorant Hindoos rather than solid "literal translations" (Holwell1765:I.5-6). Hence the need to "rescue" this distant nation "from the gross conceptions entertained of them by the multitude" (p. 9) and "to vindicate them" by "a simple display of their primitive theology" (Holwe1l 1767: Dedication). Disgusted by all these misunderstandings and misrepresentations (1767.2:4), converted by Ilive's theory of delinquent angels, and possibly already fascinated by Ramsay's vision of  r-tradition, Holwell collected materials about the Gentoo religion and "on his departure from Bengal in the year 1750 imagined himself well informed in the Gentoo religion" about which he had learned through "conversations with the Bramins of those Bhades who were near" (pp. 63-64). He had already thought of writing a book about this but did not find the time (p. 64). Given the fact that he already had such a plan, it is likely that during his stays in Europe he also collected relevant Western literature about India and its religions. If he was not already acquainted with Ramsay and Couto before, he must have studied them after his return to India in 1751 and as a result gained a rather precise idea of what he was looking for. If Holwell was trying rt find the Vedas, he was not alone; but Couto's description of the first Veda, which seemed so similar to Ilive's ideas, certainly brought more motivation and focus to his search. He knew that he was looking for an extremely ancient scripture treating of God, the creation Story, angels and their fall, the immortality of souls, the purification of delinquent angels in human bodies, transmigration, the punishment of evil and reward of good, and remission and salvation.

What could happen when a wealthy foreigner was trying to locate such information in old Indian texts is exemplified by the case of Francis WILFORD (I761?-1822), a respected member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal who lived in India four decades after the sack of Calcutta rang in the British Empire. Unlike Holwell, Wilford had studied Sanskrit. He was intent on proving on the basis of Indian texts that India and Egypt had from ancient times been in close contact and that their religions came from a common source. Since that source was, of course, ultimately Noah's ark, Wilford had Indian assistants look for a precise set of topics: the deluge, the name of Noah and his sons, and so forth. Like Holwell some decades before him, Wilford had to tell a learned Indian what he was looking for "as a clue to guide him," and for several years he faithfully translated what this Indian guru gave him. Bur suddenly he detected that he had fallen victim to fraud:

In order to avoid the trouble of consulting books, he conceived the idea of framing legends from what he recollected from the Puranas, and from what he had picked up in conversation with me. As he was exceedingly well read in the Puranas, and other similar books ... it was an easy task for him; and he studied to introduce as much truth as he could, to obviate the danger of immediate detection .... His forgeries were of three kinds; in the first there was only a word or two altered; in the second were such legends as had undergone a more material alteration; and in the third all those which he had written from memory. (Wilford 1805:251)


The output of this Indian expert was quite astonishing, and the most famous example shows what good remuneration, a sense of what the customer is looking for, and skill in composition can achieve. The learned Indian composed a story "which in nine Sanskrit verses ... reprises the story of Noah, his three sons, and the curse of Ham" and convinced no less a man than William Jones that Noah and his three sons figured in genuine Indian Puranas (Trautmann 1997:90-91). Wilford described how his Indian teacher proceeded in this case:

It is a legend of the greatest importance, and said to be extracted from the Padma. It contains the history of NOAH and his three sons, and is written in a masterly style. But unfortunately there is not a word of it to be found in that Purana. It is, however, mentioned, though in less explicit terms, in many Puranas, and the pandit took particular care in pointing out to me several passages which confirmed, more or less, this interesting legend. Of these I took little notice, as his extract appeared more explicit and satisfactory. (Wilford 1805:254)


Since Wilford had told his pandit exactly what he was looking for, the forger produced an ingenious narrative that presented elements of the story of Noah and his sons in an Indian dress and included some surprising details such as "the legend about the intoxication of NOAH" which, as Wilford now realized, "is from what my pandit picked up in conversation with me" (p. 254). In all, this man "composed no less than 12,000 brand new Puranic slokas -- about half the length of the Ramayana! -- and inserted them into manuscripts of the Skanda and Brahmanda Purana" (Trautmann 1997:92). This was a fraud committed on a man who was far more learned than Holwell; the texts were in Sanskrit, not Hindi; and the source texts could be verified.

In Holwell's case, there is always the possibility that his description of Veda content led some knowledgeable Indian to the very texts that Azevedo had used for the description that Couto plagiarized and Roger and others then used. Caland (1918:49-50) concluded on the basis of the book titles mentioned by Couto that these texts were Saivite Agamas; but an able Indologist would need to substantiate this not just by titles but by contents. While it is possible that similar texts in Hindi were sold to Holwell, I think that the likelihood of a fraud is greater. If Holwell, ready as he was to spend almost any amount of money on this text after the 1756 loss, could not manage to recuperate more than a few fragments -- or, more likely, nothing at all -- one would think that the people who sold it to him in the first place had produced only two slightly different manuscripts and, having sold them to Holwell, were in no position to repeat that feat. If Holwell's text had been available to various people, then someone would probably have sold it to him, especially given the fact that for a while he was governor of Bengal and certainly did not lack the means to get what he wanted.

But who could have forged such a text? Since Holwell remarked that members of the tribe of writers "are often better versed in the doctrines of their Shastah than the common run of the Bramin themselves" (Holwell 1767:2.21) and that "a few others of the tribe of the Batteezaaz Bramins ... can read and expound from the Chatah Bhade [Text II], which still preserved the text of the original [Text I)" (p. 15), the culprit(s) might have come from either or both of these groups.

Whether Holwell ever recovered fragments of his text (Holwell 1765:1.4) is also subject to doubt. If in 1766 he really had parts of his text at hand, then why did he not show them to anyone or have a sample page printed in his book? And why did he not mention in 1765, when he listed the second volume's prospective content, that it would contain genuine translations from the world's oldest text? Faced with this golden opportunity to get more people to read and buy his work, he only announced "a summary view of the fundamental, religious tenets of the Gentoos" and "a short account, from the Shastah, of the creation of the worlds, or universe" (Holwell 1765:1.15). If one takes him at his word, then in 1765 he still planned to publish only summaries and a single "short account" drawn from the Shastah. This "account" now forms the "creation" chapter that barely amounts to four and a half small pages of "translation" (Holwell 1767:2.106-10).

But to furnish only summaries of the world's oldest text rather than translations would have pleased neither Holwell's publisher nor his readers. I think that this is why Holwell must have decided to recast his "summary views" of the Shastah into "translation" form framed in convincing quotation marks. This might have happened in 1766. A sign of hasty conversion are phrases that would fit a summary but sound odd in a direct quotation. For example, "a being from the first rank of angels was destined for the eastern part of this globe" (p. 11) is perfect for a summary written by a Westerner but is a strange statement for an Indian to make: "eastern" in relation to where? The same applies for the phrase that is presented as another quotation from an Indian: "This precisely fixes the commencement of the Gentoo mythology, which, until the publication of that Bhade, had no existence amongst them" (p. 18) -- an odd statement coming from a "Gentoo" since he would have to say "us" rather than "them," even assuming some self-consciousness as a "Hindu," something likewise highly unlikely in an ancient text.

Other contradictions that were mentioned above also seem explainable by Holwellian authorship in the mid-176os. The content of the Shastah fragments that Holwell supposedly recuperated reflect his intense interests of the period, which he embedded in the Shastah text and his comments. Both have a unitarian and anti-deist, mid-eighteenth-century flavor. The Shastah's God needed to be one and not three-in-one or "the one that ever was." He had to be all-creative, of course, and too just to punish innocent babies; and thoughts like "original sin" would not even cross his mind. He needed to be omniscient and equipped with perfect providence-except for those purposefully ignored free-will acts that eventually put the delinquent angels into their rehab camp on earth. He needed to be almighty yet leave a little space for angels to rebel. He needed to be so absolutely good that he created earth out of compassion for those delinquent angels whose rebellion he had allowed. And he had to refrain from eternal punishment and guarantee a good and just final outcome for everyone. The core issue was, of course, the origin of evil, and the Shastah text trumpets Jacob Ilive's "delinquent angel" solution. AB shown in the pie graph in Figure 15, even the volume of "translated" text and of Holwell's comments reflects this agenda. Other solutions to the theodicy problem are rejected both via the Shastah text with its purported authority and by Holwell's comments, which openly criticize and reject alternative models.

Apart from Ilive's and Ramsay's works, a 1762 book by Capel BERROW (1715-82) appears to have been used in the composition of the "Shastah" text and its commentary. Its title describes the author's intention well: A Preexistent Lapse of Human Souls Demonstrated from Reason; shewn to be the Opinion of the most eminent Writers of Antiquity, Sacred and Profane: Proved to be the Ground-work likewise of the Gospel Dispensation; And the Medium through which many material Topics, relative thereto, are set in a clear, rational and consistent Light. In 1771, Holwell wrote about this work:

An ingenious, speculative, and learned divine of our church, published, in the year 1762, a treatise, entitled, "A Pre-existent Lapse of Human Souls, &c." This truly valuable performance relieves us from much labor in the prosecution of our work, as it confirms, from our own scriptures, many leading and essential points of the Metempsychosis, as, the existence of angels, their rebellion, their expulsion from their blessed abodes, the coeval creation of the angelic and human spirits, and the association of the latter with the former in their apostacy; that their situation on earth is a state of degradation and probation for that lapse, and that original sin is not that which is erroneously imputed to us from Adam, but springs from a much higher source, viz. the pre-existent lapse of the (human) spirit from its primeval purity. (Holwelll771:3-37-38)


It seems to me that Holwell italicized ''from our own scriptures" for a good reason: he had, as both his Shastah text and commentary show, the same objective as Berrow except for one thing: he wanted to confirm all this not from our own scriptures, that is, the Bible, but from a much older Indian Bible that he portrayed as the oldest testament of divine revelation to humanity. One cannot doubt Holwell's conviction since he seems to have held fast to these exact beliefs until the end of his life and published about little else in the decades following his return from India. His conviction seems to have been sufficiently solid to propel the transformation of reminiscences from a lost text into oa "translation," the invention of a suitable pedigree for this text, and its canonization as the oldest text of the world. It seems like a classic case of Dr-tradition, complete with a grossly misdated, dubious sacred text; a fake translation; an invented life of transmission; and a reform motive that is explained in Holwell's essay on metempsychosis of 1771 and his dissertations on angels and divine providence of 1786.

Back to Indian Eden

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Figure 17. Genesis of Holwell's Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah (Urs App).

But why would Holwell present his obsession with angels and their fate in the form of the world's most ancient text? Because he intended, like other proponents of an Ur-tradition system with reform ambitions, "to revive and reestablish the primitive truths which constituted the ground-work of the first universal religion, at the period of the creation of the material worlds and man" (Holwell 1771:3.52). This restoration of Ur-religion obliged him, so he explained, to strip the religions of India as well as Judaism and Christianity "of all disguise, mystery, and fable" and to examine them not "under the guise in which they now appear before us, but as they really were at their first promulgation" (p. 52).

For of all the theologic systems that have been broached to mankind, we think we are well supported in marking these [three religions] alone as true originals; but our benevolent view extends even farther, and we flatter ourselves (however chimerical it may appear) mankind may be restored again to that one unerring original faith, from which, by undue influence in every age of the world, they have unhappily swerved: we are convinced, if they consulted their present and future felicity, they would fly to embrace a rational hypothesis, that leads to such a blessed issue. (Holwell 1771:3.52-53)


The "one unerring original faith" was, of course, contained in the text that Holwell presented as the world's oldest written document and the earliest and purest divine revelation to humanity. This is a classic case of a reformer's Ur-tradition. Naturally, the events from before the creation of the earth and the adventures of angels could not have been communicated in any other way than by divine revelation; and God's earliest revelation had taken place in India where "the primitive truths [were] revealed by a gracious God to man, in the early days of his creation, at a time when it may be reasonably presumed he retained a lively sense of his soul's former transgression" (p. 5). What followed this golden age is a sad history of degeneration:

That these are the only primitive truths necessary w man's salvation, and restoration, appears from hence, that they have, from the earliest records of time w this day, remained more or less the stock upon which the blindness, or wickedness of man has engrafted very extravagant, unprofitable, as well as unintelligible doctrines, to delude their fellow-creatures, and seduce them from a strict adherence to, and reliance on, those primitive truths only. (pp. 5-6)


Holwell's "primitive truths" are, as we would expect, the fundamental principles shared by all peoples because they spring from a common source. The "concurring testimony of all mankind" (or universal consent) is thus an essential pan of the argument, as in Ramsay; but Holwell has -- partly due w his conversion w Jacob Ilive's creed -- a somewhat different set of primitive truths from Ramsay's. He enumerates a total of thirteen of them, starting with the creator God and ending with the ministration of angels in human affairs. They can be arranged in four categories: (1) God and his attributes; (2) angels, their fall, expulsion, evil leader, and influence; (3) man, his immortal angelic soul, and his life in the rehabilitation facility earth; and (4) the existence of a golden age followed by degeneration, an intermediate state after death for punishment, the necessity of a mediator, and final restoration (pp. 4-5).

But why did this first revelation happen in India and not, say, in Judaea? Because, according to Holwell, the Gentoos of India and not the Hebrews were God's chosen people!

If the mission of Moses contained a spiritual, as well as temporal allusion to the salvation of the Hebrews, and the spiritual sense was hidden from them, it was then indeed imperfect, and the Gentoos seem w have been the chosen people of God, in place of the Israelites; for w them was revealed by Bramah, with God's permission, not only the real state and condition of man, but his doctrines also taught, the existence of One Eternal God, and temporal as well as future rewards and punishments. (p. 20)


But since God cannot be allowed to be so blatantly partial, he also graciously provided special revelations to two other groups:

The religions which manifestly carry the divine stamp of God, are, first, that which Bramah was appointed w declare w the ancient Hindoos; secondly that law which Moses was destined to deliver to the ancient Hebrews; and thirdly, that with Christ was delegated to preach to the latter Jews and Gentiles, or the Pagan world. These, and these only, bear the signature of divine origin. (p. 50)


Sadly, all such dispensations inevitably fall prey to degeneration through priestcraft. If in India the Brahmins had presided over a drawn-out degradation process leading to the blatant idolatry and superstition reigning there now, the Christian dispensation was also "utterly mutilated and defaced since the ascension," so much so "that Christ himself, when he descends again on earth, will disown it" (p. 51). Like Newton, Holwell was a unitarian and deplored the trinitarian heresy promoted by Athanasius along with the perversions of genuine Christianity by the "primitive fathers of the church" who "may with more propriety be stiled the destroyers, than the fathers" of the church (p. 8). Even Moses' dispensation needed to be reinterpreted:

When we attentively peruse Mosess detail of the creation and fall of man, we find it clogged with too many incomprehensible difficulties to gain our belief, that that consummate legislator ever intended it should be understood in a literal sense ... and so we hope to prove that his detail of the fall of man was typical only of the angelic fall. (p. 10)


For Holwell the basis for a correct interpretation of the Mosaic account of the fall of man was, of course, the Shastah of the Indians who are "as a nation, more ancient than any other" (p. 14). As usual, antiquity was closely linked to purity of transmission:

It has been well remarked that the nearer we approach to the origin of nations the more pure we shall find their Theology, and the reason of things speaks the justness of the remark; because the period when the angelic spirits were doomed to take upon them mortal forms was doubtless the origin of all nations; and at that time, as the nature of their transgression and the terms of their restoration, were fresh upon their memories, their Theology was pure, universal and unerring; professing one universal faith, which they had as we say from the mouth of GOD himself. (p. 44)


That there was once an age when "all nations had but one system of Theology" is proven by the "uniform concurrence of all people touching the primitive truths," and it is an entirely "logical supposition" that there is "one faith at the origin of all nations" mat reigned in the "terrestrial golden age" (p. 44). In support of his view that "me religion of Bramah is the most ancient, and consequently the most pure," Holwell also cited the opinions of Ramsay and James Howell (p. 43). Sir James HOWELL(1594-1666) had written in a letter dated August 25, 1635, that Diodorus Siculus made Egypt "thrice older than we do" since he claimed that the Egyptians "had a Religion and Kings" as much as "eighteen thousand years" ago and deduced their philosophy and science from even older sources:

Yet for matter of Philosophy and Science, he [the Egyptian] had it from the Chaldean, he from the Gymnosophists, and Brachmans of India, which Country, as she is the next neighbour to the rising Sun, in reference to this side of the Hemisphere, so the beams of learning did first enlighten her. (Howell 1705:305).


Holwell liked to cite such support for the antiquity of the Indians. He was among me pioneers of the idea that the system "of most ancient worship" was Indian and that elements of this system were pilfered by the Egyptians:

If we grant that it is probable the rest of the world adopted the doctrine of the Metempsychosis from me Egyptians, after they had stolen it from the Gentoo Bramins, and imposed it as their own, we gram a circumstance which is not clearly proved; -- but another circumstance is pretty evident; and will be subsequently proved, that, at the time they stole this doctrine, they also purloined other fundamentals of the Chartah Bhade Shastah, namely, the unity of the Godhead, the immortality of the soul a general and particular Providence, and a future state of rewards and punishments. (Holwell 1771:3.16)


If Bishop Huet had suggested that all other peoples had plagiarized Moses, Holwell now made a similar claim in favor of the Indians: even the teachers of Moses, the ancient Egyptians, had stolen their wisdom from the Indians-and the text they used was, of course, the very Shastah whose fragments Holwell exclusively presented to the world. That Pythagoras also "took the doctrine of me Metempsychosis from me Bramins is not disputed," and Holwell reports that when the philosopher passed through Persia, he "is said (with probability of truth) to have held many conferences with Zoroaster, on the doctrines of the Bramins" (Holwell 1767:2.27). Thus, not only the Egyptians and Jacob Ilive were inspired by the ancient teachings of the Shastah but also the Greeks and the Persians:

They had so long, and intensely thought, and reasoned on the divine nature, and the cause of evil; that the portion of divine nature they possessed, seemed utterly impaired, and bewildered, as soon as they began to form their crude principles into a system; -- they appear to have preserved the basis and out-lines of Bramah's Shastah, on which (probably in conjunction with the Persian and Egyptian Magi) they raised an aerial superstructure, wild and incomprehensible! and labored to propagate an unintelligible jargon of divinity, which neither themselves, nor any mortal since their time, could explain, or reduce to the level of human understanding. (pp. 27-28)


Old nations were thus all tributary of "the primitive truths of Bramah ... viz. the unity of the Godhead, the Metempsychosis, and its concomitant essential doctrines, the angelic origin, and immortality of the human soul, and its present and future state of rewards and punishments, &c." (Holwell 1771:3.14). The whole truth and all religions of remote antiquity thus seemed to rest on the single pole of the Shastah, and this pole was firmly and exclusively placed in the hand of John Zephaniah Holwell.

Holwell and Voltaire

Holwell was an avid reader of Voltaire and knew French well. He was not only familiar with Voltaire's attack on Bishop William Warburton (Holwell 1771:3.21)and on the credibility of Moses (pp. 21-22) but also with his mockery of angels (in the Dictionnaire philosophique of 1764) and his endeavor "to laugh religion out of countenance" (p. 32). It would be strange indeed if after his return from India Holwell had not also been reading Voltaire's Essai sur les moeurs (1756/r761) or his Philosophie de l'histoire (1765) that made exactly the kind of interesting claims about Indian antiquity that Holwell was searching for in such places as Sir James Howell's letters and Giovanni Marana et al.'s Letters writ by a Turkish spy (1723; Holwelll77l:3.l56-57).

From the mid-1750s on, Voltaire's cradle of humanity was moving with increasing fanfare from Judaea toward India. As explained in Chapter l, from the early 1760s, Voltaire's fight against the Hebrew antiquity and the Judeo- Christian monopoly got increasingly armed with "Indian" weaponry. Not the Jews but the far older Indians, whose sacred texts were plagiarized by Moses and the Jewish prophets, had to be consulted about origins. In spite of the fundamental differences between the two men's outlooks and religious convictions, Voltaire's and Holwell's "Indian campaigns" had surprisingly similar aims that fit the "Ur-tradition" pattern. Both were trying to prod degenerate European Christians to return to a purer creed whose oldest expression was found in some grossly misdated text whose Indian origin was, to say the least, highly questionable. Both infused these texts with their particular agenda, edited them at will, and published only the parts that served their campaign. Both were ardent proponents of India as humanity's most ancient civilization, and both fought against the notion that the Hebrews were God's only chosen people. Both Voltaire and Holwell sought proofs for universal consent about a unitary and just creator God, the punishment of evil and reward for good, and a future state. Both were incensed about the degeneration brought about by clergy and their false conception of God as someone to be influenced and bribed; both were outraged by radical atheists and materialists; and both saw universal reason and consent as the touchstone for truth.

Voltaire, who had first touted the Ezour-vedam to some friends as the world's oldest text, was elated to find in Holwell's Shastah a text with a precise dare of origin: 3100 B.C.E. (Holwell 1767:10) -- at any rate, long before Moses. After learning about Holwell's Shastah through Edmund Burke's review in the Annual Register for 1766, Voltaire wrote in 1767 to a friend: "It is proven that the Indians have written books since five thousand years ago" (Hawley 1974:146). Soon afterward he encountered his third major India source, Alexander Dow's History of Hindostan of 1768 (translated into French the following year), which also contained mostly apocryphal texts; but for Voltaire, the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's work remained the most important Indian sources (p. 147). From the first references to Indian theology in the additions to his Essai sur les moeurs onward, Voltaire used Indian texts to suit his agenda; and this agenda happened to be congruent with the tenor of both the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's work: all aimed at the regeneration of an ancient, purer monotheism. Thus, Voltaire teamed up with the Ezour- Vedam's Chumontou and the Shastah's Brahma (and willy-nilly also with their true authors). Of course his view of Christianity and angels was very different from both, as his scathing summary of the history of Christianity in the Philosophical Dictionary shows:

The Christian religion is based on the fall of the angels. Those who revolted were precipitated from the spheres they inhabited to hell at the center of the earth and became devils. A devil tempted Eve in the form of a serpent and damned humankind. Jesus came to buy back humankind and triumph over the devil who still tempts us. However, this fundamental tradition is only found in the apocryphal book of Enoch, and even there in a manner that is very different from the received tradition. (Voltaire 1994:64-65)


Though Voltaire appreciated Holwell's delivery of a new weapon for his Indian campaign, it is clear that he did not take it seriously. As explained at the end of Chapter I, Voltaire laughed about the Shastah story and regarded it as one of those "novels [romans] about the origin of evil" whose "extreme merit" is that "there never was a commandment that one must believe them" (Voltaire 1894:29.2°3). In the Fragmens sur l'Inde of 1774 Voltaire included a chapter about "the established ancient philosophical mythology and the principal dogmas of the ancient brachmanes about the origin of evil" (Voltaire 1774:148-58) that presents Holwell's narrative and shows how other peoples including the Jews have filched the angels, their fall, and other elements from ancient India. Angels were originally Indian deoutas; and the devil's original name was "neither Lucifer nor Beelzebub nor satan" but rather Holwell's "Moisasor who was the chief of a band of rebels" who was thrown with his followers in the vast ondera prison and imprisoned "for millions of monontour ... which are periods of 426 million years" (p. 156). Voltaire interprets Holwell's tale of the fate of the fallen angels as the Indian invention of purgatory (which the Egyptians and Christians later imitated): "With us, God did not yet pardon the devil; but with the Indians Moisasor and his band obtained their grace after one monontour. Thus their ondera prison was, as a matter of fact, only a purgatory" (p. 156). Then Voltaire presents a brief summary of Holwell's narrative that is graced by the amusing title "Angels transformed into cows" in the margins. Thus, the Shastah's elaborate cosmogony and theodicy are reduced to a few sentences delivered in Voltaire's deadpan manner:

So God created the earth and populated it with animals. He had the delinquents brought there and lightened their punishment. They were first changed into cows. It is since then that the cows are so sacred in the Indian peninsula and that the pious of the region do not eat any animal. Afterwards the penitent angels were changed into men and divided into four castes. As culprits, they brought into this world the germ of vices; as punished ones, they brought the principle of all physical ills. There we have the origin of good and evil. (pp. 156-57)


Voltaire derided Holwell's core arguments about the origin of evil and God's limited liability because he gave the angels freedom of will. With regard to the latter, he remarked:

This enormous abuse of liberty, this revolt of God's favorites against their master, has the potential to dazzle; but it does not solve the problem because one could always ask why God gave to his favorites the power to offend? Why did he not force them into a happy incapacity to do evil? It is demonstrated that this difficulty is insoluble. (p. 153)


Regarding the Shastah's explanation of the origin of evil, Voltaire was sarcastic:

One could possibly reproach to this system that the animals who have not sinned are as unfortunate as we are, that they devour each other and are eaten by all humans except for the brahmins. This would be a feeble objection from the times when there were still Cartesians. We will nor discuss here the disputes of Indian theologians about this origin of evil. Priests have disputed everywhere; but one has to admit that the quarrels of the brahmins were always peaceful. (p. 157)


The whole explanation of the origin of evil that Holwell poured into his Shastah received Voltaire's damning praise as "ingenious" yet good only for "idiots":

Philosophers might be surprised that geometers and inventors of so many arts concocted a system of religion that, though ingenious, is nevertheless so unreasonable. We could reply that they had to deal with idiots [imbeciles]; and that the priests of Chaldea, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome never came up with a system that was either better construed or more plausible. (p. 157)


No wonder that Voltaire did not lose as single word about the third volume of Holwell's work that presents some of the theories behind his system and spells our some of its implications.
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Part 4 of 4

The Holwellian Restoration

Michael John Franklin has called Holwell's contrast between "contemporary, complicated and degenerated Hindu custom and ritual and the purity of an original monotheism ... characteristic of the deistic position of many of the eighteenth-century British pioneers of Indology, including Alexander Dow and, to a lesser extent, many of the Asiatic Society members, such as Wilkins and Jones" (Holwell 2000:xv). But was Holwell a deist? He defended himself against people who, on account of his analysis of Christianity's degeneration, "unjustly" accused him "of Deism, according to the common acceptation of the phrase" (Holwell 1771:3.90) and explained:

But as we think we have as indisputable a right as Dr. Clarke or others, to extend or give a new signification to the word Deist, so we pronounce, that a man may, with strict propriety, be an orthodox Christian Deist; that is, that he may, consistently, have a firm faith in the unity of the Godhead, and in the pure and original doctrines of Christ. In this sense alone we glory in avowing ourself -- A CHRISTIAN DEIST. (p. 91)


Holwell's "deism" is certainly of a very particular kind. While he adopted many objections against Christianity that were aired by deists, his (and Ilive's) system was of a kind that would enrage deists, as it was completely based on events known only through revelation. The tale of the first creation, the angels, their fall, the creation of rehabilitation station earth, and so forth can only be known with divine help:

To a notion so universal in the first times, we think ourselves warranted in giving the title of a primitive truth; which must have had unerring fact, and a divine revelation for its source and foundation, as well as the other primitive truths of the rebellion, fall, and punishment of part of the angelic host, under the instigation and leading of an arch apostate of the first rank; hence the Moisasoor of the Bramins; the Arimanius of the Persians; the Typhon of the Egyptians, Greeks &c. and the Satan of the Christians. (pp. 40-41)


Though human reason can accept such explanations as more logical than alternative scenarios, one ultimately has to accept them as revealed. Deists usually rejected such special revelations, whether they were made to the Hebrews or the Indians; but for Ur-tradition movements, they are the life blood since their raison d'etre is the restoration of "primitive truths" or original teachings that, to be restored, had to be known through some kind of transmission. This is exactly the role Holwell cut out for himself:

God forbid it should be thought, from the tenor of these our disquisitions, that, with Hobbes, Tindal, Bolingbroke, and others, our intent is to sap the foundation, or injure the root of Christianity. Candor and benevolence avert from us so uncharitable and ill-grounded an imputation! On the contrary, our sole aim is to restore its purity and vigor, by having those luxuriant injurious branches and shoots lopped off and pruned, which have so obviously obstructed, stinted, and prevented its natural, universal growth and progress; and as we have assumed to ourselves the title of the reformed church, by judiciously and piously abjuring some of the impious, idolatrous extravagances and tenets of the church of Rome, let us boldly, in the cause of God and his supremacy, uniformly deserve the character we have assumed.


Holwell's reformist "Christian deism" may thus better be called an Indo- Christian Ur-tradition. Restoring Christianity's "purity and vigor" was for Holwell tightly linked to the "primitive truths," and these truths were only insufficiently explained in the Old Testament.

From all that has hitherto been advanced ... three most important truths may be clearly gathered. Imprimis, that the FIRST and LAST revelation of God's will, that is to say, the Hindoo and the Christian dispensation, are the most perfect that have been promulged to offending man; secondly, that the FIRST was to a moral certainty the original doctrines, and terms of restoration, delivered from God himself by the mouth of his first created BIRMAH to mankind at their first creation in the form of man; and that, after many successive ages in sin, and every kind of wickedness, GOD, in his tender mercy, reminded mankind of their true state and nature, of their original sin; and by the descent of BRAMAH, gave to the Hindoos the first written manifestation of his will, which (by the common fate of all oral traditions), had most probably, from various causes, been effaced from their minds and memories: Thirdly, that every intermediate system of religion in the world between that of BRAMAH and CHRIST are corruptly branched from the former, as is to demonstration evident, from their being founded on, and partaking of, with more or less purity those primitive truths. (p. 71)


With this coup de grace the Mosaic dispensation was discarded as a corrupt derivate of the older Indian one, and as a result Holwell's Shastah became officially the ultimate Old Testament of Christianity. This also meant that it had to form the basis for any true restoration since it alone contains "the original doctrines, and terms of restoration" that God himself revealed to the Indians and took care to preserve in Holwell's Shastah (p. 71). Even the mission of Christ became a confirmation of the Shastah's original doctrines:

The above, we think, will suffice to prove, that the mission of Christ is the strongest confirmation of the authenticity and divine origin of the Chartah Bhade Shastah of Bramah; and that they both contain all the great primitive truths in their original purity that constituted the first and original religion; and that the very ancient scriptures now under our consideration, exhibit also the strongest conviction of the truth of the celestial origin of Christ's mission. (pp. 74-75)


The portrayal of the Shastah as the basis for a thorough reformation of Christianity is not simply a by-product of having found an ancient Indian text but rather a result of Holwell's religious restoration project that included the production of an Old Testament that was more compatible with Ilive's, Berrow's, and Holwell's views. It is thus a mistake to assume that Holwell first translated the Shastah and subsequently developed increasingly strange interpretations, as Franklin suggests:

In the third volume of Interesting Historical Events, published in 1771, his speculation became more confident; Hinduism encapsulated "to a moral certainty the original doctrines, and terms of restoration, delivered by God himself from the mouth of his first created Birmah to mankind at Biblical revelation, but eclipsed it in priority and comprehensiveness; indeed, in the words of Trautmann, "By the end of the book Holwell has completely rewritten Christianity with the help of Hinduism," in the construction of a species of pre-Mosaic deism. (Holwell 2000:xv)


According to the scenario proposed in this chapter, the course of events was exactly inverse. Holwell's "speculation" was present from the beginning and essentially consisted in Jacob Ilive's new creation Story (involving multiple worlds, angels, their fall, and their rehabilitation on planet earth) and his particular interpretation of Christianity. The Indian part of the story began when Holwell detected, inspired by Ilive's theory and possibly prodded by Ramsay's Travels of Cyrus and Abraham Roger's short version of Couto, a similar scenario in Western descriptions of the first Veda and set our to find this text. "Rewriting Christianity" was thus in my opinion not the outcome of a long process but rather its starting point; and Holwell's "Hindu scriptures" did not result in a rewriting of Christianity, but the rewriting of Christianity resulted in the creation of Holwell's "Hindu scriptures" that had to serve as an "improved," "older," "Indian" Old Testament.

In his third volume of 1771, Holwell delivered what he had already announced on the title page of the 1765 volume: his interpretation of transmigration ("A DISSERTATION on the METEMPSYCHOSIS ,commonly, though erroneously, called the PYTHAGOREAN Doctrine"). In 1765 he had already announced that this volume would contain "A dissertation on the Gentoo doctrine of metempsychosis; improperly called Pythagorean, by all who have wrote on this subject, hitherto so little understood" (Holwell 1765:1.15). Ilive had not discussed delinquent angel souls in animals. But in India, transmigration or metempsychosis involves all animal bodies, and what Holwell read in Lord (1630), Roger (1651), Kircher (1667), Baldaeus (1762), and other sources about Indian religion was chock-full of transmigration stories that feature animals, for example, the famous incarnation of Vishnu into a boar (which Chumontou denounced in the Ezour-vedam). This was Holwell's extension of Ilive's system, and it was, of course, already firmly embedded both in Holwell's Shastah and his commentary of 1767.

What was new in the third volume of T77I was Holwell's explicit identification of Christ as the Birmah -- which is not at all heterodox if one accepts the congruence of the old (Indian) and new (Christian) dispensation:

This being premised, it is no violence to faith, if we believe that Birmah and Christ is one and the same individual celestial being, the first begotten of the Father, who has most probably appeared at different periods of time, in distant parts of the earth, under various mortal forms of humanity, and denominations: thus we may very rationally conceive, that it was by the mouth of Christ (stiled Birmah by the easterns), that God delivered the great primitive truths to man at his creation, as infallible guides for his conduct and restoration: but the purity of these truths being effaced by time, and the industrious influence of Satan, assisted by the natural unhappy bent of the human soul to evil, it became necessary that they should be given on record to a nation that was most probably at that period much more extensive than we can at present form any idea of; and it appears as near to demonstration as a circumstance of this nature can admit of, that it was owing to this divine revelation delivered to them, that this people acquired so justly that early reputation for wisdom and theology, which the whole learned world has ascribed to them: but this by the bye. (pp. 80-81)


Thus, the messages of the Shastah and of Christ merge, and the task of a true reformer of Christianity is shown to consist in restoring "once more the true spirit of those primitive truths, which were, as the first and last grace of GOD, delivered ... originally by B1RMAH, and subsequently by CHRIST, the one and the same individual, first begotten by the Father (p. 90)' The "pure original doctrines of Christ" were thus first recorded in the Shastah, and it is "in this sense alone" that Holwell glories in avowing himself to be "A CHRISTIAN DEIST" (p. 91)!

Holwell's conception of Christ is nor a creation of the late 1760s or early 1770s; rather, its groundwork is carefully laid in his introduction to the Shastah (1767:2.6-8) and must have been an old conviction of his. The identity of Birmah and Christ also ensures that the creation story of the Shastah is far more divine than that of Moses: unlike the Pentateuch it is "clogged with no difficulties, no ludicrous unintelligible circumstances or inconsistencies" (p. 114) -- at least, in Holwell's eyes, who must have known it best.

Holwell's view of metempsychosis, too, was deeply rooted in the old convictions that he had expressed in the Shastah and its commentary. He held that both animal and human bodies are prison cells for delinquent angels. The difference is that animal bodies are cells reserved for punishment, while human bodies are transition cells with the possibility of eventual release:

In the first it [the delinquent angel] may be said to be in a close prison, and in the last, a prisoner more at large, and capable of working out its full and final liberty; a privilege it cannot obtain by issuing from the mortal brute form, which is destined to be its state of punishment and purgation, as before observed, and that of man only, its state of trial and probation. (p. 142)


In support of this idea, Holwell cited Berrow's opinion that "every organized body, as well in the brute as in the rational" can be "an allotted temporary prison for a pre-delinquent soul" and that this is "an hypothesis, than which there cannot f think be one more rational' (p. 125). In short, the souls of animals are also delinquent angels since "every brute is animated with a soul identical to his [man's] own"; therefore, God's command" Thou shalt do No murder" must also apply to animals (p. 148).

Since the dire state of our world could not be entirely explained by the delinquent angel Story, Holwell was forced to posit another fall and degeneration, this time on earth. This fall happened when man began to slaughter and devour animals, which is "one of the great roots of physical and moral evil in the world'"(p. 154). It entailed "a train of monstrous, unnatural, violent, and consequently ungovernable passions, ... lusts of every kind and species, ambition, avarice, envy, hatred, and malice &c." (p. 161) and was all the result of a ruse of Moisasoor or Satan (p. 162). In conjunction with the ingestion of alcohol, all kinds of moral evils came to dominate the world; and only man's return "to his natural, primitive, simple aliments" can make his passions subside (p. 168). By contrast vegetarianism, as practiced in India, offers "a well-grounded hope of the renewal and restoration of the primitive age, of purity and holiness" (p. 169).

But Holwell also saw other problems in rehab station earth, for example, commerce, "that bane (falsely called the cement) of mankind" that leads "to invasions, fraud, and blood" (p. 169), and priests who set the example of "killing and eating the rational brute creation, and guzzling vinous, &c. potations" (p. 171). The thorough reform envisaged by Holwell was multifaceted and threatened to affect many unsuspecting citizens:

Lawyers, and their mischievous train of retainers, will have no employment. -- Physicians and their coadjutors, upon the restoration of the human body to its original nature, will, in the second generation at least, have no friendly disease for their support. -- Wine-merchants, distillers, brewers, vintners, dealers in spiritous liquors, cooks, (those dangerous instruments of luxury, disease and death) and butchers, &c. will all be turned a-drift, and be forced to seek for other means of subsistence. When we become, bona fide, Christians, the art and destructive practice of war would cease to be the bane of mankind, and the inoffensive brute creation; and a numerous race of able-bodied beings, who have hitherto been employed only to work our the perdition of the species, would contribute to their support and maintenance, by being employed in the cultivation of the lands of the state they belong to; a work they would most certainly prefer to the trade of spilling the blood of their fellow-creatures, they know not why, or in support of the tyranny and wanton ambition of others. (pp. 207-8)


Holwell's mission to "rescue the originally untainted manners, and religious worship of a very ancient people from gross misrepresentation" (1767 Dedication) was thus at the same time a mission to rescue Christianity and lead it back to the pure primitive truths as formulated in the Shastah. Holwell's third volume ends with his reform advice for Great Britain and Ireland and their "clergy of every denomination" (pp. 214ff.), his proposal for the abolition of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds, and the correction of the Apostolic Creed (p. 221). While it remains unclear how mere "prison reforms" would affect God's eternal jurisdiction and the restoration of angels to their original home, the Shastah-based reforms proposed by Holwell would certainly ameliorate the situation on rehabilitation station earth in general and the British Isles in particular:

On the whole, we should become a new people: by quick gradations the pure spirit of Christ's doctrines would take root in our hearts; power would no longer constitute the rule of justice; the primitive truths and the primitive age would be restored; mankind, who has from that period hitherto been, by nature, principle, and practice, very devils, would revert to a perfect sense of their original dignity and angelic source, and no longer disgrace it; all jarring sects would be reconciled; peace and harmony would return to the earth; an effectual stop would be put to the carnage of man and brute; and all united, would produce a sure and happy transmigration to eternity. -- GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND would blaze out as the torch of righteousness to all the world; her nations would prosper; her people be happy; their pious flame would be caught by their neighboring states, and from thence be spread over the face of the whole earth; and THE KINGDOM OF SATAN WOULD BE NO MORE .(pp. 222-23)


Fifteen years after the publication of the third volume of his Interesting events, Holwell gave his dwindling readership some additional advice. Although he had in his Shastah carefully formulated that God "governs creation only by a general providence resulting from first determined and fixed principles" (Holwell 1767:2.31) and had thus excluded any teaching of particular providence from the oldest divine revelation, there were still stubborn people who held this stupid opinion.

The Shastah Eclipsed by Hymns

The 1786 Dissertations on the origin, nature, and pursuits of intelligent beings, and on divine providence, religion, and religious worship begins with an apology for the "variations of sentiment ... when contrasted with earlier productions submitted to the public eye," and these variations are explained by the "increase of years, experience, observation, and (we hope!) just reflection" (Holwell 1786:6). The most striking change is that Holwell never once mentions the Shastah by name. The first section quotes "the most ancient Scripture; at least, as far as our imperfect records tell" (p. 7).

This remark about "imperfect records" is very interesting and might confirm my hypothesis about the redaction of the text. Holwell's quotation reproduces the beginning of me second section of me Shastah, which deals with God's creation of the angels and features the memorable words: "These beings then, were not. The Eternal One willed, and they were; He formed them in pan of his own essence capable of perfection, but with the powers of imperfection, both dependant on their voluntary election" (pp. 7-8). This was an absolutely central passage for Holwell's theory of free will and the origin of evil, and he had quoted it many times as their textual basis and proof. From 1767 onward, this passage was always presented as a literal translation from the Shastah with quotation marks at me beginning of every line, and this is the manner in which it is also reproduced almost twenty years later in his last book. But in the entire book this is the only Shastah quotation -- and it is introduced by specifying that "the words and sentiments of the most ancient Scripture" are not based on God's Indian revelation but rather Holwell's "imperfect records"! If this crucial Shastah passage was based on Holwell's "imperfect records," was there any part of his Shastah that was not based on such "imperfect records"? In his last book, Holwell avoids further quotations from the Shastah and keeps using words like "presumption," "conviction," and "hypothesis":

It has been for some time evident to the reader, that our chain of reasoning [about delinquent angels on probation] is founded on the presumption and full conviction, that the souls or spirits, animating every mortal organised form, are the identical apostate angels; but should any stumble at this pleasing, Battering, comfortable hypothesis, they are at liberty to reject it; as our essential arguments are equally applicable to all, considered as rational beings only. (p. 12)


What would a Christian say if a priest said that he or she was "at liberty to reject" the Bible? It appears that toward the end of his life Holwell had more or less abandoned his Shastah. While holding fast to all essential elements of his theory, he keeps saying things like "even if we totally give up this hypothesis as merely ideal" (p. 14), "according with our hypothesis" (p. 17), and "it is most consistent with reason and probability" (p. 23). What had happened to the Shastah? Had Holwell seen a copy of the first publication of a Sanskrit classic, Wilkins's The Bhagvat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon that appeared in 1785, just when Holwell was working on his last book? Or had he buckled under the weight of criticism of his theories?

At any rate, in his 1786 book Holwell once more presented an outline of his system, which had little changed since he poured it into the Shastah on the basis of his "imperfect records." But Holwell's reform mission, very much apparent in the Shastah and its commentary, was alive and well. He confessed that his "former labours tended to establish the sacred doctrine of the UNITY and SUPREMACY of the GODHEAD which ... the liturgy and worship of every Christian Church palpably opposed and discountenanced" but reassured his readers that he did not "wish the abolition of churches, the priesthood, or religious worship" but rather "to see them all reduced to such as standard as may do honour to God, and be consistent with reason, true piety, and propriety" (p. 70). Claiming to be "of no particular sect whatsoever, but an adorer of One God, in spirit and truth, and an humble follower and subscriber to the unadulterated precepts and doctrines of CHRIST" (p. 72), Holwell now surprised his readers with yet another theodicy and declared "without reserve ... that all the evils with which mankind has been pestered in all ages, sprung from an undue pre-eminence, power, and emoluments ... granted to the priesthood" (pp. 75-76).

Accordingly, his first propositions for reform were that "the dignified Clergy under every denomination, be divested of all Rank, Precedence, and Title, in the Church and State" and that "all endowments of whatsoever kind, annexed to Cathedrals, Churches, Chapels, and Colleges, be sequestered, restored, and appropriated to the relief of the exigencies of the state, and heave burdens of the people" (pp. 79-80). All ordinations and degrees, too, should be abolished and "a considerable reduction shall be made in the number of churches" (pp. 80-81). Only one incumbent per church should remain on a fixed salary, and sacked priests should get a retirement fee (pp. 81-83). The liturgy, being "incompatible with the true Christian religion, as dictated by its founder," should be totally reformed and no adoration whatsoever offered to Christ: adoration "is only due to his God, and our God, to his Father, and our Father, which is in heaven" (pp. 91-93). The Lord's Supper may still be held, but all elements that "manifestly impeached the UNITY of the GODHEAD" (such as blasphemously calling Christ "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God") must be removed (pp. 98-99). Making "the innocent and immaculate Christ ... the scape-goat for the remission of sins and salvation" would no more be permitted, and neither would spilling blood in his name (p. 100).

In this manner Holwell revised the sacraments and denounced the absurdities of established liturgies that are just more proofs that we are "the very apostate angelic beings that are transmigrating through all animated organised mortal forms" (p. 119). Holwell's reform was designed to "work a happy change in favour of the miserable brute creation, who are looked upon and treated as mere material machines" rather than as "two children born of the same parents" (p. 120). "Sacred musick" would still be allowed in churches during Holwell's New Liturgy "conducted in the Cathedral stile" (pp. 121- 22), and the remaining clergy should receive new uniforms: "We wish to see the dismal black banished, the officiating vestments of the Doctors in Divinity sumptuously ornamented, and their common habit purple, distinguished as the uniform of the Church; which colour should be prohibited to all other ranks" (p. 123).

The last section of Holwell's last book even proposes "A new liturgy; or, form of common prayer" in which, for example, the Lord's Prayer is prefaced by a hymn that identifies the faithful as delinquent angels:

To the Lord our God
Belongeth mercy and forgiveness,
Although we have rebelled against him;
Neither have we obeyed
The voice of the LORD our God,
To walk in his laws, which he left before us.


Holwell also included rhymed angelic anthems and choruses, for example, the chorus:

THE Lord descended from above,
And bow'd the heavens so high;
And underneath his feet he cast
The darkness of the sky.

On cherubs and on cherubims
Full royally he rode:
And on the wings of mighty winds
Came flying all abroad.


Thus Holwell fought until the end of his life for a worthy cause: the restoration of the religion of paradise. The crusade had officially begun with the publication of the Shastah, which in more than one sense came straight from paradise. But Holwell's mission as a reformer changed little over the years. In 1786 his aim was still identical to that which twenty years earlier he had so skillfully woven into the oldest revelation from India, the sacred scripture of h is crusade:

to defend the honour and dignity of our Creator, from a fatal misconception: to expose the fallacy, inadequacy, and inconsistency, of all Christian religious worship: to extricate mankind from the superstitious, abject slavery they have for ages groaned under, to a tribe of their own species; to arraign the folly and inutility of what are called arts and sciences, and to stimulate the genius, study, and abilities of men, to more worthy and useful pursuits: to relieve the present and future exigencies of the state, and heavy burdens of the people, by a most equitable and necessary measure: and finally, to institute a form of worship more worthy of our God, and of ourselves. (pp. 147-48)


The Invention of Hinduism

In academic circles the debate about the "invention" of "Hinduism" has been so fashionable in recent times that Donald S. Lopez found that "one of the ways that scholars of Hinduism may be distinguished from experts on other religions at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion is by their overdeveloped pectoral muscles, grown large from tracing quotation marks in the air whenever they have mentioned 'Hinduism' over the past ten years" (2000:832). One name that is remarkably absent in this discussion is that of Holwell, himself a master of quotation marks. For example, Brian K. Pennington's 2005 book Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion postulates that "a seismic shift" in the British perception of Hindu religions traditions happened "sometime between 1789 and 1832" yet does not mention Holwell even once. Holwell's name is equally notable for its absence in Richard King's Orientalism and Religion of 1999. Will Sweetman's otherwise interesting study Mapping Hinduism: "Hinduism" and the Study of Indian Religions, 1600-1776 does not even list Holwell's three-volume Interesting historical events (1765-71) in its bibliography. However, he mentions that the Cambridge University library copy of a 1779 reedition of its second and third volumes carries on its spine the inscription "Holwell's Gentooism" (Sweetman 200n6); that Holwell had a role in making "Gentoo" a common term to refer to the non-Muslim population of India (p. 80); and that the concept of "a unified pan-Indian religion" was already "firmly established by the 177os, when 'Holwell's Gentooism' appeared," whereas the word "Hindooism" was first used in 1787 (p. 163). Though Sweetman does not claim a causal connection between this "Gentooism" or "Hindooism" and the geographical "conception of India as a region," he finds that the "concept of Hinduism, and the concept of 'India' in its modern sense, are coeval" (p. 163).

The question whether Hinduism was invented or discovered may posit a false alternative. R. N. Dandekar argued that:

Hinduism can hardly be called a religion at all in the popularly understood sense of the term. Unlike most religions, Hinduism does not regard the concept of god as being central to it. Hinduism is not a system of theology -- it does not make any dogmatic affirmation regarding the nature of god .... Similarly, Hinduism does not venerate any particular person as its sole prophet or as its founder. It does not also recognize any particular book as its absolutely authoritative scripture. Further, Hinduism does not insist on any particular religious practice as being obligatory, nor does it accept any doctrine as dogma. Hinduism can also not be identified with a specific moral code. Hinduism, as a religion, does not convey any definite or unitary idea. (Dandekar 1971:237; quoted in Sweetman 2003:33)


Whether one agrees with all of this or not, it is clear that at some point in history exactly these characteristics were projected on the dominant religion of the Indians and that this is how "Gentooism" or "Hinduism" as a "religion in the popularly understood sense" was invented. Its inventor, I propose, is Mr. John Zephaniah Holwell, and the year of this invention is 1766 when Holwell wrote his second volume. This was indeed a creative act and not just a discovery of something that was there for all to see and understand. In this sense -- and for Holwell -- it is therefore appropriate to speak of a "creation" or "invention" of Hinduism. It only was a far more creative creation than even constructivists could have dreamed.

For this kind of religion one needs, as Dandekar rightly says, an authoritative scripture -- and what could be more authoritative than Holwell's Shastah, delivered by God personally and first promulgated exactly in 3100 B.C.E.? Then one needs a god -- Holwell's creative "God is ONE" at the very beginning of the Shastah who was thoughtfully equipped with an urge to reveal himself and limited liability. Furthermore, a decent religion needs an excellent founder -- Holwell's "spirit or essence of God," Birmah, who "descended to the delinquent angels, and made known unto them the mercy and immutable sentence, that God their creator had pronounced and registered against them" (Holwell 1767:10). This constituted another essential element, namely, that of transmission. Birmah transmitted the divine sentence to Bramah who descended to Indostan and translated it into Sanskrit to form the very text that Holwell claimed to have partially translated (p. 12). This Birmah is, nota bene, the Indian or rather Holwellian preexistent incarnation of Christ.

Dandekar also did not mention that it is absolutely crucial for such a religion to have the longest possible history. Previous researchers of Indian religion soon got so lost in the millions of years of Indian world ages and scores of unknown sacred scriptures that they were unable to find a foothold that somehow related to accepted chronology. But Holwell invented one, and we should not underestimate the impact of this invention. For decades, the date of the Shastah was a pillar of "Indian" chronology, and the neat succession of Text I (3100 B.C.E.), Text II (2100), Text III (1600) and the dating of the Veda after 1600 B.C.E. were a novelty that stunned even European specialists (for example, Anquetil-Duperron, as explained in the next chapter). Additionally, Holwell's simple four-step genealogy of Indian sacred literature also seemed to explain important regional, doctrinal, and historical differences, for example, the variations between the North and South that were due to a schism invented by Holwell.

Then there is, of course, the dogma question for which Holwell, inspired by Ilive and Couto, found a brilliantly simple solution, namely, the delinquent angel story wedded to transmigration. This was, as we have seen in Chapter 5, already toured by Ramsay as the very essence of "pagan mythology" and a core element of God's original revelation. Of course, this dogma needed to be revealed and transmitted, and this was the aim of Holwell's Shastah including its "translation." The question that bugged Ilive so much and that he did not find answered in the Old Testament, namely, who we are and why we are here, was answered in dogmatic and systematic fashion in the Shastah: we are delinquent angels incarcerated in mortal bodies and live in a giant penitentiary called earth in order to atone for our past rebellion, and as we go through countless transmigrations we might earn the right to return to our original heavenly homeland.

With regard to practice, vegetarianism and the cult of cows (which were both linked to delinquent angels and their rehabilitation on earth) were central; bur the Shastah also contains other precepts such as the abstinence from alcoholic drinks that, one would assume, should promote the kind of peace and tranquility that reigns in Holwell's idyllic Bisnapore.

Another important topic that Dandekar failed to mention is the question of origins. Any religion that hopes to give a direction to people's lives must teach in one way or another where we come from, where we are, and where we are bound; and the answer to the first of these questions is usually decisive for the whole enterprise. S. N. Balagangadhara has defined religion as "an explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos and itself" and concluded that "Indian traditions could not possibly be religions because the issue of the origin of the world cannot properly be raised there" (1994:384, 398; quoted in Sweetman 2003:37). Regardless of the validity of this definition and its application to "Hinduism," one notes that Holwell and his Shastah delivered exactly the kind of content that would rum this "Indian tradition" into a "religion" that, in Holwell, is usually called "Gentooism" but soon became known as "Hindooism."

Holwell's portrait of "Gentooism" was so powerful and influential24 exactly because it was an invention, and an essentially European one at that. It did not really need to take Indian history, cultic diversity, philosophy, textual problems, and so on into account and did not get lost in details and mazes with thousands of divinities because it was built on a preconceived idea that guaranteed a unified, compact design. Everything turned around God and the creation, fall, and restoration of angels, and that is exactly what the Shastah is all about. Holwell's influence was boosted by the free publicity that his book received courtesy of Voltaire and by its translation into French (1768) and then into German (1778). It is true that readers of Voltaire with a sense of humor will not overlook the sarcasm of some of his remarks about Holwell's scheme; yet, as was pointed out in Chapter I, a consensus that Voltaire had promoted the Ezour-vedam and Holwell's Shastah in good faith reigned until today even among specialists. Now it appears that both men propagated a custom-made Hinduism to support their reformist ideology. Though their aims were at odds, Voltaire's crusade boosted Holwell's and vice-versa, and their exaggerated claims of Indian antiquity and portraits of "Indian" religion significantly influenced the European perception of the origin of culture and religion. An example of such influence is Herder who, dissatisfied with Dow, raved in 1772 about Holwell's Shastah (Faust 1977:146) and soon introduced Brahmins as guides to humanity's origins -- a move that some decades later inspired a generation of German romantics. Through their inventive campaigns and sensationalist presentation of supposedly ancient "Indian" texts, Holwell and Voltaire almost single-handedly created the basis for Indomania. 25
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Part 1 of 2

A Genuine Narrative of the deplorable Deaths of the English Gentlemen, and Others, who were suffocated in the Black Hole in Fort-William, at Calcutta, in the Kingdom of Bengal; in the Night succeeding the 20th Day of June 1756.
In a Letter to a Friend.
from India Tracts, by Mr. J.Z. Holwell, and Friends.
The Second Edition, Revised and Corrected, with Additions.
1767

-- The Black Hole -- The Question of Holwell's Veracity, by J. H. Little, Bengal, Past & Present, Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society, Vol. XI, Part 1, July-Sept., 1915
-- Full Proceedings of the Black Hole Debate, Bengal, Past & Present, Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society, Vol. XII. Jan – June, 1916
-- A Genuine Narrative of the deplorable Deaths of the English Gentlemen, and Others, who were suffocated in the Black Hole in Fort-William, at Calcutta, in the Kingdom of Bengal; in the Night succeeding the 20th Day of June 1756., In a Letter to a Friend, from India Tracts, by Mr. J.Z. Holwell, and Friends.
-- Important Facts regarding the East India Company's Affairs in Bengal, from the Year 1752 to 1760. This Treatise Contains an Exact State of the Company's Revenues in that Settlement; With Copies of several very interesting Letters Showing Particularly, The Real Causes Which Drew on the Presidency of Bengal the Dreadful Catastrophe of the Year 1767; and Vindicating the Character of Mr. Holwell From Many Scandalous Aspersions Unjustly Thrown Out Against Him, in an Anonymous Pamphlet, Published March 6th, 1764, Entitled, "Reflections on the Present State of Our East-India Affairs.", from India Tracts, by Mr. J.Z. Holwell, and Friends.
-- Interesting Historical Events, Relative to the Provinces of Bengal, and the Empire of Indostan. With a Seasonable Hint and Persuasive to the Honourable The Court of Directors of the East India Company. As Also The Mythology and Cosmogony, Facts and Festivals of the Gentoo's, followers of the Shastah. And a Dissertation on the Metempsychosis, commonly, though erroneously, called the Pythagorean Doctrine. Part II. By J.Z. Holwell, Esq.
-- Fort William-India House Correspondence and Other Contemporary Papers Relating Thereto, Vol. I: 1748-1756, Edited by K. K. Datta, M.A., Ph.D., Professor of History, Patna University, Patna
-- Forging Indian Religion: East India Company Servants and the Construction of ‘Gentoo’/‘Hindoo’ Scripture in the 1760s, by Jessica Patterson
-- French Jesuits in India and the Lettres Edifiantes, by Jyoti Mohan
-- Claiming India: French Scholars and the Preoccupation with India During the Nineteenth Century, by Jyoti Mohan
-- Natural Theology and Natural Religion, by Andrew Chignell & Derk Pereboom
-- The Enlightenment and Orientalist Discourse on the Aryan, Excerpt from Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity, by Dorothy M. Figueira
-- Ezourvedam: A French Veda of the Eighteenth Century, Edited with an Introduction by Ludo Rocher
-- Holwell's Religion of Paradise, Excerpt from The Birth of Orientalism, by Urs App


CONTAINING:

I. An Address to the Proprietors of East-India stock; setting forth, the unavoidable Nessssity, and real Motives, for the Revolution in Bengal, 1760.
• II. A Refutation of a Letter from certain Gentlemen of the Council at Bengal, to the Honourable the Secret Committee.
III. Important Facts regarding the East India Company's Affairs in Bengal, from the Years 1752 to 1760, with Copies of several very interesting Letters.
IV. A Narrative of the deplorable Deaths of the English Gentlemen who were suffocated in the Black Hole in Fort William, at Calcutta, June 1756.
• V. A Defence of Mr. Vansittart's Conduct.

ILLUSTRATED WITH: A FRONTISPIECE, representing the Monument erected at Calcutta, in Memory of the Sufferers in the Black Hole Prison.

Image
A View of the Monument. This Horrid Act of Violence was as Amply as deservedly revenged on Surajud Dowwla, by his Majesty's Arms, under the Conduct of Vice Admiral Watson and Col! Clive. Anno, 1757.

TO SIR WILLIAM BAKER, Knt., WILLIAM MABBOT, Esqr. and JOHN PAYNE, Esqr.

GENTLEMEN,

THE following small Tracts, in consequence of unprovoked injuries, were hastily thrown together, during the late clamorous disputes between Directors, Proprietors, and Candidates for the management of East-India affairs at home and abroad.-- How they came to be so hastily produced, and as hastily published, it seems requisite I should explain a little more at large.

At the beginning of these intestine broils, I was determined to avoid engaging on either side; and, to shun solicitation, I disposed of all the stock I stood possessed of', without retaining as much as might entitle me to a single vote; so truly desirous I was to enjoy in quiet that peaceful retirement, I had dearly purchased at the expence of so many difficulties, miseries, and heavy misfortunes as fell to my lot, while in the service of the Company.

Such, I say, were my resolutions, to which I should most strictly have adhered, if I had not found my character sirst indirectly, afterwards openly attacked, by the basest calumnies which were levelled against me in a manner, sudden, unmerited and unexpected.

UNDER these circumstances, there was a necessity of speaking for myself, and, which was still more unpleasing, I found myself likewise constrained to enter upon my vindication without delay. -- The pungency of these accusations -- the precipitancy of the times, and a disposition to take every thing for granted that was not immediately refuted; obliged me not only to dispatch them as quickly as was possible, but also to produce them in like hurry to the publick eye.

IT was from these accidents, which I could not either foresee or avoid, that they came into the world not so well digested, and with much less accuracy, than the candid part of mankind have a right to expect in every production that claims their consideration, and is submitted to their judgment.

To the same causes I may very justly refer those errors of the press, which were in some of them so numerous as scarce to to leave the sense intelligible; to say nothing of other mistakes in orthography and diction, all arising from the utter impossibility of allowing me time requisite to revise and correct the proof sheets.

IT is from a just sense of these involuntary imperfections, that I have been led to review, to reform, and to cast into somewhat a different shape, these little pieces, that were thus exposed; and to render them still clearer and more satisfactory, I have added some other Tracts, which, however reasonable, I had not the leisure to prepare, and which, from my observing the obscurity arising from their Omission, I conceived it my duty to add as soon as opportunity would permit.

My narrative of the fatal catastrophe at Calcutta, and that unexampled scene of horror to which so many subjects of Great Britain were exposed in the prison of the Black-Hole, has so close a connection with one of the pieces that precede it, has scarce to require an apology for reprinting it in this edition; presixing, as a frontispiece to the Volume, a Print of the Monument which I erected, at my own expence, to the memory of those unhappy sufferers.

MANY, if not most of the matters contained in these sheets, are to you, Gentlemen, very well known, as having been of- ten the subject of your deliberations; and, therefore, to whom could I so properly address them as to yourselves? -- Two of you sirst incited my endeavours, and directed my labours for the Company's interest. -- Mr. Payne, with the same distinguished zeal, encouraged and supported them; a zeal truely disinterested, for I was a stranger to you all; so that you could have no motive to the favour you bestowed, and the protection you so generously afforded me, except the warm and pure regard which you ever shewed, rather than professed, for that respectable body, whose concerns were then committed to your care.

You have, Gentlemen, frequently done me the honour to say, I did not disgrace your patronage, or disappoint your favourable expectations: to me this was the most ample reward -- but I could not help thinking there yet remained something due on my part; and that I ought to attempt the justifying your choice to the knowing, the ingenuous, and the judicious world.

This became more especially incumbent on me, when I found Envy and Malice arraign the character of him, whom you had espoused, and whom you had so long honoured with your friendship. -- This, I thought, I could not better effect than by publishing the following Pieces.

WITH all possible submission, I lay them in their new dress before you, as thereby I am favoured with what I have long and ardently wished, an opportunity of giving this publick testimony of a grateful heart, for the many and repeated proofs I have received of your respectable patronage.

I am, GENTLEMEN, Your most obliged, and most obedient humble servant,

J.Z. HOLWELL.

Mount Felix, Walton upon Thames, July 3, 1764.

***

Explanation of Certain Persian and Moorish Terms in the Following Sheets.

A.
Amdanny and Russtanny: Imports and Exports.
Arzgee: A Peitition.
Arzdasht: Idem.
Assammees: Dealers in different Branches of Trade.

B.
Banka Bazar: Formerly the Ostend Factory.
Begum: Princess, meaning without Care.
Buxey: A Paymaster of Troops.
Buckserrias: Foot-Soldiers whose common Arms are Sword and Target only.

C.
Chowkeys: Guards at the Stars, or Landing-places.
Chinam: Lime.
Cossid: A Foot-messenger, or Post.
Chubdaar: An Usher.
Cooley: A Porter.
Chout: A Fourth Part.
A Coss, or Corse: A Measure from two Miles to two Miles and Half.
A Corore of Rupees: An hundred Lack, or one Million Sterling.

D.
Dewan: King's Treasurer.
Dewanny: Superintendancy over the Royal Revenues.
Dussutary: An Impost of ten per Cent.
Durbar: Court or Council, and sometimes a Levee only.
Decoyt: A Robber.
Dummadah: A River.

F.
Fowzdar: A Military Officer.

G.
Gomastah: Factor or Agent.
Gwallers: Carriers of Palanquins.
Gunge: Grain Market.

H.
Hackeries: Carts or Coaches drawn by Oxen.
Harkarahs: Spies.

J.
John Nagore: A Village so called.
Jaggemaut: The Gentoo Pagoda.
Jemmautdaar: An Officer of the same Rank with the Roman Centurion.

M.
Mackulka: An Obligation with a Penalty annexed.
Moonskee: A Persian Secretary.
Musnud: Throne.
Moories: Writers.
Maund: A gross Weight between 70 and 80 Pounds.

N.
Negrai: A new Settlement at one of the Pegu Islands.
Nobut: A Drum, a mark of Royalty assumed by the Subahas of Bengal.

P.
Perwannah: An Order or Command, sometimes a Grant.
Purranea: In the Province of Bengal; a Nabobship subordinate to the Suba.
Phirmaund: A Royal Mandate, or Grant.
Pykes: Officers relative to the Service of the Lands.
Ponsways: Guard-Boats.
Podor or Shreff: A Money-changer.
Peons: Infantry.
Pottahs: Grants.
Pondary, Foorea: Farmers distinct Allowances on Grain at the Gunge.

R.
Rumnah: District for the Royal Game.

S.
Seer, Chetac, Maund: Forty Seer is one Maund, and sixteen Chetac one Seer.

T.
Telinga: The Carnatic Country on the Coast of Coromandel.
Tanksal: A Mint for Coinage.
Tanners and Buzbudgea: Forts on the River Ganges.
Tunkabs: Assignments upon Lands.
Tuzsaconna, Ginanah: Wardrobe and Seraglio.

V.
Vaqueel: English Agent or Resident at the Nabob's Court.
Vizerut: The Grant for the Visiership.

W.
Wazeed: A considerable Mahometan Merchant who resided at Houghley upon the Ganges.

Z.
Zemin: Ground; Zemindary; Relative to Lands.

***

An Address To the Proprietors of East India Stock; Setting Forth the Unavoidable Necessity and Real Motives for the Revolution in Bengal, in 1760.
by John Zephaniah Holwell, Esq.

**********************

Mr. Holwell's Refutation of a Letter from certain Gentlemen of the Council at Bengal, to the Honourable the Secret Committee. Serving As a Supplement to His Address to the Proprietors of East-India Stock.

**********************

Important Facts regarding the East India Company's Affairs in Bengal, from the Year 1752 to 1760. This Treatise Contains an Exact State of the Company's Revenues in that Settlement; With Copies of several very interesting Letters Showing Particularly, The Real Causes Which Drew on the Presidency of Bengal the Dreadful Catastrophe of the Year 1767; and Vindicating the Character of Mr. Holwell From Many Scandalous Aspersions Unjustly Thrown Out Against Him, in an Anonymous Pamphlet, Published March 6th, 1764, Entitled, "Reflections on the Present State of Our East-India Affairs."

**********************

A Genuine Narrative of the deplorable Deaths of the English Gentlemen, and Others, who were suffocated in the Black Hole in Fort-William, at Calcutta, in the Kingdom of Bengal; in the Night succeeding the 20th Day of June 1756.
In a Letter to a Friend.
by J.Z. Holwell, Esq.

Queque ipse miserrima vidi,
Et quorum pars magna sui. Quis talia sando,
Myrmidonum, Dolopumve, aut duri miles Ulyssei
Temperet a lachrymis?

[Google translate: And what I myself saw,
And the people with a great part of his reign. Any such Sando;
The Myrmidons, and Dolopians, a soldier, or too hard for Ulysses
Refrain from tears?

-- Virg. Aeneid, Lib. ii.


To the Reader.

The following narrative will appear, upon perusal, to be a simple detail of a most melancholy event, delivered in the genuine language of sincere concern, in a letter to a friend; from whom the greatest kindnesses had been received, and in whom the greatest confidence was placed. It was written on board the vessel in which the author returned from the East-Indies, when he had leisure to reflect, and was at liberty to throw upon paper, what was too strongly impressed upon his memory, ever to wear out. If therefore it appears in some places, a little passionate; in others, somewhat diffuse; and, through the whole, tinctured with that disposition under which it was written; the occasion, and the nature of the performance, will sufficiently excuse what might have been considered as imperfections, if it had been intended for the public view; and which may perhaps be considered in another light, now, that through a train of unforeseen accidents, it comes to appear print.

The subject being of a very mixed nature, and something more than a bare relation of private calamity, rendered many people curious to see it, when it was once known, that such a paper existed; and as there was nothing contained in it, that required either much secrecy, or circumspection, it has been freely communicated to several, and amongst those, to some persons of the first distinction; who thought it might gratify public expectation, more especially if it appeared in the same natural and undisguised dress, in which they had seen it; for truth, and more especially so affecting a truth, stands little in need of ornament, and appears to more advantage, the less it is assisted by the arts of writing, to which the author being a stranger, he trusted to his feeling, and endeavoured to express by his pen, the emotions of his heart. He the more readily yielded to this request of his friends, from the following motives, which, as they wrought much upon him, may possibly have some weight with you.

It is somewhat rare, to find transactions of an extraordinary nature delivered circumstantially by those who are not only acquainted with, but were also actors in them, whilst the matter is fresh in their minds, and consequently, when they are fittest to give a clear, connected, and impartial account. This therefore having been his original intention, though for the satisfaction only of a private friend; yet, when called upon to make it public, it appeared to him a very persuasive argument, as he was conscious to himself, that he had written it with the strictest regard to veracity, in every point, and to disburthen his thoughts of that load of affliction, which would have been as intolerable as the misfortune itself, if both had not been qualified by the remembrance of that mercy by which he was delivered, and which seemed to claim a grateful return of public acknowledgment, for so peculiar a deliverance.


He was farther moved, by the consideration that there are some scenes in real life so full of misery and horror, that the boldest imagination would not dare to feign them, for fear of shocking credibility. He thought such scenes as these could not be permitted, by a wise, a beneficent Being, but for the sake of their becoming lessens to mankind; and he therefore concluded, that this intention could never be better answered, than by consenting to render them public; that by this means, a door of hope, and of confidence, may be opened, to such as may hereafter fall under like tryals, by giving them an instance (and sure a stronger cannot well be given), that we ought never to despair, when innocence and duty have been the causes of our distress.

***

A Letter From J.Z. Holwell, Esq. to Wm. Davis, Esq. From on Board the Syren-Sloop, the 28th of February, 1757.

Dear Sir,

The confusion which the late capture of the East-India Company's settlements in Bengal must necessarily excite in the city of London, will, I fear, be not a little heightened by the miserable deaths of the greatest part of those gentlemen, who were reduced to the sad necessity of surrendering themselves prisoners at discretion in Fort William.

By narratives made public you will only know, that of one hundred and forty-six prisoners, one hundred and twenty-three were smothered in the Black-Hole prison, in the night of the 20th of June, 1756. Few survived capable of giving any detail of the manner in which it happened; and of these I believe none have attempted it: for my own part, I have often sat down with this resolution, and as often relinquished the melancholy task, not only from the disturbance and affliction it raised afresh in my remembrance, but from the consideration of the impossibility of finding language capable of raising an adequate idea of the horrors of the scene I essayed to draw. But as I believe the annals of the world cannot produce an incident like it in any degree or proportion to all the dismal circumstances attending it, and as my own health of body and peace of mind are once again, in a great measure, recovered from the injuries they suffered from that fatal night, I cannot allow it to be buried in oblivion; though still conscious, that however high the colouring my retentive memory may supply, it will fall infinitely short of the horrors accompanying this scene. These defects must, and I doubt not, will be assisted by your own humane and benevolent imagination; in the exercise of which I never knew you deficient, where unmerited distress was the object.

The sea-air has already had that salutary effect on my constitution I expected, and my mind enjoys a calm it has been many months a stranger to, strengthened by a clear cheerful sky and atmosphere, joined to an unusual pleasant gale, with which we are passing the equinoctial. I can now, therefore, look back with less agitation on the dreadful night I am going to describe; and with a grateful heart sincerely acknowledge, and deeply revere that Providence, which alone could have preserved me through that and all my succeeding sufferings and hazards.

Before I conduct you into the Black-Hole, it is necessary you should be acquainted with a few introductory circumstances. The Suba [Suzajud-Dowla, viceroy of Bengal, Bakar, and Orixa.] and his troops were in possession of the fort before six in the evening. I had in all three interviews with him; the last last in Durbar [In council.] before seven, when he repeated his assurances to me, on the word of a soldier, that no harm should come to us; and indeed I believe his orders were only general, That we should for that night be secured; and that what followed was the result of revenge and resentment in the breasts of the lower Jemmaatdaars, [An officer of the rank of Serjeant.] to whose custody we were delivered, for the number of their order killed during the siege. Be this as it may, as soon as it was dark, we were all, without distinction, directed by the guard over us, to collect ourselves into one body, and sit down quietly under the arched Veranda or piazza, to the west of the Black-Hole prison, and the barracks to the left of the court of guard; and just over-against the windows of the governor's easterly apartments. Besides the guard over us, another was placed at the foot of the stairs at the south end of this Veranda, leading up to the south-east bastion, to prevent any of us escaping that way. On the parade (where you will remember the two twenty-four pounders stood) were also drawn up about four or five hundred gun-men with lighted matches.

At this time the factory was in flames to the right and left of us; to the right the Armory and Laboratory; to the left the Carpenter's yard: though at this time we imagined it was the Cotta-warehouses. [The Company's cloth warehouses.] Various were our conjectures on this appearance; the fire advanced with rapidity on both sides; and it was the prevailing opinion, that they intended suffocating us between the two fires: and this notion was confirmed by the appearance, about half an hour past seven, of some officers and people with lighted torches in their hands, who went into all the apartments under the easterly curtain to the right of us; to which we apprehended they were setting fire, to expedite their scheme of burning us. On this we presently came to a resolution, of rushing on the guard, seizing their scymitars, and attacking the troops upon the parade, rather than be thus tamely roasted to death. But to be satisfied of their intentions, I advanced, at the request of Messrs. Baillie, Jenks, and Revely, to see if they were really setting fire to the apartments, and found the contrary; for in fact, as it appeared afterwards, they were only searching for a place to confine us in; the last they examined being the barracks of the court of guard behind us.

Here I must detain you a little, to do honour to the memory of a man, to whom I had in many instances been a friend, and who, on this occasion, demonstrated his sensibility of it in a degree worthy of a much higher rank. His name was Leech, the Company's smith, as well as clerk of the parish; this man had made his escape when the Moors entered the fort, and returned just as it was dark, to tell me he had provided a boat, and would ensure my escape, if I would follow him through a passage few were acquainted with, and by which he had then entered. (This might easily have been accomplished, as the guard put over us took but very slight notice of us.) I thanked him in the best terms I was able; but told him it was a step I could not prevail on myself to take, as I should thereby very ill repay the attachment the gentlemen and the garrison had shewn to me; and, that I was resolved to share their fate, be it what it would: but pressed him to secure his own escape without loss of time; to which he gallantly replied, that "then he was resolved to share mine, and would not "leave me."

To myself and the world I should surely have stood excused in embracing the overture above-mentioned, could I have conceived what immediately followed; for I had scarce time to make him an answer, before we observed part of the guard drawn up on the parade, advance to us with the officers who had been viewing the rooms. They ordered us all to rise and go into the barracks to the left of the court of guard. The barracks, you may remember, have a large wooden platform for the soldiers to sleep on, and are open to the west by arches and a small parapet-wall, corresponding to the arches of the Veranda without. In we went most readily, and were pleasing ourselves with the prospect of passing a comfortable night on the platform, little dreaming of the infernal apartment in reserve for us. For we were no sooner all within the barracks, than the guard advanced to the inner arches and parapet-wall; and, with their muskets presented, ordered us to go into the room at the southermost end of the barracks, commonly called the Black-Hole prison; whilst others from the Court of Guard, with clubs and drawn scymitars, pressed upon those of us next to them. This stroke was so sudden, so unexpected, and the throng and pressure so great upon us next the door of the Black-Hole prison, there was no resisting it; but like one agitated wave impelling another, we were obliged to give way and enter; the rest followed like a torrent, few amongst us, the soldiers excepted, having the least idea of the dimensions or nature of a place we had never seen: for if we had, we should at all events have rushed upon the guard, and been, as the lesser evil, by our own choice cut to pieces.

Amongst the first that entered, were myself, Messrs. Baillie, Jenks, Cooke, T. Coles, Ensign Scot, Revely, Law, Buchanan, &c. I got possession of the window nearest the door, and took Messrs. Coles and Scot into the window with me, they being both wounded (the first I believe mortally). The rest of the abovementioned gentlemen were close round me. It was now about eight o'clock.

Figure to yourself, my friend, if possible, the situation of a hundred and forty-six wretches, exhausted by continual fatigue and action, thus crammed together in a cube of about eighteen feet, in a close sultry night, in Bengal, shut up to the eastward and southward (the only quarters from whence air could reach us) by dead walls, and by a wall and door to the north, open only to the westward by two windows, strongly barred with iron, from which we could receive scarce any the least circulation of fresh air.

What must ensue, appeared to me in lively and dreadful colours, the instant I cast my eyes round, and saw the size and situation of the room. Many unsuccessful attempts were made to force the door; for having nothing but our hands to work with, and the door opening inward, all endeavours were vain and fruitless.

Observing every one giving way to the violence of passions, which I foresaw must be fatal to them, I requested silence might be preserved, whilst I spoke to them, and in the most pathetic and moving terms which occurred, "I begged and intreated, that as they had paid a ready obedience to me in the day, they would now for their own sakes, and the sakes of those who were dear to them, and were interested in the preservation of their lives, regard the advice I had to give them. I assured them, the return of day would give us air and liberty; urged to them, that the only chance we had left for sustaining this misfortune, and surviving the night, was the preserving a calm mind and quiet resignation to our fate; intreating them to curb, as much as possible, every agitation of mind and body, as raving and giving a loose to their passions could answer no purpose, but that of hastening their destruction."

This remonstrance produced a short interval of peace, and gave me a few minutes for reflection: though even this pause was not a little disturbed by the cries and groans of the many wounded, and more particularly of my two companions in the window. Death, attended with the most cruel train of circumstances, I plainly perceived must prove our inevitable destiny. I had seen this common migration in too many shapes, and accustomed myself to think on the subject with too much propriety to be alarmed at the prospect, and indeed felt much more for my wretched companions than myself.

Amongst the guards posted at the windows, I observed an old Jemmautdaar near me, who seemed to carry some compassion for us in his countenance; and indeed he was the only one of the many in his station, who discovered the least trace of humanity. I called him to me, and in the most persuasive terms I was capable, urged him to commiserate the sufferings he was a witness to, and pressed him to endeavour to get us separated, half in one place, and half in another; and that he should in the morning receive a thousand Rupees for this act of tenderness. He promised he would attempt it, and withdrew; but in a few minutes returned, and told me it was impossible. I then thought I had been deficient in my offer, and promised him two thousand. He withdrew a second time, but returned soon, and (with I believe much real pity and concern) told me, it was not practicable; that it could not be done but by the Suba's order, and that no one dared awake him.

During this interval, though their passions were less violent, their uneasiness increased. We had been but few minutes confined, before every one fell into a perspiration so profuse, you can form no idea of it. This consequently brought on a raging thirst, which still increased, in proportion as the body was drained of its moisture.

Various expedients were thought of to give more room and air. To obtain the former, it was moved to put off their clothes. This was approved as a happy motion, and in a few minutes I believe every man was stripped (myself, Mr. Court, and the two wounded young gentlemen by me excepted). For a little time they flattered themselves with having gained a mighty advantage; every hat was put in motion, to produce a circulation of air; and Mr. Baillie proposed that every man should sit down on his hams. As they were truly in the situation of drowning wretches, no wonder they caught at every thing that bore a flattering appearance of saving them. This expedient was several times put in practice, and at each time many of the poor creatures, whose natural strength was less than others, or had been more exhausted, and could not immediately recover their legs, as others did, when the word was given to Rise, fell to rise no more; for they were instantly trod to death, or suffocated. When the whole body sat down, they were so closely wedged together, that they were obliged to use many efforts, before they could put themselves in motion to get up again.

Before nine o'clock every man's thirst grew intolerable, and respiration difficult. Our situation was much more wretched than that of so many miserable animals in an exhausted receiver; no circulation of fresh air sufficient to continue life, nor yet enough divested of its vivifying particles to put a speedy period to it. Efforts were again made to force the door, but in vain. Many insults were used to the guard, to provoke them to fire in upon us (which, as I learned afterwards, were carried to much greater lengths, when I was no more sensible of what was transacted). For my own part, I hitherto felt little pain or uneasiness, but what resulted from my anxiety for the sufferings of those within. By keeping my face between two of the bars, I obtained air enough to give my lungs easy play, though my perspiration was excessive, and thirst commencing. At this period, so strong an urinous volatile effluvia came from the prison, that I was not able to turn my head that way, for more than a few seconds of time.

Now every body, excepting those situated in and near the windows, began to grow outrageous, and many delirious: Water, Water, became the general cry. And the old Jemmautdaar, beforementioned, taking pity on us, ordered the people to bring some skins of water, little dreaming, I believe, of its fatal effects. This was what I dreaded. I foresaw it would prove the ruin of the small chance left us, and essayed many times to speak to him privately to forbid its being brought; but the clamour was so loud, it became impossible. The water appeared. Words cannot paint to you the universal agitation and raving the sight of it threw us into. I had flattered myself that some, by preserving an equal temper of mind, might outlive the night; but now the reflection which gave me the greatest pain, was, that I saw no possibility of one escaping to tell the dismal tale.

Until the water came, I had myself not suffered much from thirst, which instantly grew excessive. We had no means of conveying it into the prison, but by hats forced through the bars; and thus myself, and Messrs. Coles and Scot (notwithstanding the pains they suffered from their wounds) supplied them as fast as possible. But those, who have experienced intense thirst, or are acquainted with the cause and nature of this appetite, will be sufficiently sensible it could receive no more than a momentary alleviation; the cause still subsisted. Though we brought full hats within the bars, there ensued such violent struggles, and frequent contests, to get at it, that before it reached the lips of any one, there would be scarcely a small tea-cup full left in them. These supplies, like sprinkling water on fire, only served to feed and raise the flame.


Oh! my dear Sir, how shall I give you a conception of what I felt at the cries and ravings of those in the remoter parts of the prison, who could not entertain a probable hope of obtaining a drop, yet could not divest themselves of expectation, however unavailing! And others calling on me by the tender considerations of friendship and affection, and who knew they were really dear to me. Think, if possible, what my heart must have suffered at, seeing and hearing their distress, without having it in my power to relieve them; for the confusion now became general and horrid. Several quitted the other window (the only chance they had for life) to force their way to the water, and the throng and press upon the window was beyond bearing; many forcing their passage from the further part of the room, pressed down those in their way, who had less strength: and trampled them to death.

Can it gain belief, that this scene of misery proved entertainment to the brutal wretches without? But so it was; and they took care to keep us supplied with water, that they might have the satisfaction of seeing us fight for it, as they phrased it, and held up lights to the bars, that they might lose no part of the inhuman diversion.

From about nine to near eleven, I sustained this cruel scene and painful situation, still supplying them with water, though my legs were almost broke with the weight against them. By this time I myself was very near pressed to death, and my two companions, with Mr. William Parker, (who had forced himself into the window) were really so.

For a great while they preserved a respect and regard to me, more than indeed I could well expect, our circumstances considered; but now all distinction was lost. My friend Baillie, Messrs. Jenks, Revely, Law, Buchanan, Simson, and several others, for whom I had a real esteem and affection, had for some time been dead at my feet, and were now trampled upon by every corporal or common soldier, who, by the help of more robust constitutions, had forced their way to the window, and held fast by the bars over me, till at last I became so pressed and wedged up, I was deprived of all motion.

Determined now to give every thing up, I called to them, and begged, as the last instance of their regard, they would remove the pressure upon me, and permit me to retire out of the window, to die in quiet. They gave way; and with much difficulty I forced a passage into the center of the prison, where the throng was less by the many dead, (then I believe amounting to one-third) and the numbers who flocked to the windows; for by this time they had water also at the other window.

In the Black-Hole there is a platform [This platform was raised between three and four feet from the floor, open underneath; it extended the whole length of the east side of the prison, and was above six feet wide.] corresponding with that in the barracks: I travelled over the dead, and repaired to the further end of it, just opposite the other window, and seated myself on the platform between Mr. Dumbleton and Capt. Stevenson, the former just then expiring. I was still happy in the same calmness of mind I had preserved the whole time; death I expected as unavoidable, and only lamented its slow approach, though the moment I quitted the window, my breathing grew short and painful.

Here my poor friend Mr. Edward Eyre came staggering over the dead to me, and with his usual coolness and good-nature, asked me how I did? but fell and expired before I had time to make him a reply. I laid myself down on some of the dead behind me, on the platform; and recommending myself to heaven, had the comfort of thinking my sufferings could have no long duration.

My thirst grew now insupportable, and difficulty of breathing much increased; and I had not remained in this situation, I believe, ten minutes, when I was seized with a pain in my breast, and palpitation of my heart, both to the most exquisite degree. These roused and obliged me to get up again; but still the pain, palpitation, thirst, and difficulty of breathing increased. I retained my senses notwithstanding, and had the grief to see death not so near me as I hoped; but could no longer bear the pains I suffered without attempting a relief, which I knew fresh air would and could only give me. I instantly determined to push for the window opposite to me; and by an effort of double the strength I ever before possessed, gained the third rank at it, with one hand seized a bar, and by that means gained the second, though I think there were at least six or seven ranks between me and the window.

In a few moments my pain, palpitation, and difficulty of breathing ceased; but my thirst continued intolerable. I called aloud for "WATER FOR GOD'S SAKE:" had been concluded dead; but as soon as they heard me amongst them, they had still the respect and tenderness for me, to cry out, "GIVE HIM WATER, GIVE HIM WATER!" nor would one of them at the window attempt to touch it until I had drank. But from the water I found no relief; my thirst was rather increased by it; so I determined to drink no more, but patiently wait the event; and kept my mouth moist from time to time by sucking the perspiration out of my shirt-sleeves, and catching the drops as they fell, like heavy rain from my head and face: you can hardly imagine how unhappy I was if any of them escaped my mouth.

I came into the prison without coat or waistcoat; the season was too hot to bear the former, and the latter tempted the avarice of one of the guards, who robbed me of it when we were under the Veranda. Whilst I was at this second window, I was observed by one of my miserable companions on the right of me, in the expedient of allaying my thirst by sucking my shirt-sleeve. He took the hint, and robbed me from time to time of a considerable part of my store; though after I detected him, I had ever the address to begin on that sleeve first, when I thought my reservoirs were sufficiently replenished; and our mouths and noses often met in the contest. This plunderer, I found afterwards, was a worthy young gentleman in the service, Mr. Lushington, one of the few who escaped from death, and since paid me the compliment of assuring me, he believed he owed his life to the many comfortable draughts he had from my sleeves. I mention this incident, as I think nothing can give you a more lively idea of the melancholy state and distress we were reduced to. Before I hit upon this happy expedient, I had, in an ungovernable fit of thirst, attempted drinking my urine; but it was so intensely bitter there was no enduring a second taste, whereas no Bristol water could be more soft or pleasant than what arose from perspiration.

By half an hour past eleven the much greater number of those living were in an outrageous delirium, and the others quite ungovernable; few remaining any calmness, but the ranks next the windows. By what I had felt myself, I was fully sensible what those within suffered; but had only pity to bestow upon them, not then thinking how soon I should myself become a greater object of it.

They all now found, that water, instead of relieving, rather heightened their uneasinesses; and, "AIR, AIR," was 'the general cry. Every insult that could be devised against the guard, all the opprobrious names and abuse that the Suba, Monickchund, [Rajah Monickchund, appointed by the Suba governor of Calcutta.] &c. could be loaded with, were repeated to provoke the guard to fire upon us, every man that could, rushing tumultuously towards the windows with eager hopes of meeting the first shot. Then a general prayer to heaven, to hasten the approach of the flames to the right and left of us, and put a period to our misery. But these failing, they whose strength and spirits were quite exhausted, laid themselves down and expired quietly upon their fellows: others who had yet some strength and vigour left, made a last effort for the windows, and several succeeded by leaping and scrambling over the backs and heads of those in the first ranks; and got hold of the bars, from which there was no removing them. Many to the right and left sunk with the violent pressure, and were soon suffocated; for now a steam arose from the living and the dead, which affected us in all its circumstances, as if we were forcibly held with our heads over a bowl full of strong volatile spirit of hartshorn, until suffocated; nor could the effluvia of the one be distinguished from the other, and frequently, when I was forced by the load upon my head and shoulders, to hold my face down, I was obliged, near as I was to the window, instantly to raise it again to escape suffocation.

I need not, my dear friend, ask your commiseration, when I tell you, that in this plight, from half an hour past eleven till near two in the morning, I sustained the weight of a heavy man, with his knees in my back, and the pressure of his whole body on my head. A Dutch serjeant, who had taken his seat upon my left shoulder, and a Topaz [A black Christian soldier: usually termed subjects of Portugal.] bearing on my right; all which nothing could have enabled me long to support, but the props and pressure equally sustaining me all around. The two latter I frequently dislodged, by shifting my hold on the bars, and driving my knuckles into their ribs; but my friend above stuck fast, and as he held by two bars, was immoveable.

When I had bore this conflict above an hour, with a train of wretched reflections, and seeing no glimpse of hope on which to found a prospect of relief, my spirits, resolution, and every sentiment of religion gave way. I found I was unable much longer to support this trial, and could not bear the dreadful thoughts of retiring into the inner part of the prison, where I had before suffered so much. Some infernal spirit, taking the advantage of this period, brought to my remembrance my having a small clasp penknife in my pocket, with which I determined instantly to open my arteries, and finish a system no longer to be borne. I had got it out, when heaven interposed, and restored me to fresh spirits and resolution, with an abhorrence of the act of cowardice I was just going to commit: I exerted a-new my strength and fortitude; but the repeated trials and efforts I made to dislodge the insufferable incumbrances upon me at last quite exhausted me, and towards two o'clock, finding I must quit the window, or sink where I was, I resolved on the former, having bore, truly for the sake of others, infinitely more for life than the best of it is worth.

In the rank close behind me was an officer of one of the ships, whose name was Carey, who had behaved with much bravery during the siege, (his wife, a fine woman though country-born, would not quit him, but accompanied him into the prison, and was one who survived.) This poor wretch had been long raving for water and air; I told him I was determined to give up life, and recommended his gaining my station. On my quitting, he made a fruitless attempt to get my place; but the Dutch serjeant who sat on my shoulder supplanted him.

Poor Carey expressed his thankfulness, and said, he would give up life too; but it was with the utmost labor we forced our way from the window, (several in the inner ranks appearing to me dead standing [Unable to fall by the throng and equal pressure round.]) He laid himself down to die: and his death, I believe, was very sudden; for he was a short, full, sanguine man: his strength was great, and I imagine, had he not retired with me, I should never have been able to have forced my way.

I was at this time sensible of no pain and little uneasiness: I can give you no better idea of my situation than by repeating my simile of the bowl of spirit of hartshorn. I found a stupor coming on a-pace, and laid myself down by that gallant old man, the reverend Mr. Jervas Bellamy, who lay dead with his son the lieutenant, hand in hand, near the southernmost wall of the prison.

When I had lain there some little time, I still had reflection enough to suffer some uneasiness in the thought, that I should be trampled upon, when dead, as I myself had done to others. With some difficulty I raised myself, and gained the platform a second time, where I presently lost all sensation: the last trace of sensibility that I have been able to recollect after my lying down, was my sash being uneasy about my waste, which I untied and threw from me.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

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Part 2 of 2

Of what passed in this interval to the time of my resurrection from this hole of horrors, I can give you no account; and indeed, the particulars mentioned by some of the gentlemen who survived, (solely by the number of those dead, by which they gained a freer accession of air, and approach to the windows) were so excessively absurd and contradictory, as to convince me, very few of them retained their senses; or at least, lost them soon after they came into the open air, by the fever they carried out with them.

In my own escape from absolute death the hand of heaven was manifestly exerted: the manner take as follows. When the day broke, and the gentlemen found that no entreaties could prevail to get the door opened, it occurred to one of them, (I think to Mr. secretary Cooke) to make a search for me, in hopes I might have influence enough to gain a release from this scene of misery. Accordingly Messrs. Lushington and Walcot undertook the search, and by my shirt discovered me under the dead upon the platform. They took me from thence; and imagining I had some signs of life, brought me towards the window I had first possession of.

But as life was equally dear to every man, (and the stench arising from the dead bodies was grown intolerable) no one would give up his station in or near the window: so they were obliged to carry me back again. But soon after Captain Mills (now captain of the company's yacht) who was in possession of a seat in the window, had the humanity to offer to resign it. I was again brought by the same gentlemen, and placed in the window.

At this juncture the Suba, who had received an account of the havoc death had made amongst us, sent one of his Jemmautdaars to inquire if the chief survived. They shewed me to him; told him I had appearance of life remaining, and believed I might recover if the door was opened very soon. This answer being returned to the Suba, an order came immediately for our release, it being then near six in the morning.

The fresh air at the window soon brought me to life; and a few minutes after the departure of the Jemmautdaar, I was restored to my sight and senses.
But oh! Sir, what words shall I adopt to tell you the whole that my soul suffered at reviewing the dreadful destruction round me? I will not attempt it; and indeed, tears (a tribute I believe I shall ever pay to the remembrance of this scene, and to the memory of those brave and valuable men) stop my pen.

The little strength remaining amongst the most robust who survived, made it a difficult task to remove the dead piled up against the door; so that I believe it was more than twenty minutes before we obtained a passage out for one at a time. I had soon reason to be convinced the particular inquiry made after me did not result from any dictate of favour, humanity, or contrition; when I came out, I found myself in a high putrid fever, and, not being able to stand, threw myself on the wet grass without the Veranda, when a message was brought me, signifying I must immediately attend the Suba. Not being capable of walking, they were obliged to support me under each arm; and on the way, one of the jemmautdaurs told me, as a friend, to make a full confession where the treasure was buried in the fort, or that in half an hour I should be shot off from the mouth of a cannon. [A sentence of death common in Indostan.] The intimation gave me no manner of concern; for, at that juncture, I should have esteemed death the greatest favor the tyrant could have bestowed upon me.

Being brought into his presence, he soon observed the wretched plight I was in, and ordered a large folio volume, which lay on a heap of plunder, to be brought for me to sit on. I endeavored two or three times to speak, but my tongue was dry and without motion. He ordered me water. As soon as I got speech, I began to recount the dismal catastrophe of my miserable companions. But he stopped me short, with telling me, he was well informed of great treasure being buried or secreted in the fort, and that I was privy to it; and if I expected favor, must discover it.

I urged every thing I could to convince him there was no truth in the information; or that if any such thing had been done, it was without my knowledge.
I reminded him of his repeated assurance to me, the day before; but he resumed the subject of the treasure, and all I could say seemed to gain no credit with him. I was ordered prisoner under Mhir Muddon, General of the Household Troops.

Amongst the guard which carried me from the Suba, one bore a large Moratter battle-axe, which gave rise, I imagine, to Mr. Secretary Cooke's belief and report to the fleet, that he saw me carried out, with the edge of the ax towards me, to have my head struck off. This I believe is the only account you will have of me, until I bring you a better myself. But to resume my subject: I was ordered to the camp of Mhir Muddon's quarters, within the outward ditch, something short of Omychund's [Omichund] garden (which you know is above three miles from the fort) and with me Messieurs Court, Walcot, and Burdet. The rest, who survived the fatal night, gained their liberty, except Mrs. Carey, who was too young and handsome. The dead bodies were promiscuously thrown into the ditch of our unfinished ravelin, and covered with the earth.

My being treated with this severity, I have sufficient reason to affirm, proceeded from the following causes. The Suba's resentment for my defending the fort, after the Governor, &c. had abandoned it; his prepossession touching the treasure; and thirdly, the instigations of Omychund [A great Gentoo merchant of Calcutta.] in resentment for my not releasing him out of prison, as soon as I had the command of the fort: a circumstance, which in the heat and hurry of action, never once occurred to me, or I had certainly done it; because I thought his imprisonment unjust. But that the hard treatment I met with, may truly be attributed in a great measure to his suggestion and insinuations, I am well assured, from the whole of his subsequent conduct; and this further confirmed to me, in the three gentlemen selected to be my companions, against each of whom he had conceived particular resentment; and you know Omychund can never forgive.

30th. It will by some, I doubt not, be represented to you that Omychund was at the bottom of all the Suba's councils and proceedings against us; the part he really acted under cover, in this affair, is difficult to distinguish and point out; that he was much chagrined at the little influence he had in the settlement for a few years last past, is most certain; in applications to the Durbar, (wherein he usually was the acting person between the Company and the Government) little use had been made of him, possibly more had been better. -- Be this as it will, it is most certain, he had no general weight for these four or five years, beyond what his wealth gave him, so that his name and reputation became lessened in the eye of the government as well as in Calcutta. Piqued at this, and implacable in his resentment, it is not improbable he worked with some instruments of the Durbar, to embroil us in such a manner as would make his mediation and assistance necessary, and thereby regain his credit and influence with both; little imagining things would go the length they did; in which it must have been most evident to him, his own large possessions would be equally the Suba's prey, with yours: that he advised the dispatch of Naran Sing, to demand Raagbullob's family, and introduce him into the settlement, will not I think admit of doubt, no more than that he deeply resented his being turned out of it again. His endeavors with Wazeed, to mitigate things, when he really found they were coming to extremities, was l believe sincere enough until his imprisonment by the President, an act of his power and sole authority, for which the pretence made use of was, in my judgment, by no means sufficient; the correspondence detected between him and Rajaram Harkarah, (the Suba's head spy) which was read in the presence of many of us, contained in our opinions nothing to vindicate it, nor had your President even the consent or approbation of his Council for this step, or did he, that I remember, ever require it. On his imprisonment, his head Jemmautdaar Jaggemant Sing stabbed himself, and set fire to his master's house, and some of his women either butchered themselves, or were butchered by others in the family, which became a scene of much horror and confusion. It can hardly be doubted that Omychund became desperate in his resentments, and it is probable enough he expedited the march of the Suba's army, then advanced, I think, as far as Banka Bazar; and it is likewise probable, that he then sent him the real state of the fort and garrison, and afterwards might (as has been generally suspected) from time to time have given him intelligence; but this is all conjecture; we only know, that his Jemmautdaar just now mentioned, surviving the wounds he had given himself, was put upon his horse, and joined the Suba, whom he informed of the transaction relating to his master's imprisonment; and when the enemy was repulsed at Baagbazar, he led the van of the army to the eastward, and directed them to the avenues by which they entered the next day.

-- Important Facts regarding the East India Company's Affairs in Bengal, from the Year 1752 to 1760. This Treatise Contains an Exact State of the Company's Revenues in that Settlement; With Copies of several very interesting Letters Showing Particularly, The Real Causes Which Drew on the Presidency of Bengal the Dreadful Catastrophe of the Year 1767; and Vindicating the Character of Mr. Holwell From Many Scandalous Aspersions Unjustly Thrown Out Against Him, in an Anonymous Pamphlet, Published March 6th, 1764, Entitled, "Reflections on the Present State of Our East-India Affairs. by J.Z. Holwell


A. Omichund v. Barker

The dispute in Omichund began when Hugh Barker,27 an employee of the East India Company and territorial governor, refused to pay a debt of more than 60,000 rupees28 to an extraordinarily wealthy local merchant named Amirchand (typically listed as Omichund or Omychund in contemporary British records).29 When Amirchand filed suit in Calcutta, Barker quickly absconded on a ship for Europe but died on the journey.

Seeking recovery of the debt, Amirchand’s lawyers in England sued Barker’s estate in chancery court. Barker’s executor then filed a cross-claim requiring a sworn answer. Because Amirchand was not a Christian and therefore could not swear on the Bible, “a Commission went to take his Answer in that Manner in which he was able to give it.”30 While in India, the commission also took depositions from several Christian and Hindu witnesses.

When the commission returned to England, Amirchand’s lawyers sought to file the answer and to introduce the Hindu witnesses’ depositions as evidence, but the attorney for Barker’s estate, John Tracy Atkyns, objected to the competency of these deponents on account of their religious beliefs. Atkyns cited Coke for the proposition that only Christians could swear an oath.31 Atkyns insisted that the “ignorant, ... absurd and ridiculous” religious principles of the Hindu witnesses were insufficient for them to comprehend the sanctity of an oath.32

Because of Amirchand’s financial and political power and the commercial importance of allowing non-Christians—particularly Jewish merchants—to testify in English courts, the case garnered substantial attention. When the dispute reached the High Court of Chancery, Lord Chancellor Philip York, First Earl of Hardwicke, asked for the assistance of three of the country’s most eminent jurists: the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer.33 And among the lawyers arguing on behalf of Amirchand were two of England’s leading jurists, Attorney General Dudley Ryder and Solicitor General William Murray, soon to become the famous Earl of Mansfield.34

In his argument, Ryder acknowledged Coke’s statement about oaths but claimed that the exigencies of foreign commerce necessitated allowing Hindu testimony: “[T]rade requires it, policy requires it, and in dealings of this kind it is of infinite consequence, there should not be a failure of justice.”35 Murray articulated an even more liberal rule of evidence. Looking to British history and the experience of other countries, including India, Murray argued that an “oath must be always understood according to the belief of the person who takes it.”36 Cognizant of the commercial consequences of excluding Hindu testimony, Murray continued: “Heathens bought the goods, heathens sent them, heathens knew the price, heathens kept the account. Would it do honour then to the Christian religion, to say, that you cannot swear according to our oath, and therefore you shall not be sworn at all? What must the heathen courts think of our proceedings? Will it not destroy all faith and confidence between the contracting parties?”37 Hindus believed in a god, Murray stated, “though they may have subordinate deities, as [do] the papists who worship saints.”38

According to custom, the judges gave oral seriatim opinions, with each judge speaking for himself. Lord Chief Baron Thomas Parker argued that it was necessary to admit the Hindu deponents’ statements. “Upon the whole,” he declared, “not to admit these witnesses would be destructive of trade, and subversive of justice, and attended with innumerable inconveniences.”39 Lord Chief Justice William Lee and Lord Chancellor Hardwicke concurred. Lee, drawing on the natural-law current of English jurisprudence, stated that “rules of evidence are to be considered as artificial rules, framed by men for convenience in courts of justice, and founded upon good reason: But one rule can never vary, viz. the eternal rule of natural justice.”40 Hardwicke agreed that the “one general rule of evidence” was to admit “the best [evidence] that the nature of the case will admit.”41 Differences in religious views were no barrier. “All that is necessary to an oath,” Hardwicke wrote, “is an appeal to the Supreme Being, as thinking him the rewarder of truth, and avenger of falshood.”42

The opinion of Lord Chief Justice John Willes subsequently received the most attention, primarily because later jurists disputed what Willes had said. According to the report of defense attorney John Tracy Atkyns, Willes stated: “I am of opinion that infidels who believe a God, and future rewards and punishments in the other world, may be witnesses.”43 As interpreted in later decisions, the requirement of belief in future rewards and punishments meant that individuals who did not believe in heaven and hell could not swear an oath.

In 1799, however, English lawyer Charles Durnford published a lengthier—and substantively different—version of the opinion, apparently based on a manuscript in Willes’s papers.44 According to Durnford, Willes had written that a witness may be admitted if he “believes a God and that he will reward and punish him in this world, but does not believe a future state.”45 But, Willes apparently clarified, “it must be left to the jury what credit must be given to these infidel witnesses. For I do not think that the same credit ought to be given either by a court or a jury to an infidel witness as to a Christian, who is under much stronger obligations to swear nothing but the truth.”46

Comparisons of the various Omichund reports indicates that Willes, in his oral delivery from the bench, deviated at times from the manuscript version published by Durnford.47 But an unpublished manuscript in the Lincoln’s Inn Library seems to confirm the Durnford report’s position: that Willes declared all theists as capable of swearing an oath, even if judges sometimes barred their testimony because it was not the “best evidence” available.48
Perhaps he was worried that Jewish witnesses might be categorically excluded if the law required belief in rewards and punishments after death.49 More importantly, however, the decisions of Willes and his colleagues reflect a transformation of English evidence law from rules based on a person’s status to ones based on the perceived evidentiary value of the person’s testimony.50

_______________

Notes:

27. Identification of Barker’s first name comes from Kirti N. Chaudhuri, The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660–1760 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 357.

28. The complaint “was brought to have a satisfaction for 67,955 rupees, amounting to about 7,600 £ English money, from the estate of the late Mr. Barker.” 1 Atk. 21. In modern purchasing power, that sum would be well over £1,000,000.

29. See Kumkum Chatterjee, “Trade and Darbar Politics in the Bengal Subah, 1733– 1757,” Modern Asian Studies 26 (1992): 243–71; Somendra C. Nandy, “Amir Chand (d. 1758),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Henry Colin Gray Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

30. Omichund, 2 Eq. Cas. Abr. 398.

31. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 21, 23, 26 Eng. Rep. 15 (High Ct. Ch. 1744/5). This report was published as John Tracy Atkyns, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery in the Time of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, 3 vols. (London: J. Worrall & W. Sandby, 1765–68).

32. Ibid., 24.

33. Omichund v. Barker, 2 Eq. Cas. Abr. 407.

34. See Norman S. Poser, Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013), 86, 98–99 (discussing the lucrative private practice of Murray, including his representation of Amirchand). On Ryder’s and Murray’s official duties, see James Oldham, “The Work of Ryder and Murray as Law Officers of the Crown,” in Legal Record and Historical Reality, ed. Thomas G. Watkin (London: The Hambledon Press, 1989), 157.

35. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 30. See also Omichund v. Barker, MSS. Misc. 136, Lincoln’s Inn Library, London, England (hereafter Omichund v. Barker, Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript), 1135 (“[T]he Nature of Trade & Commerce require it”). This manuscript, which is part of a five-volume set of English decisions, was written “by an unknown hand.” John H. Baker, English Legal Manuscripts, 2 vols. (Zug, Switzerland: Inter Documentation Co., 1975–78), 2:99. Pages 1153–68 of the manuscript contain a transcription of Lord Chief Baron Thomas Parker’s decision, which the writer notes “was delivered by [Parker] in Court, & which I transcribed from a Copy lent by him to Sir John Strange.” Omichund v. Barker, Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1153.

36. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 33.

37. Ibid., 34. See also Omichund v. Barker, Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1137 (“Christian Courts must do Justice to the Indians if there is a Commerce between them, otherwise there is no Faith at all & no Jurisd[ictio]n can be exercised”).

38. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 34.

39. Ibid., 44. See also Omichund v. Barker, Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1143 (“The not admitting this Evidence would be destructive of Trade & subversive of Justice and liable to many other Inconveniences”). The transcription of Parker’s original manuscript reads: “The rejecting of these Witnesses would be both destructive of Trade & subversive of Justice, & attended with infinite other Inconveniences.” Ibid., 1168.

40. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 46. See also Omichund v. Barker, Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1147 (“The Rules of Evidence are considered as positive artificial Rules formed by Men for their Convenience as to proceedings in Courts of Justice, but there is one Rule which is fixed eternal & immutable, & that is the Rule of natural Justice, & all other Rules must give way to this”).

41. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 49. See also Omichund v. Barker, Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1150 (“[T]here is but one general Rule of Evidence, i.e. that the best Evidence must be received, that the nature of the Case will admit”).

42. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 48. See also Omichund v. Barker, Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1150 (“[A]ll that is necessary is, An Appeal to the Supreme Being, the Witness of the Truth & the Avenger of Perjury”).

43. Omychund v. Barker, 1 Atk. 45 (emphasis added). Willes clarified that evidence of religious belief could still be used to impeach a witness’s credibility. Ibid., 45–46 (“It must be left to the jury or judge what credit they will give... . The same credit ought not to be given to the evidence of an infidel, as of a Christian; because [he is] not under the same obligations”). According to a report published in 1756, Willes stated: “I think such Infidels, who believe in God, and that he will punish them if they swear falsly, in some Cases, and under some Circumstances, ought to be admitted as Witnesses in this tho’ a Christian Country, but that one who has not such Belief, cannot be admitted under any Circumstances.” Omichund v. Barker, 2 Eq. Cas. Abr. 404–5.

44. Omichund v. Barker, 1 Willes 538, 125 Eng. Rep. 1310 (High Ct. Ch. 1744/5). This report was published as Charles Durnford, Reports of Adjudged Cases in the Court of Common Pleas During the Time Lord Chief Justice Willes Presided in That Court (London: A. Strahan, 1799). The report was later published in Philadelphia and was widely cited in the United States. For a study of the use of manuscript case notes in eighteenth-century England, see James Oldham, “The Indispensability of Manuscript Case Notes to Eighteenth-Century Barristers and Judges,” in Making Legal History: Approaches and Methodologies, ed. Anthony Musson and Chantal Stebbings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 30–52. For an introduction to eighteenth-century reporting practices, see, for example, James Oldham, “Underreported and Underrated: The Court of Common Pleas in the Eighteenth Century,” in Law as Culture and Culture as Law: Essays in Honor of John Phillip Reid, ed. Hendrik Hartog and William E. Nelson (Madison, WI: Madison House Publishers, Inc., 2000), 119–46.

45. Omichund v. Barker, 1 Willes 550. See also ibid., 549.

46. Ibid., 550.

47. Some comments, for example, appear in other reports but not in the Durnford report. Compare 1 Atk. 44 (“Lord Coke is a very great lawyer, but our Saviour and St. Peter are in this respect much better authorities”), and 2 Eq. Cas. Abr. 403 (“Coke was certainly a very great Lawyer, but I think our Saviour and St. Peter in these Matters much better authorities”), and Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1144 (“Now my Lord Coke is a great Authority, but it must be allowed, that Our Saviour & St. Peter are greater”), with 1 Willes 542 (“It is a little mean narrow notion ...”). Moreover, the 1756 report, the 1765 Atkyns report, and the unpublished manuscript seem to have been independently recorded when the decisions were read, given that some material appears in the Durnford report and only one of the two earlier reports. Compare 1 Willes 541 (“Serjt. Hawkins (though a very learned pains-taking man) is plainly mistaken in his History of the Pleas of the Crown ... where he understands Lord Coke as not excluding the Jews from being witnesses, but only Heathens... . I shall therefore take it for granted... . [A]lmost ever since the Jews have returned into England, they have been admitted to be sworn as witnesses”), with 1 Atk. 44 (“Serjeant Hawkins in his Pleas of the Crown, though a very learned and pains taking man, is mistaken in his notion of lord Coke’s opinion; long before his time, and ever since the Jews returned to England, they have been constantly admitted as witnesses”), and 2 Eq. Cas. Abr. 402 (“Hawkins, tho’ a very Pains-taking Man, is, I think, plainly mistaken in his [Pleas of the Crown] where he understands him otherwise. I shall therefore take this for granted”), and Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1144 (“Serj[ean]t Hawkins in his [Pleas of the Crown] is mistaken in his Opinion of my Lord Co[ke]. I take it for granted my Lord Coke meant Infidels generally, & that lessens the Authority of what he says, for Jews were admitted before his time & since”).

48. See Lincoln’s Inn Manuscript, 1146 (“The best Evidence, that the Party can procure must be rece[ive]d; But if better Evidence is produced on the other Side, the first is to be rejected; As if a Copy of a Deed be offered in Evidence & on the other Side the original is produced & differs from the copy. So if an Infidel who believes only a Reward & Punishment in this world be contradicted by a Christian”). For more on the approach to evidence law that led to this view, see notes 60 and 62 and accompanying text.

49. Christians generally interpreted the Old Testament, shared by the Jewish faith, as supporting the existence of a future state; see, for example, The Religious Magazine or Spirit of the Foreign Theological Journals and Reviews 2 (1828): 17; and Richard Graves, “A Future State Known to the Jews,” in The Whole Works of Richard Graves, 4 vols., ed. Richard Hastings Graves (Dublin: William Curry Jr. & Co., 1840), 2:288, but concerns about Jewish beliefs occasionally cropped up. See, for example, Edward Livingston to M[ordecai] M[anuel] Noah, [1825], Edward Livingston Papers, Princeton University (“Does the [Jewish] sect which denied the existence of a future state still subsist? Is it numerous? Are there any congregations of them in the U.S.[?]”); see also Jacob Rush, “The Nature of an Oath Stated and Explained,” in Charges and Extracts of Charges, on Moral and Religious Subjects; Delivered at Sundry Times, by the Honorable Jacob Rush (Philadelphia: D. Hogan, 1803), 29 (“the sanction of rewards and punishments is more fully revealed by the Christian religion, and consequently the degree of guilt in transgressing the rules of moral duty, must be greater”). For a discussion of the treatment of Jewish witnesses in English courts after Omichund, see Karen A. Macfarlane, “‘Does He Know the Danger of an Oath’? Oaths, Religion, Ethnicity and the Advent of the Adversarial Criminal Trial in the Eighteenth Century,” Immigrants & Minorities 31 (2013): 334–36.

50. Many scholars have noted this shift in the epistemological underpinnings of English evidence rules. See, for example, Brewer, By Birth or Consent, 162–74. The erosion of status-based rules was part of a broader evolution in English law. See, for example, Duncan Kennedy, “The Structure of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” Buffalo Law Review 28 (1979): 299.

-- Testimonial Exclusions and Religious Freedom in Early America, by Jud Campbell, University of Richmond, School of Law, jcampbe4@richmond.edu


We were conveyed in a Hackery [A coach drawn by oxen.] to the camp the 21st of June, in the morning, and soon loaded with fetters, and stowed all four in a seapoy's tent, about four feet long, three wide, and about three high; so that we were half in, half out: All night it rained severely. Dismal as this was, it appeared a paradise compared with our lodging the preceding night. Here I became covered from head to foot with large painful boils, the first symptom of my recovery; for until these appeared, my fever did not leave me. I

On the morning of the 22d, they marched us to town in our fetters, under the scorching beams of an intense hot sun, and lodged us at the Dock-head in the open small Veranda, fronting the river, where we had a strong guard over us, commanded by Bundo Sing Hazary, an officer under Mhir Muddon. Here the other gentlemen broke out likewise in boils all over their bodies (a happy circumstance, which, as I afterwards learned, attended every one who came out of the Black-Hole).

On our arrival at this place, we soon were given to understand, we should be embarked for Muxadabad, [The capital of Bengal.] where I think you have never been; and since I have brought you thus far, you may as well take this trip with us, likewise. I have much leisure on my hands at present; and, you know, you may choose your leisure for perusal.

We set out on our travels from the Dock-head the 24th in the afternoon, and were embarked on a large Wollack, [ A large boat.] containing part of Bundo Sing's plunder, &c. She bulged a-shore a little after we set off, and broke one of her floor timbers: however they pushed on, though she made so much water she could hardly swim. Our bedstead and bedding were a platform of loose unequal bamboos laid on the bottom timbers: so that when they had been negligent in bailing, we frequently waked with half of us in the water. We had hardly any clothes to our bodies, and nothing but a bit of mat, and a bit or two of old gunny-bag, which we begged at the Dock-head to defend us from the sun, rains, and dews. Our food only rice, and the water along-side, which, you know, is neither very clean, nor very palatable, in the rains: but there was enough of it without scrambling.

In short, Sir, though our distresses in this situation, covered with tormenting boils, and loaded with irons, will be thought, and doubtless were, very deplorable; yet the grateful consideration of our being so providentially a remnant of the saved, made every thing else appear light to us. Our rice and water-diet, designed as a grievance to us, was certainly our Preservation: for, could we (circumstanced as we were) have indulged in flesh and wine, we had died beyond all doubt.

When we arrived at Hougly fort, I wrote a short letter to governor Bisdom (by means of a pencil and blank leaf of a volume of Archbishop Tillotson's sermons given us by one of our guard, part of his plunder) advising him of our miserable plight. He had the humanity to dispatch three several boats after us, with fresh provisions, liquors, clothes, and money; neither of which reached us. But, "Whatever is, is right." Our rice and water were more salutary and proper for us.

Matters ridiculous and droll abundantly occurred in the course of our trip. But these I will postpone for a personal recital, that I may laugh with you, and will only mention, that my hands alone being free from imposthumes, I was obliged for some time to turn nurse, and feed my poor distressed companions.

When we came opposite to Santipore, they found the Wollack would not be able to proceed further, for want of water in the river; and one of the guard was sent ashore to demand of the Zemindar [Zamindar] [A proprietor of land.] of that district, light boats to carry prisoners of state under their charge to Muxadabad. The Zemindar, giving no credit to the fellow, mustered his guard of pykes, beat him, and drove him away.

This, on the return of the Burkandass, raised a most furious combustion. Our Jemmautdaar ordered his people to arms, and the resolution was to take the Zemindar and carry him bound a prisoner to Muxadabad. Accordingly they landed with their fire-arms, swords, and targets; when it occurred to one mischievous mortal amongst them, that the taking me with them, would be a proof of their commission, and the high offence the Zemindar had committed.

Being immediately lugged ashore, I urged the impossibility of my walking, covered as my legs were with boils, and several of them in the way of my fetters; and entreated, if I must go, that they would for the time take off my irons, as it was not in my power to escape from them; for they saw I was hardly able to stand. But I might as well have petitioned tigers, or made supplication to the wind. I was obliged to crawl: They signified to me, it was now my business to obey, and that I should remember, I was not then in the Kella of Allynagore. [The name given to Calcutta, by the Suba, after the capture.] Thus was I marched in a scorching sun, near noon, for more than a mile and half; my legs running in a stream of blood from the irritation of my irons, and myself ready to drop every step with excessive faintness and unspeakable pain. "

When we came near the Cutcherry of the district, the Zemindar with his pikes was drawn up ready to receive us; but as soon as they presented me to him as a prisoner of state, estimated and valued to them at four lack of Rupees [50,000 £.] he confessed himself sensible of his mistake, and made no further show of resistance. The Jemmautdaar seized him, and gave orders to have him bound and sent to the boat: but on his making further submission, and promising to get boats from Santipore to send after us, and agreeing to pay them for the trouble he had caused, he was released, and matters accommodated.

I was become so very low and weak by this cruel travel, that it was some time before they would venture to march me back; and the "hard-hearted villains," for their own sakes, were at last obliged to carry me part of the way, and support me the rest, covering me from the sun with their shields. A poor fellow, one of our Under-Gomastaus of Santipore, seeing me at the Cutcherry, knew me, and, with tears in his eyes, presented me with a bunch of plantains, the half of which my guard plundered by the way.

We departed from hence directly, in expectation of boats following us, but they never came; and the next day (I think the last of June) they pressed a small open fishing-dingy, and embarked us on that, with two of our guard only; for in fact, any more would have sunk her. Here we had a bed of bamboos, something softer, I think, than those of the great boat; that is, they were something smoother, but we were so distressed for room, that we could not stir without our fetters bruising our own, or each others boils; and were in woeful distress indeed, not arriving at Muxadabad until the 7th of July in the afternoon. We were all this while exposed to one regular succession of heavy rain, or intense sunshine, and nothing to defend us from either.

But then don't let me forget our blessings; for by the good-nature of one of our guard, Shaike Bodul, we now and then latterly got a few plantains, onions, parched rice, with Jaggree, [Molasses.] and the bitter green called Curella: all which were to us luxurious indulgencies, and made the rice go down deliciously.

On the 7th of July, early in the morning, we came in sight of the French factory. I had a letter prepared for Mr. Law the Chief, and prevailed with my friend Bodul, to put to there. On the receipt of my letter, Mr. Law, with much politeness and humanity, came down to the water-side, and remained near an hour with us. He gave the Shaike a genteel present for his civilities, and offered him a considerable reward and security, if he would permit us to land for an hour's refreshment; but he replied, his head would pay for the indulgence. After Mr. Law had given us a supply of cloaths [clothes], linen, provisions, liquors, and cash, we left his factory with grateful hearts and compliments.

'We could not, as you may imagine, long resist touching our stock of provisions; but however temperate we thought ourselves, we were all disordered more or less by this first indulgence.
A few hours after I was seized with a painful inflammation in my right leg and thigh.

Passing by our fort and factory at Cossimbuzar, raised some melancholy reflections amongst us. About four in the afternoon we landed at Muxadabad, and were conducted to, and deposited in an open stable, not far from the Suba's palace in the city.

This march, I will freely confess to you, drew tears of disdain and anguish of heart from me; thus to be led like a felon, a spectacle to the inhabitants of this populous city! My soul could not support itself with any degree of patience; the pain too arising from my boils, and inflammation of my leg, added not a little, I be1ieve, to the depression of my spirits.

Here we had a guard of Moors placed on one side of us, and a guard of Gentoos on the other; and being destined to remain in this place of purgatory, until the Suba returned to the city, I can give you no idea of our sufferings. The immense crowd of spectators, who came from all quarters of the city to satisfy their curiosity, so blocked us up from morning fill night, that I may truly say we narrowly escaped a second suffocation, the weather proving exceeding sultry.

The first night after our arrival in the stable, I was attacked by a fever; and that night and the next day, the inflammation of my leg and thigh greatly increased: but all terminated the second night in a regular fit of the gout in my right-foot and ankle; the first and last fit of this kind I ever had. How my irons agreed with this new visitor I leave you to judge; for I could not by any entreaty obtain liberty for so much as that poor leg.

During our residence here, we expected every act of humanity and friendship from Monf. Law and Mynheer Vernet, the French and Dutch Chiefs of Cossimbuzar, who left no means unessayed to procure our release. Our provisions were regularly sent us from the Dutch Tanksal [The Dutch Mint near Muxadabad.] in Coriemabad; and we were daily visited by Messrs. Ross and Ekstone, the Chief and Second there; and indeed received such instances of commiseration and affection from Mynheer Ross, as will ever claim my most grateful remembrance.

The whole body of Armenian merchants too were most kind and friendly to us; particularly Aga Manuel Satoor: we were not a little indebted to the obliging good-natured behaviour of Messrs. Hastings and Chambers, who gave us as much of their company as they could. They had obtained their liberty by the French and Dutch Chiefs becoming bail for their appearance. This security was often tendered for us, but without effect.

The 11th of July the Suba arrived in the city, and with him Bundoo Sing, to whose house we were removed that afternoon in a Hackery; for I was not able to put my foot to the ground. Here we were confirmed in a report which had before reached us, that the Suba, on his return to Houghly, made inquiry for us when he released Messieurs Watts and Collett, &c. with intention to release us also; and, that he had expressed some resentment at Mhir Muddon for having so hastily sent us up to Muxadabad. This proved a very pleasing piece of intelligence to us; and gave us reason to hope the issue would be more favorable to us than we expected.

Though we were here lodged in an open Bungulo only, yet we found ourselves relieved from the crowd of people which had stifled us at the stable, and once more breathed the fresh air. We were treated with much kindness and respect by Bundoo Sing, who generally passed some time or other of the day with us, and feasted us with hopes of being soon released.

The 15th we were conducted in a hackery to the Kella, [The seat of the Suba's residence in the city of Muxadabad.] in order to have an audience of the Suba, and know our fate.
We were kept above an hour in the sun opposite the gate; whilst here we saw several of his ministers brought out disgraced, in the custody of Sootapurdars, and dismissed from their employs, who but a few minutes before we had seen enter the Kella in the utmost pomp and magnificence.

Receiving advice, that we should have no audience or admittance to the Suba that day, we were deposited again at our former lodgings, the stable, to be at hand, and had the mortification of passing another night there.

The 16th in the morning an old female attendant on Allyverdy Cawn's Begum, [The dowager princess, grandmother of Surajud Dowla.] paid a visit to our Shaike and discoursed half an hour with him. Overhearing part of the conversation to be favorable to us, I obtained the whole from him; and learned, that at a feast the preceding night, the Begum had solicited our liberty, and that the Suba had promised he would release us on the morrow. This, you will believe, give us no small spirits; but at noon all our hopes were dashed by a piece of intelligence from Bundoo Sing, implying, that an order was prepared, and ready to pass the seal, for returning us in irons to Rajah Monickchund, governor of Allynagore, the name the Suba had given to Calcutta.

I need not tell you what a thunder-clap this proved to us in the very height of our flattering expectations; for I was, as to myself, well convinced I should never have got alive out of the hands of that rapacious harpy, who is a genuine Hindoo, [Hindoo or Gentoo.] in the very worst acceptation of the word; therefore, from that moment, gave up every hope of liberty.

Men in this state of mind are generally pretty easy: it is hope which gives anxiety. We dined and laid ourselves down to sleep; and for my own part, I never enjoyed a sounder afternoon's nap.

Towards five the Shaike waked me with notice, that the Suba would presently pass by to his palace of Mooteejeel. We roused, and desired the guard would keep the view clear for us. When the Suba came in sight, we made him the usual Salaam; and when he came abreast of us, he ordered his litter to stop, and us to be called to him. We advanced; and I addressed him in a short speech, setting forth our sufferings, and petitioned for our liberty. The wretched spectacle we made must, I think, have made an impression on a breast the most brutal; and if he is capable of pity or contrition, his heart felt it then. I think it appeared in spite of him in his countenance. He gave me no reply: but ordered a Sootapurdar and Chubdaar, immediately to see our irons cut off, and to conduct us wherever we chose to go, and to take care we received no trouble nor insult; and having repeated this order distinctly, directed his retinue to go on. As soon as our legs were free we took boat and proceeded to the Tanksall, where we were received and entertained with real joy and humanity.

Thus, my worthy friend, you see us restored to liberty, at a time when we could entertain no probable hope of ever obtaining it. The foundation of the alarm at noon was this: Moneloll, the Suba's Dewan, and some others, had in the morning taken no small pains to convince the Suba, "That, notwithstanding my losses at Allynagore, I was still possessed of enough to pay a considerable sum for my freedom; and advised the sending me to Monickebund, who would be better able to trace out the remainder of my effects." To this, I was afterwards informed, the Suba replied: "It may be; if he has any thing left, let him keep it: his sufferings have been great; he shall have his liberty." Whether this was the result of his own sentiments, or the consequence of his promise the night before to the old Begum, I cannot say; but believe, we owe our freedom partly to both.

Being myself once again at liberty, it is time I should release you, Sir, also from the unpleasing travel I have led you in this narrative of our distresses, from our entrance into that fatal Black-Hole. And, shall it after all be said, or even thought, that I can possibly have arraigned or commented too severely on a conduct which alone plunged us into these unequalled sufferings? I hope not.

I am,

DEAR SIR,

Your most faithful and obedient humble Servant,

J. Z. HOLWELL.

LIST OF THE SMOTHERED in the BLACK-HOLE Prison (exclusive of Sixty-nine, consisting of Dutch and English Serjeants, Corporals, Soldiers, Topaz's, Militia, Whites and Portuguese, whose Names I am unacquainted with), making on the whole, One hundred and twenty-three Persons.

Of Council.

E. Eyre, Esq.
Wm. Baillie, Esq.
The Reverend Jervas Bellamy.

Gentlemen in the Service.

Messr. Jenks
Messr. Revely
Messr. Law
Messr. Coales, Ens. Mil.
Messr. Valicourt
Messr. Jeb
Messr. Toriano
Messr. E. Page
Messr. S. Page
Messr. Grub
Messr. Street
Messr. Harod
Messr. P. Johnstone
Messr. Ballard
Messr. N. Drake
Messr. Carse
Messr. Knapton
Messr. Gosling
Messr. Bing
Messr. Dod
Messr. Dalrymple

Military Captains.

Clayton
Buchanan
Witherington

Lieutenants

Bishop
Hays
Blagg
Simson
Bellamy

Ensigns.

Paccard
Scot
Hastings
C. Wedderburn
Dumbleton, Ens. Mi.

Serjeants, &c.

Serjeant Major
Quarter-Master Serjeant

Serjeants of Militia.

Abraham
Cartwright
Bleau

Sea Captains.

Hunt
Osburne
Purnell, survived the night, but died next day.
Messrs. Carey
Stephenson
Guy
Porter
W. Parker
Caulker
Bendall
Atkinson
Leech, &c. &c.

LIST OF THOSE WHO SURVIVED THE BLACK-HOLE PRISON.

Messr. Holwell
Messr. Court
Messr. Secretary Cooke
Messr. Lushington
Messr. Burdet
Messr. Ens. Walcott
Mrs. Carey
Messr. Capt. Mills
Messr. Capt. Dickson
Messr. Mr. Moran
Messr. John Meadows, and 12 Military and Militia Blacks and Whites, some of whom recovered when the door was open.

**********************

A Defence of Mr. Vansittart's Conduct, In Concluding the Treaty of Commerce With Mhir Cossim Aly Chawn, At Mongheer.
By a Servant of the Company, long resident in Bengal.
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Part 1 of 4

Fort William-India House Correspondence and Other Contemporary Papers Relating Thereto
Vol. I: 1748-1756
Edited by K. K. Datta, M.A., Ph.D., Professor of History, Patna University, Patna
Published for the National Archives of India by the Manager of Publications, Government of India
1958

[PDF HERE]

GENERAL EDITOR’S PREFACE

In the words of Grant Duff the records of the East India Company are the best historical material in the world. Research scholars working in various parts of the country would undoubtedly like to have this raw material in a readily accessible form. But to bring the voluminous records within easy reach of scholars would be a superhuman task. While that task has not been attempted, the Government of India has, on the recommendation of the Indian Historical Records Commission, accepted a scheme which envisages publication of the correspondence between the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London and the Fort William Council in Calcutta. This correspondence forms a very small part of the records of the Government of India but its value and importance are without question. While it does not give the detailed story of every action or every policy, for which one has to go to the discussions, minutes, decisions etc., available in the proceedings of the Board, it nevertheless gives a bird’s-eye view of the Company’s activity in all its aspects, which enables the reader to form a clear idea of the history of the time. This series of records was considered suitable for in extenso reproduction. Since the Company’s records of the period earlier than 1748 are not available in the National Archives of India, except for some stray documents, the series was started from that date. As a first instalment it was decided to publish the records of the period between 1748 and 1800 in 21 volumes as follows:

Volume / Nature of records / Period

I / Home Department / 1748-56
II / Do. / 1757-59
III / Do. / 1760-63
IV / Do. / 1764-66
V / Do. / 1767-69
VI / Do. / 1770-72
VII / Do. / 1773-76
VIII / Do. / 1777-81
IX / Do. / 1782-85
X / Do. / 1786-88
XI / Do. / 1789-92
XII / Home, Separate (Revenue) / 1793-95
XIII / Home, Separate (Legislative) / 1796-1800
XIV / Secret, Select Committee / 1752-81
XV / Foreign, Secret / 1782-86
XVI / Secret & Separate / 1787-91
XVII / Foreign, Political & Secret / 1792-95
XVIII / Do. 1796-1800
XIX / Military Department / 1787-92
XX / Do. / 1792-95
XXI / Do. / 1796-1800


These volumes were to be edited by scholars working in Universities and learned institutions under the general editorship of the Director of Archives, Government of India. Apart from the individual editor’s introduction accompanying each of the 21 volumes, there is to be a general Prefatory Note to be written by the General Editor covering the entire series. It was felt that a knowledge of the period prior to 1748 when the series starts would be indispensable to a proper appreciation of the history of the succeeding period. The note is therefore to give a general survey of the Company’s history and activities from its establishment up to 1748. In addition, it will highlight the trends of the Company’s policy as unfolded in the letters now being published, in order that they may be appreciated more easily. The original intention was to include this review in the Prefatory Note in Volume I of the series. But the idea has been given up and it is now proposed to have a small separate volume for the purpose. For one thing, Volume I has become quite bulky and further addition to its bulk was considered undesirable. Secondly, as the Preface is to survey also the period 1748-1800, it was felt that the preparation of the Preface might conveniently await the completion of the editorial work of all the volumes in this series.

The present volume, though fourth in order of publication, is the first of the series. It had been sent to the press as early as 1952, but in view of other urgent work its printing was given a relatively low priority. The unfortunate delay in publishing the volume and the comparatively low standard of production are regretted.

The General Editor is grateful to the Commonwealth Relations Office, London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for permission to publish certain portraits and paintings from among their collections, and to the Director General of Archaeology, Government of India, for supplying photographic copies of some of the illustrations included in the volume.

T. Raychaudhuri
Director of Archives
Government of India
National Archives of India, New Delhi, 27 August 1958

CONTENTS [PDF HERE]

• General Editor's Preface
• Contents
• List of Illustrations
• Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of the East India Company, 1748-56
• Directors of the East India Company, 1748-56
• Governors of the Presidency of Fort William, Bengal, 1748-56
• Members of Board, Fort William, Bengal, 1748-56
• Governors of the Presidency of Fort St. George, 1748-56
• Governors of the Presidency of Bombay, 1748-56
• Introduction
LETTERS FROM COURT
• 1. 28 November 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 319-23)
• 2. 19 December 1753 (Home Public : Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 324-30)
• 3. 23 January 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 2-43)
• 4. 23 January 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 44-45)
• 5. 15 February 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp.47-50)
• 6. 2 March 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 51-59 )
• 7. 15 March 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp, 60-61)
• 8. 15 March 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, I754-55 pp. 62-67)
• 9. 29 November 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 75-95)
• 10. 29 November 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 96-99)
• 11. 31 January 1755 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 17S4-55, pp. 106-07)
• 12. 31 January 1755 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 1-51)
• 13. 14 February 1755 (Home Public : Vol. I, 1755-59, p. 52)
• 14. 26 March 1755(Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 53-57)
• 15. 16 April 1755 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, p. 146)
• 16. 10 October 1755 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 59-64)
• 17. 3 December 1755 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 67-69)
• 18. 19 December 1755 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 69-74)
• 19. 11 February 1756 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 75-125)
• 20. 29 December 1756 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 127-34)
• 21. 29 December 1756 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1755-58, pp. 139-42)
LETTERS TO COURT
• 1. 10 January 1747/48 (Home Public: Bengal Letters from the Coast and Bay, Vol. XIII, 1747-48)
• 2. 24 February 1747/48 (Home Public: Letters from the Coast and Bay, Vol. XIV, 1748, pp. 1-67)
• 3. 26 July 1748 (Home Public: Bengal Letters from the Coast and Bay, Vol. XIV, 1748, pp. 68-69)
• 4. 19 November 1748 (Home Public: Bengal Letters from the Coast and Bay, Vol. XlV, 1748, pp. 70-91)
• 5. 22 December 1748 (Home Public: Bengal Letters from the Coast and Bay, Vol. XIV, 1748, pp. 91-102)
• 6. 27 January 1748/49 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1748-49, pp.1-11)
• 7. 11 February 1748/49 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1748-49, pp. 13-18)
• 8. 24 February 1748/49 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 1-13)
• 9. 10 August 1749 (Home Public: Vol. I, 1748-49, pp. 21-43 )
• 10. 22 August 1749 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, p. 14)
• 11. 13 January 1749/50 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp.15-70)
• 12. 8 February 1749/50 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 71-80)
• 13. 25 February 1749/50 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp.81-91)
• 14. 24 August 1750 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 92-144)
• 15. 30 December 1750 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 145-55)
• 16. 12 January 1750/51 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 156-62)
• 17. 4 February 1750/51 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 163-205)
• 18. 18 February 1750/51 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVl, 1749-51, pp. 206-10)
• 19. 19 February 1750/51 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 211-15)
• 20. 24 February 1750/51 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 216-24)
• 21. 20 August 1751 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 225-79)
• 22. 2 September 1751 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVI, 1749-51, pp. 280-86)
• 23. 2 January 1751/52 (Home Public: Vol. II, 1751-52, pp. 61-95)
• 24. 16 January 1751/52 (Home Public: Vol. II, 1751- 52, pp. 96-104)
• 25. 31 January 1751/52 (Home Public: Vol. II, 1751- 52, pp. 105-13)
• 26. 17 February 1751/52 (Home Public: Vol. II, 1751-52, pp. 114-20)
• 27. 23 February 1751/52 (Home Public: Vol. II, 1751-52, pp 121-26)
• 28. 18 September 1752 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 68-115)
• 29. 1 January 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 130-47)
• 30. 15 January 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 149-57)
• 31. 29 January 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 168-74).
• 32. 11 February 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 175-201)
• 33. 1 March 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 227-42)
• 34. 3 September 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 247-307)
• 35. 17 September 1753 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVII, 1752-53, pp. 308-09)
• 36. 31 December 1753 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 1-3)
• 37. 4 January 1754 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 5-67)
• 38. 17 January 1754 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 68-72)
• 39. 18 January 1754 (Home Public : Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 74-79)
• 40. 28 February 1754 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 81-99)
• 41. 6 September 1754 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 70-73)
• 42. 9 September 1754 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 100-30)
• 43. 7 December 1754 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 132-205)
• 44. 20 December 1754 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, p. 206)
• 45. 22 December 1754 (Home Public: Vol. III, 1753-54, pp. 208-09)
• 46. 9 January 1755 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 108-13)
• 47. 30 January 1755 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, p. 114)
• 48. 3 February 1755 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII 1754-55, pp. 115-31)
• 49. 1 March 1755 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. XVIII, 1754-55, pp. 132-45)
• 50. 3 September 1755 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 1-11)
• 51. 11 September 1755 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 12-31)
• 52. 28 September 1755 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 32-42)
• 53. 24 November 1755 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 43-44)
• 54. 8 December 1755 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 45-120)
• 55. 5 January 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 141-44)
• 56. 26 January 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 121-23)
• 57. 17 February 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 124-25)
• 58. 21 February 1756 (Home Public Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 126-40)
• 59. 23 February 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV,1755-57, pp. 145-69)
• 60. 26 February 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 170-75)
• 61. 4 March 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 176-80)
• 62. 16 July 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 193-210)
• 63. 17 July 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 181-92)
• 64. 17 July 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 211-14)
• 65. 18 July 1756 (Home Public: Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 215-21)
• 66. 17 September 1756 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 222-31)
• 67. 25 October 1756 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 232-39)
• 68. 30 November 1756 (Home Public: Copies of Records obtained from India Office, Vol. IV, 1755-57, pp. 240-331)
• Notes
• Bibliography
• Index
• Corrigenda
• Facsimile of a letter from two members of the Board at Fort William to the Court of Directors, 26 February 1756, From the original in the National Archives of India
• Plan of the territory of Calcutta when attacked and taken by Sirajud-Daulah on 18 June 1756, Courtesy of the Survey of India.
• J. Z. Holwell, Reproduced from Curzon of Kedleston's British Government in India, published by Cassell and Company Ltd., London. Copyright reserved by the publishers.
• Motijhil, Murshidabad, Courtesy of the Department of Archaeology, Government of India.

CHAIRMEN AND DEPUTY CHAIRMEN OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY* 1748-56

Year / Chairman / Deputy Chairman


1748 / Chauncey, Richard / Braddyll, Dodding**
1749 / Baker, William / Chauncey, Richard
1750 / Chauncey, Richard / Gough, Harry
1751 / Drake, Roger (Sr.) / Baker, William
1752 / Baker, William / Chauncey, Richard
1753 / Chauncey, Richard / Drake, Roger (Sr.)
1754 / Drake, Roger (Sr.) / Chauncey, Richard
1755 / Drake, Roger (Sr.) / Godfrey, Peter
1756 / Godfrey, Peter / Payne, John

DIRECTORS OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY 1748-56

Baker, William** / 1741-52
Barwell, William / 1753-59, 1761-64, 1766
Benyon, Richard** / 1745-48
Bootle, Capt. Robert / 1741-49, 1752-53, 1755-56
Boulton, Henry Crabb / 1753-61, 1763-65, 1767-70, 1772-73
Boyd, John / 1753-61, 1763-64
Braddyll, Dodding** / 1728-48
Braund, William / 1745-54
Burrow, Christopher / 1735-58, 1760-61
Chambers, Charles / 1755-57, 1763-66, 1768
Chauncey, Richard / 1737-55
Creed, James / 1749, 1755-58, 1761
Cutts, Charles / 1749-54, 1758-61, 1763-66
Dorrien, John / 1755-58, 1760-63
Drake, Roger (Sr.) / 1738-58
Ducane, Peter / 1750-54
Feake, Samuel** / 1733-51
Fonnereau, Abel** / 1749-52
Fonnereau, Zachary Philip / 1754-55
Godfrey, Peter / 1710-17, 1734-57, 1759-60
Gough, Charles / 1749-57, 1759-62
Gough, Capt. Harry (Sr.)** / 1730-33, 1736-51
Gough, Harry (Jr.) ** / 1735- 51
Hope, John** / 1738-41, 1744-52
Hudson, Capt. Robert** / 1721-29, 1732-34, 1745-48
Hume, Alexander** / 1737- 48
Impey, Michael / 1736- 57
Jones, Robert / 1754-57, 1765-68
Law, Stephen / 1746-56
Linwood, Nicholas / 1754- 55
Mabbott, William / 1741-55
Manship, John / 1755- 58, 1762-65, 1767, 1769-77, 1779-82, 1784-87, 1789-92, 1794-97, 1799-1802, 1804-07, 1809 Newnham, Nathaniel (Jr.) / 1738- 58
Payne, John / 1741- 57
Phipps, Thomas / 1742- 58
Plant, Henry / 1745-58
Raymond, Jones / 1734- 58
Rider, William / 1738-54
Rous, Thomas / 1745-53, 1755, 1757-58, 1760-62, 1764-67, 1770-71
Savage Henry / 1755-58, 1760-62, 1764-67, 1770- 77, 1779-82
Snell, William** / 1742-,64, 1767-69
Steele, William** / 1742-48
Sulivan, Laurence / 1755-58, 1760-61, 1763-64, 1769, 1771-72, 1778-81, 1783-85
Thornton, John** / 1749- 50
Tullie, Timothy / 1750- 58, 1760-63
Turner, Whichcott / 1742-56
Walpole, Thomas / 1753-55
Western, Maxmilian / 1755-58
Wilberforce, William (Jr.) / 1753-55
Willy, William / 1746-55
Winter, James / 1754

*The lists are based on the following sources: the text of the letters published in this volume; C. C. Prinsep’s Records of Services of the Honorable East India Company's Civil Servants in the Madras Presidency, 1741-1858 (London, 1885); the Alphabetical List of Directors of the East India Company from 1758 to 1858, compiled by C.H. and D. Philips and published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, October 1941; and the List of the Heads of Administrations in India and of the India Office in England (Imperial Record Department, 1939).

**These names do not occur in the letters but have been included on the basis of C. C. Prinsep’s Records of Services of the Honourable East India Company's Civil Servants in the Madras Presidency, 1741-1858 (London, 1885).  

GOVERNORS OF THE PRESIDENCY OF FORT WILLIAM, BENGAL 1748-56

Barwell, William / 18 April 1748 — 17 July 1749
Dawson, Adam / 17 July 1749 — 5 July 1752
Fytche, William / 5 July 1752 — 8 August 1752
Drake, Roger (Jr.) / 8 August 1752—22 June 1758

MEMBERS OF BOARD, FORT WILLIAM, BENGAL 1748-56

Amyatt, Peter / 1756-58
Barwell, William / 1748-49
Becher, Richard / 1751-60, 1766-71
Bellamy, Humffreys / 1748-50
Blachford, James / 1750-52
Boddam, Thomas / 1756-59
Burrow Thomas / 1749-52
Collet, Mathew / 1753-58
Cruttenden, Edward Holden / 1748-55
Dawson, Adam / 1748-52
Drake, Roger (Jr.) / 1748-58
Eyles, Edward / 1748-49
Eyre, Edward / 1753-56
Forster, John / 1748
Frankland, William / 1752-59
Fytche, William / 1748-51
Hollond, John / 1750-51
Holwell, John Zephaniah / 1752-60
Kempe, William / 1748-49
Killpatrick, James / 1756-57
Mackett, William / 1752-59
Manningham, Charles / 1750-59
Pattle, George / 1748-49
Pearkes, Paul Richard / 1751-52, 1754-58
Rooper, Samuel / 1749-50
Watts, William / 1749-52, 1756-58

*The years mentioned against the names of the Members do not necessarily indicate the entire terms of their membership but merely show that they were members during the period stated as verified from the Correspondence.

GOVERNORS OF THE PRESIDENCY OF FORT ST. GEORGE 1748-56

Floyer, Charles / 16 April 1747—21 August 1749
Boscawen, Edward / 21 August 1749— 11 October 1749
Lawrence, Stringer / 11 October 1749—6 December 1749 (Deputy Governor)
Prince, Richard / 6 December 1749—19 September 1750 (Deputy Governor)
Saunders, Thomas / 19 September 1750—14 January 1755
Pigot, George / 14 January 1755—14 November 1763

GOVERNORS OF TOE PRESIDENCY OF BOMBAY 1748-56

Wake, William / 26 November 1742—17 November 1750
Bourchier, Richard / 17 November 1750—28 February 1760  

INTRODUCTION  

The correspondence in this volume covers the years from 1748 to 1756 A.D., which form a significant period in the history of India. The disappearance of political unity and administrative order which followed the rapid decline of the Mughal Empire generated various disintegrating forces which accelerated India’s decay in all respects and contributed to make European penetration into her politics bolder, quicker, and deeper than before. A careful and comprehensive study of these forces is an indispensable prerequisite for a correct understanding of the genesis of the political revolutions in India, and her rapid economic decline during the 18th century.



Alivardi

Alivardi was the subahdar of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa during this period. He seized the masnad of Bengal after defeating and slaying his patron’s son and his own master Sarfaraz at Giria, near Rajmahal, on 10 April 1740, and occupied it till his death on 9 (or 10) April 1756. Southern India was then distracted by the evil effects of the bitter conflicts between the English and the French trading companies and the civil wars among the rival claimants to the rulerships of the Deccan and of the Carnatic. By considerable vigilance and tact Alivardi was able to keep his province immune from the pernicious effects of the southern wars. But Bengal suffered much from the repeated onslaughts of the triumphant Maratha imperialism of the time and from the insurrections of the Afghans, both of which caused a tremendous strain on its government, traders and common people. The government of Alivardi was only partially successful in combating these evils. His death was, however, followed by general disorder which emboldened the European trading companies to interfere in the politics of Bengal just as they had been doing in southern India during the preceding few years.

Economically the period was brighter than what was to follow after Plassey.
But the signs of the coming change had already appeared and the main lines of economic decline resulting from the prevailing political troubles were discernible; the situation after 1757 only hastened the process.

Bengal, rich in varied resources, naturally excited the cupidity of the Marathas who were then invading and plundering different parts of India. When the ambition of Raghuji Bhonsle I of Berar, virtually an independent chief, to dominate the affairs of his master, Shahu, at Satara, had been foiled by the superior tactics and ability of Baji Rao I, his eyes fell upon Bengal as a very suitable sphere for the extension of his influence and for acquisition of wealth by the imposition of chauth. His general Bhaskar Pant invaded Bengal at the head of a large army in the spring of 1742. Alivardi heard of this near Midnapur, on his way back from the Orissa campaign, and marched to Burdwan in April to oppose the Marathas who had already reached that town. But taken unawares by a surprise Maratha attack on his camp at dead of night, he retreated towards Katwa, 35 miles to the north-east of Burdwan, his troops fighting their way through the enemy ranks and suffering acutely from lack of even ordinary shelter and food. Not only important cities like Murshidabad, Hooghly, Burdwan and Katwa, but also several localities in the interior of the province were plundered by the Marathas, and their inhabitants put to unspeakable tortures. In the course of two or three months, the whole of West Bengal and part of Orissa passed under Maratha control. Only north and east Bengal and the city of Murshidabad remained under the Nawab’s authority. The English in Calcutta anxiously watched the movements of both parties and took precautions for their own safety. The Nawab’s Government, however, made effective arrangements to prevent Maratha advance into east Bengal and succeeded in driving them beyond the Chilka Lake in December 1742.

The first Maratha raid was thus warded off. But in the meantime early in December 1742 Safdar Jang, the subahdar of Oudh, had marched into Bihar, ostensibly to befriend Alivardi under the orders of Emperor Muhammad Shah but with the ulterior motive of adding Bihar to his dominions. Disgusted with Safdar Jang’s domineering conduct at Patna, Alivardi managed to secure imperial orders for his recall, and Safdar Jang left Bihar by the middle of January 1743.

There was, however, no relief for Bengal from Maratha incursions. With ambition unsatiated Bhaskar Pant instigated Raghuji Bhonsle to invade this province at the head of a large army in February 1743. Himself reduced to complete political [un]importance and incapable of prompt action, the Emperor sought to counteract this menace by persuading Raghuji’s great rival, Peshwa Baji Rao, to march into Bengal to oppose him there. Alivardi met the Peshwa in a conference at Plassey on 31 March 1743 and secured his alliance against Raghuji by agreeing to pay chauth for Bengal to Shahu and by presenting him with 22 lacs of rupees and some costly articles. By the end of May 1743 the allies forced Raghuji to leave Bengal with heavy losses, after which the Peshwa also returned to Poona.

The baffled Nagpur chief did not remain idle for long. Early in March 1744, he deputed his generals, Bhaskar Pant and Ali Bhai Qarawwal, [He was “one of the Maratha leaders who had embraced the Muhammadan faith and was surnamed Ali Bhai”. Ghulam Husain Salim, Riyazus Salatin (English Tr. A. S. B.), p. 347.] to invade Bengal. Realising that the exhaustion of his army and of his treasury would make an open encounter with the enemy risky, Alivardi now took recourse to finesse and stratagem to frustrate Maratha designs. Plying Bhaskar Pant with sweet messages and presents, the Nawab persuaded the Maratha general to meet him, without any military escort, at Mankarah on 31 March 1744, and had him assassinated. A large number of the leaderless Maratha soldiers were thereafter massacred by the Nawab’s Afghan troops while the rest took to their heels.

This perfidy naturally roused a desire for revenge in Raghuji’s mind. Next year the rebellion of Mustafa Khan, the foremost among Alivardi’s Afghan generals, afforded him a suitable opportunity to strike again. Raghuji, in fact, allied himself with the distressed followers of Mustafa Khan in Bihar after the latter had been slain by the Nawab’s troops near Jagdishpur on 20 June 1745. A number of engagements were fought between the Marathas and the Nawab’s army at different places in Bengal and Bihar, till finally Raghuji was defeated near Katwa in December 1745 and returned to Nagpur. But practically the whole of Orissa remained under the control of his deputy Mir Habib, and roving bands of Maratha soldiers were still scattered in different parts of Bengal.

Alivardi’s attempt to recover Orissa in 1746-47 failed, largely owing to the treachery of his generals Mir Jafar Khan and Ataullah Khan. Meanwhile Mir Habib had been reinforced by a large army under Janoji, son of Raghuji, which entered the districts of Burdwan and Murshidabad. But undaunted by these difficulties, Alivardi, though an old man of seventy-one, took the field against Janoji, defeated him near Burdwan and compelled him to flee to Midnapur, which remained the eastern limit of the territories under Maratha control during 1747.

The second Afghan insurrection in 1748, more serious than the first, the reappearance of the Marathas in different parts of west Bengal and their alliance with the Afghan insurgents in Bihar greatly embarrassed Alivardi. Some Maratha troops advanced up to Thana fort (near Matiaburuz, Calcutta), many reached the vicinity of Murshidabad and some tried to proceed towards east Bengal. The Dacca factors ["factor": a company agent in the service of the East India Company] informed the Council in Calcutta on 4 March 1748 of “the utmost confusion in that city on news of the Marathas coming by the way of Sunderbund". [Letter, to Court, 19 November 1748, para 80.] Many important centres of trade and manufacture were plundered and some goods of the English East India Company in charge of Ensign English were lost. The allied Maratha and Afghan armies were, however, completely defeated by the Nawab at Ranisarai (or Kala Diara) on the south bank of the Ganges 26 miles east of Patna on 16 April 1748. At this juncture Janoji heard of his mother's death and withdrew precipitately to Nagpur. Mir Habib, however, remained at Midnapur at the head of the major portion of the Maratha troops and continued to exercise control over Orissa.

In March 1749 Alivardi marched into Orissa and recovered it from the Marathas during the third week of May. He appointed a cavalry officer Abdus Subhan Khan as deputy governor and started back for Murshidabad. But within a week of his departure, the Marathas came out of their forest retreats and re-occupied Cuttack. The Nawab fell seriously ill as a result of the hardships of the distant campaigns. His illness continued till the middle of October 1749 and the Marathas were left free to plunder different parts of Orissa. They even threatened the English factory at Cuttack. Towards the end of the year a Maratha detachment reached the neighbourhood of Calcutta. On recovering from his illness Alivardi proceeded to Midnapur in December 1749 and forced the Marathas to retreat. But soon he had to come back to Bengal as “a body of several thousand Morattoes had passed him (early in March 1750) and plundered the country as far as Rajamaul.” Mir Habib, with 12,000 cavalry, advanced within four miles of Murshidabad and in a skirmish with Mir Jafar's troops “obliged them [Mir Jafar’s troops] to retreat nearer the city... the two armies were then encamped near each other and the Morattoes were daily sending out parties to burn and plunder all round them." [Letter to Court, 34 August 1750, para 164.] The raiders then retreated to Midnapur and the Nawab again went there determined to stay there for some time so that he might take effective steps to stop forever the Maratha incursions into Bengal. But an ill-advised attempt on the part of Sirajud Daulah in June 1750 to seize the government of Bihar by removing the Nawab’s agent Janki Ram compelled Alivardi to march to Bihar at once. Old and in poor health the Nawab got no rest or peace owing to the continuance of Maratha inroads during the remaining few months of the year 1750 and the beginning of 1751.

Sorely tried by the hard campaigns of about eight years both the parties considered it advisable to come to a settlement and signed a treaty in May or June 1751. According to its terms the Bengal Government was to pay to the Marathas twelve lacs of rupees a year as chauth of the Bengal Subah “on condition that the Marathas would never set their foot again" within its boundaries. The Marathas agreed not to march beyond the river Subarnarekha near Jalesar, which was fixed as the boundary of the Bengal Subah. Mir Habib was left as Deputy Governor of Orissa under Alivardi and as his employee. But Mir Habib’s days were numbered. Jealous of his elevation to a high position his enemies poisoned Janoji's mind against him. When Janoji came to Orissa in 1752 as his father’s deputy in charge of the Maratha infantry kept there for defence, Mir Habib was murdered by Janoji’s troops.

The repeated Maratha inroads produced some significant consequences. They not only embarrassed Alivardi’s government but also proved to be a terrible calamity to the province of Bengal with adverse effects on the economic life of its people in all respects. There was no opportunity for the country to repair the economic damage as it was soon confronted with other baffling problems.

While the Maratha inroads were a severe strain on Alivardi, he was faced with a grave internal danger. His Afghan soldiers, who had previously rendered him valuable services, rebelled against him for various reasons about five years after the commencement of his subahdarship. Their alliance with the Marathas added to the gravity of the situation. Their first insurrection in 1745 under the leadership of Mustafa Khan was suppressed after they had been defeated by Zainuddin Muhammad Khan, nephew of Alivardi and naib nazim of Bihar, near Jagdishpur (18 miles south-west of Arrah town, Bihar) on 20 June 1745. Soon after this, Mustafa Khan was slain by an officer of Zainuddin. Mustafa’s son and his followers fled to the village of Magror, 14 miles west of Chainpur on the bank of the river Karamnasa. On account of the intrigues of the Afghan rebels with the Maratha chief Raghuji Bhonsle, who had invaded Bihar in September 1745, the Nawab formally dismissed them all from his service, whereupon they returned to their respective habitations in Darbhanga.

The Afghan generals rose against the Nawab once more in 1748. This formidable insurrection indeed cost Alivardi much. The Insurgents killed his nephew Zainuddin, tortured his brother Haji Ahmad to death on 30 January and made the members of their families captive. They usurped Patna and held it for three months, subjecting the people to acute miseries.

The news of these heart-rending mishaps reached Alivardi on 30 January 1748. He soon recovered from the first shock and made a firm resolve to recover Patna from the hands of the Afghans. He started from his camp at Amaniganj near Murshidabad on 29 February 1748 and completely defeated the allied Afghans and Marathas at Ranisarai on 16 April. By the first week of May, he found himself completely relieved of the Afghan menace. [Letter to Court, 19 November 1748, paras 84-85.] The European traders in Bengal and Bihar too suffered some losses on account of the Afghan insurrections. In January 1748 the insurgents plundered the Dutch factory at Fatwa, near Patna, and Shamshir Khan, their leader, demanded “a general tax from the 3 European nations [the English, the French, the Dutch] of 40 or 50,000 Rupees.” [Ibid., para 81.]

On account of all these troubles the Bengal masnad did not prove to be a bed of roses for Alivardi. Still, by acting with tact and prudence he maintained an efficient administrative system, and exerted his authority in all quarters. The European traders in Bengal (the English, the French and the Dutch companies and the Danes, the Prussians, and the Portuguese) had to acknowledge it, and he did not tolerate any infringement of the laws. At the same time these traders were not unduly harassed. They had to make financial contributions to the Nawab only when the latter was called upon to meet extraordinary needs occasioned by the Maratha raids and the Afghan insurrections. Fully alive to the necessity of promoting the economic interest of his province, he encouraged in all possible ways the different classes of traders. All the European traders sought to conciliate him as best as they could, though they occasionally murmured or complained when impeded. In some of their despatches the Court of Directors emphasized that maintenance of friendship with the Nawab’s government would be a prudent course.

The firm attitude of Alivardi towards the Europeans and his constant vigil of their movements in southern India saved Bengal from being converted during his lifetime into one of the theatres of hostility among them. In July 1745 Alivardi issued a parwana enjoining upon the Europeans the observance of neutrality in his dominions from Point Palmyras. [Point Palmyras is a promontory and a small town on the coast of the Bay of Bengal to the south of Balasore.] This neutrality was once violated when towards the end of 1748 the French at Chandernagore forcibly took possession of the Dutch Company’s garden at Chinsura, situated in the centre of Fort Augustus. The Dutch and their allies, the English, protested, and the garden was restored to the Dutch in April 1749, after the close of the War of the Austrian Succession.


The Relations between the European Powers

Thereafter the European powers in India were apparently friendly to one another till the echo of the Seven Years' War reached this land and caused a recrudescence of hostilities. On 23 December 1754, Godeheu had signed a provisional treaty with Saunders, the validity of which depended on its final ratification by the respective home authorities.

The Second Carnatic War (1749-54) was a struggle for power between various Indian claimants to power in southern India, each supported by the French or the British. The First Carnatic War had been a direct conflict between the two European powers, but in the Second Carnatic War both of them officially acted in support of rival local claimants in Hyderabad and the Carnatic.

The war was triggered by a succession struggle in Hyderabad. Here the Nizam was officially the viceroy of the Mughal Emperor, but he was increasingly able to act as a semi-independent Nizam of Hyderabad. The incumbent, Nizam-al-Mulk, died in 1748, nominating his grandson Muzaffar Jang as his heir. This appointment was confirmed by the Emperor, but was contested by Nizam-al-Mulk's second son Nasir Jang. Nasir Jang was able to take possession of Hyderabad, while Muzaffar Jang travelled in search of allies. In the upcoming struggle the British supported Nasir Jang, while the French supported Muzaffar Jang.

Further south there were also two candidates for the Nawabship of the Carnatic, a subsidiary post officially dependent on the Nizam.

Anwar-ud-Din had only been appointed Nawab of the Carnatic in 1743, after Nizam-ul-Mulk had been forced to intervene to restore order in the province. Anwar-ud-Din was one of the Nizam's officers, and so the death of his protector left the Nawab vulnerable. Anwar-ud-Din would be killed early in the war, leaving his son Mohammed Ali to claim the Nawabship.

Chanda Sahib was the son-in-law of a previous Nawab of the Carnatic, Dost Ali (1732-39). He had been an effective ally to the French, before in 1741 being besieged in Trichinopoly by the Marathas. After a three month long siege he was captured and imprisoned, although his family remained safe in Pondicherry.

While travelling in search of allies Muzaffar Jang met the imprisoned Chanda Sahib. The French agreed to pay his ransom, and provided him with 2,000 Sepoys and 400 European soldiers. Muzaffar Jang and Chanda Sahib then advanced towards Arcot, the capitol of the Carnatic. Anwar-ud-Din met them at Ambur (3 August 1748), southwest of Arcot, where he was defeated and killed. Muzaffar Jang and Chanda Sahib entered Arcot, and Chanda Sahib became the de facto Nawab of the Carnatic. The allies then moved to Pondicherry, before wasting a significant amount of time besieging Tanjore. This siege lasted into December 1750, but had to be lifted when Nasir Jang appeared on the scene at the head of a large army.

By the end of March 1751 the two main armies were facing each other near Gingee. Nasir Jang had his own forces, as well as 600 European troops provided by the British East India Company and a larger force under Mohammad Ali. He was facing the combined armies of Muzaffar Jang and Chanda Sahib, with a French contingent.

The two armies faced each other for the next two weeks. During this period the French position appeared to collapse. The French troops mutinied, weakening the entire army. Muzaffar Jang was so worried about the situation that he surrendered to Nasir Jang. Dupleix restored his position with a dramatic night attack on Nasir Jang's camp (12 April). This was so successful that Nasir Jang retreated back to Arcot. With their main ally gone, the British retreated to Fort St. David, leaving Mohammed Ali isolated.

The French decided to take advantage of their enemy's setbacks by occupying a strong position at Tiruvadi, dangerously close to Fort St. David. Both Nasir Jang and the British reinforced Mohammad Ali, who then launched an attack on the French position. This ended in defeat (first battle of Tiruvadi, 30 July 1750). In the aftermath of this defeat the British argued with Mohammad Ali and returned to Fort St. David, leaving him dangerously exposed to attack. The French took advantage of this, and on 1 September inflicted a second defeat on him (second battle of Tiruvadi). Mohammad Ali's army retreated to the strong fortress of Gingee, where it suffered yet another defeat (battle of Gingee, 11 September 1750).

In the aftermath of this disaster, Nasir Jang decided to advance from Arcot, but no battle resulted. Instead the two armies settled down into a two-month long deadlock close to Gingee. Nasir Jang soon entered into negotiations with Dupleix, but on 16 December he was killed by some of his own supporters. Muzaffar Jang, who had been with Nasir Jang's army, was acclaimed as Nizam. The French supported candidates were now in power in Hyderabad and the Carnatic.

In mid December 1750 Muzaffar Jang was officially proclaimed as Viceroy of the Deccan, in a lavish ceremony held in a splendid tent in the central square of Pondicherry. Dupleix sat alongside the new Nizam, and was seen to share in his power. Dupleix was appointed Nawab of the area south of the River Krishna, down to Cape Comorin, while Chandra Sahib was recognised as Nawab of the Carnatic. The French was also granted new possessions close to Pondicherry, and a vast amount of money.

The only remaining obstacle to French dominance in southern India was Mohammad Ali, who had taken shelter at Trichinopoly. Early in 1751 negotiations began between Mohammad Ali and Dupleix, and it looked to only be a matter of time before the issue was resolved. When Muzaffar Jang asked for French soldiers to accompany him on his return to Hyderabad, Dupleix was thus happy to agree, sending Bussy with 300 Europeans and 2,000 Sepoys. The journey north ended disastrously for Muzaffar Jang, who was killed in a clash with the same people who had earlier betrayed Nasir Jang. Bussy retrieved the situation, and Muzaffar Jang's uncle Salabat Jang was appointed as the next Nizam. The new Nizam and his French allies reached his capital of Aurangabad on 29 June 1751, and with Bussy's aid Salabat Jang became firmly established.

Dupleix had misjudged Muhammad Ali. He now made it clear that he would not surrender Trichinopoly, and began to openly cooperate with the British. At first this appeared to be only a minor nuisance. The British and Mohammed Ali were defeated at Volkondah (19-20 July 1751) and forced to retreat into Trichinopoly, where they were besieged by the French and their allies. Most British troops in southern India were now trapped, although Robert Clive, who had been at Volkondah, returned to Fort St. David. If Trichinopoly fell, the French would have been triumphant in Southern India, and the British restricted to their tiny footholds on the coast.

The British position was partly restored by Robert Clive's first major success. After getting a convoy into Trichinopoly he returned to Fort St. David, where he suggested a dramatic way to distract Chanda Sahib. He believed that Chanda Sahib's capital of Arcot would be weakly defended and could be captured with the limited forces available on the coast. The plan was approved, and Clive was given 500 men. With this tiny force he captured Arcot, and then successfully defended it against a counterattack led by Chanda Sahib's son Raju Sahib (siege of Arcot, September-November 1751). This success restored British prestige in southern India, badly damaged over the previous years, and began to erode support for Dupleix.

After the siege Clive pursued Raju Sahib, inflicting a defeat on him at Arni (3 December 1751). He then captured Conjeveram (16-18 December 1751), before returning to Fort St. David.

Conjeveram was soon retaken by Raju Sahib, who then threatened Madras. Clive was forced to abandon his preparations to lift the siege of Trichinopoly, and instead moved to Conjeveram. This time no siege was required, for Raju Sahib had already moved towards Arcot. Clive followed, but in his eagerness to prevent the fall of Arcot fell into an ambush. The resulting battle of Kaveripak (28 February 1752) was a hard fought battle that ended as a British victory. Clive was then recalled to continue with the relief of Trichinopoly, although command of the army passed to Stringer Lawrence, who had returned after a visit to England.

In late March the British relief force successfully entered Trichinopoly, eluded a series of French attempts to intercept them. Law, the French commander at Trichinopoly, effectively abandoned the siege and retreated onto the island of Srirangam. The tables were now turned, and the French were besieged on Srirangam (April-13 June 1752). A French relief force surrendered at Volconda, and on 13 June Law surrendered. Chanda Sahib surrendered on terms, but was then murdered by order of the commander of the Tanjore force, and his head sent to Mohammad Ali, who for a brief spell was the uncontested Nabob of the Carnatic.

After their success at Trichinopoly, the British moved north into the Carnatic, but they were soon forced to return after Mohammad Ali fell out with his Maratha and Mysorean allies. The British left a stronger garrison in the city. Their campaign in the Carnatic was thus hampered by the reduced size of their army, although Tiruvadi was captured on 17 July. Stringer was then forced back to Fort St. David by illness, as was Clive, leaving the less able Swiss officer Gingen in command. The British then weakened their own position by attempting to capture Gingee (6 August 1752), but this attack ended in failure and a costly defeat.

Dupleix took advantage of the arguments between Mohammad Ali and his allies. The Mysoreans and Marathas agreed to change sides, although only if the main British army could be distracted. Dupleix responded by sending a force towards Fort St. David. The British gathered a similar sized army at Madras, and moved to block the French, They withdrew towards Pondicherry. Once they were on French territory, Dupleix's men were safe, for the British were under orders not to cross the border. The British then retreated in apparent disorder, and the French followed. The British then turned back and attacked the French, winning a significant victory over them at Bahur (6 September 1752).

The British made the next move. Mohammad Ali asked them to capture the French-held fortresses of Covelong and Chingleput, around thirty miles to the south of Madras. Governor Saunders agreed, but had limited resources available. Clive volunteered to take command of this army, and successfully captured Covelong in September and Chinglapet in October. After these successes Clive's poor health forced him to return to England to recuperate, leaving Lawrence as the key British commander in the last years of the war.

The last two years of the war were dominated by a renewed French siege of Trichinopoly, and by a series of battles fought close to the town. Dupleix spent the last months of 1752 trying to detach Britain's Maratha and Mysore allies, and by the end of the year he had succeeded. The British at Trichinopoly found themselves blockaded by their former Mysorean allies on Srirangam, and by the Maratha cavalry elsewhere. For much of the next two years the British appeared to be on the back foot, often short of supplies and penned in around Trichinopoly, although they normally had a field army in the area (commanded by Stringer Lawrence), and the blockade was often broken. Three significant battles were fought outside the besieged city during the year. The first battle of Trichinopoly, or battle of the Golden Rock (7 July 1753) saw the French fail to take Lawrence's main stronghold outside the city, the Golden Rock. The second battle of Trichinopoly (18 August 1753) saw Lawrence successfully return to the city with reinforcements and supplies. The third battle of Trichinopoly or battle of Sugar Load Rock (2 October 1753) saw Lawrence attack the French camp, capturing the French commander M. Astruc. Despite these British successes the siege dragged on. A French assault on the city on 9 December nearly succeeded, and supplies began to run very short during the spring of 1754. In May the British won another victory, allowing another convoy to reach the city. The danger finally ended when Lawrence returned with a sizable army in August, and pushed the French back to Srirangam. In the same month Dupleix was recalled to France, where his failures at Trichinopoly had fatally undermined his position.

Dupleix was replaced by M. Godeheu, who had orders from Paris to negotiate an end to the fighting. Governor Saunders had received similar orders from London, and in late October 1754 the two men agreed to a suspension of arms. In January 1755 a conditional peace treaty was agreed, officially ending the Second Carnatic War (although it is generally considered to have ended in 1754, when the fighting stopped).

Although the war ended with a series of French setbacks, they had actually gained the most from the fighting. Their candidate held the post of Nizam of Hyderabad, and they had been rewarded with most of the Northern Circars (now the coast of Andra Pradesh, to the north-east of the Carnatic). They had also gained a significant amount of territory around Pondicherry. The British had also gained some land around Madras, but the French appeared to be the big winners.

-- The Emergence of British Power in India 1600-1784 - A Grand Strategic Interpretation, by G.J. Bryant.


But the interests of the English and the French in different quarters were then too much in conflict to admit of a cordial settlement. As a matter of fact, a war between the two powers was imminent and its formal declaration was only a question of time. The Court of Directors communicated due notes of warning and advice to the Council in Calcutta and asked them to be well on their guard. [Letters from Court, 31 January and 14 February 1755.] Some positive instructions in this respect were communicated by the Court of Directors to the Council in Calcutta in paras 7-10 of their letter dated 26, March 1755. They emphasized therein the need of mutual harmony and assistance among the three Presidencies. Apprehending that the French might exploit the confused state of affairs at Delhi, after the overthrow of Emperor Ahmad Shah in June 1754, to further their own interests at the cost of those of the English, the Court of Directors asked the Council in Calcutta in their letter dated 16 April 1755 to do the needful for the security of their “trade rights and privileges” against what they described as the “artful designs” of the French. After war had been formally declared on 18 May 1756 the Court despatched information about its course to the Bengal and Madras Councils. They asked the Bengal Council to use all “care and prudence for the future safety of our valuable settlements in Bengal” and even recommended that they should do all in their power “to engage the Nabob [Sirajud Daulah] to give you his protection as the only and most effectual measure for the security of settlement and property". [Letter from Court, 29 December 1756, paras 3, 4 and 25.] The repercussions of the Seven Years’ War on Indian politics were profound. They included two of the decisive battles of Indian history, Plassey and Wandiwash, fought in the course of it. The British capture of Chandernagore in March 1757, followed by the expulsion of the French from Bengal, deprived Sirajud Daulah of the almost certain alliance of the French against the English and thus improved the latter’s position on the eve of the crucial battle of Plassey. As for the battle of Wandiwash, it undoubtedly dealt the severest blow to French political ambitions in India.

Bengal was kept immune from the political effects of the southern wars by Alivardi. But their economic influence could not be wholly averted. The province was very often required to send assistance in the shape of provisions and funds to the south for the successful prosecution of the Company’s military activities. In fact, the needs of the Company’s southern wars were responsible for the origin about this time of one of the forms of economic drain on the resources of Bengal, which developed so much in subsequent years. In December 1748 Alexander Murray, agent for the squadron under Admiral Boscawen's command, requested the Council in Calcutta for two lacs and thirty thousand rupees for His Majesty's service. Taking into consideration their other expenses the Council advanced him only fifty thousand five hundred rupees. The “demands" on the Bengal Presidency "running so high" the Council in Calcutta directed the members of the subordinate factories in Bengal to "desist from drawing any bills of exchange" on them as they "had not money in the treasury to answer them" and also "to be as sparing as possible in their expenses in every respect particularly buildings and repairs”. [Letter to Court, 22 December 1748. paras 9-11.] In February 1749 Captain Thomas Field and Captain John Macnamara, commanders of the Company's ships the Royal George and the Rhoda, were supplied with 3,000 bags of rice each for the use of the garrison of Fort St. David. [Letter to Court, 11 February 1749, para 2.] Fort St. George and Fort St. David also secured supply of gunpowder and soldiers from Bengal. [Letter to Court, 16 January 1752, paras 5-8.] The protracted wars in the south could not but produce adverse effects on the economic condition of Peninsular India as also to some extent on that of other parts. The troubles on the south-eastern coast had "greatly detrimented if not entirely ruined the markets there” so that some goods sent there from Bengal had remained unsold for three or four years. [Letter to Court, 3 September 1753, para 87.] The owners of these goods incurred a loss of forty or fifty per cent. So the Council in Calcutta permitted the Bengal ships to touch at ports other than Fort St. George or Fort St. David, where the scarcity of boats was an additional inconvenience. In June 1755 the Council at Fort St. George complained that the practice was against a standing order of the Company issued in 1734 and that it badly affected the Company's customs. The Council in Calcutta had already requested the Court of Directors not to enforce that standing order “till the times by a more favourable turn admit” of their "complying with the tenour thereof". [Ibid.] They again requested the Court in 1755 to "take this affair once more Into serious consideration” and "to reverse the orders” they had passed prohibiting this practice. [Letter to Court, 8 December 1755, paras 100-04.]

Mutual Intercourse and co-operation among all the Presidencies in all spheres was very much needed, and frequently stressed. In fact, assistance rendered by one Presidency to another in critical moments had much to do in turning the scale in favour of the English. There are copious references in contemporary records to the frequent despatch of reinforcements in men, money and provisions from Bengal to the other Presidencies during the wars in Peninsular India.
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

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Part 2 of 4

European Fortifications and the Nawabs of Bengal

The European trading companies (the English, the French and the Dutch) began the construction of 'fortified' settlements in Bengal during the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, chiefly as a measure of security against possible political disorders in the country. The English also believed that such a "show of power” was "the best way to keep the English in India free from the Natives’ Insults and will most effectually keep off Piscashes [presents] the Consequence of most quarrells”. [Extract from General Letter from the Court to Bengal, 4 Febtuaty,1709. C. R. Wilson, Old Fort William in Bengal, I, p. 76.]

There were two matters which troubled the Court. One was the difficulty which so often occurred with the native ruler, who governed the country round Madras in the name of the King of Golconda. He was called the Nawab and was a most rapacious individual, always looking for presents, (or piscashes) for himself, which were nothing more than bribes. At the same time he demanded increased rent and customs for his sovereign. When his demands were refused, he seized upon the supplies of food and merchandise going into the Fort, half starving the Company's servants with a kind of blockade, and paralyzing trade. The old account books of Fort St. George are studded with items of piscashes given to grasping natives, who were too strong to be resisted. The Directors grudged the expenditure over bribes even more than over fortifications. But it was impossible for the President to assure an independent front with no army at his back. There were actually at that time not enough men to man the guns on the walls; and, much against the grain, conciliatory measured had to be used, when the President would fain have tried the effect of powder and shot.

-- Fort St. George, Madras: A Short History of Our First Possession in India, by Fanny Emily Penny


As a precaution against the repercussions of the political troubles during the Persian incursion of 1738-39, the Maratha incursions into Bengal from 1742 onwards, and the wars in the Deccan, the Court of Directors and the Council in Calcutta thought it highly necessary to strengthen their fortifications in Bengal. In June 1748 the Court sent instructions to the Council in Calcutta "an Order to put the Company’s Possessions and Estate in Bengal in as perfect a State of Security” as possible. They expressed their desire to "have such necessary Works set about in the most Expeditious and Frugal manner that can be conveniently done’’ [C.R. Wilson, Old Fort William in Bengal, p. 206.] and particularly instructed the Council in Calcutta to make all possible efforts to convince the Nawab that these additional fortifications in Calcutta were "calculated only for Self-Defence” and "Security against European Enemys”. [Ibid I, p. 207.] In case the Nawab objected to the construction of the new fortifications, the Council in Calcutta were to let him know that they were acting under the orders of the Court of Directors, that they would stop issuing “any Money for Trade” to the prejudice of his revenues and the trade of the province in general, and that the King of England "having the Protection of the Company greatly at heart, as they may perceive by the Strong Force he hath sent to the East Indies, to chastise the French for their Insolence at Madrass, His Majesty will support the Company in whatever they think fit to do for their further Security.” [C.R. Wilson. op. cit., I, p. 208. "The Strong Force” refers to the expedition under Rear-Admiral Boscawen, who reached Fort St. David on 29 June 1748. Orme, The History of Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan, I pp. 98-100.] It was also suggested that if after all precautions were taken the Nawab still attempted to “Attack or Disturb” the construction then the English would immediately “stop all Navigation upon the River” to the utmost of their “Power in every Branch, Suffering no Vessel or Boat to stir whether Laden or Empty, except such as belong to European Settlements who have a right to give Dusticks [dostaks] or Passes for the River”. [Ibid I, p. 210.]

The Court of Directors were sanguine that on the adoption of these measures the Nawab would “soon come to reason”. But in this they had made an incorrect estimate of Alivardi’s character. As has already been noted, during the Anglo-French conflicts in southern India, Alivardi closely watched the movements of the Europeans so that they might not interfere in the field of politics in Bengal as they had done in the Deccan. Thus, on hearing that the French and the English had begun adding to their fortifications in Chandernagore and Calcutta respectively, he immediately asked them to discontinue these works. He often said to the French and the English vakils, “You are merchants, what need have you of a fortress?” [S.C. Hill, Bengal in 1756-57, III, p. 161.]

Such a view was not acceptable to the English, but practically nothing was done for the time being about fortifications or buildings in Calcutta because the Court of Directors had ordered the Council in Calcutta to form suitable plans for fortifications in consultation with Major Mosman.
[He was appointed Major of the Garrison of Fort William on 25 F.] Mosman reached Calcutta in March 1749, but died of fever on 30 April. In December 1749 the Court of Directors deputed Benjamin Robins as their Engineer-General in India, furnishing him with necessary instructions about the fortifications in Calcutta. Robins reached Calcutta on 11 March 1751, and on the 21st asked the Council to supply him with the materials required for the works with which he had been entrusted. The Council were trying to meet his requirements when he died at Fort St. David on 29 July 1751. In December 1752 the Court of Directors appointed Caroline Frederick Scott their Engineer-General in the East. Though he was to look after all the principal English settlements in the East, the “primary object” of the Court of Directors in appointing him Engineer-General was to arrange for the effective defence and security of Fort William. They ordered on 24 January 1753 that the President of Fort William, the Chief of the English factory at Kasimbazar and Colonel Scott should form a Committee to adopt proper measures for securing permission of the Nawab's government in this respect. To make persuasion more effective, they empowered the Committee to offer presents to the persons in authority in the Nawab’s Court to the maximum of about one hundred thousand current rupees.

Colonel Scott reached Calcutta in September 1753. He drew up a comprehensive plan of fortifications to be implemented over a period of several years, as well as a short-term plan for immediate defence. The Council in Calcutta approved of the latter; so did the Court of Directors, who ordered its execution as soon as possible. The chief features of Scott’s second plan were the completion of the Maratha Ditch, erection of two large redoubts at Perrin’s and Surman’s gardens, that is, the northern and the southern extremities of the British settlement, and the building of stronger defences on the river front of the Fort.

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A redoubt (historically redout) is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, although some are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a hastily constructed temporary fortification. The word means "a place of retreat". Redoubts were a component of the military strategies of most European empires during the colonial era... A redoubt differs from a redan in that the redan is open in the rear, whereas the redoubt was considered an enclosed work...

From 1715 onwards, the Order of Saint John built a number of redoubts in Malta, as part of an effort to improve the coastal fortifications of the islands. They were built in the middle of bays to prevent enemy forces from disembarking and outflanking the coastal batteries.

The design of the redoubts was influenced by ones built in the French colonies. In all, eleven pentagonal redoubts and a few semi-circular or rectangular ones were built....

Four tour-reduits were also built. These were redoubts built in the form of a tower, with rows of musketry loopholes.

-- Redoubt, by Wikipedia


But Scott had to leave Bengal for Madras in response to a request of Saunders and his Council on 18 March 1754, and died there on 12 May. According to the directions left by him, Lieutenant Wells was engaged to carry on his work in Bengal. But Wells died on 18 August 1755, whereupon Bartholomew’ Plaisted was entrusted with the work jointly with O’Hara, an assistant engineer. Haisted was soon dismissed from the Company’s service and O’Hara and Simpson, a subaltern in the army, were employed as engineers. Under their supervision the redoubt at Perrin’s garden was completed and something was done to repair the line of guns on the river front of the Fort, though the fortifications were not made sufficiently strong.

The Court of Directors reiterated in one of their letters to Bengal, dated 29 November 1754, their instructions about securing the permission of the Nawab’s government to fortify Fort William without any obstructions or impediment.” They again suggested the offer of pecuniary inducements to the Nawab or other suitable persons to the maximum of one hundred thousand rupees, and hoped that their efforts would be "attended with success” because of the advanced age of the Nawab and the depleted condition of his exchequer. The Council in Calcutta communicated the suggestions of the Court of Directors to William Watts, Chief at Kasimbazar, in their letter dated 6 August 1755, and asked him for his opinion, which he duly forwarded.

There are some striking points in the Calcutta-Kasimbazar correspondence. We notice therein a strong inclination on the part of the Chief at Kasimbazar and the Council in Calcutta to ignore the instructions of the Court of Directors. They claimed that they had a right to strengthen the fortifications of Calcutta on the strength of an imperial farman [Firmaun, Phirmaund: Order, mandate; an imperial decree, a royal grant, or charter] and that the permission of the Nawab’s government was therefore unnecessary. There is also a clear reference in Watts’ letter to the '“golden” means of bribing a high officer of the Nawab’s government to prevent any possible obstruction to their work. It further says that the Nawab had never “taken the least notice of the ditch cut round Calcutta” or “any other works since carried on there.” But as has been already pointed out, the Nawab was not indifferent to the building of fortifications in Calcutta. He had tolerated the construction of the Maratha ditch and the fortifications at Kasimbazar because of the repeated Maratha inroads into his province. He would not acquiesce in any violations of his authority after the Maratha menace had passed away.

Watts’ contention that the Company had a right to strengthen the fortifications in Calcutta on the basis of an imperial farman [Firmaun, Phirmaund: Order, mandate; an imperial decree, a royal grant, or charter], evidently that granted by Farrukhsiyar in 1716-17, is not supported by the said farman. The fortification of Calcutta after Shova Singh’s rebellion (1696-97) had been carried out with the permission of the then Nawab of Bengal. But the troubles of Alivardi in 1755-56, of which it was quite possible for Watts to be cognisant from the proximity of his residence to Murshidabad, encouraged Watts, and at his suggestion the Council in Calcutta, to express and maintain a point of view which undoubtedly amounted to a defiance of the Nawab’s authority. It is unintelligible why Mr. Holwell regrets, in his letter to Court dated 30 November 1756, that “the favourable moment,” when "everything was in confusion and both parties [Sirajud Daulah and his rivals] were employed on their own schemes and designs”, had not been suitably utilised by the English in Calcutta for the building of fortifications. In fact, during Alivardi’s illness both the French and the English began, without any concealment, to repair and strengthen their fortifications. [S. C. Hill, Bengal in 1756-57, I, xivi.] The Bengal Council wrote to the Court of Directors on 21 February 1756 “of the redoubt at Perrins being nigh completed."


The dying Nawab could not naturally take proper notice of these and Sirajud Daulah must have been occupied in checkmating the ambitious designs of his kinsmen on the subahdarship of Bengal. On receiving information from the Court of Directors of the possibility of the renewal of Anglo-French hostilities, the English in Calcutta “began to put the settlement", as Holwell writes, “into as good a posture of defence as we could" [Holwell’s Letter to Court, 30 November 1756, para 9.] in May 1756.

Military Establishments and Appointments

To meet the exigencies of war or other political troubles the English not only strengthened their defences but also improved their military establishments in India in certain ways. Determined to make the artillery of the three Presidencies much more efficient than before, the Court of Directors issued a circular letter on 17 June 1748, ordering, the formation of a company of artillery in each Presidency on the model of that in the royal service. The offices of the Gunner and of all attached to the Gun-room were abolished. A military store-keeper was appointed to be in charge of the stores which had been so long looked after by the Gunner. A new military establishment was also started at the same time in Calcutta and regulations were framed for the administration of both. On 25 February 1748 James Mosman was appointed Major of the garrison at Fort William in Bengal by the Court on the same terms as Major Lawrence at Fort St. David. The Council in Calcutta informed the Court of Directors on 24 February 1749 that the army in Calcutta would be regulated according to their directions on the arrival of Major Mosman. On coming to Calcutta in March 1749 Mosman took his seat as the third of the Council in Calcutta according to the orders of the Court of Directors, and inspected the Gun-room crew, who were dismissed on 15 March because of the formation of the company of artillery. Mr. Roger Drake took charge of the office of the Military Store-Keeper on 20 March and on the same day the Council in Calcutta directed the commanding officers at Kasimbazar and Dacca to send to the Major a statement of the names of the military officers and a list of ordnance at their respective stations.

In 1751 the ‘regular military establishment’ of the English Company in Calcutta probably consisted of five companies of infantry and one company of artillery. As a precaution against apprehended Maratha onslaughts on Calcutta, the Council had formed on 24 April 1742 a regular militia of the local European, Armenian and Portuguese inhabitants and the Court of Directors had duly approved of these measures.
On 16 January 1752 the Court sent orders for the training of the militia and ordered their formation into two companies. A body of militia was soon, formed in Calcutta with Col. Cruttenden as Commander. [Letter to Court, 1 January 1753, para 14.] Some inhabitants of Calcutta having absented themselves from the militia, the Council in Calcutta decided on 27 November that a list of their names should be affixed at the Fort gates and a notice given that for “non-attendance in future they may expect to meet with proper resentment’’. [ Long, Selections from Unpublished Records of Government I, p. 39.] In 1753 the militia mustered 200 men. Evidently the militia had not been formed according to the instructions sent to the Council in Calcutta by the Court of Directors in their letter dated 16 January 1752, and the latter asked the former on 11 February 1756 to establish a regular militia “for the better defence of the settlement." In his letter to the Court of 30 November 1756, Holwell complained strongly of the inefficiency of the Company’s militia in Calcutta at the time of its capture by Sirajud Daulah.

Military officers with superior commissions were sometimes sent by the Court of Directors from England to India. But the subaltern officers in Bengal soon remonstrated against this practice of sending out annually from Europe gentlemen with military commissions superior to their own; and in February 1755, the Council in Calcutta forwarded their remonstrances to the Court for their favourable consideration. [Letter to Court, 3 February 1755, para 16.] The Court observed in their letter of 11 February 1756 that in view of the complaints of the military officers in the Company’s service regarding their supersession they would not send out anyone that season above the rank of ensign unless circumstances created a real necessity.

Anxious for the safety of the Company’s settlements in India in case of a renewal of conflicts with the French and also as a measure of precaution against any injury to their interests by country powers, the Court of Directors not only sent occasional reinforcements for the Company’s army in the different settlements but also advised the respective Councils to tap useful sources of recruitment in India. The district of Shahabad in Bihar was one such important area of recruitment. The Rajputs settled there were recruited for police and militia duties both by the Nawab’s government in Bengal and the English East India Company and they are referred to in contemporary records as Buxuries (Baksaris).

In 1754 Colonel Scott suggested the recruitment of Rajputs of Bihar. [Letter from Court, 29 November 1754, para 55.] The Court of Directors recommended its careful consideration by the Council in Calcutta and the Bihari Rajputs began to contribute from this time not an inconsiderable quota to the ranks of the East India Company’s Indian troops.


The Squadron of Admiral Watson

Not long after the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the English and the French in India entered into another period of conflict as allies of the rival candidates for succession to the governments of the Deccan and the Carnatic.

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Celebration of the Peace, by Jacques Dumont

The 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, sometimes called the Treaty of Aachen, ended the War of the Austrian Succession, following a congress assembled on 24 April 1748 at the Free Imperial City of Aachen.

The 1740 to 1748 War of the Austrian Succession (German: Österreichischer Erbfolgekrieg) was the last Great Power conflict with the Bourbon-Habsburg dynastic conflict at its heart, and marked the rise of Prussia as a major power. Related conflicts include King George's War, the War of Jenkins' Ear, the First Carnatic War, as well as the First and Second Silesian Wars.

While the pretext was Maria Theresa's right to inherit from her father Emperor Charles VI, in reality France, Prussia and Bavaria saw an opportunity to challenge Habsburg power. Maria Theresa was backed by Britain, the Dutch Republic, and Hanover, collectively known as the Pragmatic Allies. As the conflict widened, it drew in other participants, among them Spain, Sardinia, Saxony, Sweden and Russia.

There were four primary theatres of the war: Central Europe, the Austrian Netherlands, Italy, and on the seas. Prussia occupied Silesia in 1740, then repulsed Austrian efforts to regain it, while between 1745 and 1748, France conquered most of the Austrian Netherlands. Elsewhere, Austria and Sardinia defeated Spanish attempts to regain territories in Northern Italy, while by 1747, the British naval blockade was crippling French trade.

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) reflected this stalemate; the commercial issues that led to the war were left largely unresolved and many of the signatories were unhappy with the terms. Despite nearly bankrupting the state, Louis XV of France withdrew from the Low Countries for minimal benefit, to the dismay of the French nobility and populace. The Spanish considered their gains in Italy inadequate, had failed to recover Menorca or Gibraltar, and viewed the reassertion of British commercial rights in the Americas as an insult.

Although Maria Theresa was acknowledged as her father's heir, she did not consider this a concession and deeply resented Britain's role in forcing her to cede Silesia to Prussia. For British statesmen, the war demonstrated the vulnerability of George II's German possession of Hanover to Prussia, while many politicians considered they had received little benefit from the enormous subsidies paid to Austria.

The result was the realignment known as the Diplomatic Revolution, in which Austria aligned itself with France, marking the end of their centuries-old enmity, and Prussia became an ally of Britain. These new alliances would fight the 1756 to 1763 Seven Years' War.

-- War of the Austrian Succession, by Wikipedia


The two main protagonists in the war, Britain and France, opened peace talks in the Dutch city of Breda in 1746. Agreement was delayed by British hopes of improving their position; when this failed to occur, a draft treaty was agreed on 30 April 1748. A final version was signed on 18 October 1748 by Britain, France, and the Dutch Republic.

The terms were then presented to the other belligerents, who could either accept them, or continue the war on their own. Austria, Spain and Sardinia had little choice but to comply, and signed separately. The Duchy of Modena, and Republic of Genoa joined together on 21 January 1749.

The treaty largely failed to resolve the issues that caused the war, while most of the signatories were unhappy with the terms. Maria Theresa resented Austria's exclusion from the talks, and blamed Britain for forcing her to accept concessions, while British politicians felt they had received little benefit for the financial subsidies paid to her. The combination of factors led to the strategic realignment known as the Diplomatic Revolution, and the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756.

-- Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), by Wikipedia


The Seven Years' War (1756–1763) was a global conflict, "a struggle for global primacy between Britain and France," which also had a major impact on the Spanish Empire. In Europe, the conflict arose from issues left unresolved by the War of the Austrian Succession, with Prussia seeking greater dominance. Long standing colonial rivalries between Britain against France and Spain in North America and the Caribbean islands valuable for sugar were fought on a grand scale with consequential results. In Europe, the war broke out over territorial disputes between Prussia and Austria, which wanted to regain Silesia after it was captured by the former in the previous war. Britain, France, and Spain fought both in Europe and overseas with land-based armies and naval forces, while Prussia sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power.

In a realignment of traditional alliances, known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, Prussia became part of a coalition led by Britain, which also included long-time Prussian competitor Hanover. At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict by allying with France, along with Saxony, Sweden, and Russia. Spain aligned formally with France in 1762. Spain unsuccessfully attempted to invade Britain's ally Portugal, attacking with their forces facing British troops in Iberia. Smaller German states either joined the Seven Years' War or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved in the conflict.

Anglo-French conflict over their colonies in North America had begun in 1754 in what became known in North America as the French and Indian War, a nine-years war that ended France's presence as a land power. It was "the most important event to occur in eighteenth-century North America". Spain entered the war in 1761, joining France in the Third Family Compact between the two Bourbon monarchies. The alliance with France was a disaster for Spain, with the loss to Britain of two major ports, Havana in the Caribbean and Manila in the Philippines, returned in the 1763 Treaty of Paris between France, Spain and Great Britain. In Europe the large-scale conflict that drew in most of the European powers was centered on Austria's desire to recover Silesia from Prussia. The Treaty of Hubertusburg ended the war between Saxony, Austria and Prussia, in 1763. Britain began its rise as the world's predominant colonial and naval power. For a time France's supremacy in Europe was halted until after the French Revolution and the emergence of Napoleon Bonaparte. Prussia confirmed its status as a great power, challenging Austria for dominance within the German states, thus altering the European balance of power...

In India, the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in Europe renewed the long running conflict between the French and the British trading companies for influence on the subcontinent. The French allied themselves with the Mughal Empire to resist British expansion. The war began in Southern India but spread into Bengal, where British forces under Robert Clive recaptured Calcutta from the Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, a French ally, and ousted him from his throne at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. In the same year, the British also captured Chandernagar, the French settlement in Bengal.

In the south, although the French captured Cuddalore, their siege of Madras failed, while the British commander Sir Eyre Coote decisively defeated the Comte de Lally at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760 and overran the French territory of the Northern Circars. The French capital in India, Pondicherry, fell to the British in 1761; together with the fall of the lesser French settlements of Karikal and Mahé this effectively eliminated French power in India.


-- Seven Years' War, by Wikipedia


A contemporary, Edward Ives, tells us that “the French had a far superior number of European troops, and had been so artful as to form connections with the most powerful princes of the country; with these advantages they made so considerable a progress, as greatly to alarm the whole of the English settlements and to fill them with apprehensions, lest the day might come, when Mons. Dupleix’s ambition might be gratified in its utmost extent’’. [Edward Ives, A Voyage from England to India, p. 2.] Even after Dupleix's recall, the prospect of the success of the negotiations between the English and the French East India Companies for a convention with a view to “restoring union between them and putting an end to the troubles on the coast of Choromandel [Coromandel]’’ [Letter from Court, 2 Match 1754, para 17.] was uncertain. As a matter of fact, the English apprehended a quick recrudescence of hostilities with the French. The settlements of the English East India Company in India, therefore, “sent repeated accounts of their disagreeable situation" to the Court of Directors in England, who in their turn petitioned His Majesty’s Government for military help to safeguard the Company’s interests in India. [Ives, op. cit. p. 2.]

In response to this appeal, His Majesty was “most graciously pleased to order a squadron of his ships with a body of land forces on board to proceed to the East Indies’’. [Letter from Court, 2 Match 1754, para 2.] The squadron, commanded by Charles Watson, Rear Admiral of the Blue, was composed as follows:


Ships / Commanders / Guns

Kent / Henry Speke / 64 [70 according to Ives.]
Eagle / George Pocock / 60
Salisbury / Thomas Knowle / 50
Bristol / Thomas Latham / 50
Bridgwater / William Martin / 24
Sloop Kingfisher / Best Mighel / 16


The land forces, placed under the command of Colonel John Adlercron, comprised “815 men, officers included” of his regiment of infantry and a detachment of 78 men from the Royal Train of Artillery, the latter being under the command of Lieutenant William Hislop. [Letter from Court, 2 March 1754, para 3.]

Although the destination of the squadron and the land forces was Coromandel Coast, yet considering that there might be occasions for their presence at other settlements of the English, the Court issued suitable instructions for their reception. They instructed the Council in Calcutta on 2 March 1754 to behave properly towards all belonging to His Majesty’s squadron and the land forces and to give them “all necessary help and assistance” in the matter of money, stores, provisions and accommodation. [Ibid., paras 5-12.]

Swiss Companies and Captain Polier

During the wars in Peninsular India the Court of Directors had sent to India four companies of Swiss troops, each composed of 100 men. Their services were utilised particularly against the French. Orme refers to the arrival at Madras in 1752 of two Swiss companies commanded by Swiss captains. [Orme, A History of the Military Transactions of the British in Indostan I, p. 255.] When the French had reached the proximity of Fort St. David in 1752, a company of the Swiss under Captain Schaub was sent on boats from Madras to intercept them. But they were captured by some Frenchmen sent by Dupleix on a vessel from Pondicherry and were detained there as prisoners of war. Immediately on hearing this news, Major Lawrence embarked for Fort St. David with another party of Swiss troops under Captain Gaupp. [Lawrence, A Narrative of the War on the Coromandel Coast, p. 34.]

Captain Paul Philip Polier was the commander of one such company. The services of his company were for some time transferred from Madras to Bengal, most probably in 1752. [Letter to Court, 11 February 1753, para. 61.] On 11 January 1753 he presented himself before the Council in Calcutta and informed the members that his men were daily deserting that place, and that sixteen of them, some belonging to his own town and enjoying his greatest confidence, had already gone. He observed that the French (at Chandernagore) seduced them by indirect means and sent them to Pondicherry, the "open situation” of Calcutta making it impossible for him to prevent their flight. He proposed to take back his officers and men to the southern coast, where he hoped to take effective steps against such occurrences and to render better service to the English Company. [Letter to Court, 15 January 1753, para 4.] Polier joined Major Lawrence with 100 soldiers on 1 April 1753. With this reinforcement Lawrence wished to storm the French camp at Trivadi, but on arriving at Trichinopoly on 6 May 1753 found that, among others, one sergeant and fifteen men of a Swiss company had deserted his detachment. But Polier and his party remained faithful, though, they unknowingly committed a tactical military blunder. On 12 May 1754 Polier commanded some British troops as well. While he was trying to assist one detachment under Captain Caillaud, the French “disabled one of his field pieces” as also one of Caillaud’s. Polier’s battalion served in the army under Colonel Alexander Heron during its march from Madura towards the end of May 1755. Advised by the Madras Council to return to Arcot, the Nawab of the Carnatic left Trichinopoly for his capital on 9 July 1755, accompanied by an escort of 300 Europeans and 1,000 sepoys under the command of Polier. Towards the end of 1755, the Court of Directors decided to stop the recruitment of men from Switzerland for the four Swiss companies and to put them on an equal footing with the English companies in all respects, except that a Swiss company was to be limited to 140 men. Captain Polier, being the oldest of the Swiss military officers in India, was given a new commission investing him with the seniormost rank among them. [Letter from Court, 11 February 1756, para. 113.]

THE REVOLT OF THE TROOPS: OCTOBER 1759

The troops who were protecting Pondicherry revolted. It was not one of those stormy mutinies which begin without reason and end in the same way. Necessity seemed to cast them into it: it was the only way left to them to get paid and have enough to eat. “Give us" they said, “our bread and our pay, or we shall go and ask the English for it.” The soldiers in the corps wrote to the General that they would wait for four days, but that, at the end of that time, all their resources being exhausted, they would leave for Madras...

Whatever the case may be, it was necessary to find money: in India, sedition is not appeased by words. The Director of the Treasury, named Boyelau, gave up the little gold and silver that remained with him. The Chevalier of Crillon lent four thousand rupees; M. de Gadeville the same amount. Lalli, who happily had fifty thousand francs with him, gave them, and even persuaded the Jesuit, Lavour, his secret enemy, to lend thirty-six thousand pounds in silver, which he was keeping for his own use or for his missions, the whole being repayable by the Company when it was in a position to do so. They owed the troops six months' pay, and the pay was high: it amounted to more than a crown per day for every horseman and thirteen sous a day for the soldiers. These may be small details, but we believe that they are necessary.

22ND JANUARY 1760

The revolt was only quietened at the end of seven days, and the good-will of the soldiers was weakened by it. The English came back to the fatal spot, Wandewash: they waged a second battle there which they won completely. M. de Bussi, the man who was the most indispensable to the colony and the army, was taken prisoner there, and then everyone despaired.

ANOTHER REVOLT

After this defeat, the cavalry revolted again, and wanted to go over to the side of the English, preferring to serve the victors, who were sure to pay them, rather than the vanquished who still owed them a large part of their pay. The General brought them back a second time with his money but he could not prevent the desertion of a number of horsemen. [What is the reason of this mad desire to desert? Does love of one’s country get lost the further away one travels? The soldier, who yesterday fired on his enemies, tomorrow fires on his compatriots. A new duty has arisen: to kill other men or be killed by them. But why were there so many Swiss in the English troops, and not one in the French? Why was it that, among these Swiss, united to France by so many treaties, were found so many officers and soldiers who had served the English against France in the same way in America and Asia? What is the reason that in Europe, even during peace time, thousands of French have deserted their flag to take this same foreign pay? The Germans also desert, but the Spaniards only rarely; the English hardly at all. It is unheard of for a Turk or a Russian to desert. During the retreat of the Hundred Thousand, in the midst of the greatest dangers and the most discouraging hardships, not one Greek deserted. They were only mercenaries, officers as well as soldiers, who had sold themselves to the young Cyrus, to a rebel and a usurper. It is the task of the reader, and above all of the enlightened military, to find the cause and the remedy of this contagious malady, commoner to the French than other nations for many years, both in peace and war. (V.)]

-- Voltaire Fragments on India, Translated by Freda Bedi, B.A. Hons. (Oxon.)


The Company’s Servants

The Company’s servants in Bengal were paid low salaries. [In 1712 their salaries, as given by Wilson in his Early Annals of the English in Bengal Part I, pp. 82-83, were as follows: — President and Governor Rs. 1,600 per annum; Senior Merchant Rs. 320 per annum; Junior Merchant Rs. 240 per annum; Factor Rs. 120 per annum; Writer Rs. 40 per annum.] But they made large fortunes through private trade, and indulged in various luxuries and extravagances to which the Court of Directors were strongly opposed. With a view to maintaining the efficiency and integrity of the public services the Directors sought to regulate the conduct of their servants in all respects. In 1749-50 they complained of the “spirit of gaming” that was reported to prevail among their servants in Bengal. To this the Council in Calcutta replied in February 1750 that had they “ever observed the least appearance of this vice” they would have "suppressed it in its infancy” and assured the Court that they would henceforth punctually obey their orders in this respect. [Letter to Court, 25 February 1750, para 8.] The Court of Directors suspected the prevalence of other kinds of abuses also among their servants in Bengal. Thus in their letter of 24 January 1753 they accused them of being “underhand concerned in the contracts for the Investment.” The Council in Calcutta pleaded that this charge was based on false reports of a “malicious nature” and assured the Court that they would do their utmost to check “extravagant and expensive” ways of living among the servants, whose high expenses were due to the dearness of all kinds of provisions and not to “uncommon extravagancies”. They also observed that they would regard it as an act of the “greatest favour” on the part of the Court if the latter took into consideration the “small allowances” received by their servants and did whatever appeared to them to be just in that matter. [Letter to Court, 3 September 1753, paras 61 and 70.] Whatever might be the pleas of the members of the Council in Calcutta to screen themselves and their subordinates, there is no doubt that their ways of living were in certain respects not above reproach. Early in 1754 the Court of Directors sent to the Council a strong note reiterating their previous warning against “prevailing licentiousness” among their servants in Bengal, and also forwarded to them some positive commands for the regulation of their “morals and manner of life.” [Letter from Court, 23 January 1754, paras 80-81.] As a luxurious style of living still prevailed among their servants of all ranks in Bengal, the Court asked the Council to take proper steps to check and prevent it. The remittance of large sums of money to England by the commanders of ships through bills of exchange on the Company led the Court to suspect that these were the ‘produce of illicit trade’ and so the Council in Calcutta were asked to take an oath from each commander to the effect that his money was earned through legitimate means. [Letter from Court, 31 January 1755, paras 100 and 111.]

In 1757 the salaries were:

President and Governor Rs. 1,600 per annum
Member of Council Rs. 320 per annum
Senior Merchant Rs. 320 per annum
Junior Merchant Rs. 240 per annum
Factor Rs. 120 per annum
Doctor Rs. 288 per annum
Writer Rs. 40 per annum


All but the Doctors and the Writers also got gratuities in various capacities. They had other sources of income such as perquisites and profits of private trade. (Long, Selections from Unpublished Records, pp. 101-03).

The Court also complained that an “unaccountable negligence appears to have taken strong possession of almost all our servants” and attributed to this the omission on the part of the latter "to send the usual and necessary books and papers”. [Letter from Court, 23 January 1754, para 94.] They again observed in 1755 that the accounts were not "exact and methodical”. Suspecting that it was a common practice at all the subordinate factories to present wrong accounts, and to conceal the real amount of allowances granted to the chiefs and other important officers, the Council in Calcutta directed each factory in 1754 to specify "in the plainest manner and under their real heads in their accounts all disbursements, allowances, and charges whatever” for their inspection and approval. [Letter to Court 7 December 1754, para 142.] They agreed to pay the Sub-Accountant and the Accountant-General 250 sicca rupees each per annum and considered payment to the Registrar of the Mayor’s Court at the same rate, on his representation that the new regulations for receiving deposits in the Company’s treasury had increased his work.

At the end of January 1755, the Court of Directors emphasized the need of the “utmost attention” to the conduct of their servants at the subordinate factories whom they suspected of being "unfaithfully” interested in investments at the cost of the Company. For due control over these servants, the Court ordered the immediate formation of a Supervising Committee consisting of the President, Charles Manningham, Richard Becher, and John Zephaniah Holwell. This Committee was to "enquire into the manner of making the investments and the management in general at the subordinate settlements” and into the conduct of their servants employed at those places. [Letter from Court, 31 January I755, paras 56-61.] Taking into consideration the necessity of entrusting the management of the Company’s affairs at the subordinate factories to men of experience, the Court made it a standing rule that there should be among their servants at Kasimbazar two members of the Council and at least one senior merchant, at Dacca one member of the Council and a senior merchant, and at Jagdia or wherever the Jagdia settlement was shifted one of the "best qualified” servants next below the rank of a member of the Council. [Ibid, para 63.] The Court also ordered the formation of a Committee of Accounts "to prevent any frauds and irregularities which are and may be covered or unobserved by this loose manner of passing accounts.” They, however, felt that for due enforcement of all their rules and directions, and for effective management of their affairs, it was necessary to invest the President with sufficient powers as the “general inspector and supervisor of the whole machine” and so asked the Council to attend properly to whatever the President proposed to do for controlling the servants of all ranks and for management of the Company’s affairs. The directions communicated by the Court were to apply to all the subordinate settlements. [Letter from Court, 31 January 1755, paras 101-03.]

The Court at the same time favoured the encouragement by due rewards of such of their servants as proved themselves worthy by virtue of their “abilities, integrity and zealous endeavours to serve the Company”. [Ibid, para 95.] Thus Charles Manningham, who discharged his duty as Export Warehouse-keeper greatly to their satisfaction, was granted by them a personal allowance of four thousand current rupees a year “in lieu of all fees, rewards or perquisites whatsoever as Export Warehouse-keeper” besides his salary as a member of the Council. [Ibid, para 92.]

Early in 1754 the Court of Directors sent some writers to the Bengal establishment, and to put a stop to what they considered the “pernicious custome of employing black people” in writing business, directed the Council in Calcutta to ensure that all their servants were “regularly and constantly employed in their respective stations particularly the younger sort”. [Letter from Court, 23 January 1754, paras 75-7.] The Council in Calcutta instructed the heads of their several offices to insist on their assistants attending to their respective duties from 9 to 12 in the forenoon and also, when necessary, in the afternoon as well as evening. [Letter to Court, 7 December 1754, para 143.]

In their letter to the Council of 24 January 1753, the Court suggested the occasional transfer of the junior servants in rotation from one factory to another. The Council, however, observed in their letter of 3 September 1753 that this practice would cause serious inconveniences and decided not to take any action until further orders of the Court were received in this matter. The arguments of the Council were considered unsatisfactory by the Court who ordered them in 1755 to put into execution their previous directions relating to this affair. [Letter from Court, 31 January, 1755, para 97.] To enable all the servants to “acquire a knowledge of Investment” the Court ordered that every junior servant of the Company should be employed for some time in the kotha. [Ibid, para 96.] The Council in Calcutta accordingly directed all their servants above the rank of writers to “attend the cottah every cottah day in order to acquire a knowledge of the Investment”, constituted several committees, and transmitted to the respective factories relevant portions of the Court’s orders. They also granted the Head Assistant at the cutcherry the same salary as the Deputies of other offices, that is 500 sicca rupees per annum. [Letter to Court, 11 September 1755, para 33.]

Mayor's Court

In 1726 the British Crown established, by letters patent, Mayor’s Courts at Bombay and Calcutta, and remodelled the one at Madras. Each of these courts was to consist of a Mayor and nine Aldermen, seven of whom were to be “natural born British subjects”. These courts were to be courts of record, and were authorised “to try, hear and determine all civil suits, actions, and pleas between party and party.” [Cowell, History and Constitution of the Courts and Legislative Authorities in India, (sixth edition revised by S.C Bagchi, Calcutta (1936), pp. 14-15.] The Governor and his Council in a Presidency were to constitute a Government Court of Record competent to hear appeals from the Mayor’s Court. Appeals in cases involving sums above 1,000 pagodas lay from the Government Court to the King in Council. The Government Court was also to be a Court of Oyer and Terminer and to hold Quarter Sessions for trial of all cases except high treason. The Mayor’s Courts were authorised to give probates and exercise testamentary jurisdiction. The Court of Directors observed in their letter dated 17 February 1727: “This Charter being principally design’d for the Government and benefits of Europeans, and many of the Natives who live with you having peculiar Customs of their own, we are willing they should still enjoy them, so as they live quietly and do nothing that tends to publick disturbance or breaking into the settled Rules of the Place. You must continue to be as hitherto you have been very careful to avoid as much as possible the putting any of the Moors to Death, unless the Crime be of a very high nature such as Murther and Piracy and the proofs there of be very positive and plain ....." When the Council in Calcutta requested the Mughal Government to grant them “power to punish the Mogul’s Subjects with Death” they were told in reply that “the Company’s Charter could not extend to them who were Subjects to another Prince”. [Bengal Past and Present Vol. VIII p. 13; Ibid, p. 16.]

The Royal Charter of 8 January 1753 remodelled the Mayor’s Courts at Bombay and Calcutta in order to remove the defects of which the Company had complained. It also created Courts of Requests at these two places for the trial of cases “where the debt duty or matter in dispute should not exceed five pagodas.” This Charter of 1753 excluded from the jurisdiction of the Mayor’s Courts all suits between Indians “unless by consent of the parties” concerned.
[Cowell, op. cit., p. 16.] It also transferred the power of appointing Aldermen to the President and Council. The Mayor's Courts were each to present annually two members of their body to the President and Council who were to select one of them as Mayor for the ensuing year. [Bengal: Past and Present, Vol. VIII p. 18.] Thus the personnel of the Mayor's Courts came to be composed of the nominees of the Governor and Council and were subject to their influence.

On receipt of the Court’s letter of 24 January 1753, relating to the Charter of that year, the Council in Calcutta promulgated the Charter on 5 October, and appointed twelve Commissioners for the Court of Requests. [For their names, vide Bengal: Past and Present, Vol. VIII, p. 25.] As the Charter directed that all suits under five pagodas should be tried in the Court of Requests they ordered that the “Zemindar should not take cognizance of any disputes of property under 20 current rupees, to prevent the jurisdiction of the cutcherry [Zamindar’s court] and that Court from interfering with each other and creating continual contests between them." Three members of the Mayor's Court being absent at the time the Charter reached Calcutta, the Council appointed Messrs. Valicourt, Verelst and Fullerton Aldermen in their places. [Letter to Court, 4 January 1754, paras 140-51.]

Holwell informed the Council in Calcutta on 6 May 1754 that as the Charter of 1753 had “put a stop to the application of Indian natives to the Mayor's Court in disputes among themselves" they had begun to follow the practice of assigning over their notes or bonds to European, Portuguese or Armenian inhabitants of Calcutta, which in his opinion was against the true “intent and meaning” of the said Charter and prejudiced the Company’s 'etlack' ["Under the Mohammadan government, fees paid by suitors on the decision of their causes; also a fee exacted from a defendant as wages for a peon stationed over him as soon as a complaint was preferred against him". Wilson A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms, p. 346.] (itlaq) and commission. Taking all these points into consideration, the Council issued a notification that by resorting to this practice in future one would subject himself to their “severest resentment”. [Letter to Court, 9 September 1754, para 40.]

The Calcutta court was not much of a success during the first fifty years of its existence. This is apparent from a discussion on its reform in 1802. [Notes on the defects or the court of requests at Calcutta, by Sir John Austruther, Chief Justice of the Calcutta Supreme Court, Bengal Civil Judicial Consultations, 18 March 1802, No. 12.] The fundamental defect of the court as formed in 1753, arose out of its constitution by unpaid commissioners. The court's sittings were extremely laborious and prolonged, often stretching up to five hours a day. It made the commissioners reluctant to undertake this exertion for which no monetary compensation was to be had. As a result, in spite of there-being twenty-four commissioners on roll, it was always found difficult even to secure the attendance of three, the minimum required to constitute the quorum. It was only by making personal approaches to some of the younger commissioners of his acquaintance that the clerk of the court was able to procure the minimum attendance necessary to form the court. [Ibid.]

As such, commissioners who were employed otherwise by the company were unable to spare enough time for the court's business, the court gradually came to be constituted by old civilians out of employment or by young Englishmen who never had any. Devotion or responsibility towards the business of the court could be expected from neither.

Out of the irregularity and laxity in the procedure of the court arose enormous abuses which rendered it more an instrument of fraud and exploitation, than that of justice. [Ibid.] The peons, amlas and clerks of the court found it easy to indulge in all sorts of corrupt practices, much to the harassment of the parties trying to seek redress from the court. Among the many malpractices prevailing in the court that Austruther listed, were:

[T]hat many (defendants) complained that actions were brought and decrees passed against them, of which they had no notice, and by plaintiffs of whom they had never heard; others (complained) that they had attended their cause from day to day to no purpose, but the instant they were gone, the decree (was) passed against them: ... still others (complained) that the causes were (actually) decided by the Amlas after the Commissioners had gone; and that nothing was to be done without bribing the peons or their mates; that summons were issued in the names of fictitious plaintiffs, which were left in the hands of the peons for an indefinite time and were used as a means for harassing persons with names similar to that of the supposed defendants, ... and that the summons contained no definite time for appearance, with the result that the party had to keep attending every day ..., till their cause was called out by the native officers of the Court, who in fictitious suits (brought either by themselves or with their connivance), always cared to have the decree passed in the absence of the defendant. [Ibid.]

Coleman, the clerk of the court, informed Austruther, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Calcutta, that of an average of about 3,000 causes instituted monthly over the preceding four years, at least one third had been entirely fictitious. [Ibid.]

The plaintiffs, on the other hand, complained that the court's decrees were of no avail, because either they were not executed in consequence of the bribe given to the peons by the debtors, or, if they were, the money obtained was fraudulently appropriated by the vakeels and peons of the court. Thus, Austruther observed:

When the amount was paid into the Court, nothing was more common than for the Vakeels to impersonate the real plaintiff and receive the money, and when the real plaintiff came, the amlas were always ready to swear that they were (sic) witness to the receipt (of the decreed amount by the plaintiff) ...... [Ibid.]

-- Evolution of the Small Cause Courts in India -- 1753-1887 with Special Reference to the Presidency Court at Calcutta, by Chittaranjan Sinha, M.A., B.L. (Patna), Ph.D. (Lond.).


Clashes between the Mayor’s Court and the Zamindar’s Court in Calcutta regarding their respective jurisdictions could not always be prevented despite the Council’s efforts. One such clash occurred in May 1755 concerning a decree passed by the Zamindar’s Court on a complaint lodged with it by a European and a ‘Fringy’ against another ‘Fringy’. The matter being referred by Holwell to the Council in Calcutta, the majority there were of opinion that “as it had been the constant practice of the cutcherry to receive complaints from Europeans against natives, the Zemindar might continue to take cognizance of and decide upon causes of property where a European, Fringy or Armenian were complainant against natives as his decision by no means oblige the parties or prevent them from applying to the Mayor's Court afterwards” but that “the Zemindar had no right to determine upon matters of dispute between any Europeans, Fringys, and Armenians” as the Council “esteemed them to have the same title to the benefit of His Majesty’s Charter, as British subjects themselves while they lived under our protection”. [Letter to Court, 8 December 1755, para 141.]

The Company as Zamindar

In 1698 the English East India Company had obtained on the strength of letters granted by Prince Azimus-Shan, Subahdar of Bengal, the right of renting the three towns of Calcutta, Sutanati and Govindapur for an annual payment of about 1,200 rupees. For discharging the duties connected with the ‘Zamindar rights' thus gained, the Company appointed in 1700 a special officer known as the Collector (or the Zamindar), Ralph Sheldon being the first Collector of Calcutta. The Collector was to “gather in the revenue of the three towns and to keep them in order”, for which, in accordance with zamindari customs, he exercised till 1758 both civil and criminal justice through some zamindari courts established in Calcutta. The Collector had under him an Indian deputy, styled the ‘Black Collector'. Govindaram Mitra held this post for over thirty years till he was dismissed for some malpractices by orders of the Court dated 16 January 1752.

In January 1752 the Court of Directors appointed Holwell to the post of Zamindar or Collector of Calcutta, and he assumed charge of this office in July 1752. On 20 July, he charged Govindaram with “heavy fraude” in the management of the Company's revenues, particularly in farming out the bazars in Calcutta, and moved in the Council that he should “give good security for his appearance”. Omichand was allowed to become his “personal security” for six months. [Letter to Court, __ September 1752, paras 85-88.] On 13 and 17 August, Holwell demanded that Govindaram Mitra should be kept in “close confinement’’. This was not done but Govindaram had to pay Rs. 3,397-10-6 to the Company’s treasury. [Letter to Court, 3 September 1753, para 78.] Subsequently the farmers of the ‘gunge* (ganj) were summoned by the Council and asked whether Govindaram Mitra was ever “concerned with or under them in that farm, which they respectively declared he never was directly or indirectly”. As demanded by Holwell in his letter to the Council of 25 November 1754, Govindaram Mitra took a solemn oath on 30 January 1755 that the “accounts he had delivered in of the bazars he had farmed were just and true accounts, and that he had never farmed the gunge directly or indirectly”. He was, however, required, according to the orders of the Court of Directors, to repay with interest the profits amounting to Rs. 4,875 “which he had made on the farms he had held by his own accounts” from October 1752. [Letter to Court, 3 February 1755, para 14.]

By increasing the revenues of the Company in Calcutta to “a very considerable amount without imposing any new duties” and by discharging his duties ably Holwell earned the good opinion of the Court of Directors, who expressed their determination to support him in all his endeavours to serve the Company. The Court also urged the Council to examine, without further delay, the working of the office of Zamindar and to consider if, in view of its very complicated nature involving the discharge of various duties, it would not be advisable to divide it into several branches, each being placed in charge of one man. The Council were further required to inform the Court as to which “duties or fines” appeared to be “particularly grievous upon the poorer sort of people’’. [Letter from Court, 31 January 1755, paras 73, 75-77.]
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Fri Nov 13, 2020 10:46 am

Part 3 of 4

The Armenians in Bengal

The Armenians had established their first settlement in Bengal at Saidabad near Murshidabad in 1665, on the strength of a Mughal imperial farman, and since then they had trading concerns in different parts of the province. In 1748 two vessels of the Armenians, on their way to Bengal from [illegible] and Basra, were captured by the English. The Armenians appealed to Nawab Alivardi for redress whereupon the latter “ordered Peons on all their (English) Gomastahs at the Aurungs [Aurung: The place where goods are manufactured] and stopped the boats which were bringing down their goods’’. [Long, Selections from Unpublished Records, I, p. 12.] The Nawab also wrote a ‘menacing' letter to Governor Harwell in Calcutta charging the English with piracy, demanding immediate delivery of the captured goods and effects and threatening chastisement in the event of their non-compliance with his orders. Barwell replied that the goods had been seized by a King’s ship not subject to his control, and that the French, then at war with the English, had captured some goods of the Armenians, wrongly considering these as the property of their enemy.

Not satisfied with this reply the Nawab adopted stern measures against the English traders at Kasimbazar and elsewhere.
Acting on the instructions of the Council in Calcutta, Wadham Brooke, Chief of the English factory at Kasimbazar, tried to conciliate the Nawab through some of his officers and the Seths of Murshidabad. [Letter to Court, 10 August 1749, paras 25-26.] But the Nawab pressed the English to give satisfaction to the Armenians. At last some leading Armenian merchants stated in a darbar of the Nawab held on 15 October 1749 that they had received satisfaction for the losses they had suffered by the capture of their vessels. The Company also paid a “large sum’’ to the Nawab and his officers. It was only then that the Nawab passed orders removing the restraints he had imposed on their trade. [Letter to Court, 13 January 1749-50 para 109.] The Council in Calcutta felt that they were entitled to reimbursement for this amount. So on 28 December 1749 they summoned before them all the Armenians living in Calcutta and asked them to “make good the same”. The Armenians replied that they were not in any way concerned, and on 9 January 1750 the Council felt that, as it was not possible to prove the complicity of these Armenians, they could not be legally compelled to comply with the Company’s demand. They also realised the inadvisability of expelling the Armenians from Calcutta, as the French at Chandernagore would then readily afford them protection and the English Company would incur the loss of 5 per cent customs payable by the Armenians on the export of raw silk and other goods to the Coromandel Coast. The Council, however, suggested to the Court of Directors that the Armenians living in Calcutta should, like the covenanted servants of the Company, the free merchants, and others who lived under the protection of the Company’s flag, be required to pay consulage on their exports. [Letter to Court, 13 January 1749-50, para 151.] The Court approved, and the Council in Calcutta demanded payment of consulage from the Armenians. [Letter to Court, 20 August 1751, para 109.] But the Armenians in Calcutta delivered a letter to the Council on 21 November 1751 stating that they imported goods by virtue of a farman granted to them by the ‘Great Mogul’ for which they annually paid 7 per cent duty and that they did not use dastaks [dusticks: Passes for the river] of the English Company to import goods. They requested the Council to defer demanding consulage from them till further orders were received on this point from the Court of Directors. The Council again referred this matter to the Court of Directors but meanwhile insisted on payment of the consulage. In January 1755 the Court reiterated their former orders in favour of realising consulage from the Armenians on the ground that they enjoyed the ‘benefits’ of the English Company’s protection.

Sirajud Daulah and the English

Early in May 1752 Alivardi declared Sirajud Daulah, in whom he lived and moved and had his being, as his successor. The relations of the Europeans in Bengal with Sirajud Daulah were cordial in 1752. In that year, during his stay at Hooghly, Sirajud Daulah “was visited by the French and Dutch Governors with a present equivalent to his dignity”. As suggested by the faujdar [Fowzdaar: Under the Mughals it was an office that combined the functions of a military commander along with judicial and land revenue functions] of Hooghly and by Khwajah Wajid [Wazeed], one of the principal merchants of Bengal who resided at Hooghly, the Council in Calcutta “judged it highly necessary to pay the Nabob the compliment required”. Accordingly, the President, Roger Drake, accompanied by Cruttenden, Becher and the Commandant, visited Sirajud Daulah at Hooghly in the beginning of the third week of September 1752. They were received there, as the Council in Calcutta expressed, “with the utmost politeness and distinction far superior than was paid the French or Dutch’’. [Letter to Court, 18 September 1752, para 112.] Appreciating this cordiality of Sirajud Daulah, the Court of Directors observed in their letter to the Council of 23 January 1754 that they should lose no opportunity of “improving the favourable opinion he seems to entertain of the English nation”. [Para 60.] In another letter, dated 29 November 1754, the Court significantly noted that the “Country Government” (Nawab’s government) had “always shown more preferable marks of favour to the English than to the other European nations". [Para 5.] In the course of three years, however, Bengal became the scene of a sanguinary contest between Sirajud Daulah and the English. The years 1756-57 formed, indeed, a critical juncture in Bengal’s history.

Some are of opinion that Sirajud Daulah was guilty of perpetrating acts of violence and cruelty on the English without any cause. He has been accused of unprovoked acts of aggression, committed in compliance with what Holwell describes as the “death-bed instructions” of Alivardi to “destroy the forts and garrisons of the Europeans and to reduce their trade on the footing of the Armenians". [Holwell's Letter to Court, 30 November 1756, para 18.] But Holwell's testimony is not unimpeachable. Though possessed of ability, Holwell had neither integrity nor veracity. He was accustomed to fabricating facts and inventing stories to vindicate his own point of view. Positive evidence of some English contemporaries of Holwell, all of whom were then in the service of the Company in Bengal (Watts, Chief of the English factory at Kasimbazar, Mathew Collet, second of the Council at Kasimbazar, and Richard Becher, Chief of the Company’s factory at Dacca), proves that his story of the anti-European death-bed speech of Alivardi is a veritable concoction. There are references also in some 18th century Persian works which show that Alivardi had no such evil motive as Holwell imputed to him. [K. K. Datta, Alivardi and His Times, p. 163.] Besides questioning the genuineness of Holwell’s statement, Richard Becher expresses the view that “the English had given Sur Raja Doula sufficient provocation to make him their enemy without any need of his grandfather’s advice”. [S. C. Hill, Bengal in 1756-57, II. p. 162.]

In fact, a quarrel between Sirajud Daulah and the English East India Company had become inevitable because of the conflicting interests of the two. During the last days of his grandfather, Sirajud Daulah protested against certain acts of the English in Bengal as likely to prejudice the authority of the Nawab’s government. He justly accused them of conspiring with the rival party which, under the leadership of Shahamat Jang’s [Shaw Amet Jung] widow, Ghasiti Begam, and her chief diwan, Raj Ballabh [Raagbullob], was opposing his claims to the subahdarship. According to M. Jean Law, they, like some others, were “led away by the idea that he could not have sufficient influence to get himself recognised as Subahdar’’. [Hill op. cit., III, p. 16.] They were even suspected of having “an understanding" with Shaukat Jang [Shoucutjun, Nabob of Purranea], Nawab of Purnea -- another rival of Sirajud Daulah. [Ibid, pp. 163-64.] Counting on the success of Sirajud Daulah’s rivals and with a view to securing the favour of Raj Ballabh [Raagbullob], one of their leaders, the Council in Calcutta, at the request of Watts, Chief of the English factory at Kasimbazar, gave shelter to Raj Ballabh’s son Krishnadas (Krishna Ballabh) [Kissendass], who had fled to Calcutta in March 1756 with his family and wealth on the pretext of a pilgrimage to Jagannath [Jaggernaut] at Puri. [Letter to Court from Becher and some others, 18 July 1756; Holwell’s Letter to Court, 30 November 1756.]

All this strengthened Sirajud Daulah’s suspicions and he reported to Alivardi about a fortnight before his death in the presence of Dr. Forth, surgeon of the Kasimbazar factory, who was attending on the Nawab, that the English intended to support Ghasiti Begam. Questioned by the Nawab regarding this charge, Dr. Forth described it as a ‘malicious report’ on the part of their enemies and disclaimed any intention on the part of the Company to interfere in political matters. [Hill, op, cit., II, pp. 65-66.]

But this did not satisfy Sirajud Daulah. He levelled three definite charges against the English. The first was that they had “built strong fortifications and dug a large ditch in the King’s dominions contrary to the established laws of the country”. The second was that they had “abused the privilege of their dustucks by granting them to such as were no ways entitled to them, from which practices the King has suffered greatly in the revenue of his Customs". The third complaint was that they had given “protection to such of the King’s subjects as have by their behaviour in the employ they were entrusted with made themselves liable to be called to an account and instead of giving them up on demand they allow such persons to shelter themselves within their bounds from the hands of justice”.
He expressed his intention to “pardon their fault and permit their residence here” if they “will promise to remove the foregoing complaints of their conduct and will agree to trade upon the same terms as other merchants did in the times of the Nabob Jaffier Cawn [Murshid Quli Jafar Khan] [Jaffier Cawn]”. [Nawab's letter to Khwajah Wajid, 1 June 1756; Hill, op. cit., I, p. 4.] A careful scrutiny of the relevant contemporary documents shows that these charges were not baseless. The Council in Calcutta had attempted to improve their fortifications in defiance of the authority of the Nawab's government during the fatal illness of Alivardi. Even if it be argued that no new works of fortification had been undertaken at that time, and that Sirajud Daulah had received false or fabricated reports regarding the preparations of the English and the French, there cannot be any doubt as to their efforts to strengthen such constructions as had already been completed and to carry out certain repairs. Sirajud Daulah was not content to remain a silent spectator in this matter. Like Murshid Quli Jafar Khan and Alivardi Khan, he felt that it would not be advisable to allow the Europeans to build strong fortifications within his dominions, as this would adversely affect his own authority. In view of the military and political exploits and successes of the Europeans in southern India and the virtual subordination of the rulers of Hyderabad and Arcot to their control Sirajud Daulah, like his grandfather, thought it necessary to take adequate precautions for the prevention of European interference in Bengal politics. [Hill, op. cit. III, p. 384.] The Carnatic episodes must have greatly influenced his policy towards the Europeans in Bengal.

It would be incorrect to say that Sirajud Daulah forbade the English to add to their fortifications out of a special bias against them. He wished to enforce the same injunction on the other European nations as well. Even Holwell states: “though liberty of trade is granted to the Danes and Prussians, yet they are prohibited fortifications or garrisons”. [Letter to Court, 30 November 1756.] Sirajud Daulah simultaneously ordered the French at Chandernagore and Drake, the English Governor in Calcutta, to desist from building fortifications at their respective settlements. The former were able to satisfy him. [Hill, op. cit. III, p. 165.] But he became “extremely disgusted” [Ibid, III, p. 394.] at Drake’s reply to the effect that the English were not “erecting any new fortifications” but were only repairing the wharf and that the report of their digging a new ditch was a pure concoction by their enemies, there being only the ditch which had been excavated during the period of Maratha invasions with the consent of Alivardi. Drake further stated that fearing a renewal of hostilities with the French, which was bound to have an echo in India, the English “thought it necessary to be upon our guard and make our place as defensible as we could”. [Letter to Court from Drake and others, Falta, 17 September 1756, para 3.]

When Drake's reply reached the Nawab at Rajmahal, he is said to have exclaimed; “Who shall dare to think of commencing hostilities in my country, or presume to imagine I have not power to protect them?” Holwell regrets that the answer had not been “debated in Council before it was sent”. He also observes; “the whole of it had a tendency to confirm the Suba in a belief of those insinuations which had been already conveyed to him, that the war between us and the French would probably be brought into Bengal besides its carrying a tacit reflection on the Suba’s power or will to protect us”. [Holwell’s Letter to Court, 30 November 1756, paras 11 and 18.]

There is plenty of contemporary evidence to justify Sirajud Daulah’s complaint regarding the abuse of dastaks [dusticks: Passes for the river] by the Company’s servants to the detriment of the revenues of the government and the interests of Indian merchants. It had become an old practice by that time in spite of the previous attempts to eradicate it by the Nawabs as well as by the English Company. [Hill, op. cit. 384.] In 1755 the Court of Directors asked the Council in Calcutta to “be extremely careful to prevent all abuses of' the dusticks”. [Letter from Court, 31 January 1755, para 65.] Referring to the “ill use made of this indulgence” by the servants of the Company, Holwell observed in his letter to Court dated 30 November 1756 [Para 23.] “That the abuse of dusticks should be one cause of complaint, I am not surprised at”. Roger Drake claimed that he “had in a great measure curbed that unlicensed practice”, had “refused applications on that head”, and “was warm to remedy and put those checks which were resolved on to prevent the abuse of that indulgence”. [Hill, op. cit., II, p. 148.] But he could not certainly remove this abuse which was to grow so much in the post-Plassey period.

So far as the third complaint is concerned, it is not really “difficult to understand” [Hill, op. cit., LV.] Sirajud Daulah’s point of view. There is clear reference in the account of David Rannie (August 1756) that the English Company gave protection to the “Nabob’s subjects”, though they were neither their ‘servants’ nor their ‘merchants’. Further, the affair of Krishnadas (Krishna Ballabh) was a sufficiently provocative one. For certain reasons, particularly on account of Raj Ballabh’s [Raagbullob] leadership of a hostile party, there was no love lost between him and Sirajud Daulah. Sirajud Daulah demanded from him an account of the administration of the finances of Dacca for several years. [Hill op, cit,, I, pp. 250 and 278.] Raj Ballabh [Raagbullob], who happened to be then at Murshidabad, was placed in confinement in March 1756, and some persons were deputed to Dacca to attach his property and arrest his family. There is no doubt that Raj Ballabh’s [Raagbullob] family fled to Calcutta, and that the Council in Calcutta continued to shelter the son and the family of an ex-officer of the government, who had incurred the subahdar's displeasure, even after he had demanded their dismissal. Richard Becher wrote that to harbour Krishnadas [Kissendass] in Calcutta in defiance of the Nawab’s demand was a ‘‘wrong step”. [Ibid. III, p, 338.] Other Englishmen considered it to be a risky course. On the eve of Alivardi’s death, Watts himself suggested to the President in Calcutta that it would be ‘‘expedient’’ that ‘‘Kissendass and the rest of Rhagbullub’s [Raagbullob] family should have no longer protection in Calcutta”. Deeming this to be a ‘‘salutary advice” and fearing that the continuance of protection to them till the death of Alivardi ‘‘might be productive of troublesome consequences”, Holwell ‘‘pressed more than once for the dismission of this family”. He admitted, however, that it would have been dangerous to dismiss them, ‘‘the more especially as for some days advices from all quarters were in favour of the Begum’s [Ghasiti Begam’s] party”.
[Holwell's Letter to Court, 30 November 1756. para 4.]

The treatment meted out to the Nawab’s messenger, Narayan Das (also referred to as Narayan Singh) [Naran Sing] [Brother of Rajaram, faujdar of Midnapore and head of the espionage system in the Nawab’s Government] by Drake and some other members of the Council in Calcutta added fuel to the fire, Narayan Das had come with a letter from the Nawab which contained a demand for the delivery of Krishna Ballabh, his family and treasures. He entered Calcutta on 14 April, in disguise according to somer and went to the house of Omichand, one of the most influential men in Calcutta. In the evening Omichand took him to Holwell and Pearkes, as Drake, the Governor, was then at Barasat. On the Governor’s return to Calcutta the next morning, the matter was being discussed by Drake, Holwell and Manningham, when they heard that Omichand and Narayan Das had reached the factory and were waiting for an interview with them. Omichand was then in disfavour with Drake, who, along with his colleagues, at once suspected this to be a trick on Omichund's part to take possession of the wealth of Krishna Ballabh by effecting his transfer to one of his houses. [Hill. op. cit., p. 121.] They decided not to receive Narayan Das or the Nawab’s letter brought by him and under their orders some of their servants turned him out of the settlement “with insolence and derision”. [Orme. op, cit., II. p. 54.] Soon realising, however, that this step might produce bitter consequences, they instructed Watts at Kasimbazar to take necessary precautions to avert such developments. Watts seems to have managed the situation satisfactorily for a time.

The expulsion of Narayan Das was regarded by the Nawab as a serious insult to himself. Becher describes it as “an affront that it could not be expected any Prince would put up with from a sett of merchants ....". [Hill. op. cit., II, p. 160.] There was absolutely no ground for questioning the authenticity of the document carried by Narayan Das and construing the whole affair as a clever and selfish move on the part of Omichand. From Holwell’s letter [Letter to Court, 30 November 1756.] it is clear that he believed in the deputation of Narayan Das by Sirajud Daulah. It is strange that in the same paragraph where Holwell expresses this view, he tries to justify the expulsion of Narayan Das by pleading that the latter “had stole like a thief and a spy into the Settlement, (and not like one in the public character he pretended and as bearing the Suba’s orders).” The real motive of Drake, Holwell and Manningham in turning out Narayan Das can be read in the following statement of Holwell himself: ‘’We were all a good deal embarrassed how to act on this occasion, (seeing) that the same reasons that before forbid the family being turned out of the place after the Suba’s death still subsisted equally strong against delivering them up, as the contest was yet undecided between Surajud Dowla and the young Begum”. Omichand’s statement before Holwell on 14 April was that “Naran Singh had got, in the disguize of a European dress, into the Settlement”. But the jamadar of the chauki, where Narayan Das had landed, reported to Holwell next morning that he "came in the disguize of a common Bengali pikar (broker).” [Hill, op. cit., II, pp. 6-7.]

A jemadar was originally an armed official of a zamindar (feudal lord) in India who, like a military general, and along with Mridhas, was in charge of fighting and conducting warfare, mostly against the rebellious peasants and common people who lived on the lord's land. Also, this rank was used among the thuggees as well, usually the gang leader.

Later, it became a rank used in the British Indian Army, where it was the lowest rank for a Viceroy's commissioned officer. Jemadars either commanded platoons or troops themselves or assisted their British commander. They also filled regimental positions such as assistant quartermaster (jemadar quartermaster) or assistant adjutant (jemadar adjutant).

-- Jemadar, by Wikipedia


[Chauki] Choky, Chokee: A chair, seat; guard, watch. The station of a guard or watchman. A place where an officer is stationed to receive tolls and customs.

-- from the Glossary attached to the fifth Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on Indian affairs, appointed in 1810.


There could be no similarity between the dress of a European and that of an ordinary Bengali paikar.

Watts and Collet wrote to the Court of Directors from Chandernagore on 16 July 1756 “that the Nabob never intended to drive the English out of his province but would have been satisfied with a sum of money”. They asserted that they had forwarded a letter to this effect to Drake from Hooghly through the Dutch Director, but Drake did not agree with them. It may be that the Nawab’s resentment was too intense to be removed in the manner suggested by Watts and Collet. But it can be reasonably said that complete expulsion of the English was not his deliberate and premeditated design. He wrote to Pigot, the Governor of Madras, “It was not my intention to remove the mercantile business of the Company belonging to you from out of the subah of Bengal, but Roger Drake your gomasta [gomastha] was a very wicked and unruly man and began to give protection to persons who had accounts with the Patcha in his Koatey [Kothi-factory]. Notwithstanding all my admonitions, yet he did not desist from his shameless actions. Why should these people who come to transact the mercantile affairs of the Company be doers of such actions?” [Hill, op, cit., I, p. 196.] Drake and his Council did not make sincere efforts to reach an agreement with the Nawab. The little they did was half-hearted and belated. A letter was, if the testimony of Khwajah Wajid’s Chinsura diwan Shri Babu (Shiva Babu) is to be credited, sent by Drake to the Nawab at his persuasion and through him; but it was too late, hostilities having already commenced. [Letter to Court from Watts and Collet, 17 July 1756, para 1.]

Sirajud Daulah had left Murshidabad about 16 May 1756 for suppressing Shaukat Jang [Shoucutjun, Nabob of Purranea], Governor of Purnea, who had refused to acknowledge his authority. En route, at Rajmahalr he received Drake’s reply of 20 May and heard of the expulsion of Narayan Das [Narayan Singh] [Naran Sing] from Calcutta. He immediately ordered his army to march back to deal with the English. It was no longer necessary to proceed against Shaukat Jang [Shoucutjun, Nabob of Purranea], as about 22 May Sirajud Daulah had got a message from Shaukat Jang [Shoucutjun, Nabob of Purranea] recognizing him as the Nawab and his master. The Nawab's troops, invested the English factory at Kasimbazar on 24 May. The Nawab returned to Murshidabad within a few days and brought the Kasimbazar factory fully under his control by 4 June, the English residents being made prisoners, with the exception of some who managed to escape to the houses of their friends. Acting with great promptitude, on 5 June he marched on Calcutta, taking with him Watts, Chief of the Kasimbazar factory, and another member, Collet, who were, however, delivered to the French Governor at Chandernagore with orders to send them “safe” to Madras. On 16 June the Nawab’s army appeared before Calcutta and attacked Perrin’s Redoubt, which covered the approaches to the Chitpur bridge over the Maratha Ditch but failed to take it. Nevertheless, many of the Nawab’s troops, and the looters who were following his army, found their way into Calcutta and the Nawab himself took up his quarters in Omichand's garden in the area known as Simla. Having decided to defend only the European part of Calcutta, that is, the area later known as Dalhousie Square and the region east and south of it, the English set fire to the bamboo and straw huts in the Indian quarter or the “Black Town” during the night of the 16th “in order to drive out the Nawab’s men.” Next day the English caused all the Indian houses to the east and south to be burnt, and the looters accompanying the Nawab’s army also set fire to the great bazar, that is, the old Bara Bazar situated north of the Fairlie Place, and to “many parts of the Black Town, which burnt till Fort on the 16th and next day the Portuguese and the Armenian women crowded into the Fort, as “the military and militia declared that they would not fight unless their families were admitted in the factory.” [ Hill, op. cit., I, pp. 257-58; Ibid., p. 165.]
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Re: Freda Bedi Cont'd (#3)

Postby admin » Fri Nov 13, 2020 10:46 am

Part 4 of 4

The Nawab’s troops attacked the British line of defence on 18 June. At about 10 a.m. on the 19th Governor Drake Commandant Minchin, Mackett, [Mackett is said to have gone aboard to see his ailing wife.] Captain Grant, and many other Englishmen abandoned Fort William to its fate. Frankland and Manningham had already deserted it and taken shelter on board the ships in the river. Those who remained in the Fort were greatly indignant at what has been described as "disgraceful desertion”. Though not the seniormost member, Holwell was selected by them to be the Governor and Administrator of the Company’s affairs. After a feeble resistance, Fort William surrendered before 6 p.m. on Sunday, 20 June.

On the capture of the English factory at Kasimbazar by the Nawab the Council in Calcutta had sent instructions to the other factories to take necessary precautions for their defence and, if necessary, for the safe withdrawal of officers. Peter Amyatt and Thomas Boddam, Chiefs at Lakshmipur and Balasore respectively, managed to escape with much of the cash and property belonging to the Company. They joined Drake’s party at Falta. Richard Becher, Chief at Dacca, was obliged to surrender the factory to the Nawab’s officers and with his subordinates and the English ladies took shelter in the local French factory, whose Chief, Courtin, treated them kindly and lent them a sloop on which they reached Falta on 26 August. According to M. Pierre Renault, the Nawab’s people found in the Dacca factory “more than fourteen hundred thousand rupees in merchandise and silver.” [Hill, op. cit., I, p. 208.] The only factory that was then retained by the English was that at Balaramgarhi lying at the mouth of the Balasore River. [Ibid., II, p. 14.]

We have, as Holwell wrote, many “different narratives and accounts” from his contemporaries of the causes of the loss of Calcutta by the English. This to a large extent is due to the attempt of each important officer concerned to justify his own conduct and establish his own innocence. Some said that Watts’ surrender was a blunder and resistance on his part for some time at least could have prevented the Nawab’s prompt attack on Calcutta. Watts pleaded in defence that it would have been “madness” on his part “to resist the Government” when “so great a part” of the Company’s “estate amounting to many lacks of Rupees was dispersed over the whole country which would have been immediately seized” to the great loss of the Company. According to Holwell, the immediate causes of this “catastrophe” were weak and defective fortifications, remissness on the part of the garrison and insufficiency of military stores, and certain “capital errors” on the part of the officers. He describes it as a “Tragedy of Errors” of which the fifth act was the desertion of the Fort by Drake and others which was a “breach of trust”. The flight of Drake and his companions was not, however, so greatly responsible for the debacle as Holwell tried to show. But there is no doubt, as has been observed by Grey (Junior), a servant of the Company who was present on the scene, that it damaged the morale of those remaining in the Fort and caused a terrible confusion, disorder and tumult which Holwell could not control.  

What happened to those in the Fort who surrendered to the victor? “The Armenians and Portuguese were at liberty, and suffered to go to their own houses.” [Hill, op. cit., III, p. 301.] Several Europeans just walked out of the Fort, and escaped to Hooghly or the ships at Surman’s. [Ibid, I, p. Lxxxix.] Holwell had three interviews with Sirajud Daulah who assured him of safety. The Nawab’s troops “had plundered the Europeans of their valuables, but did not ill-treat them........ Suddenly the scene changed. Some European soldiers had made themselves drunk and assaulted the natives. The latter complained to the Nawab, who asked where the Europeans were accustomed to confine soldiers who had misbehaved in any way. He was told in the Black Hole, and.... ordered they should all be confined in it.” [Ibid, I, p. xc.]

Holwell stated in his letter to the Council at Bombay, dated 17 July 1756: “The Resistance we made and the loss they [the Nawab’s officers] suffered so irritated the Nabob that he ordered myself and all the prisoners promiscuously to the number of about 165 or 170 to be crammed altogether into a small prison in the fort called the Black Hole, from whence only about 16 of us came out alive in the morning the rest being suffocated to death.” But pleading that this letter contained some “errors and omissions occasioned by the wretched state” in which he then was, he wrote in his letter to Fort St. George dated 3 August 1756 that he had “over-reckoned the number of prisoners put into the Black Hole and the number of the dead: the former only 146 and the latter 123”, and that he had done injustice to the Nawab by charging him “with designedly having ordered the unheard of piece of cruelty of cramming us all into that small prison”,' ["A cube of about eighteen feet” wrote Holwell. Hill, op. cit., III, p.136. Eighteen feet long and 14 feet wide according to John Cooke. Hill, III, p. 302. C.R. Wilson calculated that the exact dimensions were 18 feet by 14 feet 10 inches. Wilson, Old Fort William in Bengal, II, p. 245.] as he had only passed ‘general’ orders for their imprisonment and his guards perpetrated cruelties on them in a spirit of revenge for the personal losses which they had suffered. [Hill, op. cit. I, p. 186. He expressed a similar opinion in his letter to William Davis, dated 28 February 1757. op, cit., III, p. 134.] Varying statements regarding the number of prisoners and victims are noticed in some other letters also. [Ibid, I, pp. 43-44, 50, 61-62.] It is very doubtful if there could have been as many men in the Fort on the evening of 20 June as Holwell mentioned, after death, desertion and evacuation had reduced the number.

The veracity of Holwell's story of the Black Hole came to be questioned on strong grounds, some time back by two competent and careful writers, Messrs J. H. Little and A. K. Maitra. Mr. Little describes it as a ‘gigantic hoax’. [Bengal: Past and Present, Vol. XII, 1916, pp. 136-71.] Inconsistencies in a large number of contemporary records which cannot be satisfactorily explained, certain contradictions in Holwell’s different accounts, absence of the mention of Holwell’s story in some contemporary official despatches and documents and in the important contemporary histories, written in Persian, and the physical impossibility of a floor area of 267 square feet containing 146 European adults [This was pointed out several years back by Shri Bholanath Chander.] cannot but lead unbiassed students of history to doubt its authenticity.


Trade and Commerce

The correspondence in this volume contains plenty of material relating to the economic condition of the Bengal Subah during a period of transition. Bengal had an extensive and profitable trade with other parts of Asia and also with different Indian provinces. During the first half of the eighteenth century “the balance of trade”, as Dow wrote about 1770, “was against all nations in favour of Bengal; and it was the sink where gold and silver disappeared without the least prospect of return." [Dow, Hindostan (1872 edition). III, p. 1/xii.] We read in an account of 1756 that till then “the Coast of Cormondel and Malabar, the Gulph of Persia and Red Sea, nay even Manilla, China and coast of Africa were obliged to Bengal for taking off their cotton, pepper, drugs, fruits, chauk [shankha], cowrees, tin, tooth-enague etc., as on the other hand they were supplied from Bengal with what they could not well be without, such as raw silk and its various manufactures, opium, vast quantities of cotton cloth, rice, ginger, turmerick, long pepper etc., and all sorts of gruff goods." [Hill, op. cit., III, p. 390.] Wheat and sugar also were exported from Bengal to these Asiatic countries. In 1755 the annual exportation of sugar “was about 50,000 maunds, which yielded a profit of about 50 per cent and the returns for which were generally in specie.” [Milburn, Oriental Commerce, II, p. 270.] From the early years of the 18th century, “forty vessels from five to six hundred tons burden each,” went annually from Bengal to Assam chiefly with salt which produced 200 per cent profit and also articles like betel-nut and tobacco. They brought in exchange silk, lac, muga dhoties (a variety of silk cloth), ivory and. timber. The chief exports of Bengal to Tibet were cotton and silk fabrics, spices, broadcloth, hardware, pearls, coral, amber and chauk (shankha) etc.,

Image

Vamavarti shankh or vamamukhi shankha that open towards left hand. Vamavarti Shankha is a conch shell which is of ritual and religious importance in Hinduism. Vamavarti Shankh shankha is the shell of a species of large predatory sea snail, which lives in the Indian Ocean. A powder made from the shell material is used for increasing beauty and strength. Shankha is blown at the time of worship in Hindu temples and homes.


... and the imports were gold, musk, woollen cloth and tails of cows. But the political upheavals of the mid-eighteenth century and consequent disorders in various quarters, the insecurity of traffic and the enhancement of imposts by independent provincial governments caused a decline in Bengal’s trade, through her own merchants, with other provinces in India and with Asia — a decline from which it never recovered. The attempts of Warren Hastings to revive Bengal’s Asiatic, coastal and inter-provincial trade did not prove successful. Though there were some signs of revival in the different branches of trade towards the close of the 18th century and again in some of the branches temporarily after 1813, these were mostly in the hands of the Europeans and excepting in China trade there was again a progressive decline soon after.

Trade by Europeans was indeed a highly important factor in the economic history of the province. It is well known that the English, the French and the Dutch had carried on active commercial transactions in Bengal for over a century. French trade began to decline after the transfer of Dupleix to Pondicherry in 1741 and its recovery did not become possible because of want of funds and the adverse influences of the rapid political revolutions in Bengal. The Dutch were the most active commercial rivals of the English till the battle of Bedara (1759); indeed for some time during the first half of the eighteenth century their trade seems to have been larger. The Portuguese and the other minor European trading companies (e.g. the Ostend Company) had by then lost whatever influence or interest they had previously possessed in the sphere of Bengal’s trade, though individual Portuguese traders remained there and some of them were at times guilty of piratical practices. The Danes established their factories at Serampore in 1755 and at Patna in 1774-75.

The trade of the English East India Company was gradually growing in spite of the acute competition of the Dutch and some occasional interruptions caused by other factors. Their factories and aurungs [Aurung: The place where goods are manufactured] were scattered throughout the province. The Council in Calcutta exercises strict control over the chiefs and subordinate officers of these factories, and compelled them to furnish securities for their good conduct. The goods sent by them were subject to close scrutiny and those considered of bad quality were sometimes returned with instructions to improve the quality of investments in future.

To procure commodities, the Company sometimes advanced money to dalals, merchants and manufacturers. They were thus “invested with a prior right to the goods for which they contracted, and hence their purchase in India acquired the name of investment.” Usually at the commencement of each year the Council in Calcutta despatched to the respective factories lists of investments to be collected, musters (samples) of raw silk and cotton piece-goods to guide them in selecting goods, and also bullion or money for payment. The Company tried to keep the merchants under effective control by taking securities for the money advanced to them (dadni), exacting penalties for their failure to honour their contracts in time, duly warning them against supplying goods of inferior quality, insisting on settlement of accounts in the English factories, not admitting in this any arbitration by the “subjects of this country,” and sometimes even holding the securities responsible for payment of the dues in arrears. But, in spite of all this, the merchants often failed to supply the full quantity of goods according to the terms of their contracts, and asked for bigger advances. So in June 1753 the Company abandoned the method of procuring investments by entering into contracts with merchants and introduced the practice of getting them direct from the aurangs through their gumashtahs or agents. [Letter to Court, 18 January, 1754.] To meet the growing demand for garhas, the Council in Calcutta permitted the Kasimbazar factory to start some new aurangs at Ilambazar, Nanur, Moortally and Kagram. [Letter to Court, 9 September 1754, para 27.] In conformity with the orders of the Court of Directors the Council in Calcutta encouraged the weavers to settle in the Company’s territory in Calcutta for manufacturing different kinds of cloth. [Letter to Court, 18 January 1754.]

In their letter to the Council of 31 January 1755 the Court of Directors expressed a favourable opinion of the new method of procuring investments and communicated some instructions for the future. The Council in Calcutta were particularly asked to keep careful watch over the conduct of their servants and to form a supervising committee to look after investments in all the factories and aurangs. Such a committee was formed the same year with Roger Drake, the President, Charles Manningham, Richard Becher and William Frankland as its members.

Notwithstanding its temporary success, the new method of procuring investments did not ultimately produce satisfactory results. It vested the gumashtahs and the agents of the Company with powers “which they frequently abused", as Verelst justly tells us, “to their own emolument; and an authority given to enforce a just performance of engagements, became, notwithstanding the utmost vigilance of the higher servants, a source of new oppression." During the post-Plassey period their influence “proved so destructive of industry" that the Council in Calcutta restored “the old method of forming the investment, by contracting solely with merchants, in different parts of the country.” [Verelst, A View of the Rise, Progress and Present State of he English Government in Bengal (1772), p. 85.]

The principal exports of the European companies from Bengal from the middle of the 17th century onwards were cotton and silk piece-goods, raw silk and saltpetre. The expansion of the English Company's trade in cotton and silk piece-goods during the second half of the 17th century excited the jealousy of the silk and cotton manufacturers in England. An Act was accordingly passed by the British Parliament in 1700 to the effect “that from and after the 29th day of September, 1701, all wrought silks, Bengals and stuffs mixed with silk or herba, of the manufacture of Persia, China, or the East Indies; and all calicoes, painted, dyed, printed or stained there, which are or shall be imported into this Kingdom, shall not be worn or otherwise used in Great Britain; and all goods imported after that day, shall be warehoused, and exported again.” Muslins proper and white calicoes, “which did not come under the operation of the above Act were subjected at this time to an import duty of 15 per cent ad valorem." One effect of this Act was that large quantities of white calicoes began henceforth to be imported from India to be printed in England. So Parliament passed another Act in 1720 prohibiting the use or wear of printed calicoes, whether printed in England or in any other place.

The restriction on the import of Indian cotton and silk piece-goods did not, however, greatly affect these industries in Bengal. England was then but one of the many markets of India; and further, the English traders still continued to import Indian cotton and silk goods for re-exportation to other countries, till the high tariffs of the closing years of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th century, the Continental System of Napoleon, and the Industrial Revolution in the West virtually stopped their importation into Great Britain and the Continent. But the import of raw silk by the English Company was encouraged as it was needed in abundance for the growing silk manufactures of England. Murshidabad was the most important centre of sericulture in Bengal, and the factory of the English at Kasimbazar (started about 1658) was very much concerned with the collection of raw silk for the Company’s investment. The Maratha inroads into Bengal during Alivardi’s regime had an adverse influence on production and manufacture of silk and enhanced the prices of raw silk and silk fabrics. Between 1757 and 1765, silk “imported from Bengal rose, on an average, to about 80,340 small pounds of 16 ounces each per annum.” [Milourn, op. cit., II, p. 252.] To effect improvement in the quality of Bengal raw silk, the Court of Directors sent Richard Wilder to Bengal in 1757. For four years Wilder did his best to carry out the orders of his masters and died at Kasimbazar in 1761. Further efforts were made by the Company after the acquisition of the Diwani in 1765 to encourage the production of raw silk in Bengal.

There was a considerable demand for saltpetre by the European companies and a keen competition existed among them for procuring it, chiefly because of its use as an ingredient for manufacture of gunpowder, and also because it was utilised for some subsidiary purposes (glass-making, preserving meat, cooling water and dyeing). It was manufactured abundantly in Bihar. Patna was the chief centre for its distribution, though for its manufacture and collection the Europeans had factories at some other places in Bihar, such as Singhia (near Lalganj in the Hajipur sub-division), Chapra, Chowndey and Fatwa (seven miles east of Patna on the Ganges). The purchases were made through contracts with merchants like Omichand, Dipchand and Khwajah Wajid. The European wars of the mid-eighteenth century led to an increase in the quantity exported. On 24 July 1751 the Council in Calcutta entered into a contract with Omichand for 86,000 maunds of Saltpetre. “In 1755 the quantity of saltpetre offered for sale in England) was 14,747 bags, the whole of which, under the prospect of a war with France, which took place early in 1756, was disposed of.” [Milburn, op. cit., p. 239.] The following year (1756) the Council in Calcutta tried their best to comply with the directions of the Court of Directors to send 2,000 tons of saltpetre from India. In 1758 Clive secured from Mir Jafar a monopoly of saltpetre manufacture and trade in Bihar and thereafter the Dutch and the French had to purchase it from the English factory at Patna at prices fixed by the Council in Calcutta.

The chief articles imported into Bengal by the Dutch from Europe were precious metals, especially silver, and woollen goods. They also imported copper from Japan, tin and spelter from the Malay Peninsula, and pepper, cloves, mace and nutmegs from the islands of the Dutch East Indies. The imports of the English were very similar to those of the Dutch. Between 1708 and 1756, “bullion formed 74 p.c. of their total imports to Bengal.” Their other imports were broadcloth and other woollen goods, lead, iron, tin, copper, quicksilver, stores and provisions and a variety of minor articles including stationery. The Court of Directors, in their “earnestness to promote the consumption of the English manufactures in India to the utmost extent”, [Letter from Court, 23 January 1754, para 39.] sent considerable quantities of woollen goods, the prices of which were however very high. This sometimes caused a glut of these articles in the Bengal markets and many remained unsold and overstocked in the warehouses of the Company. Early in 1754 the Council in Calcutta wished to send half of these unsold woollen goods to Bombay to be disposed of “to more advantage”. [Letter to Court, 4 January 1754, para 43.] But Bourchier and his Council at Bombay refused to accept these goods. Notwithstanding this, the Court of Directors being “still desireous of promoting the national advantage and hoping for a favourable turn in the Indian markets” asked the Council in Calcutta to promote the sale of woollen goods to the utmost of their power. [Letter from Court, 29 November 1754, para 26.]

One obnoxious feature in the economic history of Bengal was the private trade of the Company’s servants, the growth of which can be traced from the early years of the Company’s trading activity in India. Even the President of the Council in Calcutta indulged in private trade. The Court of Directors occasionally complained of the evils produced by it to the prejudice of the interests not only of the merchants but also of the Company itself. But the members of the Council in Calcutta, being themselves interested parties, urged its continuance as "a compensation for the low salaries of the Company’s servants, though in fact their lot was not so hard when the purchasing power of money in those days is considered. In some of their letters to the Court they pleaded that they had taken all possible steps to prevent its abuse. But whatever they might have done the evil continued to increase.

One of the pernicious evils was the fraudulent use of dastaks [dusticks: Passes for the river] by the Company’s servants for their private trade and their disposal of these, for some consideration, to Indian merchants. These malpractices which originated in 1704, if not earlier, caused great loss to the Nawab’s exchequer and the local merchants who had to pay customs according to the current rates. The members of the Council in Calcutta had asserted in the days of Shujauddin Muhammad Khan that the farman of Emperor Farrukhsiyar entitled them to use dastaks for their personal trade. But their standpoint was based on an entirely wrong interpretation of this important document. What that farman granted was exemption from the payment of customs on exports and imports of the Company as a corporate body, and vessels conveying goods on behalf of the Company were to carry, for purposes of identification, dastaks, signed by the President of the Council in Calcutta. Farrukhsiyar never intended to extend this privilege to the private trade of the Company’s servants.

Conscious of the evil effects of this practice the Court of Directors often called upon the Council in Calcutta to check them. Most probably as a result the Council took some steps to regulate the use of dastaks, which, however, proved to be ineffective. The Court reiterated their words of caution in this respect in their letter of 31 January 1755. But the abuse of dastaks continued and the results of Plassey tremendously aggravated it.


The English Free Merchants were sometimes rivals of the Company’s servants in the coastal trade. The latter succeeded in driving the former out of Bengal at the beginning of the eighteenth century on the “pretext of avoiding political complications which might arise from the acts of irresponsible persons,” But the Free Merchants were permitted by the Court of Directors in 1713 to trade in Bengal, and thereafter they began to come in large numbers. The Company’s servants regarded a Free Merchant as “an eyesore, as he interfered with the profits of the Company’s servants in trade.’’[Long, Selections from Unpublished Records of Government, Introduction, p. xxv.] In January 1743, John Wood, a Free Merchant, applied for permission to trade, pleading that without it he would be reduced to “the condition of a foreigner, or indeed of the meanest black fellow.” The servants of the Company were opposed to the grant of such a privilege. Holwell observed that the “foreign trade of the settlement is become much too general”, and the Council in Calcutta, while granting a pass to John Wood for one particular vessel, sent a note of protest to the Court of Directors. [Letter to Court, 15 January 1783.]

Industries

The varied industries of Bengal, particularly her cotton and silk industries, largely contributed to her economic prosperity. There were produced “cloths of all kinds, most beautiful muslins, silk raw or worked.” [Hill, op. cit., III, p. 216.] It is worthy of note that Bengal was as much a manufacturing as an agricultural country, and a fair co-ordination between agriculture and industries formed a striking feature of her economic life in those days. [Orme, op. cit., II, p. 4.] It was only when, during the second half of the 18th century and the first three decades of the 19th century, the cotton and silk industries of Bengal declined to the point of extinction owing to various causes, that she was “reduced”, as Henry St George Tucker observed in 1823, “from the state of manufacturing to that of an agricultural country.” [Quoted in R. C. Dutt, The Economic History of India under Early British Rule, p. 262.] The weaving factories were dispersed throughout the province and produced different varieties of cloth. Dacca was the premier centre for the manufacture of fine muslins and cotton cloths of different types. Each variety of muslin was manufactured from “fabrics of three or four assortments or degrees of quality”, which were described in the Company’s factory as ‘ordinary’, ‘fine’, ‘super-fine’ and ‘fine superfine’.

Saltpetre, an important export of the European trading companies, was manufactured in abundance in Bihar. Sugar, manufactured in Bengal, was exported to different Asiatic countries. This profitable trade in sugar, however, declined due to the general economic disorders in Bengal following the battle of Plassey and the competition of Java sugar in the markets of Western India. Some of the subsidiary industries of the province were opium, lac and hand-woven jute. Good guns were also manufactured. Monghyr was an important centre of this industry and Alivardi used a gun manufactured at this place.

From remote antiquity, ship-building was an important industry of India. We have references in the records of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century to the use of ships built in Bengal and some other places in India for transporting merchandise even overseas. Various causes ultimately brought about the decline of this famous industry in the first quarter of the 19th century.

Prices, Currency and Banking

Prices of articles rose during this period chiefly because of four factors, viz., (a) the frequent Maratha inroads, (b) imposition of high duties on gross sales of the articles of prime necessity, (c) competition among foreign traders and (d) occasional natural calamities like floods, etc. In 1738 nearly three maunds of rice could be purchased for one rupee and one maund of kapas (cotton) for 2 to 2-1/2 rupees. But by 1751 the prices went up by nearly 30 per cent. Then rice began to be sold at the rate of 1 maund 32 seers for 1 rupee 4 annas, grains (pulses) one maund for 1 rupee, wheat 1 maund 32 seers for 1 rupee 4 annas, flour 1 maund 3 seers for 3 rupees, oil 1 maund for 5 rupees. The prices rose further thereafter, and the Company’s Government in Calcutta took some steps to relieve the consequent hardships of the people.

The state of currency in Bengal from the early years of the eighteenth century was complicated. Coins of different mints in India, or coins of different years struck at the same mint, differed in value. “According to the trade usage of each different market they were liable to different rates of discount, and in order to make exchanges possible the values of actual rupees of every kind were expressible in terms of an ideal rupee known as the current or nominal rupee.” [Wilson, Early Annals of the English in Bengal, II, part I, p. liii.] Thus in Bengal at the beginning of the eighteenth century, 100 sicca rupees were equivalent to 112-1/2 current rupees. Subsequently, a hundred newly struck Murshidabad sicca coins were equal in value to 116 current rupees. But after three years of circulation their value diminished to 111 current rupees and they were then known as sanwat rupees. [Verelst, View of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the English Government m Bengal (1772), pp. 94-95.]

At Madras, where the English Company had a mint of their own, variations in the value of the rupee did not prove to be as troublesome as in Bengal. 89-1/2 ounces of dollar silver could always be converted into a little “more than 218 rupees, allowing two per cent for the cost of coining”, [Wilson, op. cit., II, part I, p. liii.] and so long as the Mughal Court was in the south these passed without any difficulty in southern India and in Bengal. But after the death of Aurangzeb, when the Mughal court was transferred to the north, the Bengal Government no longer required Madras rupees for remittance of imperial revenues, and their value in Bengal consequently went down, a high rate of batta (discount) being charged on them. [Letter to Court, 2 January 1752, para 36.] The Company could not now get for its silver the same number of Bengal coins as before. In June 1752, they had to sell bullion to Jagat Seth at 201 sicca rupees for 240 sicca weight and paid to their merchants 106 Madras rupees for 100 siccas “which was the lowest batta they could take them at.” [Letter to Court, 18 September 1752, para 69.] In the beginning of 1753 siccas were not available at less than 111-1/2 Arcot rupees and 109-1/2 Madras rupees for a hundred. [Letter to Court, 1 January 1753, para 8.] A year later the Kasimbazar factory complained of “scarcity of siccas”. [Letter to Court, 4 January 1754, para 68.] In March 1755 the Council in Calcutta noted that there was no demand for bullion. [Letter to Court, 1 March 1755, para 5.]

To prevent new coins from being replaced by old ones in circulation, there was the practice of charging discount or batta on a coin according to the period of its circulation. Further, there was then absolutely no uniformity of currency in Bengal, because, besides the Madras rupees and the Bengal coins, coins of mints situated in other parts of India poured into the province as a result of its having a favourable balance of trade. These coins were very often debased either by the mints or by some interested persons. The shroffs (money-changers) availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by this debasement to charge batta at arbitrary rates for the exchange of such coins. All this must have created disadvantages for the local traders as well as for the Company.

As the proprietor of the premier banking house of the time, Jagat Seth of Murshidabad had considerable influence in the matter of currency. Watts wrote to the Council in Calcutta on 8 February 1753 that he was "the sole purchaser of all the bullion that is imported in this province by which he is annually a very considerable gainer.” For purchase of investments the Council in Calcutta not only received from Bombay and Madras whatever treasure they could spare but also occasionally borrowed money from Jagat Seth and some minor bankers, which they repaid in bullion. [Letter to Court, 22 December 1748, paras 8 and 12; 4 February 1751, paras 72-75; 20 August 1751, paras 77-78.] Cowries formed the lowest medium of exchange in Bengal and were generally used for small transactions.

To avoid the inconveniences arising out of the exchange of bullion the English Company sought the permission of the Mughal Emperors, Aurangzeb and Shah Alam I, to establish a mint near their settlement at Fort William on the ground that the mints at Rajmahal, Dacca and Satgaon were far away. [Wilson, op. cit., II, part II, pp. 263 and 276-77. There was a mint at Patna.] But the Mughal Government did not then allow this infringement of one of its sovereign rights. The Company obtained from Emperor Farrukhsiyar permission for free use of the Nawab’s mint at Murshidabad for three days in a week to coin their own bullion. But they could not avail themselves of this permission because of strong opposition from Murshid Quli Jafar Khan. [Wilson, op. cit., II, part II, p. 232; Letter to Court, 31 January 1752 para 77.]

In 1751 the Nawab’s Government ordered that “all money whether bullion or rupees” should be sent to the mint at Murshidabad “to be coined there into Siccas or disposed of to Jugutseat” [Letter to Court, 17 February 1751/2, para 2.] and that the Europeans should not make payments to their merchants in any coins except new siccas. Fearing that the enforcement of this order would prove prejudicial to their interests, the English, French and Dutch companies directed their respective chiefs at Kasimbazar to act “in concert” in this matter and to make a representation to the Nawab’s Government to grant the usual currency to bullion and the different types of coins. This joint action produced the desired effect. The English continued their efforts to obtain permission of the Nawab's Government for establishing a mint in Calcutta, [Letters from Court, 23 January 1754, No. 3, para 57 and No. 4, para 1; Letter to Court, 30 January 1755.] and they ultimately succeeded in getting it from Sirajud Daulah in February 1757.
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