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‘A Blot on English Justice’: India reformism and the rhetoric of virtual slavery

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 March 2020

ZAK LEONARD*
Affiliation:
Department of History, University of Chicago Email: leonardzt@uchicago.edu

Abstract

Beginning in the late 1830s, a coalition of non-conformists, abolitionists, free traders, and disenchanted East India Company proprietors began to vocally challenge the exploitative policies of the colonial state in British India. Led by lecturer George Thompson, these reformers pursued a rhetorical strategy of associating groups who were converted into ‘mere tools’ by the Company abroad and the aristocracy at home. These monopolistic entities degraded Indian peasant cultivators, the British working classes, and princely sovereigns alike through forms of ‘virtual slavery’ that persisted in the post-Emancipation empire. In staging these protests, reformers ran up against an adversarial Board of Control and Court of Directors who obstructed their efforts to mobilize public opinion. Probing their agitation reveals the existence of a particularly combative strain of liberal imperialist thought that defied the political status quo.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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Footnotes

The author appreciates the anonymous reviewers' sustained engagement with this piece and would like to thank Dipesh Chakrabarty, Jennifer Pitts, Gautham Reddy, Kyle Gardner, and Darren Wan for their pivotal critiques and assistance.

References

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35 Petitioners included John Sullivan, Holt Mackenzie, John Briggs, Charles Forbes, and Joseph Hume.

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57 An enigmatic figure, Martin had assisted James Silk Buckingham and Rammohun Roy with their radical, free-trade publishing ventures in the late 1820s. Upon returning to England, he attempted to find permanent employment with the Company by calling for a temporary extension of its Chinese-tea monopoly and rejecting the schemes for European colonization that he had hitherto supported. In the late 1830s, he was roundly decrying the protectionist tariffs that safeguarded the Lancashire textile manufacturers from Indian competition. See Zastoupil, Rammohun Roy, p. 124.

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150 Letter from Lieutenant-Colonel C. Ovans, Resident at Sattara, to J. P. Willoughby’, in Copies or Extracts of Correspondence and Papers Relating to, and Explanatory of the Deposition of the Raja of Sattara, Part II, House of Commons, London, 1843, p. 1291Google Scholar. According to Lieutenant F. Cristall, who supervised the march, Balla Sahib had been taken ill with a cold in late January and refused the aid of a Company surgeon; both he and the former raja preferred to use a hakim in medical matters. See F. Cristall to C. Ovans, 12 March 1840, BL, Papers of Sir John Willoughby, Mss Eur E293/152.

151 Hobhouse, J., Speech to House of Commons, 6 July 1847, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 3rd series, vol. 93, 1847, col. 1236Google Scholar.

152 Thompson, G., The Plot Unravelled: Speech of George Thompson, Esq., at a Great Meeting in the Hanover Square Rooms, Ridgway, Piccadilly, and Effingham Wilson, London, 1847, p. 33Google Scholar.

153 W. L. Garrison to H. E. Garrison, 13 September 1846, The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, vol. 3, p. 393.

154 Company apologists countered that the raja was merely obliged to reaffirm his subservience to the British resident, which the second article of the 1819 treaty had initially mandated.

155 Thompson was forced to publicly defend his probity, declaring in one letter to the editor of the Bengal Hurkaru that he ‘would see [his] children starve, rather than feed them on the wages of prostitution’. See Ninth Annual Report of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, David Russell, Glasgow, 1843, p. 55Google Scholar.

156 Mehrotra, The Emergence of the Indian National Congress, p. 23.

157 Murray, W., ‘Satara—and British Connexion Therewith’, in Selections from the Calcutta Review, vol. 3, Trübner & Co., London, 1882, p. 218Google Scholar.

158 ‘Dethronement of the Raja of Sattara’, Liverpool Mercury, 23 April 1841.

159 Governor General Dalhousie utilized this pseudo-legal mechanism to confiscate princely states from Hindu rulers who failed to produce a blood heir. See Marshman, J. C., The History of India, vol. 2, Serampore Press, Serampore, 1867, p. 724Google Scholar.

160 ‘India and the Colonies. A Lecture by Mr. George Thompson delivered in Rose Street Chapel, Edinburgh, December 17, 1838’, LOC, Scrap books, vol. 6, p. 6.

161 ‘Mr. Thompson's Lecture on the Duty of Great Britain to her Hundred Million of Subjects in the East, delivered in George Street Chapel, Glasgow, on Wednesday, November 14 1838’, LOC, Scrap books, vol. 6.

162 Thompson, British India: Its Condition, p. 6.

163 Howitt, Colonization, p. 213. This critique echoed Burke's claim that the Company rendered native princes ‘odious’ to their subjects by converting them into the instruments of the colonial regime.

164 Dissent by Henry St. George Tucker’, in Papers Relating to the Question of the Disposal of the Sattara State, in Consequence of the Death of the Late Raja, J. & H. Cox, London, 1849, p. 161Google Scholar.

165 J. Briggs, ‘Final Report on the Raja's Government’, 1 January 1827, BOD, John Briggs Papers, MSS.Eng.hist.C333, ff. 69–71.

166 J. Briggs, ‘The Phulthun Nimbalkur Family Case’, 31 October 1826, BOD, John Briggs Papers, MSS.Eng.hist.C333, ff. 21–39. Despite this friction, Briggs received a diamond ring and a sword from Pratap Singh upon his resignation in 1827; he later advocated on behalf of the raja throughout the 1840s. See Deshpande, A., John Briggs in Maharashtra: A Study of District Administration under Early British Rule, Mittal Publications, Delhi, 1987, p. 178Google Scholar.

167 Feudal estates granted by a princely sovereign often in recognition of past service. Advocates in the CoP asserted that the 1819 treaty fixed the boundaries of Satara at the Neera River, but also gave the raja jurisdiction over these specific jagirs beyond its borders. See Proceedings at a Special General Court of Proprietors of East India Stock … Respecting the Dethronement of his Highness the Raja of Satara, J. Wilson, London, 1840, p. 34Google Scholar.

168 Elphinstone informed the subordinate jagirdars that the raja ruled as the de facto paramount power and would determine the legitimacy of their adoptions. See ‘Dissent by John Shepherd’, in Papers Relating to the Question of the Disposal of the Sattara State, p. 165.

169 Singh, P., A Letter to the Right Hon. Sir Henry Hardinge, Alex Munro, London, 1845, p. 6Google Scholar.

170 Briggs, ‘Final Report on the Raja's Government’, f. 93.

171 In a later minute, Grant admitted that the raja ‘has a right to be heard in his own vindication’ and urged his subordinates to avoid a ‘farce of a trial’. See Bapojee, R., Rajah of Sattara: A Letter to the Right Hon. J. C. Herries, M.P., G. Norman, London, 1852, p. 46Google Scholar.

172 Letter from Major-General Peter Lodwick to the Chairman of the Court of Directors’, in Papers Respecting the Case of the Raja of Sattara, J. L. Cox & Sons, London, 1842, p. 7Google Scholar.

173 A handful of itinerants detained at Nellore in 1838 implicated Pratap Singh as the conduit linking the Raja of Jodhpur with Mubariz ud-Daula, the sponsor of Wahhabism in Hyderabad. See Sullivan, Speech of Mr. John Sullivan, in the Court of Proprietors, pp. 27–28.

174 Manoel vigorously contested this charge after Joseph Hume contacted him directly in 1841.

175 Papers Regarding the Motion of William Hume M.P. in Favour of the Deposed Raja of Satara, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/109. In the spring of 1841, Ovans suspected that the raja had somehow dispatched the ‘blind Brahmin’ Nursoo Punt to incite a rising of Arabs in Badami. See Raja Shahji of Satara, 1830–1848: Select Documents from the Satara Residency Records, Peshwa Daftar, Poona, Choksey, R. D. (ed.), Poona, 1974, p. 7Google Scholar.

176 Briggs, J., ‘The Plot Discovered’: Speech of Major-General Briggs, Exposing the Conspiracy to Dethrone the Raja of Sattara, A. Munro, London, 1847, pp. 1923Google Scholar.

177 Thompson, G., The Raja of Sattara: His Innocence Declared by the Governor-General's Agent, Tyler and Reed, London, 1847, p. 23Google Scholar.

178 Fisher, M., Indirect Rule in India: Residents and the Residency System, 1764–1858, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991, p. 62Google Scholar.

179 Debates at the India House: August 22nd, 23rd and September 24th, 1845 on the Case of the Deposed Raja of Sattara and the Impeachment of Col. C. Ovans, Effingham Wilson, London, 1845, p. 283Google Scholar.

180 According to Thompson, Grant learned that the raja had appointed Mir Afzul Ali as his agent in the summer of 1836 and trumped up the subedhar case to discredit future metropole-bound deputations. See Thompson, G., ‘The Raja of Satara’, Howitts’ Journal of Literature and Popular Progress, vol. 1, 1847, p. 47Google Scholar.

181 Major B. D. Basu of the Indian Medical Service lionized Bapojee as ‘the first Indian agitator in England’ and a forerunner of Congress leaders Dadabhai Naoroji, Lalmohan Ghose, and Surendra Banerjee. See Basu, B. D., The Story of Satara, R. Chatterjee, Calcutta, 1922, p. 183Google Scholar.

182 Bapojee, R., Statement of Rungo Bapojee, Accredited Agent of His Highness Purtaub Sing…at a Great Meeting in the Hanover Square Rooms, London, 1846, p. 11Google Scholar.

183 Fisher, M., Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Travellers and Settlers in Britain, 1600–1857, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2004, p. 280Google Scholar.

184 Debates at the India House: August 22nd, 23rd and September 24th, 1845, p. 171.

185 G. Thompson to R. D. Webb, 11 April 1842, BPL, Anti-slavery Collection, MS.A.1.2.v.12.2, f. 43. Thompson initially communicated with Bapojee by using Briggs as a translator.

186 ‘Entertainment at the Mansion-House of London’, Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, 27 July 1849.

187 ‘The Rajah of Sattara‘, The Times, 27 November 1846, p. 6.

188 ‘Debate at the India House’, 8 February 1843, BL, Mss Eur E932/282, f. 647.

189 Minutes of the General Court of Proprietors, 13 February 1840, BL, IOR/B/270, f. 112.

190 J. Hogg, Speech to House of Commons, 11 July 1848, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 3rd series, vol. 100, 1848, col. 437.

191 ‘Dethronement of the Raja of Sattara: Proclamation’, Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce, 11 September 1839, p. 578.

192 Thompson even suggested to radical Irish publisher Richard Webb that he should reconfigure one of the raja's own dispatches as a visual prop and ‘hang it up where it might be seen’. See G. Thompson to R. D. Webb, 25 August 1842, BPL, Anti-slavery Collection, MS.A.1.2.v.12.2, f. 81.

193 J. Briggs to G. Thompson, 2 August 1842, JRL, REAS 4/3, f. 1.

194 Fisher, Counterflows to Colonialism, p. 288.

195 Thompson defamed Ovans as ‘a man with all the vices, but without one of the atoning or extenuating characteristics of Warren Hastings’. See Impeachment of the Conduct of the Court of Directors, in the Case of the Raja of Sattara, Effingham Wilson, London, 1846, p. 40Google Scholar.

196 Epstein, Scandal of Colonial Rule, p. 42.

197 The mother denied that she had signed the letter altogether. The forger soon demanded more compensation and petitioned the Bombay government seven times before ultimately applying to a judge at Poona. See Hume, J., Speech to House of Commons, 22 July 1845, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 3rd series, vol. 82, 1845, col. 905Google Scholar.

198 Debates at the India House: August 22nd, 23rd and September 24th, 1845, p. 114.

199 Thompson, The Raja of Sattara, p. 24.

200 J. Hobhouse to H. Hardinge, 25 October 1847, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/22, f. 120.

201 A Prognostic’, British Friend of India, vol. 8, no. 47, 1845, p. 177, emphasis in originalGoogle Scholar.

202 Mr. Thompson and the Rajah of Sattara’, Indian Examiner and Universal Review vol. 2, no. 1, 1847, p. 20Google Scholar; Anonymous, India Wrongs without a Remedy, Saunders & Sanford, London, 1853, p. 16Google Scholar.

203 Proceedings at a Special General Court of Proprietors of East India Stock, p. 51.

204 Kaye, J. W., The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir John Malcolm, G. C. B., vol. 2, Smith, Elder, and Co., London, 1856, p. 373Google Scholar.

205 W. Ewart, Speech to House of Commons, 6 July 1847, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 3rd series, vol. 93, 1847, col. 1334.

206 ‘Mr. Thompson and the Rajah of Sattara’, p. 21.

207 Singh, A Letter to the Right Hon. Sir Henry Hardinge, p. 32.

208 Debates at the India House: August 22nd, 23rd and September 24th, 1845, p. 78.

209 Sullivan, Speech of Mr. John Sullivan, in the Court of Proprietors, p. 11. As a polemicist for the India Reform Society in the 1850s, Sullivan would continue to advocate for the perpetuation of princely states.

210 Singh, A Letter to the Right Hon. Sir Henry Hardinge, p. 3.

211 Debates at the India House: August 22nd, 23rd and September 24th, 1845, p. 151.

212 Thompson, The Plot Unravelled, p. 9.

213 ‘Debate at the India House’, 8 February 1843, BL, Mss Eur E932/282, f. 625.

214 Ewart, Speech to House of Commons, 6 July 1847, col. 1335.

215 Thompson argued that Governor James Carnac had gone rogue and confiscated the raja's sovereignty without prior authorization from the governor general or the Secret Committee, thereby violating the 33rd of George III, Chapter 52, Section 43. See Minutes of the General Court of Proprietors, 18 Mar. 1846, BL, IOR/B/271, f. 169.

216 Ninth Annual Report of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, p. 28.

217 Appendix to the Reports of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Public Petitions, 1845, p. 410. James Haughton and Richard Allen, the chairman and secretary of the HBIS, were also the co-founders of the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society. See also Bric, M., ‘Debating Empire and Slavery: Ireland and British India, 1820–1845’, Slavery & Abolition, vol. 37, no. 3, 2016, p. 572CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

218 Thompson, G., Case of His Highness Pertaub Shean, the Raja of Sattara, Alex Munro, London, 1846, p. 47Google Scholar.

219 ‘The Rajah of Sattara’, Morning Chronicle, 27 November 1846. Bowring co-founded the PIL the following year. News of the Satara agitation reached the Continent, appearing in French papers like the Paris-based National. See The French Press and the Raja of Sattara’, British Friend of India, vol. 8, no. 44, 1845, p. 152Google Scholar.

220 J. Hobhouse to H. Hardinge, 24 July 1847, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/22, f. 24.

221 J. Hobhouse to J. L. Cary, Viscount Falkland, 24 December 1849, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/27, f. 236.

222 J. Hobhouse to J. L. Cary, 7 June 1849, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/27, f. 176.

223 Bapojee, Rajah of Sattara, p. 10.

224 Fisher, M., ‘Indian Political Representations in Britain during the Transition to Colonialism’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 3, 2004, p. 672CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

225 Paper by Ross Donnelly Mangles’, in Papers Relating to the Disposal of the Sattara State, London, 1849, p. 182Google Scholar.

226 ‘The Case of the Rajah of Sattarah’, East India Magazine, November 1841, p. 347.

227 Thornton, E., The History of the British Empire in India, vol. 6, W. H. Allen, London, 1845, pp. 8586Google Scholar. For a refutation of Thornton's analysis, see The Court of Directors and Their Hired Apologists’, British Friend of India, vol. 8, no. 44, 1845, pp. 137–44Google Scholar.

228 ‘Paper by Ross Donnelly Mangles’, p. 181.

229 Saheb, S., Memorial to Her Majesty the Queen, Union Press, Bombay, 1874, p. 314Google Scholar. By means of analogy, the ranee reasoned that the ‘humiliating terms imposed by the victorious Romans on the state of Carthage’ following the Punic Wars did not abrogate the independence of the conquered party.

230 Kashmiri intermediary Mohan Lal informed Hobhouse that an agent of the ex-raja had paid a babu in the governor general's office Rs 10,000 for copies of the Secret Committee's dispatches. See M. Lal to J. Hobhouse, 15 November 1847, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/22, f. 224.

231 J. Hobhouse to J. Broun-Ramsay, 25 April 1849, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/27, f. 151.

232 J. Hobhouse to J. Broun-Ramsay, 25 June 1849, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/27, ff. 180–181.

233 J. Hobhouse to J. Broun-Ramsay, 7 June 1848, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/27, f. 10.

234 While Roy initially rejected legislative ameliorants for sati and favoured working through the Bengali samaj, he publicly defended Bentinck's abolition of the practice in 1830. See Zastoupil, Rammohun Roy, p. 74.

235 Escott, B., Speech to House of Commons, 6 July 1847, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 3rd series, vol. 93, 1847, col. 1349Google Scholar.

236 Thompson, The Raja of Sattara, p. 29.

237 J. Hobhouse to J. L. Cary, 7 May 1849, BL, Broughton Papers, Mss Eur F213/27.

238 Reformers implicitly extended John Stuart Mill's claim that ‘the only security against political slavery’ in civilized states was ‘the check maintained over governors, by the diffusion of intelligence, activity, and public spirit among the governed’. See Mill, J. S., Principles of Political Economy with Some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, vol. 2, 5th ed., Parker, Son, and Bourn, London, 1862, p. 555Google Scholar.

239 Ali, S., Notes and Opinions of a Native on the Present State of India and the Feelings of Its People, George Butler, Ryde, Isle of Wight, 1848, pp. 117–21Google Scholar.

240 Buckingham, J. S., The Coming Era of Political Reform, Partridge, Oakey and Co., London, 1853, p. 233Google Scholar.

241 Lewin, M., Speech of Malcolm Lewin, Esq., Delivered at the Quarterly Meeting of the Court of Proprietors of the East India Company, Wednesday, December 19, 1855, Edward Stanford, London, 1856, p. 20Google Scholar. A former judge, Lewin had been removed from the bench in 1846 for acquitting Hindus accused of anti-Christian rioting in Tinnevelly.

242 Ibid., pp. 16–17.

243 Lewin was particularly incensed by the Madras Torture Commission's revelation of state-sponsored violence. See Lewin, M., The Way to Lose India: With Illustrations from Leadenhall Street, James Ridgway, London, 1857, p. 6Google Scholar.

244 Our Relation to the Princes of India’, Westminster Review, vol. 69, 1858, p. 251Google Scholar.

245 Stephens, J., ‘The Phantom Wahhabi: Liberalism and the Muslim Fanatic in Mid-Victorian India’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 47, no. 1, 2013, p. 47CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

246 Ibid., p. 41.

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