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Lord Cornwallis (1786-1793)

Lord Cornwallis, a warrior-statesman, succeeded Warren Hastings as Governor-General in 1786. He belonged to an influential and aristocratic family which had wider political connections.

Lord Cornwallis (1786-1793)

Lord Cornwallis, a warrior-statesman, succeeded Warren Hastings as Governor-General in 1786. He belonged to an influential and aristocratic family which had wider political connections. He was also a close friend of Prime Minister Pitt and of Dundas, the most influential member of the Board of Control. He distinguished himself as a remarkable soldier in the American War of Independence. Although he surrendered at York Town in 1781 before the American troops, his reputation was not spoiled. He still enjoyed the confidence of the authorities at Home. After his return from America he was offered the Governor-Generalship in India.

Cornwallis was prompted by a strong sense of public duty and enjoyed the respect as well as the confidence of his fellow countrymen. The Parliament was prepared to give him extraordinary legal powers to carry out radical reforms in the administration of Bengal. It amended Pitt's India Act in 1786 so as enable him to overrule the decision of the majority of his council, if necessary. The appointment of Cornwallis was significant in one respect. A new tradition of choosing a person from an aristocratic family for the post of Governor-General was initiated. It was his good fortune that he had an excellent team of subordinates comprising John Shore, James Grant, and Sir William Jones. Although Cornwallis commenced his work under beneficial circumstances, he had to carry out his policy with caution.


Tipu Sultan and the Third Mysore War (1790-92)


The Treaty of Mangalore (1784) exhibited the military strength of Mysore, exposed English weaknesses and increased Tipu's strength. Like his father he wanted to eliminate the English from India. His other designs were to wreak vengeance on the Nizam and on the Marathas as they had betrayed his father during the hour of need.


The chief causes for the Third Mysore War were:


                   Tipu Sultan strengthened his position by undertaking various internal reforms. This created worries to the British, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas.


                   Moreover, Tipu made attempts to seek the help of France and Turkey by sending envoys to those countries.


                   He also expanded his territories at the cost of his neighbours, particularly the Raja of Travancore, who was an ally of the British.


                   In 1789, the British concluded a tripartite alliance with the Nizam and the Marathas against Tipu.

War broke out in May 1790 between the English and Tipu. It was fought in three phases. The first phase commenced when Medows, the Governor of Madras, initially directed the campaign to invade Mysore but Tipu's rapid movements halted the progress of the English troops and inflicted heavy losses on them. In the meantime, Cornwallis himself assumed command in December 1790. This was the beginning of  the second phase of the war. Marching from Vellore, he captured Bangalore in March 1791, but Tipu's brilliant strategies prolonged the war and Cornwallis was forced to retreat to Mangalore due to lack of provisions. The third phase of the war began when timely aid from the Marathas with plenty of provisions helped him to resume his campaign and marched against Srirangapattinam again. This time Tipu was at a disadvantage. Swiftly the English forces occupied the hill forts near Srirangapattinam and seized it in February 1792. Tipu Sultan concluded the Treaty of Srirangapattinam with the British. The terms of the treaty were as follows:

          Tipu had to give up half his dominions.


          He had to pay a war indemnity of three crore rupees and surrender two of his sons as hostages to the English.


          Both sides agreed to release the prisoners of war.

The Treaty of Srirangapattinam is a significant event in the history of South India. The British secured a large territory on the Malabar Coast. In addition they obtained the Baramahal district and Dindugal. After this war, although the strength of Mysore had been reduced, it was not extinguished. Tipu had been defeated but not destroyed.


The internal reforms of Cornwallis can be studied under three main heads.


Administrative reforms

Revenue reforms or Permanent Settlement (given in Lesson -7)

Judicial and other reforms

Administrative Reforms


The greatest work of Cornwallis was the purification of the civil service by the employment of capable and honest public servants. He aimed at economy, simplification and purity. He found that the servants of the Company were underpaid. But they received very high commissions on revenues. In addition to that they conducted forbidden and profitable private trade in the names of relatives and friends. Cornwallis, who aimed at cleansing the administration, abolished the vicious system of paying small salaries and allowing enormous perquisites. He persuaded the Directors of the Company to pay handsome salaries to the Company servants in order that they might free themselves from commercial and corrupting activities.


Further, Cornwallis inaugurated the policy of making appointments mainly on the basis of merit thereby laying the foundation of the Indian Civil Service. To cut down on extravagances, he abolished a number of surplus posts. Another major reform that Cornwallis introduced was the separation of the three branches of service, namely commercial, judicial and revenue. The collectors, the king-pins of the administrative system were deprived of their judicial powers and their work became merely the collection of revenue.


Judicial Reforms

In the work of judicial reorganization, Cornwallis secured the services of Sir William Jones, who was a judge and a great scholar. Civil and criminal courts were completely reorganized.


          At the top of the judicial system, the highest civil and criminal courts of appeal, namely Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat were functioning at Calcutta. Both of them were presided over by the Governor-General and his Council.


          There were four provincial courts of appeal at Calcutta, Dacca, Murshidabad and Patna, each under three European judges assisted by Indian advisers.


          District and City courts functioned each under a European judge. Every district was provided with a court. As already stated, Cornwallis had taken away from the collectors of their judicial powers and made them solely responsible for the collection of revenue. As a result, District Judges were appointed.


          Indian judges or Munsiffs were appointed to all the courts at the bottom of the judicial system.


In criminal cases, Muslim law was improved and followed. In civil cases, Hindu and Muslim laws were followed according to the religion of the litigants. In suits between Hindus and Muslims, the judge was the deciding authority. Cornwallis was merciful by temperament. He hated barbarous punishments and abolished those like mutilation and trial by ordeal.


Cornwallis was better known as a law giver than as an administrator. With the help of his colleague, George Barlow, Cornwallis prepared a comprehensive code, covering the whole field of administration', judicial, police, commercial and fiscal. This Code was based upon the principle of Montesquieu, 'the Separation of Powers', which was popular in the West in 18th century. In order to curb undue exercise of authority Cornwallis made all officials answerable to the courts.Police Reforms


The effective implementation of judicial reforms required the reorganisation of police administration. The District Judge controlled the police. Each district was divided into thanas or police circles each of which was about 20 square miles. It was placed under an Indian officer called the daroga who was ably assisted by many constables. However, the police organization was not effective. In the words of Marshman, 'the daroga enjoyed almost unlimited power of extortion and became the scourge of the country'.


Other Reforms


Cornwallis reformed the Board of Trade which managed the commercial investments of the Company. With the aid of Charles Grant, he eradicated numerous abuses and corrupt practices. Fair treatment was given to weavers and Indian workers. He increased the remuneration for honest service.


Estimate of Cornwallis


Cornwallis, a blue-blooded aristocrat, was an ardent patriot. He discharged his duties fearlessly, and his life was an embodiment of 'duty and sacrifice'. He perceived the danger of Tipu's growing power and curtailed it by boldly discarding the policy of nonintervention. As an administrator, he consolidated the Company's position in India and started the tradition of efficient and pure administration. Although there were defects in his Permanent Settlement of Land Revenue, his administrative and judicial reforms were solid achievements. He may be regarded the parent of the Indian Administrative Service and founder of an efficient and clean system of administration.


Sir John Shore (1793-98) succeeded Cornwallis as Governor General and his administration was uneventful.

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