Page images

to be in the nabob's camp several chiefs who were disgusted with his violent and haughty conduct, and at the same time ambitious of filling his place. This ruler, after his last visit to Calcutta, had taken with him a small detachment of English under the direction of Mr. Watts, who was now instructed to foment all the ingredients of discord in the Indian court and camp. His views being soon understood, overtures were made by a person named Yar Khan Latty, who proposed, with the aid of the British, to dethrone and to succeed the nabob, in which he assured them that he would be aided by the Seats, a family of native merchants and bankers possessed of immense wealth. These proposals were favourably listened to till others of a similar tenor were received from Meer Jaffier, the most distinguished military character in the Bengal army. His co-operation was of so much greater importance, that no further attention was paid to Latty. Clive hastened to Calcutta, and laid Jaffier's project before the committee in whom the affairs of government were then vested. They all agreed that the project was most politic, and ought to be followed up with alacrity. They next began to arrange the terms, which, to one in Meer's situation, they expected to be allowed to dictate. It was determined to demand the cession of all the French factories and effects, and the entire exclusion of that nation from Bengal; the grant of a considerable territory around Calcutta, with a pecuniary compensation for losses sustained, amounting to ten millions of rupees for the company, five millions to the British inhabitants, 2,700,000 to the natives and Armenians. Two millions and a half were demanded for the army, and the same sum for the navy. One of the members of the committee, chancing to ask why they should not claim something for themselves, his proposal obtained unanimous concurrence, and large sums were named for each, corresponding to their respective ranks. The most boundless and extravagant ideas prevailed in general respecting the wealth of Indian princes; wild reports had represented that of the nabob as amounting to forty-five millions sterling; and it was supposed certainly not to fall short of four millions and a half; though, as Mr. Orme observes, the consideration that Aliverdi Khan had been employed during his whole reign in repelling a series of


formidable invasions, might have proved even this last estimate to be very extravagant. When these demands, amounting to nearly three millions, were laid before Meet Jaffier, his minister, Roydoolub, declared it utterly impossible for the Bengal treasury to defray them; but as the English refused to make any abatement, and conciliated Roydoolub by high expectations, he at last adopted the Indian plan of promising every thing, leaving the performance to be regulated by circumstances. It may be mentioned as a characteristic feature in this negotiation, that Omichund, a native who had been let into the secret, threatened to make a disclosure unless his silence were purchased at an immense price. To defeat this manoeuvre Clive caused two treaties to be drawn up, one real, which contained no stipulation whatever in favour of Omichund, the other prepared solely for the purpose of being shown to that personage, and comprising an agreement to pay him two millions of rupees. The colonel having signed th latter, presented it to Admiral Watson, who honourably refused his signature; upon which his handwriting was counterfeited. The silence of Omichund was thus secured; but the discovery of the deceit afterward drove him to a state of derangement. Infamous as his conduct was, the English commander certainly cannot be justified.

Clive, having mustered his troops at Chandernagore, began his march on the 13th June, 1757, with 3100 men, of whom only 900 were Europeans; and with this force undertook to effect the subversion of a mighty kingdom. As he approached the encampment of the nabob at Plassey, near Cossimbuzar, unpleasant notices were received as to the conduct of Meer Jaffier, who, having held frequent conferences with his master, had apparently accommodated all differences, and bound himself by the most solemn oaths to make common cause with him. He privately, indeed, transmitted assurances that these were only feints to lull the prince's suspicions; but, from his evidently keeping up the same appearances to both parties, there remained doubts which he really intended to betray. When Clive, therefore, arrived opposite the island of Cossimbuzar, where he saw encamped the Indian army of 50,000 foot, 18,000 horse, and a strong train of artillery, there was reason to pause. He called a council of war,—a measure which, it Vol. II.—C

has been observed, almost invariably issues in a determination not to give battle. He opened the debate by expressing his own opinion against attacking the enemy under present circumstances. The other speakers concurred, with the exception of Major Coote, who argued that the troops, now full of courage and confidence, would feel their spirits entirely damped by the proposed delay; that vhe enemy would soon obtain fresh reinforcements, more particularly a large detachment of French at present in the jiterior; in short, that there was no alternative, but either Jo attack now, or, renouncing all their ambitious projects, march back and shut themselves up within the walls of Calcutta. The opposite opinion was carried by a large majority; but Clive, after dismissing the council, took a walk in an adjoining grove, and after an hour's meditation became convinced that Coote had formed the soundest view of the subject. He therefore determined immediately to cross the river and commence an action with the Indian army. The battle of Plassey, which virtually transferred to Britain the sceptre of India, began at daybreak on the 23d lune, 1757. It was by no means fought with a vigour corresponding to the great interests at stake. The English, covered by a grove and a high bank, remained almost the whole day on the defensive, keeping up a straggling cannonade. At one time, indeed, several brisk movements were made by the enemy's cavalry, which were repulsed by the steady fire of the field-pieces; but so languidly did the contest proceed, that Colonel Clive is reported to have fallen asleep in the midst of it, which Mr. Orme accounts for by the great fatigue he had undergone. The nabob, however, as cowardly as cruel, remained in his tent, and was much discouraged to learn that the English had not fled, and still more that Meer Murdeen, the best and most faithful of his generals, had fallen. The chief interest was felt respecting the course to be followed by Meer Jaffier, which remained for a long time mysterious; and his corps, even when it began to make a movement towards the left, not being recognised by the English, was treated as hostile. Soon, however, it was seen decidedly to separate from the rest of the army, and Clive then determined to make an immediate and brisk attack upon the CAPTURE OF SURAJAH DOWLAH. 27

enemy's camp. His troops, in advancing to the lines, were surprised that not a single shot was fired. They entered, and still encountered no resistance; there was no army; not a vestige of that numerous host which the day before had been deemed irresistible. They met no obstruction, unless from the tents, baggage, and artillery with which the space was incumbered. The nabob had been seized with panic, and when he learned the defection of Jaffier, gave up all for lost, mounted his fleetest elephant, and fled, escorted by 2000 of his chosen cavalry. Next day an interview was appointed at Daudpore between the English commander and Meer Jaffier. The latter approached with evident symptoms of trepidation, dreading resentment on account of his cold and doubtful co-operation. On his entrance the guard, in sign of respect, presented arms, when, viewing this as a menacing attitude, he started back in alarm. Clive, however, advanced, and saluted him Nabob of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa; after which entire cordiality prevailed during the conference, and measures were concerted for the pursuit of Surajah Dowlah. That prince had arrived at Daudpore about midnight after the battle ; and several of his principal officers being already there, he assembled them in council. He rejected the advice urged by some,—that he should surrender to the English; and concurred with those who recommended that he should give donations to the troops, and place himself next day at their head. But when he returned to the seraglio, and learned the near approach of Meer Jaffier, his timid disposition gained the ascendency. He disguised himself in an humble garb, and, with his favourite eunuch and concubine, carrying a casket of his most precious jewels, embarked in a boat and endeavoured to push up the river to Patna, where, from the fidelity of the governor, he expected to be in safety. He arrived at Rajemahl, where the boatmen, overcome by fatigue, insisted on resting for the night, and the ex-nabob sought concealment in a deserted garden. In the morning, however, a man of low rank, whose ears in a fit of rage he had formerly caused to be cut off, discovered him, and made the report to a brother of Jaffier, who gave notice to the soldiers engaged in the pursuit. They hastened to seize their prey, and conveyed him down the river to Muxadavad, treating him on the passage with every species of indignity. The unhappy prince was dragged like a felon into the palace which he had so lately occupied in all the pomp of eastern royalty. Jaffier showed himself somewhat affected at this spectacle, not indeed without reason, having owed every thing to Aliverdi Khan, grandfather to Surajah, of whom also he had no serious ground to complain. He desired the captive prince to retire, and assembled his counsellors to deliberate on his fate. Some recommended clemency; others, among whom was his son Meeran, aged about seventeen, urged the cruel but safe expedient of putting him to instant death. The new nabob still hesitated, when the youth entreated him to go to bed, and leave to him the care of the royal captive. He consented, not without an obvious presentiment of what would follow. Meeran lost no time in sending a band of assassins to the apartment of the prisoner, who met his death with weak and pusillanimous lamentations; and the view of his remains, placed on an elephant and carried through the streets, induced the servile crowd to yield implicit submission to the new sovereign. Surajah Dowlah deserved his fate; yet its circumstances, and the persons by whom it was inflicted, rendered it an act of the basest treachery. Meanwhile the English made all due haste to commence the important investigation into the contents of the Bengal treasury. The result, indeed, as Meer Jaffier's minister had intimated, issued in the most bitter disappointment. Of 22,000,000 rupees (2,750,000/.), the stipulated amount, it was necessary to be content with the immediate payment of one-half; the nabob engaging to discharge the remainder by instalments, in proportion as he had time to collect his revenues. Even of this sum our countrymen were obliged to accept a third part in jewels and other effects ; yet there was paid down in cash 800,000/.,—the largest sum of prizemoney which they, or, it may be presumed, any other European nation had ever received in India. Soon after, the government of Bengal was involved in peculiar difficulties. The distracted state of the province excited the hopes of the native princes, who expected that it would fall an easy prey. The eldest son of the Mogul, called the shazada, obtained from his father the investiture as Subahdar of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa, and proceeded

« PreviousContinue »