The First Governor General of Bengal | Warren Hastings Biography

The First Governor General of Bengal | Warren Hastings Biography

Bengal was the place which was visited by Europeans for the first time. After a few battles they were able to establish colonization in India here through this state. This is why there are many of the firsts that have happened in this soil. The first British Governor General of Bengal was Warren Hastings. He was the first Governor General of Fort William.

Let’s take a sneak peek into history

  • The Governor General of India and the Viceroy of India were exchangeable terms during those days. One represented the other as the British rule settled in, all these ranks were distributed. The Governor General of India was the head of the British Administration in this country. He was also considered as the representative of the British Monarch.
  • In 1773 the British created the Governor General of India’s office in Fort William which is now situated in West Bengal. In those days the Governor General had direct control over the Fort William only. However, he supervised the entire British East India Company and its officials across the country. Later in 1833 the British Queen granted the authority to the Governor General to represent the British monarch in the country.
  • However the fun fact is that the title of “Governor General” controlled the entire British provinces mainly Punjab, Bombay, Madras, Bengal and the United Provinces. In 1858 the British got full control over the country.
  • The British then divided India into many sovereign native states that they would control indirectly. This is why the “Viceroy of India” was regarded as the representative of the British Monarch in the feudal states.
  • The Governor General was no longer in position however his office continued to exist till 1950 until India adopted a republican constitution.

Things to know about the office of Governor General

  1. The Governor General of India enjoyed the same powers as the Governor of provinces in the   Roman Empire. England had already colonized Canada, Middle East, Africa, Caribbean, East Asia, Oceania and South America by the time the British monarch became a direct sovereign in India. It was the office of the Governor General that helped keep these colonies supervised. The same role was played by the office in India.
  2. Each of the Governor Generals had a term of 5 years and they could be removed after that. After the removal of each Governor General, they would appoint an interim to hold the office until a new and suitable Governor General was in place. Provisional Governor Generals often held the ranks of provincial Governors.
  3. Initially the governor general had powers over only Fort William. Later they were granted additional powers in the matters of foreign policy and defense through a Regulating Act. The British Crown prevented the other presidencies (Bombay, Madras and Bengaluru) from declaring war with or makes peace with the Prince without taking approval for the same from the Governor General of India.

The First Governor General

Warren Hastings was the first Governor General of India and he held the position from 1773 to 1785. In 1787 he was held in court for corruption but in 1795 he was acquitted. Several noteworthy reforms were made during his time as the Governor General of the country.

It is said that Hastings faced his impeachment trial with dignity and almost bankrupted himself during the proceedings. Unlike many of his successors, Hastings actually was very fond of the Indian culture and heritage.

In 1784, towards the end of his tenure as the Governor General he said that the natives must be understood and the “social communication” with them should be strengthened so that there is less domination and more agreement. He was of the view that if the British were able to understand the Indians as a community, they would be more susceptible to their rule. Also, he was of the view that by truly mingling with them and understanding this region, they would be able to be remembered long after the rule of the British ceased.

It is thought that this is one of the reasons why Warren Hastings tried to understand the Indian customs. Some scholars are of the belief that he was fascinated by the ancient Indian culture and not by the then culture of India.

During his reign the Brahmin advisors molded the law because no Englishman understood Sanskrit until Sir William Jones. Therefore, the British during those times made a large exception based on the systems dictated by a singular caste. The British are also thereby held responsible for division between Hindus and Muslims in the country.

Among the reforms, Hastings founded the Madrasa Aliya in 1781 in Calcutta to enforce his relationship with the Muslim population. In 1784 he supported the foundation of the Bengal Asiatik Society or the Asiatic Society of Bengal as we call it now.

Some of the noteworthy years during Warren Hastings reign are

Sl. No.YearImportant Events
11781Founded Madrasa Aliya
21787His impeachment trial
31774Rohilla war
41784Pitt’s India Act
51774Supreme Court Was Set Up in Kolkata

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