Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

to the laws and customs by which they have formerly been governed. Petitions were presented to Parliament by three classes, affected by what they conceived to be an unwarranted assumption of jurisdiction : first, the agents of the British subjects; secondly, the Governor-General and Council ; thirdly, the Company. Two committees were appointed and employed at the same time, in 1780 and 1781, on India affairs. The one was a select, the other a secret committee, Of the former, General Richard Smith was chairman ; of the latter, Mr. Dundas. In supporting the establishment of two committees, Burke said in the house,

• Try what the open, what the covert yield.”

The petitions were referred to the Secret Committee, composed of members of different sides of the house, of which Burke was one. The object of the Committee

an inquiry into the proceedings, not of Mr. Hastings, but of the Judges. A great variety of facts were stated to

was

the Committee, particularly under the first head of complaint. It appeared, that the English Judges had taken cognizance of causes between native land-holders not in the service of the Company; consequently, by the Act of Parliament, not within the jurisdiction of the English Court; and had proceeded in several cases to inflict severe penalties on those who refused to recognize their authority. The most important instances of alledged extra-judicial assumption were, in civil actions, the Patna and the Cossijurah causes. In the first, two native magistrates, men of rank and respec-. tability, were imprisoned, and their effects confiscated, by an English Sheriff, for their official conduct in a case out of the jurisdiction of the English Court. In the second, the Rajah of Cossijurah having resisted the jurisdiction of the Court, the Sheriff had dispatched an armed force to compel obedience; but the Governor-General and Council ordered a more numerous body to march speedily, and prevent what they con

ceived to be illegal acts. The most 110ted instance of interference in extra-judicial cases of criminal process was the trial and execution of Nundcomar for forgery.Nundcomar, a Hindoo, and a Bramin of the highest cast, was tried, condemned, and hanged, on a statute against forgery, (2d of George II.) so strictly confined and appropriated to England and its paper currency, that, by the last clause it is especially provided, that nothing in this Act contained shall extend, or be construed to extend, to that part of Great Britain called Scotland. The evidence against him, if not palpably perjured, was at least very suspicious. * Neither he, nor the person whose name was forged, were subject to the jurisdiction of the English Court. By the laws of India forgery is not punishable capitally. Thus a man was put to death by a Court, to which he was not amenable, for a crime not capital by the laws to which he was amenable. These, and many other instances of the usurped jurisdiction, proved to be hatefu and terrible to the natives, were reported by the Committee to the house ; observations were added, not only on the justice but the political tendency of the usurpation by the Judges. The Committee was now instructed to take a wider range of inquiry: it was

* See Mr. Francis's Answer to Sir Elijah Impey,

appointed to take into consideration the state of the administration of justice in the provinces of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa, and report the same, as it should appear to them, to the house, with their observations thereupon; and they were instructed to consider how the British possessions in the East Indies may be held and governed with the greatest security and advantage to this country; and by what means the happiness of the native inhabitants may be best promoted.'

Their investigation being now not confined to the proceedings of judicative officers, extended itself to the deliberative and executive. In the course of this discussion, acts and proceedings of Hastings excited their animadversion. Many statements were laid before the Committee which tended to attach blame to the conduct of the GovernorGeneral; at least, according to the notions of right and wrong that prevailed in Eng

[blocks in formation]

In the management of the revenue, Mr. Hastings had assumed a principle, that the ruling power in India was the absolute proprietor of the soil ; that, therefore, the Zemindars (or land-holders) were subject to every exaction they could possibly bear, and which the English Government chose to require.' This principle, so contrary to British notions, was also inconsistent with those of India; so that, if geography changed the nature of justice, such ex

* Mr. Sheridan, in one of his celebrated speeches on the Begums, delivers an opinion, that right and wrong do not depend upon geography. Many may probably think he has reason on his side; there is, however, autbority, and the authority of some of the richest men of the nation, in favour of a maxim, that what would, in Britain, be oppression and robbery, was, in India, justice,

« AnteriorContinuar »