FROM SCRATCHWOOD TO WYCHWOOD

The Big Idea

Warren Hastings left this provincial corner of England to seek his fortune with the East India Company, at a time when colonial reverses in the New World were about to be compensated by success in the Old.

The two main European rivals, France and Britain, had met in inevitable conflict. With the help of skilful local diplomacy (huge bribes and dreadful threats), and the military skills (and luck) of Robert Clive, the British triumphed, and stood poised to cash in.

Warren came from a once-wealthy family, fallen on hard times. It was to restore the family fortunes that he went to India, at the age of sixteen.

He rose through the ranks of the East India Company to the position of Governor-General of Bengal (1774) - not so much through his military skills, but through a certain talent for bureaucracy.

Hastings was quite different from the usual English adventurer. He fell in love with India, admired its culture and respected its laws and traditions. He wore Indian garb, he ate Indian food, he admired Indian art. His understanding of the mediaeval relationships of the princes of India was a valuable asset in the British cause.

This period also saw the beginning of Britain's long (and occasionally patronising) love of India. Women of fashion were wearing Indian silks and muslins, and architecture picked up Moghul themes and practicalities (the first purpose-built bathrooms in Britain appeared in the mansions of returning India-men - the "nabobs").

However, Warren didn't admire the corruption, greed and immorality of most of the East India Company traders. He strongly felt that these traders should be subject to Indian law, rather than impose English law on India ("they have no need of wisdom from afar") - a fact which led, later, to his downfall.

© David Craig Send me a message