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ESTABLISHMENT OF BRITISH ASCENDANCY, 1798-1823

The Fate of Oudh

Loss of independence was the price which the kingdom of Oudb paid for her long-continued internal bankruptcy, in the time of Wellesley. The Governor-General was convinced that, for the effective security of the north-wem frontier, Oudh must be brought definitely under British control. In his private letter to John Lumsden, the Company’s Resident at Oudh, he expressed his determination to take possession of the Doab with a view to strengthening the Company’s northwestern frontier; to substitute for the Nawab’s troops “an increased number of the Company’li regiments of infantry and cavalry, to be relieved from time to time and to be paid by His Excellency (the Nawab); and to dislodge from Oudh every European excepting the Company’s servants “. The immediate execution of these projects war, obstructed by an unfortunate incident at Benares, where, on the 14th January, 1799, Wazir ‘Ali, bitterly resentful of his position, massacred several Englishmen, including Mr. Cherry, the British Resident. He was in fact trying to organise a widespread conspiracy against the Company, had confederates in Bihar and Bengal, and even sought to secure the help of Zaman Shah of Kabul, who threatened an invasion of Hindustan. But he was captured by a British force and sent to Fort William, where he spent his days in confinement till his death in A.D. 1817.

It was not possible for Wellesley to charge the Nawab of Oudh, who had all along been faithful to the Company, with ton or insubordination, as he had done in the case of the ruler of the Carnatic. But he had a convenient pretext, in the threat of Zaman Shah to invade Hindustan, for demanding from the Nawab of Oudh the disbandment of his own army and the increase of the Company’s forces. After some resistance, the Nawab, under pressure from the British Resident, Colonel Scott, announced his intention to abdicate. Considering this proposal to be an excellent means for the establishment of “the sole and exclusive Authority of the Company within the province of Oudh and its dependencies”, the Governor-General wrote to the Court of Directors that it was his intention “to profit by the event to the utmost practicable extent”. But when Wellesley sought to exclude the Nawab’s sons from succession to the of Oudh, the Nawab withdrew his announcement of abdication. This made the Governor-General furious. He declared himself “extremely disgusted at the duplicity and insincerity which mark the conduct of the Nawab-Vazir on the present occasion”, and now presented to the Nawab a draft treaty which considerably increased the number of Company’s troops and the amount of the subsidy that was to be paid. The Nawab advanced some reasonable objections on the strength of former treaties; but Wellesley rejected these and forced him to submit to his demands. This was not enough to satisfy the Governor-General. He again compelled the Nawab to conclude a treaty on the 10th November, 1801, by which the latter had to surrender the rich and valuable tracts of Rohilkhand and the Lower Dodb, that is, the territories lying between the Ganges and the Jumna, covering almost half of his dominions. Thus Oudh was encircled by British territory except on the north; and the British possessions now confronted Sindhia along the entire line of his dominions in Northern India. These were indeed advantages of great importance for the Company. “The rectification of our military frontier, and the territorial isolation of the Nabob (Nawab),” as Owen rightly says, “were not only parts of a larger scheme, but in themselves measures of obvious importance, especially at such a crisis.”

Wellesley’s treatment of Oudh has been condemned not only by Mill but also by most of the other historians. Even Dr. H. H. Wilson admits that the negotiations with the Nawab were carried on in an objectionable manner. Sir Alfred Lyall, not indeed always a hostile critic of Wellesley, considers that, in his dealings with Oudh, Wellesley “subordinated the feelings and interests of his ally to paramount considerations of British policy in a manner that showed very little patience, forbearance, or generosity”. The Court of,Directors also condemned it. British intervention did not at once bring peace and good government to the,kingdom. The evils of administration were aggravated here, as in the other States which had accepted subsidiary alliances, till the kingdom was annexed subsequently on the charge of misgovernment. It may be said that the subsidiary treaties of Wellesley in a sense prepared the ground for Dalhousie’s annexations in certain cases.

Anglo-Gurkha Relations and the Nepal War (1814-1816)


Taking advantage of internal struggles among the old ruling clans of the Nepal valley, the Gurkhas, a tribe of the Western Himalayas, conquered it in A.D. 1768. They gradually built up a powerful State possessing considerable military strength and naturally seeking outlets for expansion. Their attempts at a northern push being checked by the great Chinese Empire, they advanced towards the south, and during the early nineteenth century they extended their dominion as far as the River Tista on the east and the Sutlej on the west, so that they were then “in actual possession of the whole of the strong country which skirts the northern frontier of Hindustan”. With the occupation of the Gorakhpur district by the Company in 1801, the territories of the Gurkhas in the Tarai became conterminous with the uncertain and ill-defined northern frontier of the British dominion, and the border districts became subject to the incessant inroads of the Gurkhas. Sir George Barlow remonstrated without any effect, and in the time of Lord Minto the Gurkhas conquered Butwal, lying north of what is now known as the Basti district, and Sheoraj, farther to the east. These were regained by the English without open hostilities. But the conflicting interests of the Gurkhas and the English made an appeal to arms inevitable.

An unprovoked attack by the Gurkhas on three police-stations in Butwal in the month of May, 1814, was followed in October by a declaration of war against them by the Governor-General, Lord Hastings. Lord Hastings himself planned the campaign. He decided to attack the enemy simultaneously at four different points along the entire line of the frontier from the Sutlej to the Kosi, and also tried “to corrupt the fidelity of the Nepalese Government”. But to vanquish the hardy Nepalese did not prove to be a very easy task, on account of their peculiar tactics and brilliant qualities as soldiers, the lack of knowledge on the part of the British soldiers of the geographical difficulties of the mountainous region, and the incompetence of the British generals with the exception of Ochterlony. So the British campaign of 1814-1815 was attended with reverser;. Major-Generals Marley and John Sullivan Wood, who were required to advance towards the Nepal capital from Patna and Gorakhpur respectively, retreated after some unsuccessful attempts; General Gillespie lost his life through his “indiscreet daring” in assaulting the mountain-fortress of Kalanga; and Major-General Martindell was defeated before the stronghold of Jaitak. But these losses of the English were more than retrieved when Colonels Nicolls and Gardner captured Almora in Kumaon in April, 1815, and General Ochterlony compelled the brave Gurkha leader, Amar Singh Thapa, to surrender the fort of Malaon on the 15th May, 1815. In view of the hopelessness of further resistance, the Gurkhas signed a treaty at Sagauli on the 28th November, 1815.

Under the influence of the war party in NepaI, its Government hesitated to ratify the treaty and hostilities began again. Ochterlony, now in supreme command of the British troops, advanced within fifty miles of the capital of Nepal and defeated the Nepalese at Makwanpur on the 28th February, 1816. This led the Nepal Government to ratify the treaty early in March next. In accordance with this the Nepalese gave up their claims to places in the lowlands along their southern frontier, ceded to the English the districts of Garhwal and Kumaon on the west of Nepal, withdrew from Sikkim, and agreed to receive a, British Resident at Katmandu. These were indeed. important gains for the English. The northwest frontier of their dominions now reached – the mountains. They obtained sites for important hill-stations and summer capitals like Simla, Mussoorie, Almora, Ranikhet, Landour and Naini Tal; and also greater facilities for communications with the regions of Central Asia. The Nepal Government has ever since remained true to its alliance with the English. By a treaty with the Raja, of Sikkim, dated the 10th February, 1817, a tract ceded by the Nepalese was given to him, and this created a barrier between the eastern frontier of Nepal and Bhutan.

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