Warren Hastings , governor general of British India, born Dec. 6, 1732, died Aug. 22, 1818. He was descended from the Hastingses of Daylesford, Worcestershire, but the estate had been sold, and of all their ancient possessions the grandfather of Warren held only the rectory of Daylesford, to which he had been presented by his father. He had two sons, Howard, who held an office in the customs, and Pynaston, the father of Warren. Pynas-ton, at the age of 15, imprudently married Hester Warren, the daughter of a small farmer, and being in great poverty abandoned his native country, leaving two children to the care of his father. The rector, impoverished by a lawsuit, left Daylesford, and became curate at Churchill, where Warren was sent to the charity school of the village. In 1740, his uncle Howard having taken charge of his education, he went to a school at Newington, where he was well taught but badly fed; to the latter circumstance he was accustomed to attribute his diminutive stature and feeble health. At the age of 10 he was removed to Westminster. Here his mental powers became conspicuous, and at 14 he stood first among his competitors, and was already distinguished for ambition, resolution, and industry.
His uncle dying, he was now left dependent upon a distant relative, who procured for him a writership in the East India company. In January, 1750, he went to India. Here he at once began to study the native languages, and was one of the first to make himself familiar with the history and literature of the people among whom he now lived. He was soon noticed by Lord Clive, and was employed in various commercial and diplomatic measures. In 1756 he married the widow of Capt. Campbell, who, together with the two children she had borne him, died before his return to England. He remained in India 14 years, not distinguished in any remarkable manner, but acquiring knowledge and highly esteemed. In 1764 he arrived in England with a moderate fortune, which was soon exhausted by his liberality to his needy relatives and his profuse generosity. His talents and his knowledge of East Indian affairs soon brought him again into the service of the company. In 1769 he returned to India, and was made second in the council of Madras, and in 1772 he became the highest official of the company, the president of the supreme council of Bengal. His power was next enlarged by a change made in the Indian constitution by an act of parliament, which consolidated the separate governments into one, and Hastings became (Jan. 1, 1774) governor general of British India. The vast territory over which he ruled was composed of new conquests; the English were few in number, and their supremacy was constantly endangered by Hyder Ali, rajah of Mysore, by the Mahrat-tas, and by other native powers.
In these dangers the administrative talent and unwearying constancy of Warren Hastings established the British empire in India. He was unscrupulous, resolute, and apparently cruel; he perhaps depopulated whole districts by his exactions, and committed acts of signal injustice. But success followed him; he defeated opposition in his council, and destroyed his Indian foes. He was not however sustained by the home administration, nor by the board of directors. Rumors of his tyranny in India were assiduously spread over England by his enemies, but the court of proprietors sustained him by large majorities whenever the attempt was made to remove him from his office. Encouraged by their support, he now neglected or refused to obey the orders of the board of directors whenever he thought them impolitic, overawed the minority of his council, and ruled with a power almost unchecked, until February, 1785, when he resigned his office, and set out for England, not unconscious of the danger that threatened him there. He left India, it is said, highly popular with the natives as well as the English residents, and followed by general regret.
Upon his arrival in England, the opposition in parliament, led by Edmund Burke, introduced a resolution for an inquiry into his conduct, but the proceedings did not commence until the session of 1786, when Burke brought forward his articles of impeachment. Mr. Pitt, intimidated by the unpopularity of the accused, consented to the measure, and gave up Hastings to the opposition. In the impeachment Burke charged him with numerous acts of oppression, with desolating whole regions of British domain, with peculation and corruption, with exciting useless wars, and with various acts dishonoring the British name. He divided his charges into four heads, namely, the oppression and final expulsion of the rajah of Benares, the cruel treatment of the begums or princesses of Oude, unfair contracts, and wasteful expenditure. The sessions of 1786-'7 having been consumed in preliminary measures, the house of lords met in Westminster hall, Feb. 13, 1788, to hear the impeachment. The hall was richly adorned, and a distinguished assembly of royalty and nobility, of men of genius, of influence, and of fame, gathered to hear the trial. Hastings, frail, small, sickly, but still resolute, knelt at the bar, and then heard without exhibiting any emotion the terrible denunciations of his accusers.
On the 15th Burke, in the name of the commons of England, opened the charge in a speech which lasted three days. He was assisted by Fox, Sheridan, Grey, and others, and also in private by Sir Philip Francis. During the sessions of 1788-'90 the prosecution presented its charges. In 1791 the commons, to shorten the trial, were willing to withdraw some of the articles, and on June 2, the 73d day of the proceedings, Hastings began his defence. This continued until April 23, 1795, on which day, the 148th, he was acquitted by large majorities on each separate charge. Public opinion had turned in his favor, and his acquittal was approved by a majority of his countrymen. He convinced the nation that his measures had secured its prosperity, and showed by his poverty that he had not amassed wealth in his government. The expenses of the trial, £70,000, had consumed all his fortune. In March, 1796, the East India company granted him an annuity of £4,000 for 28 1/2 years, and lent him £50,000 for 18 years without interest.
He now purchased the Hastings estate at Daylesford, and retired from political life, occupying himself in rebuilding the family mansion, and in agricultural pursuits, seeking to naturalize in England the plants and animals of India. During his second voyage to India he had become acquainted with the baron and baroness Imhoff, who were his fellow passengers. The baroness attended him during a severe illness on shipboard, and about a year after his arrival in India, the baron having by agreement procured a divorce, his wife became Mrs. Hastings. This lady, who was accomplished and attractive, always preserved his regard, and now presided over the hospitalities of Daylesford. Hastings had long aspired to a peerage, but never received any higher public honor than an appointment as privy councillor, a short time before his death. He was however treated with the most distinguished respect by both houses of parliament when in 1813 he appeared at the bar of the commons as a witness on Indian affairs. In private life Warren Hastings displayed many virtues. He was generous, unselfish, hospitable, and a steady friend. He was a good scholar, and wrote with readiness and force. He encouraged among his countrymen the study of the Indian languages and history.
He was for a time president of the Asiatic society, promoted geographical research, invited learned Hindoos to settle inCalcutta, founded colleges for the instruction of the native youth, and urged upon them the necessity of becoming familiar with the language, literature, and science of England. In his political conduct he is generally allowed to have shown remarkable ability. Macaulay says that he administered government and war with more than the capacity of Richelieu; and Mill, the historian of British India, thinks him the most eminent of the chief rulers of the East India company.