"The prisoners are to be threatened with severities to-morrow, to make them discover where the balance may be procurable, the fear of which may possibly have a good effect; and the apprehensions of the Begum lest they should discover the hidden treasure may induce her to make you tenders of payment, which you may give any reasonable encouragement to promote that may occur to you.
"The jaghire cannot be released to her on any other terms, nor even to the Nabob, until the five lacs for which it was granted be paid up; and the prisoners must also be detained until the full fifty lacs be liquidated: consequently nothing but the fear of an increase of demand, upon breach of the first engagement on her part, will induce her to prompt payment."
Letter from Mr. Richard Johnson to the Commanding Officer of the Guard. Lucknow, 23d July, 1782.
"Sir,—Some violent demands having been made for the release of the prisoners, it is necessary that every possible precaution be taken for their security. You will therefore be pleased to be very strict in guarding them; and I herewith send another pair of fetters, to be added to those now upon the prisoners."
Letter from Robert Steere Allen to Richard Johnson, Esq., Acting Resident. Lucknow, 23d July, 1782.
"Sir,—I have received your instructions, and ordered the fetters to be added; but they are by much too small for their feet. The utmost regard shall be paid to the security of the prisoners. I have sent back the fetters, that you may have them altered, if you think proper."
Letter from Mr. Johnson to the Officer commanding the Guard. Lucknow, 28th June, 1782.
"Sir,—The Nabob having determined to inflict corporal punishment upon the prisoners under your guard, this is to desire that his officers, when they shall come, may have free access to the prisoners, and be permitted to do with them as they shall see proper, only taking care that they leave them always under your charge."
I will now trouble your Lordships with the following passages from Mr. Holt's evidence.
"Q. Did you ever see the two ministers of the Begum?—A. I saw them brought into Lucknow.—Q. In what situation were they, when you saw them brought into Lucknow?—A. They were brought in their palanquins, attended by a guard of sepoys.—Q. Under whose command were the sepoys?—A. That they were brought in by?—Q. Yes.—A. I do not recollect.—Q. Were those sepoys that brought in the prisoners part of the Nabob's army, or were they any British troops?—A. To the best of my recollection, they were detached from a regiment then stationed at Fyzabad.—Q. In whose service was that regiment?—A. In the Company's.—Q. Were they imprisoned in any house near that in which you resided?—A. They were imprisoned immediately under the window of the house in which I resided, close to it.—Q. Did you or did you not ever see any preparations made for any corporal punishment?—A. I saw something of a scaffolding.—Q. For what purpose?—A. I heard it was for the purpose of tying them up.—Q. Whose prisoners did you consider these men to be?—A. I considered them as prisoners of the Resident; they were close to his house, and under an European officer."
Your Lordships have now seen the whole process, except one dreadful part of it, which was the threatening to send the Begum to the castle at Chunar. After all these cruelties, after all these menaces of further cruelties, after erecting a scaffold for actually exercising the last degree of criminal punishment, namely, by whipping these miserable persons in public,—after everything has been done but execution, our inability to prove by evidence this part of their proceedings has secured to your Lordships a circumstance of decorum observed on the stage where murders, executions, whippings, and cruelties are performed behind the scenes. I know as certainly as a man can know such a thing, from a document which I cannot produce in evidence here, but I have it in the handwriting of the Resident, Mr. Bristow, that Behar Ali Khan was actually scourged in the manner that we speak of. I had it in writing in the man's hand; I put the question to him, but he refused to answer it, because he thought it might criminate himself, and criminate us all; but if your Lordships saw the scaffold erected for the purpose, (and of this we have evidence,) would you not necessarily believe that the scourging did follow? All this was done in the name of the Nabob; but if the Nabob is the person claiming his father's effects, if the Nabob is the person vindicating a rebellion against himself upon his nearest relations, why did he not in person take a single step in this matter? why do we see nothing but his abused name in it? We see no order under his own hand. We see all the orders given by the cool Mr. Middleton, by the outrageous Mr. Johnson, by all that gang of persons that the prisoner used to disgrace the British name. Who are the officers that stormed their fort? who put on the irons? who sent them? who supplied them? They are all, all, English officers. There is not an appearance, even, of a minister of the Nabob's in the whole transaction. The actors are all Englishmen; and we, as Englishmen, call for punishment upon those who have thus degraded and dishonored the English name.
We do not use torture or cruelties, even for the greatest crimes, but have banished them from our courts of justice; we never suffer them in any case. Yet those men, in order to force others to break their most sacred trust, inflict tortures upon them. They drag their poor victims from dungeon to dungeon, from one place of punishment to another, and wholly on account of an extorted bond,—for they owed no money, they could not owe any,—but to got this miserable balance of 60,000l., founded upon their tables of exchange: after they had plundered these ladies of 500,000l. in money, and 70,000l. a year in land, they could not be satisfied without putting usury and extortion upon tyranny and oppression. To enforce this unjust demand, the miserable victims were imprisoned, ironed, scourged, and at last threatened to be sent prisoners to Chunar. This menace succeeded. The persons who had resisted irons, who had been, as the Begums say, refused food and water, stowed in an unwholesome, stinking, pestilential prison, these persons withstood everything till the fort of Chunar was mentioned to them; and then their fortitude gave way: and why? The fort of Chunar was not in the dominions of the Nabob, whose rights they pretended to be vindicating: to name a British fort, in their circumstances, was to name everything that is most horrible in tyranny; so, at least, it appeared to them. They gave way; and thus were committed acts of oppression and cruelty unknown, I will venture to say, in the history of India. The women, indeed, could not be brought forward and scourged, but their ministers were tortured, till, for their redemption, these princesses gave up all their clothes, all the ornaments of their persons, all their jewels, all the memorials of their husbands and fathers,—all were delivered up, and valued by merchants at 50,000l.; and they also gave up 5,000l. in money, or thereabouts: so that, in reality, only about 5,000l., a mere nothing, a sum not worth mentioning, even in the calculations of extortion and usury, remained unpaid.
But, my Lords, what became of all this money? When you examine these witnesses here, they tell you it was paid to Hyder Beg Khan. Now they had themselves received the money in tale at their own assay-table. And when an account is demanded of the produce of the goods, they shrink from it, and say it was Hyder Beg Khan who received the things and sold them. Where is Hyder Beg Khan's receipt? The Begums say (and the thing speaks for itself) that even gold and jewels coming from them lost their value; that part of the goods were spoilt, being kept long unsold in damp and bad warehouses; and that the rest of the goods were sold, as thieves sell their spoil, for little or nothing. In all this business Mr. Hastings and Mr. Middleton were themselves the actors, chief actors; but now, when they are called to account, they substitute Hyder Beg Khan in their place, a man that is dead and gone, and you hear nothing more of this part of the business.
But the sufferings of these eunuchs did not end here; they were, on account of this odd 5,000l., confined for twelve months,—not prisoners at large, like this prisoner who thrusts his sore leg into your Lordships' faces every day, but in harsh and cruel confinement. These are the persons that I feel for. It is their dungeon, it is their unrevenged wrongs that move me. It is for these innocent, miserable, unhappy men, who were guilty of no offence but fidelity to their mistresses, in order to vex and torture whom (the first women in Asia) in the persons of their ministers these cruelties were exercised,—these are they for whom I feel, and not for the miserable sore leg or whining cant of this prisoner. He has been the author of all these wrongs; and if you transfer to him any of the sympathy you owe to these sufferers, you do wrong, you violate compassion. Think of their irons. Has not this criminal, who put on these irons, been without one iron? Has he been threatened with torture? Has he been locked up without food and water? Have his sufferings been aggravated as the sufferings of these poor men were aggravated? What punishment has been inflicted, and what can be inflicted upon him, in any manner commensurate with the atrocity of his crimes?
At last, my Lords, these unhappy men were released. Mr. Bristow, who had been sent to Lucknow, writes to Mr. Hastings, and informs him that severities could do no more, that imprisonments and menaces could get no more money. I believe not, for I doubt much whether any more was to be got. But whether there was or not, all the arts of extortion, fortified by all the arts of tyranny, of every name and species, had failed, and therefore Mr. Bristow released the prisoners,—but without any warrant for so doing from Mr. Hastings, who, after having received this letter from Mr. Bristow, gets the Supreme Council to order these very severities to be continued till the last farthing was paid. In order to induce the Council to sanction this measure, he suppressed Mr. Bristow's declaration, that severities could do nothing more in exacting further payments; and the Resident, I find, was afterwards obliquely punished for his humanity by Mr. Hastings.
Mr. Bristow's letter is dated the 12th of December, and he thus writes.
"The battalion at Fyzabad" (where the Begums and their ministers had been confined) "is recalled, and my letter to the board of the 1st instant has explained my conduct to the Begum. The letter I addressed her, a translation of which I beg leave to inclose, (No. 2,) was with a view of convincing her that you readily assented to her being freed from the restraints which had been imposed upon her, and that your acquiescence in her sufferings was a measure of necessity, to which you were forced by her extraordinary conduct. I wished to make it appear this was a matter on which you directed me to consult the Vizier's pleasure, that it might be known you were the spring from whence she was restored to her dignity and consequence."
On the 3d of March following, the Council agree to send the following order to Mr. Bristow.
"We desire you will inform us if any and what means have been taken for recovering the balance due from the Begum at Fyzabad, and, if necessary, that you recommend it to the Vizier to enforce the most effectual means for that purpose."
My Lords, you see the fraud he has put upon the Council. You will find that Mr. Bristow's letters, up to the 3d of March, had been suppressed; and though then communicated, yet he instigated his cat's-paw, that blind and ignorant Council, to demand from the Vizier the renewal of these very severities and cruelties, the continuance of which the letters in his pocket had shown him were of no effect. Here you have an instance of his implacable cruelty; you see that it never relaxes, never remits, and that, finding all the resources of tyranny useless and ineffective, he is still willing to use them, and for that purpose he makes a fraudulent concealment of the utter inefficacy of all the means that had been used.
But, you will ask, what could make him persevere in these acts of cruelty, after his avarice had been more than satiated? You will find it is this. He had had some quarrel with these women. He believed that they had done him some personal injury or other, of which he nowhere informs you. But, as you find that in the case of Cheyt Sing he considered his visit to General Clavering as an horrid outrage against himself, which he never forgave, and revenged to the ruin of that miserable person, so you find that he has avowed the same malicious disposition towards the Begums, arising from some similar cause. In page 367 of your printed Minutes, he says,—"I am sorry that I must in truth add, that a part of the resentment of the Begums was, as I had too much reason to suspect, directed to myself personally. The incidents which gave rise to it are too light to be mixed with the professed subject and occasion of this detail; and as they want the authenticity of recorded evidence, I could lay no claim to credit in my relation of them. At some period I may be induced to offer them to the world, my ultimate and unerring judges, both of that and of every other trait in my political character."
My Lords, you have an anecdote here handed to you which is the key of a great part of this transaction. He had determined upon some deep and desperate revenge for some injury or affront of some kind or other that he thought he had received from these people. He accuses them of a personal quarrel with himself; and yet he has not the honor or honesty to tell you what it was,—what it was that could induce them to entertain such a personal resentment against him as to ruin themselves and their country by their supposed rebellion. He says, that some time or other he will tell it to the world. Why did he not tell his counsel, and authorize them to tell a story which could not be unimportant, as it was connected with a rebellion which shook the British power in India to its foundation? And if it be true that this rebellion had its rise in some wicked act of this man, who had offended these women, and made them, as he says, his mortal enemies, you will then see that you never can go so deep with this prisoner that you do not find in every criminal act of his some other criminal act. In the lowest deep there is still a lower deep. In every act of his cruelty there is some hidden, dark motive, worse than the act itself, of which he just gives you a hint, without exposing it to that open light which truth courts and falsehood basely slinks from.
But cruelly as they have suffered, dreadfully as they have been robbed, insulted as they have been, in every mode of insult that could be offered to women of their rank, all this must have been highly aggravated by coming from such a man as Mr. Middleton. You have heard the audacious and insulting language he has held to them, his declining to correspond with them, and the mode of his doing it. There are, my Lords, things that embitter the bitterness of oppression itself: contumelious acts and language, coming from persons who the other day would have licked the dust under the feet of the lowest servants of these ladies, must have embittered their wrongs, and poisoned the very cup of malice itself.
Oh! but they deserved it. They were concerned in a wicked, outrageous rebellion: first, for expelling their own son from his dominions; and, secondly, for expelling and extirpating the English nation out of India.—Good God Almighty! my Lords, do you hear this? Do you understand that the English nation had made themselves so odious, so particularly hateful, even to women the most secluded from the world, that there was no crime, no mischief, no family destruction, through which they would not wade, for our extermination? Is this a pleasant thing to hear of? Rebellion is, in all parts of the world, undoubtedly considered as a great misfortune: in some countries it must be considered as a presumption of some fault in government: nowhere is it boasted of as supplying the means of justifying acts of cruelty and insult, but with us.
We have, indeed, seen that a rebellion did exist in Baraitch and Goruckpore. It was an universal insurrection of the people: an insurrection for the very extermination of Englishmen,—for the extermination of Colonel Hannay,—for the extermination of Captain Gordon,—for the extermination of Captain Williams, and of all the other captains and colonels exercising the office of farmer-general and sub-farmer-general in the manner that we have described. We know that there did exist in that country such a rebellion. But mark, my Lords, against whom!—against these mild and gracious sovereigns, Colonel Hannay, Captain Gordon, Captain Williams. Oh, unnatural and abominable rebellion!—But will any one pretend to say that the Nabob himself was ever attacked by any of these rebels? No: the attacks were levelled against the English. The people rose in favor of their lawful sovereign, against a rebellion headed by Mr. Middleton, who, you see, usurped his authority,—headed by Colonel Hannay,—headed by Captain Gordon,—headed by all those abominable persons exercising, under the Nabob's name, an authority destructive to himself and his subjects. Against them there was a rebellion. But was this an unnatural rebellion,—a rebellion against usurped authority, to save the prince, his children, and state, from a set of vile usurpers?
My Lords, I shall soon close our proceeding for this day, because I wish to leave this part of our charge strongly and distinctly impressed upon your Lordships' memory, and because nothing can aggravate it. I shall next proceed, in the farther examination of the prisoner's defence, to dissipate, as I trust we have done, and as I hope we shall do, all the miserable stuff they have given by way of defence. I shall often have occasion to repeat and press upon your Lordships that that miserable defence is a heavy aggravation of his crime. At present, I shall conclude, leaving this part of our charge with the impression upon your Lordships' minds that this pretended rebellion was merely an insurrection against the English, excited by their oppression.
If the rebellion was against the Nabob, or if he was the author of the oppression which caused it, why do the English only appear to be concerned in both of them? How comes it that the Nabob never appears to have expressed any resentment against the rebels? We shall prove beyond a doubt, that the Begums had nothing to do with it. There was, indeed, as I have already said, what may be called a rebellion; but it was a rebellion against—not the Nabob, but in favor of the lawful prince of the country,—against the usurpers of his authority and the destroyers of his country. With this, as a rebellion, Mr. Hastings has charged these women; he has charged them with a war against their son, for the purpose of exterminating the English. Look, I pray you, at the whole business, consider all the circumstances of it, and ask yourselves whether this is not a charge, not only so grossly improbable, but so perfectly impossible, that there is not any evidence which can make it even plausible. Consider next, my Lords, on the other side, the evidence of their innocence, and then ask yourselves whether any additional matter could make its probability in the least degree more probable. My Lords, the evidence we have produced is neither more nor less than that of almost all the persons who have had a share in exciting that rebellion, and who, to justify their own horrible cruelty, have attempted to charge the natural consequences of that cruelty upon these unhappy women.
But where, all this time, is the Nabob, against whom this rebellion is pretended to be directed? Was it ever even insinuated to him that his mother had raised a rebellion against him? When were the proofs shown to him? Did he ever charge her with it? He surely must have been most anxious to prevent and suppress a rebellion against himself: but not one word on that subject has ever come out of his mouth; nor has any one person been produced to show that he was informed of the existence of such a rebellion. The persons said to be rebels are his mother and grandmother; and I again ask, Was there the least intimation given to him by Mr. Middleton, or by any other person, of their being even suspected of rebellion against him? There was, indeed, a hint of some rebellion, which the creatures of Mr. Hastings got at obliquely; but neither the person against whom the rebellion is supposed to exist, nor the persons who were said to be guilty of it, were ever either informed of or charged with it. I defy the prisoner and his whole gang to produce one word ever uttered by any one of them, from which the Nabob or Begums could learn that they were supposed to be concerned in the rebellion: so that none of those who were said to be the principal actors in the scene ever heard of the parts they were acting from the actual authors and managers of the business. Not one word was uttered of a charge made, much less of proof given. Nothing was heard but "Give me the money!"—irons,—new irons,—new imprisonment,—and at last the castle of Chunar.
And here I beg leave to pause, and to leave upon your minds the impression, first, of the wrong that was done, the violence, and the robbery,—and, secondly, of the pretences, both civil and criminal, by which they have attempted to justify their proceedings.
SIXTH DAY, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 1794.
My Lords,—Your Lordships will recollect that we closed the last day of your proceeding in this trial at a most interesting part of our charge, or rather of our observations upon that charge. We closed at that awful moment when we found the first women of Oude pillaged of all their landed and of all their moneyed property, in short, of all they possessed. We closed by reciting to you the false pretence on which this pillage was defended, namely, that it was the work of the Nabob. Now we had before proved to you, from evidence adduced by the prisoner himself, that this Nabob was a mere tool in his hands; and therefore, if this pretence be true, it aggravates his guilt: for surely the forcing a son to violate the property of his mother must everywhere be considered a crime most portentous and enormous. At this point we closed; and after the detail which has been given you already of these horrible and iniquitous proceedings, some apology may perhaps be necessary for entering again into the refutation of this iniquitous pretence.
My honorable fellow Manager who preceded me in this business did, in his remarks upon the inference drawn by the prisoner's counsel from the seizure of the Begums' treasures by the Nabob, as evidence of their guilt, as he ought to do,—he treated it with proper contempt. I consider it, indeed, to be as little an evidence of their guilt as he does, and as little a defence of that seizure as he does. But I consider it in another and in a new light, namely, as a heavy aggravation of the prisoner's crimes, and as a matter that will let you into the whole spirit of his government; and I warn your Lordships against being imposed on by evasions, of which if it were possible for you to be the dupes, you would be unfit to be judges of the smallest matters in the world, civil or criminal.
The first observation which I shall beg leave to make to your Lordships is this, that the whole of the proceedings, from beginning to end, has been a mystery of iniquity, and that in no part of them have the orders of the Company been regarded, but, on the contrary, the whole has been carried on in a secret and clandestine manner.
It is necessary that your Lordships should be acquainted with the manner in which the correspondence of the Company's servants ought to be carried on and their proceedings regulated; your Lordships, therefore, will please to hear read the orders given concerning correspondence of every kind with the country powers. You will remember the period when these orders were issued, namely, the period at which the act passed for the better direction of the servants of the Company. By this act Mr. Hastings was appointed to be Governor-General, and the Court of Directors was required by that act to prepare orders and instructions, which Mr. Hastings was required by the same act to comply with. You will see what these instructions and orders were, and in what manner he has complied with them.
Extract of General Instructions to the Governor-General and Council, 29th of March, 1774.
"We direct that you assemble in Council twice every week, and that all the members be duly summoned; that the correspondence with the princes or country powers in India be carried on by the Governor-General only, but that all letters sent by him be first approved in Council, and that he lay before the Council, at their next meeting, all letters received by him in the course of such correspondence, for their information. We likewise direct that a copy of such parts of the country correspondence be communicated to our Board of Trade: (to be constituted as hereinafter mentioned) as may any ways relate to the business of their department."
You will observe, my Lords, two important circumstances in these instructions: first, that, after the board had regularly met, the Persian correspondence, kept by the Governor only, was to be communicated to the Council; and, secondly, that he should write no answer to any part of the business until he had previously consulted the Council upon it. Here is the law of the land,—an order given in pursuance of an act of Parliament. Your Lordships will consider how Mr. Hastings comported himself with regard to those orders: for we charge it as a substantive crime, independent of the criminal presumptions arising from it, that he violated an act of Parliament which imposed direct instructions upon him as to the manner in which he was to conduct all matters of business with the native powers.
My Lords, we contend strongly that all the positive rules and injunctions of the law, though they are merely positive, and do not contain anything but mere matters of regulation, shall be strictly observed. The reason is this, and a serious reason it is: official tyranny and oppression, corruption, peculation, and bribery are crimes so secret in their nature that we can hardly ever get to the proof of them without the assistance of rules, orders, and regulations of a positive nature, intended to prevent the perpetration of these crimes, and to detect the offender in case the crimes should be actually perpetrated. You ought, therefore, to presume, that, whenever such rules or laws are broken, these crimes are intended to be committed; for you have no means of security against the commission of secret crimes but by enforcing positive laws, the breach of which must be always plain, open, and direct. Such, for instance, is the spirit of the laws, that, although you cannot directly prove bribery or smuggling in a hundred cases where they have been committed, you can prove whether the proper documents, proper cockets, proper entries in regular offices have been observed and performed, or not. By these means you lock the door against bribery, you lock the door against corruption, against smuggling and contraband trade. But how? By falling upon and attacking the offence? No, by falling upon and attacking the breach of the regulation. You prove that the man broke the regulation, and, as he could have no other motive or interest in breaking it, you presume that he broke it fraudulently, and you punish the man not for the crime the regulation was meant to prevent, but you punish him for the breach of the regulation itself.
Next to the breach of these positive instructions, your Lordships will attend to the consequent concealment and mystery by which it was accompanied. All government must, to preserve its authority, be sincere in its declarations and authentic in its acts. Whenever in any matter of policy there is a mystery, you must presume a fraud; whenever in any matter of money there is concealment, you must presume misconduct: you must therefore affix your punishment to the breach of the rule; otherwise the conviction of public delinquents would be unattainable.
I have therefore put before you that rule which he has violated; and we, the Commons, call upon your Lordships to enforce that rule, and to avenge the breach of it. You have seen the consequences of breaking the rule; and we have charged and do charge it as a heavy aggravation of those consequences, that, instead of consulting the Council, instead of laying the whole correspondence before them, instead of consulting them upon his answers, he went himself up into the country, took his Majesty's chief-justice along with him, and made that person the instrument of those wrongs, violences, robberies, and concealments which we call upon your Lordships to punish.
My Lords, an extraordinary circumstance occurred in the course of our proceedings in another place, which I must state, to show you in what a horrible manner your laws have been trampled upon and despised. None of the proceedings which have been last stated to your Lordships respecting the seizure of the treasures of the Begums appear upon any public record whatever. From the manner in which they came to our knowledge, your Lordships will perceive what must have been the prisoner's own opinion of the horrible nature of proceedings which he thought so necessary to be concealed.
Whilst we were inquiring into the violences committed against the Begums, in breach of the treaty entered into with them, there came into my hands an anonymous letter containing a full account of all the matter which has lately been stated to you. It came anonymously; and I did not know from what quarter it came. I do not even know with certainty at this hour: I say, not with certainty, for I can only form a conjecture. This anonymous communication enabled us to produce all the correspondence with Mr. Middleton respecting the cruelties exercised towards the Begums and their eunuchs in order to extort money. We found the names of Major Gilpin and several other persons in these letters. We also found in them a strong fox smell of a Sir Elijah Impey, that his brush and crime had left behind him; we traced him by that scent; and as we proceeded, we discovered the footsteps of as many of the wolves as Mr. Hastings thought proper to leave there. We sent for and examined Mr. Middleton, and Major Gilpin produced his correspondence. When we applied to Mr. Middleton, we found that all this part of his correspondence had been torn out of his book; but having come at it by means of our anonymous communication, we subsequently proved and established it, in the manner we have done before your Lordships. Here, then, you have important matter which this anonymous letter has brought to light; and otherwise the whole of this correspondence, so essential to the interests and justice of Great Britain, would have been concealed by this wicked man. Thus, I say, his violation of a positive law would have remained undiscovered, if mere accident had not enabled us to trace this iniquity to its source. Therefore I begin our proceedings this day by stating to your Lordships this fact, and by calling upon your justice to punish him for this violation of the laws of his country.
We have told you who the instruments were by which all this wickedness was committed, Mr. Middleton and Mr. Johnson, persons who were sent as ambassadors to represent the interests of the Company at the court of an independent prince. Over this prince they usurped an absolute power; they even made use of British officers in his own service and receiving his pay, to enslave his person, and to force him to rob his kindred. These agents were aided by an English chief-justice, sent under the authority of an act of Parliament to represent the sovereign majesty of English justice, and to be a restraint upon the misconduct of the Company's servants. These are the instruments with which this man works. We have shown you his system; we have shown you his instruments: we will now proceed with the examination of the pretences upon which this horrid and nefarious act is attempted to be justified. We have not entered into this examination for the sake of refuting things that want no refutation, but for the purpose of showing you the spirit of the whole proceeding, and making it appear to your Lordships, as I trust it will appear, that the wicked act done there is not half so bad as the wicked defence made here.
The first part of Sir Elijah Impey's commission, as your Lordships will remember, was to seize upon the Begums' treasures. He had likewise another budget of instructions, which has been discovered in the trunks of which your Lordships have heard,—secret instructions to be given by him to Mr. Middleton for the furtherance of this business. And that his office of Chief-Justice should not lie dormant, he was commissioned to seek for affidavits or written testimony from any persons, for the purpose of convicting these women of a design of atrociously revolting against their son, and deposing him from the government, with a view of getting rid of the English inhabitants. This was the accusation; and the evidence to support it Sir Elijah Impey was sent to collect.
My Lords, I must here observe to your Lordships that there is no act of violence which, merely as an act of violence, may not in some sort be borne: because an act of violence infers no principle; it infers nothing but a momentary impulse of a bad mind, proceeding, without law or justice, to the execution of its object. For at the same time that it pays no regard to law, it does not debauch it, it does not wrest it to its purposes: the law disregarded still exists; and hope still exists in the sufferer, that, when law shall be resorted to, violence will cease, and wrongs will be redressed. But whenever the law itself is debauched, and enters into a corrupt coalition with violence, robbery, and wrong, then all hope is gone; and then it is not only private persons that suffer, but the law itself, when so corrupted, is often perverted into the worst instrument of fraud and violence; it then becomes most odious to mankind, and an infinite aggravation of every injury they suffer.
We have therefore in our charge strongly reprobated Sir Elijah Impey's going to take such affidavits. "Oh! but," they say, "a judge may take an affidavit in his chamber privately; and he may take an affidavit, though not exactly in the place of his jurisdiction, to authenticate a bond, or the like."—We are not to be cheated by words. It is not dirty shreds of worn-out parchments, the sweepings of Westminster Hall, that shall serve us in place of that justice upon, which the world stands. Affidavits! We know that in the language of our courts affidavits do not signify a body of evidence to sustain a criminal charge, but are generally relative to matter [matters?] in process collateral to the charge, which, not coming before the jury, are made known to the judge by way of affidavit.
But was it ever heard, or will it be borne, that a person exercising a judicial office under his Majesty should walk beyond the sphere of his jurisdiction,—that he should desert the station in which he was placed for the protection of the natives, and should march to such a place as Lucknow in order to take depositions for criminating persons in that country, without so much as letting these poor victims know one article in the depositions so taken? These depositions, my Lords, were made to criminate, they were meant to justify a forfeiture, and are not in the nature of those voluntary affidavits which, whether made within jurisdiction or without, whether made publicly or privately, signify comparatively nothing to the cause. I do not mean, to say that any process of any court has not its weight, when the matter is within it in the ordinary course of proceedings: it is the extraordinary course, the extrajudicial conduct, which divests it of that just weight it otherwise would have.
This chief-justice goes to Lucknow, where he holds his court, such as it was. He is ready to authenticate any process by the signature of the English chief-justice, in a court which he holds by night, in a court which he holds in darkness and secrecy. He holds his court in Fyzabad; he holds it, unknown to the Nabob of Oude, in his own capital, and without giving him the least knowledge of or any notice of what he was proceeding to do. He holds it at the lodgings of Colonel Morgan, a pensioner of the Nabob; and the person assisting him is Mr. Middleton, who is likewise, as we have proved to you, one of the Nabob's pensioners, a monopolizer of trade in the country, and a person who received much the major part of his emoluments from the Nabob's hands.
In that clandestine manner, in the Nabob's own house, in his own capital city, in the lodging of his dependant and pensioner, Colonel Morgan, with no other witness that we know of than Mr. Middleton, was this iniquitous, dark procedure held, to criminate the mother of the Nabob. We here see a scene of dark, mysterious contrivance: let us now see what is brought out in the face of open day. The attestations themselves, which you have seen on the record before you. They were brought out—where? there? No: they were brought out in another place; they were brought out at Calcutta,—but were never communicated to the Nabob. He never knew anything of the matter. Let us now see what those attestations were. Your Lordships will bear in mind that I do not advert to this thing, which they bring as evidence, in the way of imputation of its being weak, improper, and insufficient evidence, but as an incontrovertible proof of crimes, and of a systematic design to ruin the accused party, by force there and by chicane here: these are the principles upon which I am going to talk to you upon this abominable subject,—of which, I am sorry to say, I have no words sufficient to express my horror. No words can express it; nor can anything but the severity of your Lordships' judgments find an adequate expression of it. It is not to be expressed in words, but in punishment.
Having stated before whom the evidence collected in this body of affidavits was taken, I shall now state who the persons were that gave it. They were those very persons who were guilty of robbing and ruining the whole country: yes, my Lords, the very persons who had been accused of this in the mass by Mr. Hastings himself. They were nothing less than the whole body of those English officers who were usurping the office of farmers-general, and other lucrative offices in the Nabob's government, and whose pillage and peculations had raised a revolt of the whole kingdom against themselves. These persons are here brought in a mass to clear themselves of this charge by criminating other persons, and clandestinely imputing to them the effect of their own iniquity.
But supposing these witnesses to be good for anything, supposing it fit that the least attention should be paid them, the matter of their testimony may very possibly be true without criminating the Begum. It criminates Saadut Ali Khan, the brother of the Nabob; the word Begum is never mentioned in the crimination but in conjunction with his; and much the greater part of it criminates the Nabob himself. Now, my Lords, I will say, that the matter of these affidavits, forgetting who the deponents were, may possibly be true, as far as respects Saadut Ali Khan, but that it is utterly as improbable, which is the main point and the stress of the thing, with respect to the Begums, as it is impossible with respect to the Nabob. That Saadut Ali, being a military man, a man ambitious and aspiring to greatness, should take advantage of the abuses of the English government and of the discontent of the country, that he should, I say, raise a revolt against his brother is very possible; but it is scarcely within possibility that the mother of the Nabob should have joined with the illegitimate son against her legitimate son. I can only say that in human affairs there is the possibility of truth in this. It is possible she might wish to depose her legitimate son, her only legitimate son, and to depose him for the sake of a bastard son of her husband's,—to exalt him at the expense of the former, and to exalt, of course, the mother of that bastard at her own expense, and to her own wrong. But I say, that this, though possible, is grossly improbable. The reason why the Begum is implicated in this charge with Saadut Ali by the affidavits cannot escape your notice. Their own acquittal might be the only object of the deponents in their crimination of the latter; but the treasures of the former were the objects of their employers, and these treasures could not be come at but by the destruction of the Begums.
But, my Lords, there are other affidavits, or whatever your Lordships may call them, that go much further. In order to give a color to the accusation, and make it less improbable, they say that the Nabob himself was at the bottom of it, and that he joined with his brother and his mother to extirpate out of his dominions that horrible grievance, the English brigade officers,—those English officers who were the farmers-general, and who, as we have proved by Mr. Hastings's own evidence, had ruined the country. Nothing is more natural than that a man, sensible of his duty to himself and his subjects, should form a scheme to get rid of a band of robbers that were destroying his country and degrading and ruining his family. Thus you see a family compact naturally accounted for: the Nabob at the head of it, his mother joining her own son, and a natural brother joining in the general interests of the family. This is a possible case. But is this the case pressed by them? No: they pass lightly over the legitimate son; they scarcely touch upon Saadut Ali Khan; they sink the only two persons that could give probability or possibility to this business, and endeavor to throw the whole design upon these two unfortunate women.
Your Lordships see the wickedness and baseness of the contrivance. They first, in order to keep the whole family in terror, accuse the whole family; then, having possessed themselves of the treasures of the Begums upon another pretence, they endeavor to fix upon them that improbable guilt which they had with some degree of probability charged upon the whole family, as a farther justification of that spoliation. Your Lordships will see what an insult is offered to the Peers of Great Britain, in producing before you, by way of defence, such gross, scandalous, and fraudulent proceedings.
Who the first set of witnesses were which they produced before their knight-errant chief-justice, Sir Elijah Impey, who wandered in search of a law adventure, I have laid open to your Lordships. You have now had an account of the scandalous manufacture of that batch of affidavits which was in the budget of Sir Elijah Impey,—that Pandora's box which I have opened, and out of which has issued every kind of evil. This chief-justice went up there with the death-warrant of the Begums' treasures, and, for aught he knew, the death-warrant of their persons. At the same time that he took these affidavits he became himself a witness in this business; he appears as a witness. How? Did he know any one circumstance of the rebellion? No, he does not even pretend to do so. "But," says he, "in my travels I was obliged to avoid Fyzabad, upon account of the suspected rebellion there." Another chief-justice would have gone fifty miles about to avoid Lucknow, for everybody knows that Lucknow was the focus and centre of extortion, corruption, and peculation, and that a worse air for the lungs of a chief-justice could not be found in the world. If his lungs wanted the benefit of pure air, he would even have put himself in the focus of a rebellion, to have kept at a distance from the smell of carrion and putrid corruption of every kind that was at Lucknow. A chief-justice may go to a place where a rebellion is raging, he may die a martyr to his honor; but a chief-justice who puts himself into the focus of peculation, into the focus of bribery, into the focus of everything that is base and corrupt,—what can we expect from him but that he will be engaged in clandestine jobs there? The former might kill Sir Elijah Impey, the knight-errant, but the chief-justice would remain pure and entire; whereas Sir Elijah Impey has escaped from Lucknow, and the chief-justice is left by Mr. Hastings to shift for himself.
After mentioning this violation of the laws of hospitality by Sir Elijah Impey, I would ask, Was any notice given by him, or by any of Mr. Hastings's agents, to the Nabob, who was so immediately interested in this matter? Was any notice given to the Begums that any such charge was entertained against them? Not a word. Was it notified to the eunuchs? Was it to Saadut Ali Khan? Not a word. They were all within their power. The eunuchs were a year in irons, and they were subjected to the want of food and water for a part of that year. They were dragged from Fyzabad to Lucknow, and from Lucknow to Fyzabad. During all that time was there a word mentioned to them by any one person on the part of Mr. Hastings, that they were accused of this matter? Not a word.
We now submit to your Lordships' vindictive justice and condemnation this recriminatory defence, in which every principle of justice has been violated. And now I will ask your Lordships whether you would have suffered such a procedure in the case of the prisoner at your bar. It was asked by a person of great authority in this House, when we were going to produce certain evidence against Mr. Hastings, (we do not say whether we offered to produce it properly or improperly,—that is another matter,)—we were asked, I say, whether our intentions of producing that evidence had been communicated to Mr. Hastings. Had he had an opportunity of cross-examining the witnesses who had given that evidence? No, he added, that evidence must be rejected. Now I say to your Lordships, upon the same ground, deal with the Begums as you dealt with Mr. Hastings. Do not keep two weights and measures for different persons in the same cause. You would not suffer such evidence to be produced against him; you will not assuredly suffer such evidence to be produced to you in his favor and against them.
My Lords, the cause between this man and these unfortunate women is at last come into Westminster Hall; the cause is come to a solemn trial; and we demand other witnesses and other kinds of proof than what these affidavits furnish. My Lords, the persons who have been examined here are almost all of them the same persons who made these affidavits; but there is this material difference in their evidence: at your Lordships' bar they sunk all those parts of their former evidence which criminated the Nabob and Saadut Ali, and confined their testimony wholly to what related to the Begums. We were obliged, by a cross-examination, to squeeze out of them the disavowal of what they had deposed on the former occasion. The whole of their evidence we leave to the judgment of your Lordships, with these summary remarks: first, that they are the persons who were to profit by their own wrong; they are the persons who had seven months' arrears paid to them out of the money of these unfortunate ladies; they are the persons who, to justify the revolt which they had caused in the country by their robbery, charge their own guilt upon others. The credibility of their evidence is therefore gone. But if it were not affected by these circumstances, Mr. Hastings has put an end to it by telling you that there is not one of them who is to be credited upon his oath,—no, not in a court-martial; and can it, therefore, be expected that in a case of peculation they will do otherwise than acquit the party accused? He has himself laid before you the horrible state of the whole service; your Lordships have it fresh in your memories, and ringing in your ears. You have also heard from witnesses brought by Mr. Hastings himself, that these soldiers committed misdemeanors of the very same kind with those which we have stated. They ought not, therefore, to be listened to for a moment; and we aver that it is an aggravation of the prisoner's crimes, that he has brought the instruments of his guilt, the persons of whom he has complained as having ruined and destroyed that country, and whom he had engaged, at the Nabob's desire, in the treaty of Chunar, to send out of the country, as being a nuisance in it,—to bring, I say, these people here, to criminate, at a distance of nine thousand miles, these unfortunate women, where they have neither attorney or agent who can from local knowledge cross-examine them. He has the audacity to bring these people here; and in what manner they comport themselves, when they come here, your Lordships have seen.
There is one of them whom we cannot pass by: that is, Captain Gordon. The other witnesses, who appeared here as evidences to criminate the Begums, did it by rumors and hearsays. They had heard some person say that the Begums had encouraged rebellion, always coupling them with Saadut Ali Khan, and sometimes with the Nabob, because there might have been some probability for their charge in the transactions with Saadut Ali Khan, which, though impossible with regard to the Begums, they thought would implicate him [them?] in his designs. But Captain Gordon is to give a different account of the proceedings.
Captain Gordon was one of Colonel Hannay's under-farmers. He was hunted out of the country and, as one of the Begums says, pursued by a thousand of the zemindars, for robbing the whole country. This woman, through respect to the British name, that name which guarantied her possessions to her, receives this Captain Gordon and Captain Williams with every mark of kindness, hospitality, and protection, that could be given them. She conveys them from the borders to the city of Fyzabad, and from Fyzabad, her capital, supposed to be the nest of her rebellion, on to their place of destination. They both write her letters full of expressions of gratitude and kindness for the services that they had received. They then pass on to Lucknow to Sir Elijah Impey, and there they sink every word of kindness, of any service or protection that they had received, or of any acknowledgment that they had ever made of it. They sink all this: not one word of it appears in their affidavits.
How, then, did we come to the knowledge of it? We got it from Major Gilpin, who was examined in the course of these proceedings; and we used it in our charge, from the papers that we hold in our hands. Mr. Hastings has confessed the fact; and Mr. Middleton has endeavored to slur it over, but could not completely conceal it. We have established the fact, and it is in evidence before your Lordships.
You have now, then, in this manner, got these testimonials given by English officers in favor of these women; and by the same means the letters of the latter accusing the former are come to your hands: and now these same English officers come here with their recriminatory accusation. Now why did they not make it at Lucknow? Why did not Mr. Hastings, when Mr. Middleton had such papers for him in his hands, why, I ask, did not Mr. Hastings procure some explanation of the circumstances whilst he was in India? I will read your Lordships the letter, that you may not only know, but feel, the iniquity of this business.
Letter from the Mother of the Vizier to Mr. Hastings; received the 6th of January, 1782.
"Our situation is pretty well, and your good health is constantly prayed for. I had sent Behar Ali Khan to you. Accordingly people invented a falsehood, that Behar Ali Khan was gone to get the deputyship of the Subah; and some persons here were saying, 'Wherefore has she sent Behar Ali Khan to Calcutta to the Nabob Amaud ul Dowlah? We will never permit the affair to succeed.' And accordingly it has so happened. For they say that you also have not put your seal to the treaty: and the people here say, 'Why does the noble lady correspond with the English gentlemen?' On this account, I did not send a letter at the time when you came this way. Now the state of affairs here is thus. On the 27th Zehedja, Asoph ul Dowlah Banadur, without my knowledge, sent his own aumils into my jaghires. I accordingly wrote several times to Mr. Middleton on this business: that his seal was to the treaty and writing of discharge; why did he not negotiate in my favor? Mr. Middleton replied, 'The Nabob is the master.' I wrote frequently, but without effect. Being helpless, I represent to you the state of my affairs, that, notwithstanding the existence of this treaty, I have been treated in this manner. It is useless for me to stay here. Whatever is is a compact; whenever any one deviates from his compact, he meets with no credit for the future; and the light of mine eyes, Asoph ul Dowlah, wrote to me that he had sent his own aumils into my jaghires, and would pay ready money from his treasury. Reflect on my security for his adhering to his future engagements, from the consideration of his conduct under his past promises. I do not agree to his ready money. Let me have my jaghires as formerly; otherwise, leaving this place, I will wait on you at Benares, and thence will go towards Shahjehanabad, because he has not adhered to his engagement. Send letters to Asoph ul Dowlah, and to Mr. Middleton, and Hussein Reza Khan, and Hyder Beg Khan, not to molest the Begum's jaghires, and to let them remain, as formerly, with the Begum's aumils. And it is here suspected of me that my aumil plundered the property of Mr. John Gordon. The case is this. Mr. John Gordon arrived at Taunda, a jaghire of mine, fighting with the zemindars of Acberpore, which belongs to the Khalseh. Accordingly, Mr. John Gordon having come to Taunda, my aumil performed whatever appertained to his duty. Afterwards Mr. John Gordon wrote to me to send my people, that he might come with them to Fyzabad. I sent people accordingly to bring Mr. John Gordon, and the said gentleman arrived here in complete safety; and Mr. John Gordon is now present. Ask him yourself of these matters. Mr. John Gordon will represent matters in detail; the truth will then become known, how ill-founded the calumny is. Should you come here for a few days, it will be very well, and if not, I will wait on you; and your coming here is very necessary, that all my affairs may become arranged. And send a speedy answer to my letters, and a letter to Asoph ul Dowlah, and Mr. Middleton, and Hussein Reza Khan, and Hyder Beg Khan, on the subject of ceasing to molest my jaghires. And send me constantly news of your health, for my peace of mind depends thereon."
This letter was transmitted to Mr. Hastings. I desire your Lordships will remark upon this letter, for it is a most important one indeed. It is hardly worth observing that all this correspondence came out of the various trunks of which your Lordships have already heard, and that this letter is out of the trunk of Mr. Hastings's private Persian secretary and interpreter, Mr. Jonathan Scott. Now, my Lords, in this letter there are several things worthy of your Lordships' observation. The first is, that this woman is not conscious of having ever been accused of any rebellion: the only accusation that ever came to her ears was, that Captain Gordon said that his baggage had been robbed by one of her aumils. She denies the truth of this charge; and she produces testimonials of their good behavior to him; and, what is the essential point of all, she desires Mr. Hastings to apply to this Mr. John Gordon, and to know from him what truth or falsehood there is in that accusation, and what weight there is in the attestation she produces. "Mr. Gordon is now present," says she; "ask him yourself of these matters." This reasonable request was not complied with. Mr. Gordon swears before Sir Elijah Impey to the robbery; but he never mentions the paper he had written, in which he confessed that he owed his life to this very lady. No inquiry was made into this matter. Colonel Hannay was then alive. Captain Gordon was alive, and she refers to him: yet that very man was sworn before Sir Elijah Impey, and accuses his prisoner. Did the prisoner at your bar make that attestation known to the Begum, whose letter at that very time was in his possession, in Mr. Scott's trunk,—that very letter in which he is desired to make the inquiry from Captain Gordon?
Mr. Hastings is acquainted with the facts stated by the Begum, and with Captain Gordon's accusation. Did he afterwards inform her of this accusation? or did he ask this Captain Gordon one question in India, where the matter might be ventilated? Not one word, my Lords. Therefore we fix upon him fraud, deceit, and the production of false evidence, after the woman had desired to have the man who was the evidence against her examined upon the spot. This he does not do, but with much more prudence he brings him here. And for what? To discredit his own testimony, and the written evidence. And how does he discredit them? There are two of these papers, which I beg leave to read to your Lordships.
Copy of a Letter to Jewar and Behar Ali Khan, from Mr. Gordon.
"Sirs, my indulgent friends, remain under, &c., &c., &c. After compliments, I have the pleasure to inform you, that yesterday, having taken leave of you, I passed the night at Noorgunge, and next morning about ten or eleven o'clock, through your favor and benevolence, arrived safe at Goondah. Mir Aboo Buksh Zemindar and Mir Rustum Ali accompanied me.
"To what extent can I prolong the praises of you, my beneficent friends? May the Supreme Being, for this benign, compassionate, humane action, have you in His keeping, and increase your property, and speedily grant me the pleasure of an interview; until which time continue to favor me with friendly letters, and oblige me by any commands in my power to execute. May your wishes be ever crowned with success! My compliments," &c., &c., &c.
Copy of an Address from Mr. Gordon to the Begum.
"Begum Saib of exalted dignity and generosity, whom God preserve! After presenting the usual professions of servitude, &c., in the customary manner, my address is presented.
"Your gracious letter, in answer to the petition of your servant from Goondah, exalted me. From the contents, I became unspeakably impressed with the honor it conferred. May the Almighty protect that royal purity, and bestow happiness, increase of wealth, and prosperity! The welfare of your servant is entirely owing to your favor and benevolence; a few days have elapsed since I arrived at Goondah, with the Colonel Saib.
"This is presented for your Highness's information. I cherish hopes from your generosity, that, considering me in the light of one of your servants, you will always continue to exalt and honor me with your gracious letters. May the sun of prosperity continually shine!"
These acknowledgments of the Begum's friendly disposition and services were concealed, when the charge was made against this woman at Lucknow before Sir Elijah Impey: I wish to impress this upon your Lordships' mind; and that before Mr. Hastings left Bengal, in the trunk of Major Scott, his private Persian interpreter, was this letter. Did he make that inquiry of Captain Gordon? No. Did he make that inquiry of Colonel Hannay? Did he make any inquiry into the matter, after his perusal of these letters? Or did he give this poor woman any opportunity of obtaining justice against this Captain Gordon, who, after acknowledging that he owed his life to her favor, calumniates and traduces her to her utter destruction? No, he never did; and therefore he is chargeable, and I charge him, with everything that is wrongful in Captain Gordon's evidence.
These papers, which carry with them a clear refutation of all the charges against the Begum, are never once produced, though Captain Gordon was referred to expressly for inquiry and explanation of the whole transaction by the woman herself. You hear nothing of them; there is no appearance of them in the affidavits; no such papers were laid before the Supreme Council; none were transmitted to the Court of Directors: but at last the House of Commons having come at the truth of this matter, Mr. Hastings, not daring to deny the existence of these papers, brings Captain Gordon to be examined here, in order to prove that papers which he had himself written were false. Is this to be tolerated? What will your Lordships think of a man that comes to attest his own infamy,—to declare that he has written papers containing falsehoods, and to invalidate the false testimony which he had before given? Is he to be suffered, I say, to come here, and endeavor to prove the absolute falsity of his own deeds by his own evidence?
The next point for your Lordships' consideration is the evidence which he produces to prove the falsity of a paper written by himself. Why, he himself is the sole evidence. And how does he prove it? Why, says he, "The reason of my writing that letter was this: she had sent a person with me as an escort, and this person was desirous of receiving some proof that he had done his duty; and therefore I wrote a complaisant letter. I meant nothing by it. It was written merely to satisfy the mind of the man." Now is that the way in which formal and solemn letters, written upon great occasions to great people, are to be explained away? If he had said nothing but "Your servant, such a one, has done his duty," this explanation might pass. But you see it has another complexion. It speaks of his owing his life to her. But if you admit that it is possible (for possibilities have an unknown extent) that he wrote such a letter at such a time and for such a purpose, and that the letter he wrote was false, and that the falsity of the letter is proved by his own testimony given in an affidavit which we have also reason to believe is false, your Lordships must at the same time admit that it is one of the most complex pieces of fraud and falsehood that, I believe, ever existed in the world. But it is worse than all this. There is another letter, written some days after, which I will read to you, and which he has not pretended to say was written only to testify that a messenger had executed his commission properly.
"Your gracious letter," (he thus writes,) "in answer to the petition of your servant from Goondah, exalted me. From the contents, I became unspeakably impressed with the honor it conferred."
My Lords, this letter was not sent back by a messenger, in acknowledgment of his having done his duty, but was written in consequence of a correspondence in the nature of a petition for something or other which he made to the Begum. That petition they have suppressed and sunk. It is plain, however, that the petition had been sent, and was granted; and therefore the apology that is made for the former letter does not apply to this letter, which was written afterwards.
How, then, do they attempt to get rid of this difficulty? Why, says Captain Gordon, "The Colonel Saib (by whom was meant Colonel Hannay) was not at Goondah, as stated in the letter, but at Succara, about eighteen miles from it, and therefore you ought not to pay much regard to this paper." But he does not deny the letter, nor was it possible for him to deny it. He says Colonel Hannay was not there. But how do we know whether Colonel Hannay was there or not? We have only his own word for it. But supposing he was not there, and that it was clearly proved that he was eighteen miles distant from it, Major Naylor was certainly with Captain Gordon at the time. Might not his Persian scribe (for he does not pretend to say he wrote the letter himself) take Major Naylor for a colonel, (for he was the superior officer to Captain Gordon,) and think him the Colonel Saib? For errors of that kind may be committed in our own country. Every day we may take a major for a lieutenant-colonel. This was an error that might easily have happened in such a case. He was in as high rank as Colonel Hannay; for Colonel Hannay at that time was only a major. I do not believe either of them was properly entitled to the name of Colonel Saib. I am ashamed, my Lords, to be obliged to remark upon this prevarication. Their own endeavors to get rid of their own written acts by contradictory evidence and false constructions sufficiently clear these women of the crimes of which they were accused; and I may now ask the prisoner at your bar how he dares to produce Captain Gordon here, how he dares thus to insult the Peers, how he dares thus to insult the public justice of his country, after not having dared to inquire, upon the spot, of this man, to whom he was referred by the Begums for an account of this very transaction?
I hope your Lordships have got enough of this kind of evidence. All the rest is of the same batch, and of the same description,—made up of nothing but hearsays, except in one particular only. This I shall now mention to your Lordships. Colonel Popham and another gentleman have told you, that, in a battle with Cheyt Sing's forces, they took prisoners two wounded nudjeeves or swordsmen, and that these men told them that they were sent there by the Begums,—that they had got two rupees and two wounds, but that they thought two rupees a bad compensation for two wounds. These two men, with their two wounds and two rupees, had, however, been dismissed. It does not appear that this accident was considered by these officers to be of consequence enough to make them ever tell one word of it to Mr. Hastings, though they knew he was collecting evidence of the disaffection of the Begums, of all kinds, good, bad, and indifferent, from all sorts of persons.
My Lords, I must beg leave to say a few words upon this matter; because I consider it as one of the most outrageous violations of your Lordships' dignity, and the greatest insult that was ever offered to a court of justice. A nudjeeve is a soldier armed with a sword. It appears in evidence that the Nabob had several corps of nudjeeves in his service; that the Begums had some nudjeeves; and that Colonel Hannay had a corps of nudjeeves. It is well known that every prince in Hindostan has soldiers of that description,—in like manner, probably, as the princes of Europe have their guards. The whole, then, amounts to this: that a story told by two men who were wounded in an action far from the place from which they were supposed to come, who were not regularly examined, not cross-examined, not even kept for examination, and whose evidence was never reported, is to be a reason why you are to believe that these Begums were concerned in a rebellion against their son, and deserved to forfeit all their lands and goods, and to suffer the indignities that we have stated.
My Lords, I am really ashamed to mention so scandalous a thing; but let us put a case: let us suppose that we had accused Mr. Hastings of instigating the Rajah of Berar to fall upon some of the country powers, and that the evidence we produced at your bar to prove it was, that an officer had taken two nudjeeves, who declared they were instigated by Mr. Hastings to go into the service of that Rajah: could you bear such a thing? would you suffer such evidence to be produced? or do you think that we should have so little regard for our own reputation as to venture to produce such evidence before you? Again, we have charged Mr. Hastings with committing several acts of violence against the Begums. Let us suppose our proof to be, that two persons who never appeared before nor since, that two grenadiers in English uniforms, (which would be a great deal stronger than the case of the nudjeeves, because they have no particular uniform belonging to them,) that two English grenadiers, I say, had been taken prisoners in some action and let go again, who said that Mr. Hastings had instigated them to make war upon the Begums: would your Lordships suffer such evidence to be produced before you? No. And yet two of the first women in India are to be stripped of all they have in the world upon no better evidence than that which you would utterly reject. You would not disgrace the British peerage, you would not disgrace this court of justice, you would not disgrace human reason itself, by confiscating, on such evidence, the meanest property of the meanest wretch. You would not subject to the smallest fine for the smallest delinquency, upon such evidence. I will venture to say, that, in an action of assault and battery, or in an action for the smallest sum, such evidence would be scouted as odious and contemptible, even supposing that a perfect reliance might be placed upon its truth. And yet this is the sort of evidence upon which the property, the dignity, and the rank of some of the first persons in Asia are to be destroyed,—by which a British guaranty, and the honor and dignity of the crown of Great Britain, and of the Parliament itself, which sent out this man, are to be forfeited.
Observe, besides, my Lords, that the two swordsmen said they were sent by the Begums. Now they could not be sent by the Begums in their own person. This was a thing in India impossible. They might, indeed, have been sent by Jewar and Behar Ali Khan: and then we ask again, How came these ministers not to be called to an account at the time? Why were they not called upon for their muster-rolls of these nudjeeves? No, these men and women suffer the penalty, but they never hear the accusation nor the evidence.
But to proceed with the evidence of this pretended rebellion. Captain Williams has told your Lordships that he once had a great number of letters and papers to prove this rebellion of the Begums. But he declares that he has lost all these letters. A search was ordered to be made in Mr. Hastings's record-office, called a trunk; and accordingly in the trunk is found a paper worthy of such a place and such a cause. This letter, which has been made use of to criminate the Begums, has not their names mentioned, nor is there any possibility of their being included in it. By this paper which is preserved you may judge of the whole of the papers that are lost. Such a letter, I believe, was never before brought as evidence in a court of justice. It is a letter said to have been intercepted, and is as follows.
"To the most noble * * * * *, whose prosperity be everlasting!
"It is represented, that the august purwannah [command], having completed his honorable arrival on the 16th of the month in the evening, highly exalted me. It is ordered that I should charge Medeporee, and the other enrolled sepoys belonging to my district, and take bonds from them that none of them go for service to the Rajah; and that, when four or five hundred men, nudjeeves and others, are collected, I should send them to the presence. According to the order, I have written to Brejunekar Shah Rehemet Ullah, who is in Bhooaparah, charging him to take bonds from them, and that whatever sepoys fit for service are collected he should send to the presence. As at this time the wind is contrary, the sepoys will not * * * * without travelling charges; for I have learnt from a letter previously received from Brejunekar Shah Rehemet Ullah, that the people there also are badly inclined. By the grace of God, the unalterable glory shall be * * * * *. Zehan Beg and the nudjeeves who were in the fort of Aneelah have gone off to Goruckpore."
This is a letter of somebody or other employed by somebody or other for the recruiting service,—it should seem, by the word "presence," somebody employed in enlisting forces for the Nabob. The charge against the Begum was, that she had joined with the rebellious Rajahs to exterminate her son's government and the English influence in that country. In this very paper you see that the soldiers entering into that service, and officers who are to contract for soldiers, are expressly bound not to join the Rajahs; and this they produce as proof that the Begums had joined the Rajahs, and had joined them in a rebellion, for the purpose of exterminating their son, in the first instance, and the English afterwards.
There is another circumstance which makes their own acts the refutation of their false pretences. This letter says that the country is disaffected, and it mentions the ill-disposed parts of the country. Now we all know that the country was ill-disposed; and we may therefore conclude this paper was written by, and addressed to, some person who was employed against the persons so ill-disposed,—namely, the very Rajahs so mentioned before. The prisoner's counsel, after producing this paper, had the candor to declare that they did not see what use could be made of it. No, to be sure, they do not see what use can be made of it for their cause; but I see the use that can be made of it against their cause. I say that the lost papers, upon which they do so much insist, deserve no consideration, when the only paper that they have preserved operates directly against them; and that therefore we may safely infer, that, if we had the rest of the contents of this trunk, we should probably find them make as strongly against them as this paper does. You have no reason to judge of them otherwise than by the specimen: for how can you judge of what is lost but from what remains?
The man who hid these papers in his trunk never understood one word of the Persian language, and consequently was liable to every kind of mistake, even though he meant well. But who is this man? Why, it is Captain Williams,—the man who in his affidavits never mentioned the Begums without mentioning Saadut Ali. It is Captain Williams,—whom we charge to have murdered a principal man of the country by his own hand, without law or legal process. It is Captain Williams,—one of those British officers whom Mr. Hastings states to be the pests of the country. This is the man who comes here as evidence against these women, and produces this monstrous paper.
All the evidence they had produced to you amounts to no more than that such a man believes such a man heard of something; and to close the whole of this hearsay account, Sir Elijah Impey, who always comes in as a supplement, declares that no man doubted of the existence of this rebellion, and of the guilt of the Begums, any more than of the rebellion of 1745: a comparison which, I must say, is, by way of evidence, a little indecorous in a chief-justice of India. Your Lordships are sufficiently acquainted with the history of that rebellion to know, that, when Lord Lovat was tried at this bar, the proceedings against him were not founded on second-hand hearsay. The existence of the rebellion of 1745 was proved, notwithstanding its notoriety; but neither notoriety nor proof would have signified anything, if Lord Lovat's participation in it had not been brought home to him directly, personally, and particularly. Yet a chief-justice, sent to India to represent the sacred majesty of the crown of England, has gone so far as to say at your bar that no more doubt could be entertained of the existence either of the rebellion or the guilt of the Begums than of the rebellion in 1745. Besides, he forgets that he himself carried the order to confiscate these people's property without any trial whatever. But this is the way of proceeding by an English chief-justice in India,—a chief-justice who had rendered himself the instrument, the letter-carrier, the messenger, I had almost said the executioner of Mr. Hastings.
From this view of the whole matter your Lordships will form an estimate of the spirit of Indian government and Indian justice. But to blow away and to put an end to all their false pretences, their hearsays, and talk of nudjeeves, and wounds, and the like, I ask, Who is the first witness that we have produced upon this occasion? It is the Nabob himself, negativing all these pretences. Did he believe them? Not a word from him of any rebellion, actual or suspected. Sir Elijah Impey, indeed, said that he was obliged to wheel round, and to avoid that dangerous place, Fyzabad. His friends urged him to this. "For God's sake," say they, "have a reverend care of your sacred person! What will become of the justice of India, what will become of the natives, if you, their legitimate protector, should fall into the hands of these wicked, rebellious women at Fyzabad?" But although the Chief-Justice does this, the Nabob, whose deposition is said to be the first object of this rebellion, takes leave of Mr. Hastings at the very moment when it is raging in the highest possible degree, and gallops into its very focus.
And under what circumstances does he do this? He had brought some considerable forces with him. No man of his rank in that country ever goes without them. He left a part of these forces with Mr. Hastings, notwithstanding he was going into the centre of the rebellion. He then went on with a corps of about a thousand horse. He even left a part of these with Mr. Middleton, and galloped, attended by a few horse, into the very capital, where the Begums, we are told, had ten thousand armed men. He put himself into their power, and, not satisfied with this, the very first thing we hear of him after his arrival is, that he paid his mother a friendly visit,—thus rushing into the den of a lioness who was going to destroy her own whelp. Is it to be credited, my Lords, that a prince would act thus who believed that a conspiracy was formed against him by his own mother? Is it to be credited that any man would trust a mother who, contrary to all the rules of Nature and policy, had conspired to destroy her own son?
Upon this matter your Lordships have the evidence of Captain Edwards, who was aide-de-camp to the Nabob, who was about his person, his attendant at Chunar, and his attendant back again. I am not producing this to exculpate the Begums,—for I say you cannot try them here, you have not the parties before you, they ought to have been tried on the spot,—but I am going to demonstrate the iniquity of this abominable plot beyond all doubt: for it is necessary your Lordships should know the length, breadth, and depth of this mystery of iniquity.
Captain Edwards being asked,—"Whether he ever heard any native of credit and authority in the Nabob's dominions, who appeared to believe the rebellion of the Begums?—A. No, I never did.—Q. Have you any reason to believe that the Nabob gave credit to it?—A. I really cannot rightly presume to say whether the Nabob did or did not; but I am apt to believe that he did not.—Q. Have you any reason, and what, to form a belief about it?—A. I have. I think, if he supposed the rebellion, ever existed at Fyzabad, he would have been the first person to take and give the alarm to the British troops.—Q. And no such alarm was taken or given to the British troops?—A. No, I think not: as I was always about his person, and in the camp, I think I certainly must have known it or heard of it; but I never did."
We assure your Lordships, you will find upon your printed Minutes, that Captain Edwards says he was credibly informed that the Nabob left behind him a part of his guard of horse; and that, so desirous was he to go into the power of this cruel lioness, his mother, that he advanced, as he is a vigorous man, and a bold and spirited rider, leaving all his guards behind him, and rode before them into the middle of Fyzabad. There is some more evidence to the same purpose in answer to the question put next to that which I read before.
"Q. When you did hear of the rebellion, did not you understand it to have been alleged that one object of it was to dethrone the Nabob himself, as well as to extirpate the English?—A. I understood that the intention of the princesses, the Begums, was to extirpate the English troops out of the country and out of those dominions, and likewise to depose her son, and set another son, who seems to have been a greater favorite of that family, upon the throne, in the room of the present Nabob; and that son's name is Saadut Ali. I have only heard this from report. I have no other knowledge but mere report. I understood from the report, she was to extirpate the English, and depose her son who is now upon the throne.—Q. Was it after or before the seizing of the treasures, that you heard a circumstantial account of the supposed object of the rebellion?—A. The report was more general after the seizing of the treasures; but yet there were reports prevailing in the neighborhood that our troops were sent there in consequence of the charge that was made by Colonel Hannay and some of his officers of rebellion existing then at Fyzabad, or having existed, I cannot rightly say which.—Q. Was that report after the order for the troops to march to Fyzabad?—A. It was more general, it was very general then when the troops did march there, and more general after the seizing of the treasures.—Q. When did the troops first march?—A. It was some time in the month of January, I believe, in the year 1782.—Q. While you was with the Nabob in passing from Lucknow to Chunar, and while you was with him or the army returning from Chunar, did you then, out of the whole army, regular or irregular, ever hear of any report of the Begums being in rebellion?—A. No, I do not recollect I ever did.—Q. (Upon cross-examination.) Do you recollect at what time in August, 1781, you left Lucknow to proceed with the Nabob to Chunar?—A. No, I cannot rightly mention the date: all that I know is this, that I accompanied the Nabob, Mr. Middleton, and his attendants, all the way from Lucknow to Chunargur. I really cannot recollect; I have no notes, and it is so distant a time since that I do not recollect the particulars of the month or the day; but I recollect perfectly I accompanied the Nabob all the way from Lucknow to Chunar, and returned again with him until he struck off on the road for Fyzabad."
Your Lordships see plainly the whole of this matter. When they had resolved to seize the Begums' treasures, they propagated this report just in proportion to their acts. As they proceeded, the report grew hotter and hotter. This man tells you when it was that the propagation of this report first began, when it grew hot, and when it was in its greatest heat. He tells you that not one native of credit in the country believed it,—that he did not think the Nabob himself believed it; and he gives a reason that speaks for itself, namely, that he, the Nabob, would have been the first man to give the alarm, if he believed in a rebellion, as he was to be the object of it. He says the English were the principal spreaders of the report. It was, in fact, a wicked report, propagated by Mr. Middleton and the English agents for the purpose of justifying their iniquitous spoliation of the Begums.
This is the manner in which the matter stands upon the ground of rebellion, with the exception of Major Gilpin's and Hyder Beg Khan's testimony. This last man we have proved to have been kept in his office by Mr. Hastings's influence, and to have been entirely under his government. When this dependant comes to give his attestation, he gives a long account of all the proceedings of Cheyt Sing's rebellion, with which the rebellion charged on the Begums was supposed to be coincident; and he ends it very remarkably,—that he tells the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But it is also remarkable, that even this Hyder Beg Khan never mentions by name the rebellion of the Begums, nor says that he ever heard a word about it: a strong proof that he did not dare, in the face of his country, to give countenance to such a falsehood.
Major Gilpin's evidence leaves not even the shadow of a pretence for this charge. He had the Begums and their eunuchs under his custody for a full year; he was strictly ordered to watch them and to guard them; and during all that time he lived at Fyzabad. He was the man who commanded the troops, who had all the witnesses in his power, who had daily access to all parties at Fyzabad, and who, moreover, was a person attached to Mr. Hastings in the strongest manner. Your Lordships will now be pleased to hear read to you this part of Major Gilpin's evidence.
"Q. Had you any opportunity of knowing the character of the Begums, and whether they were disaffected to our government?—A. I had a very good opportunity of knowing, from the circumstance of my having commanded so long there. The elder Begum, it was generally understood, (and I have reason to believe,) was disaffected to our government; and my sentiments of her conduct stand recorded in my correspondence to the court of Lucknow to that effect; but with respect to the Bhow Begum, I acquit her entirely of any disaffection to our government, so far as comes to my knowledge: appearances were for some time against her; but, on cool, deliberate inquiry, I found there was no ground for supposing her guilty of any rebellious principles, at the time of Cheyt Sing's rebellion.—Q. Whether that, according to your belief, is not your present opinion?—A. I think I have answered that very fully, that it was upon those very principles that I did form an opinion of her innocence; how far they are justifiable or right I will not take upon me to say upon oath; there was no one circumstance that came to my knowledge, during my residence at Fyzabad or my residence in India, that I would wish to withhold from your Lordships.—Q. You state here, 'upon cool, deliberate inquiry': what was that cool, deliberate inquiry?—A. That cool, deliberate inquiry was the conversations I had with the ministers and the people of Fyzabad, and the letters from herself expressing her innocence; and it appeared to me from those letters that she really was our friend and ally."
The same witness goes on afterwards to say:—
"Q. I understood you to say, that originally the report prevailed with respect to both the Begums, but that you was induced to alter that opinion with respect to the younger Begum, in consequence of Mr. Gordon's letters, and the intelligence of some of her ministers and other persons: were not those other persons in the interest of the younger Begum?—A. In general the town of Fyzabad were in her interest.—Q. In what sense do you mean generally in her interest? Were the persons you conversed with merely those who were in her service and household, or the inhabitants of Fyzabad in general?—A. Both: I held conversations with both her own body-servants and the inhabitants of the city."
A little lower down, in the same page:—
"Q. What do you mean by the word rebellion, as applied to the Begums? In what sense do you use it?—A. In raising troops, and in other acts of rebellion, in the common acceptation of the word.—Q. Against whom?—A. Against the Nabob's government and the British government jointly: but I beg to know the particular time and circumstance the question alludes to.—Q. I understand you to have said you understood the elder Begum was in a constant state of rebellion. In what sense do you use the word rebellion? Did you say the elder Begum was in a constant state of rebellion?—A. I always understood her to be disaffected to the English government: it might not be a proper expression of mine, the word rebellion.—Q. Do you know of any act by the elder Begum against the Vizier?—A. I cannot state any.—Q. Do you know of any act which you call rebellion, committed by the elder Begum against the Company?—A. I do not know of any particular circumstance, only it was generally supposed that she was disaffected to the Company.—Q. What acts of disaffection or hostility towards the English do you allude to, when you speak of the conversation of the world at the time?—A. I have answered that question as fully as I can,—that it was nothing but conversation,—that I knew of no particular act or deed myself."
This man, then, declares, as your Lordships have heard, that, upon cool, deliberate inquiry made at Fyzabad from all the inhabitants, he did not believe in the existence of any rebellion;—that as to the Bhow Begum, the grandmother, who was a person that could only be charged with it in a secondary degree, and as conspiring with the other, he says he knows no facts against her, except that at the battle of Buxar, in the year 1764, she had used some odd expressions concerning the English, who were then at war with her son Sujah Dowlah. This was long before we had any empire or pretence to empire in that part of India: therefore the expression of a rebellion, which he had used with regard to her, was, he acknowledged, improper, and that he only meant he had formed some opinion of her disaffection to the English.
As to the Begum, he positively acquits her of any rebellion. If he, therefore, did not know it, who was an active officer in the very centre of the alleged rebellion, and who was in possession of all the persons from whom information was to be got, who had the eunuchs in prison, and might have charged them with this rebellion, and might have examined and cross-examined them at his pleasure,—if this man knew nothing about it, your Lordships will judge of the falsehood of this wicked rumor, spread about from hand to hand, and which was circulated by persons who at the same time have declared that they never heard of it before Sir Elijah Impey went up into the country, the messenger of Mr. Hastings's orders to seize the treasures of the Begums, and commissioned to procure evidence in justification of that violence and robbery.