Walter Wilkins’ dispute with William Pitt
As has been stated elsewhere Walter Wilkins had a dispute with the then Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. This argument centred round the impeachment of Warren Hastings the Governor-General of India. The story of the dispute is an interesting one.
Robert Clive had served in India from 1744 when he first arrived in Madras as a clerk for the East India Company (EIC). His skills were soon recognised and he had a somewhat meteoric rise within the company. In 1751 he had defeated pro-French forces at Arcot which greatly assisted the East India Company to monopolise appointments, finances, land and power. The victory at Arcot led to the final withdrawal of the French East India Company and thus allowed Britain absolute control. Later in 1757 Clive was faced with some degree of native opposition. He defeated the local Nabob at Plassey and thus became virtual ruler of Bengal. This opened up much of the country to further control by the East Idia Company.
When Robert Clive was finally recalled back
to England he was replaced by Warren Hastings who served as the first
Governor-General from 1773 – 84. Whilst
Clive was content with creating the impression that the Nabob of Bengal remained
ruler subject to certain dictates of the Mughal Emperor.
Hastings acted to remove this situation,
stripped the Nabob of his remaining powers and cancelled the annual
tribute to the Mughal Emperor.
Hastings supported the kingdom of Awadh
against the Rohillas and took steps to restrict the Marathas. He entered into treaties with various Indian rulers and
sought alliances against the powerful forces of Haider Ali in the Carnatic.
In order to conduct these campaigns Hastings borrowed heavily from the
Begums of Oudh and Raja Chait Singh of Benares.
In reality these rulers and numerous others were compelled to provide
financial support to avoid military action by the British.
Hastings resigned his position in 1784 and
returned to England in June 1785. On
17th February 1786 impeachment proceedings were instituted in the
House of Commons by Edmund Burke citing acts of extortion and incompetent
conduct of Indian affairs. The
release of documents pertaining to Hastings’ tenure in India was also
Wilkins holding a senior office for the EIC in
Calcutta certainly knew both Clive and Hastings. Walter Wilkins being the Member of Parliament for Radnorshire
and was thus an ally in the House of Commons for Warren Hastings during these
impeachment proceedings. The
details of the whole situation were complicated with the leader of the
opposition, Charles Edward Fox, co-operating with William Pitt to promulgate the
These impeachment proceedings lasted for
nearly ten years with the final hearing in the House of Lords being completed on
23rd April 1795. Hastings
was vindicated but was by then financially ruined.
The details of the trial were closely studied
in January 1999 by members of the US Senate during their own impeachment
proceedings against President Clinton.
Thus Hastings who had done so much for India
slid into obscurity. He had
strengthened and formulated British interests in India and the infrastructure
that he instituted remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years.
He was a patron of Indian learning and took a keen interest in Indian
literature. He provided
encouragement to Charles Wilkins to
translate the Bhagavad Gita from Sanskrit into English in 1785 writing the
preface himself. Charles Wilkins
went on to also translate the Hitopadesha in 1787.
In order to gain retribution for Walter
Wilkins’ lack of support Pitt caused government funds to be deposited in
Brecon Old Bank in a revenue fund. This
revenue fund was allowed to accumulate and then an Inspector was sent, without
notice, to the bank to demand the whole sum.
The Inspector’s arrival was not entirely a surprise; somehow it known
by the family and a ‘Mr Wilkins’ hurried across the Brecon Beacons to seek
the assistance of the wealthy industrial magnets of the Merthyr.
Richard Crawshay of Cyfarthfa knew the bank well as his promissory notes
were circulated by Wilkins & Co. He
told Wilkins “Damn it man, they shan’t break thee”. He sent £50,000 back to Brecon that night with the promise
of more on the morrow if these funds should prove insufficient.
The Inspector received his money and the Bank survived the crisis.
Adam S Wilkins. June 2000.BACK