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 demanded.

Walter 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 impeachment proceedings.

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.

Wilkins Researchers & Historians
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