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The Sattara Territory

Volume 107: debated on Tuesday 31 July 1849

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said, the Motion which he had to bring forward on this occasion with regard to the conduct of the East India Company, in connexion with Sattara and the family of the late Rajah, was one more intimately connected with the principle of religious liberty than perhaps any which the House had had to deal with during the present Session, and in bringing it forward he had very great difficulties to deal with. On the 1st of March last he had moved for papers connected with the subject of this robbery and violation of religious liberty; but though they might easily have been furnished in twenty-four hours, they had not yet been laid on the table of the House. He also felt the disadvantage of not having much chance of an audience on this occasion. He wished to protest against the downright robbery inflicted by the East India Company in this case, without entering at all into the injustice with which they had treated the late Rajah. Her Majesty's President of the Board of Control had again and again declared that due attention should be paid to the rights of the heirs of the late Rajah; and it was because he thought that justice required this to be done, and because he had a strong feeling with regard to the injury which the character of the East India Company would receive by joining with robbers and plunderers, that he now asked the House to agree to the resolutions of which he had given notice. It was a source of deep regret to him to see the East India Company influenced by such a downright greed for the acquisition of now territory. The hon. Member read an extract from a letter of Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone, stating that he had never given it as his opinion that the treaty with the late Rajah had lapsed, or that his heir had no just claim, and that he attached the ordinary meaning to the word "perpetuity" in the treaty that was held in all Indian treaties. But there had been also a violation of the religious rights of the natives in this case. They had such another interference with the Budhist worship in Ceylon lately which had led to the destruction of human life, of which the House would hear more next Session; and this interference was the more to be regretted, as in past times the East India Company had always carefully abstained from interfering with the religious worship of the natives. He was now merely putting the question in a train for the next Session. He was putting the Government in possession of the ground upon which he meant, at an early period of the next Session of Parliament, to move for an inquiry. He should, therefore, not go into the question at any length, nor lay before the House the proofs that he had prepared. He should merely say briefly that he had then a copy of a minute signed by an hon. director who was a Member of that House, and by nine other directors, which stated that there was no collateral heir to the property of the late Rajah, and that, therefore, the Company was entitled to assume the property. But the fact was that there were family heirs to the number of thirty in existence. And what did Mr. Frere, who was the Resident at Sattara when the late Rajah died, say? Why that he knew of no heirs but by adoption. And he added, that the Hindoo law was, that an heir by adoption, an heir adopted by a dying Rajah, caused all collateral heirs to be set aside. That was a religious custom of the Hindoos, and to set it aside was an infringement upon their religious liberty.[Sir J. C. HOBHOUSE: NO, no!] Yes; he repeated it was. But there were hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in that House who would say anything, or deny anything, to serve their ends. There was the evidence of Mr. Tucker, the most experienced of any of the officers. He said that the words of the treaty made by Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone confirmed the property and sovereignty of Sattara to the regent and his offspring or heirs, so that to assume the sovereignty and property whilst there were living heirs, was a breach of the treaty, and a violation of the law. Mr. Shepherd took the same view. Yet the very last mail brought, he believed, papers that announced the proclamation, declaring the sovereignty annexed to the East India government—a proclamation which damned for ever the Court of East India Directors. It was an act worthy only of the barbarians of the north. It was the triumph of might over right to seize that which they had themselves secured by treaty to the possession of those from whom they now took it. Major Oliphant, Colonel Caulfield, and Sir Henry Willoughby were all against such a spoliation, and he was confident that success could not attend such acts. He would remind the House that there were Acts of Parliament on the Statute-book which strictly prohibited in the strongest manner such acts of spoliation. The 21st George III. provided for the observance of the Hindoo law in all matters, whereby the property of families was secured to the heirs who were heirs according to the custom of the country. The 33rd George III., was still more explicit upon the subject. Yet a greater violation of Acts of Parliament, or a greater act of injustice was never perpetrated, than this seizure of property of the Rajah of Sattara. Upon these grounds he protested against the proceeding. He should move the resolutions of which he had given notice, leaving the House to deal with them as they thought fit, and early next Session he would bring the whole question forward, in the hope of being able to shame those robbers, spoliators, and violators of the rights of property.[Sir J. W. HOGG: Hear, hear!] Yes, he saw one of the robbers before him—a robber of the property and a violator of the religion of the Indian people. And what was the great object of thus seizing upon a little revenue of some 120,000l. or 130,000l. a year to a Company possessing a revenue of above 20,000,000l. annually? He did not know how much more had lapsed to them lately by war, but they had 20,000,000l. a year before. They were like the rich man in the Scripture, who, not content with all his vast possessions, should seize upon the one little lamb which was all that his poor neighbour had.

Motion made, and Question proposed—

"That it appears from the Papers laid before this House, that, by the Law and usage of India, as recognised by the British Government, and distinctly expressed in a Minute of Sir Charles Metcalf, Lieutenant Governor of the North Western Provinces of India, and dated the 28th day of October, 1837, that Hindoo Princes, in failure of heirs male of their body, have a right to adopt, to the exclusion of collateral heirs, and of any supposed reversionary right of the paramount Power; and that the British Government is bound to acknowledge the adoption, provided that it be regular and not in violation of Hindoo Law:
"That the East India Company, by a treaty concluded on the 25th day of September, 1819, ceded the territory of Sattara to the Rajah of Sattara, his heirs and successors, in perpetual sovereignty, which treaty was confirmed on the 4th day of September, 1839, when his brother and successor was raised to the Throne:
"That both the Rajahs died, leaving heirs by adoption, heirs by blood, and collateral heirs:
"That the East India Company nevertheless (without giving an opportunity to any claimants of stating their claims) have set aside the Hindoo law of succession, and have ordered the Sattara territory to be annexed to the British Dominions, on the plea that it has lapsed by failure of heirs:
"That such a proceeding being in violation of national faith, and against the recognised rights of all the Sovereign Princes of India, it is the opinion of this House, that the orders for annexing the Sattara territory should be suspended, until those members of the family who have the right to claim to be heirs to the throne have been heard, and their rights determined."

said, that if his hon. Friend had had a right to make any complaint of the manner in which he had been treated, he (Sir J. C. Hobhouse) had also some right to complain. The act to which his hon. Friend had alluded, and of which he complained, which declared that the sovereignty of Sattara should be assumed by the East India Company, was an order of the Court of Directors, dated so far back as the 24th day of January last. His hon. Friend, and those who acted with him, had full knowledge of the fact; and if anything effectual was to have been done, it should have been done at or immediately after the meeting of Parliament, which took place on the 1st of February. There were, however, several occasions afterwards on which he might have brought it forward, when he (Sir J. C. Hobhouse) was in his place ready to answer any question, or to disprove the statements of his hon. Friend, so that it was no fault of his if the question—of which he was surprised his hon. Friend was not completely tired, as for his part he certainly was—had not been brought forward before. As his hon. Friend had not entered at large into the question, he would not do so upon the present occasion; but he could not avoid replying to one or two observations of his hon. Friend—assertions for which there was so little foundation, in truth or fact that he was surprised how any hon. Gentleman could, by any possibility, have fallen into such errors. His hon. Friend had said, that the assumption of the property of the Rajah of Sattara was an interference with the religious liberty of India. Now, he was perfectly aware that the custom of India was, that an adopted son and heir took the property of the deceased, but certainly not the sovereignty where there was a paramount State. His hon. Friend and those who acted with him in this matter, seemed entirely to forget that the British power in India was paramount; that it had succeeded to the power which it had crushed; and that those parties could not by adoption make heirs to their sovereignties, as well as to their personal property, without the sanction and permission of the paramount State. He had never heard the doctrine that they could do so broached until that discussion. He well recollected that when the hon. Gentleman, with several others, came to him as a deputation upon the subject, neither his hon. Friend nor any one of the deputation adverted to the point, although it was just the very point on which the whole question turned. He had there quotation upon quotation from the best authorities which entirely disproved such an assertion. Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone gave no opinion upon the point. He expressly reserved it. He admitted the right of adopting an heir so far as the personal property was concerned; but he expressly reserved the question so far as the sovereignty was involved. Next, as regarded the treaty by which the Rajah received the sovereignty from the British. They had crushed the real master of the Mahratta empire, the Peishwah; and the question they had next to consider was, whether or not they would put up a smaller sovereign subordinate to themselves, and they did set up such a sovereign. The deposed Rajah at Benares himself said, that he was only the creation of the British power. When the question came before him (Sir J. C. Hobhouse) as President of the Board of Control, he had to consider the law and the opinions sent to him. He found the Earl of Auckland, the Earl of Dalhousie, the Government of Bombay, with the single exception of Mr. Clarke, the Court of Directors of the East India Company, with the exception of only five out of twenty- four, all in favour of annexing the principality to the British Government of India. Next came the Court of Proprietors, and they affirmed the decision of the Court of Directors by a majority of 297 to 96. What was he to do? In this country everything was done by majorities, from the Houses of Parliament to the humblest meeting. What did his hon. Friend want to have done? He talked about having the order of the Directors suspended. Why, it was too late—the thing was done. It was done on the 24th January last. And supposing that by any accident the House of Commons were to pass a resolution to suspend or rescind that act of the East India Company, did his hon. Friend think that it would have the least effect? It certainly would not have the least effect upon the proceedings of the East India Company, or upon the Government of India. So long as the Court of Directors and those parties to whom the Government of India was entrusted existed, and held their power, those under consideration were the very acts which should be left to their discretion and responsibility. As to the paper at which his hon. Friend had expressed his surprise, which was drawn up by the hon. Member for Guildford, he could only say, that if he had not known the powers of that Gentleman, he would have been surprised at such a masterly performance. It was a most complete answer to his hon. Friend's case. It showed that there was not the least shadow of a pretence to say that the British had violated any treaty or law by their act of annexation. Having all the authorities and all the majorities upon one side, what was he to do? [Mr. HUME: Do justice.] Yes; it was very easy to say, "do justice." But what was justice? Were they to acknowledge the collateral heirs, or the adopted heirs? If they acknowledged the adopted Benares boy, they would disgust and dissatisfy every one of the five dissentient directors, for there was not one of them who supported his case. Appa Sahib, the late Rajah, when he heard of the adoption of the Benares boy, asked how it could be done without the consent of the British Government; thereby showing that he did not consider that the sovereignty could be given away without the consent of the paramount Power. But if they gave the sovereignty to the adopted son of Appa Sahib, they would dissatisfy the adherents of the deposed Rajah, both in India and England; whilst if they favoured any one of the thirty collateral families, they must dissatisfy the friends of the two deceased Rajahs. But the whole claim originated in the treaty made with Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone, in 1819, and no family claims could be admitted that were traced farther hack, it being then that the principality itself was created. Under all the circumstances the Court of Directors were bound to act according to the opinion of the majority, and they had done so. He would not go into a refutation of the very hard language and the strong terms applied by his hon. Friend. There was one hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Honiton, whom his hon. Friend had designated as one of the robbers and spoliators. The Earl of Dalhousie and the Earl of Auckland, the nineteen directors, and the 297 proprietors of East India Stock, were others of the robbers and spoliators. Such strong language only showed that his hon. Friend was very much in earnest; so much so, indeed, as to be hardly prepared to weigh the merits of the case fairly.

asked whether the promised money had as yet been paid to the Ranee?

said, that the money had not as yet been paid to the Ranee, or widow, because she refused to give a receipt for it. It had been repeatedly offered, but she would not give a receipt. In reference to this part of the subject, he must say that Purtaub Sing was reputed to have left a considerable sum behind him.

could have no doubt, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control, that important principles affecting the government of India were involved in the present question. The right hon. Gentleman held it to be a new doctrine that Hindoo princes had a right to adopt heirs, and identified himself with opinions expressed in India, especially by the Earl of Dalhousie, which seemed to strike at the root of the rights of Hindoo princes, namely, that Hindoo princes had no power to adopt heirs, without the consent of the British Government, as the successor of the sovereigns who were lords paramount of India. But the British Government had no right with reference to those princes except what they obtained by actual cession, or could spell out from treaties. What was the opinion of Sir C. Metcalfe?—

"Those who are sovereign princes in their own right, and of the Hindoo religion, have by Hindoo law a right to adopt to the exclusion of collateral heirs or of the supposed reversionary right of the paramount Power."
Independently of the present question altogether, he would, in the next Session of Parliament, submit to the House a Motion on the rights of Indian princes; but with respect to the terms in which the Indian Government "ceded the perpetual sovereignty" of Sattara to the Rajah and his successors, he must be permitted to remark that the construction attempted to be put upon the treaty by the Government was at variance with the public law both of Europe and of India.

said, the assertion that the British authority in India was not the paramount power there, was to him a perfectly novel doctrine. Sir C. Metcalfe's opinion did not interfere with that question. What Sir C. Metcalfe said was, that—

"There is a wide distinction between sovereign princes and jagheerdars, between those who are in the position of hereditary sovereigns in their own right, and those who hold grants of land or public revenue by the gift of the sovereign or the paramount authority."
The Rajah of Sattara stood exactly in the position of the latter class.

wished it to be understood, with reference to a statement made by the hon. Member for Montrose, that the whole of the religious rites had been performed in this case, and that under these the boy inherited the personal property.

Notice taken, that forty Members were not present; House counted; and forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at a quarter after Four o'clock.