Part 5 – Lord William Bentinck (1828-1835)

  • Lord William Bentinck assumed the office of the Governor-general in 1828

  • He was appointed the Governor of Madras in 1803

  • The first Governor-general of British India

  • Who acted on the dictum that “the welfare of the subject peoples was a main, perhaps the primary, duty of the British in India”

Policy towards Indian States

  • William Bentinck adopted a policy of non-intervention and non-aggression with Indian states


  • In Mysore, Hindu rule under Krishnaraja III was restored by Wellesley.

  • Later, when the young raja assumed full control of the government he proved incompetent.

  • The peasantry of the state suffered from many grievances.

  • The British authorities took over the administration of Mysore State and placed it under the control of a commissioner.

  • Sir Mark Cubbon was commissioner from 1834 to 1861 and his administration was beneficial to the people of Mysore.

  • Even today, the famous Cubbon Park in Bangalore city has been named after him to remind his services to Mysore

Cachar and Jaintia

  • The principality of Cachar lying in the North East Frontier came under the protection of the British in accordance with the Treaty of Yandaboo concluded at the end of the first Burmese War.

  • The Raja of this small state was assassinated in 1832 but there was no heir to succeed him.

  • Bentinck annexed this state at the wish of the people


  • Vira Raja was a ruthless ruler of Coorg who treated his people with savage barbarity and killed all his male relatives.

  • Lord William Bentinck decided to deal with him effectively

  • The Raja was deposed in 1834 and the state was annexed

Relations with Ranjit Singh

  • Lord William Bentinck was the first Governor-General to visualise a Russian threat to India.

  • Hence, he was eager to negotiate friendly relations both with the ruler of Punjab, Maharajah Ranjit Singh and also with the Amirs of Sind.

  • His earnest desire was that Afghanistan should be made a buffer state between India and any possible invader.

  • The meeting of Bentinck and Ranjit Singh on 25 October, 1831 at Rupar on the bank of the river Sutlej amidst show and splendor.

  • The Governor-General was successful in winning the friendship of Ranjit Singh and the Indus Navigation Treaty was concluded between them.

Charter Act of 1833

  • The Regulating Act of 1773 made it compulsory to renew the Company’s Charter after twenty years.

  • Hence, the Charter Act of 1793 was passed by the Parliament.

  • The Charter Act of 1813 provided one lakh of rupees annually for the promotion of Indian education.

  • It also extended the Company’s charter for another twenty years.

  • The Charter Act of 1833 was a significant constitutional instrument defining the scope and authority of the East India Company

  • The liberal and utilitarian philosophy of Bentham was made popular by the provisions of this Act

Following were the important provisions:

  • The English East India Company ceased to be a commercial agency in India.

  • It would function hereafter as the political agent for the Crown

  • The Governor-General of Fort William was hereafter called ‘the Governor- General of India’.

  • Bentinck was the first Governor-General of India’

  • Law Member was appointed to the Governor-General’s Council.

  • T. B. Macaulay was the first Law Member of the Governor-general-in-Council

  • The Act categorically stated ‘that no native of India, nor any natural born subject of His Majesty,

  • Should be disabled from holding any place, office, or employment, by reason of his religion, place of birth, descent or colour”

  • It was this enactment which laid the foundation for the Indenisation of public services

  • After twenty years, the Charter Act of 1853 was passed and it was the last in the series of Charter Acts

Reforms of Lord William Bentinck

  • Covered only a short span of seven years, it saw a period of enduring reforms

  • They may be classified as financial, administrative, social and educational.

Financial Reforms

  • When Bentinck assumed the Governor-General ship in 1828, the financial position of the Company was poor.

  • He reduced the salaries and allowances of all officers and additional staff were removed

  • In the military department, he abolished the system of double batta.

  • By these financial reforms at the time of his departure, he left the treasury with a surplus of Rs.1.5 million

Administrative Reforms

  • Bentinck’s administrative reforms speak of his political maturity and wisdom.

  • In the judicial department he abolished the provincial courts of appeal established by Cornwallis.

  • Introduction of local languages in the lower courts and English in the higher courts in the place of Persian.

Social Reforms

  • The social reforms of William Bentinck made his name immortal in the history of British India.

  • These include the abolition of Sati, the suppression of Thugs and the prevention of female infanticide.

Abolition of Sati

  • The practice of sati, the age old custom of burning of widows alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands

  • This inhuman social custom was very common in northern India more particularly in Bengal

  • Bentinck was greatly distressed when he received a report of 800 cases of sati in a single year and that from Bengal.

  • He determined to abolish this practice which he considered an offence against natural justice.

  • Promulgated his Regulation XVII on 4 December 1829 prohibiting the practice of sati.

  • Those who practiced sati were made liable for punishment by law courts as accessories to the crime

  • The Regulation was extended to the Madras and Bombay Presidencies in 1830.

  • The Regulation was extended to the Madras and Bombay Presidencies in 1830.

Suppression of Thugs

  • They were hereditary robbers. They went about in small groups of fifty to hundred posing as commercial gangs or pilgrims ‘strangling and robbing peaceful travellers’.

  • They increased in number in central and northern India during the 18th century

  • A campaign was systematically organised by Colonel Sleeman from 1830 against the thugs

  • During the course of five years nearly 2000 of them were captured.

  • For his role in the suppression of thugs, Sir William Sleeman was known as “Thugee Sleeman”.

Female Infanticide

  • Female infanticide was one of the horrible and heartless deeds committed even by civilized people.

  • This practice killing female infants was very much prevalent in places like Rajputana, Punjab, Malwa and Cutch.

  • He not only prohibited female infanticide but declared them as punishable crime.

Introduction of English Education

  • He appointed a committee headed by Lord Macaulay to make recommendations for the promotion of education.

  • In his report, Macaulay emphasized the promotion of European literature and science through English medium to the people of India.

  • This recommendation was wholeheartedly accepted by William Bentinck.

  • The Government Resolution in 1835 made English the official and literary language of India.

  • In the same year, William Bentinck laid foundation of the Calcutta Medical College. Estimate

Estimate of William Bentinck

  • Bentinck was a “straightforward, honest, upright, benevolent, sensible man”

  • His social reforms such as abolition of sati and prevention of child sacrifice eradicated age old evils from Hindu society

  • It is gratifying to note that “Bentinck acted where others had talked”.

  • After William Bentinck, Lord Auckland (1836-42) became Governor-General.

  • The First Afghan War (1836-42) was fought during his administration

  • Due to his failure in Afghanistan he was recalled in 1842.

  • Lord Ellenborough succeeded him and ended the Afghan War.

  • He also annexed the Sindh

  • His successor, Lord Hardinge (1844-48) fought the first Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46) and concluded the Treaty of Lahore.

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