British soldier and Governor-General of India
Born 1754 Died 1826
Francis Rawdon-Hastings, born on the 9th of December 1754, was the son of Sir John Rawdon of Moira in the county of Down, 4th baronet, who was created Baron Rawdon of Moira, and afterwards Earl of Moira, in the Irish peerage. His mother was the Lady Elizabeth Hastings, daughter of Theophilus, 9th Earl of Huntingdon. Lord Rawdon, as he was then called, was educated at Harrow and Oxford, and joined the army in 1771 as ensign in the 15th foot. His life henceforth was entirely spent in the service of his country, and may be divided into four periods: from 1775 to 1782 he was engaged with much distinction in the American war; from 1783 to 1813 he held various high appointments at home, and took an active part in the business of the House of Lords; from 1813 to 1823 was the period of his labours in India; after retiring from which, in the last years of his life (1824-1826), he was governor of Malta.
In America Rawdon served at the battles of Bunker Hill, Brooklyn, White Plains, Monmouth and Camden, at the attacks on Forts Washington and Clinton, and at the siege of Charleston. In fact he was engaged in many important operations of the war. Perhaps his most noted achievements were the raising of a corps at Philadelphia, called the Irish Volunteers, who under him became famous for their fighting qualities, and the victory of Hobkirk's Hill, which, in command of only a small force, he gained by superior military skill and determination against a much larger body of Americans. In 1781 he was invalided. The vessel in which he returned to England was captured and carried into Brest. He was speedily released, and on his arrival in England was much honoured by George III, who created him an English peer (Baron Rawdon) in March 1783. In 1789 his mother succeeded to the barony of Hastings, and Rawdon added the surname of Hastings to his own.
In 1793 Rawdon succeeded his father as Earl of Moira. In 1794 he was sent with 7,000 men to Ostend to reinforce the Duke of York and the allies in Flanders. The march by which he effected a junction was considered extraordinary. In 1803 he was appointed commander-in-chief in Scotland, and in 1804 he married Flora Mure Campbell, countess of Loudoun in her own right. When Fox and Grenville came into power in 1806, Lord Moira, who had always voted with them, received the place of master-general of the ordnance. He was now enabled to carry a philanthropic measure, of which from his first entry into the House of Lords he had been a great promoter, namely, the Debtor and Creditor Bill for relief of poor debtors. Ireland was another subject to which he had given particular attention: in 1797 there was published a Speech by Lord Moira on the Dreadful and Alarming State of Ireland.
Lord Moira's sound judgment on public affairs, combined with his military reputation and the uprightness of his character, won for him a high position among the statesmen of the day, and he gained an additional prestige from his intimate relations with the Prince of Wales. As a mark of the regent's regard Lord Moira received the order of the Garter in 1812, and in the same year was appointed governor-general of Bengal and commander-in-chief of the forces in India. He landed at Calcutta, and assumed office in succession to Lord Minto in October 1813.
One of the chief questions which awaited him was that of relations with the Gurkha state of Nepal. The Gurkhas, a brave and warlike little nation, failing to extend their conquests in the direction of China, had begun to encroach on territories held or protected by the East India Company; especially they had seized the districts of Batwal and Seoraj, in the northern part of Oudh, and when called upon to relinquish these, they deliberately elected (April 1814) to go to war rather than do so. Lord Moira, having travelled through the northern provinces and fully studied the question, declared war against Nepal (November 1814). The enemy's frontier was 600 miles long, and Lord Moira, who directed the plan of the campaign, resolved to act offensively along the whole line. It was an anxious undertaking, because the native states of India were all watching the issue and waiting for any serious reverse to the English to join against them. At first all seemed to go badly, as the British officers despised the enemy, and the sepoys were unaccustomed to mountain warfare, and thus alternate extremes of rashness and despondency were exhibited. But this rectified itself in time, especially through the achievements of General (afterwards Sir David) Ochterlony, who before the end of 1815 had taken all the Gurkha posts to the west, and early in 1816 was advancing victoriously within 50 miles of Khatmandu, the capital. The Gurkhas now made peace; they abandoned the disputed districts, ceded some territory to the British, and agreed to receive a British resident. For his masterly conduct of these affairs Lord Moira was created Marquess of Hastings in February 1817.
He had now to deal with internal dangers. A combination of Mahratta powers was constantly threatening the continuance of British rule, under the guise of plausible assurances severally given by the peshwa, Sindhia, Holkar and other princes. At the same time the existence of the Pindari state was not only dangerous to the British, as being a warlike power always ready to turn against them, but it was a scourge to India itself. In 1816, however, the Pindaris entered British territory in the Northern Circars, where they destroyed 339 villages. On this, permission was obtained to act for their suppression.
Before the end of 1817 the preparations of Lord Hastings were completed, when the peshwa suddenly broke into war, and the British were opposed at once to the Mahratta and Pindari powers, estimated at 200,000 men and 500 guns. Both were utterly shattered in a brief campaign of four months (1817-18). The peshwa's dominions were annexed, and those of Sindhia, Holkar, and the Raja of Berar lay at the mercy of the governor-general, and were saved only by his moderation. Thus, after sixty years from the battle of Plassey, the supremacy of British power in India was effectively established. The Pindaris had ceased to exist, and peace and security had been substituted for misery and terror.
"It is a proud phrase to use", said Lord Hastings, "but it is a true one, that we have bestowed blessings upon millions. Nothing can be more delightful than the reports I receive of the sensibility manifested by the inhabitants to this change in their circumstances. The smallest detachment of our troops cannot pass through that district without meeting everywhere eager and exulting gratulations, the tone of which proves them to come from glowing hearts. Multitudes of people have, eyen in this short interval, come from the hills and fastnesses in which they had sought refuge for years, and have reoccupied their ancient deserted villages. The ploughshare is again in every quarter turning up a soil which had for many seasons never been stirred, except by the hoofs of predatory cavalry."
While the natives of India appreciated the results of Lord Hastings's achievements, the court of directors grumbled at his having extended British territory. They also disliked and opposed his measures for introducing education among the natives and his encouraging the freedom of the press. In 1819 he obtained the cession by purchase of the island of Singapore. In finance his administration was very successful, as notwithstanding the expenses of his wars he showed an annual surplus of two millions sterling. Brilliant and beneficent as his career had been, Lord Hastings did not escape unjust detraction. His last years of office were embittered by the discussions on a matter notorious at the time, namely, the affairs of the banking-house of W. Palmer and Company. The whole affair was mixed up with insinuations against Lord Hastings, especially charging him with having been actuated by favouritism towards one of the partners in the firm. From imputations which were inconsistent with his whole character he has subsequently been exonerated. But while smarting under them he tendered his resignation in 1821, though he did not leave India till the first day of 1823. He was much exhausted by the arduous labours which for more than nine years he had sustained.
Among his characteristics it is mentioned that "his ample fortune absolutely sank under the benevolence of his nature"; and, far from having enriched himself in the appointment of governor-general, he returned to England in circumstances which obliged him still to seek public employment. In 1824 he received the comparatively small post of governor of Malta, in which island he introduced many reforms and endeared himself to the inhabitants. He died on the 28th of November 1826, leaving a request that his right hand should be cut off and preserved till the death of the marchioness of Hastings, and then be interred in her coffin.
Hastings was succeeded by his son, Francis George Augustus (1808-1844), who in 1840 succeeded through his mother to the earldom of Loudoun. When his second son, Henry Weysford, the 4th marquess, died childless on the l0th of November 1868 the marquessate became extinct; the earldom of Loudoun devolved upon his sister, Edith Mary (d. 1874) wife of Charles Frederick Abney-Hastings, afterwards Baron Donington; the barony of Hastings, which fell into abeyance, was also revived in 1871 in her favour.
See Ross-of-Bladensburg, The Marquess of Hastings (Rulers of India series) (1893); and Private Journal of the Marquess of Hastings, edited by his daughter, the Marchioness of Bute (1858).
Being the entry for FRANCIS RAWDON-HASTINGS, 1st MARQUESS OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.