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Second Maratha War, (180305)

The Marathas had been the nominal allies of the English in both their wars with Tipu. But they had not rendered active assistance, nor were they secured to the English side as the Nizam was. By 1800 the Maratha powers were five in number. The recognised head of the confederacy was the Peshwa of Poona, who ruled the hill country of the Western Ghats, the cradle of the Marathas. The fertile Province of Gujardt was annually harried by the horsemen of the Gaekwar of Baroda. In Central India, two military leaders, Sindhia of Gwalior and Holkar of Indore, alternately held the pre-eminency. Towards the east, the Bhonsla Raja of Nagpur reigned from Berar to the coast of Orissa.

Wellesley labored to bring these several Maratha powers within the net of his subsidiary system. In 1802, the necessities of the Peshwa, who had been defeated by Holkar, and driven the Maras a fugitive into British territory, induced him to sign the treaty of Bassein. By this he pledged himself to the British to hold communications with no Power, European or Native, except the British. He also granted to Districts for the maintenance of a subsidiary force. This greatly extended the English territorial influence in the Bombay Presidency.

But this led to the second Maratha war, as neither Sindhia nor the Raja of Nagpur would tolerate the Peshwa's betrayal of Maratha' independence. The campaigns which followed are perhaps the most glorious in the history of the British arms in India. The adequate provision of resources were due to the Marquis of Wellesley, as also the indomitable spirit which refused to acknowledge defeat. The armies were led by Sir Arthur Wellesley (afterwards Duke of Wellington), and General (afterwards Lord) Lake. Wellesley operated in the Deccan, where, in a few short months, he won the decisive British victories of Assaye and Argaum, and captured Ahmadnagar.

Lake's campaign in Hindustan was no less brilliant, although it has received less notice from historians. He won pitched battles at Aligarh and Laswarf, and took the cities of Delhi and Agra. He scattered the French troops of Sindhia, and at the same time stood forward as the champion of the Mughal Emperor in his hereditary capital. Before the end of 1803, both Sindhia and the Bhonsla Rajd of Nigpur sued for peace.

Sindhia ceded all claims to the territory north of the Jumna, to British and left the old Emperor Shah Alam once more under British protection. The Bhonsla forfeited Onssa to the English, who had already occupied it with a flying column in 1803; and Berar to the Nizam, who gained a fresh addition by every act of complaisance to the British Government. The freebooter Jaswant Rao Holkar alone remained in the field, supporting his troops by raids through Malwa and Rajputana.

The concluding years of Wellesley's rule were occupied with a series of operations against Holkar, which brought little credit on the British name. The disastrous retreat of Colonel Monson through Central India (1804) recalled memories of the convention of Wargdum, and of the destruction of Colonel Baillie's force by Haidar Ali. The repulse of Lake in person at the siege of Bhartpur (Bhurtpore) is memorable as an instance of a British army in India having to turn back with its object unaccomplished (1805). Bhartpur was not finally taken till 1827.

Lord Wellesley during his six years of office carried out almost eyery part of his territorial scheme. In Northern India, Lord Lake's campaigns, 1803-05, brought the North Western Provinces (the ancient Madhya-desha) under British north; rule, together with the custody of the puppet Emperor. The new Districts were amalgamated with those previously acquired from the Nawab Wazir of Oudh into the 'Ceded and Conquered Provinces.' This partition of Northern India remained in the till the Sikh wars of 1845 and 1848-49 gave the British the Punjab. In South-eastern India, Lord Wellesley's conquests constituted the Madras Presidency almost as it existed later. In South-western India, the Peshwa was reduced to a vassal of the Company. But the territories under the Governor of Bombay were not finally built up into their present form until the last Maratha war in 1818.

The financial strain caused by these great operations of Lord Wellesley had meanwhile exhausted the patience of the Court of Directors at home. In 1805, Lord Cornwallis was sent out as Governor-General a second time, with instructions to bring about peace at any price, while Holkar was still unsubdued, and with Sindhia threatening a fresh war. But Cornwallis was now an old man, and broken down in health. Travelling up to the north-west during the rainy season, he sank and died at Ghazipur, before he had been ten weeks in the country.

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Page last modified: 22-12-2016 18:51:47 ZULU