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Third Maratha War, (1817–18)

Sir George Barlow, a civil servant of the Company, as a locum tenens had no alternative but to carry out the commands of his employers. Under these orders, he curtailed the area of British territory, and, in violation of engagements, abandoned the Rajput chiefs to the cruel mercies of Holkar and Sindhia. During his administration, also, occurred the mutiny of the Madras sepoys at Vellore (1806), which, although promptly suppressed, sent a shock of insecurity throughout the Empire. The feebly economical policy of this interregnum proved a most disastrous one. But, fortunately, the rule soon passed into firmer hands.

Lord Minto, Governor-General from 1807 to 1813, consolidated the conquests which Wellesley had acquired. His only military exploits were the occupation of the island of the Mauritius, and the conquest of Java by an expedition which he accompanied in person. The condition of Central India continued to be disturbed, but Lord Minto succeeded in preventing any violent outbreaks without himself having recourse to the sword. The Company had ordered him to follow a policy of non-intervention, and he managed to obey his orders without injuring the prestige of the British name.

Under his auspices, the Indian Government opened relations with a new set of foreign powers, by sending embassies to the Punjab, to Afghanistan, and to Persia. The ambassadors had been trained in the school of Wellesley, and formed, perhaps, the most illustrious trio of 'politicals ' whom the Indian services have produced. Metcalfe went as envoy to the Sikh Court of Ranjit Singh at Lahore; Elphinstone met the Shah of Afghanistdn at Peshdwar; and Malcolm was despatched to Persia. It cannot be said that these missions were fruitful of permanent results; but they introduced the English to a new set of diplomatic relations, and widened the sphere of their influence.

The successor of Lord Minto was the Earl of Moira, better known by his later title as the Marquis of Hastings. Hastings completed Lord Wellesley's conquests in centrai India, and left the Bombay Presidency almost as it later stood. His long rule of nine years, from 1814 to 1823, was marked by two wars of the first magnitude — namely, the campaigns against the Gurkhas of Nepal, and the last Maratha struggle.

The condition of Central India was every year becoming more unsatisfactory. The great Maratha chiefs had learned to live as princes rather than as predatory leaders. But their original habits of lawlessness were being followed by a new set of freebooters, known as the Pindaris. As opposed to the Marathas, who were at least a Hindu nationality bound by the traditions of a united government, the Pindaris were merely plundering bands, closely corresponding to the free companies of mediaeval Europe. Of no common nationality and of no common religion, they welcomed to their ranks the outlaws and broken men of all India—Afghans, Marathas, or Jats. They represented the debris of the Mughal Empire, which had not been incorporated by any of the local Muhammadan or Hindu powers that sprang up out of its ruins. For a time, indeed, it seemed as if the inheritance of the Mughal might pass to these armies of banditti.

In Bengal, similar hordes had formed themselves out of the disbanded Muhammadan troops and the Hindu predatory castes. But they had been dispersed under the vigorous rule of Warren Hastings. In Central India, the evil lasted longer, attained a greater scale, and was only stamped out by a regular war.

The Pindari headquarters were in Milwa, but their depredations were not confined to Central India. In bands, sometimes of a few hundreds, sometimes of many thousands, they rode out on their forays as far as the opposite coasts of Madras and of Bombay. The most powerful of the Pindiri captains, Pindari Amir Khan, had an organized army of many regiments, and several batteries of cannon. Two other leaders, known as Chitu and Karim, at one time paid a ransom to Sindhia of 100,000.

To suppress the Pindari hordes, who were supported by the sympathy, more or less open, of all the Maratha chiefs, Lord Hastings (1817) collected the strongest British army which had yet been seen in India, numbering 120,000 men. One-half operated from the north, the other half from the south. Sindhia was overawed, and remained quiet. Amir Khan disbanded his army, on condition of being guaranteed the possession of what is now the principality of Tank. The remaining bodies of Pindaris were attacked in Pindari their homes, surrounded, and cut to pieces. Karim threw himself upon the mercy of the conquerors. Chitu fled to the jungles, and was killed by a tiger.

In the same month of November as that in which the Pindaris were crushed, the three great Maratha powers at Poona, Nagpur, and Indore rose separately against the English. The Peshwa, Baji Rdo, had long been chafing under the terms imposed by the treaty of Bassein (1802). A new treaty of Poona, in June 1817, now freed the Gaekwar from his control, ceded further districts to the British for the pay of the subsidiary force, and submitted all future disputes to the decision of the British Government.

Elphinstone, then the Resident at his Court, foresaw a storm, and withdrew to Kirki, whither he had ordered up a European regiment. The next day the Residency was burnt down, and Kirk was attacked by the whole army of the Peshwa. The attack was bravely repulsed, and the Peshwa immediately fled from his capital, Poona. Almost the same plot was enacted at Nagpur, where the honor of the British name was saved by the sepoys, who defended the hill of Sitdbaldi against enormous odds.

It had now become necessary to crush the Marathas. Their forces under Holkar were defeated in the following month at the pitched battle of Mehidpur. All open resistance was now at an end. Nothing remained but to follow up the fugitives, and to impose conditions for a general pacification. In both these duties Sir John Malcolm played a prominent part. The dominions of the Peshwa were annexed to the Bombay Presidency, and the nucleus of the later Central Provinces was formed out of the territory rescued from the Pinddris. The Peshwa himself surrendered, and was permitted to reside at Bithur, near Cawnpur, on a pension of £80,000 a year. His adopted son was the infamous Naind Sahib of the Mutiny of 1857.

To fill the Peshwa's place, as the traditional head of the Maratha confederacy, the lineal descendant of Sivaji was brought forth from obscurity and placed upon the throne of Satara. An infant was recognised as the heir of Holkar, and a second infant was proclaimed Raja of Nagpur under British guardianship. At the same time, the States of Rajputana accepted the position of feudatories to the paramount British power.

The map of India, as thus drawn by Lord Hastings, remained substantially unchanged until the time of Lord Dalhousie. But the proudest boast of Lord Hastings and Sir John Malcolm was, not that they had advanced the pomcerium, but that they had conferred the blessings of peace and good government upon millions who had groaned under the extortions of the Marathas and Pindaris.




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