AUGUSTUS CLEVELAND of Bhagalpur
(19 September 1754-13 January 1784)
By: Brajesh Verma
Augustus Cleveland (1754-1784) was the son of John Cleveland, Secretary to the Admiralty, and his second wife, Sarah, daughter of Richard Shuckburgh, Gloucestershire. The Clevelands were descended from the distinguished Scottish family of Cleulands of Faskine, Lanark shire. Augustus secured a writer ship in the East India Company’s Bengal establishment in 1770 and, on arrival in India the following year, was appointed assistant collector of Bhagalpur, than a Jungly district to the west of Bengal. His tragically early death at the age of 29 deprived the authorities in India of a remarkable administrator.
When Augustus Cleveland arrived in India on July 22, 1771 he was only seventeen. One year before his arrival, Bengal was under the grip of a devastating famine which caused death of about 10 million people, approximately one-third population of the affected areas.
The regions in which the famine occurred included the modern Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and to some extend to Orissa as well as modern Bangladesh, which came into existence after two hundred years of the famine in 1971.
Among the worst affected areas were Birbhum and Murshidabad in West Bengal, Rajmahal in Jharkhand and Tirhut, Champaran and Bettiah in Bihar. These parts if India were under the control of the British East India Company. It was originally a province of the Mughal Empire from the 16th century ruled by the Nawabs of Bengal.
After the downfall of the Mughals, especially when the last powerful Mughal emperor, Auranzeb died in 1707, the Nawabs made themselves effectively independent by taking advantage of the weakness of Delhi Durbar. It was a worst time for the people of Bengal where the English under the aegis of the East India Company had started taking interest in the business and political affairs of the region. Very soon the British East India Company won the battles of Plassy and Buxar in 1757 and 1764 respectively. Although the company had received a grant on the town of Calcutta by the Mughal Emperor, Akbar in the 17th century, it was powerless to interfere in the political affairs of the Nawab’s durbar. But after the battle of Baxur, where the English not only had defected the combined army of the Nawabs of Bengal and Awadh, but also the Mughal emperor, the company gained the Diwani, i.e. right of taxation in Bengal which made it the de -facto ruler. The days of Nawab had gone.
Now a new administrative system was being introduced in the middle of 18th century. A new culture was trying to mix up in the society which was totally different to the Hindu-Muslim culture residing in the country for the last five hundred years. Besides, English language was also trying to introduce itself in the local society. The Indian culture was now witnessing a new ruler dress-code too which later on changed the life style of the people. Future for the indigenous trade and commerce was not sighing. It had to go on to the back foot in the coming days.
When Bengal was coping with these problems, one of its districts, Rajmahal had to acquaintance with the modern administrative system based on public welfare. Augustus Cleveland, who at that time was only nineteen year old and holding the post of the assistant collector at Rajmahal was experimenting a new system among the primitive tribe Pahariya who were residing in the jungles of the Rajmahal hills much before the advancement of Alexander in India. His way of handling the hill men was unique in the colonial history of British Empire, because for the first time a primitive race was conquered by compassion but not by the cannons!
Where the Ganges takes its big southerly bend raise the Rajmahal hills, and in these hills live an aboriginal Dravidian people- the Paharia. Pushed by pressure from the west until they were brought to a stand in what has been called this “cull de sac”, the Paharias have dwelt for centuries among these mountain fastnesses, supporting themselves by raiding the plains, and from their hills have seen the Hindu and Muslims empires wax and wane, leaving them uncontaminated and untamed. It was not until the advent of the British Raj that they were brought into some subjection and the change was due to the mastermind of a young Englishman, Augustus Cleveland.
Augustus Cleveland who had a rare sympathy with the people and who was left in possession of their hills, and a district at the foot, the Damin-i-koh, was also assigned to them. But the Pahairas were afraid to leave their homes, and consequently these spurs of the hills were left unoccupied until the coming of the Santhals, another aboriginal people, who, with a perfect genius for agriculture, soon turned what had been waste jungle into smiling fields.
The young collector was so claver and devoted to the East India Company that he had understood the things very early when he had started mixing with the Pahariya society who never had surrendered before any of the rulers of Bengal, even the Sultans of Delhi, Afghans of Bihar and the great Mughals. Cleveland made a policy for the benefits of the colonial rule on his own method for which he had not been given permission from the Governor General, Warren Hastings, who had a good relation to this young administrator. The welfare schemes for these primitive tribes with view to control over them were being introduced in the hills of Rajmahal at a time when the French revaluation of 1789, which brought the theory of liberty and equality, had not actually occurred. Lord Cornwallis, who later on took the charge of Governor General in Bengal, was fighting against the forces of George Washington in America during war of independence, where he had lost the final battle.
At least two of Cleveland’s contemporaries, Warren Hastings, the first governor general of Bengal and William Hodges, an artist and traveler, who had been his guest at Bhagalpur, were the witnesses of new administrative changes among the primitive society. William Hodges had found Cleveland ill in bed in 1783. About his premature death, William Hodges writes that with a view to the recovery of his health, he started on a voyage to the cop of the Atlas Indiaman, the vessel in which Mrs. Hastings, who had been Cleveland’s guest in 1781, was sailing to England, but he died near the mouth of the Hugli on 13 January 1784, his body being brought back to Calcutta in the pilot sloop.
When Cleveland died he was only 29. He was engraved in the South Park Street cemetery, Calcutta, and penned by Warren Hastings himself upon the monument erected to his memory at Bhagalpur. It runs as follow: – To the memory of Augustus Cleveland, Esq., late Collector of the district of Bhaugulpore (Bhagalpur) and Rajmahall (Rajmahal), who, without bloodshed or the terror of authority, employing only the means of conciliation, confidence, and benevolence, attempted and accomplished the entire subjection of the lawless and savage inhabitants of the Jungle terry of Rajmahall, who had long infested the neighboring lands by their predatory incursions, inspired them with a taste for the arts of civilized life, and attached them to the British Government by a conquest over their minds- the most permanent, as the most rational mode of domination. The Governor General and the Council of Bengal, in honour of his character and for an example to others, have ordered this monument to be erected. He departed this life on the 13th of January 1784, aged 29.”
His death was a cause of much sorrow, alike to Hastings and to the people whose reverence he had won, both for himself and his honoured master. Two monuments were raised to his memory; on at Bhagalpur, by the hill chiefs and lowland zamindars, the other at Calcutta, by Hastings and his council. Hastings himself supplied the inscription, which tells how Cleveland, “Without bloodshed or the terror of authority,” had tamed the lawless inhabitants of the Rajmahal jungles, and “attached them to the British government by a conquest over their mind; the most permanent, as the most rational, mode of dominion.”
Cleveland’s name was long held in reverence both by the hill tribes and the inhabitants of the plains. The people erected a monument to him somewhat in the form a pagoda. The government of India built another with the following inscription- “To the memory of Augustus Cleveland, ESQ”- Late collector of the district of Bhagalpur and Rajmahal who without bloodshed or the terror of authority, employing only the means of conciliation, confidence, and benevolence, attempted and accomplished the entire subjection of the lawless and savage inhabitants of the jungletarry of Rajmahal, who had long infested the neighboring lands by their predatory incursion, inspired them with a test for the arts of civilized life, and attached them to the British government by a conquest over their mind; the most permanent, as the most rational, mode of dominion.
William Hodges, the only child of Charles and Ann Richards Hodges, was born in London on 28 October 1744. He was the first professional landscape painter to visit India, working for the East India Company and the then Governor General, Warren Hastings. Hodges published an account of his Travels in India in 1793. In 1782 Hodges traveled into the Rajmahal hills on the invitation of Augustus Cleveland, who was that time the revenue collector of the district and also his good friend and patron. Hodges visited the area then known as Jangleterry, a rich green area south of Bhagalpur, describing the hills as “masses of stone piled one on another with large trees growing out of the crevices.”
William Hodges’s three paintings including the ancient Hindu temple of Deoghar, the famous village of Sakrigali from where Cleveland had written a letter to Warren Hastings on 21 November 1780 with a proposal of his comprehensive plan for the welfare of the Pahariya and the famous mosque, presently known as Jama Masjid, built by Man Singh, the Mughl commander of Akbar and governor of Rajmahal in 1594 where on the night of succeeding the battle of Udhwa-Nala ( 1763) the whole of the British part of the army, after the pursuit of the enemy’s forces, were lodged in this mosque, are very famous.
On arriving in Calcutta in the spring of 1781, William Hodges first met Warren Hastings who was to become the artist’s lifelong friend, as well as his most generous patron. During Hodges two and half year stay in northern India Hastings granted him an annual salary and later in England he purchased many paintings of Indian subjects. When Hastings died in 1818 the inventories of his house at Daylesford included some two dozen paintings by Hodges as well as three volumes of his drawings and numerous aquatints.
Hodges father, Charles Hodges had a blacksmith shop in St James’s market, but he encouraged his son’s artistic interest by enrolling him in Shipley’s Drawing School where Richard Wilson noticed his ability and took him on as an apprentice. During the seven year term in Wilson’s studio, Hodges learned not only the practical tasks of drawing and mixing paints but also the fundamentals of the classical landscape tradition. In the year 1775 Hodges was employed by Admiralty to execute large-scale paintings from the drawings and sketches made during the voyage; however in 1777 the termination of this project and the death of his wife, less than a year after their marriage, left him both the freedom and the inclination to travel. Now he was determined to set out for India where no professional landscape artist had yet ventured. On October 18, 1788 Hodges received the necessary permission from the Director of the East India Company to travel to India as an artist.
Cleveland became not only the patron of Hodges, but a great friend. Together at Bhagalpur they made several expeditions into the surrounding countryside, and Hodges kept a detailed journal, which he published in 1793 after his return to England, entitled “Travels in India during the Year 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783. He records his first visit to Bhagalpur in 1781,” The care that was taken in the government, and the minute attention to the happiness of the people, rendered this district, at this time, a perfect paradise…The situation of the Residence house, built by Mr. Cleveland, on a very elevated spot… This place owes its principal beauty to the good taste of Mr. Cleveland. The house was a large building of Italian design, set on a hill with a lawn stretching down to the Ganges, and a park with elk and deer close by.”
In January 1782, when Hodges returned to Bhagalpur again, a journey was proposed through the region in the company of Cleveland. ‘The interior part consists of much wood, intermixed with cultivated ground, and many villages, chiefly inhabited by husbandmen,’ Hodges wrote. He and Cleveland visited the hill people, or Paharias, who lived in the territory to the south and west of Bhagalpur. They were a tribe for whom Cleveland had a great affection. Their reputation before his arrival in the district was of a particularly wild nature, and, although they were armed only with bows and arrows, they were much feared of their attacks at night on houses and settlements below their mountain homes.
“It was Cleveland’s ‘humanity’, as Hodges described it, together with a strong desire to improve his district, that had made him go on an expedition on his own into mountains to arrange a meeting with the principal chiefs, and invite them to visit him at this Residence at Bhagalpur. Through his kindness to them, the presentation of gifts, and long discussions, they agreed to his plan to be formed into a battalion of sepoys, which was to be in the employment of the East India Company. A camp was formed for this corps three miles from Bhagalpur, and such was the success of this new battalion that, as Hodges recorded, …”with the ingenuity, address and humanity of a man, effected in the space of little more than two years, more than could ever have been hoped for from the utmost exertions of military severity”
Whenever Hodges and Cleveland traveled together, they were received with great ceremony; such was the esteem in which he was held by the Paharais.
William Hodges stayed for four months with Cleveland before visiting other regions, returning to see him at the end of 1783. To his great dismay he found his patron dangerously ill. A more favourable climate had been advised, and Cleveland was put on board the Indiaman Atlas, which was sailing for the cope of Good Hope. It only reached the mouth of the Ganges when he died. Mrs. Hastings, who was also on board, had Cleveland’s body put into a barrel of spirits and sent back to Calcutta. He was buried in the South Park Street Cemetery; the barrel was buried beneath his tomb. Warren Hastings erected a monument to him: “the reverence which at an early age Mr. Cleveland had created for himself in the minds of the natives will not suffer his name to sink into oblivion.”
The Paharia put up their own monument o him, which contained a small chamber where they could go and pray and , as Hastings remarked, “in the lapse of a century or two, the name of Cleveland is likely to be confounded with the manifold appellations which they have for each of their divinities’ (Bengal Past and Present VI, 1910, p.145).
‘A constant and indeed an incessant application to public business, without sufficient care of a very delicate frame… terminated the mortal existence of this inestimable man’, wrote Hodges after hearing of his friend’s death. Many years later, Reginald Heber (1783-1826), when appointed Bishop of Calcutta, was astonished to find Cleveland’s memory still greatly revered.
In this travels Hodges notes that he was commissioned to paint several large-scale paintings for Warren Hastings, the East India Company and Augustus Cleveland, who paid him over 4000 ponds. He made numerous sketches and drawings during his travels and as he often pained several versions of scenes, it is not always possible to determine whether these commissions were paints in India or form the sketches after his return to England in November 1784, eleven months after the death of Augustus Cleveland.
Interestingly the great reformist of the time, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, also visited Bhagalpur during this time. He had had an encounter with Fredrick Hamilton, the Collector o Calcutta in 1809. Roy was visiting the town in connection with caretaking of some property in the vicinity. His palanquin was stopped by the company official and he was asked to explain his status. Roy explained his credentials and little given to him by Akbar II, the Mughal Emperor. Hamilton left humiliated by Roy but some of his subordinates managed to pack the infuriated official. Later Roy lodged a complaint with Lord Minto, the then Governor general who wanted Hemilton to behave properly in future. Bhagalpur can thus pride in the fact that it is also associated with a great Indian personality of all times who heralded a new renaissance by presenting social and religious reformation in the Hindu society in form of establishment of the Brahama Samaj movement and abolition of “Sati,” thus removing the stigma forever.
The most remarkable thing is that a road dedicated to the great reformer, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, still exists in Bhagalpur just opposite to the collector’s office where he had served as a government official for some time. Also a road named after Cleveland runs from his residential quarters (presently known as Tillha Kothi) situated in the University campus to the northern side of the Syndics compound now changed to Jaiprakash Park. The road has now re-named as Swami Vivekanand Path, though the people prefer to earlier name.
The relation between Augustus Cleveland and the Governor General, Warren Hastings is still popular among the intellectuals because of that the later had stayed as a guest in the former house at least twice when he was advancing towards Banaras to take on Raja Chait Singh. Cleveland was the trustiest officer of the East India Company and very closed to the Hastings family as Mrs. Hastings was once his guest at Bhagalpur too. She was so closed to Cleveland that when he was inching towards the death she was with him. It is still mysterious under what circumstances he died at the early age of 29, as no contemporary writers had focused the cause of his sudden death. Between 1785 and 1794, William Hodges exhibited twenty five oils of India at the Royal Academy and also engraved forty-eight aquatints from his drawings, published in tow volumes between 1785 and 1788 entitled “Select Views in India.” Hodges met Warren Hastings in Calcutta in 1781, who became an enthusiastic patron and also introduced Hodges to Augustus Cleveland.
Warren Hastings (6 December 1732- 22 August 1818) was born at Churchill, Oxford shire in England. He attended Westminster School before joining the British East India Company in 1750 as a clerk. In 1757 he was made the British Resident, administrative in charge, of Murshidabad. He was appointed to the Calcutta council in 1761, but was back in England in 1764. He returned to India in 1769 as a member of the Madras council and was made governor of Bengal in 1772. In 1773, he was appointed the first Governor General of India.
After an eventful ten-year tenure in which he greatly extended and regularized the emerging Raj created by Lord Clive in India, Hastings resigned in 1784, coincidently Augustus Cleveland died same year. On his returned to England he was charged with his crimes and delinquency by Edmund Burke, encouraged by Sir Philip Francis whom Hastings had wounded in a duel in India. He was impeached in 1787 and the trial against him begun in 1788.
The prosecution was managed by the members of parliament including Edmund Burke, Charies James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The house set for a total of 145 days over a period of seven years during the investigation. The House of Lords finally made its decision on April 1795 acquitting him on all charges. His trial in England showed that the British administration in India was neither careful nor morally upright, nor concerned with the welfare of India. While India was being subjected, the invention of the spinning jenny in 1764, Watt’s perfected steam engine in 1768 and the power loom in 1785 were converting England into a maker and exporter textiles. Indian cotton goods were no longer wanted in Britain; on the contrary, Britain exported textiles and other factory products t the people of India, who in 1800, numbered approximately 14 crore.
It was the time of political uncertainty in India in general and Bengal in particular. The economic bankruptcy of the province had made the situation so worst that prices of the essential commodities had been skyrocketing a decade before coming out of famine. A free merchant in Bengal had written a letter to Warren Hastings, “In the years 1766 and 1767 rice was so very plentiful that in many places it was not gathered in, as it would not pay the expenses of collecting it. On this account, less was planted in 1768 that had been for many years before. In 1768 the cultivators willingly sowed less but whatever was sowed nature did not allow them to reap completely.”
The condition of rainfall in North Bengal was not in any way better than that in Bihar. In Rajmahal and Bhagalpur, which were then included in Bengal Subah, drought commenced in the month of March 1769, and lasted for a year.
A partial shortfall in crops, considered noting out of the ordinary, occurred in 1768 and was followed in late 1769 by more severe condition. By September 1769 there was a severe drought and alarming reports were coming in of rural distress. These were, however ignored by the company officers.
In early 1770 there was starvation and by mid-1770 deaths from starvation were coming out on a large scale. There were also reports of the living feeding on the bodies of the dead in the middle of the year. Smallpox and other diseases further took their toll of the population.
The famine depopulated the larger area and people migrated in mass in a search for food. Many cultivated lands were abandoned-much of Birbhum, for instance, returned to jungle and was virtually impassable for decades afterwards. From 1772 on, a band of bandits and thugs became an established feature of Bengal and were only brought under control by punitive action in the 1780s.
Throughout the entire course of recorded European history, from the remote times of which the Homeric poems preserve the dim tradition down to the present moment, there has occurred no calamity at once so sudden and of such appalling magnitude as the famine which in the spring and summer of 1770 nearly exterminated the ancient civilization of Bengal. The black death of 14th century was, perhaps, the most fearful visitation which has ever afflicted the Western world. But in the concentrated misery which it occasioned the Bengal famine surpassed it, even as the Himalayas dwarf by comparison the highest peaks of Switzerland.
After two years of it, Augustus Cleveland had to join at Rajmahal as assistant collector where a large number of people had to lose their lives due to the famine. The situation in the district was that the farmers were incapable of paying their rent and the merchants who usually advanced money to the farmers suspended their business. The farmer friendly stellar periods had passed off mysteriously without a single drop of rain therefore it was impossible for them to ploughed the hard fields. They gave up the cultivation of their lands and offered ploughs and bullocks to the Foujdars. The draught which had lasted for the last one year in Rajmahal was such as by all accounts had not occurred within a century.
According to Harwood, the supervisors of Rajmahal and Bhagalpur could not move from his house without being obliged to listen to the tales of same ruined families. Even in the midst of such distress the collectors were pressing the Ryots to make good their engagements.
During the worst time the people of Rajmahal and Bhaglpur had to suffer oppression at the hands of the mountaineers from Jungleterai who made frequent incurious into the villages and of the troops marching alone the roads between Calcutta to Patna. In the winter season of 1770 the robbers started looting the houses of the wealthy people setting fire to the villages. Boughton Rous, supervisor of Rajshahi, wrote to the controlling council of Revenue that he had received advices from the Pargunnahs of the frequent firing on the villagers by the people who distressed driven them to such act of despaired and villainy.
The robbers from Rajmahal and Maldah were frequently entering into Dinapur and Purnia and looting the assets of the common people. Ducaral, the supervisor of Purnia, wrote to the controlling council to the revenue, “The zamindars and Tannahdars in the Purgunnaha of the district bordering on Dinapur, Rajmahal and Malda so far being able to protect the weavers from the assaults of robbers and dacoits are in the highest need of your protection since hardly a day passes that I do not hear of some barefaced robbery on the house of the most answerable tenants.”
It is not clear whether the Mughal rulers had made any arrangement of social welfare to cope with the situation like this under their jurisdiction, especially in medieval Bengal. Virtually the people of Bengal were facing such a horrible situation for the first time in their best know era. The concept of public management among the rulers had not developed. Hardly hundred fifty years ago the country was enjoying the golden era. The great Mughals had politically united most of the northern parts of the country. But after the battle of Plassy, the situation became completely changed. The British East India Company had reached to the point of making its base in Bengal not only by defeating the Nawabs, but also its archrivals French, Dutch and Portuguese in India who had been challenging the supremacy of the England overseas and the East as well. The British East India Company had not come here with any welfare scheme.
In such condition, there is no denying the fact that the relief work done by the government of Bengal during the famine was not at all satisfactory. After holding over Bengal, the English were targeting other Nawabs with view to expend their territories. They had to arrange a lot of money from the internal sources, Bengal, by exploiting the peasants and the traders. Perhaps this was the reason when Augustus Cleveland in 1780 proposed a plan of Rs 29,440 for the Pahariya primitive tribes of Rajmahal hills; it was turned down by the governor general.
This unwillingness of the English as well as inexperienced government servants, who were facing first time such a critical situation made them reluctant in the matter of relief work. In the adverse situation where the company was falling short of food grains issued orders prohibiting the export of grain for one to another district except to the city of Murshidabad. Rice was usually imported into Murshidabad from Rajmahal, Purnia, Dinajpur and other neighboring district. Though there is reports that rice was distributed free in Rajmahal and Dinajpur, it is not clear how much and for the how long.
The first half of the year of 1770-71 was very crucial. When the reports of deaths were reaching to the administrative circles, the authorities concerned in Bengal collected the net revenue amounted to Rs 1, 36, 43, 261 and the reduction granted for the year on account of famine was Rs 15, 08, 032 i.e. about eleven precent of the total collection of the year. For example, the total collection of revenue in Rajmahal was Rs 2, 84, 982 while the remission was Rs 80, 000, about 28 percent of the total collection.
As a trading body, the first submit of the company was to maximize its profit and with taxation rights the profits to be obtained from Bengal came from land tax as well as trade tariffs. As land came under the control of the East India Company, the land tax was typically raised fivefold what it had been- from 10 percent to up to 50 percent of the value of the agricultural products. In the first year of the rule, the total land tax income was doubled and most of this revenue flowed out of the country. As the famine approached its height in April of 1770, the Company announced that the land tax for the following year was to be increased by a further 10 percent.
By the time, monopolies in grain trading had been established by the company and its agents. The company had no plan for dealing with the grain shortage and actions were only taken insofar as they affected the mercantile and trading classes. According to R. McLean, the first governor general of British India, Warren Hastings, acknowledged “violent” tax collecting after 1771: revenues earned by the Company were higher in 1771 than in 1768. Globally, the profit of the company increased from Rs 15 million in 1765 to Rs 30 million in 1777.
Later on, set in the backdrop of the Bengal famine, the legendary Bengali writer, Bankim Chandra Chatarjee wrote “Anandmath.” It is a famous novel based in the backgrounds of the cause and impact of the devastating famine which led to the revolt against the new English rule organized by the Sanyasi. The mantra of the struggle was “Vandematram,” which later on proved to be the booster for the nationalist movement during the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzan in 1906. By that time nationalist movement in India had taken a democratic form under the leadership of Dadabhai Narojee, Gopal Krishna Gokhle, Bipin Chandra Pal and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, all belonged to pre-Gandhian era.
By the end of August 1770 lawlessness started in the region. Depredations and murders committed by the gangs of robbers started everywhere. There was an incident behind the depredations. When the East India Company accepted the Diwani of Bengal, the Nawab, Najm-ud-daulah had to curtail his strength of army under a treaty signed on February 20, 1765. The treaty made thousands of soldiers unemployed. They had no other suitable occupation to engage themselves resulting in enlarged the number of robbers in the countryside. The famine ruined the peasantry. The farmers sold their bullocks and plough. At a time when the farmers were under tremendous mental pressure, the robbers started harassing them by looting their belongings and the revenue collectors on the other hand, joined the ranks of dacoits.
A climax was reached during the famine of 1770, which pressed with peculiar severity upon the alluvial strip of country lying between the Rajmahal hills and the Ganges. The outposts at the foot of the hills, which were named by Ghatwals, were abandoned, and the plains thus lay at the mercy of the Pahariyas who, owing to their practice of living upon jungle foods, had escaped the extremity of misery.
It was, therefore, in the years following the famine of 1770 thus the raids of the hill people upon the low country became most frequent and most systematic. Plunder, no doubt, was their main object, but many of their inroads were in the first instance instigated by the landlords, who were in the habit of offering the Paharia a free passage through their own lands, on condition that they ravaged those of the neighboring zaminadars.
It appeared that the situation had made them as professional fighters. Their terror was so widespread in Rajmahal and its adjoining districts that the alluvial area was deserted by its cultivators. No boat dare moor after dusk on the southern bank of Ganges. Even the government mail runners who in those days passed along the skirts of the hills, by way of Rajmahal and Teliagarhi pass, were frequently robbed and murdered at the foot of the hills.
Teliagarhi, a ruined fort is situated seven miles east of Sahebganj close to the East Indian Railway line. It stands on a plateau on the lower slop of the Rajmahal hills, at the foot of which the Ganges formerly flowed in the past. Tradition, indeed, says that soldiers used to sit on the walls with fishing rods and catch fish from the river below. Owing to its position it was a place of great strategic importance, and was known as “the key of Bengal.” In 2007, the archaeological Survey of India declared the fort a national monument which is probably a last ancient monument dated back to 7th century AD in the region noticed by Hiuen-Tsiang, the Chinese traveler. The Ganges has changed its course and is now far away from Teliagarhi, the East Indian Railway line at the present running close to the ruin fort.
The evil reputation the Paharia won by such raid may be gathered from the remark of Bishop Heber in 1824, “A deadly feud existed for the last 40 years between them and the cultivators of the neighboring lowlands, they being untamed thieves and murderers, continually making forays, and the Mohammedan zamindars killing them like mad dogs or tigers, whenever they got them within gunshot.”
But, Augustus Cleveland who had been stationed at Rajmahal in 1773 as assistant to the collector and three years later appointed as collector of Bhagalpur in 1776, was very impressed by this primitive race for his simplicity and truthfulness. Two of his contemporaries, Captain Brooke and Captain Browne, who had expended the territories of the East India Company in these parts of the forest, had also taken some important measures for them. Captain Brooke, who was the military governor of a special corps about 800 strong forces in 1772, had been asked to win the confidence of his enemies and he did it. “He won the confidence of the enemies by his treatment of the prisoners he took and of their children, and induced them to come down and settles in the cultivatable land below the hills.”
In 1774, before quitting the office, he reported that he had found no less than 283 villagers between Udhwa and Barkop. In December of the same year Warren Hastings proudly announced in a dispatch to the Court of Directors- “ By the battalion employed in the Jungle Terry, a tract of country which was considered as inaccessible and unknown, and only served as a receptacle for robbers, has been reduced to government, the inhabitants civilized, and not only the reduction of the revenues, which was occasioned by their ravages, prevented, but some revenue yielded from this country itself, which a prosecution of the same measures will improve.”
The contemporary writers have termed Captain Brooke as the pioneer of civilization in the Rajmahal hills when he quit the office after serving two years in 1774. Now Captain Browne was his successor who strengthened the police forces by conferring grants of lands below the hills on invalid sepoys, on condition that they settled on their allotments and gave assistance in the event of a Paharia inroad. The scheme was sanctioned by the government in 1778, but next year, before he could carry it out, Captain Browne was directed to make charge to Augustus Cleveland, who had joined a the collector of Bhaglpur in 1776. He was then only 22.
Bhagalpur and Rajmahal were the two places in the district that can be properly called towns, claimed Bishop Heber, who had visited Bhagalpur in 1824. He writes, “Boglipoor (Bhagalpur) is in a pretty situation and said to be one of the healthiest stations in India.” (20). Situated on the bank of the river Ganges, Bhagalpur has its own important ever since the days of the epic age when it was famous as the “Anga Janapada” ruled by Karna of Mahabharat age. During the period of 6th century BC when altogether 16 Janapadas were established in India, among them Anga was the prominent. The place was historically so important that the Palas of Bengal had established the famous Vikramshila University here during the 8th century AD.
Francis Buchanan, who toured the region in 1810-11, claimed that the number of houses in Bhagalpur town was 5000. From another statement made by the magistrate of Bhagalpur relating to the number of houses in the town and villages, we find that Rajmahal had 1,639 houses. On April 5, 1816, J. Parry, the magistrate of Bhagalpur had written a letter to J. Shakespears, the superintendent of police that lower provinces; Calcutta provides a list containing the number of villages in 19 Thana (police station) divisions in the district of Bhagalpur. The Rajmahal then includes 289 and Bhagalpur Kotwani 133 villages.
The first collectorship of Bhagalpur established in 1774 for purposes of general administration including the following officers viz; the Collector’s, the Diwan’s, the Serishtadar’s, the treasury, the Munshi’s, the Vakil’s and the Nazir’s. James Bartor was the first collector of Bhagalpur.
After two decades of the famine a great social and economic changes took place in the region when a new community, the Santhals, started migrating in large number from Birbhum side in Bengal. According to Sir William Hunter, “The permanent settlement for the land tax in 1790 resulted in a general extension of villages, and the Santhals were hired to rid the lowlands of the wild beast which, since the great famine of 1769, had everywhere encroached upon the margin of cultivation. This circumstance was so noticeable as to find its way to the London papers, and from 1792 a new era in the history of the Santhal dates.” (23) The Santhals seem to have settled first in the region between 1790 and 1810, having made their way northwards from Birbhum, where they had been brought in about 1790 to clear jungles. The exact date at which the first body of immigrants came is not known, but the unpublished manuscript of Buchanan Hamilton shows that a number of them had settled in the Dumka subdivision by 1909, “having come last from Birbhum in consequence of the annoyance which they received from its zamindars.”
Besides many reasons, it might be possible that the famine of 1770 was one of the main causes for mass exodus of Santhals. Large scale deaths from famine in India under the British rule were not new thing. According to the British sources, the deaths from famine in India between 1800 and 1825 were one million; between 1825 and 1850, four hundred thousand; between 1850 and 1875, five million; and between 1875 and 1900, fifteen million.
In such a condition people had no option but to migrate from one place to other. Besides the Pahariays, the hills of Rajmahal had potentiality to provide shelter to a new race; the Santhals who later on made the region fertile. The famine of 1770 had passed away, but not completely. Bengal was under the colonial rule and history has known no good colonizers. Imperialism is government of other people, by other people and for other people. Imperialism is a perpetual insult, for it assumes that the outsider has to right to rule the insiders who cannot rule themselves.
Between 1800 and 1825 when the famine again attacked the country, a large number of Santhals further advanced. In 1818 Mr. Sutherland, joint magistrate of Bhagalpur, found them busy clearing the forest below in the hills of Godda subdivision (now a district); in 1827 Mr. Ward noticed that they had settled in the extreme north of the same subdivision; while a report of Mr. Dunbar, Collector of Bhagalpur, shows that by 1836 no less than 427 villages had been established in the Damin-i-koh mainly by the Santhals.
The famine of 1770 had changed the whole characteristic of Rajmahal hills where a primitive tribe had been residing from the ancient time. The Pahariyas who had kept themselves aloof from the social, economic and political changes started mixing up with the modern society when Augustus Cleveland introduced some plans for them. There is no record of any of his contemporaries who had made such plan for the primitive tribes as Cleveland had done for the Pahariyas. He introduced his plans when many of the British officers did not acquaintance with the social and cultural life of the local people. By introducing his new schemes among the primitive tribes, he made the East India Company strong in the hills of Rajmahal, but at the same time he opened the door for his successors to introduce benevolent policies in the coming days.
To be continued …