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Warren Hastings: First Governor of India

Warren Hastings

Warren Hastings: First Governor of India

Lady Robert is delighted with P. and P., and really was so, as I understand, before she knew who wrote it, for, of course, she knows now. He told her with as much satisfaction as if it were my wish. He did not tell me this, but he told Fanny. And Mr. Hastings! I am quite delighted with what such a man writes about it. Henry sent him the books after his return from Daylesford, but you will hear the letter too.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Sept. 15, 1813

Warren Hastings (December 6, 1732 – August 22, 1818) was the first governor-general of British India, from 1773 to 1785. He was famously impeached in 1787 for corruption, and acquitted in 1795. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1814.

Hastings was born at Churchill, Oxfordshire. 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.

In late 1752 or early 1753 George Austen’s sister, Philadelphia Austen was taken from her post, apprenticing to a Milliner, and sent off to India to “find a husband”. Both George and Philadelphia had been orphaned early in life and educated at the expense of an Uncle. Already in her twenties and without prospects in England, this trip was her last chance to marry. Six months after her arrival she married an elderly surgeon, Tysoe Hancock, who was a friend to Warren Hastings. Eight years later, a daughter was born to Philadelpia. Was she the product of a long and loveless marriage or was she, as some gossips of the time claimed, Warren Hasting’s “natural child”? We may never know for certain, but we do know that years later, Eliza named her only son Hastings and was left a financial legacy in Mr. Hasting’s will. The Austen family always felt a kinship to Mr. Hastings and Jane Austen sent him a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

During Hastings’ time as governor, a great deal of precedent was established pertaining to the methods which the British Raj would use in its rule over India. Hastings had a great respect for the ancient scripture of Hinduism and fatefully set the British position on governance as one of looking back to the earliest precedents possible. This allowed Brahmin advisors to mold the law, as no Englishman understood Sanskrit until Sir William Jones; it also accentuated the caste system and other religious frameworks which had, at least in recent centuries, been somewhat incompletely applied. Thus, British influence on the ever-changing social structure of India can in large part be characterized as, for better or for worse, a solidification of the privileges of the caste system through the influence of the exclusively high-caste scholars by whom the British were advised in the formation of their laws. These laws also accepted the binary division of the people of Bengal and, by extension, India in general as either Muslim or Hindu (to be governed by their own laws).

In 1781 Hastings founded Madrasa ‘Aliya, meaning the higher madrasa, in Calcutta showing his relations with the Muslim population. In addition, in 1784 Hastings supported the foundation of the Bengal Asiatik Society by the Orientalist Scholar William Jones, which became a storehouse for information and data pertaining to India.

As Hastings had few Englishmen to carry out administrative work, and still fewer with the ability to converse in local tongues, he was forced to farm out revenue collection to locals with no ideological friendship for Company rule. Moreover, he was ideologically committed at the beginning of his rule to the administation being carried out by ‘natives’. He believed that European revenue collectors would “open the door to every kind of rapine and extortion” as there was “a fierceness in the European manners, especially among the lower sort, which is incompatible with the gentle temper of the Bengalee”.

British desire to assert themselves as the sole sovereign led to conflicts within this ‘dual government’ of Britons and Indians. Moreover, the unsustainable levels of revenue extraction and exportation of Bengali silver back to Britain led to the famine of 1769-70, in which it is estimated that a third of the population died, led to the British characterising the collectors as tyrants and blaming them for the ruin of the province.

Some Englishmen continued to be seduced by the opportunities to acquire massive wealth in India and as a result became involved in corruption and bribery, and Hastings could do little or nothing to stop it. Indeed, it was argued, unsuccessfully, at his subsequent impeachment trial, that he participated in the widespread exploitation of these newly conquered lands.

Hastings resigned in 1784 and returned to England. He was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors by Edmund Burke, and Sir Philip Francis whom he had wounded in a duel in India. He was impeached in 1787 but the trial, which began in 1788, ended with his acquittal in 1795. Hastings spent most of his fortune on his defence, although the East India Company did contribute towards the end of the trial.

The city of Hastings, New Zealand and the Melbourne outer suburb of Hastings, Victoria, Australia were both named after him.

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Eliza de Feuillide: Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’

Eliza Hancock was born 22nd December 1761 in Calcutta, India, to her mother Philadelphia Austen and her father Tysoe Saul Hancock, a physician with the East India Company. Philadelphia was George Austen’s sister, making Eliza Jane’s first cousin.

Philadelphia Austen had traveled to India in January 1752 without a dowry and in search of a husband. She met and married Tysoe six months after her arrival. By 1759, they were still childless and it was assumed that this indicated that they had a bad marriage. It was around this time that they moved house, met and befriended Warren Hastings; it was rumored that Philadelphia had been Hasting’s mistress. Eliza, or as she was known in childhood, Betsy, was born two years later and the true identity of her father is still questioned. Regardless of his possible paternity, Hasting’s became Eliza’s godfather, giving her £10,000 in trust, and later took the position of Governor General of India.

In 1768, Eliza and her mother traveled to England whilst her father remained in India. He chose to stay in India in order to finance their lifestyle at the expense of being with his wife and daughter. He died in 1775 and in 1777, Philadelphia took Eliza to live in Paris, France where it was cheaper. They enjoyed a fortunate lifestyle here, often attending royal events and at age 20, Eliza married a French Army captain called Jean-François Capot de Feuillide who became a French count. In 1786, a very pregnant Eliza set out for England to visit the Austen’s but did not make it past Calais before giving birth to a boy, Hastings de Feuillide, who was thought to have learning difficulties. Eliza and Philadelphia continued with the baby and arrived in Steventon just before Christmas 1786. At this time it is thought that Eliza made quite an impression on the young Jane who had just turned 11 years old; she aided Jane to feel comfortable and more confident around strangers. During this visit, Eliza and Jane’s beloved brother Henry became very close and flirted constantly despite Henry being 10 years her junior. Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794 during the reign of terror and Eliza, Hastings and Philadelphia returned to live in England at this time.

After settling in London, Eliza married Henry Austen in 1797. During this time Eliza and Jane communicated a lot through letters; they were both well-educated, intelligent and witty and took great delight in observing others and describing how they perceived the world. Eliza had traveled the world and this allowed a maturity in knowledge that no doubt intrigued Jane. From reading Eliza’s existing letters (mainly written to her cousin, Phylly Walter whom she was extremely close to), many historians have been unsure on how to judge the character of Eliza; at times she seems incredibly self- centred and confident but there is certainly also a very caring nature. She once described herself as an ‘outlandish cousin’ which serves to give us an impression of the character of Eliza. She suffered many disappointments and heartaches in life and yet remained very optimistic. Humour was very characteristic of her letters; she once wrote to her cousin Phylly: ‘where the Princess of Wales & myself took an Airing—We were however so unsociable as to go in different Carriages.’

It has also been assumed that she persuaded Henry to go into banking, although she did not live to see this venture become a complete failure. Hastings died in 1801 from what is speculated to have been epilepsy. Twelve years later, 25 April 1813, Eliza died after suffering a long illness. It is known that Jane visited Sloane Street (Eliza and Henry’s home) regularly and helped to nurse her during her final years. Eliza is buried with her mother and son in a cemetery in Hampstead, North London.

Deirdre Le Faye has done a fantastic job in editing Jane Austen’s Letters. Her book is called the 3rd or New Edition as R.W Chapman edited Jane’s letters to provide us with the 1st and 2nd Editions. Through Le Faye’s analysis of Jane Austen and her letters, it has been considered that perhaps Jane may have based the character Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park on Eliza. This notion is based on many facts; including that both Eliza and Mary enjoyed amateur acting throughout life, played the harp and enjoyed life in London in comparison to the country. Jon Spence agreed with this position and developed it further through stating that ‘at last Jane was able to convey her ambiguous feelings about Eliza de Feuillide and the unsettling experience of knowing her.’

We actually have a cross stitch pattern remembering Eliza de Feuillide, have a look here.


This Biography of Eliza de Feuillide was written by Rachel Kingston for the Becoming Jane Fansite. It is adapted here with the author’s permission.

Pic 1: Eliza de Feuillide (and Henry Austen), taken from Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane Austen (2003)

Pic 2: Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters), Eliza (Lucy Cohu), Jane (Anne Hathaway) and Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin)in Becoming Jane.

Pic 3: Eliza (Lucy Cohu) and Henry (Joe Anderson) in Becoming Jane, taken from Jane Austen’s Regency World, issue 26.

Pic 4: There are many books which deal with Jane Austen’s relationship to Eliza, including Dearest Cousin Jane (Jill Pitkeathley), Jane and the Barque of Frailty (Stephanie Barron) and Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’: The Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide (Deirdre Le Faye)