Lord William Bentinck

Lord William Bentinck served as Governor General of India between 1828 to 1835. His tenure is known for the social reforms such as Abolition of Sati in 1829, Suppression of Thugi, and Suppression of Infanticide etc.  English was introduced as a medium of higher education on the advice of his council member, Thomas Babington Macaulay. A pact with Maharaja Ranjit Singh was made. Charter act 1833 was passed by which East India Company ceased to be a trading company. Some corrective measures in civil services were taken. This seven years period was an epoch for administrative reforms in India. It started a process by which the Indian population, which is furious of sudden changes, was made to obey the British rulers and administration slowly. Partially this period can be said as of “benevolent administrators”. There is an inscription on his statue at Calcutta which was penned by Lord Macaulay. He writes:

He abolished cruel rites; he effaced humiliating distinctions; he gave liberty to the expression of public opinion; his constant study was to elevate the intellectual and moral character of the nations committed to his charge.

Condition of Finances of the Company

The Finances of the East India Company were tottering due to the prolonged Anglo-Burmese War. There was a general dissatisfaction among the masses who had heard the story of the Mutiny of Barrackpur. The first step Lord William Bentinck took was to restore the equilibrium in the East India Company’s finances. He took the following steps:

  • He reduced the permanent expenditures of the company amounting to 15 Lakh Sterling every year.
  • He incorporated the revenue from the lands which had escaped the earlier assessments.
  • He imposed duty on Opium cultivated in Malwa.
  • He widened the door, though which the natives could enter the services of the company.

Abolition of Sati in 1829

The Practice of Sati was first banned in Goa in 1515 by the Portuguese, but it was not that much prevalent there. This evil practice was banned by the Dutch and French also in Chinsura and Pondicherry respectively.  The British permitted it initially but the practice of Sati was first formally banned in city of Calcutta in 1798, but it continued in the surrounding areas.

The Bengal Presidency started collecting facts and figures on the practice of Sati in 1813. The data showed that in 1817 only, 700 widows were burnt alive in Bengal alone. From 1812 onwards, it was Raja Rammohan Roy, who started his own campaign against the Sati practice.

His own sister-in-law had been forced to commit Sati. Raja Rammohan Roy used to visit the Calcutta cremation grounds to persuade widows not to so die. He also formed the watch groups. In Sambad Kaumudi he wrote articles and showed that it was not written in any Veda or epics to commit this crime. It was on 4 December 1829, when the practice was formally banned in all the lands under Bengal Presidency by Lord William Bentinck.

By this regulation, the people who abetted sati were declared guilty of “culpable homicide.”

The ban was challenged in the courts. The matter went to the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council upheld the ban in 1832. After that other territories also started following banning, but it remained legal in princely states, particularly in the Rajputana where it was very common.  Under the British control, Jaipur banned the practice in 1846.

Suppression of Thugs by William Bentinck

The name of Lord William Bentinck is still cherished in India for suppression of the Thugs. Thugs were the hereditary assassins whose profession was to deceive people and strangle them to death with their Pugree or handkerchief. They used to travel in Gangs, disguised as merchants or pilgrims. They were bound together by an oath on the rites of their deity goddess Kali.


The word “Thug” is derived from “Sthag” of Sanskrit, which means “sly”. Rather than ordinary thieves, they were the bands of the people who were first recorded by Barni, when he mentions that Firoz Shah Tughlaq captured the Thugs. But none of them was killed and Sultan put them in boats and sent them to Lakhnauti where they were set free, so that they don’t trouble the “Delhites”.

In suppression of Thugs, along with William Bentinck, one more name is cherished. This able officer was William Henry Sleeman. Initially he was a soldier and later became the administrator.

In 1835, the ‘Thuggee and Dacoity Dept’ was created by William Bentinck and William Henry Sleeman was made its superintendent. He was later promoted as its Commissioner in 1839.

The rigorous operations under Sleeman led to capture of 1400 Thugs who were hanged by the government or transported for life. A special prison was established at Jabalpur for Thugs.  The reason of this success was the awareness creation by the Government. The department started disseminating information about the Thugee and at every Police Station or Thana, the information about the new techniques by the Thugs would be sent. The travelers were warned.

Since, Thugs could be recognized only by evidence, the department started “King’s Evidence Programme“. In this programme the Thugs, who turned evidences of the and provided into about the Gang members & peers would be provided protection and incentives. This was used by the government to break the code of silence, which kept the members of the gang silent.

Judicial Reforms of William Bentinck

At the time of Lord Cornwallis, the provinces of Bihar, Bengal & Orissa were divided into 4 divisions. In each of these divisions a Circuit court was established. Besides there were 4 Provincial Courts of appeal at Calcutta, Murshidabad, Dhaka and Patna. Judiciary required reforms because of the following reasons:

  • The new territories acquired in last 3 decades expanded the territorial jurisdiction of the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta, but it was now too far away from them.
  • The Provincial Courts of appeal were thought to be worthless and a burden on the administration.
  • The people who were in prison had to be kept for months before a Circuit Court met at district headquarters and disposed the cases. So, the under trials suffered badly under the Police oppression.
  • The entire system was considered too expensive.
  • The language of the courts was Persian and it was not easy for the litigants to fight in this language.

Following reforms were introduced by Lord William Bentinck:

  • The first reform done was to abolish the Provincial Courts of Appeal and Circuit Courts altogether. This was done by a regulation passed in 1829.
  • In place of the Provincial courts of appeal and Circuit, the Commissioners of Revenue and Circuit were appointed to do this job.
  • For this purpose, the Bengal Presidency was divided into 20 divisions and each division was placed under a separate commissioner.
  • For revenue cases these commissioners worked directly under the Board of Revenue and for Criminal cases they worked under Sadar Nizamat Adalat.
  • Separate Diwani and Sadar Nizamat Adalat were opened at Allahabad.
  • In 1831, another regulation was passed by which the “Respectable Indians” were to be appointed in the Zilla or City Courts. They were called “Munsifs“. Munsifs were to be appointed on a salary and they could decide the cases worth less than Three Hundred Rupees.
  • Then, in a separate regulation, it was decided the Governor General in Council would appoint respectable Indians to the post of Sadar Amins. The Sadar Amins would hear appeals from the Zilla and city courts.
  • Sadar Amin was now the highest Judicial Indian authority. However, neither Munsifs nor Sadar Amins could trial the Europeans.
  • In 1832, a sort of Jury was introduced in Bengal, which was like Indian Jury (Panchayat) that could help the European Judges.
  • The abolition of the Provincial Courts of Appeal and Circuit reduced the expenditure of the company Government.
  • The appointment of the Commissioners introduced individual responsibility.
  • Police was now less oppressive as the Commissioners would dispose the cases.
  • The Jury system in Bengal (Panchayat) made possible the use of local knowledge and opinion.
  • To some extent, Indians were now to enter into the administration. It was not tangible at that time, but at least it was a ray of hope for the Indians.

Other Political Events during William Bentinck

Direct Control of Mysore

After the Fourth Anglo Mysore war, a young Raja of Mysore of Wodeyar dynasty was placed on the throne of Mysore. For a few years, the relations between British and Mysore remained cordial. But in Late 1820s, there was a civil insurrection in Mysore. This was either due to the financial oppressions of the British Resident or due to misgovemment and oppressive taxation of the maharaja. These developments led to the British to take direct control over the Mysore in 1831. This arrangement continued till 1881, when Mysore was restored to native government, and the lawful heir enthroned.

Coorg War 1834

In 1834, British East India Company and the Raja of Coorg in 1834 entered into a conflict which was a short but bloody war. The Raja was defeated was permitted to retire to Benares. Coorg was annexed to British Empire. The annexation of the Coorg was the only annexation effected by Lord William Bentinck.

Succession of William Bentinck by Lord Metcalfe

In 1835 Sir Charles Metcalfe succeeded Lord William Bentinck, being senior member of council. His short term of office is memorable for the measure which his predecessor had initiated, but which he carried into execution.  This was giving entire liberty to the press. It was the Public opinion in India, but there were people at home as well as India who opposed this policy. “Lord Metcalfe” is called Liberator of India Press but soon he became a victim of party politics in England and was asked to get back to pavilion. He was succeeded by Lord Auckland in 1836.