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Grant of Rothiemurchus
Part I - Biographical Sketch - Chapter I


FULL account of the Grants of Rothiemurchus is to be found in the entertaining memoirs of a Highland Lady, edited by Lady Strachey, wife of Sir Richard Strachey, in 1898. They were branches of the Clan Grant, owned an extensive district with a moderate rental, and held what has been Very fairly described as “ rather a high position among the lesser Barons of their wild country.” In the last century John Peter Grant, the first who bore those Christian names, was born in 1774. He went to the Bar in England, and exchanged this branch of the profession for that of a Scotch Advocate. He stood for Parliament in the Liberal interest, and sat as Member for Great Grimsby and for Tavistock. In 1827 Charles Wynn, the President of the Board of Control, appointed him a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Justice at Bombay. Owing to serious differences with the Governor, Sir John Malcolm, which are given at length in Kaye’s life of that soldier statesman, Mr Justice Grant resigned his appointment, went round to Calcutta where he practised for some time at the Bar, and eventually became a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court at that Presidency. He was the father of two sons, of whom the eldest, William Patrick, became Master in Equity at Calcutta, and John Peter Grant, the second son, is the subject of this memoir. Born in 1807, he entered the Bengal Civil Service in 1828. He was educated at Eton and at Haileybury. On arriving at Calcutta he passed through the College of Fort William, and was appointed to the Upper or North West Provinces. In those days all communication between Lower Bengal and the Upper Provinces was either by boat or by palanquin. Young Grant, with other friends, went up by river via the Sunderbunds, and in after years he used to relate that on reaching Rajmahal on the Ganges in one month he was congratulated by his friends in Calcutta on his speedy and prosperous journey. At the present time the transit by rail to Tin Pahar, whence there is a short branch line to Rajmahal, occupies a few hours.

Grant served as Assistant and Joint Magistrate for three years in the districts of Bareilly and Pillibhit, in the province of Rohilkand. At that time Mr Henry Boulderson was carrying out the Settlement of the Land Revenue in those provinces on an elaborate scale, and under this very experienced officer Grant gained an insight into village life, and a grasp of the principles regulating the assessment and the collection of the Land Revenue, which he never lost. It is true that his training in district work did not last more than three years, and that he could not lay claim to an intimate familiarity with the intricate details of a Village Settlement such as enabled Robert M. Bird and James Thomason to complete operations, which in every province of India are the very foundations of all order, progress, and reform. But, in 1832, the late Mr R. D. Mangles, who eventually became a Director of the East India Company, and sat as M.P. for Guildford, offered Grant a post in the Board of Revenue in Calcutta. It may be assumed that Mr Mangles had already discerned the branch of the Service best calculated for the development of Grant’s talents. Other appointments soon followed. Grant served in the Secretariat under Sir William Hay Macnaghten and the late Mr H. T. Prinsep, was Member of a Committee on Prison Discipline, was Secretary to the Indian Law Commission, of which Lord Macaulay was the President, and eventually was made Accountant to the Government of Bengal and Junior Secretary to the Government of India in the Financial Department. In March 1841 Grant proceeded to England on furlough, and did not return to India till the autumn of 1844.

One episode in his early service, previous to furlough, must not be passed over. Lord Cornwallis, in his great measure, the Perpetual Land Revenue Settlement of Bengal, Behar, and part of Orissa, effected in 1793, had reserved to himself and his successors power to pass Regulations for the protection and welfare of all ryots, cultivators, and subtenants; as well as to institute an enquiry into the validity of all tenures claimed by their owners to be held rent-free. The first of these important pledges was not redeemed till the Administration of Lord Canning in 1857. But laws for resuming, assessing, or exempting rent-free tenures from taxation were passed, at intervals, between the years 1819 and 1830, and when Grant came down to Calcutta, in 1832, as before stated, these operations were in full swing under officers specially selected for the purpose. As may be easily conceived, a tardy enquiry into the validity of rent-free tenures, created by Emperors, Nawabs, and Rajas with a lavish and wanton hand, generations before, caused no small amount of discontent and irritation among the Zamindars and other holders of land. Such grants were of all kinds, and the lands so exempted varied from a very few acres to estates of considerable extent Brahmans and priests, astrologers and pundits, dependents and favourites, all shared in the beneficence and the capricious favour of superior landlords ; and grants were made for the maintenance of Hindu temples and idols, and for Muhammedan shrines and mosques, as well as for purely secular purposes. Much excitement was caused and no little confusion. Title-deeds had been lost or destroyed by fire and climate. Rent-free tenures, especially those of small extent, had been sold or had passed to others than the original grantees. Oral evidence was not forthcoming in many instances, and was naturally distrusted when offered to the Special Tribunals. The whole subject was fiercely discussed in the public Press by some of the ablest writers of the time; one party vindicating the right and duty of the Government to avail itself of a neglected source of revenue undoubtedly its own, and the other expatiating on the cruel hardship of subjecting the holders of rent-free tenures to a severe scrutiny, forty years after the Perpetual Settlement had been promulgated and confirmed. In the progress of the discussion there appeared a series of letters, so clear in statement, so severe in logic, so broad in view, as to place the unknown author on a level with the foremost of the controversialists. Eventually, it became known that the writer was Grant, the young Secretary.

As the Resumptions proceeded, the Government modified the severity of parts of the law, and exempted from enquiry plots and tenures of moderate extent. The total annual increase to the revenue was barely forty lacs of rupees, while the expenditure had amounted to more than four times that sum, or one crore and twenty lacs.

Grant, in his later years, and with all his ripe experience, was inclined to doubt whether, if the Government had foreseen the result, and could have weighed the gain in revenue against the loss of popularity and credit, it would have resorted to any such measure at all.


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