Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Scots in India
Sir Thomas Munro

SIR THOMAS MUNRO, 1761-1827.

THOMAS MUNRO was the son of Alexander Munro, a Glasgow merchant, trading with Virginia. He was sent to a grammar school at a very early age, and was only a boy of thirteen when lie proceeded to the University, where he remained till he was sixteen. It was at the University that he developed that taste for history and literature that he retained throughout his career in India. His favourite reading consisted of voyages, Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare, political economy, and history. A boy's reading does undoubtedly have an influence on his after career as a man, and so it was with Munro. One illustration of his industry and perseverance may be given.

He learnt Spanish with the help of a dictionary and grammar, in order that he might have the pleasure of reading the immortal work of Cervantes, Don Quixote, in the original. It is acknowledged by all who take the trouble to learn a new language, and more especially a language that has great literature, that one of the most interesting results of so doing is the new world that is opened up to the imagination, a result that translations do not achieve to the same extent. The author of this sketch has few more interesting reminiscences than that of reading in the original one of the plays of the great Sanskrit dramatist, Kahidasa, amidst the pine forests of Kashmir, amidst much of the scenery, indeed, in which the action of the play is laid. Munro's athletic tastes in his early youth were a good preparation for his after career in India as both a soldier and an administrator. Nature, it has been said, had given him a personal appearance which inspired confidence, his own training and work supplied the rest. He was tall and robust in appearance, and excelled in all games and sports, was possessed of great agility, pre- sence of mind, and a high courage ; these qualities were combined with great self-denial, which amounted almost to austerity, and great powers of endurance, the natural outcome, no doubt, of his extremely simple habits.

His tastes were all in the direction of a life of adventure, such as a military career offered in the times he was living in ; his ambition, however, was not to be gratified till after he had spent some time as a clerk in his father's business firm. He had been offered a commission in the Army, hut, out of deference to his father's wishes, he had declined it, though not without a feeling of very deep disappointment. On the failure of his father's business, when he was nineteen years of age, the opportunity came again, and he did not neglect it. He was offered and accepted a military cadetship in the service of the East India Company. He could not afford to pay for a passage out to India, so he worked his way out, as an ordinary seaman, on board ship, thus early showing the stuff he was made of.

He arrived in India in the year 1780. One of his early experiences soon after he had landed was an unpleasant one enough in its consequences. He had engaged a venerable-looking Madrasi as a body-servant; this individual calmly walked off one day with all his wardrobe of European clothes, and with nearly all his available supply of money: he professed to be going to exchange the clothes for something better adapted to the climate. Munro gave a more or less humorous account of the incident in a letter to his mother: "It is customary with gentlemen," said the old man to me, ''to make a present of all their European articles to their servants, but I will endeavour to dispose of yours to advantage." Trusting to the old man, whose venerable countenance inspired confidence in his sincerity, I handed them over, and he departed with them. Some unfortunate accident must, however, have happened to him, for he never turned up again.' It is only fair to the Indian servant to say that as a class they are scrupulously honest where things have been specially entrusted to their care: Munro's experience must therefore have been exceptional. Considering that his pay at this time was only about fifty rupees a month, lie must have been put to a great deal of inconvenience by his loss, and he pathetically remarked that it was six months before lie could buy fresh linen; but, amidst all his mischances, the saving sense of humour never deserted him.

Munrohad not been long in India before the second war with Haidar Au, of Mysore, broke out. The disunion in the English Council at Madras had given an opening to the enemies of England, and, though an alliance which Haidar All had contemplated making, between himself, the Nizam of Haidarabad and the Mahrattas, had been frustrated by the foresight and sagacity of Warren Hastings, Haidar All was confident of a successful issue to the struggle for supremacy between himself and the English, and he had some reason for his confidence, for had he not, some years before, himself dictated terms of peace to the British outside the walls of Madras ? Munro was actively employed, but only in a subordinate capacity, throughout the war. His letters and journals throw considerable light on the chief incidents of the war, and contain some masterly criticisms on the conduct of the operations by some of the general officers employed. The strategy opposed to them in the earlier part of the war, by which the enemy succeeded for long in keeping the different units of the British force divided, was a masterly one; one body of troops was completely cut up. However, the English retrieved the disasters of the early part of the war by the brilliant victory of Porto Nuovo. Haidar All had given orders before the battle that no prisoners were to be taken, but he was so decisively beaten that he had no chance of taking any. His death in 1782 did not interrupt the war: his son Tipu Sultan carried it on till 1784, when the Treaty of Mangalore brought it to a not altogether successful issue, so far as the English were concerned. Munro's criticism of the last battle of the war, which was fought between an English and a French force, was very severe: 'There seemed no connexion,' he wrote, 'in our movements; every one was at a loss what to do, and nothing saved our army from a total defeat, but the French being, like ourselves, without a general.'

A period of peace ensued, and Munro made excellent use of the enforced leisure which this period gave him. He made a series of walking tours about the country, and thus gained an extensive acquaintance with the Madras Presidency ; he also studied Hindustani and Persian. He is said, in the course of his Oriental studies, to have discovered the story of Shylock, the Jew, or at any rate a story very similar, in a Persian manuscript ; in its Persian dress it was the story of a Jew and a Muhammadan. It must not be forgotten that Europe is indebted to the East for many of its most familiar and popular fables and tales. To take the story of Gelert, the gallant Welsh hound and the wolf, as one instance, there is a similar story, if it is not, as has been said, the actual original, in Sanskrit story ; in its Oriental dress, it is the story of a mungoose and a cobra. In each case the gallant protector of an infant child is slain by the owner under a misapprehension.

During this period of comparative calm the important event took place of the cession to the Company, by the Nizamn, of the Guntur Circar, which gave the Company the possession of the East Coast from Jagannath Purl practically down to Cape Comorin : as they had already annexed the Northern Circars, this fresh acquisition of territory gave them the command of an extensive portion of the East Coast. As a matter of fact, it was a restitution rather than a cession, as this legion had at one period belonged to the Company. Munro took an important part in this business as an intelligence officer, for which position his acquaintance with the languages of the country well qualified him. It is curious to note that, in some of his letters written at this time, Munro expressed his anticipation of the restoration of French ascendancy in Southern India, anticipations which were fortunately not destined to be realized. France was never able to get that command of the sea on which alone her chances of gaining that ascendancy could have depended. Munro never lost his interest in the history of the world around him, both European and Asiatic, as this correspondence abundantly shows. It is, indeed, very essential for the healthy life of the Englishman in the East that he should maintain this interest, if he is not to fall behind his contemporaries in the West, and if lie is to avoid becoming what has been styled 'a Sultanized Englishman'.

The interest of this portion of Munro's life lies mainly in his descriptions of the life of a subaltern : it was a life of hardships and poverty. The contrast between what people in England dreamt of and the actual reality was a very marked one. The romance of the gorgeous East had doubtless appealed to his youthful imagination, as it does to many a youth in England, till lie has found by experience how unromantic life in the East can really be. In Munro's case the contrast between what lie had dreamt of and the actual reality had wrought a complete disenchantment. He had, moreover, to endure, what few young men in these days have to suffer from, the difficulty of inadequate means arising from poorness of pay. 'Poverty,' he complained, 'was his constant companion.' It speaks well for his grit that, notwithstanding, he and his brother between them managed to contribute from their small pay a sum of £100 a year, to enable their father to end his days in comparative comfort. His words written to his father on this subject were characteristic of a. man one of whose distinguishing traits was filial piety: 'The loss of fortune is but a passing evil; you are in no danger of experiencing the much heavier one of having unthankful children.' It also speaks well for his character that he did not suffer his disenchantment to extinguish his enthusiasm in his work. This is one of the apparent anomalies of an Eastern career: disenchantment may come earlier or later; it is bound to come some time; but enthusiasm may still remain, and when one has finally left the scene of one's labours, the call of the East still occasionally stirs the imagination. Hence the very appropriate name applied to India by Sir Alfred Lyall, 'the Land of Regrets.' Munro kept up his deep interest in his surroundings, and some of the special interest of his correspondence at this time lies in the glimpses it gives of his walks and talks with the people of the country he could always adapt himself to his environment, and the main secret of this was his intimate acquaintance with. the colloquial vernacular.

Not many years after the conclusion of peace with the Ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, the English again found themselves at war with him. The cause of this, the Third Mysore War, was Tipu Sultan's invasion of the territory of the Raja of Travancore, who was an ally of the English. Munro was actively engaged in this war, but again in the capacity of a subaltern only. The unpreparedness of the English was as conspicuous on this occasion as it had been on the outbreak of the previous war, and again they narrowly escaped defeat in the earlier part of the campaign. The faulty strategy of the English commanders placed Tipu in a superior position on more occasions than one, and it was fortunate for the English that he failed to take advantage of it. Munro noted this fact, and commented on it thus : 'There seems to be a fatality sometimes attending even the greatest geniuses, which deadens the energy of their minds, and reduces them to the level of common men just when their best concerted schemes are about to be crowned with success.' A certain incident happened during this period of Munro's career which brings out conspicuously his dislike of anything approaching self- advertisement, even when there was a good prospect of its advancing his interests. His relatives at home had published in The Times a graphic description of the war, which lie had sent them; this led him to destroy a very interesting manuscript, in the shape of a long treatise on the war. He remarked, as he did so, that there was no use in keeping it, when he could not venture to send it to those for whose amusement it was intended. This war with Tipu Sultan was brought to a close with the Treaty of Seringapatam, in 1792. Munro would have liked to have seen the war carried to a final issue, of which there seemed every prospect at the time that peace was concluded. It was known that Tipu considered affairs so critical, the British army lying all round his capital, that lie was preparing for instantaneous flight, remaining outside the fort in a tent among his horsemen. The Treaty caused great disappointment also in the army generally: its terms were thought to be far too easy. Lord Cornwallis is reported to have been unwilling to capture the capital, and to have remarked: 'Good God, what shall I do with the place.' Be this as it may, Munro thought that the policy of conciliation was unsuited to the times, and to the man whom Lord Cornwallis was attempting to conciliate, and he by no means stood alone in holding this opinion. He somewhat caustically remarked: 'Everything is now done by moderation and conciliation; at this rate we shall all be Quakers twenty years hence.' The policy in favour at the time was the maintenance of a balance of power, whereas Munro thought that conquest was the policy best suited to the times, and the only policy likely to secure permanent security. The soundness of these views was proved by after events : within the short period of seven years the Fourth Mysore War had to be undertaken by the Marquis Wellesley. Tipu Sultan during this interval was busy concerting measures for the overthrow of the English power in India. He sent a mission to Constantinople, another to Zaman Shah, in Afghanistan, and another to Napoleon Buonaparte. In order to win over the Sultan of Turkey to his side, he had announced himself as 'the Champion of Islam against the Kafirs'.

By the terms of the Treaty that brought the Third Mysore War to a close, Tipu lost half his dominions; they were divided between the British, the Nizam of Haidarabad, and the Mahrattas. The British share consisted of the regions known as Malabar, Dindigul, part of the present district of Madura, and the Bara-Mahal, part of the present district of Salem. The assistant-superintendentship of the latter was given to Munro, and his service lasted for some seven years. The natural beauties of this district, which have been noted by all travellers, appealed to Munro's love of natural scenery, and he was able to give full scope to his taste for gardening. A short time back attempts were made to locate the garden that Munro made for himself near Dharmapuri, in which he used always to spend at least an hour every day. Unfortunately, these attempts were unsuccessful. When his time to leave the district came, he said that to quit it gave him as much regret as forsaking an old friend. He left memorials of himself all over the district in the shape of tanks, rest-houses, and avenues of roadside trees. The literatures of the East attribute great merit to rulers who provide for their people things so necessary to the comfort of travellers in the East, as water, shelter, and shade. Had Munro been a Hindu, he would have been storing up merit for the next world; as it was, he left behind him a kindly place in the hearts of the people of the district, and to this day his memory is handed down as that of Tom Munro Bahadur, the Ryots' Friend.'

His chief work was in the direction of revenue reforms the old oppressive system whereby the revenue was collected by the Zarninclars, who farmed out the land, was abolished in favour of what is known as the Ryotwari system, a system which was afterwards extended over the Madras Presidency. Under this system, the Ryot is considered as practically a peasant-proprietor, paying revenue direct to Government. Munro always carried into practice, during this period of what he has described as a time of plain hard labour, his own theory of what constitutes the duty of an administrator, of seeing things with his own eyes; he was always personally most active in the matter of touring, and he utilized to the full his practical knowledge of colloquial vernacular, a knowledge which he always regarded as a very important equipment for officers of Government. Iii some of his correspondence at this period, he touched on one important matter, a matter which afterwards did receive the closest attention from the Government, the necessity of giving Government officers good pay for the work to be done. 'Even men of education and character,' he wrote, 'when placed in situations where they cannot become independent by their regular pay, if it is small, are tempted to hasten the period of their independence by dishonest means, where they can without danger of discovery. It is only ignorance of human nature for Government to ignore that fact.' In the present day that temptation no longer exists the pay is in most cases commensurate with the work. The efforts of successive Rulers of India to secure the purity of the administration have been rewarded; so that now, in the present day, the encomium passed on the services, civil and military, by the late Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, that they are ' the highest-minded services in the world ', is recognized by all who know- India best, as no more than the bare truth. All Indian administrators recognize the expediency of giving free access to their presence to all visitors, of keeping, as it is styled in Oriental parlance, 'Char darwaze khole,' 'four doors open;' but all at the same time recognize it as a great tax upon their time. Munro has some amusing remarks in his correspondence on this practice, which at the same time he always recognized as part of the day's work: 'I wonder we waste so much time in praying against battle, and murder, and sudden death, which seldom happen, instead of calling upon Heaven to deliver us from the calamity we are daily exposed to, of troublesome visitors; they have frequently given me a headache, and I would rather walk all day in a hot sun than sit listening to a dull fellow. I wish they would all come and see me in the mass and not singly.'

This period of Munro's civil administration was interrupted for a time by the Fourth Mysore War, already alluded to, in which he was called upon to take a part, this time as captain of a transport and commissariat corps. At the close of the war, which ended in the final conquest of Mysore, Munro was appointed secretary to the commission that was nominated to arrange about the disposal of the country. One of the districts that came at this time under British administration, under the terms of the new Partition Treaty made between the British, the Nizam, and the Mahrattas, was the district of Canara. Munro was placed in administrative charge of it, and remained so for about a year. The words in which lie expressed his regret at leaving the scene of his old labours, the district of Salem, mark the enthusiast: 'I have now turned my back on the Bara-Mahal and the Karnatic, with a deeper sense of regret than I felt on leaving home. I see nothing in the future to compensate me for what I have lost, a country and friends that have been endeared to me by the residence of twenty years.' His sense of public duty and the nearer prospects of leave home were his principal reasons for accepting the post offered him by the Governor-General. At the same time he found the new life and work in Canara exceedingly irksome, and lie made an attempt to get a transfer. This called forth from his superior officer a striking tribute to the unique character of his work ' I regret,' wrote Mr. Cockburn, the senior member of the Board of Revenue, 'that your situation should be so irksome, the more so as any attempt to procure your removal would be considered treason to the State, your services are so esteemed, and there is no one equal to the performance of the difficult task you are engaged in.'

His chief work in this district lay in settlement operations and in the suppressionof crime. He was in the habit of keeping a journal, and the entries in this give an insight into the heavy nature of the task he was engaged in. One entry will suffice to show this ' In one year, I have gone through more work than in almost all the seven years I was in the Bara-Mahal.' His life was spent almost entirely in tents. The crowds that used to throng his tent, not leaving him very often till near midnight, gave him a good insight into the character of the people. Grumbling is an ineradicable attribute of the agricultural classes all the world over, whatever the seasons may bring, and the cultivators of Canara were no exception to the rule. Silence on their part was by no means regarded as golden, on the contrary it would imply an acknowledgement on their part that they could well afford to pay enhanced rents: hence their vociferous clammours, whenever Munro appeared amongst them, of hard times and poverty. This, with the Indian cultivator, Munro in his journal notes, was by no means lying, but only an Oriental evasion of the truth, a habit formed as the result of many centuries of oppression under hard task-masters, and one not to be easily eradicated even under a milder régime. ' The old system,' noted Munro, 'of always prying into their affairs in order to lay ever new burdens upon them, forced them to deny what they had in order to save their property at all, and, after all, concealment of the real facts, and exaggeration of losses are characteristic of the class.' He gives an amusing instance of this tendency to exaggeration which he observed even in the younger generation of cultivators : he one day asked the youthful son of a cultivator who had been set to frighten birds off the crops with the primitive sling and stones, still to be seen in the fields of the East, 'How many bushels of grain do you expect? The boy simply replied 'There is nothing in our house now to eat: the birds will eat all this, and we shall be starved.' It has been sometimes argued that Government measures of relief have in these latter days, in times of famine, had the effect of demoralizing the agricultural classes, but this is not really so : their characteristics have not altered materially for centuries, and they remain much the same under the benevolent despotism of British rulers as they were under the harsher rule of despotic task-masters : and the old Sanskrit Proverb that runs: 'Speech benefits a Brahman more than silence,' is as applicable now to the Indian cultivator when he thinks that speech will hell) him to get his rents lowered, or altogether remitted, as ever it was. As usual with him, Munro availed himself to the full of the opportunities the settlement operations gave him of walks and talks with the people of the district : he also indulged his love of Nature, humorously remarking: 'Notwithstanding the want of music and damsels, I love to rise before the sun, and prick my steed through the woods and wilds under a serene sky.'

Munro's good work in Canara at last met with its reward in a more important appointment being conferred upon him. There were certain districts which had been originally granted to the Nizam after the Third and Fourth Mysore Wars, which had at a later period been ceded by him to the British as a guarantee for the payment of the cost of subsidiary troops. Munro was placed in charge of these districts. The Governor of Madras, Lord Clive, offered the appointment to Munro in most complimentary terms: Munro had in the first instance asked for it, and Lord Clive wrote : 'The wishes of so excellent a fellow and collector ought to be cheerfully complied with.'

The first step in the settlement of the new districts, of which Bellary and Cuddapah were the chief, was the subjection of the petty chiefs of those parts, who were known as Naiks, or Polygars, and their armed followers, whose numbers amounted to some 30,000, and who all subsisted by violence and plunder. In describing his work as collector, Munro thus wrote: 'My annual circuit is near a thousand miles, and the hours I spend on horseback are almost the only hours I spend alone.' He never travelled with a guard even in disturbed districts, for, as he remarked, nothing short of a company would give protection. He trusted entirely to the prestige ofhis office as collector, recognizing that this prestige with the people of India, with all their respect for authority, is really very great. ' The natives of India,' he remarked on one occasion, 'have a good deal of respect for public authority : collectors, they consider, only act by orders from superior powers: they ought not, therefore, to become objects of resentment.' Times have changed a good deal since these words were penned, but one has only to associate freely with all classes of Indians to realize that, even in these days, the prestige of the higher Government officials, and especially of the District Officer, is as great as it ever was, with the great body of the people. Munro's first land settlement was a village one : under this system each village was treated as a separate community, and assessed as a whole ; the cultivators as a body were made responsible for the payment of the amount due. His next settlement was a step towards the Ryotwari system already referred to : under this system a settlement was made with the cultivators individually; the head-men of the villages were at the same time made responsible for defaulters, or absconders. Munro's Survey Settlement was a very thorough piece of work; so much so, indeed, that to this day it is said to be a safe guide in most village disputes. The Board of Revenue used to insist on their officers keeping a diary, which they were called upon to submit periodically ; Munro's comment upon this was somewhat caustic: ' I cannot see what purpose it would answer here except to hinder me from looking after more important matters.'

Englishmen in India in these days enjoy much greater opportunities of relaxation than Englishmen of Munro's days enjoyed, and Munro during this period of hard work complained deeply of the want of it : lie recognized that work can only be carried on vigorously, and without a jaded feeling, where relaxation was possible. One of the most curious anomalies of the present day is the harsh criticism that is so often passed upon their countrymen in India, who are engaged in doing their country's work, by men who have themselves held official position in India, and who may be supposed to know something of the conditions under which that work is done, whereas much of their criticism goes to show their actual ignorance. The possible explanation may be found to be in the different points of view from which men of this class have viewed things while in India. Men belonging to one class of these critics have gone about with a veil of visionary idealism over their eyes which has prevented their seeing things as they actually are: men of another class have moved chiefly in great cities, and men living in cities know nothing of the life of the country at large: they have no real idea of the conditions under which Englishmen carry on their work in the Mufasa.1, as the country districts of India are styled. All this goes to show the danger of dogmatizing in matters concerned with the conduct of Englishmen or the feelings of Indians. A recent critic has alleged against the relaxations of the modern Englishman in India that they are frivolous, and that this frivolity is causing loss of prestige among his more serious-minded Indian fellow subjects. Now, 'coclum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt': an Englishman does not lose his characteristics even when his work does lie East of Suez, and the only difference between him and his countryman at home, who has besides many more interests to absorb his attention, is perhaps the extra zest with which he throws himself into his amusements. No one who realizes the actual conditions under which the average official carries on his duties in the Mufasal, devoting his best hours and his best thoughts, during his long working hours, to the interests of the people entrusted to his charge, will grudge him his well won play-hours, or be surprised if he enjoys them with all the zest and enthusiasm almost of a schoolboy. In all that concerns the real business of life the Englishman in India can be serious enough, but relaxation is his very life: it is, indeed, the only thing that helps to preserve the balance of his moral and physical well-being, and saves him from becoming that degenerate and Orientalized hybrid immortalized by Thackeray. Without his relaxation and the renewed energy that it gives him for work, he would indeed be in danger of losing his prestige. He is ever ready, moreover, to welcome at his out-door sports and pastimes his Indian friends who may show sufficient skill to join him. As a matter of fact the Indian whose opinion is most worth having, if he thinks at all about the matter, which is exceedingly doubtful, certainly does not think the less of him for enjoying his hours of relaxation in a manner characteristic of his race. After all, ' East is East, and West is West.' Relaxation so necessary for the Englishman, may not be so necessary for the Indian each has the traditions of his race :the Englishman has his, and the Indian has his, and both cannot help being themselves.

During this period of his career, Munro was able to render valuable assistance to Arthur Wellesley, his lifelong friendship with whom had dated from the time when he had been secretary to the commission for disposing of Mysore territory after the death of Tipu. He supplied the transport that was needed during the Mahratta campaign of 1802. Arthur Wellesley fully recognized Munro's military skill and sagacity, and was always glad to have his opinion on military matters, regarding him as a good judge of a military operation.

The Sepoy Mutiny of Vellore, which occurred towards the end of this portion of Munro's career, produced some correspondence between him and Lord William Bentinck, who at the time was Governor of Madras. Bentinck had attributed the mutiny to intrigues among Tipu's sons.

Munro, on the other hand, conceived that the proximate cause was religious disquietude, induced by certain vexatious military regulations. This will generally be found to be at the bottom of every disturbance of the masses in India, who are so intensely credulous, and whose minds are very easily worked upon by the cry that those who wish to incite rebellion generally raise first: ' Your religion is in danger.' Such a cry once set in motion will affect even the more intelligent natives of India. In no country in the world does rumour, and especially false rumour, run more swiftly. A recent Governor of Madras, Lord Ampthill, once appositely said, ' A slander runs twice round the world while Truth is putting on her boots.' A report once started is universally believed. It was not an ignorant native, but a high-caste and loyal native officer, who, at the time of the great Mutiny, speaking of the general belief that the Government wished to take away the caste of the people, remarked in perfect sincerity 'What everybody is saying must be true.' Munro wrote to his father an account of the affair at Vellore, and quoted some of the regulations that had caused such offence: 'Caste marks and earrings on parade were forbidden; shaving was ordered; the shape of the hair on the upper lip was to be regulated, and a specially-shaped turban was ordered to be worn.' These orders to an Englishman would appear trifling enough, and perhaps even a subject for ridicule, but, to an orthodox Hindu, they would be disturbing in the highest degree to his religious prejudices.

An interval of rest for Munro was now to follow: he had been absent from home for twenty-seven years, and was now forty-six years of age. His decision to take furlough called forth a well-deserved eulogy of his work in the ceded districts from the Madras Government. The dispatch that went to the Court of Directors referred to Munro's 'exertions in the advancement of the public service under circumstances of success unparalleled in the records of this, or probably of any other Government'. Munro's correspondence at this time expresses his mixed feelings: pleasure at the idea of going home was mingled with regret at leaving India. He anticipated, however, a speedy return to India, and, naturally, after his successful career he was ambitious to obtain a higher sphere of action. In one of his letters he wrote: 'I am not satisfied with the subordinate line in which I have moved, and with my having been kept from holding any distinguished military command by want of rank; I shall never be able to sit down quietly to enjoy private life, and I shall probably return to India, in quest of what I may never obtain.'

As a matter of fact, he remained in England for a period of seven years, much longer than he had ever anticipated, but he was not idle during this enforced period of leisure from official duties; for one thing, he took up the study of chemistry. The study of science has often beguiled the leisure hours of great statesmen: the late Marquis of Salisbury, one of England's most distinguished premiers, spent many of his leisure hours in his laboratory. Munro was also consulted by the Court of Directors in connexion with the subject of the renewal of the Company's Charter in 1813; his services on the occasion have been thus recorded : 'Among all those whose opinions were sought on that occasion, Colonel Munro made the deepest impression upon the House by the comprehensiveness of his views, by the promptitude and intelligibility of his answers, and by the judgement and sound discretion which characterized every sentiment to which lie gave utterance.' The Court of Directors recognized his services by giving him the appointment of President of a special Commission to inquire into and reform the judicial system in the Presidencies of Bengal and Madras.

Munro returned to India again in the year 1814 :it seems strange in these days of quick locomotion to read his description of his voyage out as 'a quick voyage of sixteen weeks '. He had married just before returning to India, and not unnaturally, after his long period of bachelorhood, he found the etiquette of paying and returning visits that his marriage involved somewhat uncongenial and irksome, but lie accepted the position as one ofthe necessary responsibilities of his new state. He found it hard to work with the Madras Government at first, owing to the divided counsels that prevailed, a not unusual characteristic apparently of the Madras Government in these early days of British rule. In his usual shrewd and masterful way he wrote to the India Board suggesting that they should write out ' we order ' or ' we direct ', in place of the usual formula ' we wish ', or ' we propose '.

Notwithstanding the opposition he had to encounter in the course of his work on the Judicial Commission, the new regulations framed by that Commission were eventually passed into law ; Munro's share of the task has been thus recorded: 'They are a monument not only of Munro's force of character in accomplishing his object against the most powerful opposition, but of his high administrative ability and statesmanlike views.' The changes made were all in the direction of a more efficient, and at the same time, a simpler system of administration. Thus the superintendence of the police, and the functions of the district magistrate were transferred from the judge to the collector. Hereditary village officials were to be employed mainly as police. A system of Village and District iPanchayats, as the simple village Tribunals, or Courts of Arbitration, are styled, was legalized, and power was even given to selected head-men of villages to hear suits. Munro attached great importance to the Panchayats, as being adapted to native habits and usages.

On the completion of this work, Munro expressed his keen desire for military employment : he was essentially a soldier first, and a statesman afterwards. Operations had commenced against the Mahrattas and the Pindaris, and Munro had asked for the command of the subsidiary forces of Haidarabad and Nagpur. His wish, however, was not to be at once gratified, and the only reply he received was his appointment to the commissionership of the Southern Mahratta country, which had been recently ceded by the Peshwa. This was a purely civil appointment, and Munro could not refrain from expressing his annoyance in these terms: 'I regret deeply to feel for the first time the army in advance shut against me.' At the same time he accepted the situation loyally.

His patience was at last rewarded, and he was given a command as brigadier of the division of the army detailed to reduce the Southern Mahratta country. The confidence and goodwill of the people which he had won during the short period of his civil administration was now to stand him in good stead. He had already, in correspondence with time Marquis of Hastings, given his theory as to the best way of dealing with predatory hordes, such as the Pindaris, which was, ' to carry time war into the enemy's country ': he now proceeded to put this theory into practice by occupying the districts these hordes were wont to assemble in. His plan of procedure was, while reducing their strongholds, to simultaneously issue conciliatory proclamations to the people: he thus kept the enemy fully employed in the defence of their own possessions. The people of the territories he thus invaded had such confidence in him that they actually assisted in driving out their own masters, and in collecting the revenue for the British. The strongholds of the enemy were all taken possession of by his Irregulars in the name of Thomas Munro. Bahadur '. Sir John Malcolm, writing of the modus operandi of Munro, summed up his qualities in the telling phrase, ' a master-workman.' As usual his correspondence was full of humorous descriptions of men and things: in one of his letters lie drew a contrast between the Mahratta freebooter and the Highland cateran, Rob Roy. 'The difference between the two,' he wrote, 'is that the one does from choice what the other did from necessity: for a Mahratta would rather get ten pounds by plunder than one hundred pounds by an honest calling.'

Munro was now again compelled to take furlough to England : his incessant labours had injured his eyesight. He remained at home for about a year. He found honours awaiting him this time, as his fame had preceded him. Mr. George Canning, in proposing a vote of thanks to the Army, after the termination of the Mahrat.ta War, thus alluded to his services: 'Than Colonel Thomas Munro, Europe never produced a more accomplished statesman, and India, so fertile in heroes, a more skilful soldier.' He was promoted to the rank of Major-General; and, on receiving the appointment of the Governorship of Madras, was created a Knight Commander of the Bath. Mr. Canning, in mentioning his name to the Court of Directors, spoke of the usual practice of appointing men of eminence in England to the Indian Governorships, but he added that three men had so distinguished themselves in India that it was determined to offer them these high posts: the three were Malcolm, Elphinstone, and Munro. At the banquet given in Munro's honour, before lie left England, and at which, among other distinguished men, his old friend, the Duke of Wellington, was present, Mr. Canning again paid a remarkable tribute to him : 'We bewilder ourselves,' he said, 'in this part of time world with opinions respecting the sources from which power is derived; some suppose it to arise with the people themselves, while others entertain a different, view; all, however, are agreed that it should be exercised for the people ; if ever an appointment took place to which this might, be ascribed as the distinguishing motive, it is that which we have now come together to celebrate.' Munro, writing to a friend, said of this speech, 'It is worthwhile to be a. Governor to be spoken of in such a manner by such a man.'

The leading principles of Munro's administration as Governor are given in a letter he wrote to Mr. Canning 'Time relief of the people from novel and oppressive modes of judicial process, the improvement of internal administration by the employment of Europeans and Indians in those duties for which they are respectively best suited, and the strengthening of the attachment of Indians to our Government by maintaining their ancient institutions and usages.' He continually urged the wider employment of Indians in the higher administrative charges, as the one necessary condition of an improvement in their moral character : he thus prepared the way for the reforms which were afterwards inaugurated by Lord William Bentinck in this direction. He saw the benefits that would accrue from the introduction of a general system of education amongst the people, and lie wrote thus on the subject: 'Whatever expense Government may incur in the education of the people will be amply repaid by the improvement of the country, for the general diffusion of knowledge is inseparably followed by more orderly habits, by increasing industry, by a taste for the comforts of life, by exertions to acquire them, and by the growing prosperity of the people.' His views, moreover, of the lines on which the higher education of the people should proceed, were very sound: 'A knowledge of their own literature,' he held, 'should be extended among them side by side with the language and literature of England.' It was, indeed, on these lines that the Government at a later period, as seen in time dispatch of Sir Charles Wood in 1854, contemplated that higher education in India should proceed; it is unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, that, as time went on, this view was lost sight of, and the Indian vernaculars were practically ignored. It was left to the late Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, to endeavour to bring education in India back on to the right track again, by insisting on greater prominence being given to the languages and literatures of India. Munro always upheld the sound policy of religious neutrality for officers of Government; this is shown by the rebuke lie gave to a sub-collector of one of the districts of his Province, who had been displaying an excess of religious zeal, which had led him to transgress the rules of religious neutrality 'The best way for a collector,' lie wrote to this man, ' to instruct the natives is to set them an example in his own conduct to try to settle their disputes with each other, and to prevent their going to law : to bear patiently all their complaints against himself and his servants, and bad seasons, and to afford them all the relief in his power, and, if he can do nothing more, to give them at least good words.'

The first Burmese War occurred during Munro's tenure of office, and he was able to be of material assistance to the Governor-General, Lord Amherst, chiefly in facilitating the dispatch of troops and material. His long experience, moreover, of Indian warfare, warfare, and knowledge of Asiatic character, enabled him to be a wise counsellor. He received a very handsome e acknowledgement front he Governor-General in Council for his services, as well as the thanks of the Court of Directors ; Lord Goderich, in the House of Lords, declared that 'it was impossible for any one to form an adequate idea of the efforts made by Sir Thomas Munro, at the head of the Madras Government, to further the successful issue of the campaign.'

Munro kept up his old habit of living in tents whenever he went on the district tours he was so fond of, and which he valued as the best means of obtaining that intimate acquaintance with the people so essential for an administrator. The difficulties of touring in his days were far greater than they are in these days of better communications ; but, in some of the more backward Provinces, many of these difficulties still remain. In this way, lie managed to renew his old acquaintance with the districts of the Bara-Mahal, and the ceeded districts. Writing of one of these districts, Cuddapah, he said ' I still like this country, notwithstanding its heat; it is full of industrious cultivators, and I like to recognize among them a great number of my old acquaintances, who, I hope, are as glad to see me, as I them.' In 1826, Munro had applied to be relieved of his office, but as some delay occurred in the appointment of his successor, he set out for a farewell tour in the ceded districts. There is a legend still surviving in connexion with this last tour of his. He was marching among the hills in the Cuddapah district, when he suddenly looked up at the steep cliffs above him, and remarked 'What a beautiful garland of flowers they have stretched across the valley!' His companions all looked up, but could see nothing: 'Why, there it is,' he again remarked, 'all made of gold.' Again they looked up and saw nothing: thereupon one of his old servants exclaimed: 'Alas, master! A great and good man will soon die.' Very shortly after this, Munro was attacked with cholera, and though it was at first hoped that he would recover, it was not to be: he died the same evening. His sweetness of temper was never more conspicuously displayed than during his last illness: during one of the rallies, he exclaimed, in a tone of peculiar sweetness, 'It is almost worth while to be ill to be so kindly nursed.' Among those near him at the time of his death was the future famous missionary and Tamil scholar, Henry Bower, then a boy. Munro passed away calmly on the night of July 6, 1827, at the age of sixty-six.

In the Gazette Extraordinary issued by the Government of India, this tribute was paid to his memory: 'His sound and vigorous understanding, his transcendent talents, his indefatigable application, his varied stores of knowledge, his attainments as an Oriental scholar, his intimate acquaintance with the habits and feelings of the native soldiers and inhabitants generally, his patience, temper, facility of access, and kindness of manner, would have ensured him distinction in any line of employment. These qualities were admirably adapted to the duties which he had to perform in organizing the resources, and establishing the tranquillity of those Provinces, where his latest breath has been drawn, and where he had long been known by the appellation of "The Father of the People".'

At a public meeting held in Madrasto concert measures to perpetuate his memory, his death was spoken of as a public calamity; one of the speakers at the meeting said:

His justice, benevolence, frankness, and hospitality were no less conspicuous thami the extraordinary faculties of his mind.' Various memorials in his memory were erected throughout his territory: a grove of trees was planted, and • well dug, near the place where he died ; a similar well and • rest-house were constructed at Gooty, where for several years food was distributed gratuitously in his honour; but his best memorial lay in the affections of his people.

Munro was pre-eminently the soldier-statesman his military qualities were recognized by so great a master of the art of war as the Duke of Wellington, his administrative qualities were even greater. His most distinguishing characteristic, perhaps,-was his modesty and unassuming nature. For nearly twenty-eight years without a break, during his first spell of service, he had worked in silence, adopting as his motto the noble lines of the blind patriot bard of England, John Milton:-

To know
That which before us lies in daily life
Is the prime wisdom: what is more is fume,
Or emptiness, or fond impertinence
And renders us in things that most concern,
Unpractised, unprepared, and still to seek.

Mr. George Canning, in the course of that magnificent eulogy on Munro already referred to, thus noted this great characteristic: 'Apart from the public eye, and without the opportunities of early special notice, was employed a man whose name I should be sorry to pass over in silence.' The greater portion of his work was done in silence, but history has provided that his memory shall not be held in silence, and Lord Dalhousie, in some correspondence he once had with Sir Henry Lawrence, was able to say in proof of this assertion 'All the world unites in acknowledging the talents and merits of Sir Thomas Munro.'

The legend, still current in his old Presidency, of an incident that occurred on his last tour has been referred to, and how his old retainer had interpreted the sign to mean that a great and good man was about to die: this was a true forecast: a great and good man passed away in the person of Sir Thomas Munro.

Life of Sir Thomas Munro (1849)

Sir Thomas Munro
And the British Settlement of the Madras Presidency (1906)


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus