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the ground for confiscating their treasures in November 1781! The Begums, sir, were by their condition, their age, and their infirmities, almost the only two souls in India, who could not have thought of distressing that government from which alone they hoped for protection; and who could not entertain a design so absurd, as to depose the reigning prince, who was their nearest relation. Perhaps, sir, it may be objected that it is improper to infer, because there was no motive for the offences imputed to these women, that of necessary consequence these imputations were false. But does not the conduct of Mr. Hastings sufficiently evince, that there is such a crime as wanton, unprovoked wickedness? As to the immediate case, it will appear from the most incontrovertible testimony, that insurrections, such as those which have been cited, have constantly taken place in Oude, and that reasons but too natural might be assigned for them at the period in question. To ascribe them to the Begums would indeed be wandering even beyond the improbabilities of fiction.
It is not more absurd to affirm, that famine would not have pinched, nor thirst have parched, nor extermination have depopulated, but for the interference of these old women. But Mr. Hastings adds, “ that they complained of the injustice that was done them.” God of heaven! had they not a right to complain? After the violation of a solemn treaty, plundered of their property, and on the eve of the last extremi. ty of misery, were they to be deprived of the ultimate resource of impotent wretchedness, lamentation, and regret? Was it a crime, that they should crowd together in fluttering trepidation, like a flock of resistless birds on seeing the felon kite, who, having darted at one devoted bird and missed his aim, singled out a new object, and was springing on his prey, with redoubled vigour in his wing, and keener vengeance in his eye?
We next come to the affidavits by whịch the rebellion of the Begums is endeavoured to be authenticated. With the nature and purport of these singular
documents, the house is already too familiar to require of me any length of animadversion. May the God of Justice forbid that any one should ever again have the misfortune to be arraigned on the ground taken for the condemnation of these helpless females, or that a verdict of guilty should be rendered for the most trivial offence against the poorest wretch who ever existed, upon imputations so futile and absurd ! There is one circumstance attending these affidavits which is really so marvellous that it cannot have escaped the observation of the house. I mean the strange revival of the recollection of events after a total extinction of many years. Įt appears that the witnesses have now positively sworn to facts, of which, when examined in India five years ago, they affected a total forgetfulness. This can only be explained by supposing that the climate of the East relaxes the memory as well as the nerves, by which the traces of actions are lost, and that to regain these it is necessary that the persons should return to be braced by the native air of Britain, and have their memories, like their nerves, restrung.
On the loose, and vague, and contradictory quality of this evidence, I cannot refrain from particularly addressing myself to one description of gentlemen within these walls. I call upon those who by their profession may be soon appointed to the most exalted and dignified situation ; where the great and important trust will be reposed in them of protecting the lives and property of their fellow subjects; I call especially upon one learned gentleman,* who, if report be true, will suddenly succeed a venerable and great character, perhaps the most illustrious that has ever adorned the profession, whose departure from the seat of active justice will be illuminated and magnificent, because done while he possesses a mind on which time has not power to lay his hand. I call upon this learned gentleman solemnly to declare whether the mass of affidavits
Sir Lloyd Kenyon, the successour to lord Mansfield as chief justice of England.
cy could suffer any disturbance, he might indeed looking down upon the ruin and devastation of his family ; beholding that palace, which Mr. Hastings had first wrested from his hand, and afterivards re. stored, plundered by the very army with which he he had ravished from the Rohillas, seized and confis. 398 MR. SAERIDAN'S SPEECH ON taken at Lucknow, would be received by him as evidence to convict in this country, the lowest creature of the slightest charge. If he says he would, I do aver that I will instantly sit down, and not add another syllable to the too tedious trespass which I have already made on your patience. As, however, he is silent, permit me to crave your indulgence for a moment longer on this subject, while I exhibit one new feature of enormity which further and more strikingly illustrates the spirit of the testimony by which the ruin of the Begums was atchieved. Among the most pointed evidence against these unfortunate women, it will be recollected by the house, is the affidavit of colonel Gordon.
This ungrateful and profligate wretch who owed his life to the generous intrepidity of the princesses
, and who was bound to them by obligations hitherto deemed sacred, only two days after his deliverance, incredible as it may seem, coldly and cruelly deposes against those who had preserved him, accusing them of rebellion and of other crimes which he knew must overwhelm them with inextricable calamities, merely on vague rumour and idle suspicion. Almighty God! canst thou from thy eternal throne look down upon such premeditated baseness, and not fix some ful mark of thy displeasure upon the perpetrators
. It has, sir, been remarked
by Mr. Hastings, that a mind touched with superstition, might have com templated the fate of the Rohillas with peculiar im pressions. If, sir, the mind of Mr. Hastings susceptible of the images of superstition, if his far feel extraordinary emotions, in contemplating scenes I have been endeavouring to describe. He might image the proud spirit of Suja ul Dowles had vanquished the Mahrattas; that
cated by his perfidious ally ; that Middleton, who had been engaged in managing the previous violations, most busy to perpetrate the last; that Hastings, whom on his death bed he had left the guardian of his wife, his mother, and his family, turning those dear relations, the objects of his solemn trust, forth to the merciless seasons, and to a more merciless soldiery. A mind, touched with superstition, must indeed have cherished such a contemplation with peculiar impressions. That, sir, Mr. Hastings was regularly acquainted with all the enormities committed on the Begums, is proved by the clearest evidence. It is true, that Mr. Middleton was rebuked for not being more exact ; but the exactness required of him affordeel no apology for Mr. Hastings's feelings. He did not, indeed, give an account of the number of groans which were heaved, of the quantity of tears which were shed, of the weight of the fetters, or the depth of the dungeons.
From a review of the evidence which I have had the honour to submit to the house, I think, sir, it is evident that the Begums did nothing to merit the violence and cruelty with which they were treated, and that the charge of their promoting the rebellion in Oude was a mere pretext, wholly unfounded, contrived by Mr. Hastings for the abominable purpose of seizing on their treasures; thus violating the solemn guarantee of the company, and breaking its faith sacredly pledged by treaty. That Mr. Hastings has sunk and degraded the character of British justice in India, by making sir Elijah Impey, the chief judge, run about the country hunting for criminal charges, and collecting affidavits to support them, against those innocent and defenceless princesses. That his conduct towards the Begums has been marked by the most scandalous duplicity, the basest perfidy, the most unparalleled and grinding oppression, and the most insolent, wanton, and unmanly tyranny.
When, sir, the Court of Directors hearing of these enormously wicked transactions, ordered an inquiry to be instituted, the Governor General shrunk, from
it with conscious guilt, and covered his evasion under a new and pompous doctrine,“ That the majesty of justice was to be approached with supplication, and was not to lower itself by searching for crimes.”
But I trust, sir, that the season of impunity has passed away. I cannot help indulging the hope that this house will vindicate the insulted character of justice; that it will exhibit its true quality, essence, and purposes; that it will demonstrate it to be, in the case before us, active, inquisitive, and avenging.
I have heard, sir, of factions and parties in this house, and know that they exist. There is scarcely a subject upon which we are not broken and divided into sects. The prerogatives of the crown find their advocates among the representatives of the people. The privileges of the people find opponents in the house of commons itself. The measures of every minister are supported by one body of men, and thwarted by another. Habits, connexions, parties, all lead to a diversity of opinion. But, sir, when inhumanity presents itself to our observation, it finds no division among us.
We attack it as our common enemy, and conceiving that the character of the country is involved in our zeal for its ruin, we quit it not till it is completely overthrown. It is not given to this house, to behold the objects of its compassion and benevolence in the present extensive inquiry, as it was to the officers who relieved them, and who so feelingly described the extatick emotions of gratitude in the instant of deliverance. We cannot behold the workings of their hearts, the quivering lips, the trikling tears, the loud, yet tremulous joys of the millions, whom our vote of this night will for ever save from the cruelty of corrupted power. But, though we cannot directly see the effect, is not the true enjoyment of our benevolence increased, by its being conferred unseen? Will not the omnipotence of Britain be demonstrated, to the wonder of nations, by stretching its mighty arm across the deep, and saying by its fiat distant millions from destruction ?