Lord Cornwallis: Background and Legacy

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Lord Cornwallis

Lord Cornwallis was a popular British army officer, administrator, and diplomat during the reign of the East India Company. On 12 September 1786, Lord Cornwallis, also known as Charles Cornwallis, became the Governor-General of Fort William (Bengal) and the Commander-in-Chief of British India. It is widely believed that Lord Cornwallis was responsible for laying down the foundation of British rule in India. In this blog, we will explore everything about Lord Cornwallis ranging from his early life and background to major reforms. 

What was the Background of Lord Cornwallis?

Lord Cornwallis was born on December 31, 1738, into an aristocratic family. He received his education at Eton and Cambridge and soon joined the armed forces in 1757. Upon his father’s demise in the year 1762, he ultimately became the Earl Cornwallis and was further elected to the House of Lords.

During the siege of Yorktown in 1781, he surrendered to the combined forces of America and France and brought the hostilities to an end. He is also remembered for bringing the famous Act of Union in Ireland as well as the Cornwallis Code and the Permanent Settlement System in India. 

Lord Cornwallis was appointed as the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of India. He served from 1789 to 1792 and introduced numerous major reforms in the country. 

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What were the Reforms Under Lord Cornwallis?

Although,he had negligible knowledge and experience of Indian affairs, he undertook several major reforms during his time in India.  

The Permanent Settlement in Bengal

The Permanent Settlement in Bengal was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in 1793. 

Also known as the Zamindari System, it refers to an agreement between the East Indian Company and the Zamindars to fix the land revenue. 

  • Under this system, the Zamindars were recognized as the land owners who could sell or transfer their possessions. They also had hereditary rights over the land. 
  • The fixed amount to be paid was the 10/11th portion of the revenue for the government and 1/10th for the Zamindar. 
  • Moreover, this settlement was first used in the states of Bihar, Bengal, and Odisha, followed by the Madras Presidency and the region of Varanasi. 
  • Interestingly, it was inspired by the land revenue systems prevailing in England.

Also Read – What was thе Pеrmanеnt Sеttlеmеnt or Zamindari Systеm? 

Reforms in Services

Cornwallis soon realized that the acceptance of bribery and presents was one of the greatest evils in society. Additionally, a major part of the civil population was engaged in private trade which automatically resulted in negligence of the Company’s trade.

  • Cornwallis banned the practices of bribery.
  • He stopped the famous illegal practice of private trade in the country.
  • Lord Cornwallis also increased the salaries of the civil servants to free them from any sort of temptation. 
  • He went ahead with appointing only Englishmen to prestigious posts of responsibility. 
  • The highest posts allowed to Indians included that of a Subedar and Munsif. 

Also Read: Complete List Of Governor General Of India

Administrative Reforms

Lord Cornwallis wanted to reduce the expenditure incurred by the company on carrying out administrative tasks in India. For this, he made the following reforms:

  • He reduced the number of districts in Bengal from twenty-five to twenty-three.
  • He abolished numerous administrative posts.
  • The right to dispense civil justice was transferred from Collectors to civil courts.
  • He considered merit while making an appointment in the Services.  

Judicial Reforms

In an attempt to provide justice to the oppressed common man in India, Lord Cornwallis made several judicial reforms.

Civil Courts 

  • He abolished the difference between revenue disputes and civil suits. 
  • He instituted a hierarchy of courts. 
  • At the last level were the courts of Munsifs who were Indians. These courts had the power to rule over disputes involving up to fifty rupees.
  • Above them were the courts of Indian Registrars. These courts were allowed to rule over cases regarding up to two hundred rupees only.
  • The Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta was at the top of this judicial hierarchy. Here, the cases were presided by the governor-general, and the members of his council along with the aid of a Chief Qazi, two Muftis, and two Pandits. 

Also Read – Lord Curzon: Early Life, Political Rise, Acts Introduced

Criminal Courts

  • Above the Criminal Courts were four provincial courts established in different Indian cities such as Patna, Murshidabad, and Calcutta. They were equipped with the power to award a death sentence to prisoners but with Sadar Nizamat Adalat’s consent.
  • The native assessors in all courts would be of assistance to English judges. 
  • It was further decided that all civil disputes must be ruled according to the community laws of their specific religion.
  • The Supreme Court of India was allowed to decide cases involving the Europeans only. 

Trade Reforms

  • He reduced the number of members in the Board of Trade.
  • Lord Cornwallis appointed trade representatives on a commission basis to facilitate purchasing and selling of goods.
Surrender of Lord Cornwallis

What was the Legacy of Lord Cornwallis?

Apart from the numerous reforms implemented in India, Lord Cornwallis is remembered for his rich legacy. 

  • He led a military campaign against the ruler of Mysore in 1790 and took over a strategically important part. 
  • Lord Cornwallis defeated Tipu Sultan and forced him into signing a treaty of peace. 
  • He received the ultimate title of First Marquis in August 1792 due to his successful military campaigns.

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This was all about Lord Cornwallis. If you wish to read more such informative blogs, check out our general knowledge page. 

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