Lord William Bentinck- The First Governor-General of India

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Lord William Bentinck was a British soldier, statesman, and above all, a prominent colonial administrator. He served a long tenure as the Governor General of Bengal and later as the Governor General of India. During this period, he not only reformed the finances of the Indian subcontinent but also introduced major transformations in the social and educational system. Let us take a closer look at his early life, later life as one of the most important ranks of colonial administration, and major reforms. 

Early Life of Lord William Bentinck

Here are a few essential details about the early life of Lord William Bentinck:

  • He was born on 14 September 1774 in Buckinghamshire, England into a wealthy family of high rank. 
  • Bentinck was born to the 3rd Duke of Portland and Lady Dorothy.
  • Interestingly, his father was also the Prime Minister of Great Britain. 
  • Lord Bentinck joined the British army at the tender age of 16. By the year 1798, he had already become a lieutenant colonel.  
  • Although he performed his roles and duties in the administration quite satisfactorily, if not perfectly, there were numerous disagreements. 
  • For instance, while the commander in chief of the Madras army disallowed the army from wearing their traditional turbans, Lord Bentinck did not take back such orders. 
  • As a result, the situation tensed which ultimately led to numerous revolutions in India against the British forces. 
  • His term soon terminated with the beginning of the Vellore mutiny of 1806

Also Read: Arrival of the East India Company and Its Expansion

Lord Bentinck as the Governor-general of India

Let us now move on to the life of Lord William Bentinck as the Governor-general of India:

  • Lord Bentinck was offered the position of the governor of Madras in 1819. However, considering his ulterior motive to become the Governor-general of Bengal, he turned down the golden opportunity. 
  • Interestingly, he managed to fulfill his wish in the year 1828.
  • Upon becoming the Governor-general of Bengal, Bentinck started working on his groundbreaking revolutions in India. 
  • Among his initial efforts, rescuing India from its financial crisis of about £1.5 million. 
  • His unwavering dedication to truly transform India was evident in its gradual slope of progress which was only going up.
  • Seeing such radical changes, the government renewed the Charter Act of 1833. In this way, Lord Bentinck became the first governor-general of India. 

Major Reforms

During his tenure as the first Governor General of India, Lord Bentick introduced some of the most prominent and essential reforms. He tried to cover all fields including education, social, and financial matters. Here are some of his most popular reforms:

Abolition of Sati

  • Sati was one of the oldest and most cruel practices in India. 
  • It included women being burned alive according to or against their wills upon their husband’s demise. 
  • It was mainly practiced in northern parts of India. 
  • Being extremely troubled by the increasing cases of Sati every year, Bentick introduced Regulation XVII on December 4, 1829, outlawing the said inhumane practice.

Also Read: Widow Remarriage Act: Provisions, History

Female infanticide

  • The practice of killing female infants was religiously practised in states like Rajasthan and Punjab. 
  • Lord Bentinck took effective measures to prohibit the ritual of child sacrificing on Bengal’s Saugar Island as well as other similar practices.

Introduction to English education

  • Lord William Bentick is also associated with the introduction of English education in India. 
  • By forming a committee chaired by Lord Macaulay, Bentick made numerous education-related recommendations. 
  • Accordingly, English became the official literacy language of India in 1835. 
  • Additionally, Lord Bentick also established the Calcutta Medical College in the same field.  

Suppression of Thugs

  • Thugs were groups of thieves who travelled in small groups and attacked travellers. 
  • They pretended to be business gangs and went on wreaking havoc in the nation. 
  • Lord Bentinck introduced the Thuggee and Decoity Dept in 1835 which eradicated Thugs with the help of William Henry Sleeman as the superintendent.

Also Read: What was the Hunter Commission? 

Legacy of William Bentinck

Lord William Bentinck and his reforms truly transformed India. While most of his actions were applauded, Bentick had his fair share of criticisms as well. He managed to eradicate centuries-old evils in Indian society and made ever-lasting changes. 

  • Bentinck left India somewhere around March 1835 and returned to England. 
  • Once again, he was elected to the House of Commons.
  • Later on, he passed away in Paris. 
  • According to the commonly held beliefs, his reforms which induced the spirit of Westernization in India also caused the Indian army’s Mutiny of 1867.
  • While on one hand, he annexed territories to expand British rule in India, he also took great care to abolish old customs, suppress revolts, and promote education. 


What was Lord William Bentinck famous for?

Lord William Bentick was the Governor General of India (1828 – 1835). He introduced numerous social and educational reforms in India to foster rapid growth and development of the subcontinent. In addition to this, he is most renowned for eradicating social practices such as sati, female infanticide, human sacrifice, and other evils.  

Who was the first Governor of India?

Lord William Bentinck was the first Governor-General of India.

Who was the Governor of India in 1833?

The Charter Act was passed in the year 1833 which ultimately extended the Company’s charter for a total period of 20 years. Interestingly, this new law also changed the title of William from the Governor General of Benegal to the Governor General of India. 

Who is the first Governor of Bengal?

The first Governor of Bengal was Warren Hastings (1772 – 1785).

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