Bentinck, Lord William Cavendish 1774-1839, governor-general of India, second son of William Henry, third Duke of Portland [qv.], was born 14 Sept. 1774. He entered the army in 1791 as an ensign in the Coldstream guards, and having been promoted in 1792 to a captaincy in the 2nd light dragoons, on 20 March 1794 was gazetted lieutenant-colonel of the 24th light dragoons. In the same year he served on the staff of the Duke of York in the Netherlands. He was M.P. for Camelford (March-May 1796), for Nottinghamshire (1796-1803, 1812-14, and 1816-26) and for Lynn (1826-7). In May 1799 he was attached to the headquarters of Marshal Suwarrof's army in the north of Italy, and remained in that country throughout the campaign of 1799, and subsequently until 1801 with the Austrian forces, being present at the battles of the Trebbia, Novi, Savigliano, and Marengo, the passages of the Mincio and the Adige, the sieges of Alessandria and Coni, and various other affairs. From 1803 to 1807 Bentinck held the office of governor of Madras, from which in the latter year he was recalled by the court of directors of the East India Company.
When Bentinck took charge of the government, only four years had elapsed since, in consequence of the death of Tippoo and the downfall of his dynasty, the Madras presidency had received a large accession of territory. The question of the system of landed tenures and of revenue administration which should be applied to the newly acquired provinces and to other parts of the Madras presidency was hotly debated. The supreme government was strongly in favour of extending to the whole of Southern India the system of large landed proprietors, or zemindárs, which ten years previously had been adopted by Lord Cornwallis in Bengal. On the other side Colonel (afterwards Sir Thomas) Munro was engaged in establishing the system of peasant proprietors, commonly known as the ryotwár system, in the ceded districts, and his views found an ardent supporter in the new governor. It was apparent to him, Bentinck wrote in the third year of his government, that the creation of zemindárs, where no zemindárs before existed, was neither calculated to improve the condition of the lower orders of the people, nor politically wise with reference to the future security of this government. At one time he appears to have contemplated making an extensive tour through the Madras provinces for the purpose of investigating the question in person, but this was prevented by the circumstances which led to his recall, and he was obliged to confine himself to assigning the investigation to Mr. Thackeray, a trusted assistant of Colonel Munro.
The event which led to his removal from the government was the mutiny at Vellore, when the sepoys of the native regiments quartered at that station rose upon their European officers and upon the British part of the garrison, killing thirteen officers and a considerable number of men. By some this catastrophe was attributed to a wide-spread plot instigated by the family of Tippoo, who were detained under surveillance in the fort at Vellore, the object of the plot being to restore Mussulman rule in Mysore and in other parts of southern India. Others ascribed it to certain regulations recently introduced by the commander-in-chief at Madras and sanctioned by the government, prohibiting the sepoys from wearing, when in uniform, the distinctive marks of their caste, and from wearing beards, and prescribing a head-dress which was supposed by the sepoys to have been ordered with the intention of compelling them to become christians. The latter was the view taken by the court of directors, who recalled Bentinck and also the commander-in-chief, Sir John Cradock.
The recall was a severe blow to Bentinck, who complained bitterly of the want of consideration with which he had been treated, the orders of the court having been issued without awaiting the explanations of the functionaries whose conduct was impugned. Another point urged in his defence was that the innovations which were supposed to have aroused the suspicions of the sepoys had been introduced by the commander-in-chief into a compilation of military regulations, which the latter had obtained permission to codify, and had not been brought specially to the notice of the governor or of the members of council. On the other hand it is to be said that the outbreak at Vellore had been preceded by remonstrances on the part of the native troops, which ought to have received greater attention from the government. The massacre at Vellore took place on 24 July 1806. Early in the previous May the sepoys of one of the regiments at that place had remonstrated against the form of the new turban, and their remonstrance having been rejected by the commanding officer, some of the men had been tried and in two cases had received nine hundred lashes. This incident had been brought to the notice of the governor, who supported the commander-in-chief, and proclaimed his determination to enforce the obnoxious order. It is difficult, therefore, to resist the conclusion that a full share of responsibility for the action of the commander-in-chief devolved upon the governor.
Bentinck, on his return to England early in 1808, addressed to the court of directors a memorial in which he demanded reparation for the harshness with which he considered himself to have been treated; but the court declined to rescind or modify their decision, while recognising the uprightness, disinterestedness, zeal, and respect for the system of the company with which Bentinck had acted in the government.
During his absence in India Bentinck had been promoted to the rank of major-general, and in August 1808 he was appointed to the staff of the army under Sir Harry Burrard in Portugal. He was subsequently sent on a mission to the supreme junta in Spain, in which capacity he was for some time engaged in endeavouring to evoke more vigorous action on the part of the junta, and in corresponding on the subject with his own government and with Sir John Moore. On the arrival of Mr. Frere he joined Sir John Moore, and having commanded a brigade at the battle of Corunna he was favourably noticed in the despatch of Sir John Hope, who had succeeded to the command on the death of Moore. Bentinck was next appointed, with the rank of lieutenant-general, to command a division in Sir Arthur Wellesley's army; but he appears shortly afterwards to have been sent to Germany to make arrangements for raising a German contingent, which was subsequently employed under his command in Sicily and on the east coast of Spain. In 1811 he went as envoy to the court of Sicily and as commander-in-chief of the British forces in that island. During the greater part of the three following years he remained in Sicily, nominally as envoy, but practically as governor of the island, into which he introduced constitutional government, based in some measure upon the pattern of the British constitution. A German writer (Helfert, Queen Caroline), describing Bentinck's government of Sicily, characterises him as a man of a violent and haughty nature, imbued with English prejudices, and regarding the English constitution as the salvation of the human race. Bentinck's great difficulty during this period was the hostility of the queen, who resented his influence and disliked his policy. In 1813 Bentinck proceeded to the east coast of Spain in command of a mixed force of British, German, and Calabrian troops. Bentinck's diversion had the effect of detaining the French marshal, Suchet, in Catalonia, but the campaign does not appear to have added to Bentinck's military reputation. On 12 Sept., at the pass of Ordal, he was defeated by the French marshal and forced to retreat. His strategy on this occasion was much called in question; but Napier, while attributing to him some errors, including a delay in reinforcing his brigadier-general, Adam [see Adam, Sir Frederick], pronounces the position which Bentinck took up to have been very good, and lays the greater share of the responsibility for the defeat upon Adam's faulty arrangements. On 22 Sept. Bentinck, with the sanction of Lord Wellington, re-embarked with the troops under his command for Sicily, influenced, it would seem, partly by apprehensions of an invasion of that island by Murat, and partly by some expectation of concluding a treaty with the latter, who at that time was coquetting with the allies, but whom Bentinck to the last regarded with distrust. It is tolerably clear that Wellington did not entertain a high opinion of Bentinck's judgment. In Napier's history there is a short correspondence regarding the apprehended invasion of Sicily, which ends with the following laconic letter from Wellington to Bentinck: Huarte, 1 July 1813: My lord,—In answer to your lordship's despatch, I have to observe that I conceive that the island of Sicily is at present in no danger whatever (History of the Peninsular War, v. 435, edition of 1860). In 1814 Bentinck commanded a successful expedition against Genoa, where he issued two proclamations, which, anticipating by nearly half a century the establishment of Italian unity, caused some embarrassment to his government. He returned to Palermo, and quitted Sicily 14 July 1814. At the close of the war he remained at Rome, and was unemployed until 1827. He was made K.B. 1813, G.C.B. 1815, G.C.H. 1817.
In July 1827 Bentinck was appointed governor-general of Bengal, and was sworn of the privy council. He did not assume office in India till July 1828. Although India was at peace, its finances were embarrassed by the prolonged war in Burma and by the siege of Bhartpur during Lord Amherst's government. There had been a series of heavy financial deficits, extending to the year in which Bentinck took charge of the government, when the expenditure still exceeded the income by more than a million. Bentinck's first duty was to devise means of reducing the expenses in every branch of the administration which was susceptible of reduction, and although in carrying out this duty he was merely obeying the repeated orders of the court of directors, the result for a time was much personal unpopularity. He appointed commissions to investigate the expenditure, both civil and military. He threw open to natives posts hitherto filled by Englishmen at a larger cost, and he gave effect to orders of the court, which had been twice reiterated, for the reduction of an allowance which, under the name of battá, had for many years been given to the European officers of the army in addition to their pay. The result of Bentinck's financial measures was that the deficit which he found on his arrival was converted into a surplus, amounting at the time of his retirement from the government to two millions a year.
Financial reductions were not, however, the most important reforms which distinguished Bentinck's administration as governor-general. In the north-western provinces the settlement of the land revenue still remained upon a very unsatisfactory footing. Bentinck, after carefully investigating the question in consultation with the principal officers of the provinces concerned, set on foot a settlement which, carried on under the direction of Mr. Robert Merttins Bird, one of the ablest officers in the Indian service, and brought to a completion in nine years, was an enormous improvement on the previous state of things. It limited the public demand upon the land to a fixed sum for a period of thirty years, and provided a complete record of individual rights. Bentinck also established a separate board of revenue for the north-western provinces at Allahabad. In the judicial department the provincial courts of appeal and circuit, which had become proverbial for the dilatoriness and uncertainty of their decisions, were abolished, and there was substituted for them a civil and sessions judge in each district, the whole of the original civil business being transferred to native judicial officers. The north-western provinces were at the same time provided with a separate sudder, or chief court of appeal. An inquiry into the working of the inland transit duties, instituted under Bentinck's orders, resulted in the abolition of those duties after his departure from India.Ö)Ö)&Ü1ŕf)Z