Henry Dundas and the East India Company

Pillage and patronage in Scotland's interest

Dundas was President of the Board of Control over the East India Company from 1793-1801; the History of Parliament describes his India interests thus:

India was doubtless the brightest jewel in his [Dundas'] crown: it made possible what Canning called his system of ‘pillage and patronage’. It was a commonplace of the time that ‘Scotland and India Dundas ruled and fed the one with the other’. Patronage apart, Dundas’s view of British India did not extend to colonization: it involved commercial exploitation and monopoly, with the corollary of depriving competitors of their footholds. ‘As long as he is in office’, wrote Rev. Sydney Smith, ‘the Scotch may beget younger sons with the most perfect impunity. He sends them by loads to the East Indies, and all over the world.’ Dundas’s Admiralty office and his intimacy with the Duke of York as commander-in-chief gave him the key to military patronage for his Scottish clients. There was scarcely a family in Scotland which had not been under obligation to him, Lord Minto maintained. As the distribution of loaves and fishes did not appeal to Pitt, Dundas became his ‘old jobber’. ...

His chief subject, however, was India, and later that month [December 1790]  he was a spokesman for the continuation of Warren Hastings’s impeachment (though on 27 May 1791 and 11 Feb. 1793 he spoke in favour of its abridgement) and made the first of many speeches in that and the ensuing session in defence of Cornwallis’s offensive against Tipu in India. The defence of the India budget had also become his annual responsibility. On all other subjects he had less to say ... In June 1791, in addition to being a commissioner for India and treasurer of the navy, he became Home secretary in the government reshuffle, ‘the first Scotchman to be Home secretary since James II’s reign’, as Lord Spencer remarked. George Rose commented, ‘I am afraid of unpopularity and a revival of a cry against the Scotch when the patron and leader of Scotland is put into the highest situation of authority here’. It was, however, at first regarded as a temporary expedient until Lord Cornwallis became available. Ironically Dundas, whom Pitt had at first intended for the Foreign, not the Home Office, spoke more often after his appointment on foreign than on domestic issues, notably in defence of the armament against Russia as a means of effecting peace between Russia and the Porte.

On 2 Apr. 1792 Dundas made himself the champion of ‘gradual’ abolition of the slave trade and carried his case against the ‘immediate’ abolitionists by 193 votes to 125; on 23 Apr. he submitted resolutions fixing 1800 as the date for final abolition. Pitt did not agree and Dundas surrendered to the majority who preferred a terminal date of 1796, though he offered to advise on any bill they drafted. ... The outbreak of war [with France in 1793]interrupted one of his major responsibilities, the justification of the renewal of the East India Company charter continuing ‘the domestic plan of administration’ there as well as the Company’s commercial monopoly. This policy he presented in 33 resolutions on 23 Apr. 1793 and subsequently carried in committee. As a result he became first paid president of the Board of Control in place of Lord Grenville. Henceforward his India budgets included the home as well as the Indian resources of the Company. ...

In presenting the East India budget, 4 Apr. 1794, he exulted in the complete destruction of the enemies of British India, external and internal. He took upon himself henceforward until 1799 the pleasant duty of congratulating the victorious admirals of the fleet, and Canning, who at this time remarked that ‘nobody has pleasanter conversation and better wine than Dundas’, added that good news of far-flung expeditions made him liberal of both. ... On leaving the Board of Control [of the East India Company] in May 1801 he accepted, after previously refusing it, an East India Company pension of £2,000 as long as their charter was in force. On the strength of this, he had declined the King’s offer of an increase in his privy seal salary.