SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

In Praise of Empire? Indian Testimonials in the Impeachment Trial of Warren Hastings

Prof Robert Travers (Cornell)

Date: 3 June 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 3 June 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

In 1787, as he faced charges of impeachment for alleged ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ committed while governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings sought out written testimonials from Indian elites testifying to his virtue and benevolence. Large numbers of these testimonials, also called ‘razinamas’ or ‘suffrages’, many with hundreds of signatories, were transmitted to London to be used by Hastings’ lawyers as evidence in the trial. Hastings himself suggested that his former subjects had come ‘forward unsolicited to clear my reputation’. By contrast, Hastings’ great rival and prosecutor, Edmund Burke, ridiculed these documents as ‘miserable testimonials’, ‘nothing but rude, vile panegyrics’ with ‘not a word of fact’ in them. By cross-referencing the published testimonials with other contemporary sources, this paper examines how these documents were produced within networks of patronage that linked East India Company officials to Indian elites. I argue that such conspicuous displays of Indian ‘consent’ to British rule were an important element in the ideological rearmament of the British empire during the conquest of India. At the same time, I suggest how South Asian elites sought to use such deferential and eulogistic forms of address to engage with British imperial politics, and to defend their own substantive and normative political claims.

Organiser: Dr Roy Fischel and Dr Shabnum Tejani