FAMINES IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 1500 to 1767
|1767 scarcity [improving from 1766]:|
|Documented causes: drought|
|Documented effects: official revenue deficiencies|
|Walter K. Firminger (ed.) "Bengal District Records, Midnapur. 1763-1767" (1914)|
|p171 (letter from the Moynachoura Raja to George Vansittart, company resident officer at Midnapore, received 18 Jul 1767): [This is part of a correspondence between various parties relating to the heavily-indebted Raja's lease of his pergunna to Kissunchurn Takir, banyan to Company official W. Lambert, for a sum which will not give him sufficient income to keep up his debt repayments] ... "I have been honoured with your perwana ordering me to repair to Midnapore. As I am entirely obedient to your command I am heartily disposed to repair to Midnapore and have accordingly set out. But this year there has been no reasonable rains, the time for cultivation has been in a manner lost. Some rains however, tho' out of season, having now come, there remains a month for going on with the cultivation. I am therefore travelling about from village to village and from hut to hut taking inconceivable pains for the comfort and encouragement of the ryots, nevertheless there is no prospect of the pergunna being fully cultivated but only a little here and there. I am therefore greatly distressed. I have neither time for eating nor sleeping. I have not a day's, not a moment's leisure and I was not now present to oversee the cultivation and repairs to the bunds a whole year would in a manner be lost. Through necessity, therefore, I have written you this address. You are my master."|
[Marginal note by Vansittart:] "N.B.- At the time the Raja wrote this letter he remained quiet in his Fort. He neither set out towards Midnapore nor moved one step to encourage the ryots in their cultivation. The season for repairing the bunds was entirely past, and the paddy was almost everywhere sown in the pergunna, so that it is almost one continued falsehood from beginning to the end. G.V."
p186 (letter from George Vansittart, resident officer at Midnapore, to Richard Becher, collector-general at Calcutta, 11 Sep 1767): "... The balances of Coroolebour and Seebpore were kept upon the Company's books by Mr Graham at the Settlement of the last tashkees, as it was then doubtful whether the lands wherein they had arisen might not, if scrutinized, be found capable of discharging them. They were accordingly scrutinized in January and February last but proved to be barely sufficient for the payment of their present rents. Lampcour has in like manner been scrutinized, and has appeared to have been realy overrated, as a great quantity of ground there lies uncultivated for want of a competent number of inhabitants. The tushkees of Sayr Cussary was settled not on any fixed certainty, but only by computation, and the duties collected have this year, as they did last, fallen short of the computation which was made. You will perceive then from these circumstances that the foregoing balances cannot with justice be demanded. I would propose, therefore, that they should not be kept an useless entry upon the Company's Books, but written off at once as irrecoverable to Profit and Loss. With respect to Tanna Futteabad, the Zemindars of that district, which lies beyond the Subunrika on the Morattoe confines, will never pay their rents, till an arm'd force be sent to reduce them. This may e'er long perhaps be thought proper to be done, and therefore the balance may as well be kept upon the Books ..."
p187 (Becher's reponse, 14 Sep 1767): "... I entirely agree with you that the balances of the Pergunnahs Coroolebour, Sorpore, Lampochour, and Cossary, as set forth in your account, might as well be wrote off to profit and loss, but as in this case the Company would quit all pretensions to a claim on these accounts, I think it may be necessary to keep these several heads still open, stating the balances fully in the entries and values of them at a rupee each. This would tend to preserve the influence which such outstanding Balances will always command, and at the same time the Revenues would be freed from that deception which precarious balances too frequently occasion.
Regarding Tanna Futteabad, as their [sic] appears a probability of receiving the Balances, I would, therefore have the whole of it remain on your Books."
p188 (Vansittart's reply to Becher, 19 Sep 1767): "... I must confess that, in the present instance, I do not apprehend the keeping of the account open can be productive of any advantage. The tushkees of these pergunnas will every year be rated as high as they can afford to pay, and if it can always be realized, we shall have reason to think ourselves very fortunate. To recover any balances will be absolutely impracticable, and yet I fear that, whilst the accounts remain open, our Hon'ble Masters [i.e. the Directors in London] will entertain hopes of its being done, and perhaps attribute their disappointmemnt to the Resident's neglect. ... Loud complaints are made throughout these districts of the unfavourableness of the season, that very little rain fell till the latter end of August, and that in consequence great part of the paddy was burnt up by the drought, or destroyed by worms. These complaints tho' a good deal exaggerated are far from being without foundation. It was with no small difficulty I so far obviated them so as to prevent their occasioning any Balances at the conclusion of the year 1174 [Orissa calendar system; the year had ended on 4 Sep 1767], and I am apprehensive that they will be the cause of some trouble at the ensuing tushkees. I have, therefore, taken all possible measures for the security of the Company's interest, and flatter myself that their loss (if any) will be but inconsiderable. Till the Time of settling, the Tushkees, the Zemindars, &c., will be everywhere prevented from applying to their own use any part of the produce of their lands. The strictest enquiries will be made into the real state of the damages which have been suffered and those Pergunnas which have been loudest in their complaints will be scrutinized."
p189 (Becher to Vansittart, 26 Oct 1767): "... As I understand that rents under the title of Mangua, etc., have been often times collected by the Zemindars and Talookdars on some of the Bazyjumeen lands in an unsettled and oppressive manner, I would recommend that the said lands should be freed from such arbitrary exactions, and that in their room an established rate of rent should be fixed, proportionably to what from time to time has been levied. The Patnagott and Sayr Narangur, being at present, as you represent, collected by various hands from many districts, independent of the Zemindar, and at an expense that may be saved by directing the future collections to be made by the Zemindars in the several districts- which will tend much to the ease and happiness of the tenants, support of the proper authority of the Zemindar, and advantage to the Company, as there is the greatest desire to think more is collected than is brought to account, which the Zemindars themselves will readily agree to pay if the collections are put under their direction.
You will please, Sir, to be attentive to the chakeran lands can be resumed with propriety, and to give the necessary orders for reducing the forts that still remain in possession of the natives in Tana Futteabad, and, as I understand there are quantities of land still uncultivated in the districts under our Residency, I strongly recommend to you Sir, to give every reasonable encouragement for people to settle and improve such lands, by which means the Company in time will reap considerable advantage, and I must own it is the mode of increasing their revenues I am most anxious to promote." ...
p191 (Vansittart to Becher, 10 Nov 1767): ... "you may depend upon my paying all possible attention to the Company's interest and the advancement of their Revenue, as far as can be done without oppression or hardship on the Zemindars and Ryots; to attempt it further might be productive of a present advantage, but I imagine would by no means be agreeable to them, as it would render their Government odious, and tend to the ruin and desolation of the country which their permanent interest undoubted requires should be maintained in as happy and flourishing a state as possible. The mode of increase, therefore, which you recommend, Sir, coincides entirely with my own sentiments, and is what I have been, and shall be, particularly attentive to ... When in April and May last, I visited the several Pergunnas belonging to the Midnapore and Jallesore Chucklaes, I found upon enquiry that there were near 80,000 Begas of land uncultivated, exclusive of what was purposely left waste for roads, &c., and what was deemed unfit for cultivation. Of this quantity I then provided for the cultivation of 34,000 begas, and I flatter myself that the whole will be cultivated in this and another year whereby the Company's Revenue may be considerably improved, and the Zemindars at the same time receive a reasonable profit.
What with the severe drought in the months of July and August, and the violent floods the beginning of October, it is very certain that the Midnapore and Jallesore Chucklaes have in many parts suffered very considerable, in so much that the Zemindars and Taluckdars of several pergunnas (to the amount I believe two or three lakhs of Rupees) will choose rather to have their lands hustobooded than agree to the same rents as they paid last year. In such case what is to be done? Shall a Hustbood take place or shall a compromise be made? I would advise the former. It will effectually prevent any from complaining who can really afford to pay, and will make amends for the present loss by the advantage which will hereafter ensue, from the perfect knowledge it will give us of the real nature of the lands; the expence will be about 2½ per cent." …
p192 (letter from Richard Becher at Calcutta, to George Vansittart at Midnapore, 14 Nov 1767): "... I have mentioned to Mr Verelst your proposals of the lands in the Midnapur and Jalasore Chucklas, who agrees with me in opinion that an examination should be immediately made into the sufferings of the Ryots from the draughts [sic] and floods, and that an equitable allowance ought to be made for the future, as an hustabood made after this time would lead the Ryotts to expect a reduction of his rent to be continued another year when there was no reason for it. You will, therefore, act conformably hereto, and so soon as you can properly ascertain what losses the ryotts have already sustain [sic] from these causes, I desire you will advise me thereof ..."
Pp192-3 (letter from George Vansittart at Midnapore to Richard Becher at Calcutta, 17 Nov 1767): "... A Hustbood being an exact scrutiny, not only into the losses which any district may have sustained, but into the real amount of its produce could not, I apprehend, lead the ryotts to expect any future deduction, but would rather be a means of increasing the Company's revenue, since by making us perfectly acquainted with the extent and value of everyone's possessions, as well as with the loss which he may now have sustained, it would thereby [damaged: editor inserts "secure us"] both from present and from future impositions. As, however, it would take place in those pergunnas which have most severely suffered, it is not to be doubted but there would be a considerable decrease in the Company's revenue this year. The principal advantage which I proposed by it for the present was to stop all complaints from those pergunnas which can afford to pay their rents, notwithstanding the unfavourableness of the season. With this view I have taken every measure as if it was actually determined to Hustobood whatever pergunnas should refuse to agree to last year's tushkees. The consequence has been that many of the zemindars and talucdars in the chucklas are now ready to agree, whereas the complaint of inability was before general ... The amount of the losses, according to the accounts which the zemindars and talucdars delivered to me, was about one half the produce of the two chucklas. As these could not be considered, hircarahs and mohurriers were sent into the pergunnas to make a general examination. All are not yet returned, but from the reports of those who are, it appears that the amount of the losses partly by this draught and partly by the floods is a four sixth part- of the produce." [He continues with a hypothetical consideration of the revenue implications if "instead of a four a sixth part only has been destroyed"- which indicates that "a four sixth part" means "a fourth part or a sixth part" rather than "a four-sixth (i.e. two-thirds) part".]
pp195-6 (Vansittart's update to Becher, 29 Nov 1767): "... The whole amount of the deductions is 13,350 Rupees, this being allowed to those pergunnas which have suffered the severest losses and are the least able to bear them; the Zemindars, &c. then agree to the same tushkees as was settled for last year. One request, however, they make that either the tegavy lent them by the orders of the Select Committee may be increased 58,600 Rs. or else that sum may be withheld for the present and collected with the rents of next year. A compliance with this request appears to me very necessary not only, on account of the diminution, which they will this year sustain in their income, but as they will undoubtedly be obliged in order to carry on the cultivation of their lands to make larger advances than usual to the ryots whose crops have suffered by the unfavourableness of the season. It is moreover to be observed that this will be no real loss to the Company and that it is much inferior to the reduction which would befall the revenue were an allowance to be made proportionable to the damages that have happened. ..."
[Becher's response, dated 2 Dec, is not among the letters transcribed]
p199 (Vansittart's next response to Becher, 9 Dec 1767): "I am sensible of the readiness of these people to take advantage of precedents and therefore, nothing could have induced me to advise the acceptance of the proposals I transmitted you but a conviction than [sic] an enquiry into the advantages which have really happened would have occasioned a much heavier loss to the Company. I have taken all possible measures, however, to prevent the present deductions from being productive of any future claims and I flatter myself have effectually guarded against that inconvenience. ..."
pp201-2 (Vansittart's year-end summary to Becher, 21 Dec 1767): "Inclosed I transmit you the settlement of these districts for the present year, by which you will perceive that, notwithstanding the unfavourableness of the season, the amount is only eight hundred Rupees less than it was last year, and as the deductions which have been made on account of the drought in July and August and the inundations in October are but temporary, there is a certain prospect of a considerable future increase. Last year and the preceding one [damaged; Becher's response suggests the missing words would be "Sayr Cussary"] was rated in the Tushkees at 620 Rupees but produced only 240. I have now therefore rented it to the Cussary Zamindar for 320 Rupees, and I flatter myself that, not only this article, but the whole of the present settlement will be realized without the smallest balance. The Western Jungles I hope by the encouragement of cultivation and industry will yearly increase in value. For the present I thought it more advisable to content myself with a moderate addition of Revenue than to render our Government odious and oppressive to our new subjects by a harsh and rigorous treatment."
|1767: Bengal to Bihar|
|Documented causes: weather extremes|
|Documented effects: death and destruction|
|Fort William - India House Correspondence (vol. 5, 1949)|
|p332 (letter of 14 Sep 1767): It is with great Concern we are to acquaint you that in the Month of March last a dreadful Fire broke out in the Cantonments of the 2nd Brigade at Bankypore which in a very short time consumed the Buildings & all the Baggage of the Officers. The artillery Park too was in imminent Danger, & with Difficulty preserved. Of the Buildings nothing escaped but an old Range of uninhabited Barracks.|
… Soon after we received Advice from the Gentlemen at Cossimbuzar that all the Nicaud Connahs or Places for winding the Silk at Commercolly had been destroyed by a violent storm & we were again alarmed by a Circumstance of a more serious Nature by a letter from the Chief and Council at Patna advising us that a Fire had broke out there in the Month of May which raged for two days having nearly reduced the whole city to ashes and proved fatal to the Lives of some thousands- That the Factory House & many Bales of Cloth had been destroyed. By an estimate rec'd of your Loss in Goods only we observe it amounts to sixty two thousands five Hundred & 12 Rupees 11 an. & 6 Pice. The Gentlemen of that Factory were under the Necessity of removing to your Gardens at Bankypore where they have been directed to accommodate themselves in the best manner possible until proper Habitations can be procured for them.
… We are extremely sorry to acquaint you that the last Hot Season has proved fatal to no less than thirteen of your covenanted Servants vizt. the Revd. Mr Thos. Blomer Chaplain, Mr John Wood Junior Mercht., Mr Samuel Barhtolomew Case Factor, Messrs Thos Ridley, William Weston, James Longford Whyte, John Loyd Booth, Francis Stoddard, William Nixon, Samuel Mitchell, William Mitchell, John Nicholson and William Howitt Writers.
… The Malignancy of the Season did not confine itself to the Presidency but extended its baleful Influence over all the Country, most of the Subordinates felt its dreadful Effects nor did any of the Brigades escape. The general Return of the Troops will inform you how many Gallant Men both Officers and Soldiers fell untimely Sacrifices to its Fury.
|Imperial Record Department, Calcutta, "Calendar Of Persian Correspondence" (vol. 2, 1914)|
|p151 (summary of letter from Muhammad Riza Khan at Murshidabad to the Governor at Calcutta, 22 Sep 1767): "… every body is in great distress owing to the inundation of the river."|
(summary of letter from Muhammad Riza Khan at Murshidabad to Raja Nob Kishn, 22 Sep 1767): "At this time the river is in such a flood that it is impossible to describe it. The rich and poor alike are suffering untold hardships. Never has such an inundation taken place within living memory. May God have mercy on his creatures and cause the flood to subside."
p215 (summary of letter from Raja Shitab Ray of Bihar, to the Governor at Calcutta, 24 Jan 1768): "Although the writer has not omitted one duty of attachment and service either in the settlement of the province or the collection of the revenues; yet there have been divers accidents which contributed to destroy the effect of his labours- In the first place an inundation and in the second, an excessive cheapness of grain, have given a severe blow to the province. The 'amils daily cry out and pour in complaints, the loudest of which come from the parganahs of Tirhut, Sarya, Siris, Coturabah, Charkanwaa and Sherghati, and the sarkars of Saran and Champaran." ...
|Thomas Twining, "Travels in India a hundred years ago" (1893, from journals kept 1792-5)|
|p110: "Moorshedabad presented scenes of indescribable distress during a dreadful famine which prevailed in Bengal in the year 1767. The starving inhabitants of the surrounding district rushing to the city, it became utterly impossible to afford relief to the numbers assembled, and many thousands consequently of these miserable beings, entire families, perished in the circumjacent roads and fields; orders, dictated by a cruel necessity, being given by the police for their exclusion from the streets. Although the relief afforded by the agents of Government was undoubtedly as extensive as possible, the number of victims was prodigious, exceeding, I have heard, 1,000,000 in those districts alone of which Moorshedabad may be considered the centre, comprising Santipore and the northern part of the Nuddea district." [I strongly suspect that Thomas, born in 1776 and visiting Murshidabad in 1794, has conflated stories of the 1767 drought and flooding with the 1769 famine]|