Richard Colley Wellesley

The British colonial administrator Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (1760-1842), served as governor general of India. He was one of the most vigorous expansionists to hold that office.

Richard Wellesley was born June 20, 1760, at Dangan Castle, Ireland, the eldest son of the 1st Earl of Mornington. He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford. On his father's death in 1781, he inherited the title and seat in the Irish House of Lords. Three years later he entered the English House of Commons, and in 1786 he was made a lord of the Treasury. In 1793 William Pitt the Younger appointed him to the Board of Control, where he was initiated into the problems of British India.

Even before he arrived in India as governor general in April 1798, Wellesley had developed a plan to fight renewed French interest in India. He pursued the expansion of British power by annexation and subsidiary alliances with native princes, often against the orders of the East India Company.

Mysore, a dynamic South Indian state ably ruled by Tipu Sultan, posed an immediate challenge, as Tipu was known to be corresponding with Napoleon I. As a preliminary to a direct attack upon Mysore, Wellesley contracted his first "subsidiary alliance" with the nizam of the powerful state of Hyderabad. By this treaty the French mercenaries training the troops of Hyderabad were replaced by British. The nizam's armies joined in the three-month campaign against Mysore, ending when Tipu Sultan was killed and his forces defeated at Seringapatam. The settlement saw additions to the East India Company's territories in southern India and to the nizam's. The latter turned over his acquisitions to the company to pay the British soldiers in the nizam's armies.

Wellesley (newly created marquess) employed the subsidiary alliance, like that arranged with the nizam of Hyderabad, as the main means of extending British power. Treaties with Tanjore (1799), Surat (1800), the Carnatic (1801), and Oudh (1801) would all be criticized in England, but none as much as the Treaty of Bassein (1802) with the fugitive peshwa of Poona, titular head of the powerful Maratha Confederacy. This treaty directly provoked a Maratha war which brought several British defeats before final victory. Intense criticism of Wellesley's policy forced his resignation in 1805.

Between 1806 and 1808 repeated attempts were made to impeach Wellesley, but he was finally exonerated by Parliament. During 1809 he served as ambassador to Spain before becoming foreign secretary. He left office in February 1812 and thereafter was noted as a Catholic emancipationist and opponent of both the East India Company and the peace terms of 1814. In 1821 Wellesley became lord lieutenant of Ireland and achieved the suppression of Catholic and Protestant secret societies. Wellesley resigned in 1828, when his younger brother, the Duke of Wellington, formed a ministry committed to Protestant ascendancy. Wellesley resumed the same post in 1833 but resigned when the Grey ministry fell the following year. Wellesley died at Kingston House, Brompton, on Sept. 26, 1842, and was buried in the Eton College Chapel.

Further Reading on Richard Colley Wellesley

Montgomery Martin edited Despatches, Minutes, and Correspondence of the Marquess Wellesley (5 vols., 1836-1837). Books on Wellesley's life include W. McCullagh Torrens, The Marquis Wellesley (1880); G. B. Malleson, Life of the Marquess Wellesley (1889); and W. H. Hutton, Marquess Wellesley (1893). The best study of Wellesley's administration is P. E. Roberts, India under Wellesley (1929). Ainslie T. Embree, Charles Grant and British Rule in India (1962), clarifies Wellesley's relations with the East India Company.

Additional Biography Sources

Malleson, G. B. (George Bruce), Life of the Marquess Wellesley, K.G., Delhi: Daya Pub. House, 1985.

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