British conquest of Bengal in mid 18th century

By Naveen Singh|Updated : May 26th, 2021

In the mid-18th century, the Mughal Empire was in a state of collapse due to various internal and external reasons and other Indian and European powers attempted to carve out their own political and economic power bases.

The East India Company was one of these competing powers. While battling the French for trading supremacy, it simultaneously began to involve itself in local politics, especially in Bengal, India's richest province.

 

In the mid-18th century, the Mughal Empire was in a state of collapse due to various internal and external reasons and other Indian and European powers attempted to carve out their own political and economic power bases.

The East India Company was one of these competing powers. While battling the French for trading supremacy, it simultaneously began to involve itself in local politics, especially in Bengal, India's richest province.

The British conquest of Bengal was the most significant event of the eighteenth century. War of Plassey indeed laid the foundation of the British East India Company in India. It was the springboard from which the British spread in different directions and ultimately conquered other parts of India. 

The Bengali ruler Siraj-Ud-Daulah had been in dispute with the Company for some time, and Fortification of Fort William led the attack of Siraj Ud daula on Britishers.

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Black Hole Tragedy

Shortly after Fort William's surrender, Siraj confined a number of prisoners in a small dungeon. Many of the prisoners were British who died due to suffocation. This is known as the Black Hole Tragedy.

Reasons for Dispute

  • Fortification of Fort William: Alivardi Khan being suspicious of Anglo-French activities (Carnatic experience) never allowed fortification of European settlements in Calcutta. French stopped fortification after Siraj-ud-Daula's order, but British Company continued with fortification.
  • The English East India company installed Heavy Guns on the walls of Fort William.
  • English Company provided shelter to Krishna Ballabh: an official of the Nawab, accused of financial irregularities.
  • English Company also supported the claim of Ghaseti Begum, which annoyed Siraj-Ud-Daula.
  • English Company misused the Dastak (Farman) issued by Farukhsiyar: Bengal saw the loss of revenue because of duty-free trade. Moreover, Dastaks were misused by servants to evade taxes.
  • English Company saw Siraj as pro-French which made them go into war against Siraj Ud Daula.

 

Battle of Plassey

This Battle was the result of Black Hole Tragedy. The British sent reinforcements under Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson from Madras to Bengal and recaptured Calcutta.

The Battle took place during the Seven Years war (1756–1763), and, in a mirror of their European rivalry, the French East India Company.

Aftermath of Battle of Plassey

  • English East India Company received a large sum after the war.
  • The structure of the Company's trade underwent a transformation. 

Battle of Buxar 

  • Before 1757 the English trade in Bengal was largely financed through bullion from England; but after the war import of bullion stopped, and started being exported from the territory of Bengal to Britain and other parts of India, which led to a competitive advantage to the English East India Company over other European contenders.
  • Hence, after some time Mir Jafar was replaced by his son in law Mir Qasim (Oct 1760), when it became tough to meet the financial requirements of the EIC. Mir Qasim finally abolished dastaks altogether so as to provide the same privilege to Indian merchants as was enjoyed by Company officials, since he was unable to stop the misuse of dastaks.
  • This act did not go down well with the English, and Mir Qasim was again replaced by Mir Jafar.
  • In December 1763, Mir Kasim escaped Bengal and tried to form an alliance with the then Mughal emperor Shah Alam II and Shuja-ud-Daula of Awadh to fight in Battle of Buxar.
  • The Battle of Buxar was fought on 22 October 1764 between the forces under the leadership of English East India Company, led by Hector Munro, and the combined armies of Mir Qasim, Nawab of Bengal till 1763; the Nawab of Awadh; and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.
  • British East India Company emerged victorious, defeating the Mughal forces.
  • The war ended when the Treaty of Allahabad was signed in 1765.

Timeline

  • 1690: Aurangzeb granted British rights for duty-free trade in Bengal
  • 1717: Farukhsiyar granted right to carry on duty-free trade, famously called the Magna Carta or Golden Farman.
  • 1750s: British East India Company were apprehensive of French presence & victories in South India
  • English company trade suffered heavily in the 1750s as a result of French competition in collusion with Asian merchants
  • 1755: Fortification without Nawab's permission
  • 1756: Siraj-Ud-Daula became Nawab, took over the British factory in Kasimbaza. This event was followed by Siraj's attack on Calcutta & its capture on 20 June 1756
  • 1757: Battle of Plassey
  • 1764: Battle of Buxar
  • 1765: The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Allahabad.

 

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