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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

He resolved to strike at Scindiah


In

the meantime important events had transpired which served to wreck not only Decaen's enterprise, but the French influence in India. In Europe the flames of war had burst forth, a fact of which both Decaen and the British officials were ignorant; but the Governor of Fort St. George (Madras), having, before the 15th of June, "received intelligence which appeared to indicate the certainty of an early renewal of hostilities between His Majesty and France," announced that he must postpone the restitution of Pondicherry to the French, until he should have the authority of the Governor-General for such action.[211]

The Marquis Wellesley was still less disposed to any such restitution. French intervention in the affairs of Switzerland, which will be described later on, had so embittered Anglo-French relations that on October the 17th, 1802, Lord Hobart, our Minister of War and for the Colonies, despatched a "most secret" despatch, stating that recent events rendered it necessary to postpone this retrocession. At a later period Wellesley received contrary orders, instructing him to restore French and Dutch territories; but he judged that step to be inopportune considering the gravity of events in the north of India. So active was the French propaganda at the Mahratta Courts, and so threatening were their armed preparations, that he redoubled his efforts for the consolidation of British supremacy. He resolved to strike

at Scindiah, unless he withdrew his southern army into his own territories; and, on receiving an evasive answer from that prince, who hoped by temporizing to gain armed succours from France, he launched the British forces against him. Now was the opportunity for Arthur Wellesley to display his prowess against the finest forces of the East; and brilliantly did the young warrior display it. The victories of Assaye in September, and of Argaum in November, scattered the southern Mahratta force, but only after desperate conflicts that suggested how easily a couple of Decaen's battalions might have turned the scales of war.

Meanwhile, in the north, General Lake stormed Aligarh, and drove Scindiah's troops back to Delhi. Disgusted at the incapacity and perfidy that surrounded him, Perron threw up his command; and another conflict near Delhi yielded that ancient seat of Empire to our trading Company. In three months the results of the toil of Scindiah, the restless ambition of Holkar, the training of European officers, and the secret intrigues of Napoleon, were all swept to the winds. Wellesley now annexed the land around Delhi and Agra, besides certain coast districts which cut off the Mahrattas from the sea, also stipulating for the complete exclusion of French agents from their States. Perron was allowed to return to France; and the brusque reception accorded him from Bonaparte may serve to measure the height of the First Consul's hopes, the depth of his disappointment, and his resentment against a man who was daunted by a single disaster.[212]

Meanwhile it was the lot of Decaen to witness, in inglorious inactivity, the overthrow of all his hopes. Indeed, he barely escaped the capture which Wellesley designed for his whole force, as soon as he should hear of the outbreak of war in Europe; but by secret and skilful measures all the French ships, except one transport, escaped to their appointed rendezvous, the Ile de France. Enraged by these events, Decaen and Linois determined to inflict every possible injury on their foes. The latter soon swept from the eastern seas British merchantmen valued at a million sterling, while the general ceased not to send emissaries into India to encourage the millions of natives to shake off the yoke of "a few thousand English."

These officers effected little, and some of them were handed over to the English authorities by the now obsequious potentates. Decaen also endeavoured to carry out the First Consul's design of occupying strategic points in the Indian Ocean. In the autumn of 1803 he sent a fine cruiser to the Imaum of Muscat, to induce him to cede a station for commercial purposes at that port. But Wellesley, forewarned by our agent at Bagdad, had made a firm alliance with the Imaum, who accordingly refused the request of the French captain. The incident, however, supplies another link in the chain of evidence as to the completeness of Napoleon's oriental policy, and yields another proof of the vigour of our great proconsul at Calcutta, by whose foresight our Indian Empire was preserved and strengthened.[213]


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