Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Concentration of Capital and its Effects

Kosī[1] stands on the borders of Fīrōzpur, the estate of the late Shams-ud-dīn, who was hanged at Delhi on the 3rd of October, 1835, for the murder of William Fraser, the representative of the Governor-General in the Delhi city and territories.[2]

The Mewātīs of Fīrōzpur are notorious thieves and robbers. During the Nawāb's time they dared not plunder within his territory, but had a free licence to plunder wherever they pleased beyond it.[3] They will now be able to plunder at home, since our tribunals have been introduced to worry prosecutors and their witnesses to death by the distance they have to go, and the tediousness of our process; and thereby to secure impunity to offenders, by making it the interest of those who have been robbed, not only to bear with the first loss without complaint, but largely to bribe police officers to conceal the crimes from their master, the magistrate, when they happen to come to their knowledge.

Here it was that Jeswant Rāo Holkār gave a grand ball on the 14th of October, 1804, while he was with his cavalry covering the siege of Delhi by his regular brigade. In the midst of the festivity he had a European soldier of the King's 76th Regiment, who had been taken prisoner, strangled behind the curtain, and his head stuck upon a spear and placed in the midst of the assembly, where the 'nāch' (nautch) girls were made to dance round it.

Lord Lake reached the place the next morning in pursuit of this monster; and the gallant regiment, who here heard the story, had soon an opportunity of revenging the foul murder of their comrade in the battle of Dīg, one of the most gallant passages of arms we have ever had in India.[4]

Near Kosī there is a factory in ruins belonging to the late firm of Mercer & Company. Here the cotton of the district used to be collected and screwed under the superintendence of European agents, preparatory to its embarkation for Calcutta on the river Jumna.

On the failure of the firm, the establishment was broken up, and the work, which was then done by one great European merchant, is now done by a score or two of native merchants. There is, perhaps, nothing which India wants more than the concentration of capital; and the failure of a I [5] the great commercial houses in Calcutta, in the year 1833, was, unquestionably, a great calamity.

They none of them brought a particle of capital into the country, nor does India want a particle from any country; but they concentrated it; and had they employed the whole, as they certainly did a good deal of it, in judiciously improving and extending the industry of the natives, they might have been the source of incalculable good to India, its people, and government.[6]

To this concentration of capital in great commercial and manufacturing establishments, which forms the grand characteristic of European in contradistinction to Asiatic societies in the present day, must we look for those changes which we consider desirable in the social and religions institutions of the people.

Where land is liable to eternal subdivision by the law and the religion of both the Muhammadan and Hindoo population; where every great work that improves its productive powers, and facilitates the distribution of its produce among the people, in canals, roads, bridges, &c., is made by Government; where capital is nowhere concentrated in great commercial or manufacturing establishments, there can be no upper classes in society but those of office; and of all societies, perhaps that is the worst in which the higher classes are so exclusively composed. In India, public office has been, and must continue to be, the only road to distinction, until we have a law of primogeniture, and a concentration of capital.

In India no man has ever thought himself respectable, or been thought so by others, unless he is armed with his little 'hukūmat'; his 'little brief authority' under Government, that gives him the command of some public establishment paid out of the revenues of the State.[7]

In Europe and America, where capital has been concentrated in great commercial and manufacturing establishments, and free institutions prevail almost as the natural consequence, industry is everything; and those who direct and command it are, happily, looked up to as the source of the wealth, the strength, the virtue, and the happiness of the nation.

The concentration of capital in such establishments may, indeed, be considered, not only as the natural consequence, but as the prevailing cause of the free institutions by which the mass of the people in European countries are blessed.[8]

The mass of the people were as much brutalized and oppressed by the landed aristocracy as they could have been by any official aristocracy before towns and higher classes were created by the concentration of capital.

The same observations are applicable to China. There the land all belongs to the sovereign, as in India; and, as in India, it is liable to the same eternal subdivision among the sons of those who hold it under him. Capital is nowhere more concentrated in China than in India; and all the great works that add to the fertility of the soil, and facilitate the distribution of the land labour of the country are formed by the sovereign out of the public revenue.

The revenue is, in consequence, one of office;[9] and no man considers himself respectable,[10] unless invested with some office under Government, that is, under the Emperor. Subdivision of labour, concentration of capital, and machinery render an Englishman everywhere dependent upon the co-operation of multitudes; while the Chinaman, who as yet knows little of either, is everywhere independent, and able to work his way among strangers. But this very dependence of the Englishman upon the concentration of capital is the greatest source of his strength and pledge of his security, since it supports those members of the higher orders who can best understand and assert the rights and interests of the whole.[11]

If we had any great establishment of this sort in which Christians could find employment and the means of religious and secular instruction, thousands of converts would soon flock to them; and they would become vast sources of future improvement in industry, social comfort, municipal institutions, and religion. What chiefly prevents the spread of Christianity in India is the dread of exclusion from caste and all its privileges; and the utter hopelessness of their ever finding any respectable circle of society of the adopted religion, which converts, or would-be converts, to Christianity now everywhere feel.

Form such circles for them, make the members of these circles happy in the exertion of honest and independent industry, let those who rise to eminence in them feel that they are considered as respectable and as important in the social system as the servants of Government, and converts will flock around you from all parts, and from all classes of the Hindoo community.

I have, since I have been in India, had, I may say, at least a score of Hindoo grass-cutters turn Musalmāns, merely because the grooms and the other grass-cutters of my establishment happened to be of that religion, and they could neither eat, drink, nor smoke with them. Thousands of Hindoos all over India become every year Musalmāns from the same motive;[12] and we do not get the same number of converts to Christianity, merely because we cannot offer them the same advantages.

I am persuaded that a dozen such establishments as that of Mr. Thomas Ashton of Hyde, as described by a physician at Manchester, and noticed in Mr. Baines's admirable work on the Cotton Manufactures of Great Britain (page 447), would do more in the way of conversion among the people of India than has ever yet been done by all the religious establishments, or ever will be done by them, without such aid.[13]

I have said that the great commercial houses of Calcutta, which in their ruin involved that of so many useful establishments scattered over India, like that of Kosī, brought no capital into the country.[14] They borrowed from one part of the civil and military servants of Government at a high interest that portion of their salary which they saved; and lent it at a higher interest to others of the same establishment, who for a time required or wished to spend more than they received; or they employed it at a higher rate of profit for great commercial and manufacturing establishments scattered over India, or spread over the ocean. Their great error was in mistaking nominal for real profits.

Calculating their dividend on the nominal profits, and never supposing that there could be any such things as losses in commercial speculation, or bad debts from misfortunes and bad faith, they squandered them in lavish hospitality and ostentatious display, or allowed their retiring members to take them to England and to every other part of the world where their creditors might not find them, till they discovered that all the real capital left at their command was hardly sufficient to pay back with the stipulated interest one-tenth of what they had borrowed.

The members of those houses who remained in India up to the time of the general wreck were of course reduced to ruin, and obliged to bear the burthen of the odium and indignation which the ruin of so many thousands of confiding constituents brought down upon them. Since that time the savings of civil and military servants have been invested either in Government securities at a small interest, or in banks, which make their profit in the ordinary way, by discounting bills of exchange, and circulating their own notes for the purpose, or by lending out their money at a high interest of 10 or 12 per cent. to other members of the same services.[15]

On the 16th of January we went on to Horal, ten miles over a plain, with villages numerous and large, and in every one some fine large building of olden times—sarāi, palace, temple, or tomb, but all going to decay.[16] The population much more dense than in any of the native states I have seen; villages larger and more numerous; trade in the transit of cotton, salt, sugar, and grain, much brisker. A great number of hares were here brought to us for sale at threepence apiece, a rate at which they sell at this season in almost all parts of Upper India, where they are very numerous, and very easily caught in nets.


1. Kosī is twenty-five miles north-west of Mathurā.

2. The story of the murder of Mr. Fraser is fully detailed post in Chapter 64. After the execution of Shams-ud- dīn, the estate of the criminal was taken possession of by Government, and the town of Fīrōzpur is now the head- quarters of a sub-collectorship of the Gurgāon district in the Panjāb. The Delhi territories were placed under the government of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Panjāb in 1858.

3. The Mewātī depredations had gone on for centuries. The Sultān Balban (Ghiās-ud-dīn, alias Ulugh Khan), who reigned from A.D. 1265-87, temporarily suppressed them by punishments of awful cruelty, flaying the criminals alive, and so forth. The Mewātīs now supply men to a few robber gangs, but are incapable of mischief on a large scale.

4. Delhi was most nobly defended against Holkār by a very small force under Lieutenant-Colonel Burn, who 'repelled an assault, and defended a city ten miles in circumference, and which had ever before been given up at the first appearance of an enemy at its gates'.

The battle of Dīg was fought on November 13, 1804, by the division under the command of General Fraser on the one side, and Holkār's infantry and artillery on the other. 'The 76th led the way, with its wonted alacrity and determination,' and forced its way into the village in advance of its supports.

The fight resulted in the total defeat of the Marāthās, who lost nearly two thousand men, and eighty-seven pieces of cannon. The English loss also was heavy, amounting to upwards of six hundred and forty killed and wounded, including the brave commander, who was mortally wounded, and survived the victory only a few days.

On the night of November 17, General Lake in person routed Holkār and his cavalry, killing about three thousand men. The English loss on this occasion amounted to only two men killed, and about twenty wounded.

The fort of Dīg, with a hundred guns and a considerable quantity of ammunition and military stores, was captured on December 24 of the same year. (Thornton, History of British India, pp. 316-19, 2nd ed., 1859.)

5. Transcription note. This clause is not intelligible to the transcriber. The character '1' or 'I' appears in the text. Some words appear to be missing.

6. The author was grievously mistaken in supposing that India did not require 'a particle' of foreign capital. The railways, and the great tea, coffee, indigo, and other industries, built up and developed during the nineteenth century, and still growing, owe their existence to the hundreds of millions sterling of English capital poured into the country, and could not possibly have been financed from Indian resources. The author seems not to have expected the construction of railways in India, although when he wrote a beginning of the railway system in England had been made.

7. This sentiment is still potent, and explains the eagerness often shown by wealthy landholders of high social rank to obtain official appointments, which to the European mind seem unworthy of their acceptance.

8. Few readers are likely to accept this proposition.

9. This clause is not intelligible to the editor. The word 'revenue' probably is a misprint for 'aristocracy'.

10. The original edition prints, 'No man considers himself less respectable', which is nonsense.

11. This sentiment reads oddly in these days of social democracy and continual conflict between capital and labour.

12. The steady progress of Islam in Lower and Eastern Bengal, first made apparent by the census of 1872, has been confirmed by the enumerations of 1901 and 1911. The feeling that the religion of the Prophet gives its adherent a better position in both this world and the next than Hinduism can offer to a low-caste man is the most powerful motive for conversion. See Dr. James Wise's valuable treatise, 'The Muhammadans of Eastern Bengal' (J.A.S.B., Part III (1894), pp. 28-63), and the Census Reports from 1872 to 1911.

13. The author's whimsical notion that a development of commercial and manufacturing organization in India would cause converts to flock from all parts, and from all classes of the Hindoo community, has not been verified by experience. Much capital is now concentrated in the great cities, and the number of cotton, jute, and other factories is considerab