Abstract of Plans for the Government of India

Scope and Content

Manuscript abstracts of The several plans transmitted relative to the future government of Bengal and the other British settlements in India n.d. The volume gives abstracts and remarks for six plans relating to six aspects of governance in India. The manuscript is not attributed or dated, but cross-refers to a number of unidentified manuscripts, including some minutes dated 7 September 1776. The manuscript includes summaries of discussion of the plans by [Philip] Francis, [Warren] Hastings, Sir John Clavering and Sir Elijah Impey. The plans probably form the basis of the plan drawn up in 1776 by Impey and Hastings.

Administrative / Biographical History

The East India Regulating Act of 1773 was intended to expose the East India Company's administration at home and in India to greater government influence, and to provide a supreme authority in British India which, it was hoped, would bring peace, institute reforms, and combat corruption. The Act established the Bengal supreme council and a supreme court. The supreme council was to be chaired by a governor-general assisted by four other councillors. Warren Hastings (1732-1818), already in office as governor of Bengal, was named as governor-general. He was joined by Richard Barwell (1741-1804), a senior company official also already in India. Three further councillors sailed to Calcutta from England: Sir John Clavering (1722-1777), who was nominated second in council and commander-in-chief; Colonel George Monson (1730-1776); and Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818). Structural and operational defects in both the court and the council soon became apparent: first, the court's jurisdiction and the council's powers were inadequately defined; second, consequent upon this, friction developed between the two bodies; third, the council, consisting of the governor-general and four councillors, was irreconcilably split into pro- and anti-Hastings factions. The supreme court, which had been established under Sir Elijah Impey (1732-1809), was independent of the council and was soon perceived as a rival centre of power.

In 1776 Impey, in collaboration with Hastings, drew up a plan to improve the system of justice in Bengal, and to reduce the growing discord between the supreme court and the supreme council, which he believed arose out of the absence of any constitution defining the limits of the organs of government. The plan was sent home but not acted upon by Lord North's government. In his observations on the judicial plan that Impey drafted for Hastings in 1776, judge Sir Robert Chambers (1737-1803) favoured the open and direct assumption of sovereignty over Bengal by king and parliament to eradicate anomalies arising from the remnants of Mughal power and the uncertain administrative authority of the East India Company. By establishing a general judicial power the way would be cleared for a provincial legislature consisting of the governor-general, the supreme council, and the supreme court of judicature.

Source: T.H. Bowyer, 'Impey, Sir Elijah (1732-1809)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/14371.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library from J. Grant in December 1920.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, and Elizabeth Gow with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Sir Elijah Impey.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 215).

Corporate Names