Lord Cornwallis (1786 – 1793)

Lord Cornwallis (1786 – 1793)


  • Lord Cornwallis, a warrior-statesman. He succeeded Warren Hastings as Governor-General in 1786. He belonged to an influential and aristocratic family which had wider political connections. He was also a close friend of Prime Minister Pitt. Dundas, the most influential member of the Board of Control was also one of his close friends. He famed himself as a remarkable soldier in the American War of Independence.


  • Although he surrendered at York Town in 1781 before the American troops, his reputation was not spoiled. He still enjoyed the confidence of the authorities at Home. After his return from America he was offered the Governor-Generalship in India.


  • Cornwallis was prompted by a strong sense of public duty and enjoyed the respect as well as the confidence of his fellow countrymen. The Parliament was prepared to give him extraordinary legal powers to carry out essential reforms in the administration of Bengal. It amended Pitt’s India Act in 1786 so as enable him to overrule the decision of the majority of his council, if necessary.


  • With his appointment, a new tradition of choosing a person from an aristocratic family for the post of Governor-General was initiated. It was his good fortune that he had an excellent team of subordinates comprising John Shore, James Grant, and Sir William Jones. Although Cornwallis commenced his work under beneficial circumstances, he had to carry out his policies with great care.






  • Extraordinary Legal Powers to overrule the decision of Council of Ministers (Amendment in Pitts act)
  • Founded Permanent Settlement of Bengal (Zamindari System) [ Zamindari > Mahalwari > Ryotwari →In Effectivity; but reverse order areawise]
  • Also known as Decennial settlement as farms were given to Zamindars for 10 years
  • Revenue was fixed & non raisable (10/11 part to company & 1/11 to Zamindar)
  • Mainly in Bengal , Bihar & Banaras
  • Laid foundation of Indian administrative services by making appointments on the basis of merit in civil services
  • Purified Civil Services but only for Europeans Europeanisation of the services
  • All high Indian officials were dismissed and all posts worth more than £500 a year were reserved for Europeans
  • Established regular polish force & established thanas in district under Darogas with head of thanas as SP
  • Relieved the polish work of Zamindars
  • Laid Separation of powers b/w Commercial, Judicial & Revenue officials.
  • Laid 4 provincial courts at Calcutta, Dhaka, Patna & Mursiddabad along with District courts
  • Cornwallis created a Europeanised state within the framework of the Indian tradition
  • 1791 – The Sanskrit College, established by Jonathan Duncan at Benaras for study of Hindu law and philosophy


Administrative Reforms


  • The greatest work of Cornwallis was the purification of the civil service by the employment of capable and honest public servants. He aimed at economy, simplification and purity. He found that the servants of the Company were underpaid. But they received very high commissions on revenues. In addition to that they conducted forbidden and profitable private trade in the names of relatives and friends.


  • Cornwallis, who aimed at cleansing the administration, abolished this malicious system of paying small salaries and allowing enormous perquisites. He persuaded the Directors of the Company to pay handsome salaries to the Company servants in order that they might free themselves from commercial and corrupting activities.


  • Further, Cornwallis inaugurated the policy of making appointments mainly on the basis of merit thereby laying the foundation of the Indian Civil Service. To cut down on extravagances, he abolished a number of surplus posts.


  • Another major reform that Cornwallis introduced was the separation of the three branches of service, namely commercial, judicial and revenue. The collectors were deprived of their judicial powers and their work became merely the collection of revenue.



Judicial Reforms

  • Cornwallis introduced some significant reforms in the sphere of judicial administration and tried to complete the unfinished work of Warren Hastings. During his period number of revenue districts was reduced from 35 to 23 in the Presidency of Bengal. The collector was the head of the district. In 1787 district courts were presided over by the collector. The collectors were vested with magisterial powers and empowered to administer criminal justice.
  • In 1790-92 further changes were made in the administration of criminal justice. The Faujdari Adalats of the districts were abolished and in their place four circuit courts were established at Dacca, Patna, Calcutta and Murshidabad. These courts were presided over by two covenanted servants of the company who decided the cases with the help of Qazis and Muftis. The Sadar Nizamat Adalat was again shifted from Murshidabad to Calcutta. The Muhammadan Judge of this Adalat was removed and in his place the Governor General and Council presided over the Sadar Nizamat Adalat.
  • By 1793 the judicial reforms of Cornwallis took the final shape and were embodied in the famous Cornwallis Code. Separation of powers was the basis of the new reforms. The collector was deprived of all his judicial and magisterial powers. The judges tried all civil cases in the districts.
  • The collector was required to look after the administration and to realise the revenue of the district. Under the subordination of the District Judge Civil and criminal courts of Lower grade were established in which the Munsif and Sadar Amin tried the minor cases of the people. Appeals could be made to district court against the decisions of the Lower Courts.


Police Reforms

  1. The effective implementation of judicial reforms required the reorganisation of police administration.
    2. The District Judge controlled the police.
    3. Each district was divided into thanas or police circles each of which was about 20 square miles
    4. It was placed under an Indian officer called the daroga who was ably assisted by many constables.

Other Reforms

  1. Cornwallis reformed the Board of Trade which managed the commercial investments of the Company.
    2. With the aid of Charles Grant, he eradicated numerous abuses and corrupt practices.
    3. Fair treatment was given to weavers and Indian workers.
    4. He increased the remuneration for honest service.

Estimate of Cornwallis

  1. Cornwallis, a blue-blooded aristocrat, was an ardent patriot.
    2. He discharged his duties fearlessly, and his life was an embodiment of ‘duty and sacrifice’.
    3. He perceived the danger of Tipu’s growing power and curtailed it by boldly discarding the
    policy of non-intervention.
    4. As an administrator, he consolidated the Company’s position in India and started the tradition of efficient and pure administration.
    5. His administrative and judicial reforms were solid achievements He may be regarded the parent of the Indian Administrative Service and founder of an efficient and clean system of administration.
    6. Sir John Shore (1793-98) succeeded Cornwallis as Governor General and his administration was uneventful.


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