Robert Clive

(Pictures on right: Robert, Lord Clive, Baron of Plassey. ‘Clive of India’. (1725-74). English general and colonial administrator. Originally published in 1859. © The British Library Board. (P791)

The  founder of the British Indian Empire, Robert Clive, is popularly known as “Clive of India”. The Battle of Plassey is often described by his admirers as his “finest hour”, when he used his skills and genius to divide the enemy and score a spectacular victory. He had under his command about 800 British and European forces complemented by 2,000 native sepoys. His enemy, Sirajuddaula the Nawab (independent ruler) of Bengal, had 50,000 troops under his command. When they met on the field of Plassey on the morning of 23 June 1757, most of the Nawab’s commanders not only did not join in the battle, but actually misled the Bengal ruler to a pathetic defeat.

(This placard on the right and the other two below that are situated on the sides of the pillar holding Robert Clive’s statue near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. This one portrays Clive’s famous hour long contemplation, under the shade of mango trees on 22 June 1757, that resulted in him over-turning the earlier decision to delay the marching to face the Nawab of Bengal.)

Robert Clive was born in 1725 in Styche Hall, near Market Drayton, situated in Shropshire in England. He was the first born in the family and as his family lived on a modest income he was sent to be brought up by his mother’s sister who lived in Manchester. However, at the age of nine his aunt died and he came back to live in Styche Hall. His adolescent life is full of stories of him fighting and engaging in anti-social behaviour. However, by the time he was eighteen his father was able to find him a job with the East India Company as a writer. This was quite a prestigious position in view of the money making potential that opened up to a young man posted to India.

Although his salary was £5 per year and he recieved an allowance of £3 per year to pay for other necessities, he could earn additional performance related income bonus and his lodgings and food were free. The real attraction in taking up a job with the East India Company was the potential to make huge sums of money while working in India.

Clive boarded the East Indiaman Winchester in March 1743 for India and the journey to Madras took much longer than expected due to storm damage and the time it took to repair the ship while anchored in Brazil. He nearly died by drowning en route, but was luckily rescued when he fell overboard. He arrived in Fort St George in Madras in June 1744 and for a while his life was quite uneventful and boring.

All this changed when the British in Madras attacked the French in 1745 and a year later the French took revenge by taking Fort St George from the British. Refusing to accept the French terms and conditions to be a free man and leave the fort, Clive, along with some friends, escaped their imprisonment at night and dressed up as Indians travelled to Fort St David south of Pondicherry, which was still under the British control. There he enlisted in the East India Company Army and engaged in a number of battles with the French and local forces. Clive rose to become a lieutenant. However, with a peace agreement between the French and the British, Fort St George was handed back and restored to the British. For Clive at first it was a prospect of going back to boring clerical duties. In 1749 he sought and was successful in obtaining the job of Steward of St George. This job was potentially lucrative as it involved supplying food, furnishing and other items to the fort and he could earn commission from every order.

During the 1740s, the French power and influence was increasing and there had been an increasing tendency from local rival claimants for control to engage in warfare over territories. The French were intervening to place someone of their choice to power and were making gains from their king making role. The British, on the other hand, under the East India Company were focused on trade than territorial interventions. However, the great-French-British rivalry began to be felt strongly across the world as each aimed for world domination.

Clive’s real fame came from his victory at Arcot. The British also began to intervene in local power struggles. The French and the British began to nominate and support different individuals for succession. In the early 1750s, rivalry between Chand Sahib and Muhammad Ali began. The British were supporting Mohammed Ali who was based in Trichinopoly and the French were on the side of Chand Sahib to the north west of Madras. In 1751, after securing the city of Arcot, Chand Sahib lead a large force accompanied by the French to lay a siege on Trichinopoly to defeat Mohammad Ali. Clive joined the British Forces sent to support Mohammed Ali at Trichinopoly.

(This placard on the right illustrates his amazing victory at Arcot in 1751 when he was besieged by a large force.)

The  seize at Trichinopoly looked hopeless and Clive requested that he be made a captain and given permission to lead an expedition to take Arcot as a diversionary tactic. It was hoped that Chand Sahib would divert a large army to save Arcot which would make it easier for the British and Mohammed Ali to break the seize. Clive entered and took Arcot, which lead to the redeployment of a large number of French and Chand Sahib’s forces from Trichinopoly to Arcot. Clive successfully resisted a 50 day siege against all odds until reinforcements arrived. A series of subsequent victories against Chand Sahib’s and the French forces lead to the official recognition of Mohammed Ali as the new ruler. Clive became a hero and his new fierce reputation brought him and the British in South India much benefit.

As the Steward of both Fort St George and Fort St David, and later as commissary for the supply of provisions to the military, he earned a total of £40,000. It was not a small sum for someone who started the services of the East India Company a decade earlier with an annual salary of £5 per annum. He returned back to England at the age of 28 with a huge fortune and returning back to India was probably not on the top of his agenda. In fact he tried to enter British politics by becoming a Member of Parliament, in the process spending perhaps around £5,000. He managed to secure a Parliamentary seat in 1754. He gave his father £6,000 to reduce the mortgage at Styche Hall and was also said to have been very generous to his friends.

His high levels of spending meant that he was running out of money quickly.  Coupled with that, political intrigues in London led to the loss of the  Parliamentary seat that he won, through which he was hoping to build his career in England. Unable to see a future for himself in England he again signed up to the services for the East India Company. This time however, as the governor of Fort St. David, and a lieutenant colonel in the British Royal Army. He sailed out of England in March 1755 for the second time and arrived on the west coast of India in October the same year. While he was in Bombay he joined a successful expedition with Admiral Watson against a Maratha pirate stronghold of Gheria under Tulaji Angria. In April 1756 he set sail for Madras and arrived there at the end of May 1756. He took up his position as the Governor of Fort St David on 22 June 1756. Unknown to him, about two days earlier, the conflict between the British and the new ruler of Bengal, Nawab Sirajudddaula, resulted in the British being expelled from Bengal, and the much disputed account of the “Black Hole” incident took place when many British soldiers died under the captivity of the Nawab.

On hearing the news of the fall of Calcutta, the Madras Council sent an expedition under Robert Clive to retake Calcutta and restore the British position in Bengal. In October 1756, a large force was sent, consisted of four major ships under the British Crown (the Kent, the Cumberland, the Tyger and Salisbury) and two smaller ships called the Bridgewater and Blaze. In addition there were three East India Company Ships – Protector, Walpole and Marlborough – and three ketches (small sailing crafts). The total force included over 500 British Company Soldiers, 150 Marines, 100 Artillerymen, 1,000 Indian troops and 160 other supporting troops. In December 1756, British forces arrived in Bengal and one after another all the places from where the British were expelled were retaken very quickly.

The British did not only retake Calcutta but pushed their cause further by attacking the French in Chandernagore and making all sorts of demands on the new Nawab. At the same time, Clive opened up channels of communication with disgruntled officers and personalities within the Nawab’s camp and managed to secure many of their support for overthrowing the Bengal Nawab Sirajuddaula. This culminated in the famous victory at the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757, described by many as Clive’s finest hour. Regardless, it was definitely his finest financial hour. Although the East India Company earned a staggering amount of money Clive himself made a total of £234,000 plus an additional £27,000 per year for life from rental income from a piece of land in Calcutta (known as Clive’s Jagir). Other British officers also benefited financially from the Plassey expedition.

Robert Clive returned to England in 1760 a very rich man. He indulged himself by buying many properties in order for him and his family to join the landed upper classes. He was knighted, made a Member of Parliament, and was given Irish peerage. However, he had to return to India again in 1764 as the governor and commander-in-chief because of chaos and fiscal disorders in Bengal. He restored order by a series of administrative reforms, including reorganising the Company’s army. He also scored an amazing feat by getting the Moghul Emperor Shah Alam II to agree to the British becoming the revenue collector of Subah Bengal. This was done after the famous Battle of Buxar in 1764. He returned to England in 1767.

(This placard on the right depicts the granting of administration of Bengal to the East India Company by the Mogul ruler Shah Alam in 1765.)

The corruption in the East India Company remained, however, and the Company appealed to the British government to save it from bankruptcy. In 1772, Clive’s enemies in Parliament had built up a case that said he was responsible for the situation. Clive was forced to defend himself before Parliament. Although exonerated, he committed suicide on 22 November 1774. It was during his defence that he delivered the following famous lines:

‘Consider the situation in which the Victory of Plassey had placed on me. A great Prince was dependent upon my pleasure; an opulent city lay at my mercy; its richest bankers bid against each other for my smiles; I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either hand with gold and jewels! By God, Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation.’

(This statue on the right is located off Whitehall, near the Cabinet War Rooms, stands an imposing statue of Clive of India. Situated outside the India Office building, now known as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, this controversial statue was created sixty years after the Company’s fall in 1858. In 1906-07, at the 150th anniversary of Plassey, Lord Curzon (a former viceroy of India) proposed regenerating Clive’s memory in London and Calcutta. Accordingly, statues of Clive were erected in the two cities.)

In addition to huge amount of money, much of which he spent on buying large country estates and many properties, Robert Clive also brought back many items and treasures from his India visits. His son Edward Clive who was appointed as the governor of Madras in 1799 also collected treasures and beautiful items from India, including a tent of Tipu Sultan.

He organised and participated in the campaign against Tipu Sultan. Many of these items are currently kept and some displayed at Clive Museum in Powis Castle in North Wales (right).

Some of the items collected by Clive’s wife are also displayed at the Museum. Edward Clive married the daughter of the Earl of Powis, Lady Henrietta Antonia Herbert, in 1784. On the death of her brother, Edward Clive inherited the title and became the Earl of Powis.

Clive’s Properties rebuilt or purchased from his Bengal loot

Styche Hall, Shropshire

Robert Clive was born in Styche Hall in 1725. When Robert Clive returned from his second tour of India in 1760 he had Styche Hall rebuilt for his father (right). The original half-timbered building nearby where he had been born had burned down. He hired Sir William Chambers, one of the foremost architects of the time for the job. (Chambers designed Somerset House in London and the Pagoda at Kew.)

After  the new building was completed, Clive gave money to his father to allow him to retire, and also to keep a coach, thereby creating the building of the Stable Block and Coach House.

The last member of the Clive family to occupy the Hall was Lady Mary Herbert, who died in 1927. Lady Mary was a stalwart of the local community, and, apart from her many charitable works, held a Garden Party on the lawns of the Hall for the towns people every year.

In the late 1960s, after the estate was split up, the Hall was bought privately and converted into flats. This was financed by felling the oak woods which surrounded the house and selling the valuable timber. There was public outrage, needless to say, particularly because much of the woods became mere scrub land afterwards.

Moreton Say Church where Robert Club was buried. (Information and images were provided by Peter Brown and Clive Chapman from Market Drayton Museum)

45 Berkeley Square, London

In London, Robert Clive lived in house number 45 of the attractive and sought-after Berkeley Square in Central London. It is in this house where Clive allegedly committed suicide in 1774.

Designed by William Kent in 1737, in what was to become one of the grandest squares in Mayfair, Berkeley Square was built on land given to Lord Berkeley after he helped Charles II restore the monarchy. The square originally had thirty giant plane trees in the central garden, and houses were built on the east and west sides.

Sadly, only those houses on the west rank survived to this day whereas the others were torn down to build office blocks, shops and showrooms. Winston Churchill – the Prime Minister of the UK during World War II – lived in 48 Berkeley Square as a child.

Clive purchased 45 Berkeley Square in 1761 for £10,500 from Lord Ancram, from whom Clive previously rented. This was part of his property spending spree soon after he returned to London in 1760, three years after the Battle of Plassey.

Walcot Hall, Shropshire

Clive purchased Walcot estate in 1764 for £90,000. ‘Once established at Walcot, Clive continued in the tradition of buying votes, but this time with a sufficient bankroll, courtesy of Mir Jaffar. He was elected Member for Shrewsbury and proceeded to build a secure “interest” for himself and his family in the county.

In December 1767, he wrote to Verelst “we shall come very strong into Parliament this year – seven without opposition; probably one more”.  In 1772, he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire and Montgomeryshire.

Clive greatly enlarged and transformed the house without rebuilding it. The estate plan of 1750 shows the main front looking north towards fishponds and a formal garden centring on a fountain pool lying to the east. Clive refurbished the east side and made the entrance front, and built a long range at right-angles on the south side running back westwards.

The bed on the right is believed to be the only remaining possession of Clive still in Walcot Hall.

(Some of the information taken from Walcot Hall: A brief History by Judith Parish).

Claremont Landscape Garden / Palace, Esher, Surrey

In 1768, Robert Clive bought Claremont Estate and decided to pull down the existing house and build something new and suitable for his lavish lifestyle.

He bought the estate for £25,000 and spent a large sum of money creating  the new palace and the landscaped garden. In total, it is said that he spent £100,000 on landscaping, renovating and on the new building. Currently the building is occupied by Claremont Fan Court School.(Right)

He hired Lancelot Brown, popularly known as Capability Brown to undertake the task. At first Capability was reluctant to take on the work as his expertise was in creating beautiful gardens, not on producing buildings. However, Clive managed to persuade him to take on the task and with the help of a builder called Holland, who later became Brown’s son in law, the work was undertaken.

The interior of the house still has many decorations from Clive’s time, clearly showing how he wanted to portray himself as a hero and remembered as such for posterity.

The green area has a park with a lake and landscaped amphitheatre and currently serves as a National Trust Park.

When the Claremont Estate redevelopment was going on, Macaulay, in his essay on Clive says,

“The peasantry of Surrey looked with mysterious horror on the stately house which was rising at Claremont, and whispered that the great wicked Lord had ordered the walls to be made so thick in order to keep out the devil, who would one day carry him away bodily”.

Although Clive spent lavishly to create a beautiful house with a beautiful estate he never had the opportunity to enjoy the finished product as he committed suicide before the work was completed.

(On the right is a picture of Clive’s bath on the basement of Claremont Hall).

(Some of the information taken from The Story of Claremont by Phylis M Cooper).