Biography of Charles Mann Cornwallis (1738-1805)

Politician and British military, born in London December 31, 1738 and died in Ghazipur (Uttar Pradesh, India) on October 5, 1805. He participated in the war of independence of the United States as major general, where he was defeated in the decisive battle of Yorktown (Virginia) by the rebel army under the command of George Washington. Later Governor general of India (1786-1793; 1805) and lord viceroy of Ireland (1798-1801).

Eldest son of the first Earl of Cornwallis, studied at Eton College and Cambridge University. In 1756 he joined the army and, two years later, he was appointed aide-de-camp of John Manners, Marquess of Granby, under whose orders served in 1761-1762 in the German campaigns of the seven years war. In 1760 he was elected member of the House of Commons for the constituency of Eye. Two years later, the death of his father, he inherited the County of Cornwallis and other titles of nobility that allowed him access to a seat in the House of Lords. In 1766 he was promoted to Colonel, and in 1770, named Governor of the prison of the Tower of London. Five years later he agreed to the rank of major general.

In Parliament, Cornwallis took a stance of political independence and strongly opposed the measures which led to the outbreak of the American Revolution. However, in 1776 he was sent to America in front of seven regiments to fight the rebel colonists. It was, without doubt, the British military more capable of all those who participated in the contest. At the end of that year, after the battle of Long Island, persecuted and expelled the colonial troops led by general George Washington through New Jersey. However, at the beginning of 1777, Washington managed to recover part of that territory by defeating Cornwallis at Princeton on January 3. September 11, 1777, Cornwallis was distinguished by his performance at the battle of Brandywine Creek (Pennsylvania) and managed to occupy Philadelphia a few days later. Despite these relative successes, Cornwallis resigned for objecting to the measures taken by the two soldiers who occupied on the Commander in Chief of the British Army: sir William Howe and sir Henry Clinton. The resignation was not accepted, but the high command agreed to implement the plan of blockade against the provinces of South charted by Cornwallis.

In 1780 he was appointed commander of the British troops in the South, under the orders of the general Clinton. He won Charleston (South Carolina) on May 12, 1780 and achieved an important victory over the rebel general Horatio Gates in Camden on August 16 of that year. On March 15, 1781 he defeated major general Nathanael Greene at the battle of Guilford Courthouse (North Carolina). However, these victories had a high cost in lives and materiel for the British army and Cornwallis was forced to retire shortly after the greater part of the territory of the Carolinas. Following the orders of Clinton, it penetrated into Virginia, where its troops held a useless and bloody battle against the army led by Lafayette. He was pursued by an Anglo-French army under the command of Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau to the coastal port of Yorktown (see site of Yorktown), where he was trapped between the troops enemy and a French fleet under the command of the Comte de Grasse. After a siege of two months and a half was forced to yield the square on October 19, 1781.

The capitulation of Yorktown decided the war in favour of the rebel forces, but this not decreased prestige of Cornwallis in England. On February 23, 1786 he was appointed Governor general and Commander in Chief of the India. In this role he undertook a series of major reforms in the colonial administrative system, known generically under the name of code Cornwallis (1793). The code lay the foundations of the administrative system and existing British legal in India until the reform of 1833. He began the administrative restructuring by the province of Bengal, from which spread reforms throughout northern India through a series of regulations from May 1, 1793. It divided the staff of the East India Company, responsible for the Administration, into three sections: taxation, justice and trade. It banned private trade to the first two sections to avoid corruption and officials in Exchange for a substantial improvement in their wage rebates.

Its policy was to perpetuate the British Government of India through the involvement of the native ruling classes in the colonial administration. To do this, he gave the perception of the tax on the land — the main source of income tax - a hereditary basis to Indian, responsible for the timely payment of the tax collectors but lack of judicial and police functions. The latter were commissioned to a new police force composed of British staff. These measures created a kind of native officials interested in the maintenance of the British Administration against possible nationalist movements. However, the highest levels of the colonial administration were banned to the Indians.

Cornwallis proceeded also to reorganize the judicial system: it created district judges with responsibility to the provincial courts before regular courts of district for criminal cases and civil cases, and established the application of private law hindu and Muslim and the refurbished Muslim criminal code. These reforms gave administrative stability to Bengal, the main province of British India, but assumed a serious decline in the living conditions of the agricultural proletariat and small land owners. Cornwallis did not believe in the ability of the Indian people to govern themselves and, although it opened the doors of average levels of Administration to the natives, its reform was incomplete by preventing their access to high levels of responsibility of the colonial Government, thus creating a discontent that would have future consequences.

Cornwallis played a remarkable role in the military defence of British interests in India. He went to the English army during the third and fourth wars against Tippu Sahib, the powerful sultan of Mysore. After a first unsuccessful campaign in March of 1791 he invaded Mysore and got to take Bangalore. During the following year remained besieged the city of Seringapatam, thus forcing the sultan to negotiate a very disadvantageous peace, which had to cede to the British half of his extensive dominions and pay significant compensation of war.

On August 13, 1793 Cornwallis ended his term as Governor general of India and returned to England. In 1795, he entered the British Government with the post of director general of munitions, since since he was in charge of the Organization of the defence of the country against a possible French maritime invasion.

In 1798 he was appointed lord viceroy and Commander in Chief for the province of Ireland, a position he occupied until 1781. He arrived in Ireland after the outbreak of a major rebellion against the English government. After suppressing the nationalist insurrection and repel a French invasion in support of the 9 September 1798, Cornwallis insisted before the London Government to avoid a widespread repression and got that they were only punished the ringleaders of the revolt. The negotiating spirit earned him the support of both the Catholic and the Protestant party (orangista). Just as he had done in India, Cornwallis launched a series of administrative reforms designed to clean up corruption Irish colonial administration. It wholeheartedly supported the parliamentary union between Great Britain and Ireland, promoted by Viscount Castlereagh, and consummated on January 1, 1801. Also, he defended before Parliament granting civil and political rights to the Catholic population, but the opposition of the King forced him to resign from their posts shortly after Jorge III to tolerate this measure.

The following year, he acted as British Plenipotentiary in the Anglo-French peace negotiations that ended the Napoleonic war by the Treaty of Amiens on March 27, 1802. In 1805 he was again appointed Governor general of India, but he died shortly after his arrival in the subcontinent. Their correspondence was published in London in 1859.


ASPINWALL, A. Cornwallis in Bengal. Manchester, 1931.