1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vansittart, Henry
|←Van Rensselaer, Stephen||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27
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VANSITTART, HENRY (1732-1770 or 1771), Anglo-Indian governor, was born in London on the 3rd of June 1732. His father, Arthur van Sittart (1691-1760), and his grandfather, Peter van Sittart (1651-1705), were both wealthy merchants and directors of the Russia company. Peter, a merchant adventurer, who had migrated from Danzig to London about 1670, was also a director of the East India company. The family name is taken from the town of Sittard in Limburg. Educated at Reading school and at Winchester college, Henry Vansittart joined the society of the Franciscans, or the “Hellfire club,” at Medmenham, his elder brothers, Arthur and Robert, being also members of this fraternity. In 1745 he entered the service of the East India company and sailed for Fort St David; here he showed himself very industrious, made the acquaintance of Robert Clive and rose rapidly from one position to another. As a member of the council of Madras he helped to defend the city against the French in 1759, and in July 1760 he went to Bengal as president of the council and governor of Fort William. Courageously facing the difficulties of his new position, which included a serious lack of funds, he deposed the subadar of Bengal, Mir Jafar, whom he replaced by his son-in-law, Mir Kasim, a circumstance which increased the influence of England in the province. He was, however, less successful in another direction. Practically all the company's servants were traders in their private capacity, and as they claimed various privileges and exemptions this system was detrimental to the interests of the native princes and gave rise to an enormous amount of corruption. Vansittart sought to check this, and in 1762 he made a treaty with Mir Kasim, but the majority of his council were against him and in the following year this was repudiated. Reprisals on the part of the subadar were followed by war, and, annoyed at the failure of his pacific schemes, the governor resigned and returned to England in 1764. His conduct was attacked before the board of directors in London, but events seemed to prove that he was in the right, and in 1769 he became a director of the company, having in the previous year obtained a seat in parliament. He was now sent on an important mission to India; he left England in September 1769, but the ship in which he sailed was lost at sea late in 1770 or early in 1771. One of his five sons was Nicholas Vansittart, Baron Bexley (q.v.). To defend his conduct in Bengal Vansittart published some papers as A Narrative of the Transactions in Bengal from 1760 to 1764 (London, 1766).
Vansittart's brother, Robert Vansittart (1728-1789), who was educated at Winchester and at Trinity College, Oxford, was regius professor of civil law at Oxford from 1757 until his death on the 31st of January 1789. Another brother, George Vansittart (1745-1825), of Bisham Abbey, Berkshire, was the father of General George Henry Vansittart (1768-1824) and of Vice-Admiral Henry Vansittart (1777-1843).