Barlow, George Hilaro (DNB00)

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BARLOW, Sir GEORGE HILARO (1762–1846), who for two years acted as governor-general of India at a very critical period, was fourth son of William Barlow, of Bath, and younger brother of Admiral Sir Robert Barlow, G.C.B. He was appointed to the Bengal civil service in 1778, and reached Calcutta in the following year. Soon after his arrival he was attached as assistant to Mr. Law, the collector of Gya, and one of the ablest public servants in India. With the help of St. George Tucker and Robert Barlow, Law managed to change Gya from the most wretched into the most prosperous province of Bengal by encouraging fixity of tenure and observing simple economical laws. In 1787 the governor-general, Lord Cornwallis, who was delighted with the prosperity of Gya, sent Barlow to inquire into the manufactures and commerce of Benares, and in the following year made him sub-secretary to government in the revenue department. In this department it was his duty to carry out the famous permanent settlement of Bengal, and he was thus brought closely in contact with Mr. Shore, afterwards Lord Teignmouth, a member of the supreme council, and Lord Cornwallis. This great measure was conceived by Cornwallis, elaborated by Shore, and carried into execution by Barlow. Whether the measure was good or not, the chief persons concerned all gained much reputation, and struck up a warm friendship with each other. When Shore (now Sir John) succeeded Cornwallis as governor-general, he renewed his friendship with Barlow, and in 1796 made him chief secretary to government. Under Lord Wellesley, who succeeded Sir John Shore, Barlow continued to be chief secretary until he became a member of the supreme council in 1801. He became as indispensable to Wellesley as to Cornwallis, backed up his foreign policy, and was in 1802 nominated provisional governor-general, and in 1803 created a baronet. In July 1805 Cornwallis succeeded Wellesley, and on his death, in October, Sir George Barlow temporarily succeeded him. His policy at this period has been frequently and unjustly censured, because he did not continue the aggressive behaviour of Lord Wellesley. He merely continued the policy of Cornwallis, both in home and foreign affairs, and made economy and peace his chief objects. The whole question of his policy is ably discussed in a paper by Lord Metcalfe, and his conclusion is that Sir George had a narrow and contracted view of things, a natural judgment from a pupil of Lord Wellesley. The appointment of Sir George Barlow was confirmed by the court of directors, but the whig government refused to assent to it, and appointed Lord Lauderdale in his stead. The difference ended in the sacrifice of both, and Lord Minto eventually arrived in Calcutta in July 1807, when Sir George had been in power nearly two years. His government had not been brilliant, but it had been just and financially prosperous, and if he had left dangers lurking on the north-west frontier in the power of Scindia and Holkar, and the triumphant rajah of Bhurtpore, he had had the courage to draw back from a chance of great fame, to do his duty. To compensate him for his supersession the king had sent out to Sir George, by Lord Minto, the insignia of the Bath in Oct. 1806, and he was shortly afterwards nominated governor of Madras.

He arrived at Madras in December 1807, and took over the governorship from Lord William Bentinck. He abolished the revenue system commonly known as the ryotwári system, introduced by Read and Munro, and substituted a system of leases to middlemen, which was abandoned a few years later. By his repellent manners he began by turning every one against him, and then quarrelled with the leading men, both of the army and civil service. On the question of a grain contract he quarrelled with Mr. Sherson, and immediately after with Messrs. Roebuck and Petrie. But his most serious quarrel was with the army. In pursuit of economy his predecessor had decided, in conformity with instructions from home, to abolish a monthly allowance to commanding officers, called the tent-contract, and Barlow carried out the intention. Lieutenant-colonel Munro, the quartermaster-general, was blamed by the officers for Barlow's action, and placed under arrest by the commander-in-chief, Lieutenant-general Hay Macdowall. The general was declared dismissed by Barlow, and the adjutant-general and deputy adjutant-general, Colonel Capper and Major Boles, placed under arrest. Other officers were suspended soon afterwards for preparing a memorial to the supreme government. Then broke out a universal mutiny. The officers everywhere combined; at Masulipatam and Seringapatam preparations were made to march on Madras, and at Jaulnah the march was commenced. At Seringapatam there was a collision between the native regiments and the king's troops, in which 150 lives were lost. Sir George Barlow showed no intention of giving way, but depended on the king's officers and the sepoys themselves against the company's officers. Malcolm and Close first tried to reconcile the officers, and at last Lord Minto came down in person to complete the reconciliation. The officers had to give in; many were cashiered, and several more lightly punished. The dispute had hardly affected the reputation of Sir George Barlow; in it he had shown great want of tact, but plenty of courage. The king wished to make him a peer, and the company to grant him a large income. But the officers who came home filled London with hostile pamphlets, and in 1812 he was recalled, and only granted the usual annuity of 1,500l. a year. He was made G.C.B. in 1815. He lived in retirement till his death at Farnham 18 Dec. 1846. Sir George Barlow was manifestly an able man and a good servant, but he failed utterly when placed in a government at a crisis, and it is not to be regretted that he was superseded in India by Lord Minto.

[For his early life see a Brief Sketch of the Services of Sir G. Barlow, London, 1811; also consult the Cornwallis Despatches, the Life of Lord Teignmouth, and the Wellesley Despatches. See for his policy as governor-general selections from the papers of Lord Metcalfe, by Kaye, London, 1848, pp. 1–11. For the mutiny at Madras consult the Asiatic Annual Register for 1809, and an article in the Quarterly Review, vol. v., and also Lord Minto in India, by Lady Minto, chap. ix. The best of the innumerable pamphlets are quoted in the article in the Quarterly Review.]

H. M. S.