Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cornwallis, Charles (1738-1805)
CORNWALLIS, CHARLES, first Marquis and second Earl Cornwallis (1738–1805), governor-general of India, and lord-lieutenant of Ireland, the sixth child and eldest son of Charles, first earl Cornwallis, was born in Grosvenor Square on 31 Dec. 1738. The family of Cornwallis was established at Brome Hall, near Eye, in Suffolk, in the course of the fourteenth century, and members of it occasionally represented the county in the House of Commons during the next three hundred years. Frederick Cornwallis, created a baronet in 1627, fought for Charles I, and followed Charles II into exile. He was created Lord Cornwallis of Eye, Suffolk, in 1661, and his descendants by fortunate marriages increased the importance of the family. Charles, fifth lord Cornwallis, married Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Townshend and niece of Sir Robert Walpole, and was created Earl Cornwallis and Viscount Brome in 1753. His son Charles was educated at Eton, where he received an injury to his eye by an accidental blow at hockey from the Hon. Shute Barrington, afterwards bishop of Durham. He obtained his first commission as ensign in the 1st, or grenadier, guards, on 8 Dec. 1756. His military education then commenced, and after travelling on the continent with a Prussian officer, Captain de Roguin, Lord Brome, as he was then styled, studied at the military academy of Turin.
While at Geneva, in the summer of 1758, he heard that the guards had been ordered to join Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. He travelled at once to Ferdinand's headauarters, and arrived there six weeks before the English troops, when he was appointed aide-de-camp to the Marquis of Granby. He served on Granby's staff for more than a year, and was present at Minden. He returned to England in August 1759, on being promoted captain into the 85th regiment. In January 1760 he was elected M.P. for the family borough of Eye in Suffolk, and on 1 May 1761 he obtained the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 12th regiment, and assumed its command in June. His regiment was hotly engaged in the battle of Kirch Donkern, or Vellinghausen, on 15 July, and in many minor actions, and then went into winter quarters. Throughout the campaign of 1762 he was also present, and his regiment was particularly distinguished at the battles of Wilhelmstadt and Lutterberg, and he returned to England in November to take his seat as second earl Cornwallis, to which title he had succeeded on the death of his father on 23 June.
Cornwallis determined to act with the whig peers, and in opposition to Lord Bute, and when Rockingham became prime minister in July 1765, Cornwallis became a lord of the bedchamber. He was also made an aide-de-camp to the king in August 1765, and colonel of the 33rd regiment in March 1766. When Rockingham went out of office in August 1766, Cornwallis, under the influence of his friend Lord Shelburne, consented to serve under the Duke of Grafton, and accepted from him the appointment of chief justice in eyre south of the Trent in December 1766. He took no great part in political debates, but he was one of the four, peers who supported Lord Camden in his opposition to the resolution asserting the right of taxation in America. He refused to remain in office after Shelburne's resignation, and in 1769 threw up both his appointments as lord of the bedchamber and as chief justice in eyre, on which Junius observed, on 5 March 1770, that the 'young man has taken a wise resolution at last, for he is retiring into a voluntary banishment in hopes of recovering the ruins of his reputation.' The voluntary banishment to which Junius alludes was probably due to a different cause, as in 1768 Cornwallis married Jemima Tullikens, daughter of Colonel James Jones of the 3rd guards. The king certainly did not regard Cornwallis with the same detestation as most of the whig leaders, for in 1770 he was made constable of the Tower of London, and in 1775 he was promoted major-general.
George III no doubt felt that he could depend upon the loyalty of Cornwallis, who did not refuse to take a command in the war against the American insurgents, though he had systematically opposed the measures which caused the insurrection. The events of 1775 made it necessary to reinforce the English army in America, and on 10 Feb. 1776 Cornwallis, in spite of the entreaties of his wife, set sail in command of seven regiments of infantry. When he reached Cape Fear, he found that Sir William Howe had evacuated Boston and retired to Halifax. To that place he brought the reinforcements, and when the army was reconstituted he took command of the reserve division, while his seniors. Lieutenant-generals Henry Clinton and Earl Percy, took command of the 1st and 2nd divisions respectively. Under Sir William Howe, Cornwallis co-operated in the operations in Staten Island and Long Island, in the battle of Brooklyn and the capture of New York, and after the battle of White Plains he took Fort Lee on 18 Nov., and rapidly pursued Washington to Brunswick and then to Trenton, thus completely subduing the state of New Jersey. The military ability shown by Cornwallis in these operations was fully recognised by Sir William Howe (Cornwallis Correspondence, i. 25), but, unfortunately, Howe himself was quite unable to seize the advantage which his subordinate's ability gave him. In the following year Cornwallis won the victory of Brandywine on 13 Sept. and safely occupied Philadelphia on the 28th. He then came home on leave and was promoted lieutenant-general, and again sailed on 21 April 1778 to take up the post of second in command to Sir Henry Clinton [q. v.], who had succeeded Sir William Howe as commander-in-chief in America. On joining Clinton at Philadelphia, Cornwallis soon found that that general had no more grasp of the critical situation of affairs than Sir William Howe, and, in utter disgust at his refusal to attempt operations on a large scale, he at once sent in his resignation, which the king refused to accept. Cornwallis understood what a change had been made in the position of affairs by the active intervention of France; he saw the necessity of occupying every port at which French troops could be disembarked; he wished to stop the supplies of money and stores which poured into the southern states by the Chesapeake, and he knew that the English army must win some striking success to counterbalance the evil effects of the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga. As a general, he wished to make use of the untried resources of the southern states, to rally the loyalists there, and to act upon the focus of the insurrection from the south. Clinton, however, could not understand these views of Cornwallis, and was quite satisfied with small predatory expeditions. During 1778 Cornwallis did little but cover the retreat from Philadelphia to New York,and then returned to England on the news of the dangerous illness of his wife. Lady Cornwallis died on 16 Feb. 1779, and after that event Cornwallis again offered his services to the king, and reached New York in the month of August.
Cornwallis was now at last enabled to carry his ideas about the southern states into execution. Clinton agreed to go to South Carolina, and on 12 May 1780 Charleston surrendered to him. In the following month he left the southern states, with a force of four thousand soldiers, to Cornwallis, and retired to New York to leave him to carry out his schemes as best he could. Cornwallis showed his military capacity in his defeat of General Gates at Camden on 16 Aug. 1780, and he managed to keep the southern states in fair order, and to repel the attacks of the various insurgent bands. In 1781 he decided to march northwards into Virginia, and hoped to form a junction with Clinton's army upon the Chesapeake, and from that point to subdue the most important rebel state. Leaving Lord Rawdon to command on the frontiers of South Carolina, and Colonel Balfour at Charleston, he moved northward. The expedition began with disaster. Colonel Tarleton was defeated at Cowpens on 17 Jan. by General Greene, but on the next day Cornwallis formed a junction with a division under Alexander Leslie, and pursued the victorious Americans. He at last came up with them at Guilford Court-house, where he defeated the insurgents, and took Greene's guns on 15 March after a sharp engagement, in which he was himself wounded. His plans after this victory are well shown in a letter to General Phillips, who had been sent to the Chesapeake by Clinton, dated 10 April: 'I have had a most difficult and dangerous campaign, and was obliged to fight a battle two hundred miles from any communication, against an enemy seven times my number. The fate of it was long doubtful. We had not a regiment or corps that did not at some time give way. It ended, however, happily, in our completely routing the enemy and taking their cannon. ... I last night heard of your arrival in the Chesapeake. Now, my dear friend, what is our plan? ... If we mean an offensive war in America, we must abandon New York, and bring our whole force into Virginia; we then have a stake to fight for, and a successful battle may give us America. If our plan is defensive, mixed with desultory expeditions, let us quit the Carolinas (which cannot be held defensively while Virginia can be so easily armed against us), and stick to our salt pork at New York, sending now and then a detachment to steal tobacco, &c.' (Cornwallis Correspondence, i. 87). In May Cornwallis effected a junction with General Phillips's force at Petersburg, though Phillips died before his arrival, and he established himself, by Sir Henry Clinton's express orders, at Yorktown on 2 Aug., though he did not regard his force as sufficiently strong to hold that exposed post (see his despatch of 27 July to Sir Henry Clinton, ib. i. 107-9). Washington soon perceived the mistake, and after he was joined in the beginning of September by the French troops, which the Comte de Grasse had landed at James Town, he decided to move with all his forces against Cornwallis. The result of this movement was never doubtful; Clinton sent no help; the English force was surrounded and outnumbered; on 14 Oct. the advanced redoubts at Yorktown were stormed, and on 19 Oct. Cornwallis was obliged to capitulate. On that very day Sir Henry Clinton sailed from New York for the Chesapeake, and arrived there on the 24th to find that he was too late. The capitulation was signed, and the war of American independence was at an end. Neither the government nor the English people blamed Cornwallis. His schemes had been admirable in a political as well as in a military aspect, and had it not been for the arrival of the French troops they might have succeeded.
As early as May 1782, when Cornwallis was still a prisoner on 'parole,' he was asked to go to India as governor-general and commander-in-chief, but his position and his distrust of the ministry prevented him from accepting the office. His great political friend was still Lord Shelburne, and, to show his dislike of the accession of Pitt to power, he resigned his office of constable of the Tower in January 1784; but in the November of that year he again received the office of constable, though as a military post only. Pitt had, however, set his heart on Cornwallis's accepting the governor-generalship of India. Both Pitt and Dundas thought him the only man capable of restoring the military and civil services of India to an efficient state, and of repairing the bad effect upon English prestige of the defeats experienced in the second Mysore war. Cornwallis, however, positively refused the offer of the double appointment when it was again made to him in February 1785, but at last, after a short mission to Frederick the Great in August and September under the pretext of attending the great Prussian reviews in Silesia, he consented to accept it on 23 Feb. 1786, 'much against his will and with grief of heart' (ib. i. 208). Cornwallis had great advantages over Warren Hastings, who had been thwarted and interfered with by his council, for he was enabled to act, under the new arrangements of Pitt and Dundas, in all cases of emergency in direct opposition to the opinion of his council. Yet he had great difficulties; the revenue was badly collected, the civil servants were flagrantly corrupt, and while the princes within the power of the company's officials were pillaged, the independent princes were shaken in their opinion of English invincibility by the events of the second Mysore war. Cornwallis's first task was to examine into the corruption of the civil servants. He soon discovered that it was hopeless to remedy the mischief without radical reforms, and in a despatch full of wisdom (ib. i. 266-8) he announced to the directors that he had rearranged the salaries of the collectors on such a scale that they should not have to resort to peculation in order to obtain adequate incomes. Cornwallis's reforms in the military forces of the company were of hardly less importance than those of the civil service. The utter inefficiency of the company's European troops, as compared with the king's troops, had caused the promulgation of a scheme for consolidating them into one royal army, obeying the king's regulations; but the dislike felt by officers in the company's service to entering the royal army prevented them from helping in this consolidation, which was never carried into effect. The best company's officers were all employed with native troops, and were hardly likely to abandon their chances of the colonelcy of a sepoy regiment, with from 7,000l to 8,000l. a year, in order to become officers in the king's service, where promotion was governed by political interest (ib. i. 333). Though he had to abandon this scheme, Cornwallis never ceased to demand more English regiments from home, and he urged the despatch of more regiments from England, and the gradual decrease of the company's Europeans without insisting upon the scheme of consolidation. These labours of reform in the civil and military services and his ceaseless war against jobs of all sorts fully occupied the time of Cornwallis for the first three years of his Indian government; but a storm was gathering in the south which threatened the English power.
The letters of the governor-general at this time to his only son, Lord Brome, then a boy at school, are worth a notice, as showing the simple loving nature of the man. 'You must write to me by every opportunity,' he tells his son on 17 Sept. 1786, 'and longer letters than I write to you; for I have a great deal more business every day than you have on a whole school day, and I never get a holiday. I have rode once upon an elephant, but it is so like going in a cart, that you would not think it very agreeable' (ib. i. 218). Again he writes to Lord Brome on 28 Dec. 1786: 'You will have heard that soon after I left England I was elected a knight of the Garter, and very likely laughed at me for wishing to wear a blue riband over my fat belly. . . . But I can assure you upon my honour that I neither asked for it nor wished for it. The reasonable object of ambition to a man is to have his name transmitted to posterity for eminent services rendered to his country and to mankind. Nobody asks or cares whether Hampden, Marlborough, Pelham, or Wolfe were knights of the Garter. Of all things at present I am most anxious to hear about you. The packet that was coming to us overland, and that left England in July, was cut off by the wild Arabs between Aleppo and Bussora' (ib. i. 236).
The outbreak of the third Mysore war for a time stopped the progress of Cornwallis's peaceful reform in Bengal. The Madras government was weak and corrupt, and after the retirement of Sir Archibald Campbell (1739-1791) [q. v.] the utter neglect of all precautions emboldened Tippoo Sultan in 1790 to attack a faithful ally of England, the Rajah of Travancore. In the first campaign of the war Cornwallis left the command of the troops to General Medows, the new commander-in-chief at Madras, but the failure of that general to do anything but capture Coimbatore made it necessary for Cornwallis to proceed himself to Madras, and to take command of the troops on 12 Dec. 1790. The campaign of 1791 was not one of a paramount importance, but every movement in it and every siege undertaken were necessary for the completion of the great end Cornwallis proposed to himself, the capture of Seringapatam and final overthrow of Tippoo's power. On 7 March the pettah, and on 21 March the citadel, of Bangalore were stormed, and on 13 May Cornwallis reached Arikera, within nine miles of Seringapatam itself. But it was too late in the season to undertake a great siege; Cornwallis did not know where the Mahrattas or Robert Abercromby's force from the west coast were, and therefore, after defeating Tippoo on the 15th, he destroyed his battering train and heavy baggage, and commenced his retreat to Bangalore. Hardly had he retired when he was joined by Hurry Punt and the Mahratta cavalry, and he immediately planned out a great campaign for the following year. His political ability was shown in the manner in which he obtained the help of both the Nizam and the Mahrattas, and thus isolated Tippoo. In securing these alliances he was materially assisted by the residents at the courts of Hyderabad and Poona, Mr.Kennaway and Mr. Malet [see Kennaway, Sir John, and Malet, Sir Charles Warre]. During the summer of 1791 he occupied himself in reducing the various hill forts and preparing for another march on Seringapatam, and on 19 Oct. he reduced Nundydroog, and on 21 Dec. Severndroog, both of which were believed to be impregnable. The campaign of 1792 was commenced on 25 Jan., when Cornwallis left Severndroog with his own army, and a considerable force of Mahrattas and of the Nizam's troops. In about ten days he reached Seringapatam, and on 6 Feb. the English troops stormed the whole line of the forts to the north of the Kaveri river. A few days later General Robert Abercromby [q. v.] came up from the west coast and formed a junction with Cornwallis, and the siege of Seringapatam proper then commenced. The rapid progress of the batteries frightened Tippoo, and on 25 Feb. he surrendered two of his sons as hostages, as a sign of his willingness to make peace. After much discussion the treaty of peace was signed, by which Tippoo agreed to cede about one-half of his territories as well as to pay a sum of 3,600,000l. The territory ceded was divided between the company, the Nizam, and the Peishwa, with the natural result of jealous feelings between the two native powers, which eventually led to war after Cornwallis had left India; but the power of Tippoo was broken, and the prestige of the conquering Mysore dynasty, which had been established by Hyder Ali's successes, was utterly destroyed. The way was thus paved for the final overthrow of Tippoo by Lord Wellesley. In one point the behaviour of Cornwallis and General Medows contrasts favourably with that of General Harris, who finally took Seringapatam. Both of the former left their shares of prize money, amounting to 47,244l. and 14,997l., to the army, while General Harris insisted upon every penny he could possibly claim. Cornwallis's whole conduct in India, and especially in the war with Tippoo, was highly approved in England, and on 15 Aug. 1792 he was created Marquis Cornwallis in recognition of his services.
After concluding the treaty with Tippoo Sultan, Cornwallis returned to Calcutta, and there occupied himself with the completion of his various reforms. First and most important of these was the promulgation of the Permanent Settlement, which was issued, after many years of discussion, on 22 March 1793. The state or the monarch had always been regarded as proprietor of the soil of Bengal, and to him the village community of the ryots or cultivators was bound to pay a certain proportion of the produce of the soil. This revenue was collected by royal officers called zemindars, who were either paid by a commission on what they raised, or who farmed the revenue of a district. When the company took over the government of Bengal, their collectors raised the revenue through the zemindars also, and were often bribed by these native officials to let them off lightly. Cornwallis changed the zemindar from a mere revenue official into the absolute proprietor of his district, with full rights of property in it, on condition only that he paid over a fixed sum yearly to the company's collector. This was a momentous revolution, caused really by the ignorance of native Indian laws and customs. Even more mistaken was the resolution of Cornwallis to make his land settlement permanent, thus rendering it impossible for the company to obtain more revenue, and allowing all the 'unearned increment' of the soil to go to this factitious aristocracy of zemindars. Shore (afterwards governor-general and Lord Teignmouth), the most experienced revenue official in India, pointed this out, and advocated that the settlement should be decennial (see Life of Sir John Shore, Lord Teignmouth, by his son); but Cornwallis was so thoroughly convinced of the corruptness of the company's civil servants, that he feared to leave them the chance of being tempted by the bribes of the zemindars, and insisted on making the settlement permanent. Next in importance to the Permanent Settlement were Cornwallis's judicial reforms. He forbade the revenue officials to exercise judicial functions; he regulated the powers of the zillah and provincial courts; he took over the whole criminal jurisdiction of Bengal by abolishing the office of nawab nazim; he established the sudder nizamut adawlut to be the supreme criminal court as the sudder dewanni adawlut was the supreme civil court, and finally he determined to apply the Mahommedan law in criminal cases with various modifications in accordance with English jurisprudence. Cornwallis was now anxious to leave India, in which country he had been detained two years longer than he had intended by the war with Tippoo, and he had the satisfaction to learn before he started that his chief coadjutor, Mr. (now created Sir John) Shore, was appointed to succeed him as governor-general, and his comrade, Sir Robert Abercromby, as commander-in-chief. On 13 Aug. he handed over the government to Sir John Shore, and sailed for Madras, in order to take command of the expedition against Pondicherry, which was rendered necessary by the outbreak of war between England and revolutionary France. Pondicherry, however, had surrendered before he reached Madras, and he made up his mind to return to England at once, and sailed on 10 Oct. 1793.
Cornwallis reached England on 3 Feb. 1794, and his assistance was at once demanded by the ministers. Not only did they want to consult him on Indian affairs, but still more did they desire to make use of his military abilities in Flanders. The state of the war there against France was anything but encouraging. Prussian, Austrian, and English were disheartened and disagreeing. Such a state of affairs was fatal, and in June 1794 Cornwallis started on a special mission to advise co-operation, and to bolster up the, coalition. The result of his mission was a curious suggestion from Vienna, that he should be made a local field-marshal, and put in command of the allied forces; the suggestion, to his great satisfaction, came to nothing. He saw how perilous such a situation would be, and how it would necessarily embroil him with the Duke of York. But though this scheme failed, he was persuaded in February 1795 to accept the office of master-general of the ordnance with a seat in the cabinet; and as the only general officer in the cabinet he was necessarily entrusted with the supervision of the defences of the country in preparation for the expected invasion of the French. From this work he was called by the news of the threatening attitude taken by the East India Company's officers in Bengal. The higher relative rank of the king's officers, and their conseauent absorption of staff appointments, had filled the company's officers with resentment, and the prospect of the abolition of the company's European troops, which would drive many of them into the king's service, had caused them to form a powerful secret association. Affairs looked so threatening that Dundas urged Cornwallis to go again to India, and on 1 Feb. 1797 he was sworn in as governor-general and commander- in-chief. However, the tact of Sir Robert Abercromby, and certain concessions made by the court of directors, quieted the officers, and it was not found necessary for Cornwallis to leave England. More serious was the danger threatening the peace of England from the state of Ireland, and as early as May 1797 a report that Cornwallis was going to Ireland as commander-in-chief caused Lord Camden, the viceroy, to write him an enthusiastic letter of welcome (Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 325, 326). The report was premature,but in May 1798 things had come to such a desperate pass that it was necessary to place Irish affairs under an experienced general and statesman with full powers. Cornwallis was begged to accept the two offices of viceroy and commander-in-chief. 'I will not presume to say,' wrote Pitt on hearing of his acceptance, 'how much I feel myself obliged to you for such a mark of your confidence in the present government. You have, in my opinion, conferred the most essential obligation on the public which it can perhaps ever receive from the services of any individual' (ib. ii. 350).
The viceroyalty of Cornwallis was marked by the suppression of the rebellion of 1798, and by the carrying of the Act of Union. Many symptoms showed that a great insurrection was in preparation, but only one man, Lord Castlereagh, the acting secretary to the lord-lieutenant, appreciated the greatness of the crisis. Lord Camden and the castle officials were quite unfitted to cope with events. The military forces were also in a bad condition. The troops were chiefly English and Scotch militia, and their want of discipline had caused Sir Ralph Abercromby to resign in despair [see Abercromby, Sir Ralph], and since his resignation matters had gone from bad to worse. The insurrection was fixed for 23 May, but Lord Castlereagh was informed of the whole plan, and had the leaders of the rebellion, notably Lord Edward FitzGerald and the Sheares, arrested before the appointed day. Nevertheless the rebellion did break out. Esmonde took Prosperous, and Father Murphy Enniscorthy and Wexford. These successes terrified the castle officials, and Cornwallis was sent over to suppress the rebellion. He reached Dublin on 20 June, and on the very next day Major-general John Moore, after co-operating in Lake's victory at Vinegar Hill, entered Wexford. Cornwallis had still much to do to quiet Ireland. The bands of rebels were speedily hunted down, and the rebellion kept from spreading. On 22 Aug. the serious news arrived at Dublin that General Humbert had landed at Killala Bay, and the viceroy at once started to command the troops which were directed against him. The French were only eleven hundred strong, yet on 27 Aug. they defeated the first army which came against them under General Hutchinson at the battle of Castlebar, better known as the 'Castlebar Races.' The French, in spite of their victory, found themselves badly supported, and on 9 Sept. General Humbert surrendered to Cornwallis with all his men. This success finally ruined the last hope for the Irish rebels, and it remained only to pacify the country. In this labour he followed one simple rule, namely, to punish the ringleaders, and spare their unfortunate dupes. The clemency of his character was shown in this policy, but he saw that it was necessary to do something more to assure the peace of Ireland; he saw that it was necessary to stamp out the corruption of officials as sternly in Ireland as in India; he saw that the parliament of Ireland did not represent the people of Ireland, and was useless from a practical point of view for business, and he therefore became an ardent advocate for catholic emancipation and the abolition of the Irish parliament.
In carrying the Act of Union more credit must rest with Lord Castlereagh than with Cornwallis; but nevertheless Castlereagh could not have done what he did without the viceroy's active help and steady support. As early as 12 Nov. 1798 the Duke of Portland [see Bentinck, William Henry Cavendish, third Duke or Portland] sent over the first scheme of the articles of union to Dublin, and from that time the question received the viceroy's unceasing attention. The measure was at once introduced into the Irish House of Commons, but to the surprise of the government the opposition appeared in strength, and on 22 Jan. 1799, a motion of Mr. George Ponsonby, 'That the house would be ready to enter into any measure, short of surrendering their free resident and independent legislature, as established in 1782,' was carried by 107 to 105. This defeat did not discourage Lord Castlereagh, and he prepared, by boldly bribing with titles, places, and money, especially with money in the shape of compensation for borough influence, to win a majority for the Act of Union. Cornwallis loathed this trafficking for votes, and left it to his subordinate, but he supported him consistently, and passed his word for the fulfilment of the promises which Castlereagh made. He took far more interest in Castlereagh's grander scheme for the establishment of the Roman catholic church in Ireland, and believed firmly that if the invidious laws against the catholics were repealed, when the union was an accomplished fact, peace and quiet would be restored to the country. Castlereagh's bribery was successful, and on 7 June 1800 the Union Bill passed the Irish House of Commons by 153 to 88. Cornwallis had still many difficulties to contend with, for the government, or rather the king, declined at first to fulfil the pledges which he had had to make in order to get the bill carried, and when he found that such was the case he as a man of honour felt it necessary to resign. He announced this resolve in a manly letter, dated 17 June 1800 (Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 262-6). The government on receiving this letter at once gave in, and all the new peerages and promotions in the peerage which Cornwallis had promised were duly conferred. But the question of catholic emancipation, which he had still nearer his heart, was not to be carried, and as soon as he heard that the king had refused to hear of emancipation, and that Pitt had resigned, he at once resigned both the viceroyalty and his post as master-general of the ordnance. His words in announcing his retirement to General Ross, in a letter of 15 Feb. 1801, are striking: 'No consideration could induce me to take a responsible part with any administration who can be so blind to the interest, and indeed to the immediate security of their country, as to persevere in the old system of proscription and exclusion in Ireland' (ib. iii. 337). He had, however, to wait until May, when his successors, Lord Hardwicke and Sir William Medows, came over to Ireland, and he then hurried back to his seat in Suffolk, Culford, intending to retire for ever from public life.
In July 1801, however, he received the command of the important eastern district, with his headquarters at Colchester, and in October he was appointed British plenipotentiary to negotiate peace with Bonaparte. He left Dover on 3 Nov., and after an interview with the first consul at Paris, he proceeded to Amiens to negotiate the treaty with the French plenipotentiary, Joseph Bonaparte. This mission was the most unfortunate which Cornwallis ever undertook. He was no diplomatist; had partly forgotten his French (see Diary of Sir George Jackson, K.C.H.); and was no match for Joseph Bonaparte, who was throughout cleverly prompted by Talleyrand. But in truth both nations wanted peace, though the plenipotentiaries wrangled until 27 March 1802, when the treaty of Amiens was signed. By it England surrendered all her conquests except Ceylon and Trinidad, which Holland and Spain were compelled to cede to her, and France lost nothing. Other questions were slurred over, and the treaty was in fact rather a truce than a peace.
On his return from France, Cornwallis retired to Culford, where he lived a peaceful life for three years until a demand was suddenly made upon him to go to India again as governor-general and commander-in-chief, he felt that it was a desperate thing for a man of sixty-six to undertake such a task, but his sense of duty forbade him to refuse, and he left England in March 1805. He found the country much changed when he landed at Calcutta on 29 July. The policy of Lord Wellesley and the victories of Harris over Tippoo, and of Lake and Sir Arthur Wellesley over the Mahrattas, had established the company's power in India on a larger and grander basis. But the question naturally suggested itself whether it were possible for the company to hold safely such a vast extent of country. History has shown that Lord Wellesley was right; and his grand schemes have been justified. But in 1805 the news of Monson's defeat by Holkar had just arrived, and the company, whose revenues were diminishing while its territories were extending, desired to draw back from the position of honour into which Lord Wellesley had forced it. Cornwallis landed with the express intention of at once making peace with both Scindia and Holkar, and he wrote the day after his arrival to Lord Lake: 'It is my earnest desire, if it should be possible, to put an end to this most unprofitable and ruinous warfare' (Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 532). With this intention he started up the Ganges in order to be upon the scene of action, and expressed his views in his last despatch written while upon the river on 19 Sept. (ib. iii. 546-54). These views were not, however, carried out [see Lake, Gerard, Viscount, and Barlow, Sir George Hilaro], for a few days later his powers of mind seemed to fail, and he began to lose consciousness. He was landed at Ghazipore, but did not gain strength, and died there on 5 Oct. 1805. Every honour that could be paid to the memory of Cornwallis was paid; a mausoleum was erected over his remains at Ghazipore, which has ever since been kept in repair by the Indian Government; statues were erected to him in St. Paul's Cathedral, at Madras, and Bombay, and 40,000l. was voted to his family by the court of directors. He deserved these honours, for if not a man of startling genius, he was a clear-sighted statesman and an able general, as well as an upright English gentleman.
Charles, the only son (b. 1774), became second marquis and third earl, married Louisa, daughter of the fourth Duke of Gordon, had five daughters, and died 16 Aug. 1823, when the marquisate expired. James Cornwallis [q. v.] became fourth earl.
[The Correspondence of Charles, 1st Marquis Cornwallis, ed. by Charles Ross, 3 vols. 1859, is the storehouse of facts on his career: the originals of the letters contained in it are in the Record Office; see also Kaye's Lives of Indian Officers; Wilks's Historical Sketches of the South of India for the Mysore war; and the Castlereagh Despatches for his Irish policy and government.]