Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pigot, George

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PIGOT, GEORGE, Baron Pigot (1719–1777), governor of Madras, born on 4 March 1719, was the eldest son of Richard Pigot of Westminster, by his wife Frances, daughter of Peter Goode, tirewoman to Queen Caroline. His brothers, Hugh (1721?–1792) [q. v.] and Sir Robert [q. v.], are noticed separately. George entered the service of the East India Company in 1736 as a writer, and arrived at Madras on 26 July 1737. When a member of council at Fort St. David, Pigot was sent with Clive to Trichinopoly in charge of some recruits and stores. On their return with a small escort of sepoys they were attacked by a large body of polýgars, and narrowly escaped with their lives (Malcolm, Life of Clive, 1836, i. 71). Pigot succeeded Thomas Saunders as governor and commander-in-chief of Madras on 14 Jan. 1755. He conducted the defence of the city, when besieged by Lally in the winter of 1758–9, with considerable skill and spirit. On the capture of Pondicherry by Lieutenant-colonel (afterwards Sir) Eyre Coote (1726–1783) [q. v.] in January 1761, Pigot demanded that it should be given up to the presidency of Madras as the property of the East India Company. This Coote refused after consulting his chief officers, who were of opinion that the place ought to be held for the crown. Pigot thereupon declared that unless his demand was complied with he would not furnish any money for the subsistence of the king's troops or the French prisoners. Upon this Coote gave way, and Pigot took possession of Pondicherry, and destroyed all the fortifications in obedience to the orders previously received from England. Pigot resigned office on 14 Nov. 1763, and forthwith returned to England. He was created a baronet on 5 Dec. 1764, with remainder in default of male issue to his brothers Robert and Hugh, and their heirs male. He represented Wallingford in the House of Commons from January 1765 to the dissolution in March 1768. At the general election in March 1768 he was returned for Bridgnorth, and continued to sit for that borough until his death. On 18 Jan. 1766 he was created an Irish peer with the title of Baron Pigot of Patshul in the county of Dublin. In April 1775 Pigot was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of Madras in the place of Alexander Wynch. He resumed office at Fort St. George on 11 Dec. 1775, and soon found himself at variance with some of his council. In accordance with the instructions of the directors he proceeded to Tanjore, where he issued a proclamation on 11 April 1776 announcing the restoration of the raja, whose territory had been seized and transferred to the nabob of Arcot in spite of the treaty which had been made during Pigot's previous tenure of office. Upon Pigot's return from Tanjore the differences in the council became more accentuated. Paul Benfield [q. v.] had already asserted that he held assignments on the revenues of Tanjore for sums of vast amount lent by him to the nabob of Arcot, as well as assignments on the growing crops in Tanjore for large sums lent by him to other persons. He now pleaded that his interests ought not to be affected by the reinstatement of the raja, and demanded the assistance of the council in recovering his property. Pigot refused to admit the validity of these exorbitant claims, but his opinion was disregarded by the majority of the council, and his customary right to precedence in the conduct of business was denied. The final struggle between the governor and his council was on a comparatively small point—whether his nominee, Mr. Russell, or Colonel Stuart, the nominee of the majority, should have the opportunity of placing the administration of Tanjore in the hands of the raja. In spite of Pigot's refusal to allow the question of Colonel Stuart's instructions to be discussed by the council, the majority gave their approval to them, and agreed to a draft letter addressed to the officer at Tanjore, directing him to deliver over the command to Colonel Stuart. Pigot thereupon declined to sign either the instructions or the letter, and declared that without his signature the documents could have no legal effect. At a meeting of the council on 22 Aug. 1776 a resolution was carried by the majority denying that the concurrence of the governor was necessary to constitute an act of government. It was also determined that, as Pigot would not sign either of the documents, a letter should be written to the secretary authorising him to sign them in the name of the council. When this letter had been signed by George Stratton and Henry Brooke, Pigot snatched it away and formally charged them with an act subversive of the authority of the government. By the standing orders of the company no member against whom a charge was preferred was allowed to deliberate or vote on any question relating to the charge. Through this ingenious manœuvre Pigot obtained a majority in the council by his own casting vote, and the two offending members were subsequently suspended. On the 23rd the refractory members, instead of attending the council meeting, sent a notary public with a protest in which they denounced Pigot's action on the previous day, and declared themselves to be the ‘only legal representatives of the Honourable Company under this presidency.’ This protest was also sent by them to the commanders of the king's troops, and to all persons holding any authority in Madras. Enraged at this insult, Pigot summoned a second council meeting on the same day, at which Messrs. Floyer, Palmer, Jerdan, and Mackay, who had joined Messrs. Stratton and Brooke and the commanding officer, Sir Robert Fletcher, in signing the protest, were suspended, and orders were at the same time given for the arrest of Sir Robert Fletcher. On the following day Pigot was arrested by Colonel Stuart and conveyed to St. Thomas's Mount, some nine miles from Madras, where he was left in an officer's house under the charge of a battery of artillery. The refractory members, under whose orders Pigot's arrest had been made, immediately assumed the powers of the executive government, and suspended all their colleagues who had voted with the governor. Though the government of Bengal possessed a controlling authority over the other presidencies, it declined to interfere.

In England the news of these proceedings excited much discussion. At a general court of the proprietors a resolution that the directors should take effectual measures for restoring Lord Pigot, and for inquiring into the conduct of those who had imprisoned him, was carried on 31 March 1777 by 382 votes to 140. The feeling in Pigot's favour was much less strong in the court of directors, where, on 11 April following, a series of resolutions in favour of Pigot's restoration, but declaring that his conduct in several instances appeared to be reprehensible, was carried by the decision of the lot, the numbers on each side being equal. At a subsequent meeting of the directors, after the annual change in the court had taken place, it was resolved that the powers assumed by Lord Pigot were ‘neither known in the constitution of the Company nor authorised by charter, nor warranted by any orders or instructions of the Court of Directors.’ Pigot's friends, however, successfully resisted the passing of a resolution declaring the exclusion of Messrs. Stratton and Brooke from the council unconstitutional, and carried two other resolutions condemning Pigot's imprisonment and the suspension of those members of the council who had supported him. On the other hand, a resolution condemning the conduct of Lord Pigot in receiving certain trifling presents from the nabob of Arcot, the receipt of which had been openly avowed in a letter to the court of directors, was carried. At a meeting of the general court held on 7 and 9 May a long series of resolutions was carried by a majority of ninety-seven votes, which censured the invasion of Pigot's rights as governor, and acquiesced in his restoration, but at the same time recommended that Pigot and all the members of the council should be recalled in order that their conduct might be more effectually inquired into. Owing to Lord North's opposition, Governor Johnstone failed to carry his resolutions in favour of Lord Pigot in the House of Commons on 21 May (Parl. Hist. xix. 273–87). The resolutions of the proprietors having been confirmed by the court of directors, Pigot was restored to his office by a commission under the company's seal of 10 June 1777, and was directed within one week to give up the government to his successor and forthwith to return to England.

Meantime Pigot died on 11 May 1777, while under confinement at the Company's Garden House, near Fort St. George, whither he had been allowed to return for change of air in the previous month. At the inquest held after his death the jury recorded a verdict of wilful murder against all those who had been concerned in Pigot's arrest. The accusations of foul play which were freely made at the time were without any foundation, and no unnecessary harshness appears to have attended his imprisonment. The real contest throughout had been between the nabob of Arcot and the raja of Tanjore. Each member of the council took a side, and, though Pigot greatly exceeded his powers while endeavouring to carry out the instructions of the directors, his antagonists were clearly not justified in deposing him. Both parties in the council were greatly to be blamed, and that they were both actuated by interested motives there can be little reason to doubt. The proceedings before the coroner were held to be irregular by the supreme court of judicature in Bengal, and nothing came of the inquiry instituted by the company. On 16 April 1779 Admiral Hugh Pigot brought the subject of his brother's deposition before the House of Commons. A series of resolutions affirming the principal facts of the case was agreed to, and an address to the king, recommending the prosecution of Messrs. Stratton, Brooke, Floyer, and Mackay, who were at that time residing in England, was adopted (Parl. Hist. xx. 364–71). They were tried in the king's bench before Lord Mansfield and a special jury in December 1779, and were found guilty of a misdemeanour in arresting, imprisoning, and deposing Lord Pigot. On being brought up for judgment on 10 Feb. 1780 they were each sentenced to pay a fine of 1,000l., upon the payment of which they were discharged (Howell, State Trials, xxi. 1045–1294).

Pigot was unmarried. On his death the Irish barony became extinct, while the baronetcy devolved upon his brother Robert Pigot [q. v.] He left three natural children, viz.: (1) Sophia Pigot, who married, on 14 March 1776, the Hon. Edward Monckton of Somerford, Staffordshire, and died on 1 Jan. 1834; (2) Richard Pigot, general in the army and colonel of the 4th dragoon guards, who died on 22 Nov. 1868, aged 94; and (3) Sir Hugh Pigot, K.C.B., admiral of the White, who died on 30 July 1857, aged 82.

Pigot was created an LL.D. of the university of Cambridge on 3 July 1769. He is said to have paid 100,000l. for the purchase of the Patshull estate in Staffordshire (Shaw, Hist. of Staffordshire, 1798–1801, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 283). He owned a celebrated diamond, known as the Pigot diamond, which he bequeathed to his brothers, Robert and Hugh (1721?–1792), and his sister Margaret, the wife of Thomas Fisher. Under a private act of parliament passed in July 1800 (39 & 40 Geo. III, cap. cii.), the stone, a model of which is in the British Museum, was disposed of by way of lottery in two-guinea shares for 23,998l. 16s. It was sold as weighing 188 grains at Christie's on 10 May 1802 for 9,500 guineas, and in 1818 it passed into the hands of Messrs. Rundell & Bridge, the jewellers. They shortly afterwards sold it for 30,000l. to Ali Pasha, who, when mortally wounded by Reshid Pasha (5 Feb. 1822), ordered that it should be crushed to powder in his presence, which was done (Murray, Memoir of the Diamond, 2nd ed. p. 67). The diamond is described in the advertisement of the sale in 1802 as weighing 188 grains (Times, 10 May 1802).

There are mezzotint engravings of Pigot by Benjamin Green after George Stubbs, and by Scawen after Powell. ‘An elegy’ on Pigot, in eighty-eight stanzas, was published in 1778 (anon. London, 4to).

[Lord Pigot's Narrative of the late Revolution in the Government of Madras, dated 11 Sept. 1776; Defence of Lord Pigot, 1777; Original Papers with … the proceedings before the Coroner's Inquest, &c., 1778; Thornton's Hist. of British India, 1841–3, i. 100–1, 287, 358, ii. 199–213; Mill and Wilson's Hist. of British India, 1858, iii. 121, 185, iv. 88–99; Mahon's Hist. of England, 1858, vii. 267–70; Walpole's Letters, 1857–9, vi. 164, 422, 424, 430, vii. 22, 25, 138, 509, viii. 23; Mawe's Treatise on Diamonds, 1823, pp. 43–4; Streeter's Great Diamonds of the World, 1882, pp. 274–82; Burke's Extinct Peerage, 1883, pp. 428–9; Foster's Baronetage, 1881, p. 500; Debrett's Baronetage, 1893, p. 439; Prinsep's Madras Civil Servants, 1885, pp. xxvi, xxx; Grad. Cantabr. 1823, p. 370; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 123, 142, 154; Annual Register, 1777, pp. 94–110; Gent. Mag. 1769 p. 362, 1775 p. 250, 1777 pp. 145, 191, 192–3, 243, 1778 pp. 26–31, 91, 1779 pp. 614–15, 1780 pp. 96, 100–1, 1804 pt. ii. p. 1061; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 71, 3rd ser. ii. 410, 4th ser. iii. 196, 7th ser. ii. 248, 295.]

G. F. R. B.