Nil Durpan/Review

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From the whole Procedings of the Nil Durpan trial, we have come to the conclusion, that Sir Mordunt Wells rather acted as an advocate of the Indigo Cause, than as a judge to dispense impartial justice. The Jury in this case were nothing more than puppets, that could not move without any assistance. He took their main wire in his hands, and acted his part so expertly that the whole court was rather a grand scene of puppet dance, than as a tribunal of justice.

Never have we heard of, nor witnessed such a peculiar trial, as the trial and condemnation of the Rev. J. Long. The Puisene Judge from the very beginning of the trial shewed a strong partiality for the Indigo Planters and their two organs. A desire of gratifying them so strongly prevailed over the rational dictates of moral justice, that he pronounced Nil Durpan libellous, and Mr. Long guilty of libel. He condemned a man who was truly innocent of the charges which were falsely imputed to him.

Rarely have we seen or heard of a judge, when in bench, denouncing so strongly a man to prove him guilty of an offence when he stands acquitted of the charges. Embittered as Sir Mordaunt Wells was, that to prove Nil Durpan libellous and Mr. Long guilty, so far had he forgotten the dignity and position of the high and responsible situation he holds, that he burst forth into elocutions which were beyond the limits of his duties—elocutions which were so rancorous and partispirited, that they did not suit the occasion and the place, and entirely disqualified him for a judicial post.

Whole India stood astonished to see a Missionary of high reputation, who rendered the most eminent services to the Country, condemned through the malevolence and rancour of faction by a Judge, who to support and advocate the Indigo cause, was hurried beyond the bounds of Justice, Law, and common sense.

The Indigo Planters and their advocates, finding their cause entirely hopeless, tried with their head and heart to strike a great blow by prosecuting Mr. Long in a Court of Justice. The Indigo Planters, it seems to us, were determined to carry on business under great legal restrictions.

The Liberty of the Press, which is absolutely necessary in a civilised government, was greatly attacked. Every individual is at liberty to express his thoughts and feelings, provided they are free from defamation. Wrongs cannot be remedied, and rights cannot be preserved without the liberty of the Press.

Well, now, if Nil Durpan which is nothing more than a true exponent of native thoughts and feelings, were pronounced libellous, and its publisher condemned for a false charge, were not then, the Indigo Editors, who unjustly attacked the Government, the Missionaries, the Natives and in short, every supporter of a good cause, entitled to transportation, and even to still higher penalties?

The Harkaru who really acted like an impertinent Harkaru was surely deserving of great censure. A conference was held by the Missionaries of Calcutta, respecting Mr. Long. The Harkaru for the information of the British Public circulated the following misrepresentations:—

"It is said that at the Conference, there was great difference of opinion, some of the members having proposed to expel Mr. Long from their Association altogether; but the Rev. Chairman (Dr. Duff) with characteristic vehemence declaimed that if they did not pass the resolution, he would go home and preach the Martyrdom of St. Long in every village and hamlet in England and Scotland."

A letter from the Secretary of that Conference to the Editor of the Bengal Harkaru fully disproved the misstatements.

The public ought to consider whether Nil Durpan, or the Blue Journals, were libellous. We say libel in its strictest sense, not libel in the Supreme Court form of interpretation.

Factious zeal did so much prejudice the Judge during the Trial, that he was at a great difficulty to distinguish right from wrong, even to construe the proper meaning of the word libel. According to Sir M. Wells' interpretation of the word libel, any exposition of social, moral, and political evils, was a libel ; the practice of these evils was to be indulged without any check, and any man attempting to check them must be brought to the trial of a Court of Justice.

When Sir Mordaunt Lawson Wells first sat on the Judicial Bench of the Supreme Court, Sir M. Wells expressed a strong antipathy towards the natives, whom he declaimed as a nation of forgers and perjurers. For trivial offences he inflicted on them the severest punishments.

For instance, we cite the trial of the well known Mutty Baboo of Santipore. That he was really guilty, everybody knows, but not so much as to deserve the severe punishment of 7 years' transportation. Whereas the murderer Watson, for his having a white skin was "commisserated with, pleaded for, and incontinently removed from the felon's cell to the Civil part of the Jail by the same Judge."

He grossly insulted us and injured our reputation. He encroached on our rights and threw us into the contempt and ridicule of the civilised nations of the Earth. The Natives of India were not Carolina slaves that they will suffer all public indignities. Manfully did they then fight to vindicate their Just cause[1]—a cause which they had every right to assert. Never have we heard of, nor witnessed such a political strife since the conquest of India by the English; a strife on which the destinies of a high functionary and the natives of Bengal were firmly at a stake.

The prosecutor was not an Indigo planter and still the 2nd count was allowed to stand. It was urged that as the prosecutor was a member of the Indigo Planters' Association, so he could sue the Reverend Mr. Long on behalf of the Planters. Admitting the truth of the 2nd count, for arguments' sake, Mr. Brett could not at all sue on behalf of the Planters, for the planters were not a corporate and definite body. The costs of the suit were paid by the Commercial and Land-holders alias the Indigo Planters' Association. The counsel for the prosecutor was a member of the Association, but he nominally withdrew his connection from the Association, and became a counsel to be the prosecutor's counsel. Such was the extent of malice shown towards Mr. Long, that the respectable natives were not allowed by the Supreme Court to wait on a deputation on Mr. Long at the common Jail, for the purpose of presenting him an address which was subsequently forwarded to him in the way of letter, just few days after his being taken in to the Jail.

As for Mr. Seton-Karr, he was wrong only of doing a private affair in a public capacity. Let not any one think, that he was censured by the Government for his adopting a course which was contrary to the interests of the Blues. For, if such would have been the case, the Members of Parliament, the India and Bengal Governments, the several Newspapers of India and abroad, who maintained truth, and advocated the cause of oppressed Ryots, or in other words, spoke against the Planters, would have been censured. Even the very Mr. Seton-Karr, who as president of the Indigo Commission in conjunction with the majority of the members of the Commission, reported a great deal against the planters, would have been censured. The explanation which he forwarded to the Governor-General and which was published for general information, was so reasonable and satisfactory, that it entirely befitted a man of his position and qualifications.

As for Mr. Long, he fulfilled the duties of Christianity,—he suffered "in a good cause—the cause of his Divine Master—the cause of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed." He suffered the public indignities with a patience that expressed a truly Christian, high and magnanimous heart.

"Let us conclude." One of the most memorable events which has thrown a dark spot into the annals of British India, is the trial and condemnation of Rev. J. Long. The manner in which the trial was conducted was clearly expressive of partizanship and strong partiality. It attracted universal attention, and excited the indignation of the right-minded men. The Indigo Planters, their Judical advocate, and the Counsel, expressed so great an aversion for the Rev. Gentleman, that those eminent virtues which enabled him to draw universal notice, and by which he rendered the most eminent service to this country, seemed to them the most detestable vices. No reasonable man will deny that the trial was by far the most unjust that ever disgraced any tribunal of the nineteenth century. In the history of the civilized world there are few examples with which it can bear a true analogy; and to speak more emphatically, it was a disgrace to Christianity, to Truth and to Justice, a disgrace to Reason, and to Conscience.

This unjust trial reminds us of the trial and execution of Nundcoomar. Sir Mordaunt may deservedly be called the Impey of the nineteenth century. In fact he was a true incarnation of that arrogant, haughty, and Bengali-hating Englishman, who at one time, on the same chair, and within the walls of the very same Hall, unjustly condemned the unfortunate Nundcoomar. But if we take a survey of the transactions of the Supreme Court, we shall find, that excepting the trials of Nundcoomar and the Rev. James Long, which are of the blackest dye, and which will be for ever observed with detestation and abhorrence, they are truly deserving of praise. Thus by drawing a disfigured, but an exact picture of the interlopers of Christian Europe, we have set before our readers examples of the most barbarous, horrible, and detestable course of actions. I know not whether I shall have the fortune of getting a Brett to prosecute, and a Wells to condemn or not.—Hindoo Patriot.


The prosecution of the Rev. Mr. Long at Calcutta, for translating and circulating the Bengali drama, called "The Mirror of Indigo Planting," the charge of the judge, and verdict of the jury, will awaken more sympathy in this country on behalf of the ryots, and, by consequence more prejudice against the planters, than all the appeals, petitions, pamphlets, speeches, and newspaper tirades, that could have brought to bear upon the subject during the next fifty years. The impression made on the public mind of England by the proceeding may be considered perfectly irrespective of the actual merits of the case. The question is not so much whether the Indigo Planters—by whom the prosecution was really instituted—were or were not misrepresented in that marvellously tedious spectacle, which Mr. Long thought worth translating as a characteristic illustration of native opinion. The question which strikes the intelligence of the English people is whether a prosecution for libel on such ground should have been instituted at all. What is to become of our vaunts in India of free speech, and political liberty and the rights which men acquire under our happy and liberal constitution, if this kind of general satire—granting it to be a satire—this species of discussion of public interest in popular shapes is to be dealt with as a matter of libel and scandal? In one breath we bestow the privileges of open debate upon the natives and punish them for the exercise of it in the next. There was nothing whatever in the publication that could be tortured into a libel, to the satisfaction of the reason of an English Jury in England. It could not be shown to have injured any one; no one suffered in purse or reputation by it; no person individually alluded to; neither Mr. Brett, nor the Journal of which he is the editor was named; the planters were touched only in their corporate character just as Mrs. Stowe assailed the planters of South America and as every public Journal in this kingdom assails every day in the week every public body to which they happened to be opposed, from the House of Lords down to the parish vestry; and throughout the whole of the extremely lugubrious and clumsy production there was not a solitary passage from which the prosecution attempted to extract a personal application. That the planters should have adopted so odious a means of vindicating themselves from aspersions is quite astonishing, seeing that, whatever the legal result might be, the trial would infallibly attract universal attention and lay bare the system, it is their object to maintain, and which certainly cannot be maintained by actions of this description. In England no man of ordinary experience in public life would ever dream of instituting a prosecution for libel even if the provocation had been a hundred times more direct and injurious. We have long outlived the practice of seeking reparation for wounded character in courts of law; and that case must indeed be special in which public opinion sustains the prosecutor who cannot set his reputation right with the world by other means than an action for defamation. But if censure is to fall on the planters for putting such a case in motion, what is to be thought of the judge who delivered a charge upon the merits such as might be transferred without any violation of consistency to the lips of Jeffreys? If the exposition of the law, and the description of the alleged libel, as laid down by Sir Mordaunt Wells were to be accepted as fair exemplars of the manner in which justice is administered in the tribunals of India, the world would be justified in concluding that, while we are making gigantic strides at home in the way of law improvement, we are rapidly retrograding in the East towards that halcyon system under which suits were decided by other influences than those of equity and common sense. As to the jury in this particular case, their verdict, however, deeply to be regretted, does not excite half the surprise and wonder which the charge of the judge has created amongst all classes in this country.

But the story of this libel is not worked out yet. The catastrophe cannot be said to be accomplished by the fine and imprisonment of Mr. Long. If it were necessary to the ends of truth and justice that the translator should be punished, it is surely not less so that the original author should come in for his share of the penalty? If the libel has done any mischief, it is amongst the natives: and if the prosecution of Mr. Long were justifiable, the planters are bound, by parity of reasoning, to follow up the prosecution against the real offender. The whole force of our administrative power being now engaged in endeavouring to draw the natives into our system, by showing them how much superior it is to their own, so favourable an opportunity of exhibiting to them its justice, magnanimity, and freedom, should not be thrown away.—Home News.

This prosecution is a piece of childish revenge. The Indigo Planters have failed in their attempt to mislead the home public, or shake the firmness of the Home Government: as they seek and find in the passions of the non-official community of Calcutta the means of striking one of a body of men who have been mainly instrumental in enlightening the British nation respecting their relation with the ryots. It has hitherto been a common lament that the rulers of India know so little of the native mind, so little of the undercurrents of native society. But all who have sought to exercise influence of India have striven to increase knowledge of that kind. Missionaries procure at the earliest moment new Hindoo refutations of Christianity; and Governors and Councillors, from the Marquis of Hastings to Mr. Wilson, have assiduously collected native criticisms from their measures. And if the incorporation of India with the empire is to be real and fruitful, if India is to profit by the enlightened judgment of the British Parliament and the humane concern of the British nation, then it is necessary that the feelings and opinions, and even the errors and prejudices of its people, should be known in England. We have not yet stated how Mr. Long's publication was disposed of. Only 202 copies were distributed, and the purpose for which they were issued may be gathered from a glance at the names of the persons to whom those sent to England were addressed. If all Calcutta were impanelled as a jury, the verdict would not persuade the English public that a gentleman, bent on slandering and vilifying a wealthy and powerful class of his countrymen, would send a "foul and filthy" libel to the Rev. Baptist Noel and the Earl of Shaftesbury; or plan a caricature of Indian rural life as veridical on Sir Charles Trevelyan, Lord Stanley, and the Earl of Ellenborough. The mere enumeration of the persons selected as recipients of this translated drama shows that the copies were sent in good faith to acquaint those who in this country pay most attention to Indian subjects with a particular tendency and working of the native mind. This habit of consulting in the first place and by direct means the satisfaction and tranquillity of the people of India, "the native community," as the counsel for the planters called them, should not be offensive to anybody of English settlers in the East, and the Landowners' Association know full well that they will not be allowed to interrupt the flow to England of any information which concerns the good government of that great possession. We believe they will discover before Parliament meets that in instituting this trial they have made a serious mistake.—Daily News.

The Planters, however, instead of attacking the Government fell upon the nearest victim at hand—the unlucky translator. The law of libel stands in India as it stood in England before Lord Campbell's Act, and, with a virulence which men in a large community could not have displayed, they availed themselves of this circumstance to place Mr. Long in the dock on a criminal charge. There was, it will be remembered, no individual libel. The journalists of Calcutta were accused of taking bribes, and the planters of all crimes under the sun except hypocrisy, but no individual was attacked.

The presiding judge, however, delivered an oration against the Nil Durpan, which was just enough, but which the jury and the planters took for a charge against the prisoner, and Mr. Long was found guilty.

It is scarcely necessary to point out in England how completely the planters have destroyed their own safeguard for free speech. The Press in India has constantly to assail the mischiefs and errors inflicted on the community. Civilians, Zemindars, Brahmins, soldiers, have all been assailed—and must be assailed if any good is to be done—in language which may now be twisted into a criminal offence.—Spectator.

Had Mr. Long been tried before a judge who could have looked at the whole circumstances, instead of confining himself to the minutes of English law, the result of trial would, we should think, have been very different.

Mr. Long appears to us to be a very worthy and very unfortunate man who has tried to do a very useful thing without perhaps being as prudent as he should have been, and who has spent a month in prison and had to pay £100, because he was rather unlucky in his counsel and very unlucky in the judge. We cannot wonder that a press habituated to such free-speaking as that of India should fall foul of Sir Mordaunt Wells. But Indian journalists ought to know better than to dream that a judge could be, or ought to be, recalled because he has delivered a foolish charge. We heartily wish that Anglo-Indians would get rid of the pernicious notion—one of the very worst triumphant in America—that an official who displeases popular critics is to be immediately turned out of his office. The independence of judges is of more consequence than the imprisonment or release of a thousand missionaries. No impartial reader can doubt that the charge of Sir Mordaunt Wells is that of a perfectly honest man who did his best, who knows English law as second-rate English lawyers generally do know it by reference to a good stock of precedents, and who only talked nonsense because he wished to put the points that struck him as true in a strong and convincing light. It is impossible to read without a smile the passage in which he represents the reputation of all English women of the middle class at stake because a native dramatist has alleged that the wives of Planters are too intimate with magistrates. There is also an abundance of platitudes, and an attitude of apology for his boldness in having an opinion on so great a subject as freedom of writing, which shows that he is not a very wise or a very able man.—Saturday Review.

A sentence so utterly preposterous cannot, we should hope, be allowed to stand; but if it lead, as we trust it will, to a thorough investigation, on appeal in this country, into the true relation subsisting between the Indigo Planters and the peasantry of India, and (if the report of the trial be correct, as we presume it to be) to a rigorous inquiry into the conduct of the presiding judge, and into the administration of justice in India, it will not have been passed in vain, and Mr. Long's condemnation will have aided the cause of truth and justice.

We may, therefore, expect to hear more of it at some future time and, unless a very different colour be given to the case, it is plain that justice will not be satisfied by a reversal of the decision, without the dismissal of the judge, whose charge to the jury and whose sentence on the defendant show a spirit of partisanship which is never witnessed on the bench in England, and cannot be tolerated in her dependencies.—London Review.

We must not permit ourselves to condole with you, Sir, on your persecution. You have suffered in a good cause—the cause of your Divine Master—the cause of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. The sympathies of Christian England are with you. The natives of India have vied with each other in their expressions of regard. Your missionary brethren have bestowed upon you their cordial commendations. Lastly, you must be sustained by a consciousness that you have performed your duty, and that your prosecution will tend to open the eyes of world to the real character of the System which has incarcerated you in a gaol; and that, by the force of a living example, you have commended Christianity itself to the acceptance of the teeming millions of India.—Extract from the address of the Aborigines' Protection Society to the Revd. J. Long.

The Planters had on their side the confessedly bad libel law of India; they pressed it to the uttermost in a vindictive spirit against the missionaries, but they have overreached themselves.—The Freeman.

The Calcutta judges have certainly established a very dangerous precedent. The liberty of the press was defended in phrase upon the bench, but, in fact, it has been seriously wounded in the house of its professed friends.—The Scotsman.

It is certain that the prosecution will not improve the position of the Planters in the estimation of the public here. Everyone knows that the cultivation of Indigo has been compulsory and unremunerative, not from the fault of the present body of Planters, who took their factories over with the outstanding balances, by which the ryot was bound to cultivate, and under the operation of which he ceased to be free agent. In conversations on the subject in this country, I have heard it remarked that there can be no severer condemnation of the system of Indigo cultivation, than the fact that Government had successively raised the price fixed to the ryot for growing the poppy, while the price of the Indigo plant had remained for twenty, thirty, and forty years, without any improvement. As to the conduct of the Bengal Secretary in circulating the pamphlet under an official frank, as he has himself expressed his regret for this act of indiscretion, I need not advert to it. There can be no doubt that but for this inadvertent act there would have been no prosecution of Mr. Long, and but for the exasperated state of public feeling, the circulation of the pamphiet even in so objectionable a form, would scarcely have excited observation....—The London Correspondent of the Friend of India.

No defence of the judgement on its merits has ever been set up, and I venture to say that none with justice can be maintained. I have conversed on the question with lawyers and politicians. By the former the judgement is regarded as unsound and as seeming to sanction a ground of action in an individual for a general libellous attack upon a class. Whilst by politicians it is spoken of as a direct counteraction of the policy enunciated and set on foot by Mr. Wilson for obtaining a knowledge of native opinion through the medium of vernacular literature. The only two daily journals in London which have at all ventured to approach the subject are the Times and the Daily News, but the opinions expressed by both have been so guarded that I should not be surprised if the truth were that the cue had been received from an official quarter. Your correspondent is not under such influence, and he has no hesitation in declaring his conviction that a more ill-judged and impolitic decision at such a crisis as the present could not have been pronounced. Its evil influence is well calculated to fester in the native mind long after events, which now more prominently attracted attention, have passed away. The disregard of native opinion, the abuse of judicial influence, the stultification of the avowed wishes of the Government and the cruel persecution of an amiable and accomplished Christian minister, all combined to make this trial a dark spot in the annals of Indian misgovernment.—The London Correspondent of the Times of India.

Here many economists observe a struggle between capital and labour waged on Indian soil, not unlike to that which is now agitating our English markets; here traders may reflect how far India offers a promising field for the investment of British Wealth; here lawyers may witness a state trial conducted under a defective law of libel, the freedom of press curtailed, and the jury system miscarrying under popular ferment; religious societies, and, indeed, all men may sympathise with the victimisation of an honest missionary. Indian politicians may find a striking example of the unsatisfactory relation of natives towards Europeans, and of the standing jealousy between civilians and non-civilians; the public may deplore the stifling of weak native voice the first time that its spontaneous expression had a chance of making itself among the dominant race, while to the statesman will be presented the phenomenon of a community agitated by a factious grievance, and of a supreme governor first letting go by the opportunity of allaying public excitement, and then when it had culminated, visiting the consequences of his own default upon the subaltern, who by a venial mistake, had in the first instance been the cause of the popular misconception—Extract from Sir Godfrey Lushington's letter, addressed to the Times.

  1. A meeting of the inhabitants of Calcutta and its suburbs was held at the premises of Raja Radha Kanta Deb Bahadoor, on Monday the 26th August, 1861, at 4 P. M., with the view of submitting a memorial to the Secretary of State for India containing many attacks Sir M. Wells made on several occasions to the jurors, while in the discharge of public duty.
    The memorial in question which was read before the meeting, was carried unanimously, and was sent to England on the 23rd September, 1861. Several leading English journals and the right-minded English gentlemen had each and all declared, that the natives had at last appreciated their constitutional rights, and were deserving of their best thanks for their (Natives') taking proper steps to assert their rights.—See Hindoo Patriot of the 29th August, 1861.