Oakeley, Charles (DNB00)

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OAKELEY, Sir CHARLES, first Baronet (1751–1826), governor of Madras, second son of William Oakeley, M.A., of Balliol College, Oxford, rector of Forton, Staffordshire, by his wife Christian, daughter of Sir Patrick Strahan, was born at Forton on 27 Feb. 1751. After being educated at Shrewsbury school, he obtained, through his father's friend, Lady Clive, a nomination to a writership on the East India Company's Madras establishment, received his appointment in October 1766, and arrived at his station on 6 June 1767. For five or six years he was assistant to the secretary to the civil department; was then, in January 1773, promoted to succeed Mr. Goodlad in the secretaryship; and in May 1777 was removed to the corresponding post in the military and political department, combined with the offices of judge-advocate-general and translator. These duties he discharged with diligence and commendation till November 1780, when he was compelled to resign them in consequence of ill-health.

When Lord Macartney, in the summer of 1781, had succeeded in obtaining from the nabob of Arcot an assignment of his revenues to defray the expenses of the war in the Carnatic, a committee, called the committee of assigned revenue, was appointed to superintend the collection of the revenues and to apply them. Of this committee Oakeley was made president. He began his duties in January 1782. In spite of the hostility of the nabob's servants and subjects, and of the great extent of Hyder Ali's conquests in the territories of the nabob, the board succeeded in raising the Arcot contribution to the war fund from one and a quarter pagodas to nearly forty-four pagodas; and, while greatly forwarding the difficult task of feeding the army, secured a considerable surplus, which was handed over to the nabob on the conclusion of the war in March 1784. For these services the committee was publicly thanked by the governor-general and the council of Bengal; and even Burke, in his speech on the nabob of Arcot's debts, spoke of its services in high terms.

The ability which Oakeley had displayed in these affairs led to his appointment in April 1786 by Sir Archibald Campbell to the presidency of the new board of revenue of Madras. This office, however, he was compelled by family affairs to resign early in 1788, and in February 1789 he sailed for Europe on board the Manship.

Having been two-and-twenty years in India, and being still some distance in point of seniority from membership of council, he had little expectation or desire of further service. Pitt and Dundas, however, to whom Sir Archibald Campbell had recommended him, pressed him to return, and, the court of directors having in 1789 placed on record its high appreciation of his services, he was appointed in April 1790 to succeed General Medows as governor of Madras, and was also gazetted a baronet on 5 June. It was expected that the transfer of General Medows to the governor-generalship of Bengal would take place forthwith, and Oakeley was accordingly sworn in as governor. But when the news arrived of the outbreak of fresh hostilities with Tippoo Sahib, the vacation of the governorship by Medows was necessarily postponed, and Oakeley was placed second in council at Madras, till the course of the war should render it possible for General Medows to be transferred. Arriving in Madras on 15 Oct. 1790, he found General Medows in the field, and therefore assumed, in his absence, charge of the civil administration of Madras, a task rendered doubly difficult by the great and constant needs of the army, and the extreme financial embarrassment of the company's Madras exchequer. As this was largely due to want of public confidence in the government, Oakeley, instead of borrowing from Bengal or Europe, proceeded to improve the administration of Madras. He retrenched expenses, enforced a more efficient collection of revenue, caused rupees, which formerly had been mere bullion and were converted into pagodas at great cost of time and money, to circulate as currency at less than their market value, and exacted a subsidy of ten lacs per annum from the rajah of Travancore, on whose account the war had been commenced. But perhaps the measure which most tended to restore public credit was the resumption of cash payments for all army and public obligations, which had previously been made only in the case of the most pressing debts. The only exception which he made was in the case of his own official salary, which remained unpaid till the close of the war, though he had meantime to borrow money at twelve per cent. for his own private expenses.

These measures were taken only just in time. On 26 May 1791 Lord Cornwallis was compelled, in spite of victory in the field, to retire from Seringapatam, destroying his battering train for want of the means of transport. Heavy requisitions were consequently made on the Madras government for draught cattle, stores, and funds. Fortunately, Oakeley's reforms had enabled the presidency revenue to meet so large a portion of the expenses of the war that the supplies from Bengal and from England had accumulated to nearly a million sterling, and the company's twelve-per-cent. bonds, recently at a discount, had gone to a premium. The requisitions of Lord Cornwallis were therefore promptly and amply met. Oakeley poured into the field of operations money, grain, and cattle. Lord Cornwallis wrote to him several letters (e.g. 6 July and 4 Aug. 1791, and 1 Jan. and 31 May 1792) recognising the value of this assistance; and the presidency of Bengal benefited greatly by the ability of Madras to bear so large a part of the burden. On the conclusion of the war in March 1792 General Medows quitted Madras, and Oakeley entered on the full authority of governor. He at once attacked the question of converting the company's floating debt. Step by step he converted the twelve-per-cent. war debt into eight-per-cent. bonds or paid it off, and afterwards the whole of the eight-per-cent. debt, incurred chiefly before the war, was paid off or converted into six-per-cent. obligations, which, in spite of the reduction of interest, speedily went to a premium. Accordingly, when the news reached India, in June 1793, of the outbreak of war with France, a fully equipped army was promptly despatched against Pondicherry, and five lacs of pagodas remitted to Bengal without disturbance to the government credit. The Pondicherry expedition was planned and directed by the Madras government, and had been, in fact, undertaken on Oakeley's own responsibility some weeks in advance of instructions from home, and as soon as the news of the outbreak of war arrived overland. It was successfully completed by the fall of Pondicherry in August 1793. On 7 Sept. 1794 Oakeley handed over the government to Lord Hobart, and, returning to England, received, on 5 Aug. 1795, the thanks of the court of directors for his eminent services.

Always much attached to the county of his birth, he settled at the Abbey, Shrewsbury, near the residence of his father, who was now rector of Holy Cross, Shrewsbury, and lived there till in 1810 he removed to the Palace, Lichfield. A seat in parliament had been offered him by Sir William Pulteney during his first visit to England in 1789, but the offer was declined. Shortly after his final return he was sounded as to his willingness to accept the governor-generalship, but this he was equally unwilling to accept. He corresponded with Dundas on Indian affairs from time to time, but for the most part occupied himself with classical studies and the education of his sons. At the time of the expected invasion by Bonaparte he commanded a volunteer regiment of foot raised in Shrewsbury. His last years were marked by unaffected piety and open-handed benevolence, and the administration of local charities owed much to his care. Having been acquainted with the educational work in Madras of Dr. Andrew Bell [q. v.], he assisted warmly in the establishment of the National Society's schools on Bell's system in Shrewsbury and Lichfield. He died at the Palace, Lichfield, on 7 Sept. 1826, and was buried privately at Forton. There is a monument to his memory by Chantrey in Lichfield Cathedral. He married, on 19 Oct. 1777, Helena, only daughter of Robert Beatson of Kilrie, Fifeshire, a woman of great energy and artistic talent. By her he had eleven children, ten of whom survived him. Of these, two sons, Sir Herbert and Frederick Oakeley, are separately noticed; a third son, Henry, became a judge of the supreme court, Calcutta, and predeceased his father on 2 May 1826.

[Autobiographical Account of the Services of Sir Charles Oakeley, edited by his son, Sir Herbert, 1836, privately printed; Cornwallis Corresp. ed. 1859, ii. 170, 226; Gent. Mag. 1826, pt. ii. p. 371.]

J. A. H.