Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive(1725-1774), Governor of Bengal
Sitter in 9 portraits
Robert Clive is one of the most controversial figures in British history, responsible for establishing the East India Company’s power over much of India and amassing vast personal wealth. Clive first worked in Madras in 1744 as a clerk of the East India Company. Given responsibility for supplying provisions to the company’s troops, he began to acquire his fortune. Despite no formal military training, he joined the company’s military service and saw success in battle. In 1751 he fought the French for control of southern India. In 1756 he recaptured Calcutta, and at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, he defeated the Nawab, the governor of Bengal, and took control of the region. Having established Mir Jafar as the new Nawab, Clive and company officials plundered the treasury. Clive served twice as Governor of Bengal, increasing taxes, decreasing wages and failing to respond to droughts and floods. His actions are regarded as being responsible for establishing the preconditions for the Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 in which 3 million died. A charge he denied at the time. He was criticised by many for the vast wealth he amassed in India. Following the Bengal Famine, demands were made for an inquiry into corruption charges and in 1772 the East India Company acknowledged a need for reform. Clive sat on the select committee of inquiry and was called as witness.
Watch a film clip on the sitter from the BBC Archive in the Media section below
by Francis Hayman
oil on canvas, circa 1760