George Pigot, 1st Baron Pigot

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Lord Pigot, by George Willison

George Pigot, 1st Baron Pigot Bt (4 March 1719 – 11 May 1777) was the British governor of Madras (India).

Pigot was the eldest son of Richard Pigot of Westminster, by his wife Frances, daughter of Peter Goode, a Huguenot who had come to England in the late seventeenth century.[1] Frances was a "tirewoman" to Queen Caroline. His brothers were Admiral Hugh Pigot (1722–1792) and Sir Robert.

Pigot entered the service of the East India Company in 1736, at the age of 17; after nineteen years he became governor and commander-in-chief of Madras in 1755. Having defended the city against the French in 1758-1759 and occupied Pondichéry on behalf of the company, he resigned his office in November 1763 and returned to the Kingdom of Great Britain, being made a baronet in 1764.[2] In the following year he obtained the seat of Wallingford in the Parliament of Great Britain, and this he retained until 1768; in 1766 he was created an Irish peer as Baron Pigot, of Patshull in the County of Dublin.[3] From 1768 until his death he sat in the British House of Commons for Bridgnorth.

After Peplow Hall, Shropshire his seat was Patshull Hall, Staffordshire. Returning to India in 1775 to occupy his former position at Madras, Pigot was at once involved in a fierce quarrel with the majority of his council which arose out of the proposed restoration of Thuljaji, the rajah of Tanjore. The governor was arrested by order of his opponents and was still a prisoner when he died.

Meanwhile, the conduct of Pigot was censured by the court of directors in Great Britain, and the order for his restoration was followed immediately by another for his recall. This happened about a month after his death, but before the news had reached Great Britain. In 1779 the matter was discussed in Parliament, and four of those who were responsible for his arrest were tried and were fined 1000 Pounds each. Pigot, who left several illegitimate children, was never married, and his barony became extinct.

Family[edit]

Two of the governor's brothers were men of repute. Sir Robert Pigot (1720–1796), who succeeded to the baronetcy, commanded his regiment (the 38th) at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill during the American Revolutionary War. He became a lieutenant general in 1782. The other brother, Hugh Pigot (c. 1721-1792) was a sailor. After some years of service he became an admiral and commander-in-chief in the West Indies in 1782. One of his sons was General Sir Henry Pigot (1750–1840), and another was Hugh Pigot (1769–1797), a captain in the navy, who was murdered during a mutiny in September 1797 while in command of the HMS Hermione.

Service in the British East India Company[edit]

The ruins of Pondicherry destroyed by the British in 1761 (Seven Years' War). Pondicherry is completely destroyed after its capitulation on the order of Lord Pigot. You can also see the ruins on the French engraving from 1769.

George entered the service of the British 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 Robert 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. Pigot succeeded Thomas Saunders[disambiguation needed] as governor and commander-in-chief of Madras on 14 January 1755. He conducted the defence of the city, when besieged by Thomas-Arthur de Lally in the winter of 1758–9, with considerable skill and spirit. On the capture of Pondichéry by Lieutenant-colonel (afterwards Sir) Eyre Coote (1726–1783) 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 Pondichéry, and destroyed all the fortifications in obedience to the orders previously received from England. Pigot resigned office on 14 November 1763, and forthwith returned to England. He was created a baronet on 5 December 1764, with remainder in default of male issue to his brothers Robert and Hugh, and their heirs male. He represented Wallingford in the British 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 January 1766, he was created an Irish peer with the title of Baron Pigot, of Patshull in the County of Dublin.

Controversy and restoration[edit]

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 December 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 Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah, Nawab of the Carnatic 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 had already asserted that he held assignments on the revenues of Tanjore for sums of vast amount lent by him to the Nawab, 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 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 August 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 authorizing him to sign them in the name of the council. When this letter had been signed by George Stratton[4] and Henry Brooke[disambiguation needed], 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 23 August, 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 small presents from the Nawab 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. 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.

Death[edit]

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 willful murder against all those who had been concerned in Pigot's arrest. The real contest throughout had been between the Nawab of Arcot and the Raja of Tanjore. Members of the council took sides, and Pigot exceeded his powers while endeavouring to carry out the instructions of the directors. 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. 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 February 1780, they were each sentenced to pay a fine of £1,000, on payment of which they were discharged.

Family[edit]

Pigot was unmarried. Upon his death the Irish barony became extinct, while the baronetcy devolved upon his brother Robert Pigot. He left several natural children, among others

  1. Sophia Pigot, who married, on 14 March 1776, the Hon. Edward Monckton of Somerford Hall, Staffordshire, and died on 1 January 1834;
  2. Richard Pigot (1774–1868), general in the army and colonel of the 4th dragoon guards;
  3. Sir Hugh Pigot, K.C.B. (1775–1857), admiral of the White;
  4. Leonora, who received a fortune under her father's will and married 17 Oct. 1777 Claud Russell, member of the Madras Council; to the memory of her and her husband there is a tablet in Marylebone Church.
  5. Major George Pigot (1772?-1830) Along with Richard and Hugh, son of Catherine Hill. Member of settler community who immigrated from England (1820) to present Eastern-Cape coast of South Africa.
  6. Mary Green (c.1772-1852) who married, aged twelve in 1784, John Blashfield of Presteigne, Radnorshire.

Pigot was created an LL.D. of the university of Cambridge on 3 July 1769. He is said to have paid £100,000 for the purchase of the Patshull estate in Staffordshire.

The Pigot Diamond[edit]

Pigot owned a celebrated diamond, now 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 £23,998, 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 £30,000 to Ali Pasha. It is stated that, when mortally wounded by Reshid Pasha (5 February 1822), he ordered that it should be crushed to powder in his presence, which was done.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Marshall, P. J. (2004). "Pigot, George, Baron Pigot (1719–1777)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 10472. p. 1. 20 November 1764.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 10586. p. 2. 24 December 1765.
  4. ^ "The Genealogy of the Stratton Family". kittybrewster.com. "George Stratton of Madras and Tew Park, Born Madras, 12th December 1733. Died Great Tew, Oxon, 20th March 1800. Buried Great Tew, "in woollen only", 28th March 1800. Exponent of proactive régime change and thereby Governor of Madras 1776." 
Bibliography
Attribution
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
John Hervey
Sir John Gibbons
Member of Parliament for Wallingford
1765–1768
With: Sir John Gibbons
Succeeded by
John Aubrey
Robert Pigot
Preceded by
John Grey
William Whitmore
Member of Parliament for Bridgnorth
1768–1777
With: William Whitmore 1768–177
Thomas Whitmore 1771–1777
Succeeded by
Thomas Whitmore
Hugh Pigot
Peerage of Ireland
New creation Baron Pigot
1766–1777
Extinct
Baronetage of Great Britain
New creation Baronet
(of Patshull)
1763–1777
Succeeded by
Robert Pigot