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The Impeachment of Warren Hastings, 1788
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The Impeachment of Warren Hastings, 1788

Measurements: Overall: 32.5cm (13in) x 29cm (11.5in)



Engraved admission ticket to the trial of Warren Hastings, bearing the signature of the Hon. John Yorke (1728-1801) of Sonning, Berkshire, 4th son of the 1st Earl of Hardwicke, M.P. for Higham Ferrers and Reigate. Framed and glazed.

The trial of of the former Governor General of India on corruption charges began in February 1788 and was widely regarded as a social event, as well as a wider debate about the expanding empire in India. It was conducted at Westminster Hall with members of the House of Commons seated to Hastings’ right and the Lords to his left and a large audience of spectators, including royalty, in the boxes and public galleries. The Irish orator and political philosopher Edmund Burke kicked off the proceedings, taking four days to cover all the charges of misconduct, mismanagement and personal corruption against Hastings.

In spite of the early excitement about the trial public interest in it began to wane as other major events occurred, particularly the French Revolution. Even Richard Brinsley Sheridan, complained he was ‘heartily tired of the Hastings trial’ despite being one of its instigators. As the trial progressed, public attitudes about Hastings also began to shift. Hastings had initially been overwhelmingly portrayed as guilty in the popular press, but doubts were increasingly raised. Increased support for Hastings may have been a result of declining perceptions of his accusers, many of whom had supported the American Revolution but opposed the French. A cartoon by Gillray portrayed Hastings as the ‘Saviour of India’ being assaulted by bandits resembling Burke and Charles James Fox.

By the time the verdict was due to be delivered one-third of the peerage who had been alive when the trial started in 1788 had died. Those who had been in continuous attendance numbered twenty-nine and it was these peers who passed the final verdict of not guilty. Despite his acquittal, Hastings was financially ruined by the impeachment and was left with debts of £70,000. Unlike many other Indian officials he had not amassed a large fortune while in India and he had to fund his legal defence, which had cost an estimated £71,000, out of his own funds.