VANSITTART, Henry (1732-?70), of Foxley, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. 3 June 1732, 3rd s. of Arthur Vansittart of Shottesbrook, and bro. of Arthur and George Vansittart. educ. Reading sch. m.1 June 1754 at Madras, Emilia, da. of John Morse, late gov. of Madras, 5s. 2da.
Member of council, Madras 1756; gov. of Bengal 1760-4; director, E.I. Co. 1769- d.
Henry Vansittart entered the service of the East India Company at an unusually early age in 1746, became proficient in Persian, and served with distinction in the Madras presidency. He won the approbation of Clive in India and Laurence Sulivan at East India House, and after being transferred to Bengal in 1758, took office as governor in 1760. His governorship was turbulent, marked by the deposition of two nawabs, dissensions within his council, and the massacre of Patna; but his attempts to halt the disorganization in the Company’s affairs and establish satisfactory relations with the native powers won him the support and friendship of the young Warren Hastings. He was rumoured to have acquired a great fortune, but he does not seem to have succeeded in remitting more than a part of it to England and his wealth was probably greatly exaggerated.1
His career in England resembled that of many prominent nabobs. He lived in lavish style, purchased Foxley in 1765, and amassed a fine collection of Eastern curios, animals, and objets d’art. But so far did his expenses exceed his income that in less than two years he was seeking to return to India as governor of Bengal.2 Unfortunately for him, the feud between Clive and Sulivan in the Company was at its height and, despite efforts to remain friendly with both sides, he found himself forced into the camp of Sulivan, at that time out of power. In consequence not only was his aim frustrated, but he was attacked for his activities in India and was threatened with prosecution by the Company. He defended himself in a pamphlet, A Narrative of the Transactions in Bengal for the Years 1760-1764, published in 1766, but also found it necessary to take an active and expensive part in the creation of fictitious votes in the Company’s elections in an attempt to bring his friends back into power.3 His decision to contest Reading at the general election of 1768 may have been undertaken to strengthen his pretensions to office in India. He was returned after a contest, and during his brief period in the House voted with Government.
At the Company elections of April 1769 Vansittart and his friends succeeded after great exertions in gaining seats on the court of directors, but a crash in stock prices involved them in heavy losses and made Vansittart’s financial position desperate. A compromise followed, which permitted his appointment as one of three commissioners sent out in October 1769 to reform abuses in India, a chance which he eagerly seized. But the frigate Aurora on which the commissioners sailed was lost with all hands after leaving the Cape of Good Hope on 24 Dec. 1769. Vansittart was legally presumed dead in 1772, but the House of Commons refused to issue a new writ for Reading. His widow and family were at first left in very straitened circumstances, but after long efforts friends and relations in India succeeded in salving some part of his fortune.4