Hastings went back (1769) to India as a member of the Madras council and became (1772) governor of Bengal, immediately embarking on a course of judicial and financial reform, law codification, and the suppression of banditry, measures that laid the foundation of direct British rule in India. In 1774, he was appointed governor-general of India. This position was created by Lord North's Regulating Act (1773), which also set up a four-member governing council. In the succeeding years Hastings was greatly hampered by opposition in the council, especially from Sir Philip Francis. Another problem he encountered in his new position was the ill-defined relationship with and resulting lack of control over the subordinate provincial governors. The interference of the Bombay government in Maratha affairs led to a war with the Marathas, while the blunders of the Madras government provoked conflict with Haidar Ali of Mysore. In both cases Hastings, conscious of the danger of French intervention, dispatched armies from Bengal that saved the British position. Nonetheless he was criticized for interference with the provincial governments.
Hastings resigned (1784) and returned to England, where he was charged with high crimes and misdemeanors by Edmund Burke and Sir Philip Francis, whom he had wounded in a duel in India. The chief charges against him concerned his extortion of money from the rajah of Benares and the begum of Oudh, his hiring out of British troops to the nawab of Oudh to subdue the Rohillas (a warlike Afghan tribe), and his alleged responsibility for the judicial murder of an Indian merchant, Nandkumar. He was impeached in 1787; but the trial, begun in 1788, ended with acquittal in 1795, despite the bitter prosecution of Burke, Francis, Richard B. Sheridan, and Charles James Fox. Hastings's fortune was spent in the defense, but the East India Company contributed to his later support. He became popular and was made a privy councilor (1814).
See biographies by A. M. Davies (1935), K. G. Feiling (1955, repr. 1967), and J. Bernstein (2000); studies by P. Moon (1947, repr. 1962) and P. J. Marshall (1965).
After an eventful ten-year tenure in which he greatly extended and regularised the nascent Raj created by Clive of India, Hastings resigned in 1784. On his return to England he was charged with high crimes and misdemeanours by Edmund Burke, encouraged by Sir Philip Francis whom he had wounded in a duel in India. He was impeached in 1787 but the trial, which began in 1788, ended with his acquittal in 1795. Hastings spent most of his fortune on his defence, although towards the end of the trial the East India Company did provide financial support.
He retained his supporters, however, and on August 22, 1806, the Edinburgh East India Club and a number of gentlemen from India gave what was described as "an elegant entertainment" to "Warren Hastings, Esq., late Governor-General of India", who was then on a visit to Edinburgh. One of the 'sentiments' drunk on the occasion was "Prosperity to our settlements in India, and may the virtue and talents which preserved them be ever remembered with gratitude.
In 1788 he acquired the estate at Daylesford, Gloucestershire, including the site of the medieval seat of the Hastings family. In the following years, he remodelled the mansion to the designs of Samuel Pepys Cockerell, with magnificent classical and Indian decoration, and gardens landscaped by John Davenport. He also rebuilt the Norman church in 1816, where he was buried two years later.
“Every application of knowledge and especially such as is obtained in social communication with people, over whom we exercise dominion, founded on the right of conquest, is useful to the state … It attracts and conciliates distant affections, it lessens the weight of the chain by which the natives are held in subjection and it imprints on the hearts of our countrymen the sense of obligation and benevolence… Every instance which brings their real character will impress us with more generous sense of feeling for their natural rights, and teach us to estimate them by the measure of our own… But such instances can only be gained in their writings; and these will survive when British domination in India shall have long ceased to exist, and when the sources which once yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance”
During Hastings' time in this post, a great deal of precedent was established pertaining to the methods which the British Empire would use in its administration of India. Hastings had a great respect for the ancient scripture of Hinduism and fatefully set the British position on governance as one of looking back to the earliest precedents possible. This allowed Brahmin advisors to mold the law, as no Englishman understood Sanskrit until Sir William Jones; it also accentuated the caste system and other religious frameworks which had, at least in recent centuries, been somewhat incompletely applied. Thus, British influence on the ever-changing social structure of India can in large part be characterized as, for better or for worse, a solidification of the privileges of the caste system through the influence of the exclusively high-caste scholars by whom the British were advised in the formation of their laws.
In 1781, Hastings founded Madrasa 'Aliya, meaning the higher madrasa, in Calcutta showing his relations with the Muslim population. In addition, in 1784 Hastings supported the foundation of the Bengal Asiatik Society (now Asiatic Society of Bengal by the Orientalist Scholar William Jones, which became a storehouse for information and data pertaining to India.
As Hastings had few Englishmen to carry out administrative work, and still fewer with the ability to converse in local tongues, he was forced to farm out revenue collection to locals with no ideological friendship for Company rule. Moreover, he was ideologically committed at the beginning of his rule to the administration being carried out by 'natives'. He believed that Europeans revenue collectors would "open the door to every kind of rapine and extortion" as there was "a fierceness in the European manners, especially among the lower sort, which is incompatible with the gentle temper of the Bengalee".
British desire to assert themselves as the sole sovereign led to conflicts within this 'dual government' of Britons and Indians. The very high levels of revenue extraction and exportation of Bengali silver back to Britain had probably contributed to the famine of 1769-70, in which it has been estimated that a third of the population died; this led to the British characterising the collectors as tyrants and blaming them for the ruin of the province.
Some Englishmen continued to be seduced by the opportunities to acquire massive wealth in India and as a result became involved in corruption and bribery, and Hastings could do little or nothing to stop it. Indeed it was argued (unsuccessfully) at his impeachment trial that he participated in the exploitation of these newly conquered lands.
The nationalists in the subcontinent consider Hastings as another English bandit, along with Clive, who started the colonial rule in the subcontinent through treachery and cunning . However, it should be pointed out that other bandits, English or otherwise, did not found colleges and madrasas, nor helped to collect and translate Sanskrit works into English.