R. G. Casey’s Governorship of Bengal (1944-1946) was a short wartime appointment in a province troubled by famine, the threat of invasion, and rising communalism, prior to its partition in 1947. Drawing on the diaries of Casey and his wife Maie, Associate Professor Kama Maclean will focus on Casey’s attempts to ameliorate the effects of the famine, which included working with Australian civil society organisations who lobbied to raise funds for famine relief.
Kama Maclean is an Associate Professor of South Asian and World History at the University of New South Wales, author, and editor. Kama is a 2019 NLA Fellow supported by the Harold S Williams Trust.
Kama Maclean - Fellowship Presentation - An Australian Governor in British India R. G. Casey and the Endgame of Empire
*Speakers: Chris Wallace (C), Kama MacLean (K), Kathryn Favell (F)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 29th August 2019
C: Good evening and thank you for coming together at the National Library on this late winter Canberra evening. I know this is a very motivated audience for a very fascinating presentation on Richard Gardiner Casey, the Bengal famine and Australia India relations to be presented by Dr Kama MacLean, Associate Professor of History from the University of New South Wales.
At the outset I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, their elders past, present and emerging.
Now Kama MacLean is a very unusual Australian historian. We tend as a tribe to spend way too much time on our own patch. Kama is extremely precious in that she has spent and continues to spend most of her career focusing on India. In this project funded as a Harold S Williams Trust Fellowship she’s been delving deeply not only into the National Library of Australia’s very rich India collection but its incredible collection of Casey papers, an extraordinary Australian family of note over several generations. But in the case of Kama’s research in this project, focusing on Richard Casey, Dick Casey, who had an extraordinary career in Australian public life as a diplomat, as a politician and during World War 2 remarkably enough as an official of the larger British project.
After he was Australian Ambassador in Washington he was tapped by Winston Churchill to first become British Minister of State including as a Minister of the War Cabinet in Cairo, basically overseeing the entire British operation in the Middle East. Subsequently he was despatched to Bengal as Governor, a job he accepted on the basis that he would return to Australia at the end of the war and resume life here and continue his contribution here.
Dick Casey was married to an extraordinary woman, May Casey, and in many ways it was kind of a joint operation. Kama and I joke that together we form the Casey Research Institute. We’re probably two of the only scholars in the world at the moment working on the Caseys and I think with our joint industry we hope to attract a lot more. So I can’t wait to hear Kama’s presentation tonight. What’s going to make it really special is we all think we understand the Caseys but what’s different about what Kama does is she brings her rich and deep knowledge of contemporary and modern Indian history and politics to provide an understanding, a context, perspectives that scholars unlike her who aren’t steeped in Indian history and politics just can’t give. So we’re incredibly grateful to the National Library and the sponsor for providing this fellowship and we can’t wait to hear the results. Kama, tell us all about it.
K: Thank you so much, Chris, that was an extremely generous introduction and I’d also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand today.
In this talk I want to flag at the outset I’m not going to give you anything new in the world of scholarship on the Bengal famine. When I came here I realised very quickly when I started working through Casey’s papers that what I found was fairly consistent with the current scholarly consensus on the famine which I will talk about but that’s not my intention. My intention here is actually about Australia India relations and I’ll explain to you why I feel that is the case.
I’m actually just finished - while I was here in Canberra the last three months I finished the last chapter of my third book which I’ve called British India, White Australia, Overseas Indians, Intercolonial Relations and the Empire. It’s forthcoming with UNSW Press next year in March. It’s a story about Australia India relations before Australia India relations really take off in 1947 which is when India becomes independent.
In this book I looked at the ways in which Indians who are resident in Australia before the white Australia policy and the civil rights they actually lacked shaped to a very large extent the relations between Australia and India. But in particular what I wanted to focus on, and if I could reduce this book to a sentence, it would be that one of the mantras of Australia India relations almost to this day – I think it’s shifting now – is that it’s ordered around the three Cs, Commonwealth, curry and cricket. It always gets a laugh.
I focus on Commonwealth because there’s a presumption that India and Australia share a history in the Commonwealth and one of the things I’m at pains to establish in this book is that in fact Australia and India were members of the Commonwealth – are members of the Commonwealth but on very different terms and historically they were members of the Commonwealth on very different terms.
Australia of course was a self-governing colony from the early 20th century while India was considered a dependency that was not yet ready for self-government and that fundamentally conscribed the relationship with India and Australia to the mother country, Britain. So we often talk about India and Australia as being colonial cousins but like a lot of family relationships there can be a lot of dysfunctionality involved. I think when we look at the way in which Australia India relations were sort of constructed up until the 1940s, let’s say 1947 when India does become independent and finally in charge of its own foreign relations there’s actually a significant prehistory which it needs to be worked against. I don’t think as Australians we did this particularly well but I do think Dick Casey got it to an extent. So what I’ll try and explain is what I think he actually brings to this story.
So as I started to read a lot of the materials involved regarding his tenure in Bengal, and he’s only there for two years and so existing biographies of him and of May Casey really don’t dwell on it in any great detail. I mean for one they’re much more interested in his time in London or his time in Washington or indeed his very distinguished Australian career as a statesman, whether that be as External Affairs Minister or as Governor-General. So this two years has always been seen as a bit of a blip and certainly an honour in his career but there hasn’t been a lot of attention given to it.
So what I'm going to try to do today is to give you a sense of what he does in Bengal and what that means for Australia India relations. I want to look at what this means for Australia India relations because in fact his appointment in Bengal in 1944 occurs at a time when formal relations with Australia and India are actually opened up. The first High Commissioner – Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi is placed in effect in – at exactly the same time as Casey happens to accept the role of Governor of Bengal. Interestingly the two go back so Sir Ivan Mackay is the High Commissioner in New Delhi for Australia. The two have a history, they get along reasonably well and they kind of work together to try and further Australia India relations. So there’s a very interesting dynamic that happens between them that actually doesn’t hurt at all in fact.
Now the larger story of course is the world is at war, we’re talking literally about a war appointment here. Now this is a wonderfully rich map, it actually – it’s an American map but it gives you a sense of how strategically important India was considered in the Second World War. War makes rich, teeming, dissenting India Britain’s chief treasure and problem and I’m going to talk about this sort of problem-based conception of India that we see a lot of in the 1940s.
Of course India in the 1930s had been given a greater degree of self-governance. There were Indian governments installed in the provinces in 1937 and when war breaks out in 1939 Britain names India as being at war without consultation. Many of those governments are led by congress governments and they all resign in protest. In 1942 there’s the Quit India movement which is led by Gandhi which is very vigorously put down and that is - that gives you a sense of dissenting India that Britain is trying to manage.
It does also relate to Australia. This is actually just an inset of the map, that the [secret] 9:16 from Britain through the Suez Canal to India, Australia, Hong Kong and the Malay Peninsula is called the British lifeline because it provides a shortcut of some 5,000 miles in the transportation by water of many products considered necessary to the life and comfort of the British people. This is tobacco, coffee, cane sugar, indigo, wheat, dairy products and so on and so forth. So maintaining control of India was essential for the British lifeline which ultimately extended to Australia.
Now this of course changes quite dramatically in 1941 with Japan’s entry to the war and the – in particular the fall of Burma in 1942 which is very, very close to Bengal. Bengal actually becomes the focus of wartime operations for the British in India and it’s this province of course that Casey inherits in 1944 when he’s appointed Governor of Bengal. So Bengal in 1944 is part of the war front now, it’s very close to Burma. Calcutta is the capital of Bengal and it’s also bombed by the Japanese in 1943, December 1943, just before Casey’s arrival. The losses are not immense but it does create an enormous amount of anxiety in Calcutta and Bengal and of course Calcutta is an industrial city and it’s therefore strategically important for that reason alone in India.
There is also the very strong presence of American troops in Calcutta and in general in the province of Bengal and also a few Australian troops as well which introduce problems of their own.
The Viceroy of India in the second world war was initially Lord Linlithgow and he doesn’t manage the province as well as he ought to have, an issue that I will actually come back to but what is important about Bengal in 1944 is it’s one of the few provinces in British India that is still under control of an Indian Ministry. It’s a Ministry led by the Muslim League and it’s a coalition so it’s a little bit unstable to say the least and I’ll give you a little sense of that as we move through.
There is a provision in the Government of India Act 1937 which allows – 1935 in fact – that allows for a Governor who – and Governors were all British with the exception of Casey – to declare a provincial government unstable and to take over direct rule of the province. That also happens quite a lot during the Second World War. By the time Casey gets there there’s I think only – there’s four provinces which are ruled by Indian Ministries and the rest of them are all ruled by British Governors.
There’s also escalating communal tension and in India where we talk about communal tension we talk about tension between Hindu and Muslim communities often to the point of violence. There is debates about imminent decolonisation, there’s been rounds of negotiation about the timing and the nature of the British withdrawal and a lot of debate about whether India will remain within the Commonwealth or not. There’s discussions about whether Pakistan will happen. When Casey first arrives in Bengal he believes Pakistan is just an idea and of course it materialises very rapidly by 1946 so that’s also a destabilising factor but most importantly for our purposes tonight is the presence of the famine which is called the Bengal famine of 1943.
1943 is significant in two respects, one is because there’ve been many other famines before this, especially from the late 19th century and there was actually – the Government of India had actually written out a famine code that should be operationalised whenever famine in any given region was declared and it wasn’t in this particular case. But more importantly people have thought of the Bengal famine of 1943 as happening only in 1943 and being over by 1943 and one of the most important books I think on the famine in recent years is a book by an American scholar by the name of Janam Mukherjee called Hungry Bengal who argues very persuasively that the effects of the Bengal famine can be seen right up ‘til 1947.
Yes, people are extremely unwell and large numbers of people die. We’re talking around about three million people, possibly north of that who die in the famine so very substantial numbers we’re actually talking about here and they continue to die, really. The bodies of these people, if they don’t die in 1943 are substantially weakened and they often fall prey to various epidemics, cholera, smallpox and malaria were all major challenges that Casey also had to actually deal with once he arrived in Bengal.
So the Bengal famine in 1943 is definitely a phenomenon and again I actually don’t wish to show very many images of famine victims in this talk but I think it’s important to give you a sense of how devastating it actually was. This is actually a really important newspaper spread that was published in 1943, it’s actually August, I think, 27, 1943 by the British editor of an Indian newspaper, The Statesman. There were in fact defensive India rules which effectively mandated press censorship in 1943.
Now the issue here is of course that the famine was seen as a problem for the empire and a problem for the war effort but not necessarily a problem for the humanitarian tragedy that it was causing. As a result of this one of the empire’s policies was to limit all kinds of press exposure of the famine, especially internationally. For some time this is actually observed but finally Ian Stephens, this British editor comes out and very bravely actually defies defensive India rules by publishing this in a Calcutta newspaper that is also picked up around other parts of India and this is the first time that a sense of the extent and the carnage of the famine is understood outside of Calcutta. It was also relayed in the US where again this puts a lot of pressure on the British Government because the US generally is disapproving of colonialism and especially when it causes this kind of humanitarian havoc.
The causes of the famine as you can see by Ian Stephens’ own account were manmade. Now there is a presumption, I think, a very heavy presumption that in India famine comes about as a result of culture or as a result of bad weather patterns and there are bad weather patterns in India and it is predominantly an agricultural economy we’re talking about. But to presume that its culture that makes famine a phenomenon in India simply won’t do. It’s a product of political economy and it is often a product, especially in the case of 1943, of very bad administrative choices which are human choices. A lot of these choices are made by British governments.
So the case of the Bengal famine was first of all wartime economy. The wartime economy basically doubled the price of food in 1941 alone which meant that Bengal’s rural poor simply struggled to afford food. So even before 1943 came about there were people who were already struggling to get enough sustenance.
On top of that there’s a number of other factors. There's a bad harvest in 1943, granted, which is impacted further by a cyclone. The occupation of Burma means that there’s a loss of imports from Burma into India and so that amount of rice which was expected is lost but what is most critical I think is the denial policy which is a policy made by the Government of India to deny advancing Japanese forces of any rice or any boats that might aid their advance.
Now of course the predominant staples in Bengal are rice and fish and if you don’t have boats you can’t fish and so the means to be able to feed themselves was basically deprived of many Bengalis. In addition to that when the extent of the famine was realised appeals from the Viceroy to the War Cabinet in London to send food immediately was basically denied and again there’s a very good book on this by a journalist by the name of Mukherjee as well and it’s called Churchill’s Secret War about how decisions made by Churchill failed to send grains to India. And that part of this was Churchill’s own disinclination to support India as a wartime priority.
The other thing to note about the Bengal famine which I think is important and you can get a sense from this particular slide is that the – it impacts the poor in a devastating way and especially the rural poor. Many of them flock into Calcutta in search of food but it also happens in the midst of plenty so not everybody is undernourished in Bengal in 1943 and onwards. But some people can’t afford to buy food and it’s the poor that are obviously most badly impacted by this and life at one level goes on, the Caseys’ life for example goes on as I’ll explain in the next few slides.
Now there was a lot of propaganda throughout the empire to demonstrate that the famine once news of it hit through The Statesman, it was then relayed in Life magazine in the US and there was a sense that the British should do something and propaganda photographs of this kind were released to assure people that supplies of food were actually being sent but they were also quite inadequate and I’ll come back to the issue of Australian wheat because Australia had a surplus of wheat. All movements and imports and exports of food was controlled by the War Cabinet in London and ultimately we were dependent upon shipping to move supplies from anywhere actually in the world. The War Cabinet was – but it refused, basically, to provide the shipping needed from Australia to Bengal where it was most needed.
In the midst of all this of course the Caseys arrive in India in 1944, January of 1944 he arrives. Now I’ve given you the background upon which I want to try and sketch what I want to say about Australia India relations and in particular perceptions in India and in Australia about Casey and his work in Bengal. I want to in particular focus on – as an analytic how Casey was actually seen in the press and so my method here is to actually compare Indian press and Australian press and to look at the ways in which they are actually contrasted and there is quite a strong contrast as you may expect.
This is also doubly interesting because Casey had an extraordinary sense of his media profile and his media presence. He was extensively photographed in his time in Bengal. I tried to find photographs of Sir Ivan Mackay, the Australian High Commissioner and I could not come up with much at all. I found a photograph of him at the War Memorial in 1948 and that was the best I could find. Casey, however, and May Casey and their children as you will see were extensively documented. I think this was as a result of his own consciousness of the importance of the media and of speaking to the media and being presented in the media in a particular kind of light and he was very, very good at crafting his own media image as we will see. It wasn’t harmed of course by the fact that he was very good friends with Cecil Beaton, the photographer and Cecil Beaton took some extraordinary photographs of the Caseys in Calcutta as I’ll show you in the next few pages.
Now the announcement of Casey’s governorship in Australia was seen as an honour. It was seen as an Australian stepping into and taking part in the great work of the empire. I’m going to show you one or two news stories but they’re fairly indicative of the kind of things that were being said in Australia about Casey’s appointment. [Pomponoburbon] 22:34. He had the highest salary in – he was the highest paid Australian in this role. He even had a higher salary technically than Winston Churchill who was Prime Minister of Britain because Casey didn’t pay tax on his salary. Now that’s quite something and in Australia that was seen as a great thing but of course in the context of the Bengal famine it’s a little harder to justify from an Indian perspective and I’ll come to this issue in a second.
But he was also very good at projecting his image in London as well. The magazine that you see up here featuring Cecil Beaton’s photography was actually a London publication. It was republished in Australia but it was a London publication and they clearly revelled in the splendour of the Raj. This is classic Raj imagery here. Government House in which they lived was actually the original seat of the Viceroys in India. Calcutta used to be the capital of British India. It was moved in 1911, 1912 because basically Bengali politics became far too difficult for the British to actually manage and so they relocated the capital to Delhi. So Government House that the Caseys lived in was actually a grander palace than the Viceroy’s palace in Delhi and the images that you see here will give you an extent of that grandeur.
How does this then contrast with Indian coverage of Casey’s appointment? Very differently. So I hope you can read this at the back there but this is a press summary of reactions of the Indian press to the announcement of Casey. Now the white Australia policy was very widely known in India and it was resented quite keenly and the basic line in India was why is an Australian coming to India when no Indian can come to Australia let alone rule over a substantial portion of the population? We’re talking 60 to 65 million people here. The figures are a little hard because the census hadn’t been conducted since 1931 as a result of the war but it’s a fairly substantial segment of the population.
So there was mass protest in India at Casey’s appointment. We don’t want an Australian here and relatedly this was when India of course was expecting to get some form of greater self-government, actually. The Government of India Act of 1935 was about giving Indians more government and in this particular case there’s the appointment of an Australian so it’s almost as though the government of India is now being opened up to dominion statesmen and they didn’t like that either.
There were substantial protests about it. There was protests made in the New Delhi legislature and even India’s – the man who turned out to be India’s first High Commissioner to Australia, Sir [Raganav Guranjapay] 25:28 also formally protested, not knowing that a few months later he would actually be appointed in Canberra.
Now interestingly one of the things I’m going to come back up to here is the way in which the international Communist movement read Australia India relations. Now in Australia it was extremely difficult and especially in the context of war which is hypernationalist, it was very difficult to actually project a sense of why would your average Australian be interested in India apart from pomp and the Raj and the tigers and the elephants which was the stuff of the mainstream press? It was actually the Communist movement and Communist newspapers that initially started to try and mobilise a consciousness in Australia that tried to understand the political economy of India and the plight of Indians under the Raj.
So it’s actually Communist newspapers and Communist organisers that initially start to provide a critique of British imperialism in the Australian press. So Casey’s actually a very interesting contrast to that because of course he’s a conservative, he’s a political conservative and so what he actually injects into the Australian public sphere when he returns to Australia in 1946 is a different perspective of British India and a much more sympathetic one which is not Communist.
But let’s look at what the Communists said about the appointment of Dick Casey in Calcutta. So this is from The Guardian which is the organ of the Communist Party of Australia in Melbourne and again pointing out the nature of Bengal, people are starving in Bengal and slippery Dick is being projected over there despite the white Australian policy and he’s up on the throne and Bengalis are dying so it’s a very harsh critique.
I will say at this point these paper – these newspaper clippings I’m showing you are all from the Casey collection. To their credit they curated a collection of newspaper clippings that were critical of themselves, critical of what they did and that actually do show a fairly balanced sense. All of these images, including the Indian press complaints are in these papers. They didn’t try to curate the splendour and the positive sort of spin, they have all of it there which I think is a great thing.
Now I’m going to briefly explain what Casey did for the famine because I think many of you have come here tonight to get a sense of that and there’s so much photography of Casey doing a thorough inspection after his arrival in India of conditions on the ground. One of the things he actually did which was actually quite interesting, I think, was he specialised in the incognito visit so one of the things he complained about was the minute he stepped out of Government House there would be a big retinue who followed him and everything, any sense of reality would change. There would be a huge stream of people who basically gerrymandered if you like wherever it was that he was to go and so he initially wanted to go and do an inspection of the streets of Calcutta and of course his minders’d take him to all of the good bits and he wouldn’t actually get a sense of some of the horrendous conditions that Bengalis were living in.
As you can see - this is the Amrita Bazar Patrika which is an Indian newspaper, English language. We believe he is the first Governor of Bengal to interest himself in the housing conditions of the city’s poor who make up a large percentage of the city’s resident population. He does this a number of times. He often takes Cabinet Ministers with him so Bengali Ministers come with him and they do these impromptu visits to try and get a sense of what the administration is actually doing.
Now of course there’s also criticism of this. This is actually – the Hindustan Times is actually a Delhi nationalist Congress newspaper who pointed out well yes, it’s all very well and good that he’s the first Governor of Bengal or the first Governor or British Governor for that matter to step out into the slums but it’s hardly surprising that there are slums in India.
One of the things Casey does is he’s acutely aware of publicity and perception, as I’ve already talked about, and especially after The Statesman publishes those horrendous images that I showed you earlier, Casey realises that it’s absolutely critical to change the public message and to try and create confidence in India. So one of the problems with the famine was that when the denial policy began government servants were told to set aside enough grain for themselves, to hoard, basically. Once government servants started hoarding people realised there was hoarding going on, everybody else started to hoard too including marketeers. So there was a lot of profiteering and marketeering of foodstuffs during the famine which of course didn’t help and this is Indians of course we’re talking about doing this.
Casey felt it was important to try and create the perception that the crisis was over which would actually restore markets to their natural state, their prefamine state and so one of the first things he does is invite press men to Government House to explain to them why it is important that a different spin on the famine is actually published in the press. Now this is a – I think there’s – perception was obviously important because the perception that the famine was over might have actually restored the economy – the food economy in Calcutta but he also actually asked people to stop crying famine when people were still dying and that obviously is still a problem.
He did however, and May did as well – there are umpteen photographs of them personally getting involved in relief and rehabilitation operations and he also puts through a bill through the Bengali legislature, a destitute’s relief bill which basically provides for people who are destitute to be able to – to be guaranteed work and therefore income to try and manage their health situation.
He also – and he’s often shown as being a kangaroo as well in a lot of the media reportage. He also tries to ensure supply so one of the things that was actually part of that bill was to have funds created to build 10,000 river boats so basically to give boats back to Bengalis so that they could fish again and find food for themselves so he was in charge of that. He was also – again one of the tragedies of the Bengal famine is that there was grain in Bengal but it had been confiscated so that the Japanese couldn’t take it. The grain was kept in very unsanitary situations and it deteriorated so when the grain was then released it was inedible. They do actually try to give it out to people but the people who eat it actually react so terribly many people actually die because the food they’re given is actually rotten. Of course rehabilitating someone who is starving cannot be done quickly, it needs to be done under medically supervised conditions and the resources for that were also quite limited.
The other thing that he does, and I’ve written about this elsewhere so I won’t talk about it a lot, is that he meets Gandhi and in the course of that he invokes defensive India powers to seize seeds from the market which are being held back to profiteer and he also creates a system of crop requisition which means that growers can no longer hold stocks from the market in the hope that the prices will actually rise. So he tries to basically get around the problem of hoarding in the economy.
The other thing he does – there’s also a cloth famine because Bengal is actually still producing enormous amounts of cloth but it’s all being used for the war effort and so people are quite literally – they don’t have enough clothing to wear so a lot of the photography that you’ll see of the Bengal famine shows people who are near naked as well. One of the things that Casey negotiates is to have 200 bales of Australian wool sent over – these negotiations happen at the end of the war in December of 1945 which also helps to relieve the cloth famine.
He faced a lot of problems. He complained as you can see here that things do not get done. They decide on widespread reconditioning of the rice that had been spoiled because it was spoiled poorly. Nothing gets done. We take over, the simplest things take months. Leisurely methods, red tape, office inefficiency, lack of drive, a sense of urgency and responsibility seems to be lacking. I even believe that there is definite obstruction on the part of certain individuals which would be called sabotage in a harsher administration than this. Here he’s talking about the Indian civil service and he didn’t make a distinction between Indian or British members. He said the British members of the Indian civil service were severely demoralised by this stage. Everyone knew the game in British India was over, they knew decolonisation was coming, it was a matter of timing and there were not many people who were actually really seriously investing their energies in the Indian civil service at this time.
He also makes an extensive analysis of the administration of Bengal and in this he brings a lot of lessons from Australian administrative practices. He is astounded to find out not long after his arrival that there are essential people who are required to actually reboot the food industries and he wants to do a couple of things. Here he feels that we need to have these people imported but there’s a lot of criticism when you import people. He actually tries to recruit an Australian fisheries expert and again there’s complaints about the white Australia policy when he does that. So the political situation is actually very difficult for him to actually manoeuvre in. He also realises that it’s very difficult for the Bengali provincial legislature to ask the centre for help because that means it’s inviting New Delhi, the Government of India, into Bengali provincial affairs, something that that province, the Ministry does not actually want either.
Another thing that Casey does, he actually writes to Wavell in March of 1945. He’s driven to great extremes and he writes a really terse letter to Wavell who’s the Viceroy. He says the position in Bengal today I know is a legacy from the times when the whole of India was in effect centrally administered and the empire has cause for shame in the fact that in Bengal at least, after a century and a half of British rule we can point to no achievement worth the name in any direction. Harsh indeed.
Now Casey’s often been thought of as being pro-imperial. I think this is an indication that actually he was harshly critical of imperial policy. He also realises that at a time when there’s a lot of resistance, especially in the conservative government in London around ideas of decolonisation, Casey realises the game is up. He writes – again this is actually a letter to the Viceroy that it’s absolutely imperative to indicate to Indian nationalists of all stripes, including the Muslim League, that we do actually intend to decolonise because many didn’t believe that that would actually ever happen.
He points out that actually one of the great difficulties in governing in India now is that Indians resent being governed and they no longer wish to be governed and they no longer wish to cooperate with government. This was the basis of the entire Quit India movement which is seen in Australia in particular in the press as being a disloyal movement that imperils the empire and by extension Australia because we are seen as part of the empire. So again that sense that our experience of empire is very different to India’s.
I will just very briefly – this is a – what I think is this is a Daily Telegraph Article, again one that recognises Casey’s achievements. He is one of the hardest-working people in British India according to this and this article was interestingly picked up by an Indian newspaper and parodied about how hard the Governor was actually working, again against the backdrop of – and this is a Communist newspaper again, this is The Tribune in Sydney which is using imagery that was banned actually by the Government of India. There was a book by a man named Chittoprasad who did drawings based on photography of the famine and this is actually an image of a photograph that is actually held here in the Library in a book of a corpse being eaten by a dog and it’s a dreadful image. But again injecting that back into the Australian public sphere that this is Casey’s Bengal.
I also want to briefly mention – oh I'm so sorry, I missed that slide – I also want to briefly mention the Australia India associations. The Australia India associations were organisations that were born out of civil society that started to get concerned about the famine and Casey being in Bengal brings a lot of attention to the famine in Australia. People start to organise to try to raise funds. Now there’s three of these associations, one in Perth, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne. They’re all unaffiliated, they’re all quite different. They don’t affiliate because they have different purposes.
The one in Perth is pro-imperial. It basically goes on a fundraising campaign and it is able to actually raise enough funds to pay for a truck or an ambulance which is used for food relief purposes. The money is actually remitted to Casey directly and Casey says okay, we’ll give this to the Society of Friends Ambulance Corps and so funds raised in Perth go towards this particular purpose. There’s a photograph of Casey looking a little distracted as the relief truck is being given over.
The other – the Sydney organisation however, and there’s another famine image here, put together a pamphlet, and this is from 1944, that we need to stop giving to the victory loan – you can see the image at the – the caption at the top there – we’ve given enough for the victory loan, now we need to actually start giving money to India. It basically organises a collection drive and they manage to collect about £6,000 which also is remitted to Casey and used for famine relief.
Now the interesting thing about these associations, and this is one of the membership forms of the association, is – and the red line I’d like to point out is quite revealing, that the association considers India as an equal sister nation and meets her on the same basis as it would meet Canada, New Zealand, America, Russia or China. Now of course the reference here to Russia I think is particularly important and I’m fairly certain that this particular phrase was written by a very famous Australian Communist sympathiser, he was often called, Clarence Campbell.
Now a lot of these drives were actually in the end undermined by the discovery of Clarence Campbell’s involvement. Some of the patrons of the association realised that the drive is being organised from Marx House which rings a few bells and a lot of the Australian notables who had been supporting this drive up until that point pull out. So anti-Communism actually undermines some of the relief efforts.
I’m wrapping up now and I want to try and look at the way in which Casey’s resignation was covered in the press in India and in Australia. In Australia, and here we have The Western Mail, Bengals famine buster is returning to Australia. Now as Chris mentioned in her introduction Casey agreed to take this as a war appointment. When the war was over he tendered his resignation to Wavell in August of 1945 but the announcement is not made formally until November and the Australian press sees this as a great homecoming, he’s of course planning to enter federal politics. There’s a recognition here of his unorthodox methods of rule.
In the Indian press interestingly, and this is just two examples, there is a recognition that Casey’s stewardship of Bengal has to take note of more substantial achievements. The province has the unenviable distinction of having broken many reputations. When Mr Casey came to the helm it was passing through one of the most difficult times of its history. These times were such that in double function political and administrative which a government is called upon to exercise would have defeated a lesser man. The administrative problems which Casey had to tackle were colossal. Not least among them was the administrative machinery itself but more of that later.
The province was still at the tail end of the most disastrous famine that Bengal or for that matter any part had known for a long time. Immediately on taking charge Mr Casey plunged into the task facing him and aided by the Ministry then in power he got things moving.
Now actually in March of 1945 the Bengali Ministry loses its majority in Parliament and Casey takes direct power under what is section 93 and that was seen as not so much controversial at the time but he didn’t call for re-elections. He felt that elections needed to happen after the war and of course he’s then leaving at the time when those elections were being planned and he was criticised for that.
But this sense of Casey being a man of the people comes out in a lot of Indian press articles. There’s also criticism. This particular image, and again I think it’s a testament to the Casey collection, that this kind of critical cartooning is actually included, it’s quite a painful and I think arresting image. But it’s also interesting that The Age has summarised here some of the various retrospective analyses of Casey’s rule and it starts very well. The Statesman in particular is very laudatory of Casey but as we get down towards the Hindustan Times, that Congress paper from Delhi, says that there will be little cause for regret to the people of Bengal in Casey’s resignation and The National Call expresses the hope that Mr Casey will be the first and last dominion statesman to become Governor of an Indian province.
When Casey leaves India in February of 1946 he basically becomes the new poster boy for explaining India to Australians and this was something that was actually quite sorely needed. He writes a series of articles trying to explain Indian politics to Australians and trying to make Australians realise what it is that is actually behind Indian calls for independence and self-determination. This just gives you a sense of the series of articles that he writes which are published in major newspapers. We’re talking The Courier Mail here, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. There’s probably a series of about eight of these and they’re part of a book that he writes when he gets back which is called An Australian in India which tries to explain from his particular perspective why it is that Indians do not want to be colonised any further.
What I’ve tried to demonstrate to you through the press coverage of Casey’s tenure in Bengal is the very different ways in which Indians and Australians saw Casey’s work in Bengal and I think that goes to indicate a much deeper understanding of the ways in which Australians and Indians experience colonialism. For Indians there was very little cause to look back at colonial rule as being a good time for India whereas in Australia we didn’t quite appreciate the extent of the colonial experience in India that enabled us to actually understand that, perhaps invoking a sense of colonial kinship is one that actually overlooks and fails to appreciate the experience of British rule in India. Thank you very much.
F: Thank you very much, Kama, and good evening, everyone. For those of you who don’t know me my name’s Kathryn Favell and I'm Director of Community Outreach and it’s always such a pleasure to sit in on these fellowship lectures to learn about the collection but also to learn about the research journey, the research processes, see how scholars think about, absorb, analyse and pull apart the material that they’re discovering. I think we had a wonderful insight into your experience here this evening.
We have got time for some questions and we are recording tonight so if you can wait for a microphone to get to you that would be great. While we’re letting you think about what your great question for the evening’s going to be I would just like to knowledge that fellowships like Kama’s are made possible by some very, very generous benefactors.
Kama’s fellowship as Chris mentioned was supported by the Harold S Williams Trust, an extraordinary bequest which we actually received back in 1987. It was a bequest that was made known to us by the benefactor, Harold S Williams, in 1970 when he started presenting to the Library his collection of papers, photographs, artworks, maps about his experiences and time in Japan. He lived in Japan for most of his life. From the 1940s onward until his death he was mostly residing in Kobe in Japan. It’s certainly a gift that keeps on giving. Since we received the bequest it has supported collection access programs to help us improve access to his collection as well as others relating to Japan and the Asian region and it supports fellowships and research opportunities such as this one. So we are very, very grateful to those benefactors who want to help us open up the collection to new ideas, new thinking and to spread that knowledge around the country.
Now to your questions. Russell. It’s always nice when I know your name and if I don’t know your name come and meet me afterwards.
A: Thanks very much. Thanks, Kama, great talk. I just wondered, noting Casey’s critique of imperial policy and performance at least in private, how much was his view known to the Viceroy, to London and in particular to the public either before or after his time in Bengal?
K: It’s a very good question. So the letter that I quoted from ends with, I need hardly say that this is for your eyes only and your secretary’s. So, not widely. He held the line ultimately but he did little things. I mean I think for example if we go back to that image of him with Gandhi. That I think - in fact I’ve done the research into this – this was seen by the Viceroy in particular, whose relationship with Gandhi was pretty bad by that state, was seen as an overstep, actually. Here was a provincial governor making an advance to an all India leader so we’ve got a question here of jurisdiction but I don’t think there were very many British governors sitting next to Gandhi in 1945. The photograph is actually signed so Casey actually asked Gandhi to sign the photograph so I don’t think there were many British governors asking for Gandhi’s autograph on a photograph in 1945. So I think there’s indications of his different approach. One of the press – this idea of him being unorthodox. I think this was actually an indication of his quiet criticism of imperialism and different ways of working with the administration, the British administration in India which often ruffled feathers.
A: Kama, thank you very much for that, I really enjoyed it. It’s a lot more than my reading on Casey has revealed by much later reading. I just wanted to ask if you look at all at Casey’s efforts on the Australia India relationship after he returns to Australia and I’m thinking in particular of his part in the Colombo Plan and his pushing Menzies to fund it and – or fund it more generously. There were a number of things that he actually did to try and smooth the path into Asia which of course included India and I was wondering if there’s anything in particular that struck you that he did that was still reverberate – I don’t mean reverberates today but set a better track than we’ve often had.
K: That’s a great question. Now this is [Oriel Wygil] 51:46 who actually wrote a great, definitive article about the Bengal famine in the 1980s, was it, I think in South Asia so you know this material very well. I have focused entirely on 1944 to 1946 and I haven’t got through all the material in that timeframe so my short answer is no. I think - I mean Casey of course, he shapes Australia India relations to a great degree as External Affairs Minister but he faces fundamental limitations including the ongoing nature of the white Australia policy which he realises is a problem and in his book, An Australian in India, he talks about the policy and says it would be a really good idea if we changed the name of this policy because it creates insult. It makes it very clear this is a racial policy. Now he believed it wasn’t a racial policy, he believed it was an economic policy which was the standard line. I’m not convinced, I don’t think it’s sustainable as an argument but he did do other things, he was involved in the Colombo Plan.
There’s a very interesting paper of course by [Mugaree] 52:43 which looks at Australia’s tilt to Pakistan which is strong after 1947 as a result partly of Casey’s relationships with his former Ministers from Bengal which were apparently workable. So there’s that, that’s about all I can offer you having focused on this two intense years of world history.
A: Thank you, Kama, that was really great to hear your talk. I was just interested in what you were talking about in terms of the experience of being a Commonwealth colony and the difference between Australia and India. So I know that you had brought up that Australia was a self-governing colony whereas India was much more dependent. My opinion is that this contributes to a divide between understanding in Australia and India at that time. I’m just curious about whether you think that this continues today and whether you can bring some historian perspective on that.
K: Yeah, I definitely think this has contemporary relevance. What’s – and thank you for asking that question ‘cause it’s actually a really important one because India does remain in the Commonwealth but that’s not by any means guaranteed in 1947, 1948. In fact India manages to negotiate a special status within the Commonwealth as a republic and that exception is made just for India to keep it specifically within the Commonwealth. In fact I write about this in my book because I recently was in India and I was crossing a border and I handed over my passport, I was travelling with an Indian and a Briton. It was like a – some kind of joke.
An Indian, an Australian and a Briton walk into a country and the border guard looked at my passport and he said you still got the Queen? I was like yeah and he said why? I said well the nature of colonisation for white people in Australia was fundamentally different. It was devastating for indigenous people, of course, but that has meant that we can stay within the Commonwealth and have the Queen as our head of state without creating the kind of resentment that that would create in India. The idea is unsustainable in India.
Initially after decolonisation – Evatt for example didn’t – he felt this idea of creating an exception for India was just a rewriting the rulebook of dominion relationships which it was. Ultimately there was a recognition that that was an important, necessary thing to do partly as a result because there were important trade relations that they wanted to keep, this lifeline that I mentioned earlier. I think it has a lot of relevance for contemporary Australia India relations. I think we don’t understand enough the history of India that makes India particular and presuming just because they have a similar system to us in some ways doesn’t mean the experience and the way and the past to which they got there was the same. I think that needs to be recognised.
F: Do we have one more question? Oh yes, over here, lucky last.
A: Hi, thanks very much for a wonderful talk. Is there anything in the records that suggest that Casey got involved at all in issues that would inform partition because Bengal got split into what became east Pakistan and later Bangladesh and then current day modern west Bengali India. Is there any sort of indications that there was any – I don’t know, thinking or planning around that? The other question I was going to ask is whether there’s any evidence that Casey engaged with other governors? In other words rather than just focusing with Wavell as the Viceroy but also with other governors about issues of – I don’t know, common concern or interest or managing borders and the like. Also, are there any papers in there that perhaps really should be in Bengali or Indian archives or indeed Bangladeshi archives? In other words sort of official papers that have sort of ended up in sort of private hands.
K: Absolutely. So three questions there. The first question about – sorry, now I’ve – partition, yes. So when he arrives in India there is discussion about being – and Pakistan being a possibility. Initially he thinks it’s not – he’s advised actually by Indians and he works very closely with the Muslim League in Bengal. Not with Jinnah. I think he meets Jinnah but it doesn’t work with Jinnah. He realises towards the end of his tenure that it’s an inevitability. He predicts mass violence as well. He also writes to Wavell suggesting that there is actually some kind of a plebiscite about Pakistan and Wavell doesn’t really engage with the idea.
Your second question was about –
A: Engagement with other governors –
K: Yes, there were governors’ conferences so there was an annual governors’ conference and he felt that that needed to be more than annual for any kind of real co-ordination to take place in India so that’s a yes to that.
Your final question was –
K: Other papers. So this is really the most funding I’ve actually been able to get for this project. I’ve seen records in Calcutta, Delhi and London but I’ve not had the time to really get into them in as much depth as I would like. I think to do this project properly we need to look at the Bengali press, the Bengali language press for which I’d need a translator. I can read Hindi but that’s fairly – it doesn’t get you very far for this particular material. There’s a lot that I’ve missed out, I mean I’ve missed out for example, there were mass protests in Calcutta in November and in February over the trial of the Indian national army and there’s firings and people are killed and that’s under Casey’s watch and it’s very – that also needs to be studied in some depth. It’s something he’s actually quite disturbed about. So there are other papers, absolutely.
There may well be private papers as well that relate to this. I’m not aware of private papers but I have looked at India Office material about his appointment. There is – I suspect Government House in Calcutta probably also has records that would be really enlightening as well so yeah, this is the beginning of a very large – I mean it’s so large. Despite just being two years there’s an enormous amount that can be said about this, especially if you're careful to take in the Indian reading of these events and not just an Australian reading of them.
F: Thank you. Thank you all for your attendance tonight. I hope you’ll join us upstairs in the foyer to continue the conversation over a glass of wine or maybe sparkling water because we’re all sensible drinkers. Thank you to Chris Wallace for opening the evening and I hope you’ll join me in thanking Kama Maclean for enriching our thinking about India and Australia this evening. Thank you very much.
End of recording