India in the 1780sFor more details on this topic, see Colonial India and Company rule in India.
The area encompassed by modern India was significantly fractured following the decline of the Mughal Empire in the first half of the 18th century. European colonial outposts, from countries including Denmark, Portugal, France, and the Dutch Republic, dotted both the Coromandel (east) and Malabar (west) coasts of the subcontinent, although many of these had been established with the formal permission of a local ruler (which was sometimes secured by force of arms). The Kingdom of Travancore dominated the southern tip, the Kingdom of Mysore held sway over the center of the peninsula, and the Maratha Empire, a confederation of loosely allied principalities, dominated the northern reaches from Calcutta to Bombay. Although there were significant British presences at Bombay and Madras, each governed by a separate presidency, the Bengal region, including Calcutta, had come under the direct rule of the British East India Company in 1757, with authority to levy taxes, and its presidency dominated the others. Its civil head, the Governor-General of Fort William, ranked ahead of those of Madras and Bombay.
Warren Hastings, the first man to hold the title of Governor-General. The military arm of the East India Company was directed during the Seven Years' War and the Second Anglo-Mysore War by General Eyre Coote, who died in 1783 during the later stages of the war with Mysore. Company policy, as implemented by
Cornwallis was first considered for a posting to India during the ministry of the Earl of Shelburne in the spring of 1782. Shelburne asked Cornwallis if he wanted to go to India as governor general, an idea Cornwallis viewed with favor, as it provided employment without risking his parole status. However, Shelburne was a weak leader, and was turned out of power in early 1783, replaced by a coalition government dominated by men Cornwallis (and King George) disliked, Charles James Fox and Lord North. Cornwallis, who normally avoided politics (in spite of holding a seat in the House of Lords), became more vocal in opposition to the Fox-North ministry, hoping his support would be repaid by the next government.
With the ascendancy of William Pitt the Younger to power in December 1783, doors to new positions were opened to the earl. Pitt first offered him the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland, which he politely refused. He also made it clear that, were he posted to India, he would want the supreme military command in addition to civil control.When informed that Pitt was agreeable to this demand, he went through a period of soul-searching, torn between the conflicting demands of family and country. This, however, was not the only troubling issue. When Parliament took up consideration of assignments in India in August 1784, it was only prepared to offer one of the two posts, which he again refused to consider. Passed over for other military postings, Pitt placated him with the post of Constable of the Tower.
After refusing another inadequate entreaty from Pitt to take a post in India in February 1785, Cornwallis's demand for both posts were finally met a year later, on 23 February 1786. Departing London in May, he arrived at Madras on 22 August 1786, after "a most prosperous and expeditious passage", and at Calcutta on 12 September.Although he was accorded a welcome suitable to his rank, the acting governor-general, John Macpherson, was unhappy at being replaced. He attempted to reserve for his own use the Government House, which was normally reserved for the governor-general. Cornwallis, after having his oaths of office administered, immediately announced his intention to occupy the residence.Hastings, had involved the company in intrigues and shifting alliances involving France, Mysore, the Marathas, and factions within those and other local territories.