British conquest over India- 70 years before The Moonstone published
Following the defeat of India’s ruler Tipu Sultan in 1799, a rapid expansion of British dominance spread throughout the country in the early 1800s. Only fifty years later, the British had complete control over almost all of India. This new British-India became known as “the jewel of the British crown” as it possessed the most populated and lush provinces of the British Empire.
East India Company and the The Sepoy Revolt in 1857
With complete control over all of India, in 1857, local rebels fought the British for six months with heavy casualties on both sides. This was known as the Sepoy Revolt. Britain’s attempts to Westernize India did not settle well with the local Indians, igniting this Rebellion. From this, the East India Company joint-stock company formed for pursuing trade between Britain and the East Indies crumbled in 1858.
The Koh-i-Noor Diamond and The Moonstone
Rewinding eight years, Queen Elizabeth was presented a legendary Koh-i-Noor diamond, won as treasure for the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1848-49, marking of the 250th anniversary of the peaceful trade agreements between India and Britain. A year later, the diamond was displayed at the Crystal Palace.
What’s interesting, is that in the novel’s Preface, Collins acknowledges these moments in history and their ties to the plot itself: “With reference to the story of the Diamond, as here set forth, I have to acknowledge that it is founded, in some important particulars, on the stories of two of the royal diamonds of Europe. The magnificent stone which adorns the top of the Russian Imperial Sceptre, was once the eye of an Indian idol. The famous Koh-i-Noor is also supposed to have been the subject of a prediction, which prophesied certain misfortune to the persons who should divert it from its ancient uses.”
These same attributes of misfortune and cursory embody the fictionalized diamond in The Moonstone.
India as a British Asset
George Curzon, a British Viceroy of India, stated that ‘While we hold on to India we are a first-rate power. If we lose India, we will decline to a third-rate power'.
Indians in Britain
Once Indians settled into Great Britain, most were nannies or domestic servants to wealthy British families. The East India Company also shipped thousands of Indians to Britain, most of them as scholars and workers. Some were also lascars, known as militia men or sailors. These men, with barely any Indian women on the continent, married British women. By 1850, over 40,000 scholars, soldiers, tourists, businessmen, students, and seamen inhabited Britain.
To Murthwaite, Indians’ Religion Above Caste System
In the text, explorer Mr Murthwaite implies that, to the Indians, religion “fanatically devoted…to the ancient worship of Bramah and Vishnu is more important than a structured caste system" (Collins 412). The Brahmins “had forfeited their caste in the service of the god." Before and after wandering through Central Asia, Murthwaite claims the Indians are not “a set of murdering thieves” but “a wonderful people” (Collins 109). His communal identity in the Indian empire allows him to commend the Hindu practices. He later adds, “This sort of thing caste system didn’t at all square with my English ideas” (Collins 108).
Collins’s Imperialist Message
Given Murthwaite's expressed emotions towards Indians and their religion, it seems Collins could ultimately be supporting them. In essence, with a newly adopted perspective of the Indians, the readers can conceivably feel sympathy for them and support their eventual claim of the Moonstone itself. Yes, he may just be offering another perspective, different from other characters, like Cuff and his captain, but it seems that he may be approaching an anti-imperialist message in the way Murthwaite examines these good-hearted people. One might feel more profound messages on the other scale, as the majority of the cast obviously supports imperialism and carries a certain British swagger about them; yet, it is ultimately the reader's take on who Collins may be favoring in the battle between the Indians and the British.