Copy Book Archive

An Avoidable Tragedy Adam Smith argued that the Bengal Famine of 1769 would have been much less of a tragedy under a free trade policy.
King George III 1760-1820
Music: Thomas Linley the Younger

Via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

For William in Calcutta, 1754.

About this picture …

A view of Fort William in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1754, the headquarters of the East India Company in Bengal, in the days when the Company chiefly contented itself with trade and trying to get its own man in as Nawab. Ten years later, victory at the Battle of Buxar won them the right to set tax and agricultural policy. As Smith explains, they allowed greed and incompetence to dictate, and turned a natural disaster into a humanitarian catastrophe.

An Avoidable Tragedy
The Bengal Famine of 1769 was a humanitarian catastrophe and an ugly blot on Britain’s colonial record. Scottish economist Adam Smith, a severe critic of colonial greed and the East India Company, believed that it would have been no more than a manageable food-shortage had the Company pursued a policy of free trade.

IN rice countries, where the crop not only requires a very moist soil, but where, in a certain period of its growing, it must be laid under water, the effects of a drought are much more dismal. Even in such countries, however, the drought is, perhaps, scarce ever so universal as necessarily to occasion a famine, if the government would allow a free trade.

The drought in Bengal, a few years ago, might probably have occasioned a very great dearth. Some improper regulations, some injudicious restraints, imposed by the servants of the East India Company upon the rice trade, contributed, perhaps, to turn that dearth into a famine.

When the government, in order to remedy the inconveniencies of a dearth, orders all the dealers to sell their corn at what it supposes a reasonable price, it either hinders them from bringing it to market, which may sometimes produce a famine even in the beginning of the season; or, if they bring it thither, it enables the people, and thereby encourages them to consume it so fast as must necessarily produce a famine before the end of the season.


Shortly after the Bengal famine of 1769, Scottish philosopher Adam Smith wrote that although a drought had made a food shortage inevitable, the subsequent famine was a consequence of interference from the East India Company, imposing unwise restrictions on farmers. Allowing free trade, he concluded, would prevent such disasters happening in the future. (52 / 60 words)


From ‘Wealth of Nations’ II.3, by Adam Smith (1723-1790).

Suggested Music

Violin Concerto in F Major

2. Adagio

Thomas Linley the Younger (1756-1778)

Performed by Mirijam Contzen, with the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie, conducted by Reinhard Goebel.

Media not showing? Let me know!

How To Use This Passage

You can use this passage to help improve your command of English.

IRead it aloud, twice or more. IISummarise it in one sentence of up to 30 words. IIISummarise it in one paragraph of 40-80 words. IVMake notes on the passage, and reconstruct the original from them later on. VJot down any unfamiliar words, and make your own sentences with them later. VIMake a note of any words that surprise or impress you, and ask yourself what meaning they add to the words you would have expected to see. VIITurn any old-fashioned English into modern English. VIIITurn prose into verse, and verse into prose. IXAsk yourself what the author is trying to get you to feel or think. XHow would an artist or a photographer capture the scene? XIHow would a movie director shoot it, or a composer write incidental music for it?

For these and more ideas, see How to Use The Copy Book.

Related Posts

for An Avoidable Tragedy

Indian History

The Righting of Wrongs

John Bright MP urged a critic of the British Raj to offer India more than fine words.

Indian History

Progressive Travancore

Contemporary historian Ramanath Aiyar catalogued the ways in which Maharajah Moolam Thurunal led the way in modernising British India.

Indian History

Trunk and Disorderly

Arthur Wellesley watches on as one of his soldiers is rescued from a watery grave.

Indian History

Wellington’s Secret

The future hero of Waterloo dealt with political ambush as comfortably as he dealt with the military kind.

Indian History (68)
All Stories (1522)
Worksheets (14)
Word Games (5)