Monday, 31 December 2007

Mahé, its establishment & its role under the EIC. Part 1

Today Mahé is an attractive sleepy little town only five miles to the south of Thalassery. It's major claim to fame is the ready availability of alcohol to young partying groups of students from as far away as Bangalore.

To this day, it still retains some semblance of it's former French status as a colony, although very few French have lived there since the early 19th Century.

The town changed hands frequently during it's history being captured by the British in 1779, then returned to France in 1783, before being captured once again in 1793.

It has a different atmosphere from that of surrounding towns. It has a history of being on the edge, and had a colourful role in many of the wider regions affairs.

Oddly enough, the original French settlement on the Malabar Coast was at the current site of Thalassery, and not Mahé. This French built mud fort, almost certainly predates Mahé as a French settlement. It was only later that they moved south.

In August 1664 the French Government under Colbert the Minister of Finance, established La Compagnie Royale des Indes in an attempt to compete with the Dutch and English East India Companies.

As relatively late arrivals on the Malabar Coast the French had to try to find locations where they could set up trading posts. The best locations at Cochin, Calicut and Cannanore had already been secured by the Portuguese, Dutch and English.

These existing traders used all their available influence, and if necessary military force to drive out subsequent competitors from the best locations.

With constantly changing allegencies, in Europe, as Britain fought the Dutch, as allies of the French, and then the French whilst allied to the Dutch; the political background was highly confused. News took so long to get from Europe to India and back that settlements could be at war in India a year or more after peace had been declared between their respective governments at home in Europe.

Then there were the interloping freelancers, pirates and privateers, who often intervened at highly inopportune times, plundering local traders, and even East India Company ships, and destroying fragile political arrangements.

All these factors were in addition to the highly complex situation amongst the local Indian rulers, who were operating in much the same way that the European rulers were, forming alliances, fighting local wars, and intriguing against and in turn with each other.

The smaller and less influencial rulers along the coast north of Calicut and south of Cannanore had been left out of much of the prosperity that had come to their neighbours and rivals in Calicut and Cannanore from the Arab and Dutch and Portuguese traders.

The relatively small amounts of pepper they had available for sale, by comparison with Cochin, Calicut or Cannanore was such that it was not worth the while for the Arabs, Dutch or Portuguese to set up factories along the coast in their fiefdoms.

If you had arrived in 1660 by ship at the locations where Mahé or Tellicherry were to be built after 1675 you would have seen very little,if any habitation along the coast. A few fishermen lived in huts along the beach, but all the significant local settlements were several miles inland from the coast.

The sandy beach would have been backed by a dense palm forest as far as the eyes could see, inland to the distant ghats.

The French had to find a suitable location for a small depot or factory on the coast. Traders could not expect to fill a ship in a single location, and they could not allow the ships to weight off an exposed shore. What was needed was a place where three or four merchants or factors could be left from one year to the next, assembling cargoes that could be loaded onto the ships, in the space of a week or less, before these ships set out for France.

The area around the Mahé River and the present site of Tellicherry was a no man's land, or boundary between two powerful local rulers, the paramount Rajah's in this area came from the Kolattiri family, but this was a fractured family with a complex set of smaller local rulers or Regents. The Tekkalankur was regent of the southern part of the Kolattiri families domains. The Valadakkalankur was regent of the northern division. These rulers were in a heirachy, so that when the Kolattiri died, the next ruler down moved into his position. Depending on whether the wider community agreed with these moves, or whether their were challenges from rival relations, the situation on the ground could rapidly descend to civil war.

These conflicting rulers needed all the staus and support they could find, and it was the Tekkalankur who appears to have granted the French the settlement at Mahé. Later on Vadakkalankur would grant the use of the Tellicherry site to the English.

Each ruler would expect their respective European tenant to side with them in their power struggles. These power struggles would colour relationships between Mahé and Tellicherry for most of the 18th Century.

The French had settled there during the 1670's and had established a small factory and a mud fort or bastion on the beach at Tellicherry, before the British arrived there. It was probably on the site of the existing fort, or possibly slightly further north near Overbury's later folly.

The French soon realised that the Mahé River mouth offered a better site, and one with good access by water to the interior, down which pepper could be brought by canoe. They abandoned the initial settlement in Tellicherry.

With the constant wars between France and Britain underway for much of the 18th Century, relationships between the two settlements were often very tense even in peacetime.

The settlement was first captured by the British from the French on the 19th of March 1779, however it had had to be restored to France under the peace treaty signed at Versailles on the 20th of January 1783.

With the onset of renewed hostilities in the Revolutionary War, it was a key objective of the East India Company to secure this French outpost, especially as it was being used as a conduit of weapons and expertise to Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam.

Murdoch Brown a Scottish adventurer, who had been in the Danish and French service had set himself up in the French territory at Mahé. From Mahé Brown was providing credit to arms dealers supplying weapons to Tipu.

In the following letter written by M. Descomber from Isle De France, on the 5th of March 1798 to Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam, Brown's role is described. Originally in French, a translation by Macaulay was later published as part of the justification of the East India Companies attack on Tipu in 1799.

"Your Minister Asheruff Ali Khan arrived at Mangalore in the beginning of the year 1793. He there received the fusees and was satisfied with them; I was paid only in part; he gave me an order for 14,000 Rupees upon Brown of Mahé who gave me a bill on another person, and I have not yet received payment but it is no longer your Highness who is responsible to me for the amount." [1]

With Brown playing a very complicated part in affairs, being excluded from the East India Company, because he was not in their employment, and also because he had been apparently profiting by private trade with Tipu who might at any time attack the EIC settlement at Tellicherry, many employees of the East India Company felt that Brown should be made to face justice for his deeds. Walter Ewer, wrote the following in a letter addressed to Henry Dundas in 1796.

Murdoch Brown. As this gentleman’s name makes a very conspicuous Figure in the affairs of Malabar, it would not be doing him Justice to pass him over in silence; He is a Merchant at Mahé, a man of abilities, & perfectly acquainted with everything relating to the Province. He has given a great deal of useful information to Mr. Duncan, who in Return, has appointed him Malabar Interpreter to the Commissioners to the exclusion of some young gentlemen in the service who had applied themselves to the language.

This gives him great influence with the Commrs. This much I must mention on this “Gentleman’s" Behalf, as I do not wish to detract from his Merit. But I am firmly of Opinion, that if he had his Deserts, he ought to be hanged as a Traitor to his country, or sent Prisoner of War to Bombay. He is said to be, & really appears to be, a Scotchman, if he is, he is fortunate in having escaped the former of these Fates; He has lived at Mahé as a Dane, & an Austrian, & finished his career of Countries, by defending the Place in Arms, as a Frenchman, in which situation he was taken; Let him chuse his Country being found in arms, he is certainly a Prisoner of War; Tis said he was concerned in the War before last, with some Merchants of Bombay, in supplying the Enemy with Provisions & Stores; this is not so much to his Discredit as to theirs, & I only introduce it, because it is said to have given him Considerable Interest, both at that place and in England.

It is supposed he is to receive some great mark of Distinction, & to be taken into regular service of the Company. If this is done it will fix Disgrace on that Service which never can be wiped off. The Company are already indebted to him, for the loss of some very able young men who would have made a conspicuous Figure of it. He may do very well as an interpreter, with a check over him, but no persons at all acquainted with mankind, would put confidence in such a character.

It is not entirely clear who the "Merchants of Bombay" were who were supplying stores to Tipu, but evidence supports the theory that these merchants many have included Mr. Torin. Torin was to play a significant role in engineering the down fall of the Pyche Rajah, as Ewer's correspondance makes clear.

That Mr. Torin was not above using his public office for private gain, is apparent from events in also tried to fix the price of pepper by privately buying up the supplies, before reselling it at a higher rate to his employer, the East India Company, for his private gain.

Thomas Baber alludes to this in his correspondance to Thomas Warden in the years before 1809.

"On the Consultation of the 3inst of January 1809 is recorded a letter from Mr. Warden complaining that Mr Baber had declared himself to be in possession of papers if brought to light would ruin Mr. Warden, Mr. Torin, and Mr. Fell, and that upon being called upon for an explanation he evaded it. The Governor in Council directed Mr. Warden’s letter to be sent to Mr Baber for his explanation, but it does not appear from the Records that he ever offered any to Government. From this period till 1815 there appears to have been a want of cordiality between Mr Warden & Mr. Baber, which ultimately led to consequences that issued in the removal of the latter from Malabar to Canara."[3]

The East India Company forces under Lieutenant Colonel Hartley, were able to capture Mahé once again on the 16th of July 1793.

The recapture of Mahé acheived two main objectives for the English. Firstly, it was much more difficult for the French to enter India, and secondly, it enabled the East India Company to set the price of pepper on the coast. The Dutch settlement at Cochin was soon effectively blockaded as the Netherlands fell under French control.

Pepper could no longer be sold to European's except via the English. This impacted very rapidly on the local Rajah's already reeling from the devastation of their plantations during the war with Tipu Sultan.

For the East India Company officials at Tellicherry, there was one added bonus to the capture of Mahé. It offered far better living accomodation for officials than Tellicherry.

Tellicherry was a very cramped settlement, and one that had only recently undergone a prolonged siege and blockade. The garden houses that officials liked to build for themselves had been destroyed or fortified during the siege.

The surrounding forests had been destroyed, and it was surrounded by the detritus of war, with shanty towns full of refugees from the interior, and economic migrants.

As a result officials like Mr. Stracey, and Mr. Torin moved to Mahé leaving Tellicherry. At Mahé there were vacant houses abandoned by the previous French officials.

Similarly the garrison at Tellicherry was greatly reduced when it was moved Cannanore Fort after it was captured. In 1794 Tellicherry, which had cost far more to run, and particularly to defend, than it had ever made from its trade, was reduced to a settlement. This settlement would in future be occupied in the main by the judical officials, who for some reason never made the move to Cannanore.

William Ewer writing in 1797, offers a short description of Mahé.

"Mahe. This is a beautiful little place four miles from Tillicherry, taken from the French this war; & if possible it ought to be kept; it was at all Times; when in their Hands a place of Political Intrigue & gives them a footing in the Coast; it is a Residence of Foreign Merchants out of Controul of the Company who interfere very much with the Company's concerns. The Road to the southward is through it, be sides this; the French will always have it in their Power to create & encourage Disturbances amongst the Natives." [4]

The British residents of Tellicherry during the period of the Napoleonic Wars were ever concious that the French might return to the town following any eventual peace treaty. As many of the officials engaged in private trade, and would find this challenged by a French return to Mahé, they appear to have deliberately set about destroying much of the infrastructure there. This may have been deliberate official policy. Certainly similar demolition and destruction had taken place in the erstwhile Dutch colony in Cochin after 1809, when many warehouses seem to have been torched to prevent their re-use, should the Dutch reclaim the settlement at the peace table.

By 1812 Mahé had become a back water, offering suitable day excursions from Tellicherry for the resident officials. One such trip is described by Colonel James Welsh.


Being detained here as a Member of a General Court Martial, I had now more leisure to see a little of the surrounding country, and consequently, accompanied Colonel Webber first, and afterwards Mr. and Mrs. Baber, to pass a day at the French settlement of Mahé, five miles beyond Tellicherry. Passing south from Tellicherry, we first came to the old fort of Mylan, or Moylan. Though built upon a rock on the sea-shore, and now very old and entirely abandoned, yet it once completely commanded the only road,and is certainly judiciously chosen, and strong. A small fishing town lies under it's brow, to the eastward ; and the spot is altogether interesting. Crossing a rapid river in a jungar, at the fifth mile, you land in Mahe", a place now going fast to decay, but formerly one of singular strength, beauty, and consequence. It is even now a lovely spot, situated on the bank of a clear navigable river, close to the sea, which forms a bar in sight of the town, and gradually rising and embracing some strong heights, once fortified, which command not only the passage across the river, but all the surrounding country for a considerable extent. The town still contains some good houses, but few respectable inhabitants. We put up in an up-stair house on the river side, belonging to a Moplah, called Moosah Puckee, a man of immense fortune, said to be worth at least eleven lacs of rupees. He is a great merchant, and owner of much property in land, as well as several ships. Another capital house, built on the landing- place, belongs to an old French merchant, M. Dineure, whom we visited ; he and another gentleman, M. Jussain,being the only two respectable men left out of a once rich and flourishing port. They were both very old and infirm,but very agreeable companions; and joked each other,with great good humour, about which should first pass the gulf, then yawning to receive them. Having seen all their old companions laid in the silent grave, they seemed left for a little longer space, almost solely to point out to strangers the spot where such an one resided ; where such a building once stood ; and to tell how the English wantonly destroyed the finest and most sacred edifices, as well as the works of the place. For, setting aside the mild and more recent precepts of the Divine Law, and acting on the
lex talionis principle, because the French, on the other coast, had destroyed both public and private edifices in Madras, they not only pulled down the Governor's Palace, the ruins of which still tell what a magnificent building it must have been, but also destroyed a public School, and dismantled the Church, an uncommonly large one. I feel a glow on my cheek, while writing this sentence, Protestant though I am : how must these men have despised and execrated, in their hearts, the perpetrators of such barbarous acts! These gentlemen are both since dead, and their mortal remains mingled with the dust of their former companions." [5]

To be continued.

[1] From Official Documents, Relative to the Negotiations Carried on by Tippoo Sultan with the French Nation etc. Published 1799, at Calcutta. By Neil Benjamin Edmonstone. Page 107.

[2] British Library OIOC. IOR H/438 Walter Ewer Folio 148

[3] British Library OIOC. Personal Records O/6/9 folio 5

[4] British Library OIOC. IOR H/438 folio 147.

[5] James Welsh, Military Reminiscences, Published 1830, Vol II page 41 & 42.

Murdoch Brown, (1750-1828) the early days.

Murdoch Brown was a fascinating character, and one who played a central role in most of the major events that took place in Northern Malabar between 1790 and 1828.

Opinions differ widely over his conduct, and had he lived in this modern politically correct world, he would most probably have been condemned for his actions, as he was by Thomas Hervey Baber in 1811. However to most of his contemporaries, he was probably seen as a man of affairs, and as somebody who was highly capable, and who got things done, often in very difficult circumstances.

In the course of following two articles, I will try to outline his life and times, as well as his conflict with Thomas Baber. I will also explore his impact on the wider issues surrounding his part in the war with the Pazhassi Raja.

Originally a Scot born in Edinburgh in 1750, Brown travelled first as a young man to continental Europe, visiting Lisbon, where he is thought to have found work.

It is not entirely clear when he first determined to go out to India, or indeed why, but without any obvious source of patronage, he would not have stood much chance of acquiring a position in the English East India Company.

Like many other Scots trying to make their way in the World at that time, opportunities at home in Scotland were limited, and he decided that he needed to look outside the United Kingdom.

By 1770 several East India Companies besides the English one,[the East India Company, EIC.] had been formed in Europe, including the Dutch,[Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie,VOC.], French, Ostend, Danish, and Swedish East India Companies.

Many of these companies already employed substantial numbers of Scots. In some cases, these Scots played such an important roles, that there were frequent complaints from the Directors of the E.I.C. and the British Government that these foreign companies, were in effect flags of convenience, run by Scottish interlopers as a way to get around the EIC's monoploy of trade between Britain and India.

Colin Campbell (1686 - 1757) was typical example of these highly enterprising Scots, originally an E.I.C. employee, he became a director of the Swedish East India Company from 1731 to 1757. H did this as a way of re-entering trade with India following his dismissal from the East India Company.

It would appear that Murdoch Brown, decided in about 1775, to emulate these earlier Scots. He joined the newly formed österreichisch-ostindische Handelscompagnie. [Austrian Ostend Trading Company.] This company was a newly formed company, which followed in the footsteps of an earlier company that was originally based in Ostend, which was then part of the Austrian Empire. During the 1720's this earlier Ostend East India Company, had operated very largely as a flag of convenience for many excluded English and Scottish merchants who wanted to trade to India as interlopers, outside the EIC monopoly.

The new company had been founded in 1775 by William Bolt, a Dutch man who had been dismissed from the British East India Company in Calcutta in the 1760's for corruption.

Edward Baber, Thomas Hervey Baber's uncle, had been a Writer in Calcutta at that time, and it was Edward Baber who Bolt had tried to persuade to return bonds, so that Bolt could alter the documents, to suit his own purposes. Bolt had subsequently been dismissed as a result of these events, and had returned to Britain where he published a highly critical book "Considerations on India Affairs: Particularly Respecting the Present State of Bengal and its Dependencies..." on the affairs of the EIC.

Bolt commanded a ship called the 'Joseph und Theresia’ which sailed from Livorno on the 24th of September 1776 bound for India, intending to go first to the Portuguese settlement of Goa.

Livorno was known as Leghorn at this time by the British who used the port as their main trading centre in Italy. As Leghorn, the port appears in many accounts from the period as the preferred seaport for travellers on the Grand Tour trying to avoid the Alpine passes.

It appears that the British in India used diplomacy to obstruct the ships trade along the coast of India, so that Bolts sailed onto the Nicobar Islands where on the 12th of July 1778 and he claimed one of them as a settlement which he named as 'Theresia' in honour of the Austrian Queen, Maria Theresia.

The company was later transformed into the Asian Trading Company headquartered in Trieste in 1780 and was dissolved in 1785.[1]

It is very likely that it was as a member of the crew of the Joseph and Theresia that Murdoch Brown, then aged 28 first reached India.

In order to collect sufficient cargo from the ports along these coasts, it was usual for merchant ships to call at several ports along the coast to collect sufficient cargo to fill their holds. Ships could only spend a limited time on the coast due to the need to avoid the monsoon and to take advantage of the season winds that carried them back and forth with the rhythms of the weather patterns. This meant that is was usual to leave behind small shore parties to negotiate contracts for future seasons cargoes, so that these cargoes could be waiting on the shore when the ships arrived.

It would appear that Murdoch Brown was one of those intended to undertake this role for the new company. Brown may have in time also become Consul, in addition to his duties as a merchant or Supercargo.

The existing colonial powers and companies will have used their influence wherever possible to make his life as difficult as possible, by turning the local Rajah's and merchants against him.

However at this period some of the local rulers were still independant enough to command the respect of the East India Companies. Calicut for istance had at least three separate trading company compounds along its beach at this period. The British, French and Danish each had a factory or settlement.

It is not possible at this stage in my research to be sure where Brown first settled in India. However it appears that after 1785, with the failure of Bolt's company, Brown aged 35, found himself out without an employer.

He seems to have transferred his allegiance to the Danish Company, for whom it appears that he worked as their Agent initially at Alleppey. In the course of his business, Brown appears to have become fluent in several Malayalam languages and dialects.

The Danes had had an area of ground at Calicut awarded to them by the Zamorin for a factory [2][nowadays known as Kozhikode]as far back as the 17th April 1752.[3] This piece of land was called "Valappil Kadute" and was located just south of the French Factory, near the site of the old Jail or Market Rooms.

Ansen Bonsaco Governor of Tranquebar, had sent Jacob Christovo Suytman to negotiate with the Zamorin for right to a factory in that year. The Danish factory appears to have been maintained in Calicut until 1788[4] when the area became embroiled in a violent conflict whilst Tipu Sultan was engaged in trying to put down a rebellion by the nairs who were fighting to recover the town following Hyder Ali's earlier successful invasion.

Murdoch Brown is believed to have married a lady called Eliza King, who was educated in a convent at St Omer in 1790.[5]

Manuel Bernades, the Danish Factor fled from the Danish factory at Calicut, when instructed to do so by Fouzdar Arsad Beg Khan. It is at this point that Murdoch Brown reappears in the documentary record, when in 1792 and 1793, he wrote from Alleppey as the Danish Agent to the East India Company at Tellicherry requesting that they restore the Factory to the Danish Company.

Brown then moved to Mahé where he was living by 1795. Being denied a post within the East India Company, Brown if he wished to remain in India, must have been forced to move to the nearest available town that was not commanded by the EIC. Calicut had come under British effective control by 1792.

Mahé was only five miles from Tellicherry, and although it had been taken by the British from the French on the 19th of March 1779, it had had to be restored to France under the Treaty of Versailles on the 20th of January 1783.

Murdoch Brown set himself up as a merchant at Mahé, where with the assistance of Wallapagata Assen Ally [6], who he appears to have employed as his business manager, forming a business partnership that was to endure until at least 1811. Ally may have come to Mahé with Brown from Alleppey.

With the renewed out break of the Anglo French Wars The East India Company forces under Lieutenant Colonel Hartley, was able to capture Mahé again on the 16th of July 1793.

Mahé was one of the few ports open to Tipu Sultan in the period between his first defeat in 1791, and his final defeat in 1799. Tipu was trying to break the steadily growing stranglehold that the EIC. was establishing on the remaining trade and communications routes out of India. The French and the Ottoman's were Tipu's best source of external support, and these could only be reached through a sea port.

In French hands, Mahé provided a conduit for embassies to Isle De France, and via Suez to Constantinople. Weapons and ammunition, as well as French military advisers and adventurers, could also enter India via Mahé.

It appears that Murdoch Brown played an important role in providing these resources and also in selling pepper produced inland via a route that was outside the EIC's control. This is illustrated by the following correspondance captured and published after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799.

Your Minister Asheruff Ali Khan arrived at Mangalore in the beginning of the year 1793. He there received the fusees and was satisfied with them; I was paid only in part; he gave me an order for 14,000 Rupees upon Brown of Mahé who gave me a bill on another person, and I have not yet received payment but it is no longer your Highness who is responsible to me for the amount.[7]

Feelings ran high against Brown in Tellicherry amongst EIC military men,and some civilian officials in the aftermath of the second war with Tipu, because he along with other British merchants based in Bombay, had been instrumental in supplying Tipu with muskets, and other military supplies.

During 1796 Walter Ewer, an EIC. official was sent from Calcutta to the Malabar Coast to report on the state of affairs there. He wrote privately to the Right Honourable Henry Dundas (1742-1811), who was from 1794 to 1801 War Secretary, and was responsible for the colonies under William Pitt.

These letters which appear to have gone directly to Dundas bypassing East India Company channels, and they offer a very acutely observed set of observations on events in the Malabar area. Ewer thought that Brown was a cause of a lot of the difficulties that were arising in the region, as can be seen in the following extracts.

Murdoch Brown. As this gentleman’s name makes a very conspicuous Figure in the affairs of Malabar, it would not be doing him Justice to pass him over in silence; He is a Merchant at Mahé, a man of abilities, & perfectly acquainted with everything relating to the Province. He has given a great deal of useful information to Mr. Duncan, who in Return, has appointed him Malabar Interpreter to the Commissioners to the exclusion of some young gentlemen in the service who had applied themselves to the language.

This gives him great influence with the Commrs. This much I must mention on this “Gentleman’s" Behalf, as I do not wish to detract from his Merit. But I am firmly of Opinion, that if he had his Deserts, he ought to be hanged as a Traitor to his country, or sent Prisoner of War to Bombay. He is said to be, & really appears to be, a Scotchman, if he is, he is fortunate in having escaped the former of these Fates; He has lived at Mahe as a Dane, & an Austrian, & finished his career of Countries, by defending the Place in Arms, as a Frenchman, in which situation he was taken; Let him chuse his Country being found in arms, he is certainly a Prisoner of War; Tis said he was concerned in the War before last, with some Merchants of Bombay, in supplying the Enemy with Provisions & Stores; this is not so much to his Discredit as to theirs, & I only introduce it, because it is said to have given him Considerable Interest, both at that place and in England.

It is supposed he is to receive some great mark of Distinction, & to be taken into regular service of the Company. If this is done it will fix Disgrace on that Service which never can be wiped off. The Company are already indebted to him, for the loss of some very able young men who would have made a conspicuous Figure of it. He may do very well as an interpreter, with a check over him, but no persons at all acquainted with mankind, would put confidence in such a character.

Walter Ewer returned to the subject of Murdoch Brown when discussing customs revenues.

There can be no doubt but the Customs on this Coast may be increased considerably, if properly managed, as at present immense Quantities of Goods, are smuggled, by Moupa, Murdoch Brown & other merchants at least tis so reported. It is whisper’d here, that Murdoch Brown is to be employed in the Customs, if it is on the Principle, that a reformed Thief makes a good Thief taker, it may be very proper, & I will engage that the Customs will increase, as he will take care that no one smuggles but himself. Though they will not increase so much, as if a Custom Master was appointed (with three or four European Writers under him on different stations) responsible only to Government, & not liable every moment to be worried by Commissioners, perhaps his juniors. [9]

However, other observers recognised Murdoch Brown's undoubted abilities, especially in regard of his knowledge of the local languages, and in the depth of his understanding of local conditions and cultures. In this respect, Brown was probably unrivalled at this period.

As Francis Buchanan describes in his book, "A Journey from Madras Through the Countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar."

From Cadrur Mr. Wilson was so good as to conduct me to the Companies plantation at Angara Cundy, where I was kindly received by Mr Brown, before mentioned. He has management of the Plantation, and collects the revenue of a small district named Randaterra, over which Mr Stachy is the magistrate. The country between Cadrur and the river on the banks of which Angara Cundy is situated, is almost entirely deserted, and overgrown with trees and bushes. It rises into small hills, intermixed with narrow vallies (sic) fit for the cultivation of rice; but the extent of these, in proportion to that of the hills, seems to be smaller than in most parts of the province. The whole seems to have been formerly cultivated; and the hilly ground is less steep than usual for Malabar.

The road all the way was good even for a cart.

The plantation has of late been much molested by the Nairs, and the eastern part of it has fallen into their hands; so that for the protection of what remains, it has been necessary to station a European Officer, with a company of Sepoys, at Mr Brown’s house. The Nairs are so bold, that at night they frequently fire into Mr Brown’s dwelling: and the last officer stationed there was lately shot dead, as he was walking in front of the house. Many valuable experiments are now carrying on in the plantation, which in an afternoon’s walk Mr. Brown was so good as to explain.

The "Dictionary of Indian Biography" held at the Society of Genealogists' Library says of Brown.

"BROWN, Murdoch. Born at Edinburgh 1750; left Scotland for Lisbon merely for the voyage but never returned: found work in Lisbon, made his way through Europe: in 1775 went out as Consul to Calicut for the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria: engaged in trade, of which Jonathan Duncan, Governor of Bombay, wrote, 1792, as the most considerable of any British subject on that side of India: he lost eleven ships, East Indiamen, of 1,000 tons or more in the war with France: in 1798 he took over from Government as a plantation "Five Tarras of Randaterra" (The Anjrakandy estate) in Malabar: was granted, in 1802, a 99 years' lease, being the earliest English landholder in India: the natives regarded him as their Raja: none but the lowest caste would work on the estate, which was wasted by war: he educated his tenants and Christianized them by native catechists and German missionaries, raising them to the scale of civilisation: he spoke seven European languages and five or six Oriental languages: died at Tellicherry, 1828."[11]

How Murdoch Brown came to be running the plantation at Anjarakandy, and the serious consequences and events that followed, will be outlined in my next article.

If you have read this article and have any comments, or are able to offer additional information or corrections to anything I have written about Murdoch Brown's earlier life, I would welcome your comments by email to

Nick Balmer Copyright 30th December 2007.

[2]Factory, here is used in an older form of meaning, as a warehouse or Godown combined with living accomodation for the merchants, rather than a building where things are manufacturered.
[3]See William Logan's "A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and other Papers of Importance" published 1879, 1891, 1951, 1989, page 104. CXV.
[4] Logan gives two conflicting dates, in this book "Treaties", on page 106 he says 1778, and in "Malabar Manual" page 502, he gives 1788.
[6]The Asiatic Journal July 1828, page 673.
[7]From Official Documents, Relative to the Negotiations Carried on by Tippoo Sultan with the French Nation etc. Published 1799, at Calcutta. By Neil Benjamin Edmonstone. Page 107.
[8]OIOC. IOR H/438 Walter Ewer Folio 148.
[9]OIOC. IOR H/438 Walter Ewer Folio 158.
[10] Buchanan Vol 2, page 546.
[11] From, and The Dictionary of Indian Biography, by C.E. Buckland.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Pallikunnu House

Pallikunnu House from the southern side.

In my excitement at finding the house, at which I had arrived during that first deliciously cool hour following a perfect Malabar dawn, filled with bird song, but otherwise peaceful, in the absence of traffic noise, I did not feel that I could with decency turn up on their front door whilst they were still probably eating their breakfast.

As the house looked very grand, and I had previously been told by the owners of my hotel that it was the home of a very important official, possibly the Collector. I was in some trepidation over what sort of reception I might get when I introduced myself.

Returning with my son at an altogether more social hour, we approached the house, and as we entered the porch, a man came to the door. We explained that we were hoping to be able to look at the house, which we believed had been built by my great great great great uncle.

Would this be possible?

He said, please wait here, leading us into the first formal room, before going off to find his master.

Durbar Room

Waiting in this room, I was immediately fascinated by its design. It was quite unlike any early 19th century room I had ever seen before, but its function seemed immediately to be clear to me. It appeared to be a room designed to be accessible not just to European visitors, but to have been designed to also be comfortable and suitable for Indian visitors.

At the time Thomas Baber was building this house, he was both a magistrate and Third Judge. In 1815 the court buildings in the town centre of Tellicherry had not been built. Magistrates would hold court wherever they happened to be. They would receive petitions, hold court, or transact business wherever they happened to be, and often this was when they were in their houses.

The size of this reception room, that could clearly hold many people at a time, was also significant, as were the stout doors leading into the rest of the private part of the house.

As spiral staircase, of relatively modest proportions led to the upper floors where the family had lived. Perhaps these details had been carefully designed with descrete security in mind, in the event of trouble in the reception room.

It was becoming clear already that Thomas Baber had applied a great deal of thought to the construction of the building, and that in many ways this was a unique attempt to build a building functional in India, rather than trying to build a facsimile of a European building in India.

Unlike the formal court room in the East Hill complex at Calicut built at about the same time, or perhaps two or three years earlier, on a European model, derived from a Roman villa.

This room was built so that the Indian's could cluster around the Magistrate in a circle, just as people do on such occasions to this day in India, at events held in the open air.

Much like the East Hill building, it had a central room, surrounded by a columned wall, separating an outer passage or area. East Hill is square, but Pallikunnu is circular.

This central space is in turn was surrounded by wooden doors that could be opened to allow ventilation, or so that people outside the room could look into the central part of the building, where no doubt Thomas and his assistants would have been attending to the business of the day.

Waiting as I was, a total stranger, for an audience possibly with the Collector, I could easily imagine what it must have been like for a nervous Indian having arrived at this house, desperate to advance his cause, or to present his petition to the Magistrate., accompanied by his friends and family.

Here was an attempt to develop a court room suitable for holding meetings where Indian's would feel at home.

We know that Thomas and his wife invited Indian's to visit and stay in the house, because members of the Travancore Royal family are recorded as having stayed in the house in 1818.

Moments later the butler returned, and said "follow me.. "

As he led us up the stairs onto the first floor, I was expecting to find our host in the first room.

I was clearly in a house lived in by a Muslim, and yet it had many surviving features from British times. As we went further and further into the house, I was getting more and more nervous, and surprised, because we were going deeper and deeper into the private part of the house.

As we turned right into a small study packed with books and papers, the owner of the house was sat behind his desk.

"I have been expecting you for three years..." he said.

Introducing himself as Mr. Haris, this dignified gentleman explained that his teenaged niece had previously found postings that I had made on the web about Thomas Baber.

He had in fact tried to contact me.

Soon we were swapping stories and information.

Mr. Haris went on to explain that his family had acquired the property in the middle of the 19th Century from an elderly bachelor Englishman who had in turn bought the property from Thomas Baber in the 1840's. Apparently the bachelor had agreed with Thomas Baber that he would pass the house on to the most appropriate Indian family he could find, and that had been Mr. Haris forebears.

Englishmen had offered higher bids for the property, but the bachelor had determined to sell the house on to Mr. Haris family for a lesser sum, in order to meet Thomas Baber's express wish.

The house had been build on top of Pallikunnu hill in the centre of a large area of ground that extended north to the river and for perhaps a mile along the river. It had a 10 acre experimental garden, and a saw mill with a workers village attached to it. The school I had passed on my way to the house had also been built in the original estate grounds.

It appeared that the original site of the house had been used as one of the outlying bastions, fortified against the besieging army under Sirdar Khan sent by Hyder Ali against the town from 1st November 1779 until January 24th 1782. These lines had been strengthened again in 1788, in fear of Tipu's army during Tipu's invasion of the Malabar Coast.

Indeed, the high walls and terraces in the grounds of the house, might have been designed to aid any future defence of the house in the event of the town being attacked.

Mr. Haris was kind enough to show us around the inside of the house. Much of the house is still as it was when Thomas built it. However the front entrance porch is a later addition, as is the second floor room over the Durbar Room. This was added by Mr. Haris family many years ago to keep the driving rain out during the monsoons when it penetrated the veranda that Thomas Baber had designed.

This newer bit can clearly be seen to have a tin roof, and the remains of the previous roof in tiles can be seen retained as a fringe over the veranda in the first photo at the top of this article.

In the roof was a very curious bit of floor let down, in level below the rest of the floor. The beautiful smoothly planed tropical hardwood floors which are used throughout the house have been chipped with an adze in this small section of floor. On either side of the passage there are large wooden cupboards of no obvious purpose. Mr. Haris asked if I had any idea of their purpose. At the time, I was at a loss to suggest any purpose at all, but in a future blog, I will bring forward an idea.

We were shown a very heavy hardwood spear that had been kept in the house. This spear which was very carefully balanced must have been a formidable weapon in the hands of an experienced Nair.

Thomas Baber had collected or confiscated many hundreds, if not thousands of weapons from Indian's during the course of the suppression of the rebellions between 1795 and 1805 and in 1812.

It appears that he had kept many of these at the house. Mr. Haris explained that during a disturbance in the region in the early twentieth century, perhaps in 1925, his grandfather fearing that his house might be attacked to enable the insurgents to get at these weapons, took the rest of these arms and threw them in a nearby river, to put them out of harm's way.

Our host had to visit his saw mill business, and was kind enough to take us down to the mills located near the river. These and some large logging ponds had all been built by Thomas Baber, to harvest hardwood in the interior and to bring it down to the coast for sawing.

He appears to have been trying to develop sustainable forestry because in the grounds of his house he had built an arboretum or trial garden that he had filled with plants and trees.

These had included Mulberry trees, but sadly they had to be cut down during Mr. Haris childhood due to a disease that was killing Mulberry trees in the district.

In a future article I will look at the contents of this garden, and at Thomas Baber's views on conservation and forests. We think that concerns about deforestation are modern ideas.

This is not the case, forward thinking people recognised the impoverishing effect of forest clearance as far back as the 1820's.

At Palikunnu Thomas Baber, was trying to set an example of what could be done to right many of the mistakes that had been made inland of Calicut and Beypore, and that would inevitably spread north into the Wayanad and districts inland of Tellicherry.

Pallikunnu House today is a private property, lived in by a very private man. I would ask that you would respect this house and man's privacy. It is not open to the public.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Arriving at Tellicherry in the 1830's.

Tellicherry in 1778

For most people travelling to Tellicherry, [or Thalassery as it is now known.] in the 1830's, the usual arrival route was by sea.

Henry Bevan, an officer from the 27th Regiment of the Madras Native Infantry, describes the town in the 1830's his book "Thirty Years in India: Or A Soldier's Reminiscences of Native and European in the Presidencies from 1808 to 1838".

Bevan had commanded the Wynaad Rangers in the 1820's, and knew the area well. He like Thomas Baber, gave evidence in the House of Lords to the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company in August 1832, which enquired into conditions in India, and it is very likely that they knew each other well.

"Tellicherry ,a large town, with a good open roadstead, is about fourteen miles south of Cannanore. It has a considerable trade with Bombay and the Persian Gulf, to which it exports shark’s fins, rice pepper, arrow-root, cocoa-nuts, and coir; importing in return horses, dried fruits, and Chinese and European goods. It is a civil station, and consequently the residence of ten English functionaries. It was famed at this period for the hospitality and good feeling which prevailed in its social circles. But European society in India is subject to sad vicissitudes; death, and an anxiety to retire with the fruits of long toil to the parent land, soon break up the communities formed at the stations; and of those who, in 1824, rendered Tellicherry one of the most delightful stations to visit, scarcely one remains." [1]

Lieutenant Robert Mignan, a much travelled officer serving in the Bombay European Regiment, arrived by sea at Tellicherry during April 1833, to try to recover both his own health, and also that of his wife. Travelling with four small children, he was heading for the Nilgiri Hills which were becoming popular as a health resort, where officials and soldiers could recuperate after several years in the plains or on campaigns.

Arriving in a Pattimar [2], a fast fore and aft rigged Indian coastal sailing vessel off the coast.

“At the mellowed sunset of an April evening, we caught a glimpse of the coast of stretching in a fine outline from North to South. The prospect of land to a “sea-sick landsman,” is an event with which few others in this chequered life can be compared. We had been for seven monotonous days, tossed about with fair wind one day and foul the next -- our chief comfort being tea without milk, and a basket of Leggett's musty bread. Is it then to be wondered at, that lying on deck the last morning of our voyage, I should feel a great accession of pleasure, when I saw the sun rise from behind the hills of Malabar, in place of rising from the level ocean? But we were still ten or twelve miles off shore, with little prospect of nearing it; for it had fallen a dead calm -- in vain we whistled to the winds --in vain when a puff of air at times curled the water, was the sail “let fall” no ripple was heard at the prow and a current which was setting from the eastward gradually increased our distance from the land but as I was ever fond of the sea I could not much regret being thus becalmed.

A light breath of wind which stole off in the afternoon in occasional unsteady flaws, carried us within half a mile of the shore, and anchoring directly opposite Tellicherry -- Signalized a boat, in which we were soon seated with the little luggage we had brought with us, and to our great satisfaction, saw the distance between us and the town every moment diminish.

With the appearance of Tellicherry itself we were rather disappointed, Viewed from the most favourable point, nothing is seen but a dead mass of mean looking buildings, and irregular rows of smoking huts, intermingled with the cocoa nut, palmyra, plantain jack, and other trees of the tropical broad leaved tribe, rising above their dingy roofs. And so low do many of these dwellings lie on the water's edge, that a stranger almost fancies a high spring tide would overwhelm them. A very strong tide does sometimes set in, and there is often a heavy swell, but the waves are partially broken before they reach the landing place by a reef of rocks, which extend like a dike in front of the beach, nearly opposite to the Custom House. The entrance into this natural port of security is very narrow, but the water thus sheltered from every wind, is as smooth as glass; and the basin, or harbour, spacious enough to contain a great number of boats. We counted no less than thirty, lying all in a row -- touching the inner ledge of the black rocks, and as still as if a dead calm prevailed beyond them, as still as if a dead calm prevailed beyond them, notwithstanding the heavy swell, which rolled inwards to the very verge of the reef, and along the whole line of coast.

The anchorage for shipping, is upwards of two miles from the shore, which makes it fatiguing for boat's crews -- especially those from a northern climate, to pull so far under the rays of a vertical sun. A harder duty can scarcely devolve on a seaman, than being obliged to row against a heavy swell in taking off cargo, or provisions, to the roadstead.

The boats used along this part of the Malabar Coast, are long, narrow, and flat bottomed; with high sides formed of planks sewed together with koir rope. They are used not only in fishing, but also in carrying considerable cargoes to the ships. Dozens of them are always hovering about sometimes with only a boy to manage them. I have seen a couple of black urchins go out to fish and they worked away in a rough sea, apparently with more ease than a Deal boat's crew could have done. They are not afraid to venture out in the stormiest weather, for although the boat may overset, they say she will never sink. It is very to amusing to watch them in a stiff breeze, they sail so easily, and so beautifully. The boys seated on the stern, ride away over the billows with helm in hand, managing their skiff like a practised rider on d smooth plain, would curb his steed: and after they have spent the day, and not unfrequently the night also, in fishing; they return to the shore, seated in their chair of state high above the water, laden with their spoils, and drying their wet clothes in a tropical sun.

We were also disappointed at the first view of this part of the continent of Southern India. The country in the neighbourhood of Tellicherry lies very low, and as far as the eye can reach, the horizon is bounded by wood. The gloomy waving of the trees, overshadowed by the dark and lowering clouds which announced the speedy approach of the Southwest Monsoon, made the landscape peculiarly dreary, and although we were assured that the phantoms of gloom with which we had peopled these impervious jungles would be dispelled upon a more intimate acquaintance with their recesses.

I never experienced a more delightful reality, than the consciousness of being stretched in a snug camp cot on shore, after having been cramped up for a week or two in a dirty pattamar. At first it is a reality that we hardly believe in; because the heaving and pitching to which we had been for some time accustomed, seems communicated to every surrounding object: the walls totter, the roof bends, and the bed creaks; and it absolutely requires one to be thoroughly awake, in order to have a perfect conviction of the reality, and the deception. As to the children, they all dreamt both long and loud, and we even, fell asleep in the belief that we were rocking about in Neptune's car, and slept soundly, and much longer than we had intended.

Robert Mignan and his family had arrived at the beginning of the hottest part of the year, as the temperature rose during this period before the onset of the monsoon.

"The climate of Tellicherry, during our stay, was excessively enervating, and therefore any thing but agreeable. In the day-time the thermometer ranged from 88 (degrees) to 92 o; and at night frequently from 89o to 93o. On the 25th of April, Fahrenheit's thermometer in the coolest part of the shade at two o’ clock, P.M., indicated 91 o, and in the sun 121 o; giving a difference of 30o. At midnight it was 88 o, giving a difference of only 3 o between the temperature of mid-day and midnight. A thermometer plunged into the sand, indicated a temperature of from 130 o to 135 o. Between half past four, and nine in the evening, the heat was sometimes suffocating. If the morning broke with a clear sky over head, and the sun rose unconcealed by haze; and when also the horizon was broken in a dark tremulous line, a northerly wind was sure to set in about half past eleven o’ clock, and dissipated the bodily and mental exhaustion caused by the hot nights, and sultry mornings, of this low latitude. About sunset, the breeze gradually died away, and was succeeded by a calm which lasted throughout the night. From sunrise till the when the sea breeze commenced, there never was a breath of wind; or, if the surface of the ocean was occasionally ruffled, it was only here and there, by those little tantalizing puffs, which we all know so well by the name of “cats paws".

On a few occasions, the morning broke with dark clouds, and the sun was dimmed by vapours; then a strong south-westerly wind followed during the day, and we were always covered with sand and dust. Heavy rain sometimes accompanied these brisk gales, and a high swell, which rolled in from the sea, and raised so high a surf on the beach, that it cut off all communication between the shore, and the vessels at anchor".

With the final capture of Cannanore in December 1790, and domination by the East India Company, of Calicut by 1793, Tellicherry's usefulness as a port subsided. Mahé was also captured from the French on the 16th of July 1793. Most of the East India Company merchants and officials based in Tellicherry, under Mr. Torin soon moved out to Mahé, and Tellicherry ceased to be a factory.

The town however remained the centre of justice for the area, however the former garrison moved away to the extended fort and cantonment at Cannanore, leaving just a small Lieutenant's guard for the prison in the fort.

Henry Bevan recognised the importance of these courts to Tellicherry, when he arrived in 1833.

"The judges of the circuit-court at Tellicherry generally employ half castes, or Anglo-Indians and Portuguese, in such subordinate offices as do not require a knowledge of Hindoo or Mohammedan law. There is a large half-caste population round Tellicherry, principally descended from the Portuguese settlers, who came out here soon after the discovery of India. A large portion of the fortified factory erected by the first Portuguese colonists still remains [5]. It is surrounded by a high wall, secured by towers, and is now used as a court-house and gaol. Most of the half-castes speak English with great fluency, and all are anxious to have their children instructed in that language. There is a very good English school at Tellicherry supported by voluntary contributions of the officers and by the small stipends paid by the natives the teacher however when I visited it was a Portuguese but he was perfectly competent for his situation. I found also that he was a good mathematician, and the answering of some of his pupils whom I examined would not disgrace an European academy. There were several Hindoo and Mohammedan children at the school, and they joined in the studies and sports of their Christian fellow pupils without ever quarrelling on account of their religious differences."[6]


An anonymous writer, whose article appeared in 1854 in the "Home friend, a weekly miscellany of amusement and instruction; By Society for promoting Christian knowledge", described a trip to Tellicherry. This trip appears to have taken place many years before the article was written. It is perhaps the most comprehensive description of life and conditions in the town available.

"Tellicherry Proper, or the town of Tellicherry, is built on a low ground, almost on a level with the sea. The town consists of some two hundred-irregularly built European houses; the bazaars; the market-place; a few so-called shops; an immense prison built on a lofty bastion facing the sea, which prison includes the dens for criminals and the debtor’s gaol comprising also a lunatic asylum; the Zillah Court, and a species of chapel. Besides these, there is a Catholic chapel and a Protestant church, and the burial-grounds of both creeds, situated on a high mound nearly overhanging the sea.[7]

The decaying Protestant Church at Tellicherry, between the Fort and the sea, taken in 2006 by Lindsay Gething, to whom I am indebted for this photo.

Outside of the town itself, and between it and Deramapatam, are a few straggling country-houses, and the court-house of the now no longer existing judges of circuit, who were three in number besides the registrar. Beyond these again, runs a rapid and deep stream, over which a couple of ferry-boats are continually plying; and on the other side of the stream rise the lofty cliffs and high tableland which constitutes that portion of Tellicherry styled by the natives Durhamupatnum, consisting of a few scattered villages, occupied almost exclusively by native fishermen and two immense mansions, more like palaces than private houses and heretofore the residence of two of the stationed at Tellicherry.”[8]

These two houses survive today. One is called "Ayesha Manzil," which was once he home of Mr. Stevens, the Judge. It is owned by a member of the Mousa family, whose ancestor's were the great pepper merchants in Tellicherry in the first half of the 19th Century. It is currently a very comfortable guest house. The current owners believe that it once belonged to Murdoch Brown, and that it was first built in 1862.

It is quite possible that the current building is on the site of an earlier building.

There appears to be some confusion also about who lived in the building, because this cannot have been Murdoch Brown, if it was only built in 1862, as Murdoch Brown had died on the 9th of January 1828 aged 78, so it was probably, in fact owned by his son Francis Carnac Brown, rather than by Murdoch Brown himself. Francis Brown was born on the 10th of November 1792, on Brown's plantation at Randattara, and died eventually on the 23rd of September 1868. [9] In future postings, the stories of both of the Brown's will feature prominently.

The other surviving Judges House is at Pallikunnu. It is in private hands and is not open to the public, but is described elsewhere in this blog.

Text not available

The Dharmapattanam Ferry.

Most travellers remained in Tellicherry for only a few days before, either their ships moved on, or like Robert Mignan, he travelled inland. This was not always particularly easy to arrange, as the following passage illustrates.

In forming the plan of our journey through the interior, (no easy business, with four young children, and their female attendants,) we were most materially assisted by that intelligent and obliging Parsee, Darashah Cursetjee, who has resided on this part of the Malabar Coast for the last five and thirty years; and who will readily procure palankeen bearers, and baggage coolies, for the trip hence, to any inland station, without expecting, or even consenting to receive any remuneration, for such service. We were entirely guided by his advice; and it may not be unimportant to mention, for the benefit of those persons who contemplate a similar course to ourselves, that Cannanore in preference to Tellicherry, is perhaps the best point of disembarkation, as in addition to the assistance of their friends, they will experience little trouble in securing bullock carriage -- a desideratum, not so easily obtained either at Tellicherry, or Calicut.” [10]

I wish thank Google Books for making the following texts available online. Without this fantastic new service, it is highly unlikely that I would have been aware of more than a fraction of the above material.

[1] From Thirty Years in India: Or. A Soldier's Reminiscences of Native and European in the Presidencies from 1808 to 1838. By Henry Bevan. Published 1839 London. Pages 144 & 145.

[2] A Pattimar, was a singled masted lateen sailed vessel, much like an Arab dhow. They could sail very much closer to the wind than could the squared European ships. They were also more able to deal with the light winds encountered alond the coast.

A particularly fine pair of water colours of Pattimars by Thomas Cussans, and army officer active in Cannanore in the 1820's can be seen in the Collect Britain online collection at

It is to be hoped that Robert Mignan's vessel was slightly better provided for with sails than the latter vessel.

[3]Notes Extracted From a Private Journal Written During a Tour Through A Part Of Malabar etc. 1834. By Robert Mignan. Lieutenant, Bombay European Regiment. Pages 2 to 18.

[4] Mignan.

[5] Incorrect, the Portuguese had had no need for a fort, because of the proximity to Cannanore. The French in the 1670's are credited with building a mud fort on the site of the existing stone fort, which was actually built by the East India Company betwen 1690 and 1710.

[6] Henry Bevan.

[7]Home friend, a weekly miscellany of amusement and instruction; By Society for promoting Christian knowledge. Published in 1854. Pages 193 onwards. Although this article was only published in 1854, it appears to have been written by someone who was in Tellicherry during the 1830’s. It has proved possible to identify some of the people mentioned in the book.

[8] Home friend.

[9] Information from Madras, Lists of Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments by Julian James Cotton, published Madras 1905.
See also Strange (Thomas Lumsden) 1808-84. Handwritten account of his life and times in India and Persia. Mss Eur J706 in British Library OIOC Computer Catalogue, Mss Eur D358 Page 131 –133.

[10]Robert Mignan.

Copyright Nick Balmer December 2007.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Arrival in Thalassery, Tellicherry.

Having read so much about Tellicherry in books and in manuscripts found in the British Library, it was with considerable excitement and interest that I finally arrived in the town.

As we had passed over the bridge into Thalassery from the north, I had noticed a tall stand of very old and magnificent trees to my left. I knew from my research that Thomas Baber's house had been in this general area.

In the rapidly failing light of an Indian evening, there would be no time to visit the house that evening.

The view out over the river estuary from our hotel room, to the sea was full of people scurrying home into the dark. Fishing vessels were returning to the port, and numerous bats were leaving the nearby palm trees for their evening feed. I couldn't help wondering what it must have been like for those early East India Company officials, when they first arrived in the settlement.

How very different it must have been to anything they had encountered at home in England.

Shortly after dawn, I was up and out of the hotel making my way towards the hill, with all of the trees. Knowing my families propensity for planting trees, and being aware of trees from Suffolk, to Berkshire and beyond that had been planted at even earlier dates, but which have survived from even earlier dates than 1812, I was increasingly confident that I would find his house.

What I had not however expected to find, was that it was not just his house, I would find, but an entire estate village.

First on my right was a school, and then on my left, a sawmill. The sawmill looked quite modern, but the school had several hallmarks of being an early colonial building, judging from its style. Subsequent research showed this to be the case, as it was built in or shortly before 1817.

The road leading to the entrance to Pallikunnu House

Soon I was climbing up onto a steep little hill, topped with a very large walled garden, filled with mature trees, and surrounded with houses, often modified over time, but having a standard set of designs for the underlying structures, obviously drawn from the various vernacular styles used by the different castes and religions in the area. One in particular was very similar to an old house that Kocha Rama Varma had shown me on our route to Thrissur, that had belonged to his family.

House built in the padinjata style normally adopted by Nairs or farm owners.

A lower caste house.

It appears that Thomas Baber had been trying to create an ideal estate, in the same way that many estate landowners in Britain were doing at this date, but instead of constructing Cottage Ornée, Thomas had chosen to build high quality vernacular housing to suit the needs of his domestic, plantation and sawmill staff.

To the west of the main house there was a line of very large trees, and evidently very old trees. I knew from drawings held in the British Library and available on the Collect Britain website, that there had been very few trees on the hills surrounding Tellicherry by 1800, most probably as a result of the sustained seige of Tellicherry in the 1780's, when the town had held out against Tipu Sultan's forces.

I knew that this hill called Pallikunnu had been one of the five outer bastions against held against Tipu's army, surrounding Tellicherry and keeping his army at bay, and was bare except for a single large palm tree. So it was very likely that these trees had been planted between 1790 and 1817.

The full painting, thought to date from approximately 1790, can be found on the Collect Britain website at

On the 20th of August 1817, Colonel James Welsh visited Thomas Baber at this house, which had only recently been completed. Writing in the late 1820's he had recalled.

"Here I found every thing in status quo, excepting Mr. Baber’s residence, which was entirely new, and one of the loveliest spots in India; being erected on a small hill, five or six hundred feet above the level of the country, commanding a view, including the river and island, with both bridges, to the Periah Peak, and so diversified with hill and dale, that the eye never tired in surveying it.

This hill, when I was last in Tellicherry, was as wild as the rest of the hundreds with which this coast is studded; now a comfortable residence has arisen, and two good roads, up and down, had been made with much labour, whilst a young plantation was in embryo to complete the whole. It was about a mile inland, and the sea breeze blew over the tops of myriads of cocoanut trees; which however, obstructed the view of the shipping in the roads; the flag-staff on the citadel alone visible in that direction, though the more distant shore, on either side, was as distinct as the interior. The climate was also delightful, and I think Tellicherry one of the healthiest places in the East."

Following the public road on up the hill as it spiralled around the hill, it was quickly evident that there were more than a dozen, and quite possibly many more of these estate houses.

Eventually, I reached a set of imposing gates, at the bottom of a stone track. Taking my courage in my hands I started to climb the driveway to the house.

Entrance Gates

A veritable arboretum of trees was growing in the large garden surrounding the house.

The very finest and largest of these trees were at the very top.

Finally reaching the summit of the hill, I came into view of the front of the house.

It was definitely the one I was looking for.

Copyright Nick Balmer November 2007

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The founding of Tellicherry Schools in 1817

Koduvally Higher Secondary School

In the years following the defeat of the Pazhassi Rajah, and following the suppression of the 1812 revolt in the Wayanad, the local East India Company officials based in the town began to try to develop the town of Thalassery.

With the end of the wars, the garrison had been greatly reduced, or moved to Kannur. The town was also losing out on trade to other nearby ports. It's major remaining function was as the centre for the courts of justice.

Besides building their own houses, the some of the senior officials also began to try to introduce improvements for the general Indian population as well.

One of the very first buildings to go up was a school. This school appears to have been the result of a private initiative, probably started by Mr. Oakes the Master Attendant at the port.

Thomas Baber had already commenced building his estate at Pallikunnu, and he appears to have provided the land for the school to be built on. It is at the western end of the land he had acquired, next to the main road to the ferry leading north out of Thalassery, on the way to Kannur.

This building was operational by the 25th of June 1817 when Thomas Hervey Baber wrote to Sir. Thomas Munro: -.

You will congratulate me in hearing of the success of our School, and that there is every prospect of it receiving a Public Blessing.

I enclose a note I have this day receive sic) from our Parson, because I am sure, the perusal of it must increase your approbation of our Plan, our School House has been finished and an excellent Building it is. 350 boys may be accommodated, at present we have 40 on the Foundation, and about 20 whose Parents pay for their education 1 and 2 Rupees per month – and would the Europeans forget their animosities and join in so laudable an undertaking we should soon have the school full- our funds amount to about 1500 Rupees including the Cost of the School, but no part has been contributed by any Europeans excepting the Parson, Mr Oakes, Edbert in Canara & Self. – The undertaking has however had the effect of producing a Rival School at Cochin, set in foot by Mr Vaughan & Pearson at Calicut, and supported by Stevens & Warden, all 4 of them declined to Subscribe to the one here. I immediately subscribed to that in Cochin, determined they should see I was above all such little feelings – never will I quarrel with them for endeavouring to rival me in doing a Public Good.

The school in Thalassery must have been amongst the first to be built in Southern India for Indian children by European individuals. Missionaries had started other schools in the area fore instance at Kannur by this time, however they were much smaller.

Very few Indians received a formal education at this time. Private tutors were generally employed to teach the children of Brahmins or senior Nairs, and other instruction mainly on the Koran was going on in the mosques.

In many ways this school was a very modern idea for the time. In Britain schooling was only for the children of the richest parents. For most children and learning was done at home on through Sunday Schools. Universal education did not arrive until 1870.

The Mr. Oakes mentioned in the letter above was John L. Oakes who was Master Attendant at Tellicherry, and who later died in about 1819, leaving 20,000 Rupees of his own fortune for the relief of the poor of Tellicherry. John Oakes appears to have had a very highly developed sense of the need to improve the conditions for the hundreds of displaced and poverty stricken Indians living in the shanty towns on the fringes of Thalassery at that time.

This school still exists and operates today, and is called the Koduvally Higher Secondary School. It is on the lane leading up to Thomas Baber’s house and Pallikunnu Hill.

It would appear that the school was built in two phases, with the oldest bit being at the eastern end of the site. The change in construction between the oldest and the newer sections of the school can be seen where the roof pitch changes roughly half way along the length of the existing school building.

Tellicherry School. The junction between the oldest building, from 1817, which I believe is at the right hand end of this photo, a later phase of the building can clearly be seen on the left of the above photo.

From the letter above which lists “Parson, Mr Oakes, Edbert in Canara & Self” it is clear that Francis Spring, Mr. Oakes, Mr. Edbert and Thomas Baber were the main drivers behind the founding of this new school. Modern accounts of the establishment of schooling in Thalasserry suggest incorrectly that the earliest western school in Thalassery was the B.G.M. School founded by the Basel German Mission on March 1st 1856 by Edward Brennen and Herman Gundert, for 74 students.

The school at Pallikunnu appears to have been founded in 1817, and to have then been taken over by the Church Missionary Society in 1824. The Missionary Gazetteer published by Charles Williams in the late 1820’s, said of the school: -

“The C.M.S. commenced a mission here in 1817, which was for some years superintended by the Rev. Francis Spring, the chaplain. He prepared the church catechism and liturgy in Malaylim. A school of 50 scholars here has been highly useful, and formerly supported itself. Many who were educated in it are engaged in public offices, or useful occupations, and have done credit to the instruction they had received. Much opposition has been made by the Roman Catholics. Respecting this station, Mr. Spring writes:- “Something is almost daily occurring to animate us in our course. Here, flashes of heavenly light are continually gleaming through the darkening atmosphere. I hear that there is, on every side, a readiness amongst great numbers to receive the tidings of the Gospel.” A poor man’s fund was also established, which relieved 400 persons weekly; 20,000 rupees were bequeathed to it by a deceased friend, who was the principle agent in its establishment. This measure conciliated the natives, and gave them favourable views of Christianity.

In 1823, Mr. Spring left this station for England, having made the best arrangements in his power to secure the continuance of the school established by him, and now maintained by the Madras Corresponding Committee of the C.M.S. In 1824, since which no accounts of it have been published, it contained 59 children of various castes and classes.”

It appears that Oakes’ and quite probably Thomas Baber’s concept for the school was that it was to be open to all faiths and also to take bright boys of any race. However it appears that once the Revd. Spring was able to take over control of the school to a greater extent in the years after 1820; it began to try to convert pupils to Christianity.

Major Henry Bevan, an officer in the 27th Madras Native Infantry visited the school in its early years, and specifically describes its multicultural form.

The judges of the circuit-court at Tellicherry generally employ half castes, or Anglo-Indians and Portuguese, in such subordinate offices as do not require a knowledge of Hindoo or Mohammedan law. There is a large half-caste population round Tellicherry, principally descended from the Portuguese settlers, who came out here soon after the discovery of India. A large portion of the fortified factory erected by the first Portuguese colonists still remains. It is surrounded by a high wall, secured by towers, and is now used as a court-house and gaol. Most of the half-castes speak English with great fluency, and all are anxious to have their children instructed in that language. There is a very good English school at Tellicherry supported by voluntary contributions of the officers and by the small stipends paid by the natives the teacher however when I visited it was a Portuguese but he was perfectly competent for his situation. I found also that he was a good mathematician, and the answering of some of his pupils whom I examined would not disgrace an European academy. There were several Hindoo and Mohammedan children at the school, and they joined in the studies and sports of their Christian fellow pupils without ever quarrelling on account of their religious differences.

The first schoolmaster was a Portuguese called John Baptist or Bapiste, a “native catechist,” who had four native assistants. An edition of the Missionary Gazetteer by B.B. Edwards gives a congregation of 16, with 2 schools, with 144 boys, 13 girls, and 28 youths and adults.

John Oakes seems to have been the leader of many of the humanitarian efforts in Tellicherry, and it appears that he had originally begun these relief efforts entirely from his own resources, and in his own free time. He would go out into the shanty settlements around the fringes of Tellicherry where the poorest people came to live, and to have fed and nursed many of them himself. His efforts in time attracted the attention of the other European’s, who were prevailed upon to contribute towards not just a school but a public hospital as well.

John Oakes monument in St John's Church at Cannanore. Photo courtesy of John Roberts.

Extract from Fort George Public Consultations.
24th January 1820.

Read the following letter from Mr. F. Spring.

To D. Hill Esq.
No. 78 Secretary to Government
Fort St. George
16th December 1819.
Agreeably to the last will of the late Mr. J. H. Oakes, Master Attendant at this place, deceased, I have to request that you will be pleased to lay before his Excellency the Right Honourable the Governor in Council the subjoined extract from the will of the said deceased, and to beg his Excellency to take the same into consideration.
I have also to state to his Excellency in Council, that there is already in Bengal Securities more than sufficient to cover the Charitable bequest made in the aforesaid extract.
I have now therefore to request that his Excellency in Council will be graciously pleased to take into especial consideration the latter part of the extract, that the will of the deceased may be conformed to with as little delay as possible.
I must likewise beg you to state to his Excellency in Council that in virtue of the power invested in me by the subjoined Extract, I wish that the annual interest of the said Charitable bequest be made over to me as long as I may remain at Tellicherry, and afterwards to whomsoever I may think proper to appoint, to be disposed of agreeably to the will of the deceased.
Lastly, I beg leave to state to his Excellency, that there has been established at this place for about 3 years a fund for the relief of the poor, supported by voluntary contributions, to which the deceased annually gave Rupees 600, and that it is my intention to add yearly the interest of the deceased bequest, to the said fund; and for the further information of his Excellency I take the liberty of submitting the report of the said fund for the year ending September 30th 1819.
With all respect
Tellicherry I have etc.
16th Dec 1819 (signed) F. Spring.

The following extract from the will of the late Mr J. H. Oakes, Master Attendant, Tellicherry gives some idea of the extent of Oakes private efforts to improve things for the inhabitants of Thalassery.

After the legacies shall have been paid, I then bequeath the sum of Rupees Twenty Thousand in Company’s paper, or to be invested in that paper, should I not then possess any, as a fund for the poor of this place, the annual interest of which to go to the purchase of rice to be served out weekly: perhaps the disposal had better be placed in the hands of the Portuguese Church Wardens with the Padre at the head: no preference of cash in distributing the rice, poor of all descriptions equally included. No part of the funds at any time to be diverted to building or church affairs, but purely to Charity. The Clergyman of the Church of England, resident at this station being requested, and hereby authorized to demand yearly account of the managers of this expenditure shall should the disposal be placed as above suggested. Should, however, the Chaplain think any better plan could be adopted of ensuring a more faithful discharge of this trust, he is at liberty so to adopt it. I must request of Mr. Spring whether he executes to my estate, or not, that he will, at least, put this part of my will into execution that relates to the funds for the poor; that he will address the Government intimating the sum wished to be invested in Company’s paper to form a fund for the relief of the poor at Tellicherry, requesting it may be received into the Company’s treasury and continued there on the same terms, and under the same protection other charitable purposes meet at their hands, the interest to be transmitted, as it becomes due, to one of their servants at Tellicherry, and by him made over to those with whom the contribution is intrusted, and thus for ever.

A true Copy
Signed F. Spring

In his letter to Fort St George Francis Spring enclosed the following account of the first six months of operations of the newly founded Tellicherry Hospital, which appears to have grown out of Oakes work with the poor of Tellicherry.

Association for the relief of the Poor of Tellicherry Report 1818 – 19.
The Superintendent of your association for the relief of the poor of this place in presenting the report of proceedings for 1818-19, meets the Society with mingled feelings of satisfaction and sorrow.
He has much grounds for rejoicing in the prosperity of the Society’s funds; in the reliefs afforded to the really distressed; in the general improvement of the executive department; and, last, though not least, in the establishment of a Hospital for the cure of the diseased.
But he has much cause for regret when he reflects upon the loss, which the association has sustained in the death of one of its undaunted patrons and finest supporters. Liberal as was the sum which he annually subscribed in support of the fund, it is the active part which he took in the Society’s proceedings, that must especially call for the feelings of regret at his sudden and premature departure.
Like another Howard and scarcely on a smaller scale, he visited the habitations of the destitute, and prevented the abuse of his charity by personal examination of the old and the sick, the lame and the blind. Thus was he better enabled, and it need not be said that he did so, with the greatest readiness to co-operate with your superintendent in discriminating, from amongst the numerous applications, the proper proportion to be afforded to each. His own humane heart always suggested a due liberality; his sense of the necessity of distributing judiciously, that every one might have a little, with held him from profusion. Like another Howard too he fell, speaking after the manner of men, a victim to his benevolent exertions. His tender constitution, probably so rendered by the sparing manner in which he lived in order to give more abundantly to the poor, was ill [entated?] to resist that dire disease, which hath, alas, with him, cut off so rising a flower of our country.
The association will not consider this tribute of respect to a departed member as irrelevant to the object of this report, or unconnected with its future proceedings, when they learn that he has bequeathed no less a sum than 20,000 Rupees in the Honourable Company’s paper, the annual interest of which is to be applied to the purchase of rice for the relief of the poor of this place for ever. Your Superintendent would now proceed to specify what has been done during the past year; and first with regard to the funds. At the close of the preceding year, there remained in the Trustees Funds a balance of Rupees 817.1.16. The last year has produced donations and subscriptions, and some small arrears paid up, the sum of Rs. 2111.2.80. making a total of rupees 2,928,3,96. From this sum have been expended in the purchase of rice Rupees 2201, 0, 20; for a writer and sundry expenses Rupees 115, 2, 40; on account of the hospital, of which a detail will be subjoined, Rupees 55, 3, 71, making a total of Rupees 2372,2,31, which, subtracted from the receipts, leaves a balance in funds of the Treasurer at the close of the year ending September 30 1819 of Rupees 556.1.65.
While however the Superintendent thus rejoices in the prosperity of the Societies funds, he cannot refrain at this stage of the report from suggesting to the subscribers the great necessity of their continued and liberal support.
The Hospital is a recent Establishment, and therefore has not yet drawn largely upon the funds. All things being take into consideration, upon a rough estimate formed from the disbursements of less than 3 months, the expenditure attached to this institution cannot be less than Rupees 300 or 400 annually. Besides this addition to the disbursements by the loss of our benevolent fund there is made in the receipts an annual deficiency of Rupees 600, the amount of his subscription, so that in fact a thousand Rupees are to be made up from our own resources. Tis true, that by the will of our departed friend, a much larger sum than what he subscribed is devoted to the very same purposes in which we are engaged, and at the same place. Yet it is to be supposed that he thereby intended to increase rather than lessen the number of objects to be relieved, and to set us an example that we might follow his steps. And it is rational to expect that many proper objects will apply to us for relief now that the streams of his personal charity are dried up.
The next object which this report embraces is the great relief afforded to the really distressed. It is quite needless to insist here upon the number of persons relieved, the nature of their wants, their destitute conditions, their particular infirmities. A visit to the place of distribution at the time appointed would set forth more eloquently than words the quantity, and quality of human misery to which by your liberality and generous sympathy some alleviation has been afforded.
There are two points of view, however, in which your Superintendent the utility of this institution eminently shine forth, the discouragement which is given thereby to common begging, and the help which is afforded to the deserving in distress. It is impossible wholly to prevent mendacity, but since it has been the established rule of this association only to give a scanty subsidence, and to them alone who stately reside at the place, common itinerant beggars can neither obtain nor retain a ticket. Many deserving persons, on the other hand, have been relieved, who, upon the recovery of health, and obtaining employment, have gladly relinquished their claims on the fund to earn an honest livelihood.
The third part of this report relates to the general improvements made in carrying into execution the objects of the Society.
To prevent abuse from fraud, and waste, is not an easy, is not an easy thing at any time; experience can alone conduct to the most effectual measures. There were considerations which, in the first instance, seemed t suggest the propriety of making a weekly distribution of rice at 3 different places.
The superintendence was thereby rendered more difficult, nor was the measure found productive of any good result. The plan therefore has been recently adopted of distributing the whole at one place. This, together with list of the persons relieved, the quantity given to each, the time of admission and removal, and the reason thereof, and also weekly returns of the quantity of rice absolutely distributed, renders the mode of distribution as perfect as the nature of the case will admit.
Lastly, the report has to advert to the establishment of an Hospital for the cure of the diseased. Several circumstances led to the forming of this institution, but mainly the consideration, that many objects, who, through sickness, were chargeable on the poor fund, might be easily restored to health, and again capable of providing for themselves. The opinion has even already been found to be correct, and the value of the Establishment, as an auxiliary to the poor fund, sufficiently shown. It is therefore very satisfactory to know, that out of 43 persons admitted to the Hospital, only 6 have died, 2 been dismissed as incurable, and 29 cured, the remaining 6 either went away of their own accord, or were removed for improper conduct. For general information it seems proper to subjoin that, on admission to the Hospital, each individual receives a cloth/ except there be especial reasons for the contrary / a mat to lie on, and an earthern vessel for food (which are not taken away, on dismissal / and, where requisite, a comley is lent. Every individual also receives daily rice and salt and 1 pice for the purchase of Curry stuff; a Tieta is employed to cook for and to attend upon the sick at 3 pice per day, and a Muckawata at 1 Rupee per month. By favor of the Zillah Judge carrying of water, and other labourious work for the Hospital, are done by the prisoners.

The Superintendent cannot close this report without expressing his Conviction that the association for the relief of the poor of Tellicherry will continue to flourish and abound yet more and more in usefulness, and that as in a certain place it is written the poor shall never cease from off the lands, so there shall never want persons, moved by the bounds of compassion, the common feelings of humanity, and the enlarged principles of benevolence to relieve them.

Contained within the report is the following list of subscriber’s towards the fund.

Account of Receipts and disbursements of the Poor Fund Tellicherry for the year 1818/19
Receipts Rs P Fns
Balance in hand Sept 1818 817 1 16 1252
J Stevens Esq 180
T Warden Esq 360
T H Baber Esq 360
J.S. Oakes Esq 600
Rev’d F Spring 240 Commencing 14 July 1819
F Hollond Esq
donation 100
H Laconby Esq
4 months 48
J Baggy 24
J Lapences 40
Mrs Lafenais 2
Do. 4
F M Lafenais 12
Leonado de
Rozario 12
A J Almeida
9 months 22 2
G X Affonso 4 3 20
A J Rodrigues 12
A Fernandes
1 month 1
Maria Suza 2 do 2
J Baptista 4 do 4
Jemmdar 8 do 2
Tolachu Moopen 1
Chatta Rootu
Moopen 4 do 3
Madaya Maunen
do 1
Arrears from last year Vizt.
G X Affonso
1 month 1 60
Ayalapa Ammafa
2 do 2
A Fernandes
2 do 2

Disbursements Rs P Fns
Moras of Rice 2201 “ 20
Cooly 17 2 40
Writers & Rice distribution 96
Stamp paper for contract 2
Hospital Account 2316.2. 60

Tellicherry School, with the trees of Pallikunnu Hill in the background.

If you go to this school, or have information about it's history between 1817 and today, I would be very interested to hear from you. My email is

[1]OIOC Private Papers IOR:MSS. F151 / 43 folio 50 – 54. Letters to Sir Thomas Munro.

Copyright Nick Balmer November 2007