Sunday, 22 April 2007

Day 5 Arriving in Calicut

Arriving in Calicut [Kozhikode] towards dusk, we had passed by many rundown sawmills and boatyards, before passing over the Beypore River into the south of the town. These are the last remaining vestiges of the former seafaring glory of Calicut.

For we were arriving at what was once Calicut, the home of the famous Zamorin’s who had ruled over one of the strongest and most robust of the Indian trading states along Kozhikode the Malabar Coast.

After so many years of reading the history of the region, it was with a great deal of excitement that I looked out for signs of the remains of this fabled trading port.

I had hoped that buildings from the period of Calicut’s glory would survive, but it was in the faces of people on the streets, that one could see most clearly the traces of the former life of the city.

Very few of the buildings appeared to date back beyond the period of the British rule, but the faces of the men spoke of their origins in the Middle East, Java and even Africa.

I could not help but try to picture in my mind, what the scene must have been like in 1797, when my great great great great uncle Thomas Hervey Baber had arrived in Calicut, sighting the Malabar Coast for the first time.

We don’t know when exactly he arrived, but on February the 7th 1798, my great great great grandfather Henry Baber wrote in his diary that his father had received the following letter from his brother: -

“Feb. 7 Father hears from Tom -- Letter dated Bombay August 1797 – about the same receives a letter which came overland enclosed (by just favour) with government dispatches, requesting his consent to marry a Mrs Cameron (wife of a Major Cameron who was lately killed in an excursion down the country) she is not 18 the daughter of Mr. Fearon of Edinburgh & niece of Mr Douglas of Fitzroy Square London. She had been married to the Major about a twelvemonth.

Tom’s first appointment (upon his arrival at Bby was assistant to the Secretary in the Private Department.)”

It would appear that within months of his arrival in Bombay, Thomas was sent down the coast to Calicut. He had originally set out for India in August 1796: -

“Went to the Isle of Wight with Webb to see
Tom July 5th returned Oxford 13.
Tom sailed in the Albion (Capt Timbrel) to Bombay
Augst 12. Went out Writer”.

It is most probable that Thomas had come on down the coast by ship from Bombay, and would have landed across the beach.

Thomas appears to have only spent a short time in Calicut before being posted up country to Palghat [1], which is to the south east of Calicut.

It was whilst there, that the first recorded event, that I can connect with him occurred, when he was engaged in 1799, in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture a Mappilla rebel called Chemban Pokar who had escaped from Palghat Fort.

These events had their origins in an exemption that the Second Raja of Calicut had given to the Putiyangadi Tangal [2], a Muslim Priest from an influential Arab family, from making revenue payments on his property. This village is given as Bettapudiyangadi, in Logan’s Malabar Manual [3], and is on the north bank of the Ponnani River three miles south of Tirur. This village was one of many in the region where the Mappilas and Hindu’s were competing for dominance. It had been hoped that the Tangal would restrain his fellow Muslims.

A gang had formed run by Unni Mutta Muppan, Attan Gurikkal, and Chemban Pokar. These men who were local headmen were trying to seek revenge on the East India Company judges for the execution of Adam Khan, for a murder he had committed.

As far back as 1797 letters from Tippu Sultan had been intercepted passing to Unni Mutta Muppan, as well as the Pychy Raja and with the Padinyaru Kovilakam Rajas of the Zamorin’s house. [4]

Thomas Baber’s attempt to seize Chemban Pokar was repulsed, and this then encouraged Pokar to attempt to assassinate Mr. George Waddell, the Southern Superintendent, as he journeyed between Angadipuram and Orampuram.

The Mappillas, who were very strongly established in the Calicut area were to give the British repeated problems throughout the period of British rule, with out breaks in the 1840’s, 1860’s, 1880’s and in 1925.

They were the enemies of the Hindu landlords and had often co-operated with the British against the local inland Hindu rulers before 1799, because they saw the British in the 18th Century often as allies in their disputes against the oppressive landlords caste system, from which many of them had escaped to become Muslim’s.

With the East India Companies defeat of Tippu’s state, the Mappillas began to see the British as a bigger threat even than the Hindu’s.

It must have been a frightening but also exciting thing for a newly arrived official aged only twenty as Thomas was, to lead a raid on Chemban Pokar. So far I have not been able to locate any account of the event itself, but the higher British authorities were extremely angry about the raid, and Thomas may have been in severe trouble for some while because of it.

The raid had the effect of driving the Muslim Mappilas to make common cause with the Pychy Raja, who was at this time at the height of his success. The Malabar Commissioners sent a Major Walker to the area to investigate, and Messrs’ Baber and Waddell were condemned for their spirited action. Chemban Pokar was pardoned after he had given security for his good behaviour.

[1] Palghat, nowadays known as Paliacatta
[2] Nowadays spelt Puthiyangadi. A Tangal is a Muslim Priest.
[3] Logan, Malabar Manual, Volume II, page ccccii.
[4] Logan, Volume I, page 522.

Copyright Nick Balmer, February 2007.


VR said...


I got to know about your blog from a friend. Amazing stuff! Thanks a lot for blogging on Malabar's history.


chemban jalal said...

Dear Mr.Nick
Your blog has helped me to get more information about Chemban Pocker who was our 14th grand father.Chemban family get together held twice 2007 and 2009,and nine thousand Chembans attended.In my speech I clearely mention about your book Malabar Days.
For your kind information,Chemban pocker's grave yard is still protected in Munniyoor masjid by Chemban family.
by Chemban Jalal

chemban moideen kutty haji said...

your Book Malabar 5 days gives us some valuable infrormation of our beloved great father Chemban pocker , we expect more from u