Sunday, 22 April 2007

Day 5, East Hill, Calicut.

From earlier research I knew that a museum called the Pazhassi Raja Museum existed at East Hill in Calicut. What I had not expected was how interesting it would prove to be.

With the help of Ramesh our driver, we discovered that East Hill is four and one half miles to the north east of the town centre, on a steep hill over looking the town of Calicut. The northern end of Calicut was the area where the European’s had been allowed to settle during the days of the Zamorin.

As we climbed and climbed up the steep escarpment to the top of the East Hill, I began to wonder if we were in fact going to the wrong location. However, as soon as we arrived at the main gate, and turned into the museum grounds, I knew we were in a location that was contemporary with Thomas Baber’s life in the Malabar.

For the museum is located in an East India Company courthouse, which appears to have, been built in about 1810 to 1820, judging from the style of the architecture. The classic education of architect of this building is quite apparent in its design, and its inspiration must surely come from someone who aspired to a Roman Villa complex.

It is also quite apparent that it was built by an entirely practical man, for located as it is on a high hill, up above, and remote from the town, it would have been defendable in the event of a rebellion, which must have been only too likely an event to occur.

The complex is formed of three buildings linked together. The oldest appears to be the courthouse. It comprises a large square court building in the centre of the building, with large wooden doors, forming entire walls, to the courtroom, surrounded by a veranda. These concertina doors could be folded back, to allow people on the veranda, which is one of the widest verandas I have ever seen, access to the central courtroom.

The ceilings are very high, and contain louvres for ventilation.

Linking corridors lead to the private quarters, which now form the Krishna Menon Museum and Art Gallery. The courthouse is called the Pazhassi Raja Museum.

Under the courtroom is a basement gaol. The jail is now a sculpture museum and is filled with extremely fascinating stone carving. The structure of this basement is very curious. For a prison it is remarkably light and airy. By the standards of 19th Century British jails like Northleach, it is remarkably pleasant.

It is very hard to tell if the cells have been altered greatly in the development of the museum, and no doubt the prisoners were down there in large numbers, in poor condition. But I couldn’t help thinking; they were probably better off than many British convicts would have been in similar circumstances at that time.

The attitude of the modern Indian authorities to the information in this museum puzzles me. Here is a museum devoted to an Indian Freedom Fighter, Pazhassi Raja, who as far as I am aware never ever came there. The Raja is a subject of huge interest in India currently, and yet there is nothing whatsoever in the museum about him.

It is really a pity that the museum doesn’t cover these events more fully. It has display cases containing some very interesting uniforms and memorabilia from the Malabar Police and Revenue Kolkars.

Amongst the staff in the museum was one young Muslim girl who was obviously interested in the artefacts. She was really surprised at my interest in the various hats, and other equipment, and even more surprised that I knew what they were. Some, I found myself explaining not just to her, but several other visitors what many of these artefacts were.

One very nice young couple later came up and thanked me for the information, and said how much they had enjoyed it. They said how sad they were that there were no guidebooks available. For the history of the building was probably just as interesting as the history of the artefacts in it.

The museum authorities also seem totally unaware that West Hill not far away was the site of one of the most successful attacks on a member of the East India Company establishment ever mounted, when Mr. Conolly, the District Magistrate and Provisional Member of the Council for the Presidency was murdered by a gang of Mappilas.

For as Mr. G. B. Tod, Assistant Collector in Malabar wrote to the Chief Secretary at 1 a.m. on the 12th of September 1855: -

“It is my melancholy duty to inform you, for the information of the Right Honorable the Governor in Council, that Mr. Conolly, the Collector of this district, was most barbarously murdered this evening, between eight and nine o’clock, in the presence of his wife. He received seven wounds, one of which at least was mortal.

So far as the details at present are ascertained, the perpetrators were three Mappilas, who rushed into the veranda and completed their deadly work before assistance could be called. In the present state of Mrs. Conolly, it is impossible to gather further particulars of the tragedy of which she was the sole witness; but immediately that I am able to do so, I will furnish more complete information.”

The Mappilas were escaped convicts from Calicut Jail (from the town Jail, not the courthouse) called Valasseri Emalu, Puliyakunat Tenu, Chemban Moidin Kutti and Vellattadayatta Parambil Moidin. They had escaped from a prison working party on the 4th of August 1855, spent the following month on the run in various houses in the foothills of the Ghats. At a place called Mambram, they prayed at a shrine of a Tangal, known as a fanatic and insurgent leader. They had then hidden in a house three-quarters of a mile away, for several days, before taking vows at a ceremony where they sang a song called Moidin Mala Pattu. Their war knives were passed through incense smoke.

On the night of the 11th at between eight and nine in the evening they crept up to the veranda, leaping up and stabbing Conolly twenty seven times in all. Two servants also received cuts as they came to see what was happening.

A huge manhunt commenced, and eventually on the 17th near a village called Eddamannapara the attackers were tracked down to a building where Major Haly’s Police Corps and a part of No. 5 Company of H.M. 74th Highlanders under Captain Davies attacked the house they were holed up in.

A mortar and a cannon were used to force the men out of the building, whereupon they were cut down, but only after they had killed a Scottish soldier and wounded another in the throat. [1]

It would appear that over the long term, these Mappilas played as serious a role as the Pyche Raja had in trying to oust the British.

Conolly himself seems to have had a lot of time for the peoples he ruled over. He is very largely instrumental in much of the development of the Teak plantations springing up in the Wynaad.

It is not clear who built the courthouse, but Mr. Pearson was Magistrate at Calicut for much of the 1817 to 1825 period, and possibly beyond.

Thomas Baber who became a Circuit Judge visited Calicut often, and must presumably have visited the courthouse. Baber was a strong critic of many aspects of the East India Company administration in the Malabar, and his strong criticism did nothing to endear him with his fellow officials.

In the following letter written to Sir Thomas Munro in 1817, several of these criticisms are aired. He believed that most of the officials running the salt and tobacco monopolies in Calicut were corrupt, and that the monopolies should he stopped.

My dear Sir
Agreeable to your request I return the A copy of my Report on the late Circuit, and also the B comparative statement, and shall be most happy to forward any of the Documents in my possession from which the matter of Public Benefit can be derived – In my report I touched upon the Subject of Reductions as far as I dared, tho’ I wished much to have said afterwards upon the large Police Establishments still kept up in Malabar, which surely cannot be necessary now that the whole of the servants in the Revenue Department – have been vested with the Police Authority. Unfortunately however there is no information before the Court upon the subject, and I should not have been warranted making my observations upon data derived from private sources of information – Whatever however Mr. Vaughan (who is a mere echo of Mr. Warden and his Party) may say upon the necessity of such an expensive Police Estab’t – be assured that one half, at the most, of the present number of peons would be amply Sufficient for legitimate Police purposes.

I ought perhaps to rest satisfied with the reduction I effected 8 years ago – When the charge was upwards of 60,000 s pags besides about 4000 more for cloathing and such nonsense – This after a years fighting with Capt Watson, Lt Grey, Messrs Warden, Chapman etc etc I got reduced to 20,000 for the whole Province – I will not impose (much?) upon you as to read the whole correspondence, which is a large volume, but send a few letters merely to give you an insight into the abuses (---?) in that productive Establishment – Captain Watson made a very handsome fortune sufficient to enable him to resign the service – and I have heard that his adjutant who succeeded him made nearly a lac of Rupees!!!

In Canara I should suppose the Revenue Establishment quite sufficient or at least with a trifling increase in the number of Peons, by way of a reserve for the districts below the Gauts – But I would not recommend a reduction of any of the Hackbundies on the Mysore, Mahratta or Portuguese frontier my argumentation made as it was on the spot, and my plan of dismissing Police Officers wherever abuses prevailed would I think prevent any serious interruption to the Public Safety.

I wished much also to have, in my Report, offered an opinion that Seringapatam was no longer of sufficient consequence to require a Zilla Court with its concomitant expenses, but I have suffered so much for my Zeal that I really now dread doing more than I am obliged – I however adverted to the present State of that Zilla in terms that must suggest to all who read my Report, the inutility for such an expensive Establishment – and I accordingly beg to submit to you how far it would not be practicable to incorporate Seringapatam with North Malabar as easily as Cochin with South Malabar – Magt and Collector with a Moorsiffar would be as much as would be required for all that has to be done at present.

I know not what the present charge is, but by some such arrangement as above suggested, a saving of at least half a lac of Rupees might be affected – I hope you approve of my proposition for employing the convicts it will I know like everything else I suggest be appealed but if I could, I would gladly hold myself responsible for its success, --- You have my full permission to make what use you will of the Comparative Statement tho’ neither Mr. Wilson’s wanton expenditure of the Publics money, nor his cruelty in allowing so many innocent people to remain immured in jail in 1812 & 14 are to be compared to what he notified during former years, particularly those in which he was wholly under the influence of Portipus and Mathapa, -- It is only a matter of surprise to me, how human nature could submit – to such unparalleled sufferings, and that people did not rise en masse and murder every European in the country. How much more does it behove Government to make what reparations they can, knowing as they now do, that all their evils have been entirely owing to the misconduct of their servants – I hope you will bring the subject to the notice of Government, and if you do, do not omit telling them, that even those who have had courage enough and been in circumstances to prosecute their oppressors, have not (excepting in 3 or 4 instances) been repaid the sums extorted from them – In my humble opinion, it would be no more than was first in a great and good Government like ours, to authorize the collector to pay at once from the Public Money under his charge, the whole that has been decreed and also such sums as he might satisfy himself had been extracted from the people without any equivalence – If the Judges of the Provincial Court had done their duty, they would have reported to Govt or at least the Fdr Court, the difficulties in carrying into execution there ---- , owing to Mr Wilson’s irregular mode of proceeding against persons and property of Portapa & Mathapar, and recommended some such mode as above suggested, to make the sufferers some amends – When I was Zilla Judge of Canara, I wrote more than enough to the Provincial Court to satisfy them, how hopeless any adjustment of the confusion in the accounts of the sequestered property was (a great part of which even had been made away) and since I have been in this court, I have done all in my power to get my colleagues to take the subject into consideration, but where there such a systematic appreciation, and such a warm interest for Mr. Wilson (and for every one who will write against me) every thing will be avoided that might eventually prove injurious to Mr. Wilson and it is in vain that as the Senior Judge, and with always inconsequence a casting vote opposed to me, introduce the subject – If however Mr. Stevens is often forced to fly in search of health (for he is still confined to his house) and I get an acting commission as one of the Senior Judges, I will immediately make an effort in favour of these unfortunate be commiserated victims of Rapacity and Injustice.

Your surprise at the treatment I received for doing no more than was my bounden Duty in bringing to light Murdoch Brown’s peculating will be still greater, when I tell you that not only in that but in a still more iniquitous affair, a traffic in kidnapped children I detected him in has been supported by the Company’s servants, and even by Provincial Court against me, I not withstanding succeeded in getting the better of them all, and actually gave liberty to upwards of a hundred poor creatures most of whom had been transported to Mr Brown’s Plantation at Angerkandy, by means the most flagrant – a conspiracy + was then formed to take away my life, in which thy were also foiled, and the ostensible persons, tho’ not the principles (One of which was Mr. Stevens) were disgraced by an exposure in a Court of Justice.

At this point in the letter a postscript has been written onto the bottom margin of the sheet.

+ In 1809 a plan was laid by Mr Douglas and his party to murder me a justice, personal friend with a Major Fortune – It succeeded upon that from obliged to call them out – I was shot thro’ the right thigh & wounded in the left in a most unfair manner, my antagonist having fired at me before the signal was given. He had been practicing at a mark two days before the meeting at Mr. Douglas house.

The letter continues;

It would in fact be endless to remunerate my sufferings for the last 10 years, and even now in the countless mortifications I am exposed to from the remorseless Persecutions of my fellow servants

-- Of the Duty of a Conservator of Forests I never could understand that it extended beyond receiving and paying for timber felled in the Malabar Forests when brought down to the coast, the whole timber being contracted for with the proprietors and former timber merchants – A greater misnomer than conservator cannot be conceived, Mr Fell, to my certain knowledge, never has seen the Forests, and although his assistant Captn Pinch has occasionally visited them, it is the most ridiculous idea conceivable to suppose that it is in his or any mans power to superintend such a prodigious extent of mountain jungle as the Malabar Forests, with an establishment of 3 inspectors and about 40 peons (that is I believe at utmost extent) and if they could, eui bono when not a tree can be exported, nor brought down to the coast without permission from the Collectors of land or sea Customs – So that in fact all that the Conservator & his officers have to do is, to take care of the Timber, which can be done just as well, and to a great deal better by a Collector than any other person – That never was a more useless appointment or establishment than that of Conservator of Malabar, and if my opinion was allowed to have any weight it should be in favour of a petition from the Merchants I sent up to Government in 1808 praying to be restored to their rights in the Forests, and to be allowed to continue to trade in such timber as the Government do not its self require for naval purposes, and all such timber they offered to give to the Company at ---- cost, and to give security, required of them, that they would not cut down any trees than such as the Government permitted them to __ I know not what the profits to the Company are upon the timber they sell, but they must be very trifling and go a very little way to defray the enormous annual expense of the Conservator & his establishment. I never heard that the cost of Timber before it reaches Bombay is more Now then when the trade was open and the company were obliged to buy their wants from the Merchants – But the monopoly is so odious a measure and one that has given rise to so much discontent , that one sacrifice a little for the care and welfare of those whom we are bound to conciliate there is most objection which seems wholly to have escaped the Consideration of Govt and that is, that the monopoly has put a total stop to ship building amongst the coast merchants, and this indeed may be considered as one of the causes of the great stagnation of trade in Malabar – The old Bupee of Cananese wanted to build a new ship of 4 to 500 tons
E burthen, and applied to the conservator of the Forests for the necessary Timber – who answered He has no orders to sell timber – I send the original answer, as a specimen of the uncourtly reception the old Lady’s application met with.

I am not at all surprised at you not having found amongst the Malabar Cutcherry Records what Europeans are employed in the Salt and tobacco department because I never can suppose Government would lose sight of what was due to the Company and their subjects as to give their sanction to such a wanton enhancement of the monopoly price (which in all conscience is high enough) of those commodities – The arrangements, I believe, to be entirely Mr Warden’s and so far from any advantage to the company from it, I know quite sufficient, of these excise agents to pronounce that they would not hesitate to avail themselves of any opening to enrich themselves at the public expense . Mr Lay at Calicut superintends the management of Tobacco sales from Beypoor to Cota River and Monsieur Declein (i.e. Swiss at Mahé’ from Cota to Cavair, there ostensible profits are 2 pagodas on every Candy but I am inclined to believe that there are not the whole of their advantages, a case I tried, when Zilla Judge, of North Malabar (go 16,369 in the file) proved that the sum of Rupees 513 had been charged to the Plaintiff by Mr Declein’s agent in charge of the Tobacco Depot at Mahé upon 34 Candies of Tobacco over and over the companies monopoly price 218 ¾ per Candy. (Which included the above stated 2 pagodas).

Mr Dineur has also the Superintendence of the Salt edas at and in the vicinity of Mahé, tho’ what the ostensible profits are I know not from an enquiry I made in 1810 I satisfied myself that there was a great deal of exposition going on, I forwarded indeed an original Olla to Mr Warden (intercepted by my police) from 2 merchants at Ponamy to Mr Dineurs Agents to dispatch all the salt to them, and not to dispose of any at Mahé and they would sell it at in 4 ½ fanems per para -- equal to 150Rs per corce or nearly an advance of 50 per cent upon the companies monopoly price.


I also reported the circumstance to Everest and another H that occurred a short time previous wherein I advanced to 4 (veliticis?) against Mr Dealein’s agents further oppressions in the receipt and sale of salt and tobacco – Me Ley’s ……..were in another Zilla consequently I know nothing more than what Reports say of his proceedings if however 2 pagodas per candy is all he receives it must be something very handsome for a man in his situation of life. The same sum would be thought a comfortable income if divided amongst 100 petty retailers who gained their livelihood of the sale of tobacco before the establishment of the monopoly – I detected Mr Ley in 1809 in receiving a commission upon freight of a vessel he had been employed to take up on behalf of the Company – Every they that could has been put in this way. He has a valuable Estate in Calicut procured of Mr. Warden’s interest, in defiance of the Regulations of Govt and Mr Pearson has given to him the use of the Convicts, while at the time he reported he had none to spare for the Public Health at Seringapatam – You will see I have adverted to this in my Report to the Fougary Court. – Mr. Thoring shopkeeper at Cananore has management of the Salt Sales at that station, his ostensible profits I am also present of had he himself not given his time and attention to the Concession for less than 100 S Pags per month – Mr Morris’s appointment is a very recent one, not more than twelve months but Mr Ley has I believe been employed since the Monopoly was first established – The latter person was Superintendent of Police at the …. Upon 150 Rps per mth at …. Establishment in 1800 and a Cutwal upon 20 Rps substituted (Mr Dipsar was immediately afterwards made Agent for tobacco and salt) – I forward a letter to Government in answer to a call upon me (in consequence of a petition he sent up to Govt backed by Coll Ben Forbes and the whole of the Officers at Cananore and Companies Servants at this place) to know what Mr Deacleins circumstances were. You will see I there told to Govt he was agent for Tobacco & Salt – and that his profits upon the former were at least 100 Pagodas per month – I believe I have now afforded you all the information I possess upon the points noticed in your letter, if however I find anything more I will …. to you, not that anything more can be necessary to Satisfy you of the existence of abuses in every branch of the administration of Malabar, and that my experience there of and opposition to whatever is prejudicial to the Company & there subjects have produced and are still operating with undiminished violence to keep up this monstrous confederacy against me – adieu.
My dear – for
Believe me
Most Faithfully
5 May 1817 T. H. Baber.

You have by this time acquired a totally one sided of the different characters who have been and who still are employed in Malabar, but none have cut such a figure as Messrs Torin & Bell (who are about to succeed to Council at Bombay) in consequence of their influence with Mr Warden I send K one more document, being my reports and claim (refused?) of Mr Fell for 60,000 Rps as the amount of his loss during the Travancore War. The never was such a gross barefaced attempt to Cheat the Company – Look at Govt laconic letter to Mr Fell – It is sufficiently expressive of their sentiments of him.

In colonial times before the British came to dominate the area the French, Danes and English each had a separate compound along the coast at Calicut. When the English eventually achieved dominance, the northern area of the city became the cantonment. A number of substantial colonial buildings remain around the Mananchira Tank, and to the north. It proved extremely difficult to get any information in Calicut on the town’s history.

However I was later fortunate enough to obtain a copy of “Calicut, The City of Truth, Revisited” by Professor M.G.S. Narayanan, a well known local historian published by Calicut University in 2006, which I greatly wish had been available during my visit, as it describes the history of the city and sets out several suggested walking routes around the important sites.

[1] Logan’s Malabar Manual Volume 1, pages 565 to 568.


Gopan said...

Highly informative

nidheesh narayanan said...

Good articles. I enjoy reading malabardays....

nishath said...

for the first time, i am actually able to learn about the place where i am from. its true when they say, you understand your place, when you are away from it. and me being in north India, has terribly increased my urge to learn about the history of calicut. could you suggest me a book which would give me a better perspective of malabar?

Ved from Victoria Institutions said...

The writings are informative. Yet, like all British/English writings by visiting English men, this one also misses a great point. That of the extremely feudal nature of Indian languages. Malabar dialect, is quite feudal and oppressive to the lower citizen. At the same time, quite ennobling to those forcefully placed higher. How the English families could interact with local populace in such circumstances belies understanding.