Sunday, 27 May 2007

Defeat of Captain Dickenson, Panamaram, 1802

On the 11th of October 1802 followers of the Pyche Rajah attacked the EIC garrison at Panamaram. Captain Dickenson and another European officer, together with about 50 Sepoys were killed and wounded during the fight.

Panamaram means Palmyra Fort, so that it appears that the garrison was stationed in a stockade built of palm tree trunks, to guard the point where the road from Sultan Battery [1] to Manantoddy [2] and the Periah Pass passes over the Kabani River. The Sepoy's were most probably living in the village along the street that runs down towards the site of the modern bridge.

Aerial photograph courtesy of Google Earth

It is not possible to pin point the exact location of the attack, but it is probable that Captain Dickerson's house was situated on the high point near the modern beaten earth sports field at the western end of the modern town.

The first overt act occurred at Panamaram (otherwise called Panamarattakotta, or Panamurtha Cotta, or still shorter Panorta Cota, literally the “palmyra tree fort”) in Wynad. Some five days previous to 11th October 1802, one of the proscribed rebel leaders, Edachenna Kungan, chanced to be present at the house of a Kurciyan, when a belted peon came up and demanded some paddy from the Kurchiyan. Edachenna Kungan replied by killing the peon, and the Kurchiyars (a jungle tribe) in that neighbourhood, considering themselves thus compromised with the authorities, joined Edachenna Kungan under the leadership of one Talakal Chandu. This band, numbering about 150, joined by Edachenna Kungan and his two brothers, then laid their plans for attacking the military post at Panamaram, held by a detachment of 70 men of the 1st battalion of the 4th Bombay Infantry under Captain Dickenson and Lieutenant Maxwell. “They first seized the sentry’s musket the sentry’s musket and killed him with arrows. Captain Dickenson killed and wounded with his pistols, bayonet and sword, 15 of the Kurchiyars, 5 of whom are dead and 10 wounded.” The whole detachment was massacred, and the rebels obtained 112 muskets, 6 boxes of ammunition and Rs. 6,000. All the buildings at the post were destroyed. [3]

Captain Lewis,based at Cannanore, sent the following account of events to Colonel Wellesey on the 16th October, 1802: -

“Ere this reaches you, you doubtless are acquainted with the melancholy occurrence at Panacoorta Cottah. The perpetrators of this accursed act were supposed to amount to between four and five hundred, divided into three parties, one of which secured the barracks of arms, another surrounded the officers’ homes, and the third attacked the sepoys. The cantonments were srt fire to in several places at the same time, and the men cut down as they came out of their huts. Captain Dickenson and Lieutenant Maxwell were mangled in a dreadful manner, twenty sepoys were killed and thirty wounded, few of whom are expected to survive; only one servant of Captain Dickenson’s escaped; all his property (except his mare) was destroyed, and his horse keeper and his wife were found burnt to death. Major Macleod’s Brahmins (of the Cutcherry) are missing. It is said that the Rajah himself, with Coongan and Yemman Nair, were present; but this can be only mere conjecture, as every inhabitant in the vicinity of Pancoota Cottah had deserted their homes. The arms of the detachment were secured by the rebels, but the ammunition being in Captain Dickenson’s house, was fortunately blown up. After this business was over, they were seen on the same morning at the Cootioor Pass, where they robbed and severely mauled every traveller who was unfortunate enough to fall in with them. To what point they directed their course is not yet ascertained. [4]

The headquarters of the 4th Bombay Infantry Battalion was at a fortified place called Poolinjall, a few miles west of Panamaram, on the slopes of the Balasur Mountain Peak. Here 360 men under the command of Major Drummond remained, making no attempt to retrieve the situation.

An officer within nine miles of him suffers himself to be surprised, and with his whole detachment is cut off; and Major Drummond, instead of putting the battalion under his command into camp, and moving quickly upon the rebels, sits quietly in his cantonment and takes no one step to oppose or stop the insurrection, or for the security of the troops or district under his command. I declare that after such supine conduct, to say no worse of it, I should not be astonished if I were to hear that Major Drummond and the remainder of the battalion had been cut off likewise.

This is not the mode in which the former rebellion in Wynaad and Cotiote was suppressed; it is not that in which this insurrection is to be stopped; but it is the certain mode of continuing it as long as a British Soldier remains in that part of India.

Tell Major Drummond that the troops lately sent to his assistance are not to be kept in a fort or cantonment; they are to be in the field in one or more bodies, according to his information of the strength of the enemy; and let him know that whatever may be the enemy’s strength at present, I expect that when he will be joined by these reinforcements he will move out and attack him, and that by his future activity he will remove from my mind the impression which has been made upon it of the certain evil which the public interests will sustain from his late supineness.

Colonel Wellesley [6] was highly critical of Drummond’s performance, writing on the 3rd of November 1802, he said that the Major was a “kyde”, a word that derived from “Keidi” in Malayalam, which in turn came from “Qaidi”, the Arab word for prisoner.

A relief column had to be sent up the Ghats from Calicut consisting of 300 sepoys and 200 men from Captain Watson’s police.

Edachenna Kungan following his victory went on to issue orders from Pulpalli Pagoda calling the inhabitants to arms. About 3,000 men assembled.

Minute of the Commander in Chief.

The Commander in Chief reports to the Board that attempts have been made to renew the disturbances in the Wynaad and Cotiote Districts.

On the morning of the 11th instant a detachment of Panoratta, consisting of about 70 men of the Bombay Native Infantry was attacked by a body of Nairs. The post was carried, the Cantonment and Cutchery were burnt and the detachment was cutt off. The commanding Officer, Captn Dickerson, Lieutn Maxwell with 24 Sepoys were killed and about the same number of native troops were wounded. The Detachment was surprized. The tranquillity of the country had been for some time unmolested, and the officers expecting no acts of hostility from the people were in a state of insecurity. The body of Nairs whose numbers did not exceed three or four hundred men are reported to have dispersed after the affair but it appears that the stockade at the pass of Cotiote was attacked soon after, and the latest accounts contain information that the communication between Cotaparamba and Moutana had been intercepted.

The officer commanding in Malabar took immediate steps to reinforce the Troops in Cotiote and Wynaad, and to collect a Detachment for the purpose of acting in these countries should the insurrection prove to be general. He detached 5 Company’s of the 5 Bombay Regiment with two Hundred men of the Police Corps from Calicut to Wynaad, and agreeably to instructions from the Honble Coll Wellesley drew his Majesties 77 Regiment into Malabar from the Province of Canara. The latter Officer has likewise adopted the most active measures for the reestablishment of Tranquillity – he has ordered the first battalion 8th Regiment to proceed from Seringapatam to Kancencottah to escort the Collector Major Macleod and co-operate with the Troops serving in the Wynaad, and he is preparing to support these troops with further reinforcements should circumstances require them.

There will be already fifteen hundred men in Wynaad, exclusively of the force in Cotiote, his Majesties 77th Regiment two companies of the 81st – and the Bombay European Regiment which Corps has been directed to be detained while its presence may be necessary, will be in readiness to enter this District by the side of Malabar and the Commander in Chief has authorised the movement of two battalions of Native Infantry from the Southern Division of the Army to Mysore should the Hon’ble Colonel Wellesley require their services.

The imperfect nature of the accounts which have been yet received respecting the numbers of Nairs in arms, their leaders and their plans do not enable the Commander in Chief to form a judgement regarding the extent of the commotion. The insurrection of the Nairs usually commence with some enterprize similar to that which they have lately performed and the latest information favours the opinion that the present disturbances have been pre-concerted. But whatever may be the views of the insurgents, the dispositions that have already been made, and the force that has been collected, will it is probable suppress without delay, their attempts to renew the former troubles. We are in possession of all the principle posts in Wynaad & Cotiote, the roads and communications are good, and we know that the Nairs cannot have supplied themselves to any extent with the means of resistance.

26 October 1802. J Stuart.

Following the eventual defeat of the Pyche Rajah's rebellion, the East India Company authorities convened a series of Military Court appearances in Seringapatam during March and April 1806 to try the remaining captured rebel leaders. Reports of these trials survive amongst the official reports of the Board of Control, which give additional information about the coure of the battle.

On the 31st of March 1809 the trial of Yadachen Comapen took place. When charged, he pleaded not guilty.

Coondy Kambier who had been a Gomastah belonging to a Cutcherry at Panartocotta at the time, and who had made his escape on the night of the massacre, was called to give evidence for the prosecution, as follows: -

Yadachen Compen [Edachenna] with his two Brothers, Coongan [Edachenna Kungan]& Yamroo accompanied with three hundred men came to Parrartacottah in the middle of the night on or about Sept 1803 [8], set fire to the Huts belonging to the Sepoys and killed the Sentries: Captn Dickenson ran out of his House and called the Drummer to beat to arms. About this time he received a wound from an arrow, and fired a fowling piece at the assailant. No sepoys arriving to his assistance Captn Dickenson endeavoured to cross over to a small Guard posted over some treasure – Before he could reach the Guard, however he fell in consequence of his wound, after he fell the Prisoner Yadachen Comapen cut him about the head with a sword, at a small distance another European Officer was killed & about 50 sepoys. [9]

Yadachen Comapen had also arranged an ambush of a detachment under Colonel Montressor, firing into this officer’s column from the flanks.

Yadachen defending his life maintained that it was his brother Coonagan a vakeel for the Pyche Raja, who had in fact led the attack. Yadachen said that he had been left in the rear because he had a sore foot.

The Court Marshall found however did not believe this and found Yadachen guilty. The court sentenced him to hang.

Thomas Baber on 9th April 1807, instructed his vakeel Kulpilly Carcanakara Menon to prosecute the case against Paleora Yemen Navi, alias Kariakaran to Kerula Wurma, the Pyche Rajah. The prisoners had been taken to Seringapatam where they were taken before a Court Marshall.

However they give a slightly earlier trial date of 7th April 1806 for Palara Yemen. The Court Marshall found all the men guilty and sentenced them to hang, so it is possible, that the instruction of 9th April refers to an appeal, which resulted in the men having their sentences commuted to transportation to Prince of Wales Island.

[1] Sultan Battery, now known as Sultan Bathory.
[2] Manatoddy, now known as Manathavady.
[3] Page 536, William Logan's Malabar Manual.
[4] Supplementary Despatches and Memoranda of Field Marshall Arthur Wellington. Vol III, Dec. 14, 1801 – Feb.14, 1803. Page 325 & 326.
[5] Supplementary Despatches, page 327.
[6] Later Duke of Wellington.
[7] OIOC IOR /F/4/154 2694A Invasion of Wynaad and Cotiote District of Malabar by Nayars Oct & November 1802.
[8] Almost certainly an error by the clerk, for other documents give the date as 11th October 1802.
[9] OIOC IOR /F/4/320 (7292) folio 9 & 10.

Copyright Nick Balmer May 2007


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