Saturday, 29 September 2007

Manantoddy or Manathavady

An old shop at the bottom of the old bazaar in the lower part of the town, built in the vernacular style, quite possibly dating from the 19th century.

Abandoning our search for the forest guest house, we returned to Mananthavady Bazaar where we found ourselves a basic but clean local hotel. By this stage we were all tired, however I couldn't resist going out into the town to see if I could locate the site of the old fort.

The centre of the modern town is a ramshackle bazaar mainly built of shoddy concrete and consisting of shops with first floor flats. It is very run down, and the streets are filthy.

The whole place was rather depressing. A situation not helped by the presence on this Sunday night of two opposing political factions.

One party had set up a podium at a cross roads at the top of the bazaar and had installed some very loud and tinny loudspeakers, over which an angry little man was shouting out his speech at the top of his voice. His audience seemed to consist of about half a dozen slightly embarrassed looking men. On the pavements nearby were other townspeople looking on with scarcely concealed boredom and bemusement.

Setting off back down into the bazaar I then encountered the opposition. This consisted of a phalanx of people about four wide and perhaps ten or twelve deep marching more or less in step up the hill. One man taller than the rest was calling out slogans which were answered with shouted replies by all of the others. The further down the column one looked the more concerned and self conscious were the faces of the marchers, and the less loud the responses.

A few police stood in small groups on the street corner, and I waited to see what would happen next.

The marching column having set off up the high street appeared to be headed directly for the other group at the podium, but at the last side turning before the podium, they suddenly broke up and disbursed into the back lane.

It all seemed very noisy and pointless. The other people in the street seemed more concerned with buying their supper, than gaining any political insight.

At this point a man stopped me and asked me where I was from. He turned out to be a Christian from Aleppey visiting his local relatives, who was about to set off to a carol service in a nearby village. To my regret I could see no way of letting my son, who had remained at the hotel, know where I was proposing to go off to, so I had to decline his kind invitation.

The two sides of the town, the squalor and the kindness, left me a bit mixed in my opinion of the place. Having totally failed to find the fort, in the rapidly arriving dusk I beat a retreat to the sanctuary of my hotel.

Unwittingly as I subsequently found out, I had been within yards of the fort, hidden behind some modern buildings on top of the hill below the modern bazaar.

At breakfast with Ramesh we asked if anybody could recognise the location of a pass on a shown on a pen and ink drawing that I had found from the 1820's in the British Library Asia Pacific collection. They said that it was near the Periya Pass, and explained to our driver how to leave the town on the correct road.

This turned out to be a very lucky discussion, for unwittingly we had been in the "modern" 20th century part of the town.

The older part is on the south, on the lower slopes of the hill. Here we found some really nice old buildings including the one at the head of this post. Whilst I don't suppose that they were there in Thomas Baber's time they may well have been there when Ernest Logan Baber, his grandson was born in the settlement in 1840's.

A aerial photo from Google Earth marked up to show my interpretation of the towns development. A word of caution needs to be exercised here, as it has not been possible to find maps from the period to confirm the locations shown. [Click on the map for an enlarged version.]

Manantoddy placed an important role in both the Pyche Rajah's insurgency and also the later outbreak during 1812.

In October 1802 Edachenna Kungan had moved his forces from the Pulpalli Pagoda to Vallur Kava, the Fish Pagoda near Manantoddy. The First Battalion, 8th Madras Native Infantry, some pioneers and 200 Mysore Horse under Captain Gurnell, fought their way into the settlement against Kungan's men who had ambushed them along the road. On the 12 th of November a further skirmish took place, with the East India Company losing 9 killed and 18 wounded.[1]

A garrison was established at the settlement that was used throughout the rest of the rebellion to support a series of eleven posts, which were relieved from the town's garrison. The soldiers suffered grievously during the monsoon periods, in the camp from diseases, and in the later years of the rebellion, most were withdrawn to the coast prior to the break in the weather. This had given the Pyche Rajah a chance to regroup each monsoon.

In November 1805, the Pyche Rajah's body was brought through the camp on its final journey to his burial place nearby.

During early April 1812 a rebellion broke out at Wynaad. It had been caused by East India Company taxation, where Land Revenue arrangements took little account of the varying outputs of land under shifting agriculture. The collectors were trying to collect revenues based on outdated and extortionate assessments, and where foreclosing on farmers goods and chattels, including slaves.

The rebel insurgents attacked the small-fortified post at Manantoddy commanded by Captain James Tagg.

As can be seen from the aerial photo Tagg’s Sepoys who were living in the bazaar were some way away from the fort. They only just managed to rescue their families, and to collect a small amount of grain before the bazaar was burnt down, and the party were besieged in the redoubt on the hill.

Captain Tagg sent messages off to Mysore and Cannanore, where presumably Thomas Baber first heard of the outbreak. Later the Governor's Secretary acknowledged Thomas Baber’s letters of the 30th March, 3rd and 6th of April.

The local military garrison was mobilised under Colonel Webber in Tellicherry, who together with Thomas rapidly set off for the affected region. On the 8th April Thomas Baber’s earlier letters were replied to as follows: -

Extract of a letter from the Chief Sect to Govern’t dated 8th April 1812 to Mr Baber Judge & Magistrate.

“I am directed to state that the Hon’ble the Governor in Council highly approves of the Promptitude with which a force has been despatched to suppress the disturbances in Wynaad.

I am also directed to inform you that the Governor in Council highly approves of your proceeding you-self to Wynaad & to desire that you will report the cause of the discontent which appears to have led to the disturbance.”

The army units at Seringapatam and further afield began to be mobilised to send columns to go to the relief of the post.

Major James Welsh commanded the troops from Seringapatam. He consequently met Thomas Baber and his family with whom he became great friends. Much later in 1832 Welsh wrote his memoirs, which offer some fascinating glimpses of the campaign, including Baber’s part in it.

By the 7th April the column of troops commanded by James Welsh was marching down from Seringapatam. His force was comprised of the Light Company of the 80th Regiment, and four Native Flank Companies with some supporting artillery field pieces. This force had 14 British Officers.

On the first day they marched the nine miles to Mysore. At Mysore the local ruler who was still nominally independent of the East India Company rule gave Welsh an additional 5000 men from the Mysore Army under Himmutear Cawn, the Bucksee of Mysore.

The next march of 11 miles took the force to Chattenhully. Whilst Welsh was there he received news that the situation for the trapped garrison at Manantoddy was becoming critical. On the next day he made an extraordinarily long forced march of 48 miles to the Bowanly Nullah, which separated the two countries. Here he found that the rebels had destroyed the bridge over the nullah.

However the rebels themselves were not encountered, although the enemy camp near Manatoddy was found, it was already empty because it had been abandoned by the rebels.

While Welsh waited for the rest of his men to catch up, news came that through that the garrison at Manantoddy had been relieved earlier that day, by the forces fighting up the ghats from the coastal plain.

“by a force under Colonel Webber from Cannanore, accompanied by Mr. Baber, the Judge of Tellicherry, whose authority also extended to Wynaud. They had been opposed in the Coteaddy Pass, coming up from Cannanore, and had Captain Hunter and Lieutenant Inverarity severely wounded, with seventeen or eighteen men.”

Operations continued on the following day. Welsh recorded events as they unfolded: -

We set out the next morning, leaving our guns with Buchshee’s force, but carrying on supplies in carts, &c. After a very tedious and labourious march of twelve miles, in which the line was suddenly assailed by a flight of arrows from both sides of the road, by which two soldiers and one Sepoy were wounded, and an English dog killed, we reached Manantoddy at eight, P.M., with a part of our force only; and such was the thickness of the jungle, that I was totally ignorant how the rear were coming up. Applying, therefore, to Colonel Webber, for some fresh men and officers, I returned with Captain Pepper and this reinforcement, and reached our rear guard, which had taken post six miles off, at midnight; where we remained with them till day light, suffering much from cold, hunger, and thirst, not being able to get even a little water all night. As day broke, we found ourselves entirely masters of the field, with broken and upset carts and baggage strewn in every direction. Some rest, though not of sleep, had prepared our men for fresh exertions, and all snug at Manantoddy in the course of a few hours.

Looking downstream at the river from the west bank of Manantoddy .

The Washing Ghat, near the site of the old ford.

The old camping ground.

[1] William Logan's Malabar Manual, volume I, page 537.