Sunday, 27 May 2007

Thomas Baber's account of the death of the Pazhassi Rajah, Part 2

Nair warriors from a grave monument.

As these people were exclusively under the influence of Palora Jamen , it is not difficult to explain whence this unfortunate notion originated: it is only those who have had a personal opportunity of knowing the extensive abilities and artifices of this man who can justly calculate upon the mischief and dire consequence that must ensue where such qualifications are employed against us. This was unfortunately instanced in the Kooramars, who, from the time of Palora Jamen’s defection, had become in a manner desperate; they had been foremost amongst the rebel ranks, and there is no crime, no species of cruelty and outrage, which they have not committed.

After this unfavourable description of the southern inhabitants of Wynad, you will judge what were the difficulties to be overcome. I saw that the utmost firmness and vigilance was requisite, at the same time that I deemed the most open and public disclosure of my purposes was more likely to keep in awe those who wearing the appearance of fidelity as well as to counteract the designs of our open enemies. To the Chetties in particular I explained that there were no means I would leave untried to discover their real sentiments, and warned them against giving me the smallest shadow to suspect they were continuing in the rebel interest. For this purpose I employed emissaries in a variety of characters. I made frequent marches by day and night to the most unfrequented parts of the country, and by degrees obtained such a knowledge of the inhabitants that, fearful lest their shallow artifices would sooner or later be known, they began evidently to alter their conduct and on some instances they came forward with information. The rebels saw this change that was being effected, and suspecting a continuance in Parakameetil would expose them to danger, they by degrees emigrated towards the eastern extremities of Wynad, and one march I made after the Rajah while residing at Coorcheat and which would have succeeded but for the treachery of my guide, a Chetty, drove them entirely out of the southern division.

As the great engine of success against an enemy is depriving him of his means of subsistence, my thoughts were naturally directed to this point. As I before said, the Chetties were the media through whom these were principally drawn; these people, to further these their views, had removed their families into Mysore in the villages of Poonat, Pootoor, Kakanabetta, etc, whither they had free egress and regress; and from whence it was no difficult matter to draw such supplies as Wynad could not provide. They had established an intercourse by these means with the Mysorean’s, whom they supplied with ghee and grains of different sorts, and in return received coconuts, oil, salt and other articles necessary for subsistence; in removing their families from Waynad they had a variety of objects, one of which was to secure them against any of those consequences which they naturally apprehended from their own dishonest and perfidious pursuits; another was a safe asylum in the event of discovery. The rebels had now confined themselves to the Wynad Hobali and had entire possession of the eastern frontier, by which they were enabled to profit by this understanding between the Mysoreans and Wynad Chetties free of any molestation whatever. After this statement, it will not be extraordinary that I should have pursued the most effectual means to cut off the destructive commerce. I wrote, therefore to the Resident at Mysore fully on the subject, and requested his co-operation to that extent as should to him appear judicious and expedient; the result of this application was a perfect compliance with my wishes: all the inhabitants of Wynad then in Mysore were ordered to be seized and proclamation made prohibiting, under severe penalties, the passage of any articles whatever without a passport from the officers of the Honourable Company or of Mysore. Major Wilkes went further, so earnest was he in forwarding the public service that he offered to meet me on the frontier should I deem a personal conference as promising still further advantages.

Continues in Part 3 here..

Copyright Nick Balmer 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

Sunday, 13 May 2007

The Road to Pulpalli, Day 6 cont.

The modern road from Sultan Bathery [Sultan's Battery] to Pulpally climbs away from the town out into open woodland made up of mature teak trees. The underground is grazed by cattle and goats. The whole effect is most beautiful.

This scene must have been quite different when Thomas and his men were marching this way in 1805. The area was settled by Chetties from Mysore who had arrived in the area in the years following Tippoo Sultan's rule. They appear to have been able to force the local inhabitants to work the land in small plantations on their behalf. This had been done by lending the tribes people money against future crops and then foreclosing on the land when the crops failed to deliver.

The Chetties had come to control the pepper and cardoman trade to the coast.

The situation for farmers in this part of the Wayanad is not so very different today. Many farmers have recently become desparate, having taken out loans in the recent boom in prices, only to be deeply in debt following the collapse in Vanilla prices.

The major change from 1805, is that the population is many times greater than it was in 1805. During World War II many thousands of settlers were brought in to cultivate the area intensively, in an attempt to prevent the recurrence of famine.

As we climbed higher and higher the land turned into dozens of small farms and plantations, each with a bungalow, surrounded by Banana and Palm oil trees.

I found myself wondering what the scene must have been like for Thomas and his men, as they travelled these same ridges in the dark, all the while in constant expectation of falling into an ambush.

I marched at nine o’clock at night; and such was the secrecy in which we set off that our guides even did not know my intention until the moment we took our departure. Previous to this I had deemed it expedient to make a feint to divert the attention of the rebels (who I thought it probable might have their spies in camp) by detaching 70 of my kolkars, under the Sheristadar, under the pretext of going in pursuit of Palora Jamen who was reported to be in the Komanpany Mala in the South-eastern direction, while they had secret instructions after marching half-way to this mountain to strike off eastward to the Kallir Mountain and there lie in ambush near to paths to cut off the retreat of any fugitives who would, in most probability, go off in that direction in the event of our party coming up with the rebels.

Such was the nature of the country that although we kept marching the whole night we did not reach the Kangara river until seven the following morning. Here we divided ourselves into two parties, and proceeding along the banks, observed a vast number of huts, all of them bearing every appearance of recent habitation: we continue marching until nine o’clock, when the detachment being fatigued, a halt was proposed. We accordingly halted, and having taken some refreshment, we again started, with the determination of tracing every jungly path: so fully persuaded was I, as well from the earnestness of our guides as the consideration that this was a part of Mysore that our troops had at no time penetrated or perhaps even thought of doing, that the rebels must be concealed in some parts of these jungles. After proceeding about a mile and a half through very high grass and thick teak forests into the Mysore country, Charen Subedar of Captain Watson’s armed police, who was leading the advanced party suddenly halted and beckoning to me, told me he heard voices. I immediately ran to the spot, and having advanced a few steps, I saw distinctly to the left about ten persons, unsuspecting of danger, on the banks of the Mavila Toda, or Nulla to our left

Fortunately we were well guided by Mr Johnny, who quickly brought us to the head of a small path leading to the site of the Rajah's death.

The path led down hill to a point where the Mavila Toda meets the Kangara River. It is an extremely pleasant site right up against the Karnataka, Mysore boundary. It is easy to see why the Rajah had built his camp here, for he was hidden well away, and could with ease move into Mysore should he wish to flee approaching columns.

What I had not expected, was to find that so many people regularly visit the site. For it was quite obvious from the well trodden path, that the Pazhassi Rajah is still highly regarded today.

The monument is supposed to represent the spot where the Rajah fell. It would appear from Thomas Baber's account that he approached the camp from the opposite bank to the one with the monument on it.

so fully persuaded was I, as well from the earnestness of our guides as the consideration that this was a part of Mysore that our troops had at no time penetrated or perhaps even thought of doing, that the rebels must be concealed in some parts of these jungles. After proceeding about a mile and a half through very high grass and thick teak forests into the Mysore country

There is a very marked contrast today between the Mysore bank which is dry, parched and open woodland and scrub, and the Wayanad bank which is green and covered with bamboo and dense bushes.

Hoping to work Thomas Baber's approach route out, I strode towards the steep bank down to the river, followed closely by my son. At that moment there was a sudden rustle, and my son shouted "snake!", as it slithered over the top of the bank. I just had a chance to see it disappear into the stream. It was quite the biggest snake, I have ever seen, although, probably not particularly large by local standards.

Do people live on in animal spirits?

I have a funny feeling this was the Rajah, no doubt completely daft, but I cannot shake the feeling.

My Indian companions were most alarmed at my continuing into the stream and wading across, but having come that far, I wasn't going to stop, so equipped with a stout stick I found my way across.

If Thomas had come along the Mysore bank it was probably only the briefest of views that his men had had into the huts on the other bank.

From following image taken from Google Earth it is possible to see that the spot where the Rajah was killed falls near the point where a small tributory runs in from the east, into the Mavila Toda. The Mavila Toda runs due north into what Thomas Baber called the Kangara River. Today it is called the Kabini River.

The dry Mysore bank shows quite clearly to the east of the photo.

The Mysore Bank.

Returning to the monument, I was surprised to find Mr Johnny deeply immersed in the print out I had brought of my draft book. He was obviously enjoying it deeply.

As he looked up he explained that he had been fascinated by the story for many years, and as a local journalist and writer had wanted to make a film based around the events of November 1805.

We agreed that it would be a great idea if only we could find a way forward.

Copyright Nick Balmer May 2007

Thomas Baber's account of the death of the Pazhassi Rajah, Part 1.

Camp at Pulpelly, Sub-collector, Northern Divn., Malabar.
30th November 1805.

To the Principle Collector,
Malabar Province.

Sir, A severe sickness has till now prevented me from making to you my official report of the fall of the Rebel Chieftain Cotiote Kerula Werma Rajah alias the Pyche Rajah (Palassi Rajah). I have now the honour of doing this, as well as of detailing some few circumstances, to enable you to judge by what means so fortunate and important an event has been accomplished.

My letter to you of the 1st November last, though written at the commencement of my career in Wynad, would have raised your hopes to expect further success. The seizure of Tallakal Chundoo , though a Courchan was an event which excited the greatest consternation amongst those in rebellion, for such was the consequence of this person that Yadachana Cooggan is said to have declared, that he had lost his right arm. Your injunctions on this occasion were received, and accordingly in the course of a few days the orders were out for a general movement and alteration in the disposition of our military force in Wynad. Having obtained this so essential point, I deemed it advisable durng the interval that must unavoidably elapse before these arrangements could be carried into effect, to make a tour of the district, that I might be the better enabled to form some certain judgement of the real disposition of the community, and how far I could rely upon them for that co-operation which as liege subjects it was their duty to have afforded me. Throughout the northern and western parts of the district, I found the sentiment in our favour, at the same time a considerable disinclination to afford the smallest information of the Pyche Rajah or his partisans. This I attribute to the dread which the numerous examples of assassination by the rebels of those who had come forward could not fail of inspiring, which, not withstanding all our efforts to oppose, they constantly kept alive by small and numerous roving partisans, who had spread themselves all over the country. In many, however, I evidently saw a strong inclination to favour the rebel leaders, in particular Yadachan Coongan, who, with his rebel relations wisely had taken the opportunity, while the Wynad was in exclusive possession of the Pyche Rajah, to connect themselves with principal families in Wynad, who thereby became interested for them, but in all classes, I observed a decided interest for the Pyche Rajah, towards whom the inhabitants entertained a regard and respect bordering on veneration, which not even his death can efface.

The conduct to be observed towards the most doubtful of those characters it was not difficult to determine on. Something decisive was absolutely necessary; there was no security while they were living on their estates, and I found no other alternative left me than that of sending out of the district such of those against whom my suspicions were strongest, a determination which, while it was calculated to cut off the rebels from deriving any further support from such able allies, also would have the effect of warning others against imitating their example.

Having fully conveyed to the inhabitants of the northern and western divisions a full idea of the line of conduct I intended to adopt towards them, I proceeded to fill up all the vacant revenue appointments in order to give due effect to my measures. Written instructions were drawn out for the conduct of these native servants, throughout which I enjoyed the most conciliatory conduct, and having concluded my arrangements I proceeded to the Southern Hobelies of Parameetil.

In this division of the country, affairs wore a different aspect. Here was no security to be placed in the inhabitants, the most wealthy and numerous of whom were the Chetties and Goundas. – a vile servile race of mortals, who are strangers to every honest sentiment, and whom nothing but one uniform system of severity ever will prevent from the commission of every species of deceit and treachery.
Although the whole of these had presented themselves at the cutcherry, they had done so from no other impulse than a dread of the consequences of absenting themselves, nether did they thereby throw off their connections with the rebels, for it is notorious that the whole rebel confederacy, with the exception of Coongan’s party, were Parakametal and were being supported and secreted by these very Chetties , after they had received cowle . I am fully persuaded also from what transpired in the course of my investigation, that the majority of these Chetties did not present themselves to the cutcherry until they had previously obtained the permission of the Pyche Rajah and Palora Jamen, conduct that will be easily accounted for when it is recollected that the Rajah’s whole reliance for subsistence and information rested in these people. The Soodra or Nair part of the community were more to be depended upon; there was an honest frankness about them which you could not but admire, and which is a surety that in proportion to our increasing influence, these people will prove themselves worthy of the confidence of Government. The Kooramars, a numerous race of bowmen, by far the most rude of all the Wynadians, had to a man deserted their habitations and estates and betaken themselves to the strongest parts of the country, where they had removed their families and were dragging on a miserable existence, labouring under the dreadful impression that it was the intention of our Government to extirpate their whole race.

Continues in part 2 here.

Copyright Nick Balmer May 2007

Monday, 7 May 2007

History repeats itself, bamboo flowering

The Bowally nullah, showing a bamboo clump to the left in December 2006. In April 2007, this bamboo came into flower again as described below.

Reading the vivid accounts of the campaign's in the Wayanad, I had come across the accounts of Colonel James Welsh. Welsh was an infantry officer who first came into contact with Thomas Hervey Baber in April 1812 during a rebellion in the Wynanad.

One of the most interesting accounts in his book for me, covered the 1812 campaign, and another journey he had made with Mrs & Mr Baber in 1817 when they returned together from Bangalore to Tellicherry. On both occasions he mentioned the bamboos.

The Colonel writing in 1833 described seeing the bamboo in April 1812 in the Wayanad when leading his troops against local insurgents. Later that same year they came into flower in December 1812.

This county, very similar to Coorg, in features and resources, is bounded by a range of Ghauts on the west and the south; by the Coorcher Paad mountains, which separate it from Coorg on the north, and by the Bowally Nullah, and other minor streams, that run into the Cubbany river [1], to the east. Independent of other materials, it’s jungles were at that time, thickened by myriads of enormous bamboo bushes, which rendered it more difficult to penetrate, than any other I have ever seen; nor could one see ten yards in any direction. Since that period, I have twice travelled the same road, and the first time saw all the bamboos in blossom, a very uncommon sight, for they are said to flower once only in every thirty years; at my next visit, the whole were dead, as it were spontaneously, and the country consequently much improved in it’s appearance. We had previously found it very unhealthy from the same cause, as well as from our exposure to the heavy fogs at night.[2]

Later in August 1817 he travelled with my great great great uncle Thomas Hervey Baber from Mysore to Mananthavady.

He observed: -

On the 18th of August, we reached the Post at the Bowally nullah, and found the bridge perfectly repaired: and on the way to Manantoddy, had the opportunity of observing all the bamboo jungle, for about ten miles, dying and dead, which had a most uncommon and dreary appearance; particularly when contrasted with the same plantation in blossom, in December, 1812. This phenomenon proceeded from the trees having blossomed and borne seed this year, when they die immediately; whilst the seeds vegetate and spring up in their room, forming, in due time, a fresh and thicker plantation.[3]

Now history repeats itself. As Deepu George writes in his blog at the bamboo is flowering again.

In the Wayanad I had asked about this phenomenon, only to receive blank looks, but then I suppose it is such a rare and unusual event, that nobody likes to predict when it will next happen.

[1] Kabani River today.
[2] Colonel James Welsh, Military Reminiscences. Volume II page 12.
[3] Colonel Welsh Volume II pages 66 & 67.

Copyright Nick Balmer May 2007

A Description of the situation in the Wayanad in 1797

From Extract Political Letter from Bombay
18th December 1796.

[Para] 15. "“By subsequent advices from the commissioners, dated the 23rd of August, we received a Copy of Colonel Dow’s Report of his Deputation into Wynaad, containing very interesting information relative to the former circumstances of the country, and conveying his ideas, as to the political importance of it.

The colonel commences by observing that the Wynaad, when viewed merely as an object of Revenue, appears to be inferior. Consequences as that Territory, as well as the Possessions above the Ghauts, in general, had been laid waste, and depopulated, and must therefore require a continued state of tranquillity and careful management, before any considerable supplies could be drawn from them, but that abounding in a fertile soil, and producing several Articles Valuable in Commerce, they would in course of time become ample Funds of Wealth.”

The report goes on to say that Col. Doveton who had escorted Tippoo Sahib following his defeat in 1791, had recorded that before his defeat “Tippoo had received 90,000 Rupees in revenues from the Wynaad”.

Raja Koorminaad had collected the Wynaad’s Revenue after Tippoo’s retreat, and quite possibly whilst Tippoo controlled the area, “for which he must of course have been accountable to our Government.”

In 1791 “Tippoo withdrew his Troops from the District in question, and established his advanced Post at Intacotta, which being situated on the borders of our Territory became his proper Frontier.”

The Political Letter then goes on to describe events in 1792.

““That during the war, the People of the [Pyche] Raja seized on the Wynaad as part of their ancient Territory and were at the Peace in possession” and the lasted quoted address to Bombay of June 1792 continues to state “That on the 6th of May 1792 a message arrived from Tellicherry from the Raja of Cotiote, stating that an officer from Tippoo had sent to the person in charge of Wynaad to deliver it up as the right of Tippoo and that similar letters had been sent by the same person to the Raja making the same demand.” Mr. Farmer not having then left Tellicherry, the Chief and Factor requested his ideas and directions on the subject, when he advised that the Raja should instantly send word, that the country being yielded to the English, he the Raja, could give no answer till he had informed the Chief of Tellicherry, but that, as Wynaad was certainly not including in the Grants of Tippoo, it could not consistently be retained, and that therefore the Raja must order the People to withdraw to the Boundaries of Wynaad, there taking a stand, and advising the Chief; if Tippoo’s people presumed to encroach beyond that boundary which the Bombay Commissioners then believed we had no claim to the Eastwards of, in so much that on the 9th of August they wrote to Tippoo’s Subahdar Hurry Purwae apprizing him “that as at the time mentioned by the Treaty we do not find Wynaad to have been under Calicut, we do not mean therefore to detain what was granted to the Company;

Writing on 2nd March 1797 Governor Duncan stated: -.

“the late untoward Events in one of the Northern Districts in the Malabar Province which it grieves me sorely, to have to relate, howsoever much they may appear to have primarily and in a great degree unavoidably flown, from the Rivalry and Dissentions between two Cousin Germane called the Raja’s of Coorimnad and Coltiote, the former progress and fortunate issue of which stand already narrated in the Revenue letter from this Presidency of the 18th of December last, as does their unexpected Renewal in my late address to the Secret Committee of the 12th of January of which a Duplicate is herewith sent—“

“2 You will Gentlemen already know from the first report of the Commissioners that all the Malabar Rajas feel and have indeed all along felt rather uneasy under the degree of Restraint and Submission that we have since the Peace with Tippoo Sultaun endeavoured to subject them to, among these none has been so turbulently impatient all along as the Raja of Cottiote, otherwise called for distinctions sake, and as being indeed his more proper designation the Pyche Raja, one of the members of the family of the Raja’s of that District who having during the late War with Tippoo remained in the Jungles when his other & Senior Relations fled for refuge to Travancore acquired thereby such a footing in the affections of the people, that even after his services returned at the Peace he maintained his influence, so as to have been considered by the first Joint Commissioners from Bengal and Bombay & Treated as the effective or at least the acting Raja, at the same time that, on his behalf & with his consent they settled most or all of what related to his District with the Raja of Coorimnad the son of his Mothers sister (all heirship amongst these Chieftains going in the female line) and who whom as his senior, he professed at all times the greatest deference so as to consider himself to be only the manager under his orders; but yet his conduct was on the whole so turbulent & refractory that in the year 1794 Mr. Stevens then the Supravisor concluded the five years settlement of the Coltiote District not with him but directly with the Coorimnad Raja his relation as being at the head of the house of Cottiote whereas there are several between hm and the Pyche (By misnomer called by us the Cottiote Raja) in order of succession not withstanding which the Pyche Chieftain has ever since the conclusion of this quinquennial lease proved extremely restless and jealous that it became soon after my entering on my present charge a serious and pressing consideration how to proceed in regard to him, in as much as he forcibly prevented the Coorimnad’s making the Collections under the quinquennial lease, to such a degree that the latter declared he could not pretend to go on with them without a force of 5 or 600 men of our Troops, in view to all which and also to enable us in pursuance of a Recommendation to that effect, from the Bengal Government to bring him (the Pyche) to account for his conduct in having put some Mapillas of his own Authority to Death, the commanding officer on the coast / General Bowles) was not only instructed to afford the Coorimand Raja the necessary support – but it was left to the last mentioned commanding officer and to the acting Supravisor Mr Handley (comprising the Civil and Military Superior Authority on the spot) to consider whether it might not be advisable in view to saving effusion of Blood if the Pyche Raja’s person be secured so as to prevent his protracting an insurgency by betaking himself an insurgent to the Jungle.

[1]Pyche Raja Notes from OIOC IOR F/4/32/894

Copyright Nick Balmer, March 2007.

Day 6 Kalpetta to Pulipalli

Arriving at the head of the pass, we found ourselves in a very different country to that which we had been travelling in down below on the coastal plain. Here it was appreciably cooler, and the temperature in the sun felt not unlike that experienced on one of the most lovely of English summer days. I could well understand why Thomas had enjoyed this time here so much, as it must have represented a blessed relief from the sweltering heat on the coastal plain.

The Wayanad plateau is made up of ranges of rolling hills covered in plantations. The occasional peak rears up in the background.

Since the Second World War the area has become very densely populated and is heavily farmed. Thousands of migrant works have settled in the area, developing farms. Until recent months the area had been called the "Kuwait of Kerala", so called for the fortunes being made in the boom in Vanilla prices.

However like so many agricultural booms this one has proved short lived, and many farmers who turned over their fields to this new crop are now driven to dispair by the fall in prices.

What a contrast this must be with the scenes that had confronted the East India Company at the beginning of the 19th Century.

In 1812 Colonel Welsh described the Wayanad in the valleys to the north of Mananthavadi, or Manatoddy, as it was then called as follows:-

This part of the country is strong, wild, and beautiful; consisting of a number of small hills, covered with jungle, and separated by narrow valleys, in which there are neither rivers or paddy fields. Yesterday in particular, we passed through a narrow defile, nearly a mile in length, in which we discovered trees of such enormous height and magnitude, that I am fearful of mentioning my ideas of their measurement, further, than that some of them did not commence spreading from the parent stem, until they had reached the height of the topmast-head of a man of war; the name of these trees is Neer parum, the wood of which is not valuable, and the Ayany, or wild jack, the tree from which the largest canoes are made, as well as the best beams for building.

Sadly these magnificent trees have all long since gone.

In their place are tea, cardoman, coffee plantations and paddy fields. Pepper vines climb up many of the roadside trees.

The change in vegetation and loss of tree cover must have profoundly affected the lives of the plants and animals that had once lived here in large numbers, and must surely affect these new settler's livelihoods in time.

These forests and hills had for centuries absorbed the huge rainfall coming from the monsoon rains which sweep up the Malabar Coast. Piling up against the Ghats, these storm clouds rise up, and drop enormous amounts of rainfall onto the Wayanad and Coorg, which then runs down the eastern watershed all the way to the East Coast of India.

The forests of Wayanad, Coorg and Mysore had acted as a huge sponge and reserve, delaying and prolonging the flows of these life giving waters to the myriad farmers in the thirsty plains of Mysore and the Carnatic.

Some of the remaining canopy must have been lost in very recent times, judging by the forlorn looking isolated canopy trees left scattered amongst the tree bushes.

Soon we were past Kalpetta, and on our way to Sultan Batheri. This town is named after one of Tippoo Sultan's batteries and was built to enforce his control over the Wayanad. In British times this town was called Sultan's Battery, but like so many other place names they are slowly mutating into completely new versions.

The road we were driving along was originally one of those built by Tippoo Sultan in order to transport his cannons down to the Malabar coast in support of his wars with Travancore, the Zamorin, and the other petty Rajah's.

The battery was built by Tippoo's men in the grounds of a Jain Temple to the south of the existing town.

We had arranged to meet a local journalist, Mr Johnny in the town, who was going to take us onto the site of the final battle with the Pyche Raja.

Sultan Batheri turned out to be a long straggling town, and of fairly recent construction. Very few of the buildings appeared to be more than fifty years old, and it very much reminded me of the rural towns I had visited in New Zealand and Australia out in farming districts.

Soon Mr Johnny, arrived, a short, dark and deeply bearded man, he was obviously a very determined and knowledgable man. Unlike most Indian's I had met, who had a polite but quite limited knowledge of the history of their districts, Mr. Johnny was obviously completely immersed in the history of his area.

Some we were off into the area north of Sultan Batheri running up to the Mysore Border at Pulpalli.

Copyright Nick Balmer, May 2007.