Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Capt. David Price's Account of the Battle of the Periah Pass. 18th of March 1797.

Battle of the Periah Pass. 18th of March 1797.

The following account by Captn. David Price of the 7th Bombay Native Infantry of the expedition from Calicut up the ghats and into the Wayanad, gives a particular livid account of what fighting against the insurgents under the Pazhassi Rajah was like to take part in.

This operation led by Lieut. Col. Dow, was intended to bring the force back down into the coastal plain behind the forces that the Rajah had drawn up in his territory. The Rajah's forces had been successfully withstanding previous attempts to force him back out of his ancestral lands, immediately inland of Tellicherry.

Price had travelled to Tellicherry in order to recuperate after having lost a leg at the siege of Dharwar. Tellicherry was seen at that time as being a particularly healthy place. He arrived to find the rebellion by the Pyche Rajah had flaired up, and that Lt. Col. Dow needed a staff office, so despite stilling needing to use crutches Price joined the column.

As the following extract explains, he was soon in fear of his life, and fleeing down the ghats.

About the period at which we are now arrived, I think it must have been late in the month of December, of the year 1797, I had received an invitation from Gen. Bowles, to pass a short time with him in Malabar; in which province he held the military command. As the voyage at that season of the year was equally pleasant and short, I did not hesitate to avail myself of this invitation; and I was received by my respected old friend at Tillicherry with his usual kindness and hospitality. He resided at the time in the same cadjan bunglah, on the fort side of Cuddowly-hill, where we had formerly so often partaken of the elegant and splendid hospitalities of Capt. (afterwards Gen.) Gore's table.
It happened at the time, that we were in the very crisis of the jungle war, with our refractory tributary Kerula Verma, the Pyché Rajah; who in the bosom of his forest retreats, seemed to bid defiance to all the efforts of regular warfare. His house or palace at Pycheh had some time since been stormed and pillaged; but his submission appeared as distant as ever; and a division of native troops was stationed for the present at Cotapoorambah; 6 or 8 miles within land, or to the eastward of Tillicherry.

Unfortunately, although I was personally unknown to him Col. Dow ,who was the military commissioner joined to those entrusted with the general superintendance of the province of Malabar, proposed to me to act as his secretary, with a detachment then in preparation, at his suggestion, to operate as a separate column in the rear of the Cotiote district. Although the scheme of a jungle campaign presented nothing very captivating to a man who in case of extremity, must trust to his crutches, I did not think myself at liberty to decline the risk; and I acceded to the proposal.
My first confidential conference furnished me, however, with an instance of mental abstraction, of which I could have formed but a very imperfect conception; and I experienced a pretty strong foretaste of what I had undertaken. I found that, with very imperfect information on the subject, I was expected to draw up a plan for the execution of the design in agitation; and it was only by vexatious questioning, that I gradually elicited from the Colonel, such hints as enabled me to commit to paper sundry paragraphs, recommending that an attack should be made on a post established immediately in the rear of the Cotiote; by marching a detachment into Wynaud; and further acting as circumstances should arise. And this, in the shape of a letter, was communicated to his brother commissioners at Mahé.

A native battalion, recently embodied and imperfectly disciplined, under Maj. Cameron, a gallant and distinguished soldier, together with some draughts from other corps ,was destined for this service, and there was attached to it a grasshopper mountain gun, of about 2 pound calibre. The corps might have amounted altogether to about 800 or 900 strong. In furtherance of the design the detachment marched to Calicut; while Col. Dow and myself proceeded by sea from Tillicherry, to join it. The prevailing difficulty was to procure, in as short a time as possible, a supply of rice for the consumption of ten days or a fortnight, and bullocks for its conveyance. The civil servant appointed to the charge, for some private reasons, declined to accompany our commissariat.

In 2 or 3 days, however, slenderly provided, the detachment marched towards the foot of the Tammercherry gauht; and in the second day's march, we ascended the pass without obstruction. The road up this gauht was sufficiently wide, and more than ordinarily well formed; but it was uniformly steep, the whole of the way.
We encamped in a confined and irregular glen, surrounded by hills, about half a mile to the eastward of the head of the gauht; and here we remained some days to complete the final arrangement for our proceedings; but more particularly, to obtain some further supply of provisions, as the district furnished nothing whatever: and here also it was, truth compels me to remark ,that Maj. Cameron exhibited the first symptoms of discontent; because instead of receiving one from the commanding officer, he was not allowed to frame an order of march of his own.

Having secured a further small supply of grain, and established a miniature mud post, near the head of the gauht for a guard of sepoys under Lieut. Waddington, our detachment was put in motion in advance; without having yet discovered any thing hostile; excepting a few apparently unarmed and naked stragglers, about the edge of the jungle, which covered the hills to the N.W. Our column pushed on for a short distance to the southward, to get round the foot of the hill, when turning to the left, or northward, we passed through some of the most pleasing woodland scenery I ever beheld. To guard against surprise, where we were in momentary expectation of attack, a section of every division was ordered to keep loaded. In the afternoon, still without having perceived a single human being, our own people excepted, although many houses occasionally along the skirts of the jungle, overlooking the cultivated openings, we finally encamped in one of those openings in two lines with our baggage in the center.

On the day following, we continued our march unmolested; but I have reason to think not quite unobserved; as the simply armed natives must have accompanied our movements under cover of the jungle on our flanks: more particularly of the impermeable hill forest to our left ,where they were unassailable to troops unwieldily armed like ours. On reaching a solitary bazaar, or angadi, of which I have forgotten the name, early in the afternoon, we again encamped. This was at the gorge of a spacious open valley, intermediate between the Cotiary gauht, and the Periacherrum, another smaller one at the very bottom of the valley.

On the third day we resumed our march, amidst the same description of scenery as had hitherto accompanied us; and which generally prevails, indeed, among the eastern recesses of the southern gauhts; until we came to another considerable opening, or cultivated flat, between the hill ranges; our entrance to which was rather inconveniently interrupted by a narrow, but deep and muddy water-course; which it occupied some time to cross. Here we encamped.

Our position at this moment was about 3 miles to the eastward of the Eliacherrum gauht, immediately at the back of the Cotiote district below. I am compelled to observe that, through Col. Dow's extraordinary abstraction of mind, we were frequently, during the march, by running perpetually at some distance ahead of the column, exposed to the utmost danger of being cut off, by any stragglers, that might find it convenient to make a dash at us.

Nevertheless, it might not be very difficult to account for this apparent disregard of personal danger, when it is understood that the Colonel entertained a secret notion, that the little Rajah, with whom he had been long personally acquainted, would somewhere or other on the march, have met him in a friendly way; and an accommodation thus peacefully effected, to which force had hitherto proved unavailable. Having, however, been disappointed in this benevolent expectation, it became next our object to establish a strong party, under a steady and devoted officer, at the head of the Cherrum. For this purpose Lieut. Burke of Cameron's battalion, was selected.

Next day, accordingly, the whole of the detachment marched to the head of the Cherrum, which I still think to have been the Eliacherrum. We reached the head of the pass without the least obstacle of any kind; and still without the least sight or vestige of an enemy. Our march lay through a continued jungle, of perhaps three miles; emerging from which, we entered another opening of considerable extent, skirted all round by the woods: the actual head of the pass being immediately on the opposite, or western, side of the opening. We chose for our party the edge of the jungle to the eastward; as offering the fairest chance of a successful retreat through the woods in the rear.

Having crossed the open ground to the head of the pass (which was completely covered in, by over-hanging forest trees) and made such arrangements as had been thought necessary, with regard to our devoted party, the detachment was then counter-marched on its return. But the rear files were scarcely disengaged from the opening of the pass, when we were not a little astonished by a sudden discharge of small arms, from among the trees which over-hung us; directed, however at the retreating column. Some of the shot struck the sepoy's cartridge-boxes without further mischief. The column faced about; and instantly all was as silent as the grave.

At the very moment the volley was given, Col. Dow and myself, with two or three orderlies, had remained, without the smallest suspicion of danger, at the opening of the pass; and resting on the top part of the miaunah palanquin, I was myself deeply engaged in writing a report of our proceedings to the commissioners at Mahé.

Providentially the enemy had not perceived us; otherwise this tale would never have been told. The spot from which the volley was fired, could not have been more than 30 or 40 feet above our heads; and if they had discovered us, there was not a possibility of our escape, as they could have taken aim and fired unseen. The note written here, was despatched from the spot by a confidential native; and was principally intended, after announcing the establishment of the post, under Lieut. Burke, to request that any further supplies might be forwarded up the river of Mahé, towards the recess in the gauhts, at the source of that river.
Although parties were instantly sent to scour the edge of the jungle all round, not a vestige of the enemy could be seen; and we soon afterwards marched back to our encampment, leaving Lieut. Burke with his company, to secure the post, as well as he could, by a stockade and abbatis.

The night passed in undisturbed and singular tranquillity, and morning came; when circumstances presented themselves to our notice, which certainly awakened some very startling speculations. On the summit of the hill-range, which flanked the valley in which we were encamped, on the south side, we observed numbers of people; many of whom appeared with the jacket uniforms of our faithful sepoys suspended from their shoulders. This unlooked-for spectacle naturally produced an apprehension, that something sinister must have occurred in our rear, to some of the parties, which were known to be coming to our support. One of these, under Capt. (now Gen.) Disney, had already joined us. A group of officers, including Col. Dow and myself,drew together towards the foot of the hill, in order, if possible, to ascertain the cause of this inauspicious display. Lieut. Nugent, the Adjutant of Cameron's corps, one of the party, inadvertently, and for which he was immediately reproved by Col. Dow waved his handkerchief ;and some of the strangers, considering this as a signal to approach, without hesitation descended the hill, three or four in number, and joined us.
One of these very differently attired from the Chermers, announced himself as the bearer of a communication from the officer in command of one of Tippoo Sultaun's posts, on the out-skirts of Wynaud towards Mysore; and forthwith presented a sealed note. We now adjourned to the Colonel's tent, for the purpose of perusing the unexpected despatch. The purport of the note, which was in Persian, went to express some surprise, on the part of the writer, at our entrance into Wynaud, as an unwarrantable invasion of a district dependant on the authority of his master, and demanding to be informed of the nature of our designs. To this a reply was immediately prepared under my instructions, as dictated by Col. Dow; disavowing any intention of encroaching on any part of the Sultaun's territory, with whom our government was desirous of cultivating the most amicable relations; and that our appearance in Wynaud had no other object in view than the reduction to his allegiance, of a refractory tributary.

The bearer of the note did not appear to be a person above the ordinary class; and his demeanor was singularly mild, and respectable; the word Boohddy, equivalent to Swaumy in the Carnatic, accompanying every sentence which he uttered. But one of those who accompanied him bore an aspect so ferocious, with whiskers up to his eyes, and a look of such malignity, that I could not avoid observing him with considerable suspicion particularly when he appeared to clutch the weapon in his belt, as if ready for any mischief. The weapon was rather an uncommon one, being formed of the pointed ends of antelope's horns, turned in opposite directions, and held by a joining in the middle, so as to strike right and left. There was something so menacing in the ruffian's demeanor, that I could not avoid casting my eyes upon our pistols which lay on the table before us. Whether he observed me or not, I cannot say; but I think it may have had some effect upon him. They received a trifle in money, and were dismissed.

A far more serious consideration was, however, now to claim our attention for on examining into the state of our provision-stores, we made the alarming discovery, that through some contingent losses during the march, our supply had diminished two days more than we had been led to calculate upon. To avoid, therefore, the alternative of perishing by famine, some decisive step became immediately necessary: and it was determined, to return without delay to the head of the pass; which afforded the nearest communication with the river of Mahé. It was, however, indispensible in the first place, to provide for the security of Lieut. Burke, and his party; whom, to abandon in a situation so exposed, at a distance from all support, would have been as unsoldier-like as it would be inhuman. It so happened, that the night before, in conformity with his instructions, Lieut. Burke, with a part of his small force, had descended to the very foot of the Cherrum in his front (the Eliacherrum) and came unexpectedly upon a party of the enemy; who instantly fled, and very probably, gave an alarm to the Rajah's troops, that the whole detachment was about to attack them in the rear. Burke thought that he would, therefore be permitted to retreat without molestation. At this moment we were, however, not apprized that the troops under Col. Anderson were either marching, or about to march, from Cotapoorambah for the Cotiary gauht.

In these circumstances a note was immediately dispatched to Lieut. Burke in which he was directed, on a concerted signal, which was the firing of our gun that night, instantly to withdraw from the post, and join the main body of the detachments. In the mean time, every arrangement was made preparatory to our retreat, Capt. Disney being appointed to command the rear-guard. In the course of the night--which was rather a sleepless one to most of us Capt. Budden, of Cameron's battalion, and myself, took occasion to visit an officer's piquet, advanced towards the foot of the hill on which the enemy had shewn themselves in such ominous guise in the morning. And to our equal surprise and dismay, when most others were awake, we found the officer, a young subaltern, fast asleep. It cannot be supposed that we greeted him very kindly, and I will venture to say that he slept no more that night.

About 3 in the morning, we fired our little gun, not only as a signal for Lieut. Burke's retreat but also as one of defiance to the enemy, whom we justly suspected to be lurking round us. Then immediately dismounting our grasshopper, we placed it in readiness to be conveyed across the deep and muddy water-course in our rear. Not many minutes were permitted to elapse, when a scattered fire of musketry was heard from the direction of Lieut. Burke's post, and our sensations at the moment may be easily conceived. The detachment was now under arms, and every thing disposed in readiness, for our retrograde movement, as soon as Burke's party should have joined us.

Under circumstances which were sufficiently appalling, our second in command, whose bravery was never called in question so far forgot himself ,as to repeat aloud more than once, in the presence and hearing of the officers, and men under arms—“ this will be a night of discomfiture and disgrace!” and more in sorrow than in anger, I addressed him in terms of strong expostulation, on the strange impropriety of employing such language, at a crisis when every thing was required to animate and to encourage the people. He seemed to take my remonstrance, as it was intended, in good part; for he made me no reply.

The firing continued at intervals during the whole three miles of Lieut. Burke's retreat; but in something less than an hour, the party effected their junction with us; rather, it is not to be denied, in a state of some consternation; some, I regret to say, having lost their turbans, and some even their muskets. They were evidently panic stricken, and it was therefore considered prudent to place them at the head of the column of retreat.

As further delay was inexpedient, the detachment moved in silence across the water-course, Capt. Disney covering the retreat; and the column had gained considerably on the march before day-light.

About an hour after sun-rise, I happened to be in the rear of the column; when, at an angle, where the road turned short to the right, or southward, several of the enemy suddenly made their appearance ,on a narrow spur which we had just crossed, and which was thrown out from the woody hill-range on our right. I desired some of the sepoys that were near me to fire at them; but although they were within 40 yards of us, by throwing themselves flat upon the earth the moment they saw the flash of the firing, they must have escaped unhurt. At all events they disappeared into the thick jungle, which covered the hill-range on the right of our line of march.

Our march was continued with little other molestation than that by which we were assailed from the same jungle covered hill, whence the enemy kept plying us with their bows and arrows from among the trees, where they were perfectly secure from dislodgement; and yelling at us the whole of the way, like so many hungry jackals. Many an arrow which had missed its aim was picked up and deposited in my miaunah, by poor Lieut. Nugent, the Adjutant of Cameron's battalion; a very gallant and promising young officer, whose untimely fate we had so shortly afterwards occasion to deplore. But it was rather surprising that we should have here experienced no other casualty than two or three sepoys slightly wounded. The retreat throughout was conducted in perfect order; and early in the afternoon near the solitary Angady, which we noticed in our advance ,and which had been since burnt down, we turned to the westward, down the broad valley looking in that direction from the Angady, and finally encamped where it terminates; immediately at the head of the Periacherrum pass.

We had, however, scarcely halted on our ground, when the enemy, who had probably moved on our right flank during the march, made their appearance many in number, at the edge of the jungle, high up the hill to the northward of us. We pushed our little gun up the acclivity, in order to keep them at a respectable distance; but after two or three discharges, we found the elevation too great; and the firing was discontinued, lest we might injure or dismount our only piece of artillery. The enemy did not then, however, offer us any further molestation.

It was now, that Col. Dow communicated to me his intention of quitting the detachment, and proceeding to the coast next morning. This, at the time, did certainly appear to me an extraordinary resolution; and I did not hesitate to tell him honestly that it would be so considered. His reply was –“that he deemed it indispensibly necessary, before he could enter upon any further proceeding, to consult his brother commissioners at Mahé; and that he must stand or fall by his correspondence.” I was myself not sorry to be relieved from a situation into which I had been inadvertently drawn; and yet I felt a jealous repugnance to leave the detachment at such a crisis. But I found that my commander's resolution was unalterable; and to urge any thing further on my part might have been considered disrespectful. At the same time, I never doubted the ability of Maj. Cameron, to conduct the detachment in its retreat.

The night again passed in perfect quiet; and the ensuing morning, about 8 o’clock, and after breakfast, accompanied by a Jummadaur's escort of about 30 men, and leaving the command to Maj. Cameron, we proceeded to descend the gauht. On this occasion ordering my bearers with the miaunah to follow, I commenced the descent on my crutches; but had not long continued my progress ,when I found tha,t with his habitual abstraction of mind, the Colonel had marched on with the escort, far out of sight or hearing; thus leaving me at a distance in the rear, with no other protection than that which would be derived from two sepoy orderlies. It was God's providence that even this slender protection remained with me; for, a very little, while afterwards, they called my attention to the forest acclivity, about a musket-shot to our left, where I immediately perceived several of the enemy stealing hastily along, as if to take possession of some spot from whence they might securely assail us.
I sent, therefore, one of the sepoys on, to request that the Colonel would halt the escort until I could come up, as I believed we were about to be attacked.

Fortunately, the sepoy overtook the Colonel some distance in front, and the party stood fast until I joined them. We had proceeded not more, perhaps than 200 or 300 yards on our march, when we came to a shallow rivulet, which made an opening both to the right and left. Our first red coat had scarcely appeared in the opening, when a sharp fire of musketry, from among the rocks and trees on our right, and a discharge of arrows from the forest range on our left, commenced upon us. The fire of musketry was certainly within the distance of 30 or 40 yards.

In crossing the rivulet, it was necessary that I should plant my crutches with the most deliberate caution, among the slippery pebbles, which covered the bottom; and many a shot, and many an arrow, dashed the water up between my crutches; and it was certainly almost a miracle, that I should have gained the opposite side unscathed. And here, in justice to the memory of a brave man, long since departed to his eternal rest, I must acknowledge the surprise which I felt at the energy, activity, and ardour, which seemed, in a moment, to animate the entire frame of Col. Dow. The unfaltering coolness with which he gave his orders, and arranged our little party for defence, brought conviction home to me, that it only required a crisis of actual danger ,to awaken in him faculties that would have rendered him a bright example to the service.

The scattered fire of our party, separately dispersed among the trees, although we could only aim at the smoke of the enemy's pieces, succeeded, nevertheless, in a short time, in beating them off; for they now retired, either in consequence of some alarm from the rear (for a party had been ordered to our support, by Maj. Cameron, the moment he heard the firing in the gauht) or that they had suffered some loss from our musketry. At all events, this was the last we either saw or heard of them .
We then prosecuted our march, or, as the Colonel good humouredly expressed it, “kept moving,” until the forenoon was considerably advanced, when we came to another rivulet ,broader and deeper than that on which we had experienced our perilous escape. By this time my strength had completely failed me, and a painful cramp having seized the calf of my leg, I sunk down exhausted, and almost fainting, in the middle of the stream. In this situation the sepoys by my direction, poured water over my head and shoulders; and in an instant I felt myself surprisingly refreshed. In a few minutes I was assisted to the top of the opposite bank; which being more elevated than that which we had just quitted, offered a position from which we might oppose any further attempt on the part of the enemy, with greater advantage. The surrounding scenery was also become more open, than exactly suited their system of warfare.

Seated on this bank, I found my strength, notwithstanding, so entirely exhausted by a walk on crutches of 6 or 8, miles that I was compelled to the necessity of declaring that I could proceed no further; and I already considered that I was about to terminate my career under the Nair knife; for it was notorious that they gave no quarter. The Colonel happened to have with him a Mozambique slave, of athletic proportions, and great muscular strength; and by desire of his master, this man consented to take me on his back: but he had scarcely borne me 100 yards, when he complained that my weight was so great, that he could carry me no further, and he accordingly let me down. My clothes had, indeed become so saturated with moisture, by my drenching in the river, and every muscle in my frame so entirely relaxed by fatigue, that my weight must have been nearly doubled, and I could not be much surprised at what he did. Again the goodness of Providence interposed in my behalf; for the sepoys now volunteered to bear me out of danger. Having procured a pole from the adjoining jungle, they fastened together two of their kamlies, or hair-rugs, and, tying them at both ends to the pole, they formed a sort of hammock, in which being placed, I was thus carried on without further detention. It was however not very long before we emerged from the jungle into the open country, a little above the small station, on the north bank of the river of Mahé; called, as far as I can recollect, Parkarote. Hence, turning a short distance to the northward, perhaps an 100 or 200 yards, we were conducted to a very substantial Mopla house. We were taken to the upper part of the building, into an open gallery balustraded all round; the roof projecting to a considerable distance beyond the body of the building. Here we were in sufficient security against attack; the gallery sloping outwards above the parts below, so as to admit of our firing on the heads of any assailants. Here, after partaking of a simple curry, it being now late in the afternoon, we laid ourselves down on some floor mats, and slept without either awaking, or thinking of an enemy, until breakfast time the next morning.

While we were at breakfast a report was brought us that a number of sepoys were at that moment issuing from the opening in the jungle, from which we had made our egress the preceding day. This proved to be the advanced guard ,commanded by Capt. Disney, of the main body of the detachment, under Maj. Cameron; now also on its retreat down the Cherrum. Capt. Disney, although attacked on his march, effected his passage without loss; which was certainly surprising, when we considered that the enemy fired in perfect security from behind the trees and inaccessible rocks. Capt .Disney gave a written report of the circumstances of his passage; which was as graphic as it was interesting. Having directed him to post his people, together with the 30 men which had composed our escort, near the opening of the jungle, in such order as to flank the detachment, under Maj. Cameron, if hard pressed in his retreat, which we did not expect, Col. Dow accompanied by myself, proceeded on board a large canoe with out-rigger, in which we dropped down the placid river to the once French settlement of Mahé; where, without further incident, we arrived in the course of the day.
We were hospitably received by Mr Law, one of the gentlemen of the Bombay civil service attached to the province of Malabar ;at whose house I was immediately put to bed, under violent feverish irritation, occasioned by so much fatigue and excitement. This was, however soon allayed, and in a few days we quitted Mahé, after Col. Dow had held his conference with the commissioners ;and I returned to my old friend Gen. Bowles quarters, at Caddouly hill, in Tillicherry.

While at Mahé, the details reached us of the disastrous circumstances of Maj. Cameron's retreat. He fell in the disorderly conflict; as did his Adjutant, Lieut. Nugent, whom I have already mentioned, as a very gallant and promising young soldier. On this fatal occasion, he proved himself worthy of the highest encomium; for when the native officer who carried one of the colours of the battalion, was killed he immediately disengaged the colour from the staff, and wrapping it round his waist, soon after fell, mortally wounded. The circumstances of Maj. Cameron's death were never reported. The total loss sustained by the detachment was never correctly ascertained. At first it was supposed to have been most serious independently of the death of two gallant officers; but many supposed to have been killed, contrived to escape among the jungles, and subsequently joined their corps.

It was thought by many that, in part at least, this disaster might have been avoided; and that was by abandoning the baggage, instead of suffering it, with the crowd of bullocks, to choke the narrow passage of the gauht; so as to much impede the movements of the men. This was, however, an alternative, to which Maj. Cameron, who was one of our bravest officers, could not submit, any more than to leave the little grasshopper, which was lost in the confusion. My bearers contrived to escape by throwing down my palanquin; but my poor Mussulman, Hookah-burdaur, was killed on the spot. The palanquin being observed overturned by the side of the narrow road, and my cloak hanging over the side, the report was circulated that I had shared his fate; because, at the time ,I happened to wear a green undress frock-coat, and the green lining of the boat cloak seemed to account for the report.

In his report of the circumstances attending his march, Capt. Disney stated that at the commencement of every attack, he heard the small shrill note, of what he considered a slender reed pipe. During our descent, I had heard a similar note, which I conceived to have been either that of a forest bird, or the sound occasioned, perhaps, by the collision of some clusters of bamboo, agitated by the passing breezes.

While at Tillicherry, a report was drawn up by me, in detail, of our proceedings; from the period of our departure from Calicut, up to that of our return to Mahé. It was addressed to Gen. Stuart, the Com.-in-Ch. of the Bombay army; who, as I was subsequently informed by his secretary, Maj. Walker, declared it to have been the only intelligible account which he had yet received of the transactions in Malabar. It devolved to me also, and curiously enough in competition with Capt.(since Maj. Gen.)Lewis to draw up a memorial to the commissioners at Mahé. Col. Dow, from a partiality ,perhaps, of which he might not have been aware adopted that of his officiating secretary; for I certainly could not have become better informed in the affairs of Malabar than Capt Lewis, who had for many years resided in that province.
I must not omit to state, that at the expiration of two or three days after our return to Tillicherry, I accompanied Col Dow to visit the division Col Anderson; which was on its return from a march to the foot of the Cotiary gauht, towards its fixed station at Cotapoorambah; and this right across the line of our retreat from the Periacherrum. As the immediate district was at this moment in the power of the insurgents, we halted for the night at Cudroor, a Nair fortified house, about midway between Tillicherry and Cotapoorambah. The access to the interior of this mansion was by a ladder, to an upper door about 20 feet from the ground; which, rendered it pretty secure against attack without artillery. The ladder of ascent was nothing but the stem of a tree, with notches cut into it for steps; and I experienced some difficulty in getting to the top. In the course of the afternoon, we heard several discharges of musketry; which we were next day informed had been occasioned by some vexatious and desultory attempts on the part of the enemy, to harrass the detachment on its march to Cotapoorambah.

Next morning we quitted our snug retreat, at Cudroor house, with our small escort of sepoys; and pushing at quick time along the open track of rice grounds, flanked on either side by a suspicious looking jungle, we reached the station at Cotapoorambah, without either attack or accident early in the forenoon.

We found the troops under Col. Anderson disposed round the large tank, and in the dilapidated buildings along the sides. At present there appeared to be a dead stop to our operations against the Cotiote insurgents: any attack on the interior of that forest-covered-district, with our then existing force, being considered worse than useless; and a wanton sacrifice of human life, to no purpose whatever.

While we remained at Cotapoorambah, Col. (since Lieut.- Gen.) Nicholson, of the Bombay engineers, had occasion to visit the station; and on his way from Tillicherry, with an escort of provisions, had personal experience of what the troops were exposed to on these indispensible duties; for his approach to the post was early announced, by a sharp fire of musketry, kept up between the escort and the enemy, in the jungle on their flanks, while they were proceeding along the centre of the open rice grounds, between Cudroor house and Cotapoorambah. There was, however no mischief done; and the Colonel, who had not for years, been within the range of an angry musket-shot, seemed not a little rejoiced to find himself among his friends. He had lost a leg, it might be noted, in a campaign of his early service.

Col Anderson, who had most justly the character of an excellent officer, as was eminently proved by the skill of his arrangements, in maintaining and providing for the subsistence of the station at Cotapoorambah, was nevertheless, of a disposition not the most accommodating in the world; and with whom official communication, therefore, presented nothing very agreeable, or inviting. I accordingly, soon discovered that he and I were not likely to coalesce. I had indeed already given offence by openly expressing an opinion averse to the fire-and-sword system, hitherto pursued; and he had, I thought ,very significantly remarked, that the service had never prospered, since subalterns had presumed to give their opinions. At all events, and all things considered, I took an early opportunity of signifying to Col. Dow, that it was my intention of returning to my duties at the Presidency by the first conveyance from Malabar.

[1] Memoirs of the early life & service of a Field Officer of the Retired List of the Indian Army, published London 1839. by David Price. page 333 to 351.

1 comment:

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks for this wonderful post which made interesting reading. The eye-witness's account of an incident is particularly appealing and it is often more authentic. I also admire the spirit of adventure of people like Capt. Price, who though he had lost a leg could brave the inhospitable terrain of Wynad. His encomiums to the brave Col. Dow also seem well placed. The mention found of a Mozambican slave of the Colonel was very informative. Did the English army officers generally use personal slaves while in India?

Sadly, to this extent, we do not have the recordings of the Pazhassy wars from the Indian perspective, though there have been many fictional write-ups.