Sunday, 11 January 2009

Murdoch Brown, Overseer of the Randattara Plantation. Part 1.

Pepper Vines

In the eyes of the East India Company Directors in London, Tellicherry's primary purpose was as a source of pepper for export to Europe. This was a highly profitable trade, and it was important to maintain the supplies coming from the Malabar farmers, via the local Rajah's.

Black pepper is the grand article of European Commerce with Malabar. Before the invasion of Hyder, in the Malabar year 940 (176 4/5), the country now called the province of Malabar produced annually about 15,000 Candies of 640 lb. The quantity continued gradually diminishing until 959 (178 ¾) when Colonel McLeod’s army came into the province; since which the decrease has been more rapid, and continues every year to augment. A good crop will now produce 8000 Candies, a bad one only half of that quantity. Of this, 4000 Candies are produced in the territory of the Pychi Raja now in Rebellion, and of late the seat of a most bloody warfare.

The only diminution, I am inclined to think, that has taken place since the province has become subject to the Company has been owing to these disturbances. Mr. Torin states, that the annual quantity produced in the Pychi Raja’s country is now reduced to 2500 Candies.

Europeans purchased 5/8 th’s of all pepper from Malabar; and the price they gives regulates that of the whole. Since Mahé had fallen the whole crop had fallen into the hands of the company.

The East India Company in 1797 was faced with a situation where due to the wars with Tipu and Hyder, the hinterland inland of Tellicherry had been badly damaged. The villagers had been driven off, the plantations damaged and insufficient pepper and cinnamon was being delivered to the port. The war with the Pazhassi Rajah had made the situation worse.

It was decided that the EIC would start a plantation of its own at Randattara, in order to grown pepper directly. This land had belonged to what William Logan later referrred to as "some petty Nayar chiefs, called Achanmar, feudatories of the Kolattiri Raja."[2]

As far back as 1730 the EIC had been trading with this region, which appears to have been amongst the most fertile areas on the coast. On the 1st of March 1741, the "Achamars of Randatara" mortgaged their property to the EIC for 60,000 fanams.[3]

The EIC seem to have used the Achamars slowness in repaying the mortgage as a way of controlling the destination of the pepper from Ranattara.

In 1760 a further treaty was signed on the 9th of September. Article 2 of which, stopped the farmers sending their pepper to the Dutch in nearby Cannanore.

The local EIC officials arranged amongst themselves to set up the plantation forcing aside the local farmers. These farmers greatly resented this action, and would return to attack the new plantation.

Probably due to these attacks, the plantation managers encountered difficulties in obtaining labour locally. It appears that the officials in London and Bombay were also unhappy at the decision to set up the plantation. After two years the EIC Directors decided to abandon the cinnamon plantations it's local employees had set up at Randattera, because they were unprofitable.

Murdoch Brown who had been managing the plantation, offered to resign his EIC appointment and to take out a 99-year lease on the plantation from the EIC, which subsequently made his fortune, although not until after he had renegotiated the lease in 1817.

At first Murdoch Brown like the EIC, had considerable difficulty in obtaining labour locally. The local population would not work on the plantations for the rates allowed in the EIC budget, and in any case these farmers by custom only worked until midday on their own land.

Brown became aware that the local farmers themselves relied on slave labour from the lower castes who were tied to the land, and were expected to carry out all the heavy tasks.

These slaves could be made to work from dawn until dusk, and were far cheaper to employ than ordinary labourers.

The higher caste Indians would not accept employment in the plantations because if they did they would lose their higher caste status, and become Teers themselves.

He decided to adopt the local practise and began to buy slaves from the Southern Malabar. Many of these came from the Darogha, who was Head Police Officer in Chonghaut.

These slaves were often men and women who had formerly been owned by local farmers who had defaulted on their revenue payments. The farmer's slaves had been seized by the EIC revenue assistants as saleable chattels, along with implements, cooking pots and household fittings to be sold at auction in order to recover these outstanding revenue amounts.

Some of the Darogha’s slaves came from neighbouring independent native states, and Thomas Baber subsequently had good reason to believe that many of these had been kidnapped. For 12 years up until 1811, Brown was actively acquiring slaves to work his plantations.

In evidence given to the House of Lords committee in 1832, Thomas Baber, who was a magistrate described some of the evidence that he had come across concerning abuses of slaves and labourers at Brown’s estate.

Para. 2. It has been shewn from reports furnished by the collector himself, (Mr. Vaughan) that slaves are subject to the lash, as also to imprisonment, putting in stocks and chaining. Repeatedly I myself have observed on their persons marks and scan from stripes inflicted by the rattan, and even wounds; the worst instances of the kind I recollect seeing “were on the persons of some of Mr. Brown's slaves, whom I had cited to give evidence in a case of murder, several of whom bore the marks of severe flogging one of them in particular upon whose back and shoulders were several deep sores, and the flesh of their legs much lacerated;” and on a subsequent occasion, during the search upon Mr. Brown's plantation for the kidnapped children two of the slaves complained to my officers of severe treatment one of them having been recently punished with 25 strips from a rattan. the other with 24.

Para. 3. -- How or whence this oppressive and cruel practice, not only of selling slaves off the estate where they were born and bred, but actually of separating husbands and wives, parents and children, and thus severing all the nearest and dearest associations and ties of our common nature, originated, it would be difficult to say; but I have no doubt, and never had in my own mind, that it has derived support, if not its origin from that impolitic measure in 1798, of giving authority to the late Mr Murdoch Brown, while overseer of the Company's plantation in Malabar, upon the representation of the “difficulties he experienced, even with “the assistance of the tehsildar (the head native authority) and “his own peons,” (armed persons, with badges of office), “to procure workmen and of the price of free labour being more than he was authorized to give to purchase indiscriminately as many slaves as he might require to enable him to carry on the works of that plantation; and of actually issuing orders to the European as well as the native local authorities, to assist him (Mr. Brown), and even to restore slaves who had run away, and returned to their homes (without any orders to inquire the reason of their absconding), and who, as has since been ascertained from the surviving slaves themselves, have been actually kidnapped by the darogha (head police officer of Chowghaut, in the southern parts of Malabar people), and sent up to North Malabar to Mr. Brown, which person had continued, up to 1811, or for a period of 12 years, under this alleged authority, granted by the Bombay Government, to Import slaves and free-born children from the Cochin and Travancore states; a when by the merest accident this nefarious traffic came to my knowledge, and to which, after considerable opposition on the part of the Provincial Court of Circuit, I succeeded in putting a stop, after having restored to liberty and their country 123 persons who had been stolen, of whom 71 were actually found in Mr. Brown's possession.

Para. 4 This, however, was but a small portion of the number originally supplied him, many having absconded, but more than half having died, as ascertained from the survivors. Mr Brown's agent, Assen Ally, himself acknowledged that during the time he was at Aleppi, in Travancore, in 181l, no less than 400 children had been transported to Malabar. [4]

Colonel J Munro, who was Resident of Travancore, wrote late in 1812 to thank Thomas for his activities. The letter supplies some interesting details of the trade in child slaves: -

“I have every reason to believe that many of the unfortunate persons purchased by Assen Ally were procured in the most fraudulent and cruel manner, about the time when he was carrying on his proceedings at Allisrey. I received numerous complaints of the disappearance of children; but all my enquiries at the time could not develop the causes of them. I have been subsequently too much occupied by other important matters to be able to enter into so fully into an investigation of this subject as I was desirous of doing, but I trust that on my arrival at Allisrey I shall have an opportunity of obtaining further information regarding it.

I cannot deny myself the gratification upon this occasion of returning thanks to you in the name of many families in Travancore for your zealous and indefatigable exertions in restoring so many children to their parents and homes, and in checking a practise of a most cruel nature."

To be continued.

[1]Buchanan Vol 2, page 230.
[2] William Logan, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and other Papers of Importance. Page xxxv.
[3] Logan, A Collection... Page 43, para XLIX.
[4] House of Lords Committee
[5] Extract of a letter from Colonel J. Munro Resident of Travancore to Mr Baber Judge & Magistrate dated 29th Nov 1812.OIOC MSS Euro F151/34 page 193.

1 comment:

Maddy said...

You have brought to light a less known facet of Malabar slavery. While landlords or jenmis did have tenants and tillers, it was a lesser form of slavery, a kind of agreeable bonded labor.However this was forced labor where whips and the such were used. Very interesting article and sets a great perspective.